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Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Surprise



Nora and I started a routine 6 months ago, on November 26, 2016. That is the morning she woke up to find her parents missing and Papa Joe and I told her that her baby brother Oliver was arriving!  Knowing that we would be taking care of Nora, I had some surprises planned.  The first one was a Strawberry Shortcake nightgown and Shopkins slippers. I had a bottom drawer in my bathroom that was empty, so I put the gown and slippers in it for Nora to find when she needed a surprise. She loved that and was more than ready to look in the drawer again the next morning which found a book about a new baby hiding in the drawer. Her parents came home by that afternoon and I thought she might forget the surprise drawer in all the excitement plus another set of grandparents arriving, but she remembered!   I had a few more small things to put in the surprise drawer so the routine became a habit.

Six months later, you might call this a tradition!  Nora keeps checking and the drawer keeps getting a refill. Not all the surprises are big, and not all of them come from a store. There have been ribbons and buttons, a silk daisy for her dress up box, watercolors to paint with, paintbrushes, yarn pieces to make yarn pictures, craft rhinestone "jewels", and a recycled mint tin for her treasure box. I bought a puppet theater from a friend whose little girls outgrew it with a whole sack of puppets who became surprises one at a time. Once, a bunny who lost his ear appeared in the drawer with his ear sewed back on.


One or two days she forgot to check and I thought the idea was getting old, but she always remembers the next day.  It is a simple thing, and gives me a chance to connect with her and talk about it.    I have fun thinking of little things to refill the drawer and more fun watching her find them.  She comes to tell me thank you and hug my neck.  But the thing that makes me smile most is that she has started bringing ME surprises.  A tiny rosebud from the garden, something she has found, or one of her drawings.  Surprises are good things!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Heirlooms

This is the first chocolate tomato harvested this year.  If the birds do not get to them before we do, there should be many more, along with other types of heirloom tomato goodies. I fell in love once with a tomato called Cherokee Purple,  An old Cherokee Indian heirloom, pre-1890 variety; it has a beautiful deep dusky purple-rosy red color and sweet flavor.  And so I began to learn more about heirloom plants in general, and especially tomatoes. I love them for their stories, for their names, and for the adventure of growing them. They are not as hardy as the recently hybridized tomatoes. In addition to these 2, this year we have Brandywine, Louisiana Pink, Eva Purple Ball, and Kosovo plus a yellow heirloom I failed to tag. No, we don't have a large garden, only 1 or 2 plants of each. Joe, Ben, and my daughter in law Kristen do most of the work, and I get to pick a tomato or two and enjoy the benefits. Nora, at 3, already loves harvesting cucumbers and tomatoes and peppers with her mom. 

I find heirloom plants intriguing, and am thankful for the pleasure gardening brings to all of us.  I believe the love of gardening is another heirloom, one passed down to me and mine from my parents and grandparents, who first showed me how to garden, but also introduced me to delicious fresh food on our table.  Long before the current farm to table trends, I knew that eating local (as in very local, our own garden) tasted better and helped to keep us healthy.  

Celebrating Heirlooms!


Monday, May 15, 2017

Table Time

Ben offered to make our Friday night family dinner last week and tried his hand at brining and roasting a bird. The result was a family dinner everyone is talking about!  He even made cornbread dressing and cooked up a tarragon sauce that was passed around until the bowl was empty!  Jeremy and Michala sent chocolate covered strawberries (they now live in Nevada), and Sean is cooking our dinner at the next gathering.  This was Mother's day weekend and these gifts for me greatly pleased me for several reasons.

First, I love seeing our sons continue the practice of gathering of their family around the dining table. In our fast paced society today, it gets harder and harder to gather immediate family - husband, wife and children for even 1 meal a week. Extended family gatherings have become likely to be limited to holidays, if then. It has been important to me to encourage all of us to eat together, at the table, but also intentional times of drawing extended family to share a meal. Of course, it is more challenging when we live in spread apart areas, but even those who are able to gather physically can be present with Facetime, Skype, and Messaging or a phone call.

But I also love this  because it reminds me that all those years of letting little (then bigger and bigger) boys help me in the kitchen and get creative with making good food have produced men who are fine cooks among their other attributes. They don't just follow recipes or get ideas from YouTube.  They are chefs. They recognize the value of feeding their families delicious, nutritious, healthy food, expose their own children to this early, and create works of art in their kitchens.  I am thankful they are married to women who encourage them to do this and help.

Another reason for my gratefulness -  as I see each of my sons happily cooking good food, I also see something that is a companion to that:  growing good food. They all have gardens and use the herbs they grow in their cooking. Growing and preparing your own food is not only a pleasure but an art.

This is quoted form the About introduction for my Kitchen Keepers blog.

   Gathering around our table has been so much more than providing physical nourishment for me.  For as we gather, whatever the table shape may be, we form a circle, a place of conversation and knowing and caring.  Expressing our gratitude for the provision of food and family, giving thanks for bread and baker, we enter a sacred space

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Changing Times



A  post with this title could refer to Daylight Savings Time, or Spring Forward, which happened a week or so ago. We changed clocks on everything that is not computerized so that the clock changes automatically and prepared ourselves for darker mornings and light lasting longer in the evenings, with everything seeming off balance for a few days.  Or it could refer to the fast changing cultural time we are experiencing. Or just the changes involved in the arrival of Spring.  But I am telling the story of a family dinner that has changed.



Once I wrote how I loved our Sunday dinners after church, with most of our family gathered around our dining table which once belonged to my Grandma Terrell.  She loved Sunday dinners after church too,. I remember thinking and saying then that I was grateful for those times together because I knew it would not always be like that. Our family grew and schedules changed and people changed and the picture tilted. For a time it seemed like family dinners were no longer going to be a regular thing.

Then something familiar began to happen. After Joe and I began to share this home with Ben and his family, we decided to have 2 shared meals a week -  on Fridays, I would prepare dinner and Ben would be chef for another weekend night. About 2 months ago when I was making Beef Bourguignon,  I considered how big my pot was and wondered if our busy oldest son and daughter in law would like to come after work and bring their daughter who is in high school.  Teion, our daughter in law, responded quickly that she and Skye would love to come but Sean would be working late. They came early and Skye played with Nora, who adores her.  Baby Oliver is always in demand for cuddling.  I finished making my beef and wine and toasted sourdough bread to serve it on and we feasted. Sean got some leftovers brought to him.  Teion and Skye said they would love to come next Friday night, Our oldest granddaughter texted that she wanted to come to Friday nights and bring her friend Kasey.  Sean began to leave work in time to come for part of the meal. And suddenly, our Sunday dinner after the church began to happen on Friday nights!  Of course, Jeremy and Michala live in Nevada now and that is not an option for them to join us, but when they were here in January with Jordann and Maddie, our whole family gathered for the feast. Ben and Kristen are gracious co-hosts.

We are too many to go around Grandma's smaller oak table, but we can all fit around Ben and Kristen's dining table which we use in our dining room now.  I served the Chicken Nogales ( * KitchenKeeper blog link posted below)  pictured above. The only difference was I doubled the recipe! We are many more around the table as the years pass.  We are a noisy, happy bunch that enjoys each other and good food. Times do change, but some things about us never do.

*www.kitchenkeepers.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/chicken-nogales/

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Starting a Garden. Again.

We have lived in many places, moved many times.  Each time, we made the new place home and part of that was the garden we began and grew there. There were a few apartments, lived in for short periods.  In those, plants were grown in containers and inside. But every house we have called home brought new gardening projects for us. In the early years of moving often and raising little boys, that may have been limited to planting a few flowers and digging to plant the cuttings that family and friends so generously shared with us. By the time we moved to our home on Deep Valley in Plano, TX in 1976, a vegetable garden had joined our early home building projects. In that home, I remember Joe outlining our garden bed with railroad ties.  There I grew enough Zucchini squash to feed the neighborhood and try every Zucchini recipe in my cookbook collection.  We had an apricot tree there that had a bountiful harvest every year, and made wonderful pies.I was by then an avid organic gardener and our sons who were 3, almost 6 and 8, loved helping plant and harvest.

Some of our homes came with the bonus of some planting already established.  In our old Victorian home in Jacksonville in the 90's we tended a giant magnolia, mimosas, camellias, and wisteria along with the delight of finding a long row of purple iris that came up the next Spring. In California, previous owners had planted avocado, lemon, and plum trees as well as some beautiful roses in the courtyard. In Indonesia, we grew orchids in our flower beds along with a mango tree that hung heavy with fruit.  When we came back to the U.S. and began to live longer in one place, we added 2 serious garden passions:  herbs and antique roses.  When he was in college, Ben dug and edged a long rectangle for a gift for me...my first large herb garden.  We had a pool there and little room for a bigger garden in the back, but we had a giant old pecan tree in our front yard and shade beds. I planted old roses across the back of the house:  Sombreuil, Maggie and a fragrant French 18th century rose that looked like watered apricot silk which I cannot find anymore. 13 years later when we moved from that home to a smaller one, we filled our back yard with stone paths and garden, including another herb garden with a sitting wall. We moved from that home last year and left another garden for someone else to enjoy.  Our new home, which we share with Ben, Kristen, Nora, and Oliver, has the largest yard we have ever had but the fewest plants! Amaryllis that were my Mother's and white iris that were my grandmothers went into a front bed. We put in vegetable and herb beds to keep us cooking, and thought about it.

Over the past few months, as we discussed how a new garden might take shape, we asked advice of a landscape planning friend, and the project which began last week became work of our hands as well as our hearts.  Our favorite gardening center came out to make some planting areas, we put in a few plants we already had, and more are one the way.  Morning Glory and Moonflower seeds are already in the ground thanks to Joe and Kristen, Ben has been hard at work digging and planting, and we are all excited to work on this together.  Kristen found some seeds to plant which she gathered from our old house.  The Touch- Me- Not flowers in the photo above are not only old-fashioned and pretty, their seed pods are fun and bring out the child in anyone!  When the pods are full and beginning to dry, just a touch will send the seeds flying! Garden on the way!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Easter 2017

When Nora and her Mom let me help to die these eggs in the days before Easter, and every time the eggs got hidden and hunted, I was reminded of all the years of Easter excitement and egg hunts with Nora's Daddy, Ben, and his brothers followed by our grandchildren as they arrived one by one to fill all our lives with the joy of doing things together.  I remembered our first son's first Easter.  He was only 3 months old on April 14, 1968,  so Joe and I were proud to share our new son with his grandparents and aunts and uncles. I remember sewing Easter outfits for him that got handed down to his brothers and handing down the things we did together to celebrate Easter and other holidays as well. With each new son, it seemed the traditions expanded and became richer.

At the time those traditions begin, we did not plan ahead for doing it over and over again, but I am glad we did. I am thankful that we included the larger elements of gathering with family and worshipping as part of these celebrations. I find deep satisfaction in "doing it again" with my grandchildren. I am thankful that our sons and their wives have loved these traditions and continue them while adding their own!

Funny how colored eggs tell such a story!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spring!

Every year I watch for my first sight of redbud trees beginning to bloom.  Along with fruit trees like peach and pear that blossom early,  and narcissus spears pushing up to sport their fragrant white blooms plus bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush and other wildflowers, these heralds of the coming of Spring precede the calendar date in our area and bring a smile to my face and gladden my heart. In the woods of Northeast Texas where Joe and I grew up, dogwood spreads its blooms in dark piney woods also.  I do not see dogwoods here in South Texas, but I always include them when I think about this season,. Long before Easter eggs and pastel Spring clothing, these flag my attention and lift my spirits, particularly this year when Easter comes in mid-April.