Tasteful Memories

Have you ever thought about the powerful connection between smell and memory? One whiff of a food or perfume and, boom, you can be instantly transported back to a specific point in your life. Maybe childhood, maybe a person you knew, maybe a trip abroad, maybe the college dorms.

Well, it’s not just smell that can flood your brain with memories. Taste can do this as well. I realized just how true this is a few days ago when I was at an old-fashioned diner serving a full, honest-to-goodness country breakfast.

As the waitress brought out the plates, piled high with freshly baked biscuits, pancakes, fried eggs, and fried potatoes, I breathed in deeply, and when I dug into the food in front of me, I was transported back to breakfast at my grandmother’s.

As my regular readers know, both of my parents are from West Virginia, and we’d spend summers there – with both sets of grandparents. My mother’s mother, Grandma Jimmie would make a full country breakfast with everything made from scratch: biscuits, bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, beyond amazing gravy.

As I sat there, in this country diner, I felt a wave of nostalgia so intense, and I swear I could see that old kitchen, the coal stove, and envision myself sitting there at their table with my grandfather and the rest of the family waiting impatiently for breakfast to hit the table. And when it finally did? Oh boy, pure heaven!

That breakfast – not just any breakfast, mind you, but my grandmother’s breakfast, is a comfort food from my childhood that stands above all the rest. My own mother’s gravy and biscuits (not to mention her fried potatoes – to die for, yum!) summons up the same memories, and well, it’s more than just food, really. Although, it’s some damn fine food, I must say!  It thrills me to no end when I walk in my mother’s door to those delightful smells, knowing what I’ll be sitting down to when it’s time to eat.

It’s not just fresh-baked biscuits or the smell of bacon that reminds me of West Virginia, though. (And while I say these things remind of West Virginia, and I guess they do, it’s just a place – what they really remind me of are childhood, of growing up, and family. When I say West Virginia, to me, it encompasses so much more than just a place.) The taste of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries remind me of West Virginia too. Raspberry and blackberry bushes grew on the side of the mountain at my mother’s old stomping grounds. Blueberries flourished in the pastures where my father grew up. I had the best of both worlds and believe me, I tried my best to eat myself sick at each place.

Sadly, this is a memory that I’m hard pressed to duplicate these days – store bought berries are just not the same, they lack flavor and what flavor there is, is just…different. But luckily, I’m in a rural area and have options, so sometimes when I see them at local farmers’ markets, I’ll stock up on homegrown grown fruit, and all is right with the world again.

Speaking of fruit, I have yet to find a peach that will rival the fruit from my mother’s peach tree from our own backyard, but I try…oh trust me, I try. But for just an instant, with that initial bite of each one I try, year in and year out, it throws me back to a carefree time when that tree still stood. Why is it we don’t appreciate these things more when we actually have them?

Comfort foods are a wonderful thing. The warmth from the nostalgia and emotions they inspire runs deep and a world of hidden memories is just waiting to be unlocked with a smell or taste.

The Adventure Continues

My parents’ 57th wedding anniversary is tomorrow – June 15th. Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! I think this might be the first year that I haven’t confused the date. It fell on Father’s Day one year, ages ago, and for me, I’ve equated the two ever since, making me perpetually late in wishing them a Happy Anniversary. Father’s Day changes every year, you say? No matter. You underestimate my ability to be wrong about something.

Hey, did you know there are traditional gift themes for each year of wedded bliss? First year is paper. Fifth year is wood. Twentieth year is china. Well, as far as I can tell, by year 57 all the ideas have been used up. By that time only the anniversaries ending in 0s or 5s get a themed gift. Seriously. On the list of “traditional gifts” the years skip from 55 right to 60.

My guess as to why that is: maybe whoever made the list felt that people grinding out 55 to 60 years of holy matrimony are too busy trying to not kill each other to really celebrate the honored day. Who knows? Maybe they’re right. Maybe by that point, not trying to choke each other is a gift in and of itself. “I didn’t suffocate you with a pillow this morning sweetie, Happy Anniversary! Want some breakfast?” Personally, I think 57 years of marriage—murderous thoughts notwithstanding—is one hell of an accomplishment.

The lists of traditional gifts often give an alternative modern gift for the couple who want to stay hip and with the times. For example, the first-year anniversary’s “modern” take on the traditional paper theme is clocks. How the two are related completely escapes me. Now while there isn’t a traditional gift for 57 years of wedded bliss, a modern alternative my parents have for celebrating their anniversary is a glass or a mirror. A glass, particularly of the decanter variety, I can understand. Giving each other something to hold the sweet nectar of alcohol or caffeine I can see as being invaluable to such a lengthy marriage. Sadly, my parents can have neither. So that’s a firm no on the glass option.

Mirror, it is. But really? A mirror? All I can really see my parents doing with a mirror is holding it up within an inch of the other’s face and saying, “SEE! I told you there was a smudge on your face! You just couldn’t believe me, could you? Noooo…of course not.” I’m not sure I want to be the purveyor of such a contentious gift.

Despite their individual secret schemes on how to plan what can only be described as the perfect murder, in real life my parents do what they can to keep each other out of the ground for as long as possible. Which is particularly good news for my dad. If anyone was going to kill an old man and get away with it, it would be my mother. That woman is nothing if not thorough.

I’ve often wondered what the secret is to a long marriage such as theirs. In an age when a marriage that makes it five years can be seen as “a good run,” there’s got to be something special to keep two people together for close to SIX decades. I believe that my brother and I were maybe that special ingredient in the glue that has bound them. No, not because their love for us created an unbreakable bond.  It was more than that. I think they decided years ago that whichever one of them asked for a divorce, they had to be the one to take the children.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, my parents loved us…still do for some crazy reason. It’s impressive really, given what we put them through. It’s just that together, they were strong enough to counter my and my brother’s daily foolish antics. They could commiserate late at night and bolster each other’s mental stability – “Did you SEE what that boy did? Just look!” “Oh well, that’s nothing on what the girl tried to get away with today…let me tell you!”  Ahh, there’s nothing like having a common enemy to keep people together.

At its essence, having each other’s back is their mainstay – their rock. Sure, they may squabble and they may pick at each other, but my dad still makes my mom her coffee (decaf these days) every single morning before heading out to the backyard to feed her feathered friends – I mean, hey, she needs company while she sits on the deck, having her morning cup of joe. In return, she makes sure his meds are always in order and that he has his fishing hat when he goes out on the water so his shiny bald head doesn’t burn.  And god help the outsider who speaks ill of either one of them.

 

Revisiting the Realm of the Squirrel Queen

I came across this photo on Facebook — I have no idea who to credit but I do know it didn’t belong to the person who shared it.  When I saw this, I immediately thought of my mother, the squirrel queen, and all of her loyal, fuzzy squirrely subjects. And I thought I would re-share her story here. Enjoy.

 

squirrel

click the photo to read about the squirrel whisperer

 

 

Endurance

So. My parents celebrate their 56th year anniversary today.  I’ll repeat.  That’s 5 – 6.  Fifty Six.  In an age of disposable marriages as easy to come by as disposable spoons, my parents have racked up fifty-six years. Perhaps that’s because in “their day” commitment meant something other than the asylum (although really, if you ever went to their house, especially when my brother and I were young, you’d think they were already in one) and true to their word, my parents have lived up to the definition.

Personally, I think this staying power is in large part due to infinite patience…my mother hasn’t killed my father yet and strangely, seemingly has no plans on doing so. Although in all likelihood, no-one would be surprised if she ever were to snap.

Instead, once a week, she takes an hour to count out all of the medicine he needs for the week and puts them in a sectional pill holder (and this, in addition to monitoring his diet) in a never-ending attempt to keep him around even longer. For his part, my father still opens doors, holds my mother’s hand across the parking lot to keep her footing steady, and buys her little unexpected culinary treats when he ventures to the store alone. I sincerely admire the fortitude and dedication they each extend to the relationship and the love that has endured despite the struggles they’ve shared throughout the years.

They are my rock. My sun. No matter what is going on in my world, they are the one thing I can count on as being solid, even if they are having a “nit-picking” day.

Happy Anniversary to you both!

old couple

Riding in Cars

The other week my mom and I were discussing one of the more volatile controversies that continually divides this country. Yes, I’m talking about two-door vs. four-door cars. Who cares how we got on the subject? The question brought before the panel (me, I’m the panel) was why is insurance higher for two-door cars. Before I know it I’m explaining to her that insurance rates are lower for people who own four-door cars because the insurance companies tend to think that the people who own them are more family oriented, less inclined to take risks (like drag racing with friends, taking dares on the number of donuts they can do in parking lots, or driving every day like they’re the getaway car from a massive bank robbery and the entire Sheriff’s office is on their tail), and overall just safer. Two-door car owners are more reckless, at least in the insurance company’s eyes, and, hence, more likely to get into an accident, so they get the higher premium.

My Mom interjected that despite the higher priced premium, she always insisted that our family have a two-door car when my brother and I were growing up. I will take a small detour here (ha! pun intended!) to say that you could not find a more stable, down-to-earth, no-risk-taker, family oriented kind of gal than my mother. But the inflated premium was worth it to her, or so she said.

I personally couldn’t understand why she opted for the two-door car. It seems so logical to me to upgrade to four doors when there are kids involved. I mean, it’s easier to get them in and out of the back seat in general, easier to buckle them into the car seats when they’re small, and we didn’t have to deal with that awkward climb into and out of the car over the folded down seat (with elbows to the head of whoever is in the front seat). It just seemed practical.

Then my mom explained her point of view. First of all, car seat? Ha! Not part of the equation back in those days. Yeah, okay, that makes sense. Second, only having two doors meant that there was no chance my brother and I could throw each other out of the car. Third, having only two doors meant we couldn’t carry through any brilliant ideas of jumping out of the car ourselves. That reasons 2 and 3 were likely scenarios to pop up in my mother’s head sort of sums up my childhood.

Looking back, I can easily envision both of those hilarious tragic events happening if we had the luxury of back seat doors. My brother and I were basically a live-action version of Spy vs. Spy. Take our constant battling, stuff it in a confined metal cage for a few hours, hurl it down a highway at 60 miles per hour, and one way or another one of us would find a reason to pop open that back door to show the other one the exit. Unfortunately, I mean, luckily, yes, luckily, my mom could imagine this too and preemptively put an end to that.

Each summer my father, with the whole family in tow, would navigate over the precarious road that led to my grandparents’ house. Well, this road, barely wide enough for a vehicle, ran snugly along the tall mountain on one side and on the other side was nothing but air. I’ve brought this up before…how my brother and I tried to drive my mother insane by jumping up and down on one side of the car trying to make it flip over the edge. If we had a four-door car for these treks! Oh my goodness how things would’ve changed!

I can see my brother now, swinging from the car door, legs dangling wildly in mid-air, hanging on for dear life. My parents would look back and wonder: did he jump out thinking he could fly? Did he think he could hop from the car onto the branch of a passing tree? Then, they’d look over to the other side of the back seat, where little ol’ Wendy—with her angelic doe eyes and impossibly cute grin—is sitting peaceful as a fawn, and they’d wonder to this day if something more menacing had happened to send my brother flapping in the breeze. I mean, really…who’s to say? Knowing us, it could’ve gone either way. Either scenario is equally plausible, but thankfully no one will ever know.

All because my mother had the supreme forethought to buy a two-door car.  You’d think the insurance company would’ve given her a discount for her smart car choices given the money she surely saved them, but no. I guarantee you though, had they known her little bundles of joy, they would have.

A Little Help, Please?

I love scones. What’s not to love? They’re delicious. When done right, that is. According to Grocery Budget 101, “Scones are a simple, forgiving treat that even an inexperienced baker can throw together easily.” Well. That should make things easy. Any one of you should be able to toddle on over and just whip me up a batch or two or three of these to die for looking scones I found a recipe for the other day (Pumpkin Raisin Scones!) without a problem in the world.  Don’t look at me like that. I know my limitations and I simply don’t have enough Baileys to pull this recipe off.   But, I’ll leave the light on…AND preheat the oven!

Hey, the article even says, these delightful pastries are: “are perfect for those back to school mornings on the go.” (emphasis is mine)

I’m looking at you here M-O-T-H-E-R…your granddaughter needs sustenance. Of course don’t let the fact that her picky eating habits would never ever allow anything even slightly resembling a raisin much less something called a scone (gasp!) pass her lips even bother you for a moment. They are a back to school necessity, I tell you!

Oh!  And I bet they would go really well with that Irish potato soup recipe I emailed you last week. What? Do you think I just send you these things for no reason?? That’s what happens when you cook so well. Guess you should’ve thought of that all those years ago when you started spoiling everyone and we all got so used to it. Bet you wish you had burned more dinners now, don’t you?

And as for anyone else who wants to try their hand…I’m more than happy to be a guinea pig. Just send those scones on over to me!  I’ll get the Devonshire Cream!

 

CLICK FOR RECIPE!

CLICK FOR RECIPE!

Inside Joke

This, this is my mother’s refrigerator in a nutshell. You just never know what to expect. Don’t even get me started on the Cool Whip container that I thought was Cool Whip (who wouldn’t, right!?) but turned out to be lard. Which, believe it or not, look surprisingly similar when they’re both chilled…but trust me, do not taste the same at all.

And I would like to say it’s contained to her refrigerator, but it’s not. There are Danish Butter Cookie tins and the like tempting you tantalizingly from the kitchen counter-top, but do they have those amazing little cookies and other sweet treats in them? No. Of course not. Really. Why would you even think that? They might have buttons nestled inside or they might be filled with cast-off grease. It’s a crap-shoot. 

It’s taken years — yes, I’m a slow learner — but now each foray into the unknown is prefaced with “Is this really…”  As in, “Is this really Cool Whip?” Or “Are there really cookies in here?”

Mom thinks it’s funny, though I’m sure slightly annoying too, when I put her through these pop quizzes on the inventory of her home-made tupperware system each time I’m craving a snack or maybe want a PBJ, but she brought it upon herself.

I do not, and here I must I reiterate most emphatically, I do not want a repeat of the Cool Whip vs Lard incident.

mom's house