Scalloped Potatoes … Leaving 2020 on a High Note

I sometimes felt a little guilty about chasing the kids (and anyone, for that matter) out of the kitchen, especially during holidays.

“Out … out of the kitchen … all of you!”

We heard this every holiday and most meal times. My mom did not like having people gathered around her in the kitchen when she cooked.

“I need to concentrate.”

Sad to say, I carried on with the chase-every-one-out-of-the-kitchen tradition when my kids were small. Coming from a lineage of farmers on both sides of the family (although my immediate family did not farm), the pressure was upon me to feed people and feed them well. There also might have been something of a hidden motive of wanting the praises that come with a perfect meal. Being raised around incredible farm cooks, it was the highest compliment of any kind to be asked for seconds or to be asked to share a recipe, so the personal stakes I’d set in my head were high.

I sometimes felt a little guilty about chasing the kids (and anyone, for that matter) out of the kitchen, especially during holidays. Part of farm-style cooking involved teaching the next generation to cook well. My grandmother had the most patience in this department, especially when it came to baking . I guess holidays, though, just weren’t the day for on the spot training.

It took a few years of fussing alone in the kitchen, followed by a meal gobbled down in 20 minutes to wake up to the fact that I was getting ripped off on holidays by standards I had imposed upon myself.

Revelations:

  • It’s not fun to spend most of the holiday alone in the kitchen.
  • I like eating far more than cooking.
  • I’m too lazy to become a gourmet cook, so why try.
  • The word “lazy” has shown up in just about every post having to do with cooking … which is why I am more of an “eating” blogger, than a “recipe or cooking” blogger.
  • We have favorite family foods, but not necessarily family recipes … so every year is a bit of an experiment with a new way to try an old favorite.
  • Food experimenting has its pluses and minuses … both with extreme reactions attached … i.e. “Uhhh …thanks for the efforts” OR “That is amazing … can I have seconds?!”

This year’s food experimentation fell to the scalloped potatoes. My mom always had scalloped potatoes with her ham but she made them from a box. She worried about getting the sauce right, but knew Betty Crocker had it down to a science, so why reinvent, right?

This is our first Christmas without Mom … it seemed right to honor her with the potatoes and with a little extra effort.

The food that got us through all the FaceTime and Zoom calls on our very extended gift opening morning.

My daughter convinced me that it wouldn’t be that hard to make them from scratch. “We must have REAL potatoes,” she insisted. “Plus, Grandma would be proud of us for figuring out the sauce.” I agreed with her that rehydrated spuds just don’t cut it, no matter how daunting it felt to make a sauce from scratch.

With no family recipe to lean on, we scrolled through Pinterest until we found something that suited the ingredients we had on hand, and we went to work late on Christmas afternoon … our meal preparations had been delayed by FaceTime and Zoom visits with the rest of the family. Also to note here … it was very lax of me to get to Christmas Day without a recipe in hand.

I wouldn’t have anticipated it, but it was a golden afternoon in my daughter’s kitchen. There was no fussing about the perfect meal … just mom and daughter laughing and experimenting together … very chill.

“This is looking really good, Mom,” she cheered me on as I whisked whole milk into flour and butter. (We heard that calories don’t count on Christmas.) She dropped in grated cheese (extreme sharp white cheddar) and we each held our breath slightly, but no strange or stringy globs appeared. The cheese quickly melted into a smooth and creamy texture.

We poured it over the carefully sliced and layered Yukons and yellow onions which my daughter had artfully arranged in a prepared casserole.

“I don’t think this is big enough.” Fearing that our beautiful sauce would bubble over and meet a horrid death on the bottom of the oven, I made her prepare and transfer the potatoes to a different dish giving at least a centimeter of more room.

It’s fine,” she cut me off before I could suggest an even bigger casserole, so we poured on the sauce and slid it all into the oven.

Four adults in the house became four little kids. It was like we were waiting to open stockings or catch a glimpse of Santa slipping through the chimney the way we sneaked into the kitchen and glanced through the window of the oven, the smell enticing us as the dish began to bubble.

They came out perfectly and interest in the other dishes was a bit waining, even though all seemed exceptional this year. The real telling point of our holiday meal success came the next day with the leftovers. A bit of family tension emerged as the four of us hovered over the re-heated potatoes and tried to act nonchalant as we each assured that the potatoes were divided absolutely equally.

I sighed when the very last bite of those potatoes were gone … but it wasn’t the potatoes I was already missing.

For the week afterwards and now into a new calendar year, I have continued to think about those potatoes.

The fact that I didn’t chase anyone out of the kitchen … the joys of shedding perfectionism and just being together … cooking together with my adult daughter … witnessing how well my daughter is “adulting” … the longing all year long for this day when we would all be together even if part of it was through Face Time and Zoom …

It all emphasizes how much togetherness is deeply important to me … thus the heart of what has been both excruciating and … dare I say … wonderful … about 2020.

The pandemic has brought to my family less taking togetherness for granted in … we are much more intentional. Even though we’d like to meet in person more often, I ‘d have to say that we find ourselves more together in the same “Zoom” than we are in the same room. No one is distracted by their device … a terrible temptation for all of us … we are the device in these online meetups.

I’m sure there are others like me out there, but I hate seeing the holidays come to an end. It really gets to me how fast some stores and even friends, pack everything up and move on. We spend weeks talking about Christmas miracles, anticipating the hope and the remembrances of God’s love by sending His Son as a light into the world … the memories to be made … the family connections …

Then as fast as the gifts can be ripped open and the scalloped potatoes gobbled down, it’s back to life as usual. I’m never quite ready for that.

Oh … and before anyone asks me about the recipe for the potatoes … I forgot to bookmark them on my phone and couldn’t seem to find the same one when we went back to look. Guess, we’ll be carrying on the tradition of “same foods, new recipes” next year!

Thank you for reading “Small Stuff”.  This is the second of two blogs sites that I keep.  You can find more on my thought&faith blog at rashellbud.wordpress.com. Wishing you a beautiful day full of the Small Stuff that transforms life into BIG STUFF.

A note to my “silent” readers … thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read my work. I’ve learned that many of you are shy about commenting or hitting the like button, but I want you to know that I appreciate your visits and invite you into the conversations whenever you are ready.

Wishing you peace in all things … Shelly

My Grandma Changed the World with Cookies

My daughter signed me up for a website that asks me to respond to weekly prompts, sharing about my life and memories … thoughts to be passed down to the family. I haven’t been very good about keeping up with it … sorry, Honey … but a couple of the prompts have lined up with things on my mind at the moment.

This week, the prompt was to write about someone who was a positive influence during my childhood. I started typing without really knowing who I was going to write about … turns out to be Grandma.

Grandparents … and our senior citizens in general … have been taking up a lot of my “thinking time” during this pandemic. It crushes me to think of the elderly isolated and withering away ALONE in their homes or rooms in a senior home … lonely … afraid … sad … scared … alone … alone. (Repetitions intentional.) Some I know have died without their family at their bedside because of restrictions. Awful …

I won’t stray any further into what the pandemic is doing to our elderly… as it’s not what the prompt or my response was about. I’ll just add that all this COVID stuff, especially during the holidays, has made me nostalgic.

Here is my response to the prompt from my daughter with a little more added in.

Who Had the Most Positive Influence on You as a Child?

I feel like I had a lot of good influences as a child.  One that stands out first is Grandma (my mom’s mother).  

It’s funny because as a teen, I think I was pretty hard on Grandma and didn’t see her as a good influence because she had become a hermit and shut herself off from people.  She didn’t like to go places and had stopped driving long before I was born.  I guess I saw her as someone who was very afraid of life and therefore weak. She started a lot of sentences with “Aren’t you afraid” … and by the time she finished asking, I guess I was afraid too.

For her struggles with anxiety and fear, Grandma was an amazing person.  With Mom so busy wrangling four kids and Dad trying to juggle enough work to keep us all fed, Grandma was our extra bright spot.  She had the time to fuss over us, play with us, and make us cookies.  Lots of cookies.  We always said that Grandma pretended she was making the cookies for us, but she was the one with the sweet tooth.

From Grandma I learned that the trick to good cookies was making sure that the butter and sugar were fully creamed.  She made me do this with my hands so that I could feel what it took to melt the ingredients together until I could barely feel the sugar crystals any longer.  Eventually I would  use a wooden spoon and could tell by the color of the mixture when it was truly ready for the next ingredients.

Peanut butter cookies (I loved making the patterns with a fork as we smashed down the dough), snickerdoodle, and ranger cookies (cookies with cereal and nuts in them), and occasionally brownies … filled her little kitchen and its pink plaster walls with scents of love.

Ice cream was another of Grandma’s sweet tooth staples.  Her favorite was Marigold’s Strawberry ice cream with chunky pieces of frozen strawberries imbedded.  She usually had Chocolate Ripple, and Tin Roof Sundae on hand as well. If there was only one serving of Strawberry left we knew what we would be having … it would NOT be the Strawberry. That’s about the one thing I remember Grandma standing resolutely on … the Strawberry was HERS.

For not liking to be in groups of people, Grandma always had other people on her radar.  She was a very loving person, always mindful of others.  She sent birthday cards faithfully, called the little old ladies in town on a regular basis (always referring to them as the “old ladies” as if she wasn’t one of them), and kept up with all the graduations and big events in the lives of her many nieces and nephews and their children.  She made sure there were flowers on all the family graves at Memorial Day, and kept my imagination alive with stories of her childhood and of family memories about people I only knew through photos because they had passed on before I was born. She received more Christmas cards than anyone I knew, probably because she was so faithful about sending them out and including a personal hand-written letter. (She would not be a fan of the modern form letter popular these days.)

If someone was in need, Grandma would have my Mom get money from her bank account and send an anonymous letter with some cash tucked in.  She was very generous with us kids and it was because of her we had a lot of basic things like school clothes and new shoes covered. Because she didn’t like to leave the house, she gave us money at Christmas and birthdays. We never minded, because the older we got the bigger the numbers got on those checks!

Even for all of the fears she battled (probably stemming from a battle she had with a brain tumor in her forties and a challenging marriage to Grandpa, who drank too much sometimes), she had a deep and simple faith in Christ.  We used to sit at her organ and she’d play hymns from the old German hymnals she had.  She didn’t like to go to church any more even though it was a block from her house, but only because it meant being in a crowd. She cherished visits from the Pastor and parishioners who checked in on her regularly. She read her bible often and tucked in notes from the radio preachers who inspired her.

Grandma filled my childhood with scented memories.  I got to spend a lot of Friday nights at her house.  (Each of us kids took turns having a special night.)  We, of course, baked cookies, and we ate frozen meat pies, heated up in her oven as soon as the cookie making was done, the smells of that pie crust and the meat, vegetables, and gravy tantalizing me. I loved bathing in her oversized claw foot tub, filling the bathroom with the aroma of a rose garden from the bubble bath she kept on hand.

She kept a closet of toys and puzzles for us, took me on walks, read books, taught me to crochet, taught me a lot about gardening, instilled a love of flowers, and of story telling. And most of all … a love of all things sweet.

Although my siblings and I may have been good excuses to bake cookies in excess, those cookies … and every ingredient … and everything else we did together … speak to me of a fully invested love from my Grandmother. Can’t think of a much more positive influence than that.

This was all I wrote for my daughter … but I think a “cookie post” is on it’s way. I recently came across a box of some of Grandma’s treasured recipes and I’ve been thinking especially about her gingerbread cookies.

Stay tuned.

But before I go … what about you … any special memories of a grandparent’s influence? Or someone else in your childhood? Or maybe it’s your turn? Are there any special traditions you have with your family?

Thank you for reading “Small Stuff”.  This is the second of two blogs sites that I keep.  You can find more on my thought&faith blog at rashellbud.wordpress.com. Wishing you a beautiful day full of the Small Stuff that transforms life into BIG STUFF.

A note to my “silent” readers … thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read my work. I’ve learned that many of you are shy about commenting or hitting the like button, but I want you to know that I appreciate your visits and invite you into the conversations whenever you are ready.

Wishing you peace in all things … Shelly

The Fine Art of Not Having Thanksgiving Traditions

Looking back is sometimes sad, until we realize we’re going to miss this year … even 2020 … too.

November 2020. With a pandemic wreaking havoc on normal life, this is a good year to have the tradition of not having traditions.

I grew up in a family short on grocery money and even shorter on relatives. My mom was an only child and my dad and his siblings drifted apart after a squabble about an inheritance or something along those lines. I don’t think they were the sort to fuss about holidays anyway. A few years ago, I found one of my dad’s childhood journals, started during the Great Depression. No mention of Thanksgiving. Christmas Day was spent resting and fiddling around with his tools, making an end piece on a cabinet for his mother. Dinner meant extra portions of stew. But no gifts … and noted disappointment in Dad’s scrawled remarks … “Phooey! No presents.”

During my childhood, holidays meant just us … mom, dad, my grandmother, and us four kids … a mildly dysfunctional family who wasn’t into church (not during those years, anyway), football, or big gatherings. For us the day was largely about eating.

The success of the intended goal … eating … fell to Mom and Grandma, who collaborated for weeks prior over what dishes would make it to the table that year. An oven roasted turkey, cooked in one of those new fangled “plastic” baking bags … always … at Thanksgiving. Grandma’s sweet potatoes with perfectly toasted marshmallows on top (surely that recipe alone contained a lethal amount of sugar). A lime Jello® and 7-up® salad. Pecan pie … Mom called it Washington Nut Pie. Whole AND jellied cranberries so that nobody could complain. Store-bought potato rolls. And … olives … black olives.

This was the one day in which my younger brother and I, who were usually red-alert-annoyed with each other, would sneak into the kitchen and snitch olives. Mom turned a blind eye as we loaded our fingers and thumbs with the dripping black blobs and then raced to see who could eat theirs the fastest without choking.

Just wait. Next year we’ll be missing THIS year.

Said by one of my parents a long time ago. They didn’t know about 2020.

The menu of my childhood was traditional, but that was about it. We might pull out Monopoly or play Kings in the Corner like our neighbor had taught us, but it usually resulted in a squabble, so didn’t last long. We weren’t the family that sat and watched the Macy’s parade (not with much interest any way), gathered with others to play touch football, went on a hike, went to a church service, or anything like that. I knew families who couldn’t wait for the yearly gathering to play killer games of Spoons or who drove to “town” to watch the latest movie. (We went to one movie in my childhood … a drive in showing of Cinderella when I was six.)

We just weren’t traditional in any of these ways. We had hard working, practical parents who saw this as a day of rest (well … only for Mom, in that she made us kids do the dishes after all that cooking).

We ate … we rested … and we talked … listening to Grandma’s stories and witty puns … none of which I can recall … I just know that she always had us rolling with her unexpected dry humor … she was otherwise a little on the mousy side. Sometimes Dad would surprise us with a story about the animals he had as a kid and other childhood stories.

I liked hearing about the mule they had. “Jack Ass,” my mom would smile. “Your Dad was named after him.”

“Hey, now,” Dad … Jack … didn’t let her get away with the joke. “I was born first. The mule was named after me.”

“Is that any better?!”

I loved it when they teased like this.

Then … we ate … again. Mom and Dad said nothing if we went back for a second or even third piece of pumpkin or pecan pie. By the time bedtime showed on the clock, the lone pie left on the counter was mincemeat with only the tiniest slivers missing. No one wanted to hurt Grandma’s feelings, but she never seemed to get the message about that mincemeat.

By the time I got married I was thrilled with the idea that Thanksgiving and fresh traditions were wide open territory. My Guy and I could make it whatever we wanted it to be. However, once I discovered that he lacked fondness for Mom’s 7-UP® salad and that I was never going to live up to his mother’s version of sweet potato casserole, I knew we needed to set an entirely new course.

The problem for me was figuring out what traditions we should adapt … while My Guy can eat the same foods over and over … why mess up a sure bet, he always says … I am the great experimenter when it comes to holidays.

Our turkeys over the year have come to the table via being roasted in a brown paper bag, smoked on the grill (never make gravy from this method!), soaked in apple cider brine, simply roasted with butter and stuffed with gloves of garlic, stuffed with stuffing, sans stuffing … pretty much whatever method was popular in the latest “home living” magazine I’d come across. (These days it’s Pinterest.)

We’ve had green salads garnished with cranberries and apples as an appetizer. One year we warmed up our appetites with pumpkin soup cooked in the pumpkin shell itself. (My Guy wasn’t a fan … so that remained a one hit wonder.)

Desserts have ranged from pecan pies, Costco’s pumpkin pies (why fight it when they do it better than me), pumpkin cheese cake, apple crisps, chocolate … lots of chocolate.

Relish trays and sausage rolls (introduced to us by a friend).

Candy turkeys made from candy corn, round crackers, and chocolate kisses. Apparently THESE ARE a tradition. I saw them in one of those many magazines and gave them a try when our kids were small. We made the sticky creatures several years running … frosting everywhere … always scrounging to find candy corn after Halloween. (Quick Stops at gas stations. THEY always have them!) Then, when the girls were in high school, I decided to save some money (these little treats get spendy) and didn’t gather up the supplies.

“Wait …,” one of the girls said. “You mean we aren’t doing turkeys this year?”

“I figured you guys were too old to want to make them.”

“But, Mom … they’re tradition.”

Okay … we have one stayed tradition.

It’s taking time to find God’s blessings, even between rain clouds.

But …

It’s not the food.

It’s the people and the memories.

And … again … there’s been nothing traditional.

Some years we entertained a household of nearly strangers … anyone who didn’t have home to go to.

Sometimes it was extended family … other years … many years … we traveled to where we live now … to visit my mom … and ate at the local restaurant who put on a magnificent yearly feast. (Sadly, that ended this year … with COVID restrictions ringing a death knell to this 14 year old business).

The last two years, our holiday has whittled down to just immediate family … a big deal having the girls come from far away … we wanted to soak up all that the time with them that we can.

I often dreamed of us having a traditional activity. We almost got there when, several years running, I made us walk the Narrows Bridge in Tacoma when we lived on the West side of the state. Turkey in the oven, we headed out to cold air and beautiful views … and lots of complaining. My Guy did most of it!

“Do we really have to do this?”

“We’ll only go half way and turn back.”

My Guy held me to it but the girls ran ahead completing the whole mile each way. The next year though, they brought friends. After that, it got harder to coordinate dinner and schedules.

Last year was the last one we had with Mom … she didn’t actually make it to Thanksgiving dinner … turned out to be one of her hard days. Dementia does that to a person. BUT, she had one of her amazing good days earlier in that we and insisted on coming to help make pies. So … so thankful we got that day.

Tomorrow … it’ll be just My Guy and me. And probably some FaceTime with the kids … we’re trying to figure out a way to do a virtual version of some of our favorite board games. If it’s a fail, there’s always Charades.

This year the turkey will be a re-heated turkey breast from Costco. All the candy turkey makings are in the house but so far the caramels and candy corn are sitting untouched. We had visions of making them and taking some to neighbors who didn’t go anywhere this year. We’ll see if our good intentions make it out of the bag(s).

It’s connecting with loved ones. A text, a phone call, online chat, in person, a cherished memory of someone not with us … it’s all good.

Besides the candy turkeys, I realize that there is one tradition that found its way to us since the first year of marriage. Taking time to let each person voice something they’re thankful for. (We learned to do this while we’re eating, instead of before … we got a lot more out of hungry teens that way.)

Some years were awkward for sure … the kids especially felt put on the spot even though they knew what was coming. Sometimes it felt forced and a little superficial. But the words that have been said have stuck with me. We’ve been given so much. And even in years like this when so much has been taken, there are still bright spots. The sadness of change and the loss of my mom and other extended family weigh on me a bit … yet I find peace in reflecting on what they have each meant to us.

It’s a weird one … 2020 … but I’m sure we’ll look back and decide that this chapter of our long book on non-traditional traditions wasn’t half bad.

Hope yours wasn’t half bad too.

Happy Holidays!

These are not the same as ours. We make ours with chocolate kisses and with caramels as the stands … but this gives you an idea.

Thank you for reading “Small Stuff”.  This is the second of two blogs sites that I keep.  You can find more on my thought&faith blog at rashellbud.wordpress.com. Wishing you a beautiful day full of the Small Stuff that transforms life into BIG STUFF.

A note to my “silent” readers … thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read my work. I’ve learned that many of you are shy about commenting or hitting the like button, but I want you to know that I appreciate your visits and invite you into the conversations whenever you are ready.

Wishing you peace in all things … Shelly