Posted in Family

The Kitchen: Heart of the Home

IMG_20140719_200225_256It is called the heart of the home.  The kitchen is where, no matter how big or small, everyone gathers at the same time.  The dinner table of my childhood was in the kitchen, nestled tightly between the basement and back doors, and the pocket-door to the dining room.  The traffic pattern rivaled Grand Central Station, yet five of us sat comfortably, served from the white gas range which stood against the wall.

The floor that was there before it was upgraded to linoleum was speckled, as were the counters.  The incandescent light was small, and gave off a golden glow amplified by the cheery yellow walls.  Frilly curtains ruffled from the window over the sink.

The kitchen is where Dad got me to eat canned peas by telling me they taste better when squished with the back of my fork, and fresh tomatoes by sprinkling them with sugar.  He put a scoop of ice cream on cantaloupe, and he dolloped ketchup on his beef stew.  Most of his meals he ate with a slice of bread slathered with butter and strawberry jam.  I can still summon his spirit with a slice of that goodness.

IMG_20140719_200749_195The refrigerator has changed remarkably since I was a girl.  Not only has it gotten bigger with more compartments and easier to maintain, it contains a plethora of condiments, seasons, sauces and flavors that never existed in my childhood fridge.  We had ketchup, mustard, Miracle Whip, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, Hershey’s syrup, and possibly a leftover jar of pickles or olives from the last holiday dinner.  There was no salsa, chili paste, Szechwan sauce, hot peppers, tabouli, pesto, hummus or even minced garlic for that matter.  Back then there was meat and there were vegetables.  If you were lucky, there was Jell-O for dessert.

Cooking and eating were not the only reasons we spent time in the kitchen.  My mother and grandmother ironed things like sheets, handkerchiefs and underwear in there, discussing the best practice for dampening the wrinkles, or starching the work shirts.  A child-sized iron and board sat in the corner, for pretending.  It really plugged in and warmed a little to the touch.

Haircuts were given to my reluctant teen brothers, who would rather have donned long sweeping styles like that of the Beatles.  Draped in towels or old sheets, the boys argued, whined and complained while the buzzers and Dad’s special hair-cutting scissors removed lengths of hair to the kitchen floor.

IMG_20140719_200807_532We shared news in the kitchen.  My brother leaving for the Marines, another getting engaged and later having children were all disclosed at the dinner table.  Accounts from the day and headlines from the paper were discussed over cups of milk or plates of spaghetti.

The kitchen was a classroom.  This is where my mother learned to cook from my father, who learned what he knew from his mother.  The grandmother I never knew was one heck of a cook, whose lemon meringue pies cannot be matched to this day, I am told.

My mother, ever the student, one time subscribed to a cooking class encyclopedia.  She pledged to take it one class at a time until she was a master at the art of French cooking.   She cooked for hours upon hours, and did finally serve a delectable coq au vin in our formal dining room by candlelight, but not after scouring the city for chicken feet, or beaks or some such part.  We laughed all through dinner about how she had finally given up and used chicken wings.  It may have been the only recipe she ever used from that expensive volume of books.

IMG_20140719_200507_780Of course, I learned my love of food, both eating and preparing, in that kitchen.  There were early mornings watching Dad prepare the Thanksgiving turkey.  Late nights helping Mom with Christmas cookies.  Favorite casseroles cut from the newspaper, salads created from the side of a pasta box.  The heart of the home.  The home of my heart.

After my mother’s death, the things from my childhood kitchen were laid out, dollars and cents scribbled on tags hurriedly attached on the handles.  I will leave this full story for another time, but I was told, “These are just things.  They can’t bring her back.”  The words were meant to comfort me; to dry the tears rolling down my face.  At the end of the day, I did end up bringing home the things that meant the most to me.  And do you know what?  It does bring her back.  Just a little bit.


The photos in this post are some of the things I grew up with in my mother’s kitchen and are now a part of my daily life.

Peace . . .


From Shirley’s Kitchen:

Chicken Breasts with Wine

  • 4 boned chicken breast halves, skinned
  • 1/2 c. flour, seasoned with garlic powder and paprika
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1/4 c. dry white wine
  • 1 c. sliced fresh white mushrooms

Coat chicken with flour mixture. Brown in oil lightly. Remove chicken, melt butter, add wine and mushrooms; sauté over low heat until the mushrooms release their moisture.  Pour over chicken in baking dish.

This may be done the day before baking and stored in the refrigerator.

Bake uncovered 350˚ for 45 – 60 minutes.


Posted in Family, Music

25 Days, 25 Songs (Day 3) A Song That Reminds You of Your Parents

Italiano: It's My Banjo!
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was always music in the little yellow rambler on 66th Way.  The most prominent piece of furniture, aside from the gold floral sofa, was the Wurlitzer in our living room.  I learned to read music sitting on its bench, before I learned to read words.  Also in that room was our hi-fi.  Remember the hi-fi in the wooden cabinet?  My brother had a blue and white electric guitar.  And my father had a banjo.



After we returned the dinner dishes to the cupboards, we retired to the living room, set aglow with mediterranean-style lamps.  Mom would situate herself in front of the organ, flipping through one of her preferred books.  I wish I could remember more of her favorites, but Hello Dolly comes to mind, as does Bicycle Built for Two.  Sometimes we would sing.  As the evening wore on, I would lie down with my pillow and a blanket by her feet bouncing rhythmically on the pedals, and fall asleep.



But now and then Dad would bring out the banjo.  He kept it under his bed in a black case.  It was a beauty with mother-of-pearl frets.  Dad let me blow into the tuning pipe while he turned the tuners, shortening and lengthening the strings.  I learned all the words to King of the Road sitting on the edge of Dad’s bed while he strummed.  He wasn’t very good at it, but that never mattered to me.  We sang slow, stopping and restarting every few bars.



Dad would have loved this guy.





Peace . . .



PS.  Thank you, Twindaddy, for this little walk down memory lane.  I’ve enjoyed the fresh air and exercise.




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Posted in Family

I Want to be Old Enough

“Ohmygod, Mom . . . ”  says any one of my children interchangeably.  This is how I know I have said/done something eccentric/old-fashioned/embarrassing/inappropriate.  And I, quite proudly will smile and say, “What?”

Years ago, working in the coffee shop of a popular book store, I saw a little old woman with a pleasant smile, hunched over a display.  She wore a cap on top of her freshly dyed auburn hair.  This was no ordinary cap.  This cap had bill on the front and was hand-crocheted in the brightest hot-pink yarn ever made.

Old People Crossing

I watched her for a minute, and then told my young coworker, “That is what I want to be when I grow up.”  She looked amusingly at the small-framed woman, now shuffling off to another table, and then back at me.  “I want to be old enough to wear a hot-pink crocheted hat in public, and have everyone go on about their business like it is a perfectly normal thing to do.”

Elderly people do and say the most astonishing things.  Why, a couple of months ago, I saw one stop in the middle of a four-lane road, put his truck into reverse, and despite the vehicle behind honking like a banshee, backed full-throttle into it.  It appeared he had missed his turn.  Stopping to give my name and number as  a witness to the accident, the old man exited his car with a “Whoops!” look on his face and a shrug.

"Grampa" Simpson
“Grampa” Simpson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During their later years, Gramma and Grampa said some horribly embarrassing things while we were in public.  You see, Gramma had a very weak voice.  And Grampa had a severe loss of hearing.  They remarked on politics, drug use, the decline of America, the uselessness of the next generation, and even old people.  That last one always confused me.

You could see it coming.  Gramma would zero-in on the “poor soul” wearing a tie-dyed shirt or bell bottoms, then discretely lean over to Grampa and say the offensive remark in his ear.  She’d say something like, “You know those young people are all smoking the marijuana these days.”  Then Grampa would look at her like she had two heads and shout, “Eh?”  (They were Canadian by birth.)  And that was my cue to put down my fork and duck under the table.

My own mother told a completely inappropriate joke at the Christmas Eve table one year.  I responded, “Mother!”  and my son echoed, “Gramma!”  She upped the ante by replying, “What?  You think your grandpa and I never did it?”  Mom was a good fifteen years older than I am, so I have time to hone my skills.

Today on our morning run to get coffee (Coke for Bubba), treats for the dog, and little donut holes so good we call them deep-fried crack, the following conversation took place:

ME:  That guy had a sticker on his car that said Take me to Regions Hospital.  Is he sick?  He’s driving. . . can’t he take himself there on his own?
BUBBA:  That’s for if gets in a wreck.
ME:  If he gets an erect?
BUBBA:  Yes, that’s for if he has an erection that lasts more than four hours and he needs to talk to his doctor . . .

I’m not quite there yet, but I think I’m getting closer.

Peace . . .

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