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

Summer Through the Years

Diana's Pond ReflectionsAs a child I so looked forward to school vacation and the freedom it brought from discipline, homework and schedules. Whenever weather permitted, my time was spent out doors wandering around the rather large property where my parents and I lived. It belonged to my Great Aunt Alice, whose father had built the grand house she lived in now, as well as the cottage originally intended for the gardener. That was where I, and later on my brothers and sister lived. There was a broad, open field to roam in, trees to climb, and a small marsh bounded by a dyke that kept out most of the distant seawater.

Wildflowers grew in abundance, insects buzzed and birds called. There were trees to climb, and I also spent time high in their branches, reading. I called it my tree house and brought pillows to the platform I had wedged into my favorite tree, a big beech. Summer was a time to play. The property held plenty of room for my imagination to conjure up all kinds of adventures like the ones in the stories I read: Tarzan, Robert Louis Stevenson’s tales, and the legends of Greek heroes.

Time passed and I was a young mother. Summer meant days at a nearby beach watching my children play in the sand and splash in the waves. Fortunate to be able to stay home with my children, I hung the laundry in the sun, worked on my tan, and took the them to the local church fairs, the annual carnival, and whatever other amusement the season offered. We had picnics and explored the highways and byways of surrounding towns. Later there were softball and then baseball games they played in to attend. The work of motherhood became a kind of play in summer.

Fast-forward to a different kind of summer life, with a swimming pool to clean and care for and a large garden that took me almost as much time to look after as the children did. Still it was a delight to share the pool as well as the garden with visitors. I didn’t mind the weeding too much, or pruning the shrubs. It was an adventure to tackle the wild rose vine I planted for its delicious scent, without realizing the consequences of its rampant growth. I never knew how many would be sitting down to any meal, because people came and went as I practiced my hospitality. Summer held a different kind of play.

My summers have changed again. With age comes less tolerance for extreme conditions. My bones enjoy my home’s warmth in the cold but not its heat in the muggy weather. I appreciate air conditioning far more than I used to, and I spend much more time indoors than I did in the past. While the long summer hours of light are enjoyable, the effect of the heat on my mind is not. Labor Day signals summer’s closing. Once I welcomed its beginning with open arms, now each year I am more appreciative of summer’s end.

Birthdays are for Celebrating, by Tasha Halpert

Flag on Steps, Maine -15  As a child I didn’t like going to birthday parties. They often played a game called musical chairs. I hope no one plays this any more. For those who haven’t, 2 rows of chairs is lined up back to back. The children march around them to music. When it stops everyone grabs a chair and sits. Each time, one chair is removed and someone is “out.” The last person who grabs the last chair wins. I never won and I thought it was a mean game. I loved celebrating my own birthday at home.

On each birthday in the family my mother would put flowers around the breakfast setting of the birthday person. There would be presents, and special food for dinner. I didn’t have many friends so instead of a party I would be taken to the movies or out for some other special treat. I made my presents for my parents’ birthdays, usually little books or a home made puzzle.

July 4th, also called Independence Day, marks the birthday of the United States of America, the day the Declaration of Independence became official. It is celebrated with gatherings, fireworks, parades and other opportunities for fun. Some might say there is too much strife and dismay to be celebrating. Terrorist attacks, murderous rampages by vicious people who take out their rage out on innocent victims, and other dismaying occurrences sadden and frighten them. Yet this is no reason not to celebrate.

When I was growing up there was a polio scare every summer. we were frightened of the beach, or other places where there were crowds. When I was in the 6th grade one of my classmates caught it and lived out his life in an iron lung. There seems always to be something to fear. Plagues in Europe, epidemics in the US, and even savage attacks by hostile tribes. When in history has there not been a threat to survival?

Every birthday reached is to be celebrated. Within the past several years too many friends of ours have died, many much too young. One never knows when there will be no more birthdays. This is all the more reason to mark each and every one as a special occasion. Young children love their birthdays. The child in us, the part that never grows up enjoys every aspect of a birthday celebration no matter how many years we accumulate. There is much to rejoice over and be thankful for in every year of life. We do well to focus on this.

Stephen was born on the 3rd. of July, and we always gather with as many friends as can make it to mark this important day. This year on his special day he will celebrate 75 years of life. A mere hundred years ago this would have been considered an tremendous accomplishment. It is, yet nowadays with good habits and good care he can expect to celebrate many more birthdays. This year when he blows out the candles on his cake he will wish not only for himself but also for his country, a peaceful, prosperous new year of life. May it be so.

A New World to Hear

Image

DSCF0168

I remember my great grandmother’s ear trumpet. It was a long instrument, flared at one end. She held the small end to her ear. I also remember a black box the size and shape of a thick brick that had a cord running from sitting on a table that must have been an early hearing instrument. My grandmother wore a case the sizes of a slim cigarette pack clipped to the front of her dress with a cord connected between it and a button in her ear. There was a dial on the box she could turn on and off.

My dad used to say she turned it off when she didn’t want to hear what was being said. I remember as a child thinking how handy that must be. Aids to hearing have come a very long way since then. As people age, much like the normal need for eyeglasses to address a lessening of vision, so too there is a need for aids to hearing. Unfortunately these are extremely expensive compared to eyeglasses. Hopefully one day this will change.

Because of the deafness that seemed to run in my family, I was not surprised when my own hearing began to diminish. I found I needed to have the TV on louder. It was helpful to watch movies on DVD with subtitles, especially when the actors had British accents. If Stephen spoke to me and I was in the other room I had to get closer to him to hear what he was telling me.

Ambient noise interfered with my understanding of words; parties were less fun. My children noticed and suggested I get hearing aids. Still, I wasn’t sure I really needed them, or so I thought. Then as luck would have it I was gifted with a set. My daughter offered me her late mother-in-law’s hearing aids. I am very glad I said yes. It has been an adventure for me to use them. I find myself marveling at sounds I have not really heard before, or not for a long time.

I remember my mother telling me that when my grandmother put on her new hearing aid and went outdoors she said, “What’s all that noise?” It was the birds chirping. She had not heard birds for many years. My ears have not been that bad. I have been able to hear more or less, just not clearly. I notice the difference with the aids: without them, it’s like I have water in my ears. With them when I turn on the sink faucet, I hear splashes and ripples. When I unwrap paper it crackles. The stove timer sounds shrill. I hear sounds I didn’t before.

In the past when I thought about getting hearing aids I felt somewhat uncomfortable. I expected them to be clumsy, perhaps difficult to manage. None of this has proved true. Today’s aids are quite different from those of my grandmother’s or even of recent times. They are virtually invisible. I am very grateful to my daughter for her thoughtfulness, and I look forward to learning more about the new world I am hearing. As I have come to appreciate the clarity I get from wearing eyeglasses, now I enjoy the adventure of listening to a new and different world.

 

Into the Next Room

Maple Flowers          The first person whose death I remember hearing about was a relative named Cousin Ellen Parker. My memory of her is of someone roundish, gray haired, and somewhat wrinkled. I have no real memory of her other than of her appearance. She must have died when I was around four. My great grandmother died in her eighties when I was five. I don’t remember hearing much about that. I do have a vivid memory of picking dandelions in our yard and seeing her walking along in her purple hat. When I told my mother she insisted Grandma Great was dead and I couldn’t have seen her. But I had.

In those days death wasn’t usually discussed in front of children. I knew nothing of people dying, only small animals and occasionally pets. The rest of my family was healthy and active, living vigorously for many more years. I grew up with the idea that death was something that happened to people who were old. Times have changed. I have outlived not only my parents but now some of my friends and acquaintances.

This past week Stephen and I heard about three people dear to us who have stepped into the next room–another way to say they have passed from this life. As I write this, it is the birthday of another friend whose death I found out about earlier this year. Stephen and I both find it difficult to believe that these and other friends are gone from our sight. I find myself regretting that I never sent that card I meant to send, or made that phone call.

How can we know when someone’s time will run out? When the card we mean to send or the call to make can no longer be sent or made? No matter how well meaning I try to be there will always be that last small gesture that won’t be made before they are gone. There’s no way to predict when someone will make that transition from life on earth to the wider realm from which no one returns.

As I grow older in years I notice that more and more of the people I have known depart this life for the next. How can this be? Children believe one must be old to die. I’m not old so how can they be old enough to leave this life? When I was growing up I thought of fifty as old. As I approached that time I thought of the succeeding years as indicating age. Now it seems to me that there is no time limit on “old,” nor any way to tell what age is appropriate for the end of life.

It seems no matter how many years I accumulate, I still somewhere within me, retain my youth. From the other side of fifty and more, although the years tell me a different story, I don’t feel very much older. Why have these dear ones left me? It seems only yesterday that we were all in the sunshine of our years. Now the shade encroaches. Still I trust that those I miss are freer now, and without pain. My sorrow at their passing is only for me, not for them. However, I have my memories of them, and these will remain with me for all my years to come.

Tasha Halpert