Hand-Me-Downs

Hand-me-downs vary in families. The best hand-me-downs I personally have are two of my mom’s recipe books.  I also have some old family photos which are very wonderful representations of the early 1900’s and family. But, honestly, the recipe books are more special. In one of the books are some yellowed handwritten recipe cards. I’d recognize her handwriting anywhere. She’d always swirl her hand above the paper to get into the “rhythm” of writing before the pen touched the paper. She said that’s how they were all taught to write. Mercy–cursive isn’t even taught in most schools anymore. It’s becoming a lost skill, with most things done on electronics with a keyboard. (whoa–that makes me sound old!!!) There are also newspaper clippings, golden with age, taped in that book. The tape is an even more vivid yellow-orange and curls a bit, the stickiness of it having dried out a long time ago.

The other cookbook I have was her favorite: The American Woman Cook Book, published in 1942.  I can’t remember who she said gave it to her, but it was a big deal, getting it around her second anniversary with my dad. The binding has come apart a bit, the edges of the cover are frayed. There are little spatters on the pages of the favored recipes. The very best part isn’t a recipe, though.  It’s her collection of four-leaf clovers.  She could spot one quick as a wink.  She’d make this tiny squeal and would swoop down to pluck it off the plant, with a beautiful smile filled with delight. And she’d say something about “the luck of the Irish.” It always astounded me. My mom, who wasn’t exactly proud of being half Irish, would find something that unequivocally represented her heritage. Four leaf clover represent a Celtic charm, (spell,) and were thought to provide magical protection, warding off bad luck. As a young girl, I bought her a special magnet with a four leaf clover hermetically sealed in resin. That magnet now has a special spot on my refrigerator door. In my early teens, she bought me a clover charm for my charm bracelet; a tiny four-leaf clover in a sphere. Sadly, it cracked and we had to discard it. I never thought until just now how clover, my mom, and I have a special connection. Funny thing is that I never can find one with four leaves in a patch of clover. Wonder how she did it…

There are nine four-leaf clovers on that first page of the table of contents. I wish I knew when she started collecting them in there. I never thought to ask. I remember them being there when I was little, so it’s been a while. They’re all a bit faded, but still definitely green.  I feel her love the second I open the book to look at them, which I do whenever I miss my mama. Pretty wonderful hand-me-down, eh? Remember to make your moments matter. They can become a hand-me-down without us even realizing it…

2014-09-11 Mom's 4 leaf clover 001

With warm wishes on your journey,
Nance

Twelve Years Old, and I Lived

…in a brand new split level home in northern Wisconsin, with my mom and dad.  That was the year, ironically, that my parents also split.  Huh, I never thought about that correlation before.  We’d lived in a duplex across the street and got to watch the house being built.  I was incredibly shocked when I found it was ours!  It seemed so huge.  You couldn’t just holler to somebody as there was too much separation between rooms and floors.

Lots of stairs in the house, with landings and a boxed corkscrew effect.  When you walked in the front door, you could either go up a few stairs to the living room that had a brick fireplace set on the diagonal, or go down a short flight of stairs to the garage entrance,  with another short staircase leading into the family room.  The family room had a fireplace directly below the one upstairs, so we thought this place was really something because we had TWO fireplaces, never having had even one before.  In the family room, we had a honkin’ big new picnic table that I helped my dad stain and paint, and it was the only movable furniture in this long room.  I wonder why? The three of us would have picnics down there when it was too hot and humid outside, as well as having picnics all winter long with a fire in the fireplace. There were also built in benches under the windows to sit on, but I didn’t like them as they were terribly boxy and straight, and not at all comfortable.  You know, I haven’t thought about how quirky and unique this house was until just now. Funny, looking back.

Also down in the lowest level was the utility/laundry room and my dad’s “bathroom” with the only shower in the house, all in one room.  The shower was cinderblock, cold, dark, and I hated it. But I hated baths more, so I’d go down there to shower anyway.  My mom still had a wringer washer she preferred using.  She had a regular washing machine too, but said the wringer washer got clothes so much cleaner.  I can’t tell you how many times my fingers got “wrung” as I helped with the laundry.  (Not by choice!!)  There were clotheslines down there too, for rainy laundry days or winter weather.  We had a fairly new dryer, but my mom preferred hanging things to dry.  I didn’t like it because of the stiffness of the dried clothing, bedding and towels.  Especially the towels.  ooooh and washcloths.  Not pleasant at all, even though we used fabric softener!

If you were up on the main level, you’d go up another small flight of stairs to the three bedrooms and main bath.  I LOVED my bedroom.  Peach walls, white sheers on the windows (three large windows, so there was a LOT of light,) with white shades for privacy and darkness.  The best part was the crazy shag carpeting.  Surprisingly colorful for my parents; dark orange (almost a rust color,) medium orange that was Halloween pumpkin-ish, and yellow orange, like butternut squash.  The amazing thing was that we found a bedspread with those exact colors.  It was meant to be, I swear!!!  I had white French provincial hand me down furniture that I never really liked from my next older sister, consisting of  a huge dresser, a headboard, and make-up table with a little chair.  Never understood why we had a  make-up table since my mom wouldn’t let us wear any.  ha!  There was also a wonderful and simple bookshelf my dad and I made out of cedar, painted a shiny white.  He tried to talk me out of the high gloss, but that was what I saw in my head.  I still have it, and my son treasures it because his Grampa and I made it together. Honestly, I’d forgotten how much I treasure it too.

The kitchen was full of new “avocado green” appliances. Even the hood over the stove and the first dishwasher we ever had.  We were living in style, we thought. But I’d have moved back to central Wisconsin in a  heartbeat. That was where we were still together, still a family.  But then I wouldn’t have my orange shag carpeting…

With warm wishes on your journey,

Nance

Ever heard of Lefse and Pasties?

A Writing 101 assignment is to tell you about my favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted me and has deep roots in my  memory.  I can’t choose between two favorite meals, so I’ll share both.  Once comes from my Norwegian heritage: lefse, but NO lutefisk!  (Uff da!! That’s nasty tasting whitefish that’s been dried in lye to preserve it for the winter when fish were scarce. To use, it’s soaked in a pot of cold water overnight to rejuvenate it and remove the lye. yeuck!)  The other favorite, special occasion dinner comes from my Irish heritage: beef pastie pies.

Lefse is seasonal, so we’d have it during the cold months.  The special celebrations included my birthday, sometimes Christmas Eve and/or New Year’s Eve. Have you ever heard of lefse??? Lefse is potato flatbread.  Rolled flat, like a tortilla.  Only thinner, if made well.  You use leftover mashed potatoes with an egg yolk, flour, and butter mixed together gently so it makes a dough the consistency of a delicate pie crust.  This is rolled out in a circle, as thinly as possible and handled as little as possible or it gets tough.  Fried on a flat griddle, flipped when it starts to bubble and brown on the one side, then lightly browning the other side.  Traditionally it was served with lutefisk and mashed potatoes with blobs of butter smeared all over it.   My mom only made me try lutefisk once, thank goodness!  She’d normally serve lefse with flaky cod, poached in milk, salt and butter until done to perfection.  Add more wonderfully fluffy mashed potatoes, with gobs of butter.  Know how to eat it?  Lay the lefse flat on your plate.  Plop some mashed potatoes in the middle, and spread them out with your fingers or the back of a spoon.  Take chunks of the fish and place on top of mashed potatoes.  Put little dollops of butter all over the surface, lightly salt, then roll it like a burrito.  mmmmm–I’m salivating as I write this!  I grew up in Wisconsin, and there are lots of folks with Scandinavian roots up there.  Not very many here in Missouri, so I either have to make lefse myself or head north to find some in the cold months.  My great aunt Irene gave me her recipe, so it’s for real–it’s how my great grandmother made it for my great grandfather, whose parents came from Norway.  I don’t really have the right “touch” for lefse, but I do with pie crust.  I’m sure with practice I could make some really good lefse!  Maybe someday. But hubby and son aren’t that crazy for it and it’s very labor intensive.  Silly them!!

The other favorite celebration meal, pastie pies, were hand held ground beef pies wrapped in my mom’s flaky pie crust.  She’d only use salt, pepper and catsup to season.  I thought I’d died and went to heaven when she made these.  If lefse wasn’t an option, I’d get to have these.  I make them for my son and hubby, but add finely diced onion, potatoes and carrots along with some garlic, salt, pepper, and thyme.  After visiting Ireland and checking several Irish cookbooks, I found these additions to be the norm, and it tastes so much better to my advanced palate.  Jeepers–I must be hungry as I’m salivating again!   I think I need to make some this weekend and bring my mom’s spirit into the kitchen with me.  What’s your favorite, special meal from your childhood??

With warm wishes on your journey,

Nance