Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lessons

It's been more than 2 months since my last post----so much for being a diligent blogger! During this time I did go on a week-long holiday with my youngest son, Alex. We'd been planning this get-away for quite some time and it finally arrived, ready or not, at the end of July.


I had originally planned a 9-day trip with Alex, our little dachshund and myself, but as we looked at all that we were planning to do, the weather, our sleeping arrangements, etc. we decided we would make the trip sans pet. It turned out to be the right decision, and it allowed us to really relax and enjoy the simplicity of our time away, which was what it was all about. Alex and I were so excited, we left just before midnight on Friday night. I drove for hours, made it into Oregon, and then got SO tired I had to stop at a Rest Area so I could get a short nap.








View from OMSI, Portland, Oregon






After getting lost several times, we made it to our first stop, which was OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) in Portland, Oregon. WOW! This was an incredible place to spend several hours. Our favorite exhibit, hands down, was The Chronicles of Narnia. An entire room on the 2nd level was devoted to costumes and props from both The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian films, including 2 full-size centaurs and the weapons used by each of the four children during the battle scenes. There were interactive maps to explore, a hands-on ice wall, and a full set of armor worn by King Miraz, which was on a pulley so everyone could try to lift it up, demonstrating just how heavy it was for the actor who wore it hours on end----I could only lift it about 2 inches, but Alex heaved it up a good foot from its anchor!! So much to enjoy but, sadly, NO PICTURES ALLOWED!


OMSI also had a vintage video games exhibit (Alex LOVED this) which showed the steps involved in getting the material from the drawing board to the finished product. Even though video games are not my thing, it was interested, nonetheless. There were so many other exhibits that we enjoyed and explored---too many to list.


We drove over the Columbia River Bridge to Vancouver, Washington, and spent the next 2 days with my Uncle Steve and cousins Trisha and Paul. This was such a relaxing and pleasant visit! We did a little shopping, watched a few movies, enjoyed Steve's famous Hawaiian burgers with BBQ ham and pineapple and then on Sunday we drove to Gresham, Oregon, to see a vintage car and airplane show. My cousin, James, Steve's oldest son, had a 1971 Chevy Blazer that he had restored entered in the show, and we spent the morning checking out all the COOL cars and watching the planes take off. We finished up just as it started getting much too warm for me. The remainder of our time with my family was spent relaxing and chatting, bike riding and trampoline jumping, sharing meals and drinking lots of ice water to ward off the heat!









The next day Alex and I drove to our campsite at Seaquest State Park, just a stone's throw from Mt. St. Helens. This area was immensely beautiful, mountainous, and tree dense; a perfect spot for a camping adventure. Setting up camp was quick and easy, thanks to being organized and having a helpful son who pitched in and did everything asked of him and then some.




Our home away from home.....for ONE night




Taking a break

After setting up camp was accomplished, we went to the Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center across the road from the campground. Sadly, the day was overcast and rainy so we couldn't see the mountain, but we watched a short film about the infamous 1980 eruption of St. Helens that destroyed the landscape, several towns, and killed 57 people, some locals, some tourists/campers, and USGS geologist. We toured the exhibits, looked at countless maps and photos and then went, one last time, to the viewing area, hoping to get a look at Mt. St. Helens---no such luck! Being too early to prepare dinner, we decided to drive into the nearest town, Castle Rock, to have a look around. It was a typical small town that, according to the film at the visitor center, was still struggling to survive after the eruption of the volcano 30 years ago that had destroyed her. Since small towns always close up early, we drove back up the mountain to our campsite to make dinner----there is something about preparing food and eating outdoors that just can't be beat!

It started raining gently just before 8 pm so we turned in early----by 9:30 the gentle rain had turned into a torrnetial downpour! Thinking all was well, I went to sleep. I woke at 12:30am to deflated air mattresses and....a flooded tent!! Not just a little bit of water, but a floor covered in it. Alex was, amazingly, still sleeping soundly, so I roused him and, after changing into dry clothes, we spent the night in the car. The next morning I checked the condition of the tent and it was well beyond saving. We loaded up our camping gear, minus the tent and air mattresses, and left the park. I have to say that I was really heartbroken----this was to be the highlight of our vacation. But, we made the best of it and changed our plans and carried on. What else could we do?

Next on the agenda was a drive to Tacoma, Washington, where my grandmother was born and lived until her mother died in 1929. It was my intention to find my great-grandmothers gravesite (I had called the only Catholic cemetery in Tacoma before we left home to see if she was in fact buried there----she was!). After some help from a very gracious secretary and a groundsman, we found her:






Catherine Lippre 1902-1929





I was quietly overjoyed at finding this link to my lineage. I was raised by my grandmother and, although her mother passed away when she was so small and was buried on my grandmother's 8th birthday, she talked of her often, mostly little things she remembered about her. Finding Catherine's grave at Calvary Cemetery has given me a bit of hope that I will be able to uncover more of my family history to pass on to my sons.


From Tacoma we drove back down I-5 to Tenino to spend the afternoon with a dear friend I went to highschool with. Seeing Geraldine brought back memories of our teenage years in the 1980s and how much we've both changed. We enjoyed lunch in a local cafe and visited for a bit at her home, complete with miniature donkeys, goats, and dogs---she is an agriculture teacher so I would have expected nothing less!!


We then traveled back into Oregon, turned toward the coast and Astoria. We had originally planned on Astoria being a day-trip from the campground, but we were forced to make things up as we went along. I had hoped to find a hotel in Astoria so we would be able to see the Maritime Museum and Ft. Clatsop the next day, but being the height of summer travel, all hotels were booked solid. We drove further down the coast hoping to find a hotel, but, alas, NO ROOM AT THE INN! We FINALLY found a room in Newport, Oregon, too many hours from Astoria to make it feasible to drive back in the morning. We drove the 7 1/2 hrs. from Newport to Humboldt County the next day, stopping at several places along the way for photos, to stretch our limbs, and to enjoy one last campstove lunch prepared at a roadside stop.










Oregon Coast, near Heceta Head Lighthouse






The drive from Astoria down the Oregon Coast was stunning! Rocky beaches, rugged coastline, fishing vessels moored in quaint little fishing villages, Heceta Head Lighthouse....little pieces of heaven all along the way. I'm so glad that I have mellowed enough to be able to find beauty in the "detours", in the "messed-up" plans and unexpected trials. Our leaky tent was just a piece of equipment----we got wet, had to sleep scrunched up in the car, but we didn't have to scramble to safety fearing for our lives while a mountain erupted like the campers on Spirit Lake did in May 1980 and we had plenty of food to eat and a cell phone for emergencies. Truly, all was well.




I learned a lot on this vacation:




1. I worship at the feet of the man/woman who came up with roadside Rest Stops!!




2. Don't plan to do too much at too many locations which are MILES apart.




3. Always check gear before leaving.


4. Expect (and prepare for) the unexpected. I'm not sure that duct tape would've worked on our leaky tent, but extra towels to mop up the water might have saved us from having to leave, since it didn't rain again the whole time we were gone.

5. Go with the flow----sometimes that's where all the fun is.

6. Spending a week with my son, just the two of us, was wonderful and I can't wait to do it again!

7. The world is a beautiful place, literally and figuratively, filled with beautiful people.






“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” ~Henry Miller





















~

Sunday, June 19, 2011

For Love

Although today is Father's Day, I've actually been thinking a lot about what being a mother means to me. I suppose this pondering mood of mine was partly inspired by something that happened in the early hours of Saturday morning.


On Friday night my oldest son, Ryan, stopped by with a friend to chat and eat a mom-made sandwich. He and his friend left at nearly 11:00 pm and I turned in for a night of restful slumber. At 2:50 am the phone rang. I can tell you that having had a son who served in Iraq for a year created a conditioned response to phones ringing in the middle of the night---sheer terror! And even nearly two years after his safe return I still experience the "heart in the throat", "knots in the stomach" panic when awakened by that sound.






Ryan in Amarah, Iraq

As it turned out, Ryan was suffering from "welder's flash", or photokerititis. It is a very painful inflammation of the cornea caused by the UV light of the welder's arc and is just one of the many hazards involved in welding. Ryan works for a company that manufactures various equipment used in road construction, bridge building, etc. and recently, among other things, became a certified welder----just one more thing for mom to worry about! On Friday he had welded for nearly 11 hrs. and, so, was most certainly in a right place to develop this condition.

Ryan managed to call me (thank goodness for speed-dial) and say he needed some help. I took a few minutes to "Google" for some information on home-treatment and discovered that potato slices or used chamomile tea bags placed on the eyes then covered with a cold washcloth were the recommended remedies. Taking just enough time to throw on some clothes and with washclothes and potatoes tossed in a bag, I headed out the door without a second thought.

When I arrived, Ryan was lying on the sofa in a pitch-dark room. I turned on the light in the kitchen so I could at least get an idea what I was dealing with----his eyes were swollen shut and so red! After several hours spent trying to alleviate my son's suffering, we finally found some success and he rested comfortably. I drove home tired but happy that I was able to help. I am still a little amazed that, once again, nature provides so much of what we need and that something as simple and ordinary as a potato could relieve such immense burning pain.

As I drove home my tired mind wandered to various instances where my abilities as a mom were the only thing that would do. I thought about the boys as little children with skinned knees, hurt feelings, and broken toys. I thought, too, about the many letters and care packages sent to Ryan in Iraq over the course of a very long year and how it helped me feel connected to a child who was in harm's way. I thought about long converations with my son, Matthew, concerning the book he is writing and spending hours reading chapters and then editing them at his request.






Matthew at Clam Beach





Regardless of what others might say, I firmly believe that boys (and grown men!) long for their mamas when they are hurting or in need, or when they just need to get something 'off their chest', so to speak. Blessed is the mother whose sons still request her presence when they are old enough to care for themselves. I am so honored to be a part of my boys' lives.



Alex at the Corn Maze




The word love is SO misused that I believe we've lost touch with all the meaning it encompasses when attached to other human beings. We love everything from ice cream to cars, but I don't believe I hear the word used often enough to describe how we feel about one another, especially within the family. It was a mother's love that drove me to my son's house at 3:00 am Saturday morning and it was a mother's love that helped another son study for tests and it is a mother's love that causes me to listen to my youngest son talk for hours about his favorite wrestlers even though wrestling just isn't my thing. Mothering is a labor of love---not to say that we will always be amazing moms who always get everything right, never yell, are never selfish, and are wise beyond measure with all the right answers. As a matter of fact, I fail often! I am saying, though, that love is what motivates us to keep trying and to teach our children to do the same. It is love, not perfection, that makes each of us shine.


I am convinced that parents need their children and children need their parents.....always. Being a mother, a parent, isn't a task that ends when a child turns 18. Of course our children need to strike out on their own-----make mistakes, learn about themselves and the world they live in, enjoy successes-----and we need to stand aside and let them grown into their skin. But, we should also be available to assist when asked (and learn to be quiet when not asked-----I will admit that one's SO difficult for me sometimes!!!) and to love them as they walk down whatever road they choose to take, cheering them on all the while. Like in all our relationships, it is wise and right to give to our children without expecting anything in return. When we give simply for love's sake we can then quietly say, "Truly, my cup runneth over".





"Before you were conceived, I wanted you. Before you were born, I loved you. Before you were here an hour, I would die for you. This is the miracle of love."



~~~Maureen Hawkins~~~




"A boy is Truth with dirt on its face, Beauty with a cut on its finger, Wisdom with bubble gum in its hair and the Hope of the future with a frog in its pocket."



~~~Alan Marshall Beck~~~

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Stay-cation Fun

In keeping with our family commitment to explore more of our local area, I've always wanted to enjoy a "stay-cation"-----you know, visiting things close to home by day and being able to sleep nice and snug in one's very own bed by night!! Since we've been a bit short on funds while we save for two separate vacations away from home in late summer, we decided that with my husband's week off in May we would just do things within an hour's drive or so and spend very little money. This was our first vacation with just the three of us since my two oldest sons now live on their own; my husband, Mark, our youngest son, Alex, and myself---and, of course, Bruno the dachshund.


We did, in fact, accomplish our goal, although I am quite disappointed that we weren't able to enjoy the three day camping trip we had planned to Albee Creek Campground in Avenue of the Giants. Alas, the weather chose not to cooperate this time around. But, in spite of a slight change of plans, we did enjoy a relaxing, and not too busy, "stay-cation".






Battery Point Lighthouse





On Saturday, we drove north to Crescent City, in Del Norte County. On the way we stopped at Trees of Mystery, but just for a quick look since we've been there more times that we could count. First on the agenda once we reached Crescent City was a tour of the Battery Point Lighthouse. While Mark and Alex took the tour, I stayed on the beach with our dog and hunted for seashells. It was very windy and a bit chilly, but still a really lovely day. We next stopped at a local park for a picnic lunch and then went on to the Marine Rescue Center where we got to see two baby harbor seals who were recent rescues. I'm sure the center does wonderful work, but it has always been standard procedure in our area to avoid "rescues" of marine mammals, particularly seal pups. Mother harbor seals leave their pups on the beach while they take to the ocean to hunt. When the mothers return the pups are then found by location, not by recognition. If the pups have been moved, the mothers are unable to find them and then a "rescue" must be facilitated. Anyway, they were darling and made sweet little noises that came very close to sounding like "mama".




Klamath Beach



We stopped at Ocean World just before leaving Crescent City so Mark and Alex could take the 45-minute guided tour. Although they did say it was interesting, Mark said it was nothing compared to other marine exhibits we've had the pleasure of experiencing in Canada and at Marine World in Ohio and several other larger aquariums in the country. Alex bought a shark-tooth necklace as a memento---very cool! We stopped for just a bit at Klamath Beach and then made a pit-stop at Woodland Villa Market for fresh smoked salmon-----at $50.00/lb. we bought just three small slices. Nothing like it, to be sure!



The "We Have Salmon" sign at Woodland Villa



While we were in Del Norte County we took a quick drive to the Klamath Glen where my in-laws once lived many years ago. They were there during the 1964 flood that practically destroyed the little town of Klamath and then they returned in the mid-1970s with their family as Carl, my father-in-law, was pastor at Klamath Baptist Church. My husband has fond memories of the years he spent living there. We then took the steep and winding road to Requa, which used to be the site of a small U.S. Air Force base, before heading back home and were treated to a grand view of the mouth of the Klamath River and the Pacific.




Klamath Estuary




After traveling to Del Norte County, we decided to spend one day checking out various thrift and antique shops in Eureka and Arcata, which is always fun. It's a bit like the anticipation of Christmas----never quite sure what you'll find! Since I collect vintage Pyrex, I'm always on the lookout for lovely pieces to add to my stash. How I would LOVE to have all the old Pyrex pieces my grandmother sold at a yard sale so long ago for next to nothing!



Mid-week we drove to the quaint little towns of Ferndale and Loleta. I adore Ferndale and my favorite place to browse is the Golden Gate Mercantile----the store has the feel of stepping back in time. In addition to locally handcrafted foods, they have a fine selection of international products, as well. I can never leave without a jar of thick, creamy lemon curd made, close by, in southern Oregon. We've always meant to stop by the Ferndale Museum, and so, this time around, we did! It was really fantastic. The displays were well-done and informative and I was particularly fascinated by a section of the old Pacific Bell switchboard that was in use in Humboldt County until 1982.

Just a short distance north of Ferndale is the tiny, "blink and you'll miss it", town of Loleta. We stopped, for the very first time, at the Loleta Bakery. The smells wafting from this place were heavenly. We grabbed a Pecan Pie Bar to share----oh, my goodness! It was huge and so delicious! Just down the street from the bakery is the Loleta Cheese Factory, which makes handcrafted cheeses from local, organic milk. Yum!! I picked up a brick each of Fontina and Harvarti, flavorful and rich.





Although I always enjoy a day south in Ferndale, my favorite day during our stay-cation was most certainly our drive to the seaside town of Trinidad. This lovely town is situated on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, just 7 miles from our home. There are numerous shops to browse in and a small maritime museum, which houses many Yurok and Karuk artifacts, a handcarved kayak made by a local Yurok artisan, and walls covered with photographs of local fishermen and their vessels from years past. Further on, overlooking the Pacific and in view of Trinidad Head, is a replica of the lighthouse that sits atop the Head and is still used and maintained by the U.S Coast Guard, which has a small post mid-way up. Next to the lighthouse replica stands a beautiful memorial to all those lost at sea in local waters and serves as a reminder that the Pacific is both majestic and treacherous. We were there just as the bell was striking the noon hour----twelve loud rings! After ordering a tasty "to-go" lunch of homemade clam chowder and 1/2 an ABC (Avocado, Bacon, & Cheddar) sandwich from The Eatery, we dined, picnic-style, at Trinidad State Beach. Our last stop was the Humboldt State University Marine Lab. The lab is undergoing a remodel so many of their "touch-tanks" were unavailable and most of the displays were off-limits. We will return when the construction is complete.







The rest of our days were just relaxing round the house and enjoying being able to do "nothing". We did get quite a bit of rain, as well, but that's just fine for book-reading and movie-watching. Vacations away from home are always lovely, but there is something to be said for planned vacations close to home that allow us to be tourists in our own hometowns.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Beltane at the Beach

On Sunday, May 1st, which happened to be Beltane, I spent the afternoon at Luffenholtz Beach with my husband, our youngest son, Alex, and our little dachshund, Bruno. After a rather steep trek downhill on rickety steps (with no handrail!!), we descended onto a beautiful, rather remote, beach. Northern California is known for her rugged, rocky coastline and Luffenholtz did not disappoint. I have always been utterly enchanted by the amazing views from so many of our local beaches-----they are postcard perfect!







Luffenholtz Beach is located about 2 miles south of the small village of Trinidad, in Humboldt County. The entire area is a haven for surfers, hikers, and beachcombers alike. When the tide is out, Luffenholtz has some fantastic tidepools just right for the eager, hands-on explorer. At the time we were there, however, the tide was beginning to come in just a bit.







This particular day was absolutely perfect-----the sun was shining, the air was pleasantly warm, and there was just a hint of a breeze. Although there were several families enjoying the same beach, several men surf fishing, and children and dogs running through the sand and waves, there was still plenty of room to spread out and claim our spot to explore. We would've been able to walk a little further north had the tide been out, but it was lovely, nonetheless.











My husband and I have made a commitment to explore a different place in and around our local area each weekend with our son-----rivers, beaches, Redwood forest, fields and meadows-----someplace we haven't visited in a while or have never been before. The idea is to spend as much time outdoors, enjoying the sights and sounds, as we possibly can, and to allow time together as a family doing something in which we can be actively engaged with the natural world around us. We are so blessed to live in such a rich and diverse area of this country. Humboldt County has something for everyone and it would be a shame not to explore and become intimately familiar with this wonderland we call home.




I encourage you to make the same commitment with your family that we have made-----get outside each and every weekend that you are able and explore the area where you live, the place you call home. Do a little research about what your county has to offer; you might be surprised at how many places you've never visited or activities you didn't even know were available. Above all, have fun!










video





Each moment of the year has its own beauty . . . a picture
which was never before and shall never be seen again.
~~~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Warm Spring Days

Now that the weather is beginning to show signs of Spring warmth, our little family decided to have a picnic and enjoy an afternoon exploring last Saturday. With gas at nearly $4.50/gallon we chose a spot relatively close to home, but still far enough to feel like we'd "gotten away from it all"---at least for a few hours.

Kuchel Visitor Center is just a mile, or so, south of Orick, at the mouth of Redwood Creek. It's back door opens onto the beach, with waves from the Pacific crashing to shore just a stone's throw away. This particular area was once home to the Yurok tribe. There is a sign posted outside the visitor center that tells a local Yurok legend---let me take a moment to share it with you:


"There was a young Yurok girl from the village known as Aut-mec-quar who was always crying and wailing for no apparent reason other than for her own amusement. The girl's parents tried to explain to her the seriousness of crying for no reason----to the Yurok people it was like wishing to be in mourning.


After a long while the girl's parents pleaded with her to stop, warning that something bad might happen if she continued. Sure enough, one night the great owl, Tech-quan-is, who is the bearer of bad news, came and carried her away to a huge rock called Aus-keel-el that stands in the ocean, just off the shore.


Day after day, various men from the tribe would row out to the rock to rescue her after hearing her cries, but each time they did, her feet would turn to stone and she could not be moved. As the men would start back to shore, they could see her running across the rock, but when they once again returned for her, she would be held fast by feet of stone.


Each time the men came for the young girl over the course of many days, they would find more of her had turned to stone so that she could not move at all. Eventually, the girl's entire form became solid stone and, if one looks closely enough, you can see her still standing on the huge ocean rock, and if you turn your ear to the ocean you can sometimes hear her wailing and crying. The moral of the story is aimed at children who behave badly and cry about nothing."


Heading north, there is a trail that leads to the creek----a calm, peaceful area just right for shell-searching and driftwood-hunting.




video

We spent a lovely several hours exploring and simply enjoying being out in nature, smelling the faint scent of salty air and listening to the birds flitting in the nearby trees. As we walked slowly back to the Visitor Center, we could see cows grazing in the meadow on the east side of the creek and watched as two Canadian geese came in for a landing on the creek.




After we had our fill of exploring, we headed back south, toward home. On the way, we stopped at The Little Red Schoolhouse (a local museum and summer RV haven) to take photos of the largest wild elk herd in our area. This herd has been coming down the mountain to graze in the meadow there since I was a little girl. At the height of tourist season, the roadsides are packed with those anxious to take photos of what we may sometimes take for granted.


Every time I take the opportunity to be outdoors in this magnificent paradise that I am blessed to live in, I feel refreshed and renewed. I find myself becoming more aware of not just who I am, but of the importance of being spiritually connected to this beautiful earth that we share with so many other creatures.


"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul." ~~~John Muir


"If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive." ~~~Eleonora Duse

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Scottish Oat Scones

I LOVE scones----all shapes and sizes and flavors! I am particularly fond, though, of the plain oat scone. I used to make them often when my two older boys were little----they were easy, quick, and inexpensive afternoon treats, but, they were always a bit too dry. I ran across this particular recipe in a wonderful gem called Babe's Country Cookbook (yes, folks, as in the movie about a sheep-herding pig!!) quite a few years ago and I haven't bothered looking for another scone recipe since. This one is beyond excellent.




Real Scottish Scones (or so the cookbook says)


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar (if using Sucanat, reduce to 8 tsp.)

1 tbsp. baking powder

1 tsp. cream of tartar

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small chunks (NO substitutes, please)

1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup currants, raisins, or dried cranberries

1 large egg

1/3 cup whole milk

Topping:

1 Tbsp. whole milk

2 tbsp. granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease baking sheet.

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, cream of tartar, and salt. With a pastry blender, cut in the butter. Stir in oats and dreid fruit. Make a well in the center of the mixture.


In another bowl, mix egg and milk, then pour into well in the dry mixture. With a fork, stir together until evenly moistened. The dough should be soft and just a little crumbly.

On a lightly floured board, pat the dough into an 8-inch round. Carefully transfer to prepared baking sheet. With a knife dipped in flour, cut into 12 equal wedges.


For the topping:

Brush wedges with milk, then sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes until golden brown.

Best served warm from the oven with jam, marmalade, or honey, and, of course, a nice cup of English tea.


Friday, March 25, 2011

For the Love of Cooking

I've been trying to stay committed to blogging more regularly---needless to say, it's been hard! I look at my life as being rather simply-lived, and although simplicity really suits me, it doesn't provide much in the way of excitement that some might find worthy of sharing. So, just the other day, a friend suggested I start posting my menus/recipes on occassion; the ones that seem to have appeal and sound incredibly delicious. I've decided that it's a good idea.


I am going to kick off this new portion of my blog with a tribute to the "mom" who raised me; my maternal grandmother, Kay Dean. Mom was such a wonderful cook. Growing up in the 1920s and through the Depression years and, later, surviving as the divorced mother of a young child for several years during the 1940's before she re-married, she learned to be creative with food preparation and to be able to, somehow, whip up a feast with very little.

In the late 1960's and early 70's, when I was a little girl, Mom would stand me on a chair in the kitchen right next to her so I could see what she was doing and participate, at least as much as my small hands would allow, in the whole kitchen process---from stirring, to chopping, to washing dishes and wiping counters, I wasn't viewed as a nuisance, but as a "helper". I lovingly acknowledge her for encouraging my love of cooking and for teaching me that food doesn't have to be "fancy" to be delicious. Her kitchen motto was always "simple is best".

Growing up, one of my favorite cold weather, rainy day meals was Shepherd's Pie. Because ground beef has always been an economical option, we ate our "fair share", to be sure. Here is her recipe for that lovely, stick-to-your-ribs casserole.


Shepherd's Pie

Topping 1 1/2 lbs. Russet potatoes, peeled, quarted, and boiled until tender

1/2 cup whole milk or heavy cream

2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

1/2 tsp. garlic

ground pepper and salt, to taste

When potatoes are cooked to tender, drain and reserve 1/2 cup liquid. Return to pan and mash with remaining ingredients, adding some of the reserved potato water if needed. Using electric mixer, whip potatoes until smooth and creamy. Set aside and keep warm.

Filling

3 Tbsp. cooking oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

1 celery stalk, halved length-wise, then cut into thin slivers

1 lb. ground beef (or lamb)

1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 tsp. dried rosemary

1 tsp. dried thyme

1 pinch ground nutmeg

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 cup beef broth (more may be needed)

salt and pepper, to taste

paprika

In heavy skillet, heat oil on medium heat, add onion, carrot, and celery, and cook until tender; about 5 minutes.

Add ground meat, 1 Tbsp. flour, beef broth, Worcestershire sauce and seasonings. Cook until meat is no longer pink and mixture is bubbly and thickened. Add additional beef broth if mixture becomes too thick---should be a gravy-like consistency.

Pour mixture into a 2-qt. casserole dish and top with mashed potato mixture. Sprinkle top with paprika and bake at 400°F for 30 minutes.

***NOTE*** When I make this for my family, I always add 4 oz. sliced, sautéed mushrooms to the filling and I sprinkle the top with 1/4 cup butter-toasted bread crumbs and 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese and just a bit of paprika for color.

Mom always served Shepherd's Pie with green beans cooked with chopped onions and a little bacon grease, with bread pudding for dessert.


Mom's Bread Pudding



3-4 cups stale bread, torn into pieces (I always use French bread)

2 cups whole milk

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup sugar

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup raisins, soaked in warm water, drained

1/4 tsp. allspice

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

3 Tbsp. butter, melted, and more to butter dish

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a medium bowl, soak bread in milk until completely absorbed. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, sugar, vanilla, raisins, and spices. Add to bread and stir to combine. Pour mixture into a buttered casserole dish. Pour melted butter over top. Bake 30-35 minutes until firm and golden brown. Serve with vanilla custard or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

"Food is our common ground; a universal experience." ~~~James Beard~~~