A Recipe for Unexpected Guests

Spring blossoms, whiteIt makes me laugh when it gets cold after a warm day and someone says, “What’s happened to spring? It’s winter again!” That’s what spring is: a back and forth time of year. One day it’s lovely out, the next it snows. It’s difficult to make plans. Once many years ago my father decided to give an Easter egg hunt in the house he had inherited from my great aunt Alice. He invited all the members of an extended family of 12 children grown and married with children of their own, and told them all to come at one o’clock on Easter for the party. Then he went to Maine, intending to return that morning.

At eight AM that day it commenced to snow furiously. By twelve it had pretty much stopped, however my father, having been snowed in was still in Maine. I was faced with hosting a party for a large group of people I had never met not to mention hiding the eggs, providing the food, and being gracious. I called a friend and together we managed to pull off the party. I was rather put out with my father who very cavalierly said, “Oh, I knew you could handle it.”

For as long as I have known him, Stephen, like my father has been prone to spontaneously invite people over for a meal. Confident in my ability to come up with something on the spur of the moment, he doesn’t hesitate to play the host, and to be honest, I can say I have never minded. I love to cook and it gives me pleasure to provide for my friends or even for strangers who may become friends. The trick is to have certain things on hand that I can rely on to fix quickly and easily to feed two or more guests. Potatoes to bake and serve with sauce and cheese, shrimp in the freezer–a quick fix for shrimp scampi. Another is cooked rice for the following recipe.

Chinese fried rice works wonders as a quick meal. Of course you must have the simple ingredients on hand. The secret of this dish is that it must be made with leftover rice. Very quick to fix, it is popular with most. To serve four, use a cup of cooked rice per person, one egg, half a cup of frozen peas, half cup of chopped onion, half a cup of chopped celery, and 2 Tablespoons soy sauce or Dr. Bronner’s Mineral broth. If you have any leftover chicken, or extra firm tofu chop a half a cup of that too. 2 or 3 sliced garlic cloves and 2 or 3 Tablespoons ginger in thin strips is good too.

Take a half a cup large or extra large shrimp per person from the freezer, and thaw briefly in warm water. Peel if necessary and line up on a cookie sheet. Bake at 425 for 5 or so minutes. Scramble the egg without any extra liquid and fry in some oil or butter. Set aside. In a large frying pan, sauté the ginger, garlic, onion and celery in oil until transparent. Stir in the rice and cook 5 minutes stirring. Add the peas, the egg, broken up, tofu, chicken and shrimp. Stir in the soy sauce and cook 5 more minutes stirring occasionally. Voila, Dinner is served.

Thrifty Ways

clothes-in-closetWhen I was a child a friend of my mother’s gave me the dresses that that her twins had outgrown. Because they were dressed alike, I had to wear two of whatever came my way. In the days when I was growing up, thrift meant making do with what was available. Aside from the fact that while my family had enough, they weren’t exactly wealthy, there was a war on and many things, including clothing and shoes were rationed.

In addition, in the years that followed, my mother had to stretch what my father earned to cover the needs of the three more children born after I turned eight years old. I remember how excited I was when in my sixteenth year I got a pair of Bermuda shorts. They were newly fashionable and I felt very special to have a pair. Although they were wool, I wore them all that summer and for a number of summers after that. For a long time they were my only pair.

Growing up in a thrifty household inclined me toward a thrifty lifestyle as an adult. When I was raising my own family of five children I had to stretch our food dollars to try to nourish as well as please my family. I learned all kinds of tricks to make inexpensive cuts of meat palatable and I baked cookies by the dozen so the children would have treats. Home made was far less expensive than store bought. My sewing machine hummed as I made dresses for my daughters and even some outfits for my sons when they were small.

Judging from the advertisements I see today, thrift is not especially fashionable. Bargains, of course are. However what is considered a bargain by some standards is not by others. When I was growing up the annual church fair rummage sales held in local churches were the best places to find inexpensive, serviceable garments. My mother was a faithful customer.

I do not remember there being consignment shops or other places one could find good second hand clothing when I was a child. When we got together I introduced Stephen to consignment and thrift store shopping, and he embraced it happily. I find it more fun to shop that way because you never know what you will find and the prices are far more reasonable than what other stores charge.

Over the years, I have amassed a wonderful collection of clothing. Much of it has come from consignment or thrift stores, the rest from sales. Certain garments have endured the test of time and I wear them joyfully in the appropriate season. Others get rotated back into the mainstream to be discovered by someone else who enjoys saving money by shopping wisely. What is especially nice for me is that now I can have a number of pairs of shorts for the price I would pay for one bought new, or a cashmere sweater that someone has passed on, at a fraction of the cost in a regular store. Perhaps this is a kind of payback for the days when I wore the twins’ hand me down dresses over and over again.

Tasha Halpert

An Easter Basket of Memories

Rabbit in Cabbage 2On Easter my family usually went to dinner with Great Aunt Alice. Until my sister was born when I was 8, I was always the only child present. Aunt Alice had several toys she would bring out to amuse me. One was a little truck loaded with colorful blocks. They had letters, numbers and pictures on them. Even now I can see that red and yellow toy with a string to pull it by. The bed of the truck was loaded with the blocks, and I was always careful to put them back when it was time to go upstairs to dinner.

The other toy was a very special, ancient rabbit that lived inside a head of cloth lettuce. When it was wound–only adults were allowed to do that, and the golden knob on the side was pulled out, the rabbit head would emerge, extend itself and turn. Its ears would rise into the air. Then it would chew on the small piece of cloth lettuce in its mouth. When it finished, it would retract into the cloth lettuce with a little snap as the ears went back against its head.

I thought of that rabbit when I was contemplating what I would write for this column. I wish I had it now. I remember my children being shown it when they were little. Though I don’t know if they remember it the way I do. I loved patting it. It was covered in soft, white actual fur. It did not play music or do anything more than just that. I believe it had been in the family at least since my Great Aunt was a child. when I was contemplating my column and it leapt vividly into my mind as though I had seen it yesterday.

Once we arrived and took off our coats, the adults stood around and drank cocktails, while I had ginger ale. Aunt Alice, who favored simple appetizers, always served a plate of peanut butter on crackers and there were also nuts in a bowl. Too young to read, I sat on the big rug and played with the blocks. Dinner was served upstairs in a large dining room. The oval mahogany table gleamed with silver and cut glass. The platters and bowls of food were brought in by women in black uniforms with white aprons. There was usually soup, then a roast and vegetables, and finally, dessert, followed by fingerbowls to dip fingers into and cloth napkins to dry them with. My treat would be the chocolates for after dinner, something we never had at home. My mother did not think it was healthy to eat candy and never bought it.

Time is a strange accordion. It can compress decades into years, and years into moments. I can see so clearly the large thick rug I sat on to play with the alphabet blocks and watch again the white bunny with the pink glass eyes rising up out of the faded green cloth leaves. It looks so real as it turns its head, the ears rise into the air and it chews on its bit of green cloth. I can feel again the soft fur as I pat the head and the ears, stiff with wire beneath the fur. What was only yesterday has added itself to now creating an Easter basket of memories for me to enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Recipes Can Be Useful by Tasha Halpert

Kitchen ImplementsSometimes I use recipes, sometimes not. I have loved to cook ever since I was a small child when I made up mud and berry pies and added dandelion fluff for decoration. I had a spot in the lilac grove on one side of our yard where I kept my play dishes and utensils. When the wind blew, the boards for shelves I stuck between the branches would fall to the ground along with my dishes. That was a most unsatisfactory pantry. I did not learn to cook with real food until after I was married. . My mother did not allow me to make anything but salads and brownies. She did not consider me responsible enough for meal preparation.

These days in my kitchen a heavy magnet holds a collection of recipes to my refrigerator. There are always more of them than I can reasonably expect to attempt. Some, when I go over them as I must do from time to time will prove too time consuming. Others will require ingredients I don’t have on hand or want to invest in. Still, when I first saw them I had considered making them, and might even have done so were I inspired to.

Every few months, when the collection is beginning to outgrow the magnet I go through it. Then I discard those that, while they seemed tempting no longer appeal to me. Then I generally pull out one or two of the remaining ones to try. Some will become great favorites and get written into my spiral recipe notebook or pressed into the pages of a loose-leaf notebook that holds the recipes I have accumulated over the years. I truly enjoy cooking and like many who do, have collected recipes for most of my adult life. I also create my own recipes for that spiral notebook.

My husband and I are fond of garlic. One day I invented this recipe for fried eggs that is now a real staple. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Cover the bottom with three or four large sliced garlic cloves. Turn the heat down to medium low and break in three or four large eggs. Place fresh basil, cilantro, or in a pinch parsley leaves over the eggs. Cook until whites are firm. Carefully divide and turn eggs over. Cover with slices of your favorite cheese. Take from heat and cover. Let cheese melt, then serve to two.

Mushrooms and eggs go beautifully together for supper. Beat three or four eggs with two tablespoons of water. (Using water greatly enhances their flavor.) Add fresh herbs to taste, or even dried ones. I like tarragon, thyme is lovely, as is parsley or sage. Add a half a cup of cheddar or Swiss cheese squares to the eggs. Melt a tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Slice in 4 or 5 mushrooms of medium size. They should cover the bottom of the pan. stir and turn until they render up their juice and are cooked through. Add and melt another tablespoon or so of butter. Pour the egg and cheese mixture over the mushrooms. Turn gently as eggs cook until they are done and serve to two.

My Always Valentine, by Tasha Halpert

Stephen and Flowers People who do not know us sometimes ask Stephen and I how long we have been together. I think this might be because we don’t act like an old married couple. We are often openly affectionate in public and might seem more like young lovers. Yet we have been together for many years now, so many that I am always a bit taken aback when I think of the total. To me there is something odd about how past years seem to accordion. It is as if they compress in some way so that they don’t seem to be nearly as much time as when I contemplate them stretching into the future.

Stephen is my always Valentine and I am his. What that means is that we treat one another with respect. We do not compete nor have we ever done so. We don’t need to. Instead, we cheer one another on, each wanting the best for the other. Neither do we put one another down or make fun of one another. While gentle teasing may be appropriate between couples, mean behavior is absolutely unkind. It is also true that no matter how long we may be together, in order for our relationship to stay strong it has to grow at the same rate we do.

I believe it is vital for individuals to keep growing; whatever does not grow normally begins to decay. For our love to grow along with us we must work to make it do so. In my experience, love grows with appreciation, with honesty, and with the expression of gratitude. We do our best never to take one another for granted. When he washes the dishes, I thank him. When I cook a meal or drive us somewhere, he thanks me. When he sees a book I might like at the library, he points it out. When I see something he might want to eat at the market, I purchase it.

These many small gestures add up. Along with the days of our lives they form a fragrant bouquet that surrounds us with loving kindness. Being kind to one another is an important ingredient in our marriage. Another is sharing feelings with honesty. If something is troubling one of us, we share it, even if it may feel painful to do so. This is something I insisted on when we began our relationship, and over the years it has helped us avoid many problems.

Our years together have gone by so quickly that it is difficult to understand how they could have accumulated the way they have. Yet like leaves piled under a tree in the forest, they have melded into a kind of fertilizer that feeds the ongoing growth of our relationship. I am enormously grateful to have Stephen in my life. He feels the same. We both feel blessed. It is most wonderful to have an always Valentine, and each of us does our best to make sure that as long as we both live, we always will.

 

 

Me and My To Do Lists

Poinsetta and water drops036My friend and I sat over breakfast at a restaurant near where I live. “I find myself getting very forgetful,” she told me. We commiserated a bit. I assured her that if it were not for my lists I would never remember what I had to do. I’ve been making them for as long as I can remember. I know that my grandmother made lots of lists. My mother told me that when she stayed at my grandmother’s home one year, she often found herself almost tripping over them. Nonny, as I called her, used to leave them on the floor so she would be more apt to see them.

I don’t need to write many as she did, nor to drop them on the floor. I get along very nicely with my two main lists. I keep one in the kitchen where I write down whatever food I plan to prepare, the next necessary errands, and the various household tasks it is time to do. I keep the other on my desk. That one reminds me of what I need to do on my compute–whether emails I need to write or assignments I must complete. It tells me when my deadlines are due, and what bills it is time to pay or what cards I need to send and to whom. Actually, these are not my only lists, just the permanent ones. As I cross things off I rewrite them and throw away the old pages.

I also keep grocery lists, health food store lists, and lists of other items i need to purchase. These are vital! When it was time to send out invitations to my birthday party I made a list of the people I wanted to invite. I also now have a list of the Christmas gifts Stephen and I received, and the people who gave them to us. I need that to write my thank you notes. My short term memory is not what it used to be, however it hasn’t been that good for some time. I am told this is nothing to worry about and is part of normal aging.

I also use my lists to practice recycling. Whatever comes my way that is a one sided piece of paper gets folded in three, torn into strips, and clipped together to form a pad to make my lists on. It is only a small gesture, yet every effort to conserve counts, no matter how insignificant. I also believe that any attempt to be mindful of the environment carries an impetus to help increase the totality of what will I hope and trust one day lead to greater participation for all in the conservation of planetary energy and resources.

I admire those who say they do not need lists in order to remember things. I prefer to use what mental energy I have to be observant, to remain in the present moment, and to notice when I need to participate in some way in the ongoing scene. If I have to waste time and energy remembering what I need to buy at the grocery store I may not have the mental focus to notice the hawk circling the highway above me or the interesting shapes of the trees’ bare branches thrusting their patterns against the blue of the winter sky.

 

Hospitality by Tasha Halpert

Deb's party food 2As she does whenever she comes to the States, our friend from Denmark was visiting us. Over a lunch I had enjoyed making for us all, we had fun catching up on our recent activities. She was exclaiming over the food, saying how good it was and how happy she was to be with us. “I love cooking for my friends,” I replied. I do. It is one of my favorite occupations. Stephen and I both enjoy entertaining friends, and making meals for them is a big part of my joy.

She commented that she too enjoyed cooking for her friends. She then went on to say that her experience here in the States was that when they were entertaining, many people seemed to prefer taking people out to eat rather than preparing food for them at home. She said that in Europe it was more common to prepare dinner for their guests at home and less common to take them to a restaurant. I thought this was an interesting commentary, and I wondered what it indicated about Americans.

Around the holidays, the newspapers overflow with advertisements for meals to which you are supposed to bring your whole family. Alternatively, supermarkets and other providers of food advertise “home cooked” meals delivered to your door. My parents would never have considered eating anywhere for the holidays but at the home of a relative. Eating out was only for very special occasions, perhaps to celebrate a victory or a special anniversary.

Thinking back on my childhood years I remember that when my parents entertained it was usually relatively spontaneously and for cocktails before luncheon after church or dinner. Afterward our guests either went home or to a restaurant. My mother did not like to entertain and seldom had people for dinner parties. She had had a lot of that as a young child in her parents home and had been as it were inoculated against it. Her mother had given her all sorts of jobs to do related to making ready for guests, none of which she particularly enjoyed.

Her father had been in he diplomatic service in Germany prior to World War II and they had lived all over the globe. Her mother had entertained at lavish dinner parties with food prepared by a cook or catered. To my mother fell the task of setting the table, arranging flowers and so on. Later she and her two sisters would be called upon to perform musically for the guests. No wonder she disliked parties.

My first husband didn’t care to entertain either. We had one big party a year. it. My cooking was confined to the family. I have found it wonderfully different with Stephen. He has always loved to entertain and there have been many times in our lives together when I never knew how many would be sitting down to dinner. Because I have plenty of supplies on hand, this has never bothered me. To be sure, I enjoy dining out, especially as someone’s guest, however I am very happy to eat loving prepared home cooking.