Columns

Made with Love: Kitchen Memories

During the holidays my house smells like sugar and spice and everything nice. The aroma doesn’t come from scented candles; it emanates from the shortbread, sugar cookies, three kinds of fudge, and two loaves of Amish cinnamon bread I’ve made.

Shortbread and sugar cookies

The cinnamon bread cools in my mother’s aluminum pans. Last month, I wrote about the memories those pans hold for me and invited readers to share their stories of memory-laden kitchenware.

Below you’ll read about everything from pie tins to rolling pins, as readers reminisce about recipes, traditions and warm memories made in the kitchen.

Tom Peacock said his mother and grandmother were “pie goddesses.” It seems he inherited their skills, along with her flour sifter and Spode Christmas dishes.

“I baked my first pie (cherry) when I was around 12,” he wrote. “I picked the cherries from the next-door neighbor’s tree, pitted them with Mom’s old-school pitter, and the pie turned out nicely.”

From there he progressed to banana cream, pecan and blackberry cream pies.

“I did get to bake side by side with Mom, especially in her later years. The last few years before she went into assisted care, I did most of the Thanksgiving cooking using the skills I learned from her,” Peacock said.

Every baker knows you can’t make a good pie crust or sugar cookies without a quality rolling pin. John Kafentzis and his family use an irreplaceable one.

“A rolling pin from my grandmother is still very much in use at our house,” he said. “It was carved by her grandfather from a single piece of maple around 1920. It’s substantial. The family joke is that it was carved from the last tree in Kansas as that’s where they lived at the time.”

Pier Sanna’s mom was a pastry chef and taught Sanna to make everything from croissants to wedding cakes.

“After her death in 1980, I had first dibs on her bakeware – 50-plus-year-old cast iron pizza pans and cookie sheets. Try finding those at Williams Sonoma,” Sanna wrote. “Every time we use her bakeware, we suspect she is standing next to us smiling and resisting the urge to supervise.”

Jan Erickson uses a braising pot that her grandfather gave to her mother on her wedding day in 1947.

“I remember wonderful roasts, ribs, and so many favorite dishes coming from this pan,” Erickson said. “My grandparents did not have much money, but they splurged on this pot for my mom. Granddad told Mom that this pot would last her through her entire life. It surely did!

“I know my daughter wants this pot when I’m done with it, so it will continue in our family for years to come.”

Many of us revel in holiday baking traditions. For example, Leslie Olson Turner’s mother embraced her Norwegian roots when it came to Christmas cookies, making spritz cookies, berlinerkranser, rosettes, almond crescents and krumkake. Turner has continued the tradition, using her mother’s cookie press and rosette irons.

“I reserve the holidays to kick in my own version of a baking frenzy,” she wrote. “The krumkake iron I now use I inherited from my Aunt Sonja. It’s identical to the one my Mom had used – made of heavy-duty cast iron. And while I could have bought an electric one, it just wouldn’t have been the same.”

Michael Paul also continues cultural traditions. His great-grandmother was born in Hawaii to Portuguese immigrants.

“The Portuguese brought with them many new foods, including what is today known as Hawaiian sweet bread. Each Christmas, Nana Schultz would bake sweet bread for everyone, blessing each loaf with a cross and a tiny piece of garlic in the center of the cross as it went into the oven,” Paul wrote. “Today, I am just about the only one left in my family making this bread and the pickled pork also served at Christmas time.”

He still uses his grandmother’s metal measuring cups and Nana Schultz’s recipes.

“There’s no telling how old those recipes are. They came ‘around the horn’ from Portugal in the late 1800s,” Paul said.

Sometimes, the most practical items are treasured.

“After my dear mother passed away, going through her things there was one kitchen item, in particular, that was the golden ticket – the jar opener,” Julie Hoseid said. “Since I did most of the help for her, I rewarded myself with it, however, my sister and I are discussing shared custody.”

It seems pie-baking stirs up many memories.

“I’m not sure how old I was when Mom taught me her pumpkin pie filling tweaks, but I remember her setting me up at the kitchen table the first few times because I was too short to reach the countertop,” Carol Nelson wrote.

When Nelson married her, mother gave her the LustreCraft stainless mixing bowl, the pie plates that ensure an evenly baked crust, and her rolling pin. But it was her mother-in-law that gave her a never-fail pie crust recipe.

“Fifty-one years later, both moms have passed, but each time I take out my pie plates and the now-stained recipe card, I think of them, and their gifts of love to a new bride.”

Gail Justesen said her mother was known as one of the best pie-makers in Whitman County. When her mom was out of town, a teenage Justesen decided to step in and bake two pies for a pie social.

“The first two I cooked too long: the crust was brittle, apple filling overflowed. The next batch, the crust was raw and the filling soupy,” she recalled.

But Justesen kept trying – making seven pies in all before she had two that were pie social-worthy. Her dad didn’t mind gobbling up the mistakes.

“My friends moan when they think of making pies and usually cave to the store-bought pie crusts. However, I love to make them and am so thankful for the ‘pie genes’ I received from my mom,” said Justesen.

I’m not the only one with aluminum bread pans. Lisa Meiners treasures four that belonged to her mother.

“My mother passed away Aug. 1, just four months shy of her 100th birthday,” Meiners wrote. “She raised six children in Alaska and was a wonderful cook and baker. We always had homemade bread. Four of Mom’s bread pans moved with her from Alaska to Washington. I’m the only one of her five daughters who bakes bread regularly, and now have the honor of owning those bread pans that were used to bake loaves of love every week.”

So readers, as you sit at your holiday table this week, I hope you’ll enjoy more than just delicious food. Sometimes sharing memories and traditions with those you love is the most satisfying feast of all.

Columns

Baking with Mom

The lightweight aluminum pans aren’t beautiful. Scratched and slightly dented, they’re certainly nothing you would find at Williams Sonoma. They aren’t even nonstick.

Nevertheless, my freezer is filled with pumpkin bread, chocolate zucchini bread and beer-cheese bread, all turned out by these stalwart pans.

When my mother moved into a retirement community, it fell to me to sort out her kitchen – choosing what I wanted, what my siblings and their children might want, and what would be left for the estate sale.

Mom’s four kids are all long-married with established homes and kitchens, so most of her goods weren’t wanted or needed by any of us.

But the loaf pans that had churned out countless batches of banana bread – well, I knew I would use them, and I have.

I don’t have any cozy memories of Saturday baking with my mother. The kitchen was her domain, and I wasn’t invited to learn by her side. It could be that I wasn’t interested in spending my Saturdays mixing and measuring. Honestly, I don’t remember. But I must have learned something by osmosis because I’ve spent the past 35 years feeding copious amounts of family and friends.

Mom wasn’t stingy with her recipes. My cookbooks are filled with her handwritten notes for gingersnaps, pie crust, snickerdoodles and other tasty treats. It’s just that we never baked them together. In fact, when my sons were young, and I was working, it was my mother who baked weekly treats for them – a way to lure them to Grandma’s house for a visit and a hug.

She still misses baking. Still wakes up with a start thinking she’s left something in the oven too long.

Recently, I showed her a photo of the pans.

“Do you remember where you got these?” I asked. “I know you’ve had them since I was tiny.”

But her memories are clouded now. Dates and times blend and blur.

No matter.

On Thanksgiving, I’ll welcome her to my table set with her harvest gold cloth and the lovely Noritake china my father bought for her in Japan. I’ll lay out her silver flatware that I used to polish every holiday as a child. It seems some chores are yours for a lifetime.

I’ll roll out her pie crust recipe with her red-handled rolling pin and fill the crust with fragrant apples, cinnamon and cloves.

And perhaps after all these years, it will feel like I’m finally baking with Mom.

Columns

With 20/20 clarity, I see change ahead

I don’t remember ever having 20/20 vision. I got my first pair of glasses in fourth grade, my first pair of contacts at 15, and my eyesight continues to decline.

That’s why I’m really looking forward to this new year – I can finally see 2020! And every time I glimpse the date in my new calendars and planners, I smile. There’s just something exciting about turning a page.

2019 brought change to our household. In the fall, our third son moved into his own place, and we’re officially down to just one kid at home. That kid will graduate from college in the spring, and while he’ll likely stay with us while pursuing a second degree – our empty nest years are looming.

So far, meal planning has been the most challenging thing about our shrinking household. Because Sam works mainly evenings, I foresaw a lot of cooking for two in my future. As usual, my vision was faulty, because at least once a week there are five at my table.

When Zach moved out, I told him I hoped he’d join us for a weekly family meal. Our oldest son also lives nearby, and if I’m cooking for four, it’s certainly no stretch to make dinner for five.

The result? I now get to have my three in-town sons around my table on a regular basis, and nothing makes this mama’s heart happier. Besides, I haven’t yet mastered the art of cooking for three, let alone two.

The holidays revealed more opportunities for adapting. In recent years, our two youngest sons have been in charge of tree decorating. My penchant for holiday décor seems to grow each year, so it’s nice to leave the Christmas tree in their capable hands. However, this year, varying work schedules proved problematic.

I’m all about problem solving, so for the first time in at least 25 years, Derek and I trimmed the tree by ourselves. What might have been melancholy became delightful. We took a lovely, romantic stroll down memory lane as we hung ornaments and remembered Christmases past.

Then came the cookie-decorating conflict.

In 2011, Sam made us a book featuring his treasured Christmas memories. In it he wrote, “I love making and decorating Christmas cookies with you.”

That was then.

This is now.

As usual, I baked dozens of sugar cookies, and then checked with our sons to see when they’d be available to frost and decorate them. Sam seemed ambivalent and told me to check with Zach.

I’ve never wanted to try to squeeze my sons into traditions that no longer fit, so I texted Zach, “How strongly do you feel about decorating Christmas cookies? I can leave them out for you guys to do when you come over Wednesday, or Dad and I can just do them tonight.”

He replied, “I don’t feel strongly either way.”

So for the first time in our 33-year marriage, Derek got to be part of the Christmas cookie fun. He’s artistically inclined, so our cookies looked fabulous. And honestly, I don’t much miss the Cyclops angels or graphically anatomically correct snowmen that our sons were inclined to include.IMG_20191216_194208217

Derek and I further simplified our holidays by skipping stuffing stockings for each other. Less shopping equaled less stress and more fun.

As someone who cherishes the familiar, and relishes ritual and tradition, I’ve been surprised at how readily I’ve adapted to this new season of our lives, and how eagerly I’m anticipating the unknowns that await.

Because whatever 2020 brings, the one thing I can clearly see ahead is change. And instead of dreading it, I’m choosing to embrace it.

Columns

Go home chicken, you’re drunk

Tears poured from my eyes as I thumbed through the pages. My sides ached with laughter. I snorted. I guffawed. I giggled.

Who would think a cookbook could provoke such hilarity?

Just when I caught my breath, I spotted a recipe for Pheasant- All Drunk and Spunky, and I howled again.

But first a little background. My mother collected recipes like there might not ever be another Dorothy Dean column or Campbell’s soup cookbook. She clipped them from newspapers, magazines, flour bags and shortening cans. She filed them in index card boxes and three-ring binders. Cookbooks lined a shelf in her kitchen and filled drawers in her buffet. Even after my dad died and she didn’t have anyone to cook for, she kept on clipping.

Her cookies were legendary. For years, she supplied my boys with enough baked goods to feed a small platoon. Her dessert plates were the first to be emptied at every church potluck.

In recent years, she tried to downsize. I’m not sure which sibling ended up with her battered copy of Irma Rombauer’s “The Joy of Cooking,” but she gave me my grandmother’s vintage “Good Housekeeping Cookbook” and her own copy of “Better Homes and Garden Cookbook,” which I still haul out every time I bake apple pies.

My recipe box is filled with her handwritten recipe cards.

When she moved into a retirement home, the cookbooks and clipping collection had to go. I didn’t have time to sort through her recipe-filled envelopes, but somehow I snagged a cookbook and brought it home before her house sold.

With the holidays approaching, I finally sat down to go through it. The 270-page cookbook has no cover, no back and no title. I have no idea who produced it. I think I grabbed it because it features Mom’s handwritten commentary. Some recipes had checkmarks or stars. Some said “try,” and others had “good!” written next to them.

The source of my amusement came from the many, many recipes that called for some kind of booze.

Mom is such a stringent teetotaler that she’s never even purchased cooking wine or sherry. She certainly never had the ingredients for Drunk Chicken, or Bourbon-Pecan cake, or New Bacardi Chocolate Rum cake. And even if she had the ingredients for Beer and Sauerkraut Fudge Cake, I can’t imagine that she’d inflict that on anyone.

It’s wasn’t only the alcohol-laden recipes that gave me giggles, just the names of some of the recipes induced mirth.

Creeping Crust Cobbler anyone? How about some Liver Surprise? (Spoiler alert, the surprise is cinnamon, or maybe it’s the applesauce.) Beef Birds with Olive Gravy gave me pause, but Carrot Loaf- a Meat Substitute made me queasy for hours. The recipe calls for rice, carrots, eggs, milk and peanut butter!

Not every recipe proved as stomach-churning. Amazed, I discovered the original source for Mom’s Five-Hour Stew, her Busy Day Chicken and Rice, and the zucchini fritter recipe I’d assumed was my grandmother’s. The titleless cookbook is proving to be a treasure.

My husband enjoys my culinary escapades, but he was a bit bewildered last week when he called and asked about our dinner plans.

“I thought about making Pheasant- All Drunk and Spunky,” I said.”But catching a pheasant and getting it drunk, seemed like a lot of work. And how can you tell if a pheasant’s spunky?”

“Uh…” Derek murmured.

“Nevermind,” I continued. “We had some poultry in the freezer, but you’d better come home soon.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because the chicken’s already drunk,” I replied.

Unlike my mother, I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the recipe.

Columns

A Trip to Remember

I’m not going to lie. I cried when I hugged him. And then I laughed when he grabbed his father and hoisted him off the ground in a bear hug.

Derek is 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds. No one picks him up – except his second-born son who is an inch shorter and considerably lighter.

Recently, we spent a week in Columbus, Ohio, with our son Alex, his fiancee Brooke and her 4-year-old daughter, Farrah.

We’d planned the trip months ago, hoping to arrive when our grandson was a few weeks old. Sadly, Ian was stillborn on Feb. 23.

I’d wanted to fly out immediately, but now I’m so glad we waited. Alex and Brooke needed that time alone to grieve, to rest and to begin to process the devastating loss.

Our first day together happened to be the one-month anniversary of Ian’s death. We spent time looking at some photos of the baby that we hadn’t seen. Holding the tiny hat he’d worn. Shedding tears over the impossibly light container that held his remains.

“Will we have another Baby Ian?” Farrah asked. “With chubby, red cheeks?”

“Maybe,” Alex answered. “Maybe.”

I was relieved to find how naturally Ian’s name was mentioned – that Alex and Brooke are able to talk about him. While their broken hearts will never be fully mended, talking about their son and his death shows they’re grieving in a healthy way and that will help the healing.

Of course, our visit wasn’t all sad. Derek got to meet Farrah for the first time.

After a few minutes of observation and conversation, she announced, “I love you, Papa Derek.”

The feeling was definitely mutual.

As planned, one of the first things I did was bake an apple pie for my son. It’s been four years since he moved from Spokane – way too long for a boy to go without his favorite treat.

While Brooke rested, and Alex and Derek caught up, Farrah helped me in the kitchen.

She giggled as I sifted flour into the mixing bowl.

“It’s snowing in the kitchen!” she squealed.

And when I rolled out the crust, she eagerly helped “squish” it.

The next day we treated Alex and Brooke to a date night, featuring dinner, a movie, and a long nap, and Derek and I earned our grandparenting gold stars by taking Farrah to Chuck E. Cheese.

When she was pizza’d and soda’d up, we took her back to our hotel for a swim.

Let’s just say Miss Farrah, Nana Cindy and Papa Derek all slept extremely well that night.

Then we hit the road with Alex for a day trip to Cleveland.

Our first stop was the “Christmas Story House,” the actual house where our family’s favorite holiday movie, “A Christmas Story,” was filmed.

The home has been restored to its movie splendor, complete with the leg lamp, shining in the window. Visitors can pick up Ralphie’s official Daisy Red Ryder BB gun that’s tucked behind the Christmas tree, and climb into Randy’s hiding spot under the kitchen sink.

Alex, 25, handled the BB gun without shooting his eye out, and squeezed into Randy’s cupboard. However, he declined to taste the Lifebuoy soap that rested in the bathroom soap dish.

Having experienced his own soap-in-the-mouth experience as a child (Irish Spring), he didn’t feel inclined to risk soap poisoning again.

From there we drove to the iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located on the shores of Lake Erie. We wandered through several floors of exhibits highlighting the history of rock ’n’ roll and celebrating the artists who influenced its development.

My most pressing question (besides why Bon Jovi doesn’t have its own wing) remained unanswered until I returned home to Google it. Why is there a giant hot dog suspended in the middle of the museum?

Turns out the 15-foot flying frankfurter was used as a prop by the band Phish.

It must have wielded a strong influence over Derek. How else to explain why the following day he ordered the Big Dawg at the famed Thurman Cafe in Columbus? The 1-pound footlong Coney Island features the cafe’s Coney sauce – a secret family recipe that’s been homemade since 1942.

Yes, he ate the whole thing, and didn’t even have heartburn later.

On our last night in Columbus, I made Alex’s most requested birthday dinner – white chicken chili. The fragrance of garlic, onion and cumin filled the townhouse.

“When Nana Cindy’s cooking in the kitchen I am starving!” Farrah said.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye.

We had laughed. We had cried. We’d made memories.

I can’t think of a better way to honor Ian.

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Alex on top of the “E” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Columns

Zucchini: The Sequel

“We went on vacation – the squash did not,” Cindy Hval said in an email about Tuesday’s harvest, shown. “It’s like the zucchini are mocking me.” (Cindy Hval / The Spokesman-Review) “We went on vacation – the squash did not,” Cindy Hval said about Tuesday’s harvest, shown. “It’s like the zucchini are mocking me.”

Every great adventure deserves and sometimes demands a sequel. Such is the case with my previous column about surplus squash.

When I wrote about the Great Zucchini Invasion of 2017, readers responded with recipes, suggestions of where to donate the surplus, and offers to take some zucchini off my hands – or countertops.

It turned out that reader response to the column was as prolific as, well, zucchini.

The irony was in the few days after the column ran: My harvest trickled down to near nothing. In fact, I almost put away the grater and the freezer bags, but then I blinked. Yep. More zucchini and the giveaway began anew.

A Facebook friend stopped by to take a few. My monthly writers group met at my home – each writer took home helpful critiques, encouraging words. And zucchini.

I hosted my annual Great Gazebo Girlfriend Gathering and sent the ladies home with a squash or two, except for one friend who sneaked out without taking her fair share. That’s OK. I know where she lives.

And, of course, we celebrated National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch day on Aug. 8. We may have celebrated a bit too much as most of our neighbors are still avoiding us.

Yet the zucchini just kept on coming. An online commenter offered this solution: “Cindy, if you put your surplus crop in a box at curbside with a FREE label, no one will take them. But if you label the zucchini $1 each, someone will steal them after dark. Problem solved.”

Others requested some of the recipes I mentioned in the column, so I’ve included a few of those here.

Speaking of recipes, a reader offered to send me a recipe for zucchini relish and pickles. Both sound wonderful, but the recipe requires canning and I’m not quite that desperate. Yet.

One reader offered to trade farm fresh eggs for zucchini, and I just may take her up on that.

Others suggested nonprofit organizations that might welcome fresh produce.

Mary Ellen Gaffney-Brown said Meals on Wheels gives out fresh produce every Wednesday. I called the organization to confirm and discovered that they often welcome veggie donations, but cautioned readers to call first.

Barbara Hill notified me of a wonderful program run by Refugee Connections. These folks actually come to your garden, glean it, and then donate the produce to the East Central Community Center.

Another fun way to share garden goodness is to take it to your local library for a produce swap. The summer bounty program sponsored by Spokane County Library District invites folks to bring their extra fresh produce to select branches, and take home something different from another garden. Leftovers are taken to a local food bank and the produce swaps continue in September.

So if you find yourself swimming in surplus squash, don’t despair. It turns out there are plenty of ways to share the wealth. That said, sequels are fine, but I’m really hoping the Great Zucchini Invasion won’t become a trilogy.