PASS THE PIE

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PASS THE PIE

It shouldn’t be so complicated, really. But, like so many other things, we humans—myself included– make it so.

It doesn’t take much extra time or effort, and it certainly doesn’t cost anything. Just a few moments to think about what we have, and maybe what we’re lucky that we don’t have. Several minutes here and there to stop ourselves from the busy-ness and look around.

They are everywhere, if you just look for them. So many things to be grateful for, so much we can say a quick ‘thank you’ for.

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I am guilty. I don’t look around enough, nor do I always take those few extra moments that can make the difference between seeing something as good instead of bad.

In my blog two weeks ago, I strung my sisters up for loving the wind. The blasted Kansas wind that sometimes hollows out my soul. This time it was blasting northwest winds that brought me down, winds we fought for almost 3 ½ hours as we drove northwest to Gail’s house for the annual Thanksgiving celebration that she hosts with the most every year on Thanksgiving Saturday.

Driving into this driving wind, I tried to find some way to enjoy it, some way to see it as positive. I failed at that, so I downshifted one gear, and found a few things I could be thankful about despite the wind:

*The ground was wet from snow and rain, so there was minimal fire danger.

*There was no precipitation falling at that time.

*Our car was warm and sturdy, fighting the whipping wind. The space-age technology in our Subaru even braked the car automatically when a large tumbleweed blew across Interstate 70 right in front of us, causing the car to think it was an obstacle to brake for, which, obviously, it was.

Despite all this, I still cussed my sisters. So did many other family members.

But we’re not here to cuss and complain. Since the maiden post in this blog, we have tried to keep it positive, with gratitude and positivity as core element of our posts.   If ever we go down, we always try to come back up in the end, offering optimism and a happy ending.

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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. The family, food, faith, friends and fun are celebrated today—especially today—with a reminder and challenge to offer up this gratitude every day. There are no commercial expectations, no gifts to buy—just good food, and lots of it.

Gail, in case you couldn’t guess from previous posts, is the hostess/cook extraordinaire.  We honor our mother’s dressing recipe by repeating it to our best abilities, which is usually pretty darn good.  We try to make it with all three of us together, but this year, it was only Gail and Suzanne. It is so good, in fact, that there are a select few people in Gail’s small town who request a sample, and Gail delivers.  It’s all in the spirit of giving.

Along with the dressing, the menu consists of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, cream cheese corn–all from Gail’s kitchen. Every family member brings their specialties, including: sweet potato casserole (mine), green bean casserole (Suzanne’s), rolls, vegetable trays, cookies, appetizers, sausage/cheese/cracker tray and multiple desserts. There is no shortage of food.

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Gail and I delight in preparing homemade pies. We must brag that never once, with the hundreds of pies we have made collectively throughout our lives, have we purchased ready-made pie crusts. Mom taught us well. I made nine pies Wednesday evening to share between my two family celebrations. Gail, always the over-achiever (in a good way), went the extra mile to carve the flesh out of a fresh pumpkin for her pie.

 

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Family is always the first important ‘F’ of all them listed above. Being together with most of our family is the greatest gift of the holiday. Everyone helps,

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and everyone partakes and enjoys.

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Full stomachs match our full hearts,

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and family is celebrated in many ways.

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The hostesses and hosts with the mostesses and mosts.

Full stomachs and hearts also translate into a full house, so for the second year in a row, my husband and I enjoyed the solitude of a small cabin on the small lake in Gail’s small town for the night.

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Mercifully, the wind died down overnight, and we awoke to some wind with the cold, but it was manageable.

Giving thanks for the basics of fabulous Thanksgiving food and shelter from the wind was the order of the day. This morning, I gave thanks for the third basic element of physical survival: clothing. With four thin layers on top and one heavy layer on the bottom, I gave thanks for the opportunity to stay warm while moving my legs and body with my daily run/walk, this time around the lake.

Taking a lesson from the birds of nature, I offered up thanks for the water and the sunshine as well. No matter the weather, nature offers a daily bounty to be thankful for, and despite the wind and cold, it was no different this morning.

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The geese have it figured out; they know how to enjoy the cold, the wet and the wind. With their cue, I did, too.

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We got back to Gail’s house this morning, and we were greeted with fresh coffee and brunch. Gail, of course, was back at it in the kitchen again. After the eggs and ham, the pies once again beckoned, so we answered the call. We passed the pie.

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Our signature picture at the beginning of every blog was taken three years ago in Camp Gail, her small but mighty room-of-her-own in her home. It is decorated with anything and everything that brings her joy. I have Fort Kathleen in my home, which is my space that fills me up, filled up with all the things that bring me joy. We are immensely grateful for these spaces and for the joy they bring us.  Suzanne, ever the minimalist, does not want such a crowded space, and that’s okay too.

Every year during the Thanksgiving celebration, we take another picture in Camp Gail, and they are posted at the beginning of each blog. They signify our continued sisterhood, which keeps going and keeps growing in its depth and meaning.

Despite our losses, we continue to be grateful for each other, for the rest of our families, our friends, for our health, happiness, hopes and dreams fulfilled and those still in progress.

Gratitude, in its simplest form, is just two words: thank you. No matter which force you pray to, this is the building block of living a simply wonderful life. It’s not hard. Just remember to give thanks every day of the year for all things great and small.  It can turn negativity into positivity.  It’s your choice–and mine, too, free for the taking.

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May every day be Thanksgiving Day for you.

 

 

THE BAKER, THE LONG JOHN MAKER–AND SUZANNE

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THE BAKER, THE LONG JOHN MAKER—AND SUZANNE

When I have the time and the occasion, I love to bake.   Not cooking, just baking.  I cook because I have to, although I have a husband who is gifted in the kitchen, and enjoys cooking more than I do.

For that, I am thankful.

I’ve psychoanalyzed why I love to bake and not to cook, and I have arrived at this conclusion:  I have had to cook for most of my life for my family, both growing up and as a parent/wife; it was non-negotiable.  It was a chore, and there were no options.  We had to feed the masses.  Baking, however, is sometimes optional.

On the farm, the girls were inside, and the boys were outside.  Except Gail– she was cross-trained to do just about anything on the farm, inside the house or out.  She was the second-born, and she was the Swiss Army Knife out of necessity—she HAD to learn it all.  Mom needed her inside, and sometimes, Dad needed her outside.  No wonder her work ethic puts ours to shame; we all relied so much upon her, and she simply did the job and moved on to the next.

I’m not sure what all she did outside, because I wasn’t there to learn from her.  I did learn from her inside.  She and Mom taught me how to prepare a meal for nine, and how to bake goodies for us too.  I remember the baked goods felt better to prepare.  The cooked meal sustained us, but the pies, cakes, cookies and other treats make others happy.

Cooking is like the exercise routine you have to perform; baking is like getting a massage.  Cooking is watching the news; baking is listening to music.  Cooking is doing your taxes; baking is reading a juicy novel.  You get the idea.

Feeding nine people was no small chore.  Mom took it upon herself as the serious business it was.   She performed this Herculean task three times every day, with and without our help.

Breakfast at our house was like a diner, and she was the short-order cook.  If one of us wanted bacon and eggs, we got it.  If another wanted French toast, she made that.  For seven kids.  For all those years.

Dinner, which is the noon meal on the farm, was some form of meat and potatoes with a vegetable, or some variation of that.  Supper—the evening meal—was another well-rounded spread.  Then, she would do it all over again the next day.  And the next.

We were enlisted to help cook as soon as we were able.  It was non-negotiable, it simply had to be done.  Nine hungry mouths were there open and waiting.  As the years passed, nine became eight, then seven; six…  I was child number five of seven, so there were five at a minimum when I was still home.  When Gail left, as I mentioned in a previous post, I had to do more.  Having set the bar so unrealistically high, she was a hard act to follow.

She cooked meals like we all did; like we all had to.  She found more joy in baking, too.  Her specialty, as I remember it, was long johns.  From scratch, fried and frosted.  Donuts, too.  So it’s no wonder she opened a Daylight Donut shop in her small western Kansas town, and became the donut queen extraordinaire of western Kansas.  For over seven years, she burned the before midnight-to-after lunchtime oil, sleeping only in short spells after the donuts were made and sold, and the mess was cleaned, and all her other work was done.  Seven months after Mom and Dad died, she fully realized the life is too short secret, and shut her doors.  She hasn’t looked back, but says she wouldn’t trade it.

She still cooks.  And bakes.  And not just for big events like last week’s Thanksgiving feast.  She took the torch from Mom’s kitchen, and still burns it bright.

Now Suzanne, however, is a different story.  I recall teaching her to make pie crusts about 15 years ago, because Mom never taught her.  Mom was alive and able to do so, but I think she was simply done. She had cooked and baked all she cared to, and she no longer had any interest in doing any more than she had to.  She earned the rest of her life off from this task.

When I was working this post in my mind before I wrote it, I asked Suzanne what, since I was obviously the baker, and Gail the long john maker, I should call her.

She laughed, and without hesitation answered:  “Suzanne.”

So she remains simply Suzanne.  She doesn’t think of herself as a baker in any way, and she is more than okay with that.  So was Mom.

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I lucked out in so many ways.  My husband is a great cook, and he enjoys it.  Not just the grill guy as some husbands are, but he is that too.  He can take ingredients that may appear hopeless and lifeless, and turn them into a memorable, delicious feast.  The only problem is that he typically can’t repeat those kinds of dishes, because it was a flash of culinary inspiration that disappears just after it came.

I’ll take it.  I also take the responsibility for cooking when it’s my turn.  I’d say about half the time.  We make it a priority to have a sit-down meal nearly every evening, just like he and I both did in our families when we were growing up.

I must tell you a vital bit of information now, before I get into the baking part of this post.  I want to make it abundantly clear that I am forever grateful that I married a good cook.  I want to make it clear too, that I support him however I can when he is cooking.  Generally, I don’t criticize a single move he makes when he is in the kitchen.  Except this one time.

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I inherited my Grandpa’s flour sifter.  It was in his kitchen, likely belonging to his sisters who lived with him to help raise my dad after my grandmother passed away when Dad was young.  I don’t remember him using it, but I treasured it.   It is a single sifter, requiring that the handle is cranked.  It was a labor of love.  I used it as a ritual when I made pie crusts, because sifting the flour twice is one of my two secrets.  I took good care of it, never washing it to prevent any rust from forming inside.  I would pat the flour off after each use and gently put it away.  It was a trusty sifter, and my expert use and care kept it in pristine condition.

Mark was cooking something wonderful; I don’t recall what it was.  Whatever it was required a can of crushed tomatoes.  They needed to be strained, and he wanted a fine wire mesh strainer.   You can see where this is going.

He decided my flour sifter was the perfect tool.

Fortunately for him, he was redeemed.  Albeit several years later, but redemption did happen.

His aunt held a lottery-style drawing for some of his grandmother’s treasures in her possession, in order that they would be passed down to grandchildren.  As pictured, he won the triple sifter that belonged to his grandma.  With several quick pulls of the hand, the flour is sifted not twice, but three times.  It is slick and smooth, and works like a charm.

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My grandpa’s flour sifter has sat unused in the cabinet since then, not even used once to strain tomatoes.

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The evening after Mildred’s funeral several weeks ago was unseasonably warm, just as the day was.  We got home late in the afternoon, had dinner, and I decided it was time.  Time to get out the grinder.

About twenty years ago, Dad bought a wheat grinder.  For months, he ground his own wheat to provide flour for so many of the dishes—both baked and cooked—that Mom was still making.  He showed it off to each of us when we visited, demonstrated and then shared the freshly ground fruit of the earth if we wanted some.  I always took some, incorporating it into baked goods whenever I could, and using it in cooking for breading and such.

As the months passed, he became less enthusiastic about grinding wheat, until his grinding production ground to a halt.  I decided to borrow the grinder from him and grind my own, because I missed cooking and baking with it.

He didn’t mind loaning it out.  I had it in my possession when they died, and have had it ever since.  If my siblings want to use it, I have let them know I am happy to pass it on.

So that evening, since I was out of flour, and my brother was kind enough to provide more wheat from last summer’s harvest for me, I dug out the grinder to enjoy the beautiful fall twilight.

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I didn’t get an action picture, but the first and most important task that must be performed before the wheat can be ground is to sift it, separating the wheat from the chaff.    The sifting tray is sitting on top of the stack of buckets.

It is a messy and dusty proposition, so I set up shop in the driveway.  And, just for good measure, I drank a wheat beer while I ground the wheat.  Dad would have approved.

The wheat dust hung lazily in the air, just like it did when I wrote about the day I spent in the harvest field.  Days with no wind are a gift in Kansas, and this was another one of them.  Gail and Suzanne would beg to differ.

In half an hour or so, I had five half-gallon ice cream buckets filled with flour.  I was set.

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The night before Thanksgiving, I prepared to bake.  I planted myself in my kitchen, in my element.   All my boys were gone to visit Mark’s family, and I had the house to myself.  I put on my favorite music, poured a glass of wine, and set out to bake two pumpkin pies, two sweet potato pies, a pumpkin cake, and pecan pie bars.   Some would go to Mark’s family gathering the next day on Thanksgiving, the rest would go to Gail’s house for the weekend festivities.

I got cranked up, spinning several plates in the air at the same time, so to speak.  I was mixing pie dough and other bowls of ingredients smoothly, with nary a glitch.

Perhaps it was the heaping scoop of memories, or the pinch of melancholy, or perhaps the cup of merlot–maybe all three, but it hit me.

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The mixing bowl was Mom’s.  She used it hundreds of times; I can easily summon a visual image of her cooking and baking with it.  A very clear picture came to me, and I had to have a moment.  I had to walk away from it all for a moment.

But just a moment.

And then it was gone.  In the early years after they died, it may have been a full-on breakdown, rendering me incapable of finishing the task.  Not anymore.  I only need a moment now, and it usually is a quiet one.

Then I got back to work.  I felt her peace, and it was all okay.  She was here for Thanksgiving after all.  Dad was too; the flour from his grinder was a part of the plan.

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So Gail and I continue to bake.  Suzanne continues not to bake.  And that’s okay.

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When those memories come back, as they sometimes still do, I feel them; give them their due.  If they hurt for a bit, that pain is now more quickly replaced by the unspeakable but sure knowledge that these are simply signs that Mom and Dad are still with us.  And that is always worth the pain.

In Peace, Sister (July 16th), I referred to the letter Mom prepared so carefully and lovingly years before her death.  She signed off with this line that still brings me down for just a moment, then back up, then to an even higher place:

“Please don’t think I have left you.  I am still very much with you.”

And, as I just wrote her line above, I heard this line on the radio:  “And know a mother’s love.”

I’m pretty sure she is right here, right now.

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In case you want the other secret to my pie crusts, here it is:  always use Crisco.  And, it goes without saying, never wash the sifter, or strain tomatoes with it.