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When I started my retirement travels - the first of which was my solo overseas trip to Italy in 2009 - I wanted a way to share it with family and friends as it happened. Hence, "My Travel Journal". However I realized I wouldn't always be on a trip and wondered what to do with the blog in between times. My daughter pointed out, wisely, that travels can also include trips to the kitchen to try a new recipe, trips to visit family, trips to my neighborhood Starbucks, or a fun day trip with a friend. You're welcome to join me on any of these journeys!

P.S. I've set up separate pages for each of my major trips (see tabs above).

I recently added an "Italian Word a Day" thingie which shows up at the bottom of every page. You see the word and can click to hear it pronounced. I've been enjoying it and I think my accent is improving as time goes by.

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January 18, 2011

Good Food Makes for Good Memories!

I've been reading a book by Judith Jones called "The Tenth Muse".  Don't know if she's still alive or not but she apparently has been in love with and very much involved with food for most of her life.  She ended up working at Knopf Publishers and her first big success was the editing of Julia Child's and Simone Beck's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking".

Anyway, the book is a memoir and has been a pleasant read.  And there are a bunch of recipes in the back that I've been peeking at now and then.  Actually, she's also the author of "The Pleasures of Cooking for One", a book I have and mentioned on a post quite a while back.

Today, I came across the sentence "...among my favorites is the ritual...of picking peas..., shelling them and rushing the peas into the waiting pot of boiling water; the the thrill of their taste, made all the more poignant because they are being shared with the people she loves..." and I was immediately transported to my grandparents farm where my sister and I spent all the summers of our childhood after my father died (I was 3, my sister 6).  I can't say I remember peas being rushed to a pot of boiling water, although I can certainly remember how they sounded when we helped Grammy shell them into a metal pan; but I totally remember her putting a big pot of water on to boil, then going out to her vegetable garden, picking a bunch of sweet corn, bringing it back to the chairs under the apple tree where we would help husk it and then into the water.  And I've never had corn as good and sweet as that since.  I've had it that was picked in the morning, sold off the back of a truck, and then I'd cook it in the evening and it was plenty good, but, oh my goodness, that corn of Grammy's was heavenly.

It's a funny thing about Grammy's cooking.  We certainly had a full dinner every evening, but try as I might, I've never really remembered any dinner dishes except a chicken casserole type thing she made that we all loved and none of us have ever been able to figure out how she made it.   I know she had to cook other foods but aside from that (and that corn!) all I remember is all the wonderful baking she did.  She made a devil's food cake with what she called boiled frosting that was out of this world.  When I was a newlywed, they came out with a frosting mix that did away with the hassle of making boiled frosting from scratch, and I would make a devil's food cake from a mix and the frosting from a mix and it was good enough, but nothing like hers.  And with the frosting mix, after the first day, the frosting would get kind of tough.

She made bread too and here I have to confess to what little snots my sister and I could be - we loved the buns she made - where she took the bread dough and made them into buns about the size of hamburger buns but totally beyond spongy hamburger buns.  They would come hot out of the oven and we would slather them with butter and peanut butter and wolf them down.  But she also made loaves of bread for sandwiches and we didn't want to eat that bread - we wanted bread from the store like we were used to, so on their weekly trip into town, she'd buy us our bread for sandwiches.  Children are so strange...

And she made cherry pies and apple pies with the fruit from her trees, and meringue pies too.  Lemon, of course, but she also made a lemon-cream pie that I remember that was a cream pie but with just that little bit of lemony taste to it.  I loved that one.  Back then I wasn't a big fan of apple pies but I loved the cherry pies too.  Ooh, and gingersnaps - just remembered those.  And I remember one summer when we were a little bit older, we were there and she made something new - again it was using bread dough (although it may have been sweetened a little) and she rolled it into little balls, rolled each ball in melted butter and cinnamon sugar, arranged them in a layer in an angelfood cake pan, sprinkled chopped nuts over that and then did another layer and another, until the dough was all gone.  Then it would raise for a bit and she'd bake it.  As they say nowadays, OMG!!! it was incredible.  When we'd go up to my aunt and uncle's cottage at the lake, she'd sometimes take one of those and everyone would just sit pulling those little balls of deliciousness off and popping them in their mouths.  And then years later when I was grown and married, here came a mix for what they called "monkey bread" that, again, was basically that same thing and, again, not nearly as good.

Mama was a good cook too, although when it came to big dinners (holidays and such) she was kind of a nervous cook.  Everything always turned out great but I think she was probably about a basket case by the time it was all on the table.  The things she cooked that I remember best and loved were her gravies, her stuffing and her potato salad.  I finally insisted that I watch and measure one time when she was making stuffing and that's what I make now, and I don't think I ever actually measured amounts when she made potato salad, but I watched often enough that I can pretty much duplicate that.  And every now and then, I come somewhat close to her gravy, but never have I made it as good as she did.  Her gravy was practically black it was such a dark brown.  And there was always plenty of it - I'm sometimes lucky to get half a gravy boat full.  It's begun to dawn on me that perhaps one of the problems is that with our great worry about fat, meat has been hybridized (or whatever would be the correct term) until you just don't get as much "drippings" as she used to get.  I did finally learn, back when I made standing rib roasts for our Christmas dinners, to ask for extra beef fat and I would just put it in a baking pan and bake it for several hours so I'd have plenty of drippings for the roasted potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and gravy.  But I still never seemed to get it as dark as Mama's.

And that's a lot of what this book is about - the memories we all have of the food we grew up with, our first experiments with cooking as "grown-ups", memorable meals we've had with family and friends (or in Italy!), etc.  And it sure has opened up my memory banks which has been very enjoyable.I think about my childhood and how very, very lucky I was to have such a wonderful one and those summers at Grammy's were a big part of it.  Probably helped too that most of my childhood was in the 50's which sure seems like "the golden age" looking back on it now.

All that reading and looking at the recipes in the back of the book is keeping me inspired to keep cooking.  It's funny - today at the grocery store I noticed they had lamb (Ms. Jones uses lamb a fair amount) in various guises including individually packaged lamb shanks and I thought "I'll have to try and find some recipes for lamb shanks".  Came home, got my mail and there was my new "Bon Appetit" magazine and in it is a recipe for lamb shanks!  And one of "The Tenth Muse" recipes is for a Cornish hen that has all kinds of good herbs and seasonings stuffed under its skin - want to try that too.  That's one thing winter is good for - cooking!


Christopher said...

What a nice trip down memory lane... I think I (and probably Heather & January) have similar memories of your food... "Mom's food" is always the best of its kind. I probably could no more duplicate your pot roast, to my memory of it, than I could make Grammy's monkey bread (which I never had, but sounds fantastic.)
When I left McArthur/Glen many years ago, we had been a very potluck-happy group, holding potlucks at the drop of a hat... for a farewell gift, I asked everyone to bring in their own favorite potluck recipe, and entered them all into a Word booklet document, and printed out cookbooklets for everyone with about 30 recipes... Maybe we kids need to start a similar thing---getting all our favorites of yours gathered together, reviewing them like you did when measuring Grammy's recipes! Those favorite dishes of childhood are always the best comfort foods in the world!

January said...

Monkey bread is delicious!
This is a nice post, Mama - and fun to see a couple old family photos in the mix. In terms of food and family memories for me, Yorkshire pudding at Christmas has to be right up near the top of the list. Sometimes I'll just be sitting around, minding my own business, and suddenly I find myself craving it. Although, your spaghetti sauce is nearly world famous (rightly so), and I've made it so much I can do it from memory. And then there's your fudge and cheesecake and rum cake and flan. Mmmmmmmmm.
Good luck with the lamb shanks when you get around to trying them!

From the Editor's Desk... said...

What nice kids I have! And, Chris, that booklet thing you did was really neat. Actually, ever since I made my little photo book of the river shots of the Arno, I've thought about doing a little recipe book with some of our favorite recipes in it for you kids. Hmmmm...wonder if that means I'd need to make everything just to get a picture of it - gee, fudge, flan, Yorkshire pudding...this could turn into a fattening project!


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