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Cookin’ with gas

Each family has favorite dishes for dinner. I cook very similarly to your Great Grandma Beanie, so your mom grew up with menus that were much like those of my childhood. When I was growing up with my six siblings, volume was important. Grandma Beanie needed to cook a lot of food for every dinner. She never really stopped cooking for volume, and after we all moved away from home she used the excess to fill her freezer with lots of small plastic boxes of favorites for other nights. You will probably have experienced some of the dishes I am listing below, but some you may have missed. When you are big enough, you can use the below family favorites to cook for your mom and dad and Calvin!

It’s been feeling a bit like autumn this past week so I fixed chili, a family cold-weather favorite, to warm our tummies. Ozzy dear, if I think of you while eating my chili right now, and you think of me while eating your chili in the future, it will be almost like having dinner together! Be certain to have Zesta Saltines crackers and real butter along with your chili. Spread the butter on the bottom of the cracker, so that the salty side is toward your tongue when you pop it into your mouth or take a bite. It’s critical to the experience.

Hamburger Mess, Chili, Spaghetti Sauce

We make our chili from another family favorite – Hamburger Mess. Great, Great Grandma Cecelia (maiden name Doyle) taught Grandma Beanie how to prepare the hamburger mess that her Irish family loved, and Grandma Beanie taught me. When cooking for volume, I always used at least three pounds of ground chuck for my hamburger. Sometimes I would use five pounds, and then freeze many 16 oz. containers of this basic building block of the family diet.

Ground Chuck
Yellow onions – One or two medium diced per lb. ground chuck
Bell Peppers – One large diced per lb. ground chuck
Stewed or Diced Tomatoes – One 16 oz. can per lb. ground chuck

Brown the ground chuck until well done. Drain. Add onions to the cooked meat and cook until the onions are tender, to infuse the meat with onion flavor (and make the house smell yummy). Add other ingredients and simmer over low flame until peppers are tender. Peel and boil until tender 1-2 medium whole potatoes per person. Drain. Add additional cans of tomatoes or tomato sauce to increase volume and thin out your Hamburger Mess. It’s nice to have some sauce to soak into your potatoes. Serve potatoes and Hamburger Mess in separate bowls. Have each person fork-mash their potatoes (it’s a Grandma Cecelia Irish thing), then ladle Hamburger Mess over the potatoes. Top with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. Must. Freeze extra Hamburger Mess in small containers (approximately 16 oz.) to use later, or to use for chili and spaghetti sauce.

To use your Hamburger Mess to create a wonderful chili, add diced onions if desired (in our family there is no such thing as too much onion), one 8 oz. can of tomato sauce and one can of undrained kidney beans per two small containers. Season to taste with Chili Powder from your grocery store’s spice aisle. You can find chili seasoning packages in the store too, but I never liked them as well as the chili powder. I sometimes throw in a beef bouillon cube or two for extra flavor; remember that they are salty little buggers. When I make chili from scratch I don’t usually add green peppers. I like to serve the chili with a sprinkle of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream.

For spaghetti sauce, use your Hamburger Mess containers from the freezer (or cook ingredients listed above in a large pan). Add one small can of tomato paste and 3 cans of hot water (helps to rinse out the rest of the tomato paste from the can) per two 16 oz. containers of hamburger mess; simmer until your sauce has reached the desired consistency. During the simmering, add stewed or diced tomatoes if your sauce seems to be calling for them, and add Italian herb seasoning from the grocer’s spice aisle along with lots of extra oregano and marjoram, and lots of garlic powder, to taste. Simmer further to infuse the sauce with flavor from the herbs and garlic. In place of the Italian seasoning, use basil, rosemary and thyme in equal amounts, along with lots of marjoram and oregano. Serve your spaghetti sauce over hot pasta, cooked Al dente, or “to the tooth”, meaning firm, not smooshy, and top with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve Texas toast garlic toast on the side for total yumminess.

Kentucky Fried Chicken (by real Kentucky cooks – Dodie and Beanie)

The secrets to good fried chicken are that there really are no secrets. When Great, Great Grandma Dodie and Grandma Beanie fried chicken decades ago they dipped the chicken in flour, and we now use Drake’s mix because it fries up crispier and tastier.

Cut your whole fryer at the joints of the wings and thighs where they attach to the body, leaving two wing pieces and two thigh/leg pieces. You will need to get your fingers right against the body of the chicken to find those joints—you can feel them. Then cut the drumstick from the thigh at the joint between them, and, if desired, cut the wing pieces into three pieces each at the joints, discarding the pointed part of the wing. I like to fold my wing pieces into two triangles, using the entire wing. Fold the pointed part of the wing over the larger part of the drummette, and it will (usually) hold the entire wing in a triangle shape. Cut the remainder of the whole chicken along the ribs, retaining one large breast section; discard the back section. Split the breasts down the middle of the breast plate, leaving two large breasts for frying. This will leave you with 8 pieces – two legs, two thighs, two wings, and two breasts.

I put Drake’s mix in a gallon Ziploc bag, and after rinsing the chicken, I place the wet pieces, a few at a time, into the bag. Zip and shake to cover with Drake’s mix, then add each piece to a pan of hot vegetable oil heated to 350°. The oil should be deep enough to submerge about half of the height of the breasts as they lie in the pan. Begin with the breasts, as they will take the longest time to cook. I prefer to use an electric skillet to fry chicken, because I have better control over the heat. If the oil spits, turn it down a bit. Shake black pepper over each of the chicken pieces (salt is in the Drake’s mix, so I don’t add it at this time), and cover the pan. Allow the chicken to become slightly golden on the bottom before turning, then turn each piece again when the bottom is once again slightly golden. Turn the chicken two more times until golden brown, or darker, if desired.

Two critical things to do for the best fried chicken are:

  1. Cover the pan during the whole frying time; it helps the Drake’s mix to better cling to the chicken pieces.
  2. If the oil spits, turn it down. Chicken should fry at a moderate pace and be cooked thoroughly.

Please ask your mom to discuss the “chicken rag” and how to clean up after preparing any meat.

 I will be adding other recipes to this post soon, such as Sauerkraut and Spare Ribs (or sausage), Pot Roast, Swiss Steak, Beef Stew, Bean Soup, Hawaiian Chicken, Holiday and Halloween Fare, and anything else I can recall.

We have never been secretive cooks; we are simple cooks. Your Great Grandpa John told us that the food Grandma Beanie fixed for us would “stick to your ribs and grow hair on your chest.” I think he sometimes forgot that we girls may not have wanted hair on our chests. I never did grow any, and even my brothers had about 20 chest hairs between them when it was all done. Grandpa John forgot to look as his own chest, where approximately five hairs lived. The food did, however, stick to our ribs and other places I would rather not mention.

One secret I do know is how Great Great Grandma Dodie made the edges of her fried eggs crispy brown. There was always grease from either sausage or bacon available for cooking her eggs, because Grandma Dodie didn’t know how to make a small breakfast. There was always a meat for breakfast, and there were always biscuits, and sliced tomatoes and onions, too!

With her body, she always blocked the view to the skillet she was using to cook meat and eggs. After she removed the meat to a plate, she prepared to cook the eggs. One day I caught what she was trying to hide! To brown the edges of her fried eggs, she sprinkled flour into the hot grease and then added the eggs to the skillet. The  eggs sizzled and crackled and browned up every time. The flour also helped to keep the eggs from sticking to a cast iron skillet.

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Friends for life

You are growing up with feline and canine friends and will quickly learn how loyal they can be. Even aloof kitties are our friends; some are just a bit stubborn about showing it. I have grown up with dogs, and your mom and Uncle Joe brought home a feral kitten when they were children that was with us for almost 16 years. Pets are among the best friends I have ever had. You can tell them all of your secrets, worries and fears with never a concern that your deepest feelings will be discussed with others.

When I was growing up we had five dogs, and lots of other pets over the course of many years. The one with us longest and who came to be the most beloved was Missy. She loved all of us. The other four were named Ginger, Bucky, Buddy, and Trouble. We loved them, too, and missed them when they were gone.

edelweissWhen your mom was growing up we had a miniature dachshund named Rachel. The cat that your mom and Uncle Joe found we named Edelweiss. Rachel and Edelweiss were very funny friends, and we swore that Edelweiss thought that Rachel was her mother. We had a wonderful time watching our pets play.

arkie_babyI now have a great big Australian Shepherd and who-knows-what-else (I had NO idea she would grow so large!) by the name of Arcania, whom we call Arkie. This picture is of Arkie when she was 4 months old and weighed 40 pounds. She now weighs 105 pounds. She is a herding dog, and likes to herd people around the house. She once herded me, head first, into a 30 gallon fish tank. The whole thing came crashing down, leaving the carpet about an inch deep in water. That was not helpful herding. She has also herded me right into the fireplace, bonking my head on the mantel!

Grandma Beanie and Grandpa John had a long-haired dachshund named Gretchen after we had all left home. Your mom was very upset with Gretchen one early summer when she stayed with Grandma Beanie while Grandpa Frank, Uncle Joe and I went to Wyoming to bring Aunts Kimberly and Heather back to Indiana for a visit. She had some small, yellow, spongy bunnies she loved to play with that had been part of a bath set. While she was at Grandma Beanie’s house, Gretchen chewed up all of your mom’s bunnies. I am not sure she ever forgave Gretchen for that.

Aunt Linda had a feisty little miniature dachshund named Hanna, and a very loving miniature dachshund named Danke. We miss those dogs very much too, because although we didn’t live with them, they were part of the family. Aunt Linda now has a miniature dachshund and chihuahua mix (called a chiweenie, but we don’t like that name) called Strudel. She is very cute. Linda’s son Michael has an Australian cattle dog he named Agro. He is a herding dog, like Arkie, but he also talks! His talking sounds funny and makes us laugh.

If you click the links above, you will find funny stories about past family pets. They entered our hearts and left us sad when they were gone, but they made us laugh and lightened our souls while they were here. They were best friends.

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Birds, birds, birds

Yesterday and today I watched a two-foot-tall Great Blue Heron ambling along the sea wall. I saw a heron only once last year, and another favorite, the Common Loon, just a few times each year. The loon was Grandpa John’s favorite bird; he even had stew bowls with painted loons on the bottom insides and a statue of a loon, he loved them so much. Similarly to the Red-headed Woodpecker, the loon looks like a statue to me, the demarcation of its colors are so perfect. They both look as if they were painted by a skilled artist. Grandma Beanie has a tape of loon sounds she plays on the deck to call them near to the house. Though they are a bit elusive they have become one of my favorites, too.

This year there were birds all over our little world! There were two inside the porch at my house, a whole nest of red-winged blackbirds living in the chimney at Grandma Beanie’s house, and a nest of six baby robins on top of her garage door opener. Aunt Linda had to duck when she came into the house to avoid the momma robin, and the momma red-winged blackbird (which Tori says looks like a zebra bird, so different is it from its male, with a black and white tummy) fell into the fireplace and we had a heck of a time getting her out of there! After leaving a huge bird potty mess all over the fireplace and glass windows, she made it back up the chimney to her babies, which had been chirping madly while she flapped and flapped.

I thought it would be fun to make a list for you of the birds that Grandma Beanie and I have seen over the past two years. You and your parents and Calvin can make a game out of checking the birds off of the list. Maybe you and Calvin can keep a whole notebook of bird information, and store pictures of the birds you see, too. I bet Calvin would love to help. For most of the birds on the list below we have identified a male, a female and a juvenile. Sometimes the females and juveniles look nothing at all like the males, and look more like a different bird altogether. Some of the birds may not live in California, so you might need to look for them on trips, or in Oregon, if your family ever moves back there.

We have also seen other animals. Muskrats are my least favorite, because they dig up the shoreline and threaten the seawall and yard. I don’t think they are so cute, either. Tori and I have been trying to chase them away by putting ground cayenne pepper and garlic in their holes. I bought two pounds of garlic and two pounds of cayenne for this project. I know I would run away if my house was suddenly filled with that mixture.

Groundhogs are cute, but they make a huge mess when they dig in the yard and gardens. Last summer Grandma Beanie, Tori and I watched as a groundhog climbed up the deck, walked to the back sliding door and stood up, peering inside. He certainly was cute, standing there, and I suppose he was as curious about us as we were about him.

A huge raccoon hangs out on the deck in the dark and squirrels run along the top of the deck fence and make an amazing flying leap from the deck to the Tulip Tree that is about six feet away. The tulip tree is the Indiana state tree, the Peony is our state flower, and the cardinal is our state bird. Can you look up your state bird, tree and flower?

Chipmunks like to try to get into the bird feeders, and Grandma Beanie and I watched one jump right down the chimney of a cute house-style bird feeder. It was funny because he was too big to be rustling around in the little blue house. We watched it swing back and forth while the chipmunk ate his stolen booty.

I was a real tomboy, Ozzy my dear. I loved most animals and brought home most of them that I could catch. Grandma Beanie was tolerant, but sometimes I scared her with my pets. I didn’t mean to do that. If you like critters as much as I do, try to be gentle with your mom. She loves lots of animals, but some things frighten her. I will let her tell you what those things are, so you two can have a real good discussion about responsible pet and mommy care.

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Swiftly flow the days

The sun is rising. I can’t see it yet, but it’s painting the sky with purples and pinks. Old sailors would tell you,

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.”

With colors like these, it’s difficult to imagine that any harm could come from the sky, but history tells us that tempests can stir from one of nature’s most beautiful scenes.

Because the weather has been cooler than usual, the lake is covered with a blanket of fog that seems to be hiding some deep mystery. I wonder what mysteries this lake keeps in its basin. I think there are huge fish in the deepest parts of the water, hiding from the hook on my fishing line. One day I will catch one of them.

Skies and lakes are timeless, changing slowly over great periods of time. You, however, are not. You will grow at a rate that will cause your mom and dad to gasp a bit, taking pictures of every moment they can catch to memorialize as much as possible of the life that is you. The changes will be astonishing but perfect. Even now I can begin to see tiny glimpses of the Ozzy inside. He’s wonderful!

Check out this song from Fiddler on the Roof,” a play that I love. When I was very young I played a role in that play. The song makes me think of your mom.

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What will you do

I wonder who you will be and what you will wish to do with your life. There are so many choices that they can leave us reeling, or they can excite us. Either way, choosing a path in life can be confusing. It does not, however, need to be frightening. Each path takes us to forks in the road where we can adjust our dreams to fit our talents. Dreams change as we move through life. They mature and grow with us, so it’s okay if we don’t know what should be our final destination when we take our first step.

It all lies before you, sweet boy. You will sail the seas and battle monsters with your shiny soul. You will soar through the sky with only a bath towel as a cape or magic carpet. You will dig to China, and discover gold in lost cities from Teotihuacan to Timbuktu.

You will rule. You will serve, and learn about the world from each adventure. Your mind will grow, and you will learn that strength is not only that of the arm or the sword but of the soul, and in sharing it with others. Be humble; let your light shine without force.

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The colors of our world

junoToday was gorgeous, with a blue sky reflecting off of the water on the lake in front of Grandma Beanie’s house. Right now the western sky is changing colors while it prepares to put the sun to sleep. That’s where the sun slips below the horizon, in the western sky. It wakes in the east and sleeps in the west.

The sky is boasting every color of the rainbow, which we can recall using the acronym ROY G. BIV, for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. The sunset is even showing colors for which I have no name.

sunsetIf you watch and listen very carefully, you can hear the sun when it is low enough to hit the water on the horizon. It sizzles and sounds like, tsssssssssssssss. Almost really.

It’s the hypnotic effect of moving water that keeps me staring outside. Water and fire are two of my favorite things to watch, and to hear. They calm me and allow my mind to rest. We all need that sometimes, rest.

Below are images of some of the colorful birds that Grandma Beanie and I feed. They come every day and hang out with us. Though they are at the feeders on the deck and we are in the kitchen, enthralled, it’s close enough for us to feel like they are real pals. We love feeding them and watching their behavior.

The cardinal is the Indiana state bird, so cardinals are close to our hearts. We are now in Michigan, but I still live in Indiana and our childhood home is in Indiana. We are Hoosiers almost to the bone, though only two of us in our immediate family were born in Indiana. I was born in Longview, Washington. That’s a long way from here.

Hummingbirds look like huge bees as they approach the feeder, and fly very similarly to them. Their wings move so fast that we can barely see them, and make a brrrrrrrrrrr sound as they fly by my ear. The hummingbirds use their long beaks to drink nectar from flowers or from the feeder, which we fill with sugar water dyed red with food coloring. The orioles eat grape jelly, and they sure do love it! I need to fill their feeder almost every day in the summer, before they fly south for the winter. They leave in late July or early August on a long, long trip to South America. Most of the other birds love suet, black oily sunflower seeds and thistle seed.

The red headed woodpecker is a stately bird. When he perches on the deck fence he almost looks like a statue, so perfect are his colors. The little downy woodpecker and finches are beautiful little guys that visit often. I never tire of watching them.

Take note of the colors of the male and female cardinal. In the animal kingdom males are almost always prettier and brighter than the females. That’s a stark difference to the human world, where woman are definitely prettier. If you don’t agree with me now, a day may come when you do agree.

birdsI sent copies of these pictures to your mom a few weeks before you were born, to cheer her up. She just couldn’t wait for you to be born. She wanted to see your face and hold you tight. She missed you before you were even born! That’s love.

If you would like to read a couple of other family bird stories, visit these: Cuz everyone needs a turkey and Paul Newman and the chicken defense.

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Documenting reality

oscar6Your mom has been great, sending pictures for Grandma Beanie, Aunts Linda and Cindy and me to ogle. We have enjoyed our ogling. You are a beautiful child. I believe I am seeing a bit of a shiny person within you. I love shiny people. Though I can’t see it in everyone, there are certain people whose presence seems to add a glow to the world. I can see your glow all the way from California to Indiana. That’s pretty shiny, sweet boy.

I wonder if your nose will be like your dad’s. I think so. Your Uncle Johnny (my brother) was born with a hairy back, and Grandma Beanie cried. I imagine that we will see your back hair lightening over time, just as Uncle Johnny’s did.

poutThough I love all of the new images coming our way, my favorite may always remain a still image from one of your 3D ultrasounds before you were born. We could already see your shininess in those ultrasounds. We could also see that you were not afraid to show your emotions. Keep that up.

Aren’t you amazing? Your mom took this picture, in a frame, to the hospital to have with her when you were born. I can’t imagine a better image for her to stare at while awaiting your arrival.

oscar8She told me that she took that picture with her because I love it so much. She also took a few other goodies; one was a small elephant to remind her of your Grandma Rosemary.

You can ask her about the stuffed toy and the other trinket. I am not sure why she took those with her, but I am certain that one reason was that she wanted fun things around you, from wonderful people, when you entered the world.

August 12, 2013 – Ozzy dear, your mommy did the most amazing thing. She sent the framed 3D ultrasound picture, above, to ME in the mail! She also sent a big yellow flower, the wooden cut out “Baby Ajizian” letters she used for pictures, a stack of printed pictures that I can touch and feel and share and frame, and panties that were not her size, but more mine. I, of course, cried. I do that when people are very nice to me, and I think that your mommy sending me that package is one of the nicest things I have ever had happen to me. I love her. Don’t you forget to love her, too. Ever.