Riding a Time Machine into the Past

Reflections in SummerWhat fun it would be to hop onto a time machine and return to the Christmas shopping of my childhood, after I had turned eight. How I enjoyed buying my parents small stocking presents at Grants and Woolworth’s. I want to return to the days when the ten dollars I had saved up sufficed to purchase about everything I wanted to buy for them. Maybe there would even be enough left over for an ice cream cone. I loved the way the store smelled when I walked in, and the overflowing counters with the glass part in front to make sure items didn’t fall off.

I didn’t mind no longer believing that Santa filled the stockings, because it was such fun to wrap up my inexpensive gifts to fill them for my parents. Best of all would be to write notes on them the way they did. I bought Ponds cold cream and vanishing cream each year. I think they were ten or twenty cents each.

My mother told us a joke once about the latter. It seems a child took off all her clothes, rubbed her whole body with vanishing cream, and then went downstairs where her parents were hosing a party. The polite guests pretended not to see her. The next morning she told her mother gleefully that vanishing cream really worked. My twelve year old self thought that was very funny.

My time machine would whisk me back to my Great Aunt’s dining room with all the relatives gathered together and finger bowls brought in at the end of the Christmas meal–often roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. Sometimes there would be a plum pudding brought in and ignited after brandy was poured over it. The dancing flames were blue and very exciting. I didn’t care much for the plum pudding but the had sauce with it was pretty good.

It would take me down the snowy streets with the sparkling stars way up high, and the carols on the radio. Those times seem quite simple compared to now. The television had only a few channels, and the programs didn’t play all night but ended with a test pattern. Mothers mostly were at home. Most had only one car per family, and my mother’s friends met bi monthly for lunch and chitchat over their mending.

In my time machine I would also visit the wondrous Daniel Lowe’s department store in Salem with all the glittering silver and crystal when you walked in. I did no Christmas shopping there. Salem was the big city to me and we seldom went. Nearby Beverly was smaller. That was where the Woolworth’s and the Grant’s were, as well as Almay’s department store. We did some of our shopping there. In those less frantic times no one thought to purchase gifts until a few weeks before Christmas. The stores waited until after Thanksgiving to decorate for the holidays or play Christmas music. However, that was then. Though different from that time, now has its delights as well. While the past is fine to visit, I wouldn’t wish to live there.

Advertisements

Perspective Makes All the Difference

Cherry Blossoms on a rainy dayAt the time I was born my mother was newly come to the US, a bride of less than a year. Except for my father, she was very much alone in a big city, and I was her only companion for quite a while. I have often thought that my persistently positive perspective on life may have had its roots in my trying to cheer her up when she was sad and missing her family and friends back in her home country. Over the years since I have come to understand the power of a positive perspective on a potentially negative situation or experience.

This has become essential to my work. When I tell people I am a writer, they often ask me what I write. If I say I write essays, it sounds as though I am writing from a scholarly point of view. If I say I do inspirational writing, it sounds as though I am coming from a religious perspective. In truth, what I am doing in my columns is to simply present a different or alternative point of view from that which some might take about any given situation or experience. I write to be helpful, but it is self help I write about. Helping others to help themselves is my intention and my goal.

There is little we can do about circumstances. Daily life presents us with issues and difficulties we must deal with. The school of experience is our ever-present teacher, one we cannot escape no matter what we do. I’ve often felt that maturity or adulthood truly begins when we’re willing to learn from this teacher rather than moan, groan and feel as though we are victims of fate, circumstance or those who might perpetrate it. It is a lot easier to complain than it is to “bite the bullet” and admit there might be something to learn from any given situation.

I believe the expression “bite the bullet” comes from battlefield medicine when in the days gone by the surgeon had to amputate or otherwise operate without anesthesia. After whiskey was poured liberally into the patient, a bullet was put between his jaws to bite down on as a way to keep from crying out. Whether this is actually true or not it makes a good metaphor. When our focus is put not on complaint or disappointment but on what can be gained from whatever is happening to us, coping becomes easier and wisdom more accessible.

In my own life right now I am dealing with a change in lifestyle and a need to take better care of myself. I have learned that much of what I used to take for granted, I no longer can. Exercise is not an option it is a necessity. I need to do additional work on my body to restore it to better working order. I could complain, or even bemoan my fate. Instead I rejoice that I now have a good way to lose weight, that I can become stronger and healthier with effort and that it is good and helpful to be made to do that. Therefore I bless these circumstances and state firmly that I am exceedingly grateful for them.

Celebrating Special Days with Special Treats

Cake imageThe joyful birthday of our country on July fourth happens to be right next to and between my husband Stephen’ birthday on the third and our wedding anniversary on the fifth. Over the many years of our life together what a wonderful time we have had with our celebrations. In the past we would share what we used to call our three days of peace and love with friends. They would come from everywhere and stay for the three days, overflowing our large home and even camping in the back yard. The pool and the hot tub were frequently in use. They were joyous occasions.

Today we live more quietly, yet we still celebrate and have friends in to join us, though not so many or for so long. Special recipes are always fun to share for these occasions. One of Stephen’s favorites is a cake made with Almond paste or Marzipan. The main ingredient can be purchased at almost any market. This cake is not the kind to be frosted however you could also decorate it with fruit. In my case if I decide to make it this year I might spell out Happy Birthday Stephen with pieces of strawberry.

Marzipan Cake for Special Occasions

Preheat oven to 325

Grease and flour, or grease and line with parchment an 8″ round cake pan.

Ingredients:

7 or 8 oz almond paste or marzipan

¾ cups butter

2/3 cups sugar

3 large eggs, beaten

¼ teaspoon almond extract

¼ tsp baking powder

1/3 cup all purpose flour

Method: Crumble almond paste into bowl. Add butter. Beat well until blended. Gradually add sugar and beat well until mixture is light in color and texture. Add beaten eggs, continue beating for 3 minutes. Add flavoring. Sprinkle in baking powder by pinches. Fold in flower. Scrape batter into prepared baking pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until firm and browned on top, and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes on a rack. Slide a thin knife around and under the cake to detach from pan. Invert on rack then turn right side up and finish cooling. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

This cake is a wonderful treat, and can easily be made gluten free by using a flour mix from Bob’s Red Mill or another one you might like. It really helps to have a mixer, as it would be very labor intensive to mix it by hand, though it would also be excellent exercise. Whether I make this recipe or another I am fond of, I know I will enjoy celebrating these special days.

Thank you, Mom for Your Gifts

M

Mama Watering the Roses

My Late Mama Watering the Roses

This week I received a loving card in the mail from one of my three dear daughters. In it she expressed her thanks to me for what I had given her as well as for what I continue to give her. She lives at quite a distance from me so we do not see one another often. We do however do our best to keep in touch with mail and emails. It was a precious card and it was even more precious to read her acknowledgement of the little things I do for her as we continue to communicate and to share our lives together.

Although I cannot write her a letter or call her on the phone, I began thinking about what I might be grateful to my late mother for. There is a long list beginning with how she always insisted on my wearing a hat on the beach and cover up as well to protect my skin from the sun. Today, with the prevalence of skin cancer among my contemporaries and even those younger than I, I am especially grateful for her good advice. It is thought that the early exposure to excess sun is a precursor to skin cancer. She had a permanent tan on her back from her teenage years of sun exposure in Cuba where her German father was in the diplomatic service; later she had numerous bouts with skin cancer.

Though I haven’t thought much about this until recently, I realize that she was an immigrant, and what that meant especially in her early years in the country. Like many others who came here from elsewhere, she cherished her citizenship and was proud to be an American. She also contributed in many ways, from joining in the war effort as a civilian—I remember the brown uniform she wore for some kind of civilian women’s defense organization to the lovely art she created that graces the homes of many even today.

It was the outset of what became WWII that she married my father and came to this country from Germany. As a child I remember seeing a movie taken of part of their honeymoon showing Nazis marching. She had to endure suspicions and even dislike for her nationality, even from her in-laws. Fortunately she spoke perfect English and quickly became a citizen. She was herself very courageous, and she encouraged me to stand up for myself when I was picked on in school for not being athletic or slender. In addition she always supported me when I shared my grief at not being able to fit in.

She encouraged my creativity, keeping the little booklets I made for her even until I was much older and then giving them back to me. She applauded my early efforts to play the guitar and urged me to write my own songs. She pushed originality as a virtue, praising it above all in everything I did. I think of her often and wish her well as she makes her way through whatever is next for us all in the afterlife. I am sure her bright spirit is still learning and growing and perhaps she is in some way practicing the art she did so beautifully in this life to enhance the walls of the angels’ heavenly homes.

Thoughts from a Thrifty Cook

Tasha's Fridge 1My mother felt strongly that food was precious and not to be wasted. She had been a young child during World War I in Germany, and the experience of scarcity had shaped her attitude. To her way of thinking, all food was to be used up one way or another. Then came World War II and rationing. I too was very young, yet this also gave me lessons in thrifty use of food. Fortunately I have been able to put my early lessons to good use in learning how to create meals from whatever I have left over even if I hadn’t already planned ahead.

A chicken, for instance normally provides two people at least three meals: hot, cold, and soup. That’s easy, but what about the bits and pieces of vegetables, meat, fish, or even pasta that might otherwise molder in the back of the ‘fridge. Why not make a soup, or combine them in a quick stirfry? If your family is fussy about food you probably can’t do that, however a retired couple like us, or even a single person may find it fun to experiment. One warning: it is important for the leftovers from the originals to make good combinations. A curry and a chili won’t mix well.

To use up most leftover vegetables, sauté half an onion until soft and then tip in whatever you have. This freshens the taste and makes them seem like a different dish. Add half a box of chicken or beef broth and serve this as a soup with a salad for supper. Throw in a handful of uncooked pasta of your choice and simmer or add leftover rice for a heartier dish. Or combine the vegetables and the rice or cooked pasta, sprinkle on curry powder, voila, another meal. Cook any leftover hamburger or some other chopped up cooked meat and add to the simple stirfry for a more filling lunch or supper. You can also cover it with leftover mashed potato, pop into the oven and have a shepherd’s pie.

I often use some of that convenient boxed coconut milk to season my leftover vegetables. Or in the summer I may add some salad dressing and toss them with lettuce, chopped sweet onion, and whatever else you like for a cold meal. Adding some canned salmon or tuna makes a more filling meal. The coconut milk is also very tasty with leftover chicken stirfry or soup. Simply chop up what you have, add whatever vegetables you like and warm them all up together with either leftover or freshly cooked rice. For soup, add chicken broth.

Whenever I make rice I make enough so I have some left over. I like to use it to make what I call Pudding As Rice: Per person use ½ cup rice, 1 Tbs butter, 1 Tbs brown sugar, about a half cup or so mixed dried fruit of your choice—brown and white raisins, dried cranberries, cherries, dried pineapple, or whatever else you fancy. Mix and cook together over low heat 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally until all is mingled into a tasty mix and serve with almond, coconut or dairy cream poured over it. Or instead, combine it with fresh or canned fruit. This simple dessert pleases almost everyone.

 

Where Does the Time Go

dali-clocks

Five minutes or more of waiting can seem to stretch forever, yet when I am engaged in something pleasurable, the moments vanish quickly into wherever time goes. When I look back over the years, they telescope, yet I remember three months in El Paso that while I was living through them, seemed like three years. It is quite beyond my comprehension, and perhaps that is appropriate because after all time is something human beings invented.

Did they do this because life as they were living it needed dividing up in order to be made orderly? Or was it because people needed to make appointments? Or even because there needed to be some sort of way to know the when of things? There are books that will tell you when calendars were invented, and who invented them, and others that detail the kind of clocks that first measured it. I haven’t read any that have told me why.

Sometimes to me time resembles a big clump of jelly like stuff. I try to hold onto it but instead it squeezes through my fingers and disappears. Finding time, using time, saving time…all these are illusions generated by my wanting to accomplish what I want to do when I want to do it. Perhaps I need to think of time differently. If I focused on what needs doing rather than trying to find the time to do it would I manage better?

To be sure, I keep lists of the tasks I hope to accomplish right now or in the near future: phone calls to be made, deadlines for submissions, household tasks to be done. Then there are other items on my lists that do not have a time consideration: letters to be written, information to be googled, piles to sort through. It is these that seem to revolve endlessly, making their way from list to list until I “find the time” to do them and finally cross them off.

Sometimes they fall off the list, never to be seen again. Because none of this type of task is actually necessary it seems more difficult to get done. It is also possible that they don’t matter, or else that I have given them more importance than they originally deserved. It isn’t always easy to know what is important and what is merely something it would be nice to do if there were time to do it. And there’s that word again: time.

Have you ever noticed that it can take the same amount of actual clock time to come home as it does to go somewhere, yet it seems to take much longer to go than it does to come home? This is just one more mystery I experience involving the passage of time. However, to be honest I usually find that I always have enough time when I focus on the doing part rather than the amount of time to do it. Perhaps that is because there really is no such thing as time at all.

Tasha Halpert

 

 

Muffins for Fall Munching

Down to her frillies 3

 

 

I once attended a weekend Renaissance Fair with some friends. Wearing a costume of a mobcap, a full skirt, blouse and a vest, with my similarly garbed friends I was having breakfast in the restaurant of the motel where we were staying. As I perused the buffet table a man came up to me. “There are no more muffins,” he said. I shook my head and assured him I wasn’t a waitress. “We need more muffins,” he said loudly. My similarity to the waitress’ colonial garb was too convincing. My friends were helpless with laughter. I giggled and joined them. To this day Stephen kids me about the incident.

While I like making muffins now, I didn’t learn to make them in my mother’s kitchen. She didn’t bake from scratch or even at all, and I was not encouraged to do so. Once married I tried to make them but my muffins were invariably heavy, flat and dense in texture. Though edible, they were not how I thought muffins ought to be. When I sought inspiration from more experienced cooks, I found out what I was doing wrong. Voila, my muffins rose nicely.

I discovered that muffins, unlike cakes, cookies and other baked goods did not need to be well beaten. Once I learned to fold the wet ingredients lightly into the dry ingredients my troubles were over. The source of my information was a column in the Boston Globe called the Confidential Chat. It ran several times weekly and was a wonderful source of recipes, advice and help as well as an opportunity to share for those of us who wished to do so. At the peak of my participation I wrote around fifteen or so letters a week, many of which were published, and in the process I learned to write succinctly.

Writers to the column used pen names, so publication was anonymous. However, letters answering you that were not published were forwarded bundled in an envelope you provided, and you could choose to answer any of them if you wished. In certain ways the Confidential Chat was part of the foundation for this column because it helped me learn to write precisely and convey information clearly. Long-winded or unclear letters simply were not published. Since I enjoyed seeing mine in the paper, I worked hard to write well. I also loved the recipes and shared many.

Here is a recipe I use a lot for Banana Chunk Muffins. You may substitute melted butter for the oil. If you do, be very sure to mix lightly. Ingredients: 2 eggs, 1/3 cup oil, ¾ cup any milk, 1 tsp vanilla, ½ cup sugar, 1½ cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, 2 or 3 bananas cut into ½ to 1 inch squares, ½ to 1 cup optional chopped walnuts, ½ to 1 cup optional chopped dates. Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees, Mix fruit, nuts with dry ingredients, beat wet ingredients together well and lightly mix into dry. Use liners or grease 1½ dozen muffin cups or 1 8″ square pan. Fill ¾ full and bake for 30 minutes for muffins, 35 to 40 for pan. Enjoy!

Tasha Halpert