Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Shrove Tuesday pancakes

Sometimes it's not my grandmother I'm becoming; tonight I think I was playing g-g-g-g-g-g-g-grandmother!  It suddenly seemed vital to have Shrove Tuesday pancakes for dinner, even though we never have before.  

Lent always seems like a powerful and moving time for me, but there's nothing in my background to help me know how to celebrate it.  I think that remote grandmother who slaved over her wood stove to turn pancakes would have to have been pre-Quaker, since the Quakers seem to go back at least five generations in my family.  

In a way, Lent seems like a natural for Quakers, who are, after all, a rather introspective bunch, and isn't that what Lent's for - examining the mess that's inside and trying to be better about it? But if the Church of England said that you should forego meat, eggs and milk for forty days, after carousing around your pancakes the night before, that would have been the kiss of death for that tradition.  If Quakers tend to frown on excess, we also aren't big on deliberate sacrifice.

"Shrove", in case you've forgotten, is like a past participle of "shrive," which means to absolve of sin.  And the pancakes were a way to use up the extra eggs and milk that you wouldn't need until Easter.  

And how does this work for me, I ask myself.  Quakers, of course, aren't very concerned with sin, but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of a time when I pay extra attention to the things that I consistently stumble over and ways that I can avoid them.  And if a lovely meal of Craig Claiborne's basic pancakes can help me prepare for that, then why not?   

Thursday, February 19, 2009

by Larry Racunas

Those were days
of consensual green spirits,
long, airy walks,
wistful neighbors, whirling
windmills that sang to you.
That was a time
when the fresh, outdoor smell
of your laundry
did not mean your neighbor wanted to hang you.

Not a great poem, maybe, but he's from here, and the local paper published it, and that's worth something.  After I talked with the codes lady at Prairie Village City Hall, she published a little piece in our local rag (called the Village Voice - cute, huh) about the legality of hanging out wash.  It is, unless the homes association says no.  Now I've talked with my homes association president, who may be an undiscovered radical, and she's going to write about it in our next newsletter.  Do you think that's a tiny bit of progress?

I needed encouragement today.  After I eagerly opened up a package from Amazon only to find out that I'd misread the title and it was in Spanish, I opened the paper to the headline, "Demand for 'green' wilts with economy.  It seems that the minute folks have less money but cheaper gas, they start going for cheap gas-guzzlers again.  Where are the people who are going to save the beauty of our planet from ourselves?  

Enough - I think my New Year's resolution is to become less judgmental!

If you think I'm a little nutty when it comes to clotheslines, try visiting a great website, www.laundrylist.org.  That's where the true nuts gather.  There's even a section for laundry art.  

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Grandma and Grandpa Augerson

Stella Mae Henry Augerson 1886-1979
Herbert Rutherford Augerson 1884-1969

Their names were Stella and Herbert; if I'd been a boy I've gotten the Herbert; there's another reason to like having been born a girl.  

I haven't told you much about Grandpa.  Here he is with me, both of us focused on the camera or something else even more interesting.  Grandpa was apparently a handsome young Swede who drove his horses fast.  When Grandma married him she probably didn't get that he'd drift from place to place and job just as much as the men in her family had.  But he let me help him with his chores - feeding the chickens, working on wood - and I liked him.  Much later my mother told him he was a bigoted old man, which was true, too.  
I reminded myself of Grandpa the other day when I put a rubber band around my checkbook cover to keep it shut.  Grandpa loved rubber bands, and his garage was full of old cigar boxes that kept many things safe with a couple of rubber bands around the outside.  I use rubber bands more and more.

Grandma was the first in her family to go to college, and she endured teaching in a one-room school for a whole year before she met Grandpa.  She loved teaching me and made sure my grammar was up to snuff, but she hated being a cute young thing when some of her pupils were big and tough.  I'm glad that the only picture I have of her with me as a little kid shows us reading.  

She was no cookie-baking grandma.  She hated to cook.  That's why I learned to cook in her kitchen instead of my mother's; Grandma let me make messes to my heart's content.  I made little creations out of her leftover pie crust, and later I spent the summer trying to invent the perfect barbecue sauce (never having visited Kansas City!).  

But she made one thing that I loved, and only later did my dad tell me it was a depression recipe born of desperation.  She called it egg gravy, and it must be Swedish.  To make it you fry up bacon, take out the cooked slices and leave the grease in the pan.  Then you beat up some eggs with lots of milk, reheat the grease a little, pour in the eggs, and mix it around.  Keep mixing over low heat; it'll curdle, that's what it does.  Eventually it takes on the consistency of a curdled cooked custard (yum!).  Then you put lots of salt and pepper on it and serve it on toast with the bacon on the side.  Then you take your cholesterol tablets, just in case.  But don't knock it until you've tried it.  

Daddy said that in the depths of the depression they ate egg gravy without the bacon.  Not so yum.  But even when food was scarce, they must have known people with cows and chickens.  I think there's a recipe for egg gravy in the 1947 Galesburg First Lutheran Women's Missionary Society Cookbook, which Jeremy owns now.  The other highlight of that book is about ten pages of jello recipes.  

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"[Faith] might even choke down some watermelon pickles."

        from The Body in the Belfry, Katherine Hall Page

An insidious thing happens when you start to look at everything you buy and everything it comes packaged in and wonder how much you're going to waste - and where it's going to go.  I guess I shouldn't say you.  It's my problem.  Last summer we bought a couple of small, sweet and totally beguiling watermelons from the farmer's market, and all of a sudden it seemed criminal to only eat the nice red insides.  

Back comes the ancestral memory: people used to take the drab look white middle layer and pickle it!   Hard to say why; I don't suppose it has much food value, like most white parts.  But in hard times, a nice tasty pickle might make up for the deficiencies in the leftover bits of meat or the hot dish casserole.  And of course, after generations of making do, folks started developing a taste for the stuff, and it entered our gene pool or the great American psyche.  Watermelon pickle=good.  

I guess it is genetic, because the urge hit Jeremy and me at the same time, without consultation.  I followed a "ye olde" recipe from the internet, while he created a spicy pickle that would fit in with his no-sugar need.  And now, in deepest winter, it's time to bring them out.  I'm serving them with pot roast, but Jeremy's would go equally well with Indian food, I think.  I'll let you know how wildly popular they are! 

In the picture, that's mine on the left and Jeremy's on the right; I've decided to mix them together.  Come by and have a taste!

p.s. as for the quote - I'm not necessarily recommending the book