Friday, March 26, 2010

Feeding the Family: Butter

Butter may seem like a small thing. But with all that good homemade bread, butter is absolutely essential. As you can guess, we didn't just pick up sticks or rolls of butter from the grocery store. Again, we made it ourselves. By the time I came along in the family, we were really high tech - we made butter in the washing machine. I'm serious. We really did. Just ask my mom. In the barn we had the cream separator, a contraption that separated the milk from the cream. A lot of the cream went into the metal "cream cans" and got sold to the "creamery" in town. But we always had plenty for the family for things like cream and sugar over bread, creamed gravy, all kinds of baking, and, of course, butter. There was a special piece of equipment that fit over the agitator in the wringer washing machine that we poured the cream into. We plugged it in and .... it made butter! This must have been a big improvement over the "old" way of making butter that took a lot of arm work and took a lot of time.

I don't remember how mom made the butter yellow, but it always came out beautiful and delicious. We shaped it just right, wrapped it up, and put it in the freezer with the rest of the family food. One of my most pleasant memories is going into the kitchen in the evening, all by myself, and popping up a couple dishpans full of popcorn. I would melt a big pan of butter on the stove and smother the popcorn in butter and salt. Each of us would get a bread pan full of this delicious popcorn. I made my bread pan last for at least two days, because I knew I wasn't allowed to make popcorn more than once a week.

We all laugh about the night my sister, Evie, who was home from college, dished up ice cream for dessert. She brought the ice cream to each one of us at the table. At last she sat down to her own dish, smothered in homemade chocolate sauce. She took a bite, then accusingly said, "who put butter in my ice cream?" Ha ha on her. She is the one who put chocolate sauce on a dish of butter instead of ice cream!

I'm glad I enjoyed all this butter when I was young. Now-a-days, I wouldn't think of consuming so much butter. It really isn't good for my health. And, well, it just doesn't taste that good anymore. But maybe if I had the homemade kind ... maybe it would taste good again.

Pals Cabin

Complain, complain, complain. I know I do a lot of complaining about my grueling life on the road and in the air. Finding good food is the biggest challenge I have. Tonight I struck gold! Not far from the hotel is a place called Pals Cabin, in business since 1932. It is advertised as a steakhouse, and I don't like steak. But I thought I'd give it a try because (1) it is not a chain restaurant, (2) I like trying different places; and (3) most steak houses also sell chicken and fish. And, boy, did they have a good menu! I debated between the crab cakes, the salmon, and the scallops. Well, I had salmon at the meeting last night and crab cakes can sometimes be a little sweet, so I settled on the scallops. Should I have them broiled, sauteed, blackened, or fried? Broiled it was. Yummmmm. Those were the best scallops I've ever had (except for once in Seattle). Yes, I am spending Friday night alone in a New Jersey hotel. But just thinking of Pals Cabin makes me smile. And tomorrow I go home.

Monday, March 22, 2010

It Felt Like I Was in Chuckie Cheese's

I worked so late that I missed the free nachoes at my hotel tonight. That, along with some popcorn, would have made for an okay evening meal. But .... I missed the nachoes. So where to go to get something to eat? I really like Chili's BBQ Chicken Salad so I set off for the local Odessa, TX, Chili's. I should have known it wasn't going to be a very good experience when I was told there is a wait time to be seated. After 20 minutes, I was led through the restaurant to a small table to enjoy a quiet meal all by myself. Here's what happened next: (1) It took a LONG time for anyone to take my order; (2) I was set right under a speaker, out of which came some very loud, clangy noise; (3) It became clear to me that there were many more children than adults; (4) The children had no reservations about screaming, crying, yelling and running around; (5) It took a very long time to get my salad; and (6) It took a very, very long time for anyone to take my money. Two bright spots: (1) the salad was good; and (2) I didn't eat alone in my room. Tomorrow night, however, I will be back at the hotel in time for their tacos OR I will bring something back to my room to eat a quiet meal ... alone.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Feeding the Family: Cattle, Part II

My door was closed and the windows were shut tight. Lying on my bed, I put the pillow over my head and pushed it into my ears with my fists. But I still heard it. Bang! It only took one shot and the job was done. I knew a young steer had just met it's fate and would be in our freezer before the end of the day. It was when I saw the steer, with a rope around its neck, being led to the ditch down by the chicken house, that I realized what was going to happen. I didn't want to have anything to do with this project! That evening, however, I found myself sitting on the basement steps, watching the process. Dad knew what he was doing; he knew exactly how to cut every piece of meat. There were steaks, roasts and ribs being cut up with knives and saws. I watched as chunks of meat went in the grinder and came out in long strings of bright red ground beef. Mom and some of my brothers were busy wrapping each piece in freezer paper, taping and labeling. Then all the neat packages went into the freezer. What a messy day - but a necessary part of feeding the family over the next year.

I have vague memories of the "rendering of the lard"; mostly I remember the horrible smell. I don't know how it worked, but all the fat, along with some lye (and maybe other things) eventually turned into bars of soap. Every wash day (Mondays), mom would shave off pieces of a bar of homemade soap into the wringer washing machine.

As a child, I never cared much for beef, though I did like meatballs. I still don't care for beef. I've often wondered if it has anything to do with my fondness for the cattle ... and the unavoidable butchering day.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Feeding the Family: Cattle, Part I

It may be a little strange, but I always liked the cows. They were gentle, non-threatening creatures. During the summer, in the late afternoons, my brother or I would have to "go get the cows" so they could come to the barn to be milked. Off I would go, lazily walking through the pasture daydreaming, picking wildflowers, avoiding the thistles, making my way towards the cows. It wasn't a hard job, for as soon as the cows saw me they would start walking towards the barn. There was one cow I especially liked because she didn't mind when I jumped up on her, laid down on her wide back and had a nice ride to the barn. For a country girl, the hot sun, the bugs and the unique smell of dirt and cow was not the least bit unpleasant. I loved being in the barn during the milking, though my brothers often chased me out. I enjoyed watching all the cats gather around for the fresh milk, I enjoyed using the curry brush on the broad side of a gentle cow, I enjoyed watching the rich cream pour out of the "separater". And I didn't mind washing the teats before the milking machine was attached. The barn was a hub of activity and a conglomeration of distinctive smells - hay, dirt, animals, milk, ground feed, and manure - melding into one very "farm" odor. In the spring the pens in the barn filled up with new calves. I remember the day my Dad showed me how to teach the calves to drink from a pail. I would straddle the little calf, holding a can of fresh milk in it's face. Sticking my fingers in its mouth, the calf would begin sucking. Oh, what a strong sucking sensation that warm, wet mouth had! I would quickly guide it's bucking head to the milk in the pail and it was soon sucking up the milk on its own. What cute little animals the young calves were! Yes, in the spring and early summer, it was easy to pretend that fall would never come.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Enough Already!

So good to be home. I arrived back in Denver after spending the week in Dallas. But what is NOT good is coming home to news that sister Sylvia is back in the hospital .... again! And it's not even a holiday. I just spoke with her and it is the same problem that just will not go away - fluid buildup. I'm starting to have a strong aversion to Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). It is interfering with the lives of too many loved ones. On a good note, Sylvia sounded good, said she feels good, and is expecting to go home tomorrow; albeit on oxygen. And she will be seeing a cardiologist in Grand Forks in less than two weeks. Let's hope and pray that the right treatment can be found that will improve things in a hurry.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Dirty Dozen

Country cousins and city cousins. What a different upbringing they had! I doubt if any of the city cousins ever baled hay, butchered chickens, plowed fields, moved manure, or went to a high school with less than 30 students. And I know the country cousins had little, if no exposure to city buses, tug boats, 2-story department stores, or a school class of hundreds. Yet we have so much in common. We have a blood-line; we all came from Frank and Sophia. Twelve of us first cousins (about 1/4 of the Peterson first cousins) met together last Friday night. How fun it was to see some again, get to know others better, and meet some for the first time. The first guest arrived before 6:00 p.m. and the last one left at 2:00 a.m. A good time was had by all. Besides the cousins, we had several spouses/significant others join us; all wonderful people to know. We thought about inviting the aunts and uncles, but they said, "No, you don't want us old folks around. You young people just enjoy yourselves." Our ages ranged from mid 40's to 70. I'm all for that being the new young! For those who aren't sure who is who, here is the list. The name in parenthesis is the Peterson child from which they came.

Back row: Kay (Irene); Debbie (Glenn); Kandy (Irene); Audrey (Viola); Karen (Irene); Janice (Stanley)

Front row: Barbara (Wilma); John (Irene); Bob (Elvera); Greg (Elvera); Curtis (Stanley)

Sitting in the front because he is the oldest and the tallest: Raynoir (Stanley)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lunch at Dukes

It's not very often I get this opportunity. Friday I enjoyed delicious seafood and salad at a nice restaurant right on the water of Puget Sound. And the best part was the people I shared the meal with. From left to right they are: Cousin Barbara (Brown) Lester, Uncle Glenn, me, Aunt Nancy, Aunt Irene, Cousin Kandy (Treakle) Osmon, Aunt Martha and Uncle Duane. A wonderful time was had by all. It was so good to see Irene so happy and engaged in the conversation. She sure enjoyed her coconut prawns. And Duane had a cheeseburger that must have been six inches high. Glenn enjoyed a big bowl of clam chowder ... and was going to have soup again for his next meal. We ate, and talked, and joked, and laughed, and .... loved. How very blessed we all are to have each other!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dear Aunt Elvera

I'm so glad I went to Tacoma. It was good to see all the aunts and uncles today. But this entry is about my Aunt Elvera. I couldn't believe it when I heard in January that she was in the hospital with pneumonia. Then she was back in the hospital, then it was other things going wrong. I'm not sure what the immediate future holds, but I'm sure glad I had a few short visits with this special person. It breaks my heart to see her feeling so poorly. Dearest Aunt, please know that many, many people love you, care deeply about you and are praying for you. I will always honor and admire you. Your strength, your sense of humor, your steadfastness and your beautiful spirit have blessed all of us over the years. Thank you for being who you are.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The House is Smaller!

It was the most exciting event of my entire childhood -- the long train ride from Devils Lake, ND, to Tacoma, WA, to see my Peterson relatives. The year was 1960, I was eight years old, and I took the trip with my mother and my great-aunt-Alma. Here's Grandma and Grandpa's house - the place where we stayed. It was all white back then. And it sure seems like it was much, much bigger in 1960. I remember sitting on those steps in the warm June sun. And I remember the yard filled with cousins and aunts and uncles when they all came over to see us.

Yes, I got a tour through the past today. After landing in Seattle about 10:30 this morning, Cousin Kandy took me to see Aunt Elvera and then she drove me around to places from that memorable trip "out west". I found the "reservoir" and the chain link fence where I got my picture taken with Grandpa. Kandy showed me the probable route of my very first city bus trip when Grandma, mom and I went downtown. The department store downtown is where I saw, and rode, my very first escalator. I was hoping to see the corner store where grandpa bought me a 5-cent push-up each day, but it is no longer there. Another first from that trip was watching my Grandpa wash the siding of the house with a hose. I had never known anyone to do that before.

Oh, what a good time I am having! Tomorrow I will be having lunch by the water with my aunts and uncles. Then we go for a visit with Elvera. And Friday night is the "cousin" party. Currently there are 23 planning to attend.

One big disappointment - Kandy took a couple good pictures of Elvera and me -- but I lost the pictures from my phone. So tomorrow we'll try again. Be looking for a picture and an Elvera update soon!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I Won't Let It Happen!

My former life, with my former job was so intense and so all-consuming that I had to quit to re-balance. Those were the days of nearly 100% travel, work all day, every night, and Sunday afternoons. Those were the days of 150 emails a day, eleven budgets to maintain, lots of direct reports, lots of issues, lots of presentations, and not enough sleep. After I quit, I enjoyed more time at home, and even had some time with no work at all. Those were times of eating right, getting exercise, reading books, starting a blog, re-connecting with friends and family, sleeping good and feeling great. But I was also getting restless, wanting a bit of the fast pace again, the challenges, the rush I got from solving difficult problems and starting new programs. So back to work I went! It's been going great and I love my job. But these past two weeks have really heated up...more and more travel coming up, huge problems to work through, tighter budget constraints and ... did I say .... more travel? So once again it is a struggle to eat right, sleep right, exercise, read books, stay connected. But I REFUSE TO LET IT TAKE OVER MY LIFE AGAIN!!! Which is one reason why I am taking two days off, flying to Tacoma to see relatives, and (mostly) forget about work. Yes, life is short. I don't want to miss out on anything important. So if you see me spinning out of control again, shake me and say, "You said you won't let it happen again!"

Monday, March 1, 2010

Feeding the Family: Baking

A family as large as the one I came from consumed lots of food over the years. We were all hard workers who burned up lots of calories. Calories that were replenished with breakfast, lunch, dinner, lunch, supper and snack. A large part of our lives revolved around feeding the family. You read about the garden, the canning and freezing, the chickens. The best part, though, was the baking. We never bought bread from the store. Every week mom baked several loaves of bread and several pans of buns. Is there any better smell than the smell of bread in the oven? And mom made the best buns. Mmmm, fresh buns made delicious sandwiches - peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, meat sandwiches, pickle sandwiches, or just bread and butter. Every once in awhile, we were treated to the best cinnamon rolls any of us have ever tasted. They turned out perfect every time with lots of soft caramel. What a delicious Saturday night supper - sandwiches and cinnamon rolls!

Then there were the cookies. We didn't just make a couple batches of cookies. On Saturdays we made triple batches of three or four different kinds of cookies ... chocolate chip, peanut butter, ground raisin, oatmeal, molasses, sugar, and many more. The all time favorite that we made each time was chocolate chip. Many times I sat on the kitchen stool with a big bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough anchored between my legs as I used a big spoon to stir in the chocolate chips. And what fun it was to use a fork to press down the peanut butter cookies. We used the bottom of the toothpick holder to press down the molasses cookies. We ate cookies when they were fresh and we froze cookies for later.

Besides all the breads and the cookies we also made bars. Every time we had company, mom would go down the basement and bring up a variety of bars to put on a plate and thaw out while visiting with the company. When it was time for "coffee", the bars were all ready to go. We tried lots of different recipes with bars. They were all good.

The best baking of all, however, was the birthday cake! Every birthday (and we had lots of them) there was a large angel food cake with frosting and candles. Melt-in-your mouth angel food cake. I can taste it now. I told my family the only thing I want for my 60th birthday (I'm giving them plenty of warning) is a home made angel food cake. Will they come through for me? I hope so!