Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pancakes on Saturday morning

Last Saturday I decided to make pancakes for breakfast.  This is not a normal thing for me, being more the toast and coffee or go out and let someone else cook for me type. Since there is now only one of me it hardly seems worth the mess. But that morning pancakes sounded like just the thing, so I assembled all the ingredients and set about recreating some memories.  Pancakes always remind me of my mom and dad.  Mom is the first to admit that she is not a great cook and these days hasn't met a Lean Cuisine she didn't like.  But while dinners were hit or miss, she and my dad had breakfast down pat.  When my brother and I were growing up, Saturday breakfasts were always deliciously large.  Sometimes there would be make bacon, eggs and homemade biscuits, sometimes fried doughnuts or biscuits and gravy, but mostly there were pancakes.  Stacks and stacks of pancakes.  I never appreciated the time and energy it took to produce those lovely golden brown, perfectly sized cakes until attempting to recreate them as a new mom, nor did I fully comprehend the timing involved so that everyone got to eat at the same time and the cook wasn't left standing alone at the griddle. My first attempts yielded lopsided, lumpy and unevenly browned cakes that mostly tasted like uncooked batter.  When my kids got older the only pancakes they requested for breakfast were the ones my dad made for them...silver dollar pancakes barely larger than bite sized, Mickey Mouse pancakes with chocolate chips for eyes, and extremely thin, almost crepe-like pancakes that he wrapped around link sausage and let them dip in warmed maple syrup and eat with their fingers. It should come as no surprise that I did not feel compelled to master the art of the pancake, because who could compete with that! When we moved to Montana and the kids no longer had access to Grandpa's Wonder Cakes, they had to make do with what I produced, which had gotten noticeably better over the years, or settle for French toast. We had French toast, which I have found to be virtually impossible to mess up, a lot.

Single status not withstanding, Saturday saw me making pancakes, and not just ok pancakes but really, really good pancakes. I thought it was a shame there was no one to admire the pretty little cakes as they sat on my plate, gorgeously golden from the farm fresh eggs supplied by my friend Marilyn, dripping butter and real Vermont maple syrup. But on the other hand, there was no one to grab the first one off the stack and cram it into their mouth while my back was turned. I couldn't resist taking a picture and sending it to my daughter in Texas. She texted back that they had just finished their breakfast, which also was pancakes, albeit it with eggs and hashbrowns. She always was an overachiever.  I then texted the photo to my mom in California who quickly responded that she was on her way to a breakfast meeting and would talk to me later. Sigh! Apparently there was no one but me who was truly appreciative of my pancakes. Then I caught sight of my dog, patiently sitting by my knee, eyes glued to my fork as it lifted from the plate to my mouth then back to the plate again. Every once in awhile he would raise his eyes to mine as if to judge if I was going to be at all inclined to let him finish whatever it was on the plate that smelled soooo good. So I made him his own pancake and even drizzled a little maple syrup on it.  He ate it in one gulp then licked the empty plate for a good 5 minutes.  A little while later my son dropped by, took one sniff and said "Pancakes"?  "Yes, indeed," I replied. "There is still some batter, do you want me to make you some?"  "That's ok," he answered. "I'll make my own." And so he did, which I dutifully admired as, I'll admit it, at least as nice as the ones I had made, and maybe even better.  Of course he had to go one step further and add chopped up sausage, eschewing syrup in favor of heated up raspberry preserves, and dusting the whole thing with powdered sugar.  Show off.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A sink full of suds is amazingly therapeutic

I hate my dishwasher.  I hate the noise, the mess of the detergent, the way your glasses never quite sparkle despite adding the magic liquid that is supposed to take care of that.  But most of all I hate emptying it.  As a teenager I had many, many arguments discussions with my brother, each of us claiming it was the other's turn to do the deed.  When I got married, then had children, I was hopeful that this task could be sloughed off on taken over by someone else.  Alas, that was not to be.  Apparently no one likes doing it.  Well, except for my grown son, who cheerfully unloads the dishwasher by putting everything in whatever place strikes his fancy...drinking glasses in the Tupperware cupboard, plates balanced precariously on top of stacks of bowls, silverware in one huge pile in the knife drawer.  I am all for creativity in the kitchen, but opening a cupboard and finding a baking dish filled with coffee cups where I expected to find plates is little...surprising. So it should come as no shock that I actually like doing dishes (in much smaller & more manageable batches) by hand.  It's the type of activity that involves you, but not wholly.  It requires a minimum of concentration, occupying your hands while your brain is free to wander, to think, to dream, to sing.

We didn't have a dishwasher until I was a sophomore in high school.  Prior to that time it was mostly my job to clean up after dinner. If there were a lot of dishes or pots and pans, my mom would wash and my dad would dry, but most of the time it was left to me. We had this long, narrow kitchen with pocket doors at each end and a sink under a window looking out to the side yard.  I would shut both doors (for the awesome acoustical value!) and sing rock and roll at the top of my lungs, somehow imagining that the doors enclosed not only me but my voice.  One evening I had just finished belting out Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit, and was moving into Linda Rondstadt's Different Drum, when my mom yelled thru the door to "for heaven's sake stop singing and finish the dishes, we can't hear the TV"!

The first house I lived in after relocating to Missoula had a huge kitchen with yards of counter space, a work peninsula and an attached breakfast room with a slider to the deck. Best of all it had a nice big window over the sink with a view of the kids playing in the backyard during the day and a sky bright with stars at night. It was while gazing out that window that I stared, slack jawed, as two of my daughter's friends sidled gingerly across the retaining wall at the top of the yard, inching along, arms outstretched and backs against the neighbor's fence, while my dog stood below them barking like crazy. My daughter told me later that the two boys were certain that one misstep meant certain death by Springer Spaniel.  I was at the sink when that same dog worked to pull the blanket out of her dog house on the deck, dragged it to the furthest part of the yard, then trotted happily back to her now empty dog house and crawled inside. Evening was just falling and I was wrist deep in suds the day I looked out the window and stared into the beady little eyes of the biggest skunk in the history of skunks, eating from my dog's dish. I yanked my hands out of the water and flipped off the outside lights, apparently thinking the skunk would recognize the "no candy here" message as any good Trick or Treater does and just lumber off home. He didn't. He leisurely finished up, smacked his lips and waddled around the yard, while I hid behind the blinds on the sliding glass door, peering at him in shivering horror, hoping he didn't decide to crawl into the dog house, and if he did, wondering how quickly I could pack up the family and move.

Since that time I have had big kitchens, tiny kitchens and everything in between. I have a lovely window over the sink now, and while I don't belt out top 40 hits much any more, every once in awhile I crank up the music and let George Straight or the Beach Boys or Bruno Mars do the belting for me.  Over the years my kitchen sink has seen me argue different sides of political issues, write a resignation for a job I loathed, tell people off and compose scathing product reviews, all while scrubbing whatever was burned into the bottoms of pans. Over a sink full of suds and silverware, I design jewelry, make grocery lists, plan Christmas gifts and plot out mystery stories. Oh yes, and I write blogs.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

You should see what's in my mom's purse!

There was a time when faced with an emergency, I could open up my purse and say "I think I have something in here..." and 9 times out of 10, could find a solution within the bowels of what my daughter called my Purse O'Plenty.  What with backaches, shoulder pain, headaches and the lot, those days are long past.  Now about the only thing I could fix from my carried supplies is a jagged nail or dry lips. When I grocery shop, even those emergencies are beyond me, as I carry in my pockets only my cell phone, keys and a very small, very cute Coach credit card holder. I still occasionally carry a larger bag, but only if there is a specific purpose for it, like I need to carry a pair of sandals to switch out my tennis shoes, or I am going to the movies and need a hiding place for candy bars, or I am on my way to music in the park with a few discreet airline-size bottles of alcohol.  But mall shopping invariably finds me using a wristlet or small clutch.  Besides relieving my shoulder/back pains, lightening the load of what I carry when I shop also means I don't have to constantly keep track of a large purse.  My 85 year old mom, on the other hand, is the complete opposite.

I just returned from a month long visit with her and was appalled to see her still toting around a purse that easily weighed 10 lbs.  Since she now uses a cane, slogging about with extra weight on one shoulder makes her not only stand crookedly, but also tires her out.  So one evening, as we prepared to meet family for dinner, I brought out a much smaller purse and suggested that she only take with her vital, important, must-have items.  At first she claimed that everything she had in her purse fit into that category, but she reluctantly agreed to let me go thru her bulging purse and eliminate some things.  With that in mind, I started with her wallet, which was itself bulging with credit cards, receipts, cash, coins and a checkbook. "Do you really need every credit card you own and your checkbook to go out to a dinner you are not paying for?" I asked.  "I like to be prepared," was the reply. "I do, too, but how about if tonight you just take one credit card and your driver's license?"  "Those aren't in that wallet."  "Where are they?"  "Here," she said, pulling out a separate card case.  "So what's in your wallet?" I asked, soundly like a credit card commercial.  "Everything else I need." Ok, I reminded myself, as I reluctantly put the huge wallet and the card case into the smaller purse...pick your battles. Next came her makeup pouch, which contained 3 lipsticks, a compact with mirror, blush, mascara, chapstick, another mirror, pack of cotton balls, tweezers and a sample tube of foundation. I took out everything but the lipstick and compact, suggesting she could make do with only one choice of lip color. One packet of tissues went into the small bag, leaving 2 others in the old purse. Gum and 6 Tootsie Rolls made the cut, a day planner, 4 pens and a small can of hairspray did not.  "What's this?" I asked, holding a small zippered pouch.  "The box for my hearing aids, in case I have to take them out." "Under what circumstances would you have to remove your hearing aids?" I queried.  "I can think of many," came the reply. "Name one." "They might malfunction and my ears might hurt from the loud noise." "Has that ever happened?"  "Not yet, but it might."  "Ok, then what is this?" I asked, moving on to another pouch.  "That is the remote control for my hearing aids." "I thought that was in the form of a pen," I commented.  "Yes, it is.  That is the box that holds the pen, so that it doesn't get crushed, along with the instruction manual."  Of course. We managed to agree on leaving behind a Bible, sunglasses, a notepad, full sized tube of hand lotion (no one has hands chapped enough for that to be necessary, and if you are thinking of sharing with others, let them bring their own), and an oblong weekly pill box with only 1 compartment holding actual pills.  "What kind of pills are these?" I asked, having observed her taking her medications earlier. "They are for motion sickness." "The restaurant is on dry land," I said, helpfully, "but just in case they have relocated Casa Del Rey to a boat, I'll put one of these pills in my little pillbox with my Tylenol for that headache I feel coming on.  Will that work?" Also left behind on the kitchen counter was a Target bag with an ink cartridge that needed to be returned, an envelope with dozens of receipts, her address book, a box of cough drops and a tire gauge.  "Where did that come from?" my mom asked, pointing at the gauge. "You're asking me?" I returned.

By this time we had just about finished with the inside of the purse, which left the outside pockets.  My mom favors purses that are the female equivalent of cargo pants, with many and varied places for storage.  There were lots of discoveries in the pockets...a book of stamps, another packet of tissues, paperclips, rubber bands, a small tape measure, a rain hat, bandaids, a broken necklace. "Do you need of any this stuff?" I asked.  "Of course not," came the reply. "but leaving the pockets empty is silly."  Indeed. I raised my eyebrows as I removed the last item from the now empty outer pocket...her Kindle.  "Really?" I said. "You were going to take your e-reader with you to the restaurant?"  "Yes," she replied coolly. "If my ears hurt and I have to remove my hearing aids, I won't be able to hear the conversations, so I will just read." In that case, I thought, I should throw back in the tire gauge.  That way if she gets tired of reading, she can go out to the parking lot and make sure we have enough air in our tires.