Moms a cussin’, and it’s the camel’s fault

It would have been this weekend 40 years ago, and for many years before and many years after, that mom would have gotten out her Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. She would turn to tab number 8 for cookies and page 149. Right there, was the only recipe for cookies that she would use for Christmas; Sugar Cookies.

You can see the stains of a well-used page. It’s a simple recipe that holds so many memories.

Her big Sunbeam Mixmaster would come off the top shelf and it was time to get started. Creaming the sugar and shortening, adding the vanilla and being taught how to crack an egg – this is when a kid realizes that mom is a magician. When the dough is done, it would go on the bottom shelf in the fridge and we would spend the hour cleaning up and getting ready to roll it out, cut it, and bake.

This isn’t mom’s. Her’s died and sat in the kitchen closet for a few years before she threw it out. I think hers had metal bowls instead. When I could afford my own stand mixer, I got a new Sunbeam Mixmaster for myself for Christmas one year. A couple of years ago Mick got me a KitchenAid and attachments.

Mom had a small set of aluminum cookie cutters. There was a Santa with a pack on his back, a bell, a star, an angel and a tree. There was one more and mom used to cuss it every time we used it, the one-hump camel.

These are similar to the ones that mom had. I don’t know if one of my brothers has her cutters or not. I remember them always being in the bottom drawer in the kitchen. 

We would always cut the cookies out on the kitchen table. Mom would flour the table and roll what she needed of the dough out with her wooden rolling pin, the one I have today. Then we would each get to take a cookie cutter and begin. We each had our favorite, but of course, we each wanted a turn with the camel. There would be other opportunities to get mom to cuss over Christmas, but this was too easy and it would not be our fault.

You see the problem with the camel is not that he had one hump, but that he had 2 legs. Legs which never wanted to come out of the cookie cutter. It did not matter how much mom would flour the dough before we cut it or even if you tried to flour the cutter, one of his legs would still stick and break off trying to get him out. These cutters had backs and handles, so you could not just push the cookie out, you had to shake it. All of them stuck to some degree. There we were, flour all over the table, our hands, and the cookie dough and we would commence to shaking. Every now and then Santa or an angle would take flight as they broke free of their aluminum chamber. Not the camel, though. He was humped in and hunkered down. Eventually, we would give up and take a butter knife and either set him free or carve him up. Mom would do her best plastic, or dough, surgery to whichever leg didn’t make it out.

This would be the camel with the detaching limbs. Sometimes we would just eat the broken leg raw. I know, you are not supposed to let your kids eat raw cookie dough. We survived better than the camel did.

Next, it was off to the oven. We gave them a generous amount of sprinkling with plain ole white sugar. We didn’t get into fancy sprinkles or colored sugars. We tried, but plain sugar always worked for us. It would always be my older brother’s jobs to keep an eye on the clock; eight minutes. When they were golden brown, mom would pull them out of the oven and set them on top of the stove. We only had a couple of cookie sheets, so we had to wait for those to cool a bit, get the cookies off and place a whole new batch. We also didn’t have any racks to put the cookies on to cool. Mom just laid out some clean dish towels and that worked pretty well. Some of the cookies might have had a little fuzz on the back if they were still hot when we took them off the sheets and laid them on the towels, but oh well.

As we moved through all the dough and mom fixed several broken legs, we would notice that some of the cookies began to stick to the cookie sheet when they came out of the oven. We may have been a little too generous with the sugar. We got to eat the broken cookies right then! And, you guessed it, I got a few legs and my brothers got a few humps.

When all the cookies were cooled, mom would put them in a lard tin she kept in the hall closet. It was the utility closet and always stayed cool, I guess because the pipes from the basement came up through there. She would pull out what we could eat into a smaller metal cookie tin. It had a pretty designed, colored lid and was still bigger than I could hold as a kid. I have no idea what ever happened to that old tin, but for years that was where we would find our Christmas cookies. If someone gave us a plate of cookies, they went in that tin too. Sometimes we would look in there in the spring and find a cookie or two that we had never eaten. They may have not been as fresh, but we didn’t care much. Who could resist a Christmas cookie in April?

I don’t really remember any other treats at Christmas, except a box of navel oranges that we kept in the basement and some years mom would make a tub of fruit salad. There were the mixed nuts that mom would get, but we could never crack them open by ourselves much. The nut bowl, for a long time, would go back up on the top shelf of one of the kitchen cabinets. Maybe mom kept it there so she could have them, I don’t know. Eventually, it went on the coffee table. Maybe that was when we were older and not as apt to accidentally take an eye out with one of the picks. And yes, I did say accidentally. Lots of things that happened to us growing up were by accident on purpose. As we got older, the camel may have accidentally on purpose lost a leg so we could hear mom cuss. I would give anything to hear her say “You damn camel!”  again.

A Tale of All Hallows Eve

Tonight we had about 18 Trick-or-Treaters. It was a nice evening, so I am not sure why we didn’t have more. We’ve had as many as 75 in past years. When my brothers and I were young, we never had trick-or-treaters to our house. We lived up on a hill in our neighborhood and no one wanted to walk all the way up our driveway. And, our dog would probably have run them off anyway. We were the ones out on all hallows eve.

We would get ready as early as we could. If it was on a school night, we would start getting dressed as soon as we got home and then we bugged mom and dad about going until they finally gave in. We had the same route, pretty much all of our lives. Main street in Toms Brook was where the action was, and we were right in the middle of it. We would all get loaded in the car and dad would pull up to the curb somewhere near the school or the Post Office. Mom would walk with us and we would start door to door.

We didn’t have many costumes to wear, so we mostly made our own. Miniature hoboes were always a sure fire hit. We would take one of dad’s t-shirts and stuff a pillow under it to make us fat. Some of mom’s eyebrow pencil would dirty up our faces pretty well. Mom had one wig in the closet that she used to wear and one of us would end up with those black curly locks on our head with a trucker’s hat from dad as well. We had the look down pretty good and it made us seem pitiful enough to warrant getting lots of candy. There may have been a couple of years that we had a store bought costume. I think there was a Casper The Friendly Ghost. I am sure there was a Planet of the Apes one somewhere. But, those would have been passed around between us until they wore out.

In Toms Brook, we would hit all the regular houses. We knew who would try to scare us as we walked up. Although it didn’t matter that we knew it beforehand, we still jumped and screamed. I think one of those was a preacher’s house. He would be out on the porch in some outfit and as we got close, bam, there he came toward us. I seem to remember one or more of us running off.

Some Halloween nights were nice like tonight and some were cold. There was one night I remember that it rained like crazy. That didn’t stop us, though. We used paper bags back then to put our candy in. Some years we got creative and took one bag and cut it up to make handles for our candy bag. These were so big that you could almost collect your weight in goodies. We never got much chocolate I don’t think. We did get lots of hard candy, sour candy like Smarties, popcorn balls and some gave out apples. Our bags would be so heavy by the time we were done. The year that it rained, our bags were particularly full. I guess other kids didn’t go out and we got their stash too. We were walking up the side of the street and the rain was just pouring down on us. We were crying because our makeup was washing off and whoever had the mask couldn’t see. Our bags were getting too heavy and even though we were raking it in, we just were not happy about it. I am sure mom was even less thrilled. As we were walking I remember Pat getting really upset. As we all looked at him, there went all of his candy into the street and the gully wash of water was going by so fast that it washed all of his candy down the gutter. His paper bag had gotten so wet and was so heavy that the bottom let loose. I think mom grabbed an apple before it was gone and tried to give it back to him, but he threw it down in the water and stomped on.

The only thing that could save this night was our final stop at the Stoneburner’s. Mr. & Mrs. Stoneburner would meet us as we climbed the long stairway to the front door. She didn’t try to scare us and she didn’t drop a piece of candy in our bag and send us back down the stairs. We were invited in. Inside they had all the furniture pushed aside and the centerpiece of the room was their dining table. It was loaded down with bowls of candy, cakes, pies, drinks, popcorn balls, and apples. It was paradise! We could have any and all we wanted, but I don’t think we ever put much in our bags. Most of it was eaten right there. Mom and dad would sit down in a dining chair along the wall and catch up with Mr. & Mrs. Stoneburner. Mr. Stoneburner had a shop out back where he made and repaired clocks. Their living room was filled with them. When the hour struck, the whole room would go off, but not at the same time. They had them timed out and it went on for several minutes. It was almost cooler than the table full of treats. The Stoneburners would get so excited whenever someone would arrive. They loved seeing how we changed over the years and they talked to each and every one of us. Their house was the highlight of Halloween each year and it was usually the last stop before home.

When we got home, we would each dump out our loot onto the floor and compare what each other got. Sometimes we would trade, but mostly we would hoard all that we had. Mom went through our candy, making sure that there were no razor blade or needle marks in it. I don’t know how that urban legend ever began without the internet, but we all heard about the kid that bit into an apple that had razor blades in it. I remember mom making us put our candy in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and we would only be allowed so much each night. I also remember hiding some under our beds. One year I found candy near Christmas.

We never had trick-or-trunk, never went to the mall, and never went to a party for Halloween when we were kids. Trick-or-Treating meant that we walked the streets, knocked on doors and when they answered we sang “Trick or Treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat, If you don’t, I don’t care, I’ll pull down your underwear!” Sometimes we got an evil eye from a church lady or two and we stopped half way through. Nobody wanted to sing about their underwear anyways.

As we got older, we did end up at the church on Halloween. Our parents became youth counselors and the initiation into our youth group each year was to go through a haunted house. We would meet in the basement of the church, in the social hall. It would be a small party with some Halloween music and candy. The older members of our youth group would set up the haunted house in the kitchen. It had doors at both ends, so they could take you in one side and out the other. All the new kids from that year had to go through initiation to officially join the youth group. You would be blindfolded and led through by hand. Your lead would take you from station to station and you had to put your hands in stuff, eat or drink something, and things would get tossed on you as you passed through. You would scream and try to run because they would make you feel a bucket full of eyeballs, or eat worms, and bats would fly into your head. But you had to make it all the way through, or you would not get in and had to do it again next year. If you did make it through, you were sworn to secrecy and could not tell anyone what happened to you in there.

Once you made it through, you could join the rest of the party. We would even end the night with a taffy pull. The taffy we made we would sell to the church members and that raised money for our group. If you made it all the way through the haunted initiation, you got to help the next year. You might be a guide or you could be at one of the stations of eyeballs or worms. That was, even more, fun than going through initiation. You really got the chance to pull one over on the new guys. You found out that the eyeballs were just grapes in a bowl full of jelly and the worms were just macaroni in cold pasta sauce.

Halloween has always been right up there with Christmas. And, I think no matter how old you get, you can enjoy both with the excitement and awe you had as a kid.

And a tall glass of cold milk

I mentioned last time our neighbor, Anne, who came over to sit with mom a couple of evenings a week. Mostly they just drank coffee and smoked cigarettes while they talked about work and other neighbors. They would say the same things over and over sometimes. I often wondered if they were so bored sitting there that they didn’t even listen to themselves, much less the other one.
Anyway, every once in a while they would make a batch of No Bake Cookies. We loved those growing up. I don’t know when the recipe ever came about, but when they made them, it was like they had just invented sunshine that you could eat.

Anne would bring over her own cookie sheets, so she could take her part of the batch home. Line with aluminum foil, she would lay them on top of the freezer, and she and mom would sit and drink at least one cup of coffee and smoke a couple of cigarettes before they would get started. Mom had a huge pot that they would make them in and when it was time to add the oatmeal, one or two of us would be allowed to stir for a minute. Mom would lay her cookie sheets out and line them with foil. We wanted to help with those too, anything to speed up this agonizingly slow process.

Start out with 1 stick of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 1/2 cup of milk and 6 tablespoons of cocoa. Bring that to a boil, stirring constantly to blend. Boil 1 minute.
Remove from the heat and add 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1 cup of creamy peanut butter. Stir until well blended. Then add oatmeal. I never measure the oatmeal. I just keep adding and stirring until it seems right. You want it firm enough to hold onto the spoon.

They would scoop the cookies out onto the pans and then line the pans up again across the top of the huge chest freezer in the kitchen. Then they would clean up and sit down for more coffee and a few more smokes. This was another clear-cut case of child abuse. How were we supposed to wait for these darn things to harden? They took forever. You could bake cookies and let them cool enough to eat in the time it took these to “set up” as mom would say. “Can we have one?” “They’re not set up yet, no.” We knew mom could be mean, but this was just beyond comprehension. And, Anne was in on the cruelty. But then again, she had a girl and no boys, so maybe she didn’t really like us all that much and the torture was gratifying for her.

Drop them by spoonfuls onto a lined pan and let them “set up”! I still cannot wait that long for them, so I usually put them in the fridge to speed it up. One of the best parts of making them now is that no one else gets to lick the spoon but me!

When we could finally have one, we would shove a whole cookie in our mouth and reach for another. All that chocolate and peanut butter and dense chewy oats called for a tall glass of cold milk! That is, if my oldest brother, Ricky, hadn’t drunk it all by then. Mom would buy one gallon of milk a week and when it was gone, it was gone. You would always find him with the jug in the air, guzzling it straight. When we got older, he used to buy his own that the rest of us could not touch.

I don’t think we ever had these cookies at Christmas or any special occasion. These were simply cookies to have, for no reason at all. Every now and then we would have them at school, on our food tray. Say what you will about school cafeteria food, but those were the best too.

Even today, I don’t make No Bake Cookies for Christmas. I make them because we want some. I make them to take on a trip. I make them because I am bored and hungry. I don’t really have to have a reason. This evening, I needed to write this post and I decided I needed pictures  for it. I also need a tall glass of cold milk.

Sometimes you never really grow up.

Food for thoughts

This past week the weather has turned cooler. We’ve opened the windows and aired out the house. At night we throw an extra blanket on as the temperature drops into the 40’s and 50’s. The leaves are just beginning to change, and you instantly begin thinking about comfort foods. There is a meaning in that term. It’s comforting because the tastes and smells remind us of better days when someone took care of us by feeding our bellies and our souls. I decided to make today a comfort food day.

This morning, after my requisite double capacity coffee cup was filled, I fixed a late breakfast. I guess you could call it brunch since it filled us up for most of the day. I decided to make a batch of biscuits from scratch. I cook quite a bit, as you know by now, so you would think that I could turn out a pan of biscuits in a minute. Biscuits are not something that I grew up on, though. Mom probably popped open a can or two, but I don’t ever remember her making biscuits from scratch. I don’t even remember my grandmother doing it. I know that may take a couple of punches out of my southern boy card, but that’s the truth.

I did make a batch a couple of times myself growing up. I remember the first time I made them one of our neighbors was over. Anne came over a couple of nights a week to sit with mom, smoke a few dozen cigarettes and drink coffee. She was a good cook, but a nosey neighbor. I may have to write more about her sometime! A few of you probably know her, or are related to her, so I will be nice. She and mom were close and she took care of me many times. I will always thank her for that. Anyway, she tried my biscuits and told me what I did right and what I needed to do the next time. Cold Crisco was essential or your biscuits were just greasy.

But this morning I decided to use a little different method, one that I had seen online. I took a stick of frozen butter and grated it on the old knuckle buster. Then I put it back in the freezer for a couple of minutes to harden back up. Once I had my flour ready, I mixed the two and finished with the pastry cutter. The two have to come together to look like meal. Then I added in my buttermilk and stirred it until it formed a ball. On a floured surface I rolled it out, folded it once and repeated three more times. Then I just grabbed a glass to cut the biscuits. I don’t have a cutter, so a glass works pretty well. Into the oven at 450* they go until they are starting to brown on top. I take them out and immediately rub the tops with butter and they turn nice and golden. I was pretty happy with this batch. It wasn’t much harder than popping a can.

Mom’s rolling pin adds all the comfort I need.

While they were in the oven I fried up a huge slice of city ham and a few eggs. A little apple pie jelly that I made last year tasted so good on those biscuits. There’s enough ham and biscuits left to have a quick breakfast for the next couple of mornings. The comfort in making these this morning for me was using mom’s rolling pin. It is a simple wooden roller with faded red handles. It seemed so big when I was little, but it’s not that big today. However, it does a great job and I plan on passing it down to someone in the family one day. The only thing I recall mom using it for was to roll out sugar cookies each year. I think that’s another Tale. The title will have to be The Camel Had No Legs. My brothers will appreciate that one.

This evening I made a pot of Chicken and Dumplins. I know it’s dumplings, but I can’t help it. Again, not something that I grew up on, but I’ve learned to make. I’ve made all kinds of dumplins, from drop to rolled to dill to butter. I’ve settled on plain rolled. I make my own stock by beginning with boiling a whole chicken. A chicken for every pot I think is the way to go for the country and the way to go for the best pot of chicken and dumplins you’ve ever had. I cover it with water, salt it just a bit and let it boil for an hour or more. I check it and when the legs are about to fall off, it is done. I pull it out of the water, which is now stock, very carefully and put it in a roasting pan. I want to have room to work with it as I begin to pull it apart. I let it cool a bit and get the vegetables ready. I usually throw in what carrots I have and a little bit of onion. If I have any celery, I will put a little in, but not much. Then I pull off the skin and pull the meat off the bone. When I am done I have a cutting board full of chicken, white and dark meat, to put back in when the vegetables are done.

I set that aside and begin the dumplins. They are pretty much like biscuits, but of course, are rolled out very thin. I get water up to a boil again, add the chicken back in and cut the dough into tiny squares. I generously dust them with flour before putting them in the pot. As they begin to puff up, the flour helps thicken the stock. If it’s not thickening, I add a little flour to some milk and add it to the pot.

Now over the years, I’ve made some really good pots of chicken and dumplins and some have not turned out so good. The first time I made a pot for Mick, I had a pan full of cubed chicken from a meal that we had that day at work. There was so much chicken left over that a couple of us divided it. I was excited to be able to make a pot so quickly when I got home. All I had to do was open some chicken stock and make the dumplins. I made a huge pot too. That time I made big ole drop dumplins, about the size of a baseball when the puffed up. I put a dumplin on a plate for each of us, split it open and poured lots of the chicken and gravy over them. Mick took a bite and didn’t say a word. I sat down and took my first bite and could not swallow it. It was horrible, but he was being so nice. I didn’t realize that the chicken had been smoked for chicken bbq sandwiches that we had at work. Mick tried to eat a little more, but I threw it all out. It was disgusting. He has since been a bit more vocal about what I fix, and it took a while before I tried chicken and dumplins again. He ate a bowl full this evening and there’s enough for a couple of more meals.

Probably the ultimate comfort food.

The comfort in chicken and dumplins has to be that it was one of the first one pot meals that I fixed after buying my first house. It was that old 1855 farmhouse and it just seemed that this was something I needed to learn to make in my own kitchen.

A old Tale of New Tails

I know it’s been a while since I have posted. Things here at home have been a bit busy, and it’s all my fault. Nearly a month ago, I was at work early one morning. As I passed by some stairs, next to our offices, I heard a familiar sound. This was just after daybreak. I stopped to listen closely, but all I could hear were birds chirping. I began to move on when I heard it again. So I stop once again. I look around, but I can’t find anything and I have no idea where the sound is coming from. Someone walks by and gives me a puzzled look. I don’t know what their problem was. Had they never seen anyone searching for a kitten before? When they walked away I heard it again. I knew it was not all in my head, so I decided to begin meowing to see if it meowed back. That seemed pretty logical to me. “Meowwwww” meeeee “Meeeoowwwwwwwww” meeeee “MEEEEOOOOWWWWW” Got it!

Sure enough, beneath the stairs and between some pots that our gardener stores there, was the tiniest gray stripped kitten I had ever seen. I carried it out and into the sunlight. It was shivering and crying. It held close to me, I think to keep warm. Another co-worker walked by, saw what I had and turned around. He came back a minute later with a little dish of milk. I put the kitten down at the milk and it had no idea what to do, so I dipped it’s face in the bowl. After it’s initial shock, it took to drinking milk from a bowl pretty quickly. Now, what?

I carried it back to my office and found a big box. I put the kitten and what milk was left in the box and then headed to my car to find some towels or something. Sure enough, I had a couple of old towels in the back and made it a bed. I was at work so early because we were having a festival and I was setting up. It was Heritage Day. I had lots to do, and taking care of another life was not on my agenda.

I figured I better see if it was a boy or a girl. Sometimes it is so hard to tell when they are so small. He is not so small. Now I figure I have to call him something besides the kitten. I think Heri is a suitable name.  I found him on Heritage Day. Done. Wait, I can’t name him. If I do, I’ll have to keep him. Another co-worker walks in and sees the kitten. She asks me what its name is. I say “Heri”. Oh no.

I leave him in the box in my office and get back to work. I have a good 12 hours ahead of me. I keep checking on him throughout the day and so does everyone else. I ask everyone I see if they would like a kitten, but as cute as he was, there were no takers. As the day wears on and I check on him more and more, he begins to recognize me. He actually calms down when he sees me. I am done for. I had been telling Mick all day what was going on and he kept telling me to find him a good home. I always do as instructed.

I get home with him about 7pm that evening, just dead on my feet. Mick takes charge of the little guy and within five minutes, he is asleep in his lap. We discuss taking a vacation day to take him to the vet and get him checked out. I set up a kennel for him, make a litter box and he has a secure place to sleep for the night, away from the dogs. The other cats were probably more concerned about his invasion than the dogs were.

That look says it all. I’ve gone too far. Oh well, Welcome Home Heri Potter.

After I eat and get cleaned up, we begin talking about his name. Mick does not care for Heri very much. He thinks that is a weird name for a cat. I told him of my logic, being that it was Heri-tage day. He’s not convinced. So he begins searching lists of cats names. I don’t like anything he’s calling out. Then he says “Potter”. “You did find him at the Pottery House at work.” I ask, how about “Heri Potter”? Mick laughs. He says the name out loud in his best British accent, which was the worst you’ve ever heard. I thought it was perfect. I found him on Heritage Day, in the space beneath the stairs, next to the Potter’s House.

They vet thought he was about 5-6 weeks old, and he said he was in perfect health. He was such a sweet kitten a couple of weeks ago. He is now in his terrible two months stage. I don’t know if any of us will survive. He has absolutely no fear but is full of wanderlust. He is amazing.

He looks so peaceful. Terror awakens soon.

Curiosity fuels this thing.

We already had three cats and four dogs. We believe in adopting from shelters or keeping animals out of shelters. Both of us grew up with animals and we will always have something running around the house.

Our vet growing up was Doc Truban. His office I think was part of his house. You drove past a couple of big bushes and down the driveway, to a small parking space in the front. Up the stairs and through the front door. Inside there was a dutch-door window straight ahead, waiting room to the left and exam room to the right. You checked in and went to one of the chairs in the waiting room. The walls were paneled, lamps lit the room and there were just a few things on the walls.

That exam room saw every dog and cat we ever had. Injuries from accidents. Puppies that could not be born. Our last dog that suffered from kidney failure. They all went there. Many years later, one of his sons took over the office and built a new building a little ways down the road.

Doc was not just our vet. He was also our State Senator for about 20 years, I think. But in the office, he was just Doc Truban. He was a good gentle vet, that was practical about the care needed. I’ve probably used vets over the years that I have liked more, but I don’t know that I have ever trusted one more than Doc. Everybody knew him and everybody trusted him to care for their animals.

Mom’s old New Cook Book

Most people have a favorite recipe, or several, that they consider an old family specialty. Our mom was not one of those moms that passed on old family recipes. I think I’ve mentioned that she didn’t cook much, but she was a good cook. She really didn’t have the time much to cook. She worked full time and raised the four of us. We had standard meals that we would eat each week. For example, we always knew that Monday was spaghetti night. I think that’s how you get through sometimes. A routine is a means of survival. We didn’t mind. Once, dad fixed dinner on a Monday night and it was not spaghetti. He heard about it from all of us for years after that.

Sunday dinner was usually the most adventurous meal of the week. I know there were roasts and chicken dishes, but I don’t remember them. What I do remember was her meatloaf. She only had one cookbook to speak of, and I have it today. I had a collection of cookbooks at one time, but it has always been the jewel in the cookbook crown. A Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book with a red and white plaid cover, printed in 1968. She didn’t use it much but recall the Fluffy White Icing page being dog-eared. Her meatloaf was not from a cookbook or recipe, though. It was simply from memory. She never even wrote it down, so we didn’t have something to pass on.

Worn and stained from 49 years of use. It’s still mom’s New Cook Book.

She always used the biggest blue and white pyrex mixing bowl from her set. When we emptied out the house, that was one of the few things that I wanted to keep, but we couldn’t find it anywhere. At some point, dad must have given it away or let someone borrow the set. There were four nesting mixing bowls in blue and white, with a pattern of farmers and their wives on them. I have a set today that I found at an antique store. It’s missing one of the bowls, but I don’t mind. I was driving by an antique store a few months after my dad had passed, and out of the blue, I decided to stop. I had passed it many times, but I had never been in it. I walked in and the first booth I entered had the set of bowls. I picked them up and took them straight to the counter. They were asking $50 for the set of 3. I didn’t have any money, but I didn’t squabble about the price. Things were tight. I didn’t care. I wanted the bowls, so I pulled out a credit card. I got home and cleaned them up. Set them on the counter and just looked at them. I was excited to have a set just like moms. Not even an hour later I got a phone call from the executor of dad’s estate. He called me to let me know that he and my brothers had talked and they were going to go ahead and disperse part of the inheritance. I paid the credit card off when the bill came in. Mom made sure I got a set of mixing bowls. The rest of the estate was settled after the house was sold and the appropriate time had passed. The first thing I made in my new old set of bowls was mom’s meatloaf.

Each bowl has the farmers with the wheat pattern and they alternate blue and white backgrounds as they nest down. These may not be mom’s, but they feel like it and that’s good enough for memories.

I learned how to make it from just watching her, which is the best way to pass a recipe down. She never measured anything for it. She just knew how much to put in. That’s when you know something is going to be good. It’s tried and true. Sometimes she would let me mix it all up. You had to get your hands in there and squish the meat, ketchup, oats, and eggs through your fingers. It would be so cold that you had to keep the hot water running so you could warm your hands up and then dig back in for another minute. She told me a few times about our great grandmother’s (on dad’s side) meatloaf. Mom was never sure how she did it, or even why she did it, but she had an egg in the center of her meatloaf. She would cut it and there was a hardboiled egg in the middle. Thanks to the internet and Food Network, I’ve been able to look that up. It’s something that has been done for a very long time, and it’s making a comeback. You make your meatloaf and put half in the bottom of the pan. Then you line two to four hard boiled eggs up and cover them with the remaining amount of meatloaf. Then you bake it. Most of what I read said it was a German or Jewish recipe. We are neither that I know of, but I am sure great grandmaw Edge learned that somewhere. Mom never tried it, but I am tempted to sometime.

I made a meatloaf tonight for Mick to take to his parents tomorrow. His mom needs to stay off her feet for a few days, so we wanted to make sure she didn’t try to get in the kitchen to cook, and we want to make sure they have something to last them several days. I was talking to her a few weeks ago and she was telling me how she makes her meatloaf. I make mine the exact same way. I follow what my mom did, but I started adding a little bbq sauce a couple of years back, which is what she does as well. Neither of them followed a recipe. Their hands just know.

Here is my mom’s recipe for Meatloaf:
2-3 pounds of ground beef
1/2 onion chopped
ketchup
mustard
Worcestershire sauce
oatmeal
1 egg
a splash of milk
salt
pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix well with your hands. Sometimes she would use a small can of tomato paste instead of ketchup. Transfer to a baking dish and pat the meatloaf down into a solid loaf. Cover and bake at 325 degrees until done. Uncover and top with more ketchup and return to the oven for 5 minutes longer to brown.
Like I said, I add a little bbq sauce to mine now. The amounts of ketchup, mustard, oats, and such are just to feel. I honestly have no idea how much I put in. When it looks and feels right, I know it.

Get all of your ingredients together and just mix it until it holds together and feels right. Too soft and it will not hold up, too dry and it will fall apart. I need to make this with some of my nieces and nephews. I don’t know if my brothers make mom’s meatloaf, so we need to pass on the recipe.
Now there’s a loaf!
Just top it off with ketchup and back in the oven for 5 minutes more!

When I make it with the hard-boiled eggs in the middle, I’ll put up a quick post. I don’t remember much about my great-grandparents, so I need to connect a little to them. I just know they came down from Pennsylvania and settled in Buckhannon, WV for the rest of their lives and raised a family. And, they ate meatloaf with a hard boiled egg in it, or so I was told.

The Waterpark is closed…For no more renovations

I know it’s been a few weeks since I last posted, but it has been just a little crazy around the house. I told you about the beginnings of our bathroom renovations, and I think we were into day number four. Well, we went well into week number three before it was all done. There were no major issues, thankfully. But, our contractor was not as familiar with the work as we had hoped he would be.

The plumbers were in and out and did a great job. Next, the shower walls went up. By next, I mean five days later. There was some prep work to be done, in all fairness, such as drywall. I remember my dad helping with many renovations through the church when we were growing up and he got to help with the drywall installation, mudding, and sanding. If you can avoid it, do so at all costs. I don’t think all the dust has settled yet.

We decided to help speed things up (and hopefully recover some on the budget) by doing some of the painting ourselves, so we made sure to get that done overnight for them. When the tile went down, the toilet came up, so we had to relocate to a hotel for a couple of nights. I said I would take a bath in a bucket, but I was not about to do anything else in a bucket. I do have my limits. While the toilet was out, it sat on the porch. I did not. After the tile dried and the grout went in, the toilet returned to its rightful and private location. Luckily that happened on a Friday, so we were able to come home for the weekend.

That just happened to be a busy weekend at work for me too, as we had an event that I had to be at. It was a short 16 hour day. Sunday morning we were at Lowe’s when they opened, with a list of supplies we needed. We had to get things back on track and get our bathroom back. We had opted for beadboard, which the contractor put up on Friday as well, but I told him what type of molding I was thinking of to finish it. It was obvious that it would be into the next week before that would happen. So baseboard and chair rail molding were on our list. We picked up a few other supplies and headed back home. As I unloaded the building of all my power tools , Mick began painting all the trim, then I measured what I needed and began cutting and installing it. The day flew by, and a few storms blew in, but we got all the trim in, with the exception of a couple of small sections. Then we hung the mirror, changed out the door knob, set the vanity, caulked and touched up the paint on all the trim. We figured we saved about 3 days worth of work. The next day when Scott arrived to begin working, he was a bit shocked at the work we had gotten done. He almost offered me a job as a finish carpenter and said he would pay me $40 an hour. Now we knew what we had just saved on the budget too.

That did speed things up quite a bit and they were done the next day. We finished up with the small details of hanging the towel bars and medicine cabinet. Our work lasted a few more evenings. In the end, we are extremely happy with how it turned out.

It did remind me of renovations that we did at home in the late 80’s. My parents put in all new windows, a new roof, siding, and remodeled the bathroom and kitchen. This process began in late summer with ordering the windows and getting the roof replaced and siding put on. The windows did not arrive until the week of Thanksgiving. Mom was excited to have all new windows that would tilt in and easily slide up and down, and best of all they were insulated. All the windows were installed except the big picture window in the living room. The took the old window out and tossed it into the dumpster and when they dry fitted the new one, it did not fit. It had been made wrong and would have to be remade, asap. The best they could do was board up a 6-foot x 6-foot hole in the living room wall. Mom was less than not happy. They did manage to get a window built withing a few days into the next week and installed it. We put up the Christmas tree right away. It had become a tradition for us to come home from Grandmaw Barton’s and put up the tree on Thanksgiving day. That year it was a little bit delayed.

Now they had to finish the bathroom and kitchen renovations. I don’t remember too many issues, but I do remember a new toilet sitting in the living room for several days, right next to the Christmas tree. Along with all the new appliances, my parents had recently had a new water softener installed in the kitchen closet. One night, mom and I were wallpapering the kitchen and about 2am that damn thing kicked on. We thought someone was outside the backdoor doing something and the only weapons we had handy were a wallpaper brush and a utility knife. The only good thing about it coming on was that it woke us up a bit and we were able to finish the job.

Our Christmas toilet. My cat, CeCe was fascinated by this thing being in the living room. Notice the boxes of Christmas lights next to it.

Home renovations are not fun. I have never heard anyone exclaim how much they love them, but I have to say that mom and I did have fun wallpapering that night, and Mick and I did have a good time working on the bathroom trim. There is a sense of accomplishment that you feel when you work with your hands to feather your nest. Even the flaws become endearing reminders of giving it your best.

Well, here are a few pictures of the “after” of our bathroom. Next, the kitchen.

MacBeth and the other cats have all figured out that they can crawl under the sink base. Now they have a new place to hide.
The Appalachian Tale

Memories, recipes, and Tales of an Appalachian Boy.