Saturday, June 27, 2009


As I was washing dishes the other day and generally puttering around my kitchen, I heard the train go by. I live three blocks over from a major expressway bordered by train tracks on the far side. The sound of trains has been with me all of my life.

Commute trains, Amtrak trains and freight trains punctuate the day and night. Now with the windows open for the summer I hear the early and late trains more than I do during the colder months. The length of the trains suggest whether they are passenger or freight, with the longer trains that I assume are hauling freight going through at night.

In Toledo, when I was growing up, we lived a similar distance from trains and I remember all too well the pictures from Life magazine of Anne Frank and the concentration camps. For a brief time in my childhood, probably when I was nine or ten, the sounds of trains scared me. I lay in my bed at night fearful, imagining what it had been like to be pushed into a boxcar traveling in the dark without water or food or a place to go to the bathroom. I had a vivid imagination and for a time the trains were not comforting.

When we moved to California my parents again bought a house that was near trains. In the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school my family took the Vista Dome train to Chicago from Oakland. This was an elegant train with its dining car, private compartment and second story for viewing the country as it rolled by. I remember sitting in the dining car with a linen table cloth and heavy silver flatware waiting for our dinner with the train stopped blocking a crossing. People were backed up, probably wishing that darned train would get moving.

We pulled into Chicago on the Fourth of July, passing through miles of stock yards and slums such as I had never seen before. (I would see them again from the Dan Ryan expressway years later when I lived in that city.) It was sobering to see a city so different from the areas where I had lived. Then we made a mad dash across town to another train station where we had a long, long wait for the "milk train" that would take us to Toledo where we were visiting family and friends.

We sat it out in the station until eleven pm and finally boarded the next train. I remember taking an escalator in the second station, one of the few times in my life that I ever did that. Escalators are scary things to people on crutches, as I was then, and require some very precise co-ordination of person, crutches and moving stairs to get on and off. Getting off is definitely trickier than getting on if my memory serves me correctly. With Papa behind me, I felt confident to try it, but was not really happy with it.

We had studied geography freshman year and I remember being very excited and waking up my long-suffering younger sister with my excitement that we were passing through the Gary, Indiana, noted primarily for its smokestacks. She still remembers this and has full rights to give me a hard time about it even after all these years. (Nearly half a century.)

When we arrived in Toledo in the wee hours of the morning we were met by the very dear friend, a tall, handsome Irish American with a fine voice and wonderful sense of humor who had been Papa's work colleague before we moved. Some years later, Uncle Ed, as we called him, would become my sister's father-in-law and "boppa" to her son and daughter. I remember his intelligence, humor, kindness and friendship to our family as though he truly had been my uncle. Along with my parents and his own wife, he is sorely missed by our family.

Finally, as a graduate student in Chicago, I lived three blocks west of the El. The stairs up to it were so daunting to me that I never did ride that train. The city traffic noise in Chicago was so great that I don't remember a distinct sound of trains such I experience now or knew as a child in Toledo.

Sometimes I think that I would like to move away from trains, but it isn't likely to happen. Sometimes I think that taking the Vista Dome across the country again would be a fun adventure. Adventures are mostly in my mind though, now that I am definitely aging and I think that I will keep them vicarious through memory and film. (Great train scenes from film would be another post! One that I saw last night was in an old Sherlock Holmes with Holmes and Watson and Holmes older brother catching up with the bad guys on the "boat train.")

I am grateful for my memories of trains and grateful for the relatively cool part of this day that will become quite hot later.

It is hard to believe that the Fourth of July is right around the corner and that Christmas is now less than six months away! (Arggh!)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Summer is Here

After an almost heat wave that didn't quite materialize I am back to sitting with a blanket wrapped around me. It is officially the first day of summer (or will be in three hours).

I celebrated by baking a Garvey's Irish Brown Bread. This is a mix that requires the addition of just one ingredient--buttermilk. It is delicious and quick. I will make it a pantry staple from now on. The mix came to me from Planet Organics. They are delivering once a month on a Friday, because that is my delivery day. The produce is beautiful. I also cooked zucchini this afternoon. They were so beautiful that I should have grabbed my camera and taken their portrait, but the space in the kitchen is a little confined and too cluttered. They were actually delicious raw too.

A neighbor, who has a prolific garden, has been supplying me with kale and salad greens. It is one of those amazing facts of life to watch a pile of kale that has filled a large skillet to overflowing shrink to a small bunch in the cooking. I keep wanting to cook it with bacon and onions, but bacon isn't one of the things that I normally have on hand.

The kale would also be good with sausages, which reminds me of summer meals of potato salad and sausages brought from Wisconsin or Milwaukee by friends as each went home for a summer visit to his respective family and came back with a carry-on filled with sausages--enough to feed fifteen to twenty people gathered to feast after singing Vespers on a Sunday evening in Palo Alto thirty or so years ago. Beer, of course, was the beverage of choice to go with the sausages.

A six pack of Guinness resides in my kitchen at the moment. One bottle, along with 2 oz of water will combine with other ingredients to make a loaf of whole wheat beer bread, the recipe I cited two weeks ago. Some more of it will be used to make the chocolate beer cake that I also cited. Since that will require opening more than one bottle, and since I no longer drink alcohol, I want to time it so that the leftover can go into the pot of whatever I am cooking at the time. (I have no aversion to alcohol, but prefer not to drink alone. Anyway, sausages, kale and onions with beer would be good. (Maybe should go back to Planet Organics and peruse the sausage offerings.)

I am intrigued by the growth of a company such as Planet Organics, the farmers markets and the CSA movement. Community Supported Agriculture brings the farm to the urban dweller though subscription boxes of produce while providing capital to the cash strapped farm. I love this and I also love the Farmer's Markets.

I am grateful for the lovely cool weather this weekend and the chance to catch up cooking, which I do not do on hot days! I am also grateful for this lovely food in my pantry and fridge and for the Internet, which gives me a constant supply of new recipes and sources for a plethora of fine ingredients.

Happy Father's Day tomorrow to you all. (And again if I could just learn to proofread before I post, what I write might make more sense! Sorry to anyone who read the uncorrected version.)

Friday, June 12, 2009


I have been thinking of my father a great deal this week. It has been a busy week, so I have not posted as I had planned. Monday was the tenth anniversary of Papa's death. (That is the official date, although he actually died on June 6; he was kept breathing on life support.) Yesterday, the eleventh of June was the corresponding tenth anniversary of his funeral, a Gregorian Requiem, as he had always wished it would be, sung by the St. Ann Choir at St. Athanasius Church, the Church where he and Mama were among the forty or fifty founding couples who built the parish from its beginnng in 1959.

Ironically, yesterday the Senate of the United States passed a much belated law giving the FDA authority to regulate tobacco. It is ironic to me because my father died from emphysema, a smoker's disease. Up to 1985, when he quit smoking, every picture of Papa that we have showed him with a cigarette in his hand. He smoked his last cigarette on June 6, (D-Day), 1985 and made a mark on his bathroom wall (now painted over.) Fourteen years later he collapsed and was revived by the paramedics only to have a massive heart attack in the emergency room from which he was again resuscitated, but never regained consciousness. I found it ironic then that he died on the anniversary of D-Day and of the day when he had quit smoking.

He called emphysema, "an old man's disease, an old veteran's disease", and told me about how his becoming hooked on cigarettes was linked to his service in the war. After one incident of combat, he said, someone offered him a cigarette and the combined adrenaline rush from combat and the nicotine caused him to become addicted as he had not been before.

I remember in my childhood in Toledo once when I was ten or eleven years old coming upon his cigarette in the ashtray on a table in the living room where he had left it while we ate lunch in the kitchen. It was nearly burned down and I could not resist taking a puff. The hot smoke and disgusting taste of the thing made me cough and I had to go into the bathroom and close the door so that I could cough and recover and not admit to stealing a drag on the cigarette. I couldn't comprehend why he smoked. It was just so yucky. (Years later I would become a smoker myself and I quite some months before Papa did.)

So I am very glad that the FDA will finally regulate tobacco. I have often wondered if he had quit sooner, would we have enjoyed his company, his intellect, his wit, his grace and charm and his joy and pride in us longer? He would, I am sure, take great pride in his grandchildren who in the past decade have become accomplished adults. He would be charmed and chuckle over the antics of his first great-grandchild, my grand-nephew whose first haircut pictures arrived in my inbox this week and made me laugh.

Often when I load new pictures from my digital camera unto the computer, I think of my father, wistfully for he was a skilled photographer himself and also a computer programmer. He did not live long enough to see the advent of the scanner, printers or digital camera into this house, but I am sure that he would so enjoy them. The prints I have made from old family photos adorn my shelves. I made them within the first year after he died as my own grief gave way to mourning and the mourning was turned into remembrance through the work of documenting our family history and printing out these pictures. He would have been amazed by the quality of the prints and enjoyed having his family around him again, as I do.

I wish the technology could have come sooner, that the Internet could have come sooner. I know he would be so pleased to see me re-inventing the little business that he helped me with and watched over in the eighties as I learned to garden and make potpourri. (Although he would be glad to know that I am no longer growing what seemed to be bizillions of seedlings all over the dining room.)

Tonight I watched an episode of NCSI, a program that he never saw, but that I think he would enjoy. I miss sharing these things with him. The books that I read, the television programs that I watch have less savor without someone, Papa in particular, to share them with.

Cooking is harder too, now than when he was alive ten years ago. Part of that, of course, is that I am ten years older now and physical tasks are not so easy as they were then. (That is relative, too, of course.) Lacking someone to share my "creations" with makes the task harder too and scaling back from cooking for two to cooking for one is a challenge as well.

Papa rarely talked about his time in the Navy or the war as my sister and I were growing up, but it was a seminal part of his life, if for no other reasons than that it took him away for three years and it solidified his occasional social practice of smoking an occasional cigarette into an addiction that ultimately took his life. Before it did that, it also robbed him of robust vigor that would have been his.

Two months ago when friends cleaned out my garage they found the following artifacts that were part of Papa's Navy Service tucked away in a drawer.

The first I call an insignia, but I am truly not sure what it is. The second is a pocket Morse code "cheater". I assume that this is from the time that he spent in Navy Officer Training at Princeton in the Fall of 1943. The last is the emblem from his cap.

Finally, here is his official portrait in his uniform, which I have also posted on the Squidoo lens that I have done about him--Fred is Peace, that is in the links to the right.

I am grateful for the life of my father, for my memories of him and I hope that the time will come when fewer people smoke and no one any longer dies from smoking related illnesses.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Blogs I Have Found Recently

While searching cyberspace for the perfect lemon cupcake recipe, I found a number of interesting blogs and recipes. The most interesting--I was looking for a blueberry frosting recipe that I had found when I first began the cupcake search--is this one .

This is definitely on my list of must try recipes. (I will probably use either Dagoba or Ghirardelli cocoa because that is what I have on hand.) I will order my food grade lavender flowers (along with tomato powder, chocolate extract and at least two kinds of pepper, white and black, from the Spice House in Chicago. The Spice House has wonderful, wonderful spices and recipes on their site).

After my friend shared her lemon recipe find, I went looking for a beer bread recipe. This was inspired by a mystery novel that had a recipe at the end for a beer bread with three ingredients--beer, self-rising flour and sugar. I didn't want to add self-rising flour to my flour collection. (Whole wheat, white whole wheat, all-purpose, corn, spelt, buckwheat and probably some other flour take up space in my refrigerator. There is a box of cake flour on the pantry shelf too, but it's been there for so long that I can only guess at what it was used for. (I think it was either the lemon Madelaines or the Julia Child chocolate ginger cake that my sister made when she visited. Two different visits.)

King Arthur Flour gives the formula for converting self-rising flour to regular ingredients and they also have an absolutely spectacular looking recipe for a Chocolate Stout Cake--which I have had on my list for some time, actually. (I think since St. Patrick's Day.) I think they blog about this too.

Finally, searching for the beer bread led me to this wonderful blog and wonderful sounding very simple recipe that I will definitely make soon. (Unless we get a Truly Horrible Heatwave, and then it will be postponed to later.)

Then a friend who is on Facebook with me pointed to a tea group that she had joined and followed to a link to this blog post on making homemade tea bags. (Kind of fits with the cupcakes, I think.)

I hope that all of the links work. Wish you could come join me as I experiment with these goodies. I am grateful for the friends who share what they are finding and for the blogs. I can hardly wait to try more of these goodies.

Happy Sunday. (And to those who get this twice, I heartily apologize. If I could just learn to proofread in preview instead of hitting post and then looking at it. Well, I always did cook and bake better than I type!)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Baking again

Sunday I baked these delicious lemon cupcakes with lemon glaze. A friend, who is an expert baker, recommended the recipe from I am thinking about substituting a small orange for the lemon and making a variation.

The recipe can be found here.

I substituted plain yogurt for the sour cream, added lemon juice and 1tsp of vanilla extract. Added 1/2 tsp vanilla to the glaze as well and made about half. Obviously I baked the recipe as cupcakes instead of a cake. Twenty-five minutes were a perfect time and I had 18 cupcakes, although I think that if I had filled the tins more evenly I could have made 24. (And would have needed more glaze.) I am a life long choc-a-holic ; these were so good, I am not sure I did not prefer them to chocolate.

Two of my favorite new tools are depicted below.

The bowl is a soft plastic one with a "grabber" ring on the bottom. No skid. The black tool is from Pampered Chef. I think they call it an avocado masher. It does a great job of creaming sugar and butter and of beating and mixing. I love it. I could not handle an electric mixer, so do not miss having one. This tool makes baking possible again. Serious plug.

I am looking at two recipes for blueberry frosting and also looking at a cocoa lavender cupcake recipe. Too many ideas, too little time. (Too many calories, not enough people to share them with!)

I am grateful for the interlude of cool weather--it actually rained for about six minutes last night--and the time I spent baking.