Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Christmas Present

I love a good story, and a good Christmas story is the best, especially when it is true. I present to you, my wonderful readers, a fun story that happened several years ago when my husband and I were newly married.
It all started with a pair of boots. I saw them in the window of the local downtown shoe store—and it was love at first sight for me. They were black. They were tall, and they looked similar to combat boots. What they were not was cheap. I wanted them so desperately-- but on the salary of a grad student and a part time preschool teacher—they were not going to happen.
With a little money I’d saved, I visited the shoe store a few days before Christmas and bought my husband a pair of slippers. He needed new slippers. I tried not to look at the boots. It was hard. The sales clerk asked if I’d like the slippers gift wrapped. Sure, I said. If there’s one thing I’ll beg off on-it’s gift wrapping. While I can do some things really well, gift wrapping is not one of them, and I wasn’t sure if we even had any Christmas wrapping paper at home.
I walked home with heavy heart—but I felt good that I’d bought something nice for my husband and not something frivolous for myself. As I started to place the slippers under the tree I noticed another box-wrapped in the same paper as the slippers. I couldn’t believe it—my husband had gotten me the boots! What a sweetheart! And then I did the only thing that I could possibly do. I rewrapped his slippers. Even though I knew what I was getting, he didn’t have to know that I knew.
Of course Christmas morning I put on one heck of a show of surprise and excitement-but then I had to come clean.
For the very best stories are meant to be shared!


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Winter Workout

Last night we had our first major snowstorm of the season. I know many places have already been dealing with snow, and a lot of snow at that, for a while now, but for us, this was the first snowfall that left more than a slight dusting. So this morning I began doing what I call my winter workout-a set of “exercises” unique to this time of year.
First, I put on my heavy black vintage U.S. Navy pea coat (it weighs a ton and belonged to a hardy sailor by the name of Hayward.) Next I put on my bulky LL Bean hunting boots that aren’t exactly light as a feather. Then, sweating profusely by this time under all the bulk, and already tired, I head outside to trudge through the blanket of freshly fallen snow to walk the dog, or keep my daughter company on her way to school, OR, for even more fun and exertion, shovel the sidewalks. If these activities become too dull and I crave more excitement in my routine, I wrap a vision obscuring scarf around my neck and face (my scarf of choice is a vintage wool plaid) and try to dash across a busy road, praying that approaching sliding cars will come to a stop before connecting with my pea coat and me.
By the end of the day, I'll feel pretty well qualified to compete in the next winter Olympics-and with freezing rain in the forecast for tonight-tomorrow’s event may well be figure skating!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Story of My Vintage Cookbooks

Each year as the Christmas season rolls around, my thoughts turn to holiday baking and cooking, and I start looking at recipes for cookies and breads and candy. I like to cook and bake now, but this was not always the case.
There was a time when I was proud to say that I didn’t like cooking, or even know how to very well… and I didn’t care to learn either. I even wore this refusal to “learn my way around a kitchen” like a badge of honor and maybe it was my feeble attempt at being “liberated.” Who knows? Ironically, I also bought a lot of vintage cookbooks. There was a wonderful used bookstore, located in an old apartment house, that I would visit quite often, and at 1 or 2 bucks a piece, I would come out with armloads of old cookbooks. I bought them because they were vintage, and cheap, and they were filled with great vintage pictures. I’d line them up on a shelf in my kitchen and look at them from time to time…but never use them. I guess I thought that to be a successful cook one had to be a “gourmet” cook and master the types of techniques taught at the Culinary Institute.
Over time, my ideas about what defines a successful woman began to change, and I started taking my inspiration from women of the past-both women in my own family, and women in society as a whole. It was the ordinary hardworking, resourceful homemaker from the Depression years and wartime years who began to seem extraordinary-- the women who would have used the cookbooks I collected. My Grandmothers and Aunts were such women. So I decided I would not only learn to cook and bake, but do it in such a way as to honor them and make them proud.
Now I’m happy to say that I can bake a beautiful loaf of bread, or roast a chicken on Sunday and come up with three or four ways to use up the leftovers during the week, or make perfect fudge the old fashioned way. (Well ok, I’m still working on that one-soaking the pan overnight really will get the hardened cement-like chocolate to come out.)
I love my old cookbooks even more now-- now that I actually use them, and I can’t help thinking about the unseen hands that touched the pages before me. I only wish these dear women were still around, because I have a question about that biscuit recipe on page 80…

Here is a recipe for my Great Aunt Olga’s Ice Box Cookies. These are very dangerous and can cause a serious case of over indulging…and they are most certainly not healthy, (but my Aunt lived well into her 80’s!)
Preheat oven to 350

1 cup softened butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 to 4 cups of flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream all ingredients together well except flour. Add 3 cups of the flour, and additional flour to form a soft dough. Mold dough into long rolls and wrap in waxed paper and chill in freezer until firm. Cut into 1/8” slices and bake 8-10 minutes or until golden brown on ungreased baking sheet.
Makes a lot!