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Rudyard Kipling in Philadelphia

September 25, 2014

The Wednesday weather was perfect for us to go to Philadelphia to pick up our 6 year old grandson from school:  the crisp bit of the morning had eased into a sunny afternoon warmth that spread over us as we sat waiting on the bench on the blacktop where we would rendezvous with Adrian after his teacher, “Miss C,” passed him off to us.  After a fist bump with his teacher, and with his hand in mine, David, (aka, Grampy, at that point) joined us from the bench and we headed toward the gate.

Adrian was instantly all chatter:  “Do you celebrate Rosh Hoshana?”

“No,” I told him, “We’re not Jewish.”

“Well, you believe in God,”  he said, (which has been established by his daddy during a discussion one day).

“Yes, we celebrate different holidays.  Not all people who believe in God celebrate in the same ways,” I told him.  Then, eager to engage him in a new story for the walk back home, and sort of to establish the tone of the trip along the sidewalks, (before we got to the playground at the halfway point), and without missing a beat, I asked, “Do you want to know how the camel got his hump?  Well, it’s not actually the way; it’s pretend, but it’s a fun story.”  Seeing an open expression on his face, I charged right in by reading directly from his mom’s copy of the book which I’d picked off one of our shelves in the basement.  I knew that language would grab him so fast he’d never know what hit him, and that’s exactly what happened.  (And see for yourself:  read the excerpt aloud to get the full effect.)

In the sea, once upon a time, O my Best Beloved, there was a Whale, and he ate fishes.  He ate the starfish and the garfish, and the crab and the dab, and the plaice and the dace, and the skate and his mate, and the mackereel and the pickereel, and the really truly twirly-whirly eel.  All the fishes he could find in all the sea he ate with his mouth–so!  Till at last there was only one small fish left in all the sea, and he was a small ‘Stute Fish, and he swam a little behind the Whale’s right ear, so as to be out of harm’s way.  Then the Whale stood up on his tail and said, ‘I’m hungry.’  And the small ‘Stute Fish said in a small ‘stute voice, ‘Noble and generous Cetacean, have you ever tasted Man?’

‘No,’ said the Whale.  ‘What is it like?’

‘Nice,’ said the small ‘Stute Fish.  “Nice but nubbly.’

‘Then fetch me some,’ said the Whale, and he made the sea froth up with his tail.           — (“How The Whale Got His Throat,” Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling)

Fearing I might fall over my feet, since we were continually walking along Lombard Avenue, (although he was safely holding onto David’s hand at that point), I only read the above section to him, and he said, “I know that story!  I have it in a book called “How The Camel Got His Hump and Other Just So Stories.”  Dr. Leslie gave it to me – for free – I got to keep it and now it’s mine – but the words are different.  I like mine better…..How could different people write the same story?  And after a short discussion about different versions of stories, the subject was changed.

It wasn’t till much later in our visit – while he was having his snack – that we returned to the story.  Not wanting to miss my chance to get back to the beauty and fun of the original language, I re-read that same passage.  This time, I really had him.  He wanted more.  And I knew at that point we could’ve read for an hour together, at least.  But there wasn’t time.  It was just about time for us to go back home.  But I promised I’d bring it back the next week.  In a conspiratorial tone, he said, “Maybe instead of playing on the playground, we can read.”  I told him we’d do both and that I wouldn’t forget.

The whole visit was like that yesterday.  He was a delight the whole way home and at the playground.  He gave us a ton of details about his day and we were captivated.  This is how we roll sometimes when we visit Philadelphia on Wednesdays.  :)

The Rubbing Method (British Scones)

July 23, 2014

Often, when I’m sitting with the guests at the breakfast table, I learn something new.  Monday was one of those days.

When I’d spoken with Susan on the phone a couple of days prior to their reservation date, of course, I’d noticed her British accent right away, but we’d been extra busy and I didn’t think about it again.  Yesterday afternoon when she and her husband arrived, we chatted for a time and she told me that when she moved here from England, she quickly learned that Americans just didn’t do the whole Tea Thing properly.  (I certainly don’t, so I knew what she meant.)  This morning at the breakfast table we continued that conversation, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that I’d completely forgotten the tea shop reference from the day before.  Continuing our chat, she went on to describe how she’d thought about the idea of opening up a tea shop for many years and at age 39, she did exactly that.  And she did it for 10 years.  She described how everything was homemade and how much guests always appreciated the experience.  During this chat, my mind began whirling and my heart started sinking – further and further into the stew pot, since in our busy-ness (complicated by the installment of a new hot water heater which necessitated an entire basement clean-up on the day of their arrival), I couldn’t seem to get my mind around making a brand new sweet treat for breakfast.  Occasionally, I’ll use a couple of homemade scones or muffins from the freezer that I keep for emergencies, and this situation seemed to fit because the homemade cinnamon bun dough wasn’t going to work either.  (With Yating, our Chinese guest being here for 3 weeks, the time obviously had gotten away from me and the dough from the freezer wasn’t going to rise.  So no emergency help there.)  I rarely use the frozen left-overs for guests’ breakfasts, but they’re still lovely and guests seem perfectly delighted by them.  (We always get easy-to-please guests).  Soooo…..I’d put two of these previously-frozen blueberry scones alongside 2 pieces of buttered toast from the homemade bread that was fresh on their breakfast table.  But as I sat there, listening to the rubbing method – the first mixing method introduced to Susan in her “cookery” class when she was in about the 7th grade, where she’d learned to put her thumbs and little fingers together to gently rub butter into the flour mixture of quick breads and pastries by sort of fanning the mix from thumbs an little fingers onto each of the other fingers then back into the bowl, I knew I had but one alternative.  I’d have to rub out my egregious error of serving frozen left-over scones to a Scone Queen who’d only served fresh scones her whole life by confessing.  There was no way around it.  So that’s what I did.  She laughed and smiled all at the same time, with her eyes too, and I knew I would live to serve yet another breakfast after their departure.  And then I begged her for her British Tea Shop scone recipe, which she graciously recited for me.  I made them yesterday for our guests, who loved them, but ohmygosh, there were left-overs, even after I sent some home with them, had David deliver a couple to Miss Phoebe and the saving of some for David’s lunch.  Oh dear.  Only one thing to do.  Yep. They’re in the freezer.  You just never know when you might rub against a real emergency and need a real British Tea Shop scone.

Susan’s British Tea Shop Buttermilk Scones

4 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour

pinch salt

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cream of tartar

Rub in (or cut in with a pastry blender like I learned to do it from my mother) 6 T butter.  Stir in 1/4 cup sugar.  Stir in add-ins, like fruit or chocolate chunks (which I used yesterday).  Stir in 1/2 quart buttermilk.  (Susan said that if you find yourself without enough buttermilk, you can add some lemon juice to regular milk).  Cut out in rounds.  Brush with milk, then sprinkle with sugar (which I forgot to do but which I’ll certainly do the next time).  425 degrees – 15 min’s.

The Syringa Tree (Grief and Grace)

July 18, 2014

There was so much beauty in this book…..

When we buried my grandfather, my grandmother sat very quiet and still.  The skin on her face, neck, and much of her shoulder still wept with burns.  It was as if she saw and heard nothing.  In the hospital, she had repeatedly asked, ‘What did they want, Dr. Winston, what did they want?  Did you know, they took his medals, his war medals from the trunk under our bed.  They took them.’  Then she sat on the end of the hospital bed, staring ahead as though she could see whoever he was running through the hills soaked in blood, sporting the medals of the man he had murdered.  Her hand inadvertently folded and re-folded the edge of the hospital sheet, pleating her life back into place.

My mother had had to be restrained when we first arrived at Clova, when Sergeant Potgieter said, ‘We believe he was a freedom fighter from Rhodesia, ….’

‘What does murdering people have to do with freedom?’ my mother screamed, and seemed to want to run into the hills herself to find this man, to demand that he answer her.  My father held her arms down to her sides, then carried her crying like a child, to lie down.

Now we stood, huddled around a hole in the earth at the small, bleak cemetery…The wind swirled around us in a lonely wail.  It lifted the dust at our feet and curled it over the edges of the grave, softening the dark pit, making it seem kinder.

‘Let us pray,’ Father Montford said into our grief.

‘…our life, our sweetness, and our hope.  To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve….’

I looked up and saw, across the veld, a tall Venda slowly approaching.  I saw another, then another, then several more.  They must have walked for hours, many all the way from Clova, many from the farms around us.  Soon a column of Vendas, led by Thoyo, wound toward us through the windswept, graveyard veld.  Many I had never seen before…Like an army of men, they walked in silent unison, shoulders gleaming in the sad light, their tearstained women following, wrapped in black batik-cloths.  And quietly behind them, the Clova picaninns, all wearing white shirts from my grandfather’s shop.

Father Montford waited until they had gathered, a wall of comfort, around us.  Then slowly, he resumed.

‘To thee, do we send up our sighs, Mourning and weeping in this vale of tears….’

My grandfather was lowered down into the ground.  I thought of his hands.  I thought of gifts.  I thought of friends — how he had been mine.  I wondered if he could ever have imagined a hundred Vendas come to say good-bye.

And I thought of foes.

Even as I wanted to pat him down into a rose-brown blanket of earth, where he would be safe and warm, I could not think about leaving him there.  Father Montford continued his soft-spoken Irish words:

‘Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this exile…

When it was over, we walked away.  The Vendas stayed by George Waltham’s grave to mourn him into the night.  We left him tucked deep into the dark soil close to the place he loved, close to the land no one had wanted, where, trying to forget, trying to redeem himself, he had brought barren earth back to life.

pp. 210 – 211, The Syringa Tree, Pamela Gien, 2006.

Queen Sugar: (Forgiveness)

June 23, 2014

From Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile, 2014, a book about the sugar cane industry.  I grabbed it off the New Books shelf at the Kent County Public Library and it totally grabbed me back.

…Up and down the rows, farmers loaded air compressors, old sinks, and batteries into their trucks.  Standing alone in the shade of a shabby oak, Charley was afraid to check the parking lot for Denton’s truck.  Just the thought that he’d quit made her light-headed with shame.  She’d acted foolishly.  Now she had to go home and tell Micah and Miss Honey how badly she’d blown it….

The empty Coke can still in her hand, Charley walked toward the parking lot, braced for the sight of the empty spot where Denton’s truck had been.  But his truck was there, and yes, thank God, there he was, leaning against its door….She had never been so happy to see those Liberty overalls, the bald head, or that raggedy old truck, as she was right now.  Her first impulse was to run over, hurl herself on the ground, and beg for forgiveness.  She would apologize for everything…all of it — if he’d just give her another chance….

‘I was afraid you’d gone,’ Charley said, chastened, and then, ‘Oh God, I’m so sorry.  I’m such an idiot….I don’t blame you for quitting.’  If she thought Denton wouldn’t find it girly and manipulative, she’d cry.  And for an instant, she thought she might.  Her head was buzzing and there was that tightness again, like some gigantic, soggy wool sock was being wrung out inside her.  But then it lifted.  Just enough for her to say one word.  ‘Please.’

Nothing.  No reaction at all….

…Well, Charley thought, that’s it.  It’s over.  She stood clear as Denton back up and swung around.  A furious spray of gravel flew out from the tires and there was that awful grating sound, the sound of spinning tires over loose rocks and dirt, the sound of someone who couldn’t get away fast enough…..she listened, ….wondering if she could hold off crying until he was gone.  But the sound never came, and when Charley opened her eyes, Denton’s truck was idling right there in front of her and he was leaning across the seat.  And now he was reaching for the handle, and the door was swinging open. It wouldn’t be until later that night, when she was at Miss Honey’s and had time to think back on it, that Charley would understand there was a difference between kowtowing and letting people’s assumptions work against them; that there was a beauty and honor in the Japanese bough that bent but didn’t break, and she finally, truly, appreciated what a decent man Denton was.  That just when she thought her life was over, just when she thought she’d screwed things up (again), forgiveness and grace would be bestowed upon her with two simple words:  ‘Get in.’                       pp.  170 – 171

Basil Ice Cream

June 16, 2014

The basil ice cream is steeping on the stove just now:  step one of the process.  I like to keep this in the freezer as a staple this time of year.  Fresh berries go up a notch with a small scoop of this special surprise at breakfast time!

My parents used the old-fashioned crank ice cream freezer, and it was always a treat in the summer time.  Our family of four worked together, with Daddy always making it fun!  After my mother had finished cooking it on the stove and it was poured carefully into the silver-colored, cylindrical container that fit into the middle of the freezer, it was almost ready.  The ice would be layered with the rock salt, again, carefully, so as to keep the inner container perfectly balanced.  When the ice reached the top, sprinkled again with salt, it was ready to crank.  The three of us took turns turning, (my mother being exempt, since she had done the stirring of the cooked custard base).  It did seem to take a long time, but our watering mouths and anticipation made it OK.  Besides, Daddy was there, cheering us on.  When the turning became more labored, it was TIME.  Again, carefully lifting it, Daddy carried it inside to the kitchen counter, wiped the lid, then gently pulled out the paddles.  They were then our’s – my sister’s and mine – to lick until all ice cream was gone.  Sometimes it was chocolate and sometimes it was peach or strawberry, but it was always wonderful.  My process isn’t the same, since I have a Cuisenart, but the results end up pretty much the same.  Except that you’d better believe we didn’t get it for breakfast.  Who knew that was possible back then?  Aaaah, change.  It really is OK.  :)

Basil Ice Cream

2 cups half and half

1/2 cup sugar, divided

1/4 cup basil (pressed into the measuring cup)

pinch salt

4 large egg yolks

1/2 cup whipping cream

Bring to a boil the basil, half and half and 1/4 cup sugar.   Remove from heat; cover, and allow to steep for about a half hour.  Squeeze basil leaves with your hands into the pot.  Beat yolks on medium speed in the mixer.  Add 1/4 cup sugar, then beat till thick and pale, for one minute.  Pour the half and half mixture, in a slow, steady stream, into the egg mixture, while continuing to mix.  Then pour back into the pot.  Place onto the stove again and cook, stirring constantly, till the mixture coats the back of a spoon.  Chill in fridge.  Then freeze.

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