Friday, April 20, 2012

BEVERAGES: THE BASICS

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” 

 Benjamin Franklin 
I know it is probably not “normal” but I even have memories associated with beverages.

Peter asked me recently how I came to like buttermilk. I reminisced that when we were visiting Grandma and Grandpa Hunt in Medora, Mother and Grandma Hunt would go to St. Louis shopping. I would stay home with Grandpa. He would fix us both lunch but did not ask me for suggestions. His favorite lunch was Braunschweiger spread on white bread with mustard, an apple cut into slices and a glass of ice-cold buttermilk.


My totally awesome Grandpa Hunt
I still think of that kitchen…lots of white cabinets and a white stove, a white porcelain sink under a window looking out on the backyard and garden, and the little table in the kitchen where Grandpa and I would sit to eat our lunch.

He called me “Windy”. I guess I talked too much. I wasn’t “windy” enough because he would make me practice my flute and I would practically pass out. Our Fairfield band director, Mr. Newcom, had gently suggested that I give it up. He must have realized that I would not excel in that department. I was seven then I think. I still love buttermilk…and Braunschweiger.

Beverages are often medicinal.

It was rumored in the family that Grandpa Hunt kept a small bottle of something medicinal in his veterinary office in the basement. He never offered me any of that. Hm--m-m/

If there is one constant in my often unpredictable life, it is having mint growing in our yard…wherever that yard may be.


A very good mint crop
After moving into the cabin at 98 Main Street, Anna’s father, Randy, brought a special gift from their garden. It was a large handful of mint with roots to plant in the yard of our new home. He planted it by the water spicket in the backyard.

The mint now grows under the window of the store, along the entire sidewalk leading up to the back porch, as well as in the backyard.

He died a sudden and tragic death when very young. I remember so well the day he brought the mint and planted it.

I have mint growing in our new front yard today in the desert started from the plant Randy brought to us in 1988.

Why have mint? It is a remedial tea that tastes good. It is especially good for indigestion. It soothes the stomachs of babies. Yes, my children, you drank lots of mint tea with honey when you were babies. In Spanish, it is known as Yerba Buena.

MINT TEA

A general recipe for mint tea is to pour 1 cup of boiling water over 5-10 fresh mint leaves. When using dried leaves, use only 1 tablespoon. Steep for 10 minutes. Strain out the leaves. Add a teaspoon of honey for a little extra sweetness.

It helps to gently bruise the fresh leaves before pouring the water over them.

It also can be used to remedy colds and congestion and treat pain caused by arthritis.

It is an important ingredient in Albondigas soup and I always pop a few sprigs in the jar when making sun tea.

Here are a few other medicinal beverages I’ve been known to consume.

RED WINE

It is a very powerful antioxidant. My current favorite is Shiraz.

A beer now and then never hurt anybody either. I keep an Amber Bock good and cold for when the urge strikes. That is usually when I’m making St. Johns Tacos.

LEMON WATER

A whole lemon squeezed into a glass of water daily. Not only is it high in Vitamin C, it cleans the blood and reduces mucus.

“We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from lemons.”
~Alfred E. Newman

RAW UNFILTERED APPLE CIDER VINEGAR With The “Mother”:


All the good stuff is in this product. Take two teaspoons in a glass of water right after you get up in the morning.. It is called the “Wonder Beverage”. Sipped with meals, it burns away fat.




UNSULPHURED BLACKSTRAP MOLASSES:
Stir one tablespoon in a glass of warm water. I put it in my coffee sometimes. Calcium and potassium are just a few of its benefits.




WATER:

“Once during Prohibition I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.” ~W.C. Fields

Now that’s a subject. Do you think our ancestors would have believed the water choices we have today…or that we would actually buy it in plastic bottles and carry it around with us?

That sounds so silly when you think about it.

Do you know that there are still water sources available that come straight from the Source?

They flow freely from the snowmelt on the mountain, uncontaminated by man or beast, free from chemicals or processing and have never come near a plastic bottle.

They are natural springs that the Forest Service or imaginative and resourceful pioneers have tapped into. It is the purest, coldest, most delicious water there is.

Peter bought a very special gift for me one year. It was a tin cup to hook on my belt loop.

I can see your eyebrows arching in wonder.

My walks would take me by a place named Government Spring. It is a two-inch pipe coming out of the ground at about my knee level. The water pours out of it 24/7/365 and flows to the river.

Between the pipe and the river is a lush crop of Watercress that begs to be picked for a salad. It is a delightful little spot to rest.

When Peter accompanied me on a walk now and then to the “end of the road”, he witnessed me cupping my hands under the flowing spring for a sip or two of pure cold water.

As with most “flatlanders” (sorry, Honey) he was suspicious that the water might be contaminated and that I would get giardiasis.

By gifting me a tin cup, I think that means that he approves of my sipping routine from the mountain spring.




When we had nightly cabin rentals in Greer, we would be amused at the tourists who would bring water from the desert in gallon plastic jugs that they had purchased for their vacation. The gallon containers were proudly labeled "From a Municipal Water Source". Egad!! They believed that the mountain water couldn’t be trusted. These were usually the “first timers”.

The more seasoned visitors to Greer bring empty 5-gallon containers to take the water home to the desert.

Life is curious.
'BADGER POND TRAIL"
Original oil painting by Peter Pegnam













Wednesday, April 4, 2012

FAMILY FAVORITE CHEEZY SCALLOPED POTATOES

When I asked Robbie, Robbie what her favorite foods are she didn’t even hesitate. She said, “Guacamole Cheese Crisp and your Scalloped Potatoes.”





The Guacamole Cheese Crisp she is referring to is from Casa Molina in Tucson. 

When I’m in doubt about what casserole to add to a meal when the children are going to be eating with us, I always make this recipe.

We have it for Easter or Christmas with ham, other times with pork chops, and if I want them to come for fresh-caught fried  trout, scalloped potatoes is the enticement.

As a rule, scalloped potatoes don’t have cheese. They become Potatoes Au Gratin when cheese is added. Well, as you might suspect, I managed to tweak both recipes into my own version.

I vaguely remember why. I think it went something like this.

Potatoes Au Gratin recipes often have chopped onion, chopped green bell pepper, garlic and maybe even some chopped pimento in them.

I wanted my children to eat them so all of those ingredients were eliminated and I ended up with what we call “scalloped potatoes that have cheese in them”.

As usual, there are probably more directions here then you need. Keep in mind that this is Cooking One…not 101 or 10 but 1. My goal is that my grandchildren and beyond will be able to pick up this cookbook…or download it…or whatever the method ends up being…and be able to cook a few special recipes.

Maybe their robots can be programmed to do it. Nothing would surprise me.

If you’re doing it the old-fashioned way…i.e. 21st Century…here’s how:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Makes 6-8 servings.

You will need:
2-½ quart casserole dish with a lid or use foil
Measuring spoons
Ladle for spooning sauce into casserole
Large pan with lid for boiling potatoes
Medium pan for making cheese sauce, no lid required
Wire whisk
Cheese grater

Ingredients:

One 5-pound bag of potatoes (check for rotten ones by smelling the bag and feeling for potatoes with soft spots.)
4-tablespoons white flour
4-tablespoons unsalted butter
4-cups whole milk                                                       
1-teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
Shaker of black pepper
Shaker of garlic salt

4-cups or about 1 ½-pounds shredded fresh sharp cheddar cheese

Note: Please don’t use the bag of cheese that is already shredded. It is coated with flour and is not as good as when you shred it yourself.




Process:

Peel and rinse all of the potatoes

Cut the potatoes in half cross-wise (not length-wise) or in thirds if they are large.

Place potatoes in large pot and cover with cold water.


Place the pot of potatoes on the stove on high heat until they come to a boil.

Lower the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer the potatoes for 15 minutes. (They shouldn’t be too soft or you won’t be able to slice them. They will cook more later in the oven.)

Drain the potatoes in a strainer over the sink and set aside to cool.




Now, make the sauce:

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan on medium-low heat.

When the butter is completely melted, add the flour, a little at a time, mixing it in well with the wire whisk.

As you whisk it, it will start to thicken. Make sure the heat isn’t too hot or it will burn. The heat can’t be too low or the flour won’t get cooked. If the flour doesn’t get cooked, the sauce will taste like flour.

This takes patience. It should be called “The Patience Sauce” instead of White Sauce. Keep in mind that this is also a good sauce for Macaroni and Cheese and for making any cream gravy with additional instructions, of course.




When the flour and butter mixture has had a chance to simmer and bubble for a few minutes, add 1-teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon white pepper to the mixture and mix it in.

Let this all simmer for another minute or so.

Slowly start adding the milk, a little at a time, mixing it in with the whisk.

The mixture will instantly get very thick. That is good.

Keep adding the milk to the mixture in the pot, mixing it in until the mixture has the consistency of cream gravy. 

Add two cups of shredded cheese to the sauce and gently mix it in until it is melted.

Let the sauce simmer on the stove on medium-low heat until you’re ready to assemble the casserole.

Now, when slightly cooled, slice the potatoes into ¼ inch slices, more or less.

Set aside the sliced potatoes on a large plate.

Grease the casserole on the bottom and all sides with a pat of butter on a piece of the wrapper from the stick of butter. Yes, you can use a vegetable spray.  




Ladle some cheese sauce into the casserole so that it covers the bottom completely with a thin layer. This will keep the potatoes from sticking.   

Put in a generous layer of sliced potatoes on top of the sauce.     

Now, ladle more sauce across the top of the potatoes. 




Sprinkle a few shakes of garlic salt and black pepper across this layer.

Scatter some shredded cheddar cheese on this layer.

Repeat the layers two more times, ending with cheese on top.

You should have three layers of potatoes and sauce and cheese.




Cover the casserole with a lid or with foil and put in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.

Uncover the casserole and cook another 20-30 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Enjoy!!







Monday, April 2, 2012

A BASKET FULL OF PICNIC MEMORIES

There is a huge difference between camping and going on a picnic. Although they share one thing in common… eating outside…the similarity stops there.

No cooking is done on a picnic. Everything you need is brought with you in a picnic basket.

Unless you are going to a “picnic” that is a major event. Then it is customary that you bring your utensils and a “covered dish”…in a picnic basket.

Nothing profoundly enlightening in those comments.

Scanning my memory for favorite picnics takes me to the trees in “Wylie’s” yard and pasture. My coziest memories of “Wylie” were when I was from about three to seven years old. I spent most of those summers at her house and many overnight visits until I was twelve.



I know “Wylie” really loved me. How do I know that? She would bake Lemon Meringue, Banana Cream and Coconut Cream pies all the time. We would go outside and sit under a tree and eat them…just “Wylie” and me. She would bring a quilt to sit on and we would talk about things. Just like Alexa and I do now. I’m sure I didn’t eat the whole pie all by myself. But, you know, she wouldn’t have minded if I did.

Another memorable picnic from my childhood was one I went to with the Shorts. They were my cousins on my dad’s side and lived one lot over from us. Everyone always had a big celebration when an oil well “came in”. This particular oil well was one of our relatives’. The celebration was a picnic at the site of the gusher. What made it even more exciting was that Fibber Magee and Molly were there to entertain. “Unknowns” you are thinking. Not so fast. They are in the Radio Hall of Fame! They had a radio show from 1935-1959. It was the top-rated program in America. I got to see them in person at an oil well picnic. Jealous??

Medora, Illinois was where my mother was born and reared and my Grandpa Hunt was the mayor for many years. My memories from visiting my grandparents are always associated with food. Many of my grandmother’s recipes are in this chronicle of my food life.



THE ONLY HOME IN TOWN WITH INDOOR PLUMBING
Medora is in an area where there are lots of farms. People live quite a distance apart. Before transportation was so easy, they rarely got together with friends and relatives from other small towns in the area, even though they might be only ten-twenty miles apart. I had aunts and uncles and cousins who lived in these towns.


READY TO GO TO THE PICNIC...100 YEARS AGO.
I’m sure that the origin of “The Picnic” in Medora was to get everyone together in the summer for a gathering. Food was plentiful from their gardens and it was easy to travel over the dirt roads in the summer.

The event was long awaited. It lasted all day and into the night. The main meal consisted of many covered dishes brought by the families and the meat (probably barbecued brisket) was prepared by a team of volunteers.

Often there would be a carnival with rides set up in a big field and an “orchestra” would play in the evening for a dance. I remember the dance floor being a large concrete slab, maybe a tennis court or basketball court.

The busiest place to be after the meal was the bingo game. Our family’s shelves and cupboards have been full of bingo prizes for decades. Not because they are useful or valuable, but because they evoke such fond memories. Carnival glass would be an exception to the “not valuable” category.

Bingo continued from the time the meal was served until the last hangers-on left late at night.

An event worth mentioning happened when my mother and her sister, my Aunt Bobbie, were in high school in the early 1930s. They were very interested in the handsome young men who had come to Medora to play in the orchestra. They were also interested in their well-being. The girls noticed the boys were in need of a little cleaning up as they had traveled in the heat and over dirt roads to get to Medora to play for the dance. The girls invited the entire orchestra to come to their home to take showers. Mother swore it was Aunt Bobbie’s idea.


AUNT BOBBIE AND MOTHER WHEN THEY WERE INNOCENT.
Their home had the only running water in the town of Medora. The girls were probably showing off a little and loved getting very positive attention from a large group of handsome musicians. No surprise.


MOTHER AND AUNT BOBBIE SOMEWHAT OLDER AND WISER.
Unfortunately for my mother and Aunt Bobbie, Grandpa Hunt, their father, the Mayor, came home to rest from the activities of “The Picnic”. To his horror, he found a large group of scantily clad young men running about his home. Not good.


THEIR FATHER, DR. F.J.HUNT, THE MAYOR
“The Picnic” was an event I never wanted to miss. When I was young, my grandparents would take me to the other “picnics” in the area. When I hit my teenage years, I would invite one of my friends from Fairfield to go with us to Medora for “The Picnic”. Of course, we were more interested in the boys coming from the surrounding towns than the rides or the food. We did not, however, ever invite them to come to my grandparents’ home for a shower.

These “picnics” or gatherings have been around for thousands of years…out of necessity…before there were indoor kitchens with microwaves and food processors. Egad!

Today we call them reunions or put “days” after the name of the town. Why is it that picnics today are gatherings and eating outside with flies and other critters is romanticized? When people had to eat outside I doubt that it was romantic.

In the children’s younger days, we had family picnics and picnics with friends and their children.

An annual family Easter picnic came to a near-disastrous end. All of the family had gathered at the pre-determined location that happened to be across a dry wash from the road in and out.

I don’t remember what we had to eat. I just remember that some of the children were playing in the dry wash when someone screamed, “Get the children!” Several people scrambled to grab the children and pull them to safety. It was a flash flood. A wall of water came down the wash and would have swept everyone away. After the flow of water had gotten shallower, everyone had to drive his or her vehicles across the running wash. Many suffered damage to their cars and trucks but all were thankful that the families were safe.

The family Easter picnics are now held at Reid Park under a Ramada. Tradionally they occur on the Saturday before Easter.

Several members of the family have had birthdays on Easter Sunday. A picnic or barbecue was the favorite way to celebrate the event as Arizona’s desert weather is perfect at Easter.

Grandson DV turned one-year old on Easter Sunday in 1997. We had a picnic for our children and grandchildren at the ranch to celebrate. 



Being at the ranch is usually considered a camping experience but we set up our table and camp stove and cooked away. We had cowboy beans, chips and salsa, barbecued hamburgers with all the trimmings and a big birthday cake for DV.


DV WITH HIS FIRST BIRTHDAY CAKE AT EASTER PICNIC
Mi Amigo Pedro’s birthday was on Easter Sunday a couple of years ago. We had a “picnic” in the backyard with family dropping by to wish him well. This is my favorite kind of picnic…indoor plumbing and a dishwasher. The day started with an interesting event. As Peter drank his morning coffee in the kitchen, an image of a cross appeared on the wall. It only lasted for a few minutes. A rather auspicious event I would say.

PETER'S EASTER BIRTHDAY
Many years daughter Robbie, Robbie celebrates her birthday on Easter. She lives far away now but we used to combine her birthday with Easter and the family picnic.
MY BEAUTIFUL FLOWER CHILD...RMR
When we first moved to Greer I unwittingly volunteered to run everything. That included Greer Days.

Greer Days activities included a parade, a free meal, and a band to play during the afternoon outside activities, a beer cart where beverages could be purchased, and a country-dance in the evening at Joanies’ cafĂ©.

The picnic was a potluck affair that took place in the empty field across from where the community center is now. Tables and chairs would be borrowed from the VFW in Eagar and one of the churches. The food would be spread out on the tables and served by volunteers.

Jake from Molly Butler’s Lodge would cook delicious meat that the Civic Club purchased.

Before the big event, I would spend countless hours in my real estate office calling women in the community to see what “covered dish” they could bring to the “picnic”. I would ask them to specify if it would be a hot vegetable casserole, beans. a salad, a cake, a pie, or bread. I tried to keep track but it always seemed that few brought what they had signed up for and yet there was always plenty of scrumptious food and it all worked out just fine.

There is a small town parade...the best kind.



My good friends Joey, Kris and Marge would come to Greer from Tucson to visit and always helped out with the event...usually the beer cart.


CALAMITY JANET, MARGES, KRIS & JOEY
~BFFS~
Greer Days was the time when families would gather in Greer to kick off the summer season. Often, women and children would stay in Greer for the summer and the men would go back to the desert to their jobs, coming to Greer on the weekends to fish and relax.

Greer Days is in June.

The romantic picnic for two:

On Christmas Day in 2010 we headed to the ranch for a picnic…just the two of us. The children spend Christmas with their families and we wanted to do something special.


We took the Lenox Christmas china and salt and pepper shakers, our celebratory Molly Butler champagne glasses, linen napkins, silver napkin rings, Christmas red and green tablecloth, a potted Poinsettia and lots of Christmas decorations.

After decorating the cactus with shimmering tinsel, glass ornaments and red bows, Peter brilliantly used the Yukon to block the wind from our table and we dined in luxury…in the middle of the desert…in the sunshine…outdoors on Christmas day.

Christmas dinner consisted of roast beef sandwiches on fresh, crusty sourdough bread, Wavy potato chips, champagne, Diet Coke and Russell Stover chocolate candy. A great day and memory.
RANCHO MAS O MENOS

























Always keep in a picnic basket:
        Plates (paper or fine china)
        Napkins (paper or linen)
Corkscrew (antique would be nice)
Tablecloth (plastic (yuk) or linen)

And don’t forget:
        Wine goblets (your sterling silver ones won’t break)
        Knives to cut bread and sausage
        Spreaders for butter and cheese

If you have things that need to be kept cold, have a small ice chest handy to bring along too.

The Perfect French Picnic
        Assemble:
                Loaf of French bread
                Sweet butter
                Ripe spreading cheese
                Sausage or pate 
                Bottle of wine
                Fresh fruit
                Cakes, cookies and/or chocolates