Monday, March 30, 2009

Aunt Jimmie

This weekend I blogged about the people in my life who show up. I made brief mention of my aunt and uncle whom I visited with a weekend ago. Today I received word that my aunt died Sunday evening. She, like so many people I love and am lucky to call kin and friend was one of my heroes. My uncle is a retired career military man who achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel before his retirement many years ago. He has combat experience on many fronts and was a paratrooper. Jumping out of a plane is one thing. Jumping out of a plane into enemy fire is quite another. Aunt Jimmie never received a formal rank from the military but her commitment to her family and her partnership with Uncle Jack through his career and their life together are worthy of a formal decoration in honor of her sacrifice and achievement.

In a world that decries single parent families as a source of dysfunction yet expects military families to endure long periods of absence of a parent, Aunt Jimmie had times when she cared for her children while Uncle Jack was away. Like other women in similar circumstances, she made sure her kids felt loved by two parents and helped them know and feel pride in their Dad's commitment to his responsibilities as a dad and to their country. In times that would cause other people's relationships to crumble it's apparent that theirs grew stronger.

Uncle Jack and his family traveled the world, but seldom enjoyed shared family holidays or family reunions because we were separated by thousands of miles and duties. Our connection to them was a tape recorder my grandfather purchased. When we gathered together at Grandma and Grandpa's each of us would speak into the microphone our love and wishes for them so far away. Our first reunion with everyone was I think when I was 12. I was the oldest of the grandchildren and all 11 of us were posed on two saw horses in order of birth for a picture to commemmorate the visit. I held Gussie who was a toddler and my cousin Jeff held his baby brother Todd. I think it is the only picture of one of the very few times we all may have been together at once. Last weekend when Uncle Jack and I stopped in at his daughter Gussie's home I reminisced about that picture and Gussie quickly pulled it out. It was such a wonderful experience to see that picture with the little girl I held on my lap.

After Aunt Jimmie and Uncle Jack returned stateside and ultimately retired we had more time and opportunities to be with them. When they moved to Florida I began to see them more often and formed an affection and admiration for them that only grew as I came to know them as an adult. We emailed and shared holiday cards and it was always a good visit when I saw them on a trip to see Mom and Dad in Florida.

Aunt Jimmie was a person who laughed and loved wholeheartedly. She was quick to observe and tease about people's idiosyncracies. Spending time with her family and connecting with them was a huge priority in her life. Her kindness was wonderful to experience and to see her look at you with love and sheer pleasure in being with you could fill your heart to the top. I saw that look and smile when I walked into her room last weekend. Sharing time with her and Uncle Jack was an incredible gift and most generous of them to be willing to welcome me. I would have driven anywhere to have experienced that time with them.

As you know, I take great store in the importance of showing up for those you love in your life. Showing up can be a call or an e-mail, a trip or a word of grace. Showing up can be risking someone's ire to tell them you have some concerns about a decision or situation. It may not achieve the desired result but none the less you were willing to risk something you didn't want to lose to be there for them. Showing up says the other is important to you in a way that compells you to be there for them. I am incredibly fortunate to have people who show up for me. Those acts made a difference in my life that that restored me long after they were received. My aunt and uncle are two of the many who have shown up for me and made my life better.

At the time of my dear aunt's passing I will grieve the loss of one who was so loved by so many. Aunt Jimmie know that you will live on in my heart and the person I try to be to those I meet. I will be sure to give your smile and greeting that is as welcoming as the sun. Like you, I will use humor to bring others joy and love. I will love with all my heart those dear to me extravagantly and generously. You live on in the lives of those you have touched.

Recipe for life

Show up.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In which I ponder the heroes of my life and Thurber and friends return me to laughter

I am tired. It's been five weeks since I started in the new job and like many changes it isn't easy. I am covering several positions and it is a bit of a challenge. The transition ocurred two weeks before the scheduled date for completion of the restructuring process for the team I work with. Our beloved AA is leaving at the end of April to devote full-time to nursing school and we have yet another resignation. All positions are posted and we begin the process of screening, interviewing and hiring. After hiring comes orientation - another process. We'll be hiring for positions that cover 17 counties so that's a lot of territory to orient new folks to. I am fortunate to work with great people and they'll be wonderful resources and colleagues for anyone new.

It has been hard to find time for the things that restore me -family, friends, cooking and books. I did steal some time last weekend to drive to North Carolina to see my aunt and uncle. They are dealing with some health challenges and I really wanted to connect with them. They are wonderful people and it is centering to share some space and time with those dear people. Like so many people in my family and my dear friends they are my heroes.

I am so blessed that among those I count as dear in friends and family are people who embody everything that is good about people. These family and friends are people who will never be in popular media but they make everyone's lives better for their presence. At every opportunity they show up for others and the things they believe in. We don't always agree or think alike but we share a passion for our beliefs and are committed to what we think is good in the world. I am grateful everyday for your presence in my life. You are all my heroes and sheroes

So many times you have showed up for me, it would be impossible to recount them. But, I will share the most recent. Among our treasured friends are Meribeth and Mary. I go way back with Meribeth and Mary. I met Meribeth at church when our children were little and we have bonded over many years. Mary is also a friend from that church. Mary is a very talented artist. I love her art that is such a personal expression of her wonderful personality. Her work is bright, familiar, and catches your eye in a way that is playful and comforting. Mary observes the wry twists of life and can find humor in most of life. It shows in her work and art.

Meribeth is an entrepreneur and has managed several businesses. Meribeth is a connector. She connects to people and really listens to what they are saying. Taking in all of those thoughts and words she is a poet and writer. She loves to present the written word in a most expressive way. Last night after a wonderful dinner and several games of Clue (Mary won both!) we were discussing books and Meribeth talked about a Thurber book she was reading. So she pulled out the book and read in earnest those very funny words. I laughed so hard I cried and laughed and cried. It was a great escape from what has been the normal pace of life these days.

Mary and Meribeth didn't share their recipes with me though I am sure they would. I do however remember an appetizer I made for a dinner we shared some time ago. It is a blend of a hummus and red pepper dip with feta. So easy because you can just whirl it in a food processor and enjoy. It is a perfect prelude to a bottle of wine, talking, laughing and sharing with those who are dear in your life.

Red Pepper Dip

1 can of chick peas drained and rinsed (save the liquid from the can)
3 T. tahini
3 whole roasted red peppers (jarred are fine)
4 oz. feta
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. garlic minced
1/8 tsp. cayenne

Add all of the above to the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. If it's dry adda Tablespoon of the liquid from the chickpeas until the texture is just right. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. It is really great with pita crisps or crudites.

Thank you to my dear family and friends for showing up in my life! You know who you are.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pi Day Pie

Last year I learned about Pi Day. It is annually on March 14 so designated for the formula for Pi 3.14159. I love it when math intersects with a celebration and food. A pie I absolutely love - of many - is the Peaches and Cream pie Mimi made. I think she received the recipe from Dad's partner's wife Audrey Brookfield.

Audrey is a wonderful cook and I cooked with her as a young teen several times. Mimi and Bobo were at Audrey and Ernie's playing cards one Saturday evening when I was out. I forgot my house keys so I stopped in at their home to pick up a spare set to let myself in at home. Audrey made a pizza pie to share that night. I had never had pizza pie so it was an adventure. It was really delicious. It was simple with a homemade crust, tomato sauce and cheese melted on the top. It was so delicious. At that point it was a very exotic food and there were no pizza restaurants in Toledo. That would quickly change! Forty some years later it is a go to meal after a long work day or a snack in more combinations than you can count. As well it is no longer considered to be a pie but simply pizza.

Peaches and Cream pie is pretty much just that. Peaches spooned into a crust with a mixture of cream, flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon poured over the top and baked. This pie is amazing and fun in that you can substitute other fruits of combinations for the peaches and have a delectable dessert.

Peaches and Cream Pie

1 deep dish unbaked pie crust (I make my own but you can buy one)
Fill the crust with sliced peaches

Mix together:
2/3 C sugar
4 T flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 C cream (Mimi always rinsed out the half pint box of cream with a little extra milk and add it to the other ingredients)

Pour over the peaches in the crust. Tap the bottom of the dish several time on the counter to help the cream permeate all of the spaces between the peaches.

Bake at 400 degrees for 35-45 minutes until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. You might want to fold and attach a strip of foil or a pie shield around the edge crust to protect it from burning.

This is great with apples and a little nutmeg too! So Pi Day hurray!

Friday, March 13, 2009

In which I capitulate to his insanity

My dear friend Stephen - you all remember the post about him - is at it again. The poor thing really cannot contemplate why one would find specific uses for mayo vs. Miracle Whip and vice versa. I can see that he is starting to escalate publicly about Miracle Whip. Now it's on Facebook. The innocent posters have merely responded to his MW post and he is restarting the cycle. This is like the stealth virus so I must warn you. Any emails with the word miracle or whip, placed alone or together, spelled backwards or forwards, or any letters appearing in the two words in the subject line of the email MUST I repeat MUST be deleted from your inbox. If you mistakenly open this email a virus will unfold in your computer spewing creamy, off white, tangy fatty whiteness all over your motherboard and central processing unit. It will render your computer useless unless you can remove the substance and serve it with a BLT or in a potato salad.

I understand there is a galaxy wide movement forming to interrupt the supply of MW to the stratosphere for one day. You can support this worthwhile endeavor by going to and selecting an item from the file of unique recipes. Please purchase necessary items, and prepare the recipe completing the selected dish no later than 11:55 p.m. on March 31, 2009. At one second after midnight the world will lift the dish to their mouths and consume the dish in unison with all other planetary participants. This action will interrupt the flow of MW thus creating a world devoid of the product for a 24 hour period.

For those of you too lazy to go to the site, I offer this classic. Note: To meet the 11:55 p.m. deadline on March 31, you must complete the cooking process several hours before time of consumption to allow for chilling and assembling the dish in a bread bowl.

Broccoli Dip in a Bread Bowl

1 cup MIRACLE WHIP Dressing
1 cup BREAKSTONE'S or KNUDSEN Sour Cream
1 env. GOOD SEASONS Italian Dressing Mix
1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen chopped broccoli, thawed, well drained
1 can (8 oz.) water chestnuts, drained, chopped
1/2 cup chopped red pepper
1 loaf round sourdough bread (1 lb.)
MIX dressing, sour cream and dressing mix in large bowl until well blended. Add broccoli, water chestnuts and red pepper; mix well. Cover. Refrigerate several hours or until chilled.
CUT slice from top of bread loaf; remove center, leaving 1-inch-thick shell. Cut removed bread into bite-sized pieces.
SPOON dip into bread loaf just before serving. Serve with bread pieces, NABISCO Crackers and assorted cut-up vegetables.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Three Women and a bowl of red

In our family, there are three women who were born in the month of March. My youngest sister Rebecca (Buck or Aunt Buck), Jen, my daughter and Becky, my niece. Family members have long thought that the March women in our family are a very special group. They have strong personalities, are very funny and pretty much a great time. They are also women of deep convictions about family, love and caring. All are also oriented to caring about the world and other people and make personal scarifices to make life better and help create a better world.

Rebecca is a professor at Michigan State in the medical school. She balances work, her daughter, her special guy and Mimi and Bobo in busy days, work travel with fishing, the arts and being Miss Carhardt on the farm. She chops wood and is devoted farm worker. She has an incredible heart and compassion. When she was in elementary school my Dad was worried about her ability to apply herself academically and would have some chats with her about it. Our favorite answer to his concerns was her reply that all of that really didn't matter because she was the funniest kid in the class.

Jen is the mom to Eli and Gabe and partner to the awesome Josh. Their family is waiting for child number 3 said to be a baby girl. I refer to the baby as the mermaid. Jen is a health educator and has a master's degree in student development. She is using her degree to rear her wonderful children and Elliott the little guy she cares for. Elliott's Mom and Dad are adding a new one to their family as well so Jen will care for the tribe of five this fall. Jen and Josh are extraordinary parents and community members. They are pursuing Landmark Education to create the possibility of a better world and life for everyone. Jen is one of the most intentional women I know. Jen is a warrior who fights for life and love. Bobo's nickname for Jen when she was little was Screech. This was a great name because she truly screeched. She told Bobo she didn't like that name at all. Dad told her that if she didn't want that name she needed to change her behavior - which she promptly did.

Becky my niece is named for Aunt Buck. She is a teacher of children with special needs. Becky and Jen received their Master's degrees in the same year and of course we had a family celebration. Becky is smart, witty, fun, committed and lives with a wonderful outlook on life and what it means to be Becky. Becky is a person who loves with a great fire. I tell her she is a comet. Becky is a pretty woman and she was adorable as a little girl. She had brown hair in ringlets, blue eyes and freckles sprinkled across her nose. She and her Mom would run errands together. Once on the way home Becky burst into tears. Sue asked her what was wrong and she wailed, "No one told me I was pretty!"

You would be disappointed and think me remiss if I did not describe their culinary orientation. Rebecca long held a somewhat distant relationship with cooking. She was a meat and potatoes girl and pretty much survived childhood with peanut butter. She liked dishes made with fewer than four ingredients and made in 1 step. She called me years ago for a pork recipe. I gave her a delicious recipe for pulled pork that required boiling the pork in water and spices, baking the pork to tenderness and using some of the broth to create a baste that would be applied during the long roasting to further season the meat. I thought it was easy and I described the recipe and the process to her and she decided to make it. I received a call from her that her lovely David terms a "buckburst". Basically she was extremely miffed that I would subject her to this. Love can do wonderous things and she and David are wonderful cooks and entertainers. Beck's skills have really advanced. One of the few recipes I have from this sister was a recipe for Moo Shu Pork with home made Mandarin Pancakes. This is a recipe from the same time period as the pulled pork buckburst. Go figure!

Jen grew up in a house that was food oriented and she loves to cook and enjoy times with friends and family around food as the lubricant for a special time. Like me she creates community around food. She and Josh are adventurous eaters and cooks. They participate in a CSA, she goes to many different grocery stores depending on the items to be purchased and they shop the farmers market. They love ethnic foods and search out the little hole in the wall places that are so good and so fun.

I am not sure about Becky's cooking skills but she is a devoted appreciator of food and is a great partner in the kitchen for family vacation meals. Being single there isn't much reason to acquire lots of skills in cooking. She is a person who is a lover of life and friends and lots of fun is related to music and those same friends. If she has a culinary spcialty it would be potatoes. She has a great potato casserole recipe and at Thanksgiving directed her mother in making sweet potatoes that were slowly cooked and carmelized in a bath of butter, brown sugar and spices. It was a long process with awesome results.

One of Aunt Buck's primo recipes is a chili recipe. Coming from a family of chili lovers we've all configured our own take on this beloved dish. Rebecca called hers Michigan Meltdown. She took this recipe to a chili cookoff at her department of the university. If memory serves me correctly it was a winner. So in honor of lingering snows in Washington and Colorado and iffy Michigan weather here is the last winter recipe as we wait for spring.

Michigan Meltdown (I write this in the style of Buck as she gave it to me)

Simmer 8 ounces pinto beans cooked with 2 16 ounce cans of tomatoes for 5 minutes
Saute 4 chopped green peppers in oil for 5 minutes. Add 3 large chopped onions and cook until tender. Add 2 cloves of crushed garlic and 1/2 C. chopped parsley.
Saute 2 1/2 lbs ground beef and 1 lb lean ground pork for 15 minutes.
Combine with the onion mixture and 1/3 C. chili powder, simmer 10 minutes.
Add beans with 2 T. salt, 1 1/2 t. pepper, 1 1/2 t. ground cumin, 1 t. oregano, 3 cloves and 1 bayleaf.
Simmer covered 1 hour, uncovered 30 minutes. Skim off fat.

Happy Birthday to three incredible women we are blessed to have in our family.