Bagels

One of my apartments in Salem Massachusetts was right downtown. Parking was a pain (as was grocery shopping and carrying all the things home) but it was nice to walk downstairs and a block away was a CVS for those last-minute needs. There were at least three bookstores that I remember and quite a few tourist traps that leaned toward the witch history of the town.

The best however was Red’s Sandwich shop. It was down the stairs make right and one door down. It was your ultimate local deli spot. For breakfast I would get a cheese omelet. Growing up, we did not go out to eat much and certainly not for breakfast. My mother did excel in the area of breakfast but eating breakfast out was foreign to me. Therefore, I did not really have a yardstick to measure the differences in East Coast vs. Midwest style food. The omelet at Red’s was flat, like open a napkin put in cheese flip it over and done. In contrast, here in Indiana the one breakfast place we frequent (ok both of them) has giant omelets, at least two inches high and so large we always just split one.

bagels, store bought but boiled

But you are here for the bagels. The bagels were pure East Cost bagels. They were boiled, which gave them the crispy on the outside, dense and chewy on the inside. At Red’s they would take the bagel slather it with butter and put it face down on the grill. Once golden brown, it was tossed onto a plate (the grill area was open behind the counter with individual stools so you could watch all this magic and there was a lot of tossing of foods), a chunk of cream cheese was cut off and slapped on top and the whole thing served to you to devour. I fell deeply in love with bagels.

When I returned to the Midwest, my love of bagels waned. I could not pinpoint it, but they just didn’t taste the same. They were not crunch on the outside and dense on the inside. They just seemed like bread in a different shape.

I have a friend who we frequently have coffee and catch up at her house. She is an amazing cook and originally from New York. On our last get together, she told me to come with an appetite as she had made bagels. They were amazing and she made them! As she walked me through the process (let’s be honest, I am never going to have the patience to do this, I barely have the patience to let them thaw from the freeze before I toast them!), I realized what was missing in the bagels here. Boiling them. I still cannot fathom the idea of boiling dough but it works, wow does it work! Now I just need a giant flat top grill and a huge chunk of cream cheese.

Vegetable Soup

First off, not a fan.

My husband and I have had talks about vegetable soup. His memories are a bit fonder. His father did most of the cooking growing up. As his mom was a nurse, the two of them could work their schedules so that one parent was home with the kids most of the time. This was one of the reasons my father-in-law did a lot of the cooking and became quite good at it. Also, his Navy time where he worked in the kitchen. He would sit and chop vegetables for what seemed like forever. Each piece very precise and similar in shape and size. If I were to guess, this was from his Navy days, small pieces cook faster not to mention the military is known for uniformity. If there was meat in the vegetable soup, it would be hamburger but more often than not, it was meat free.

Now in my house, when this pot came out from behind all the day to day use pots, I knew two things 1) we had company coming or there was little to no food until payday and 2) I was going to be hungry.

The pot that signaled vegetable soup was near

Can I just say how discouraging it was to try and find a picture of this pot, and it is not exact? I swear ours had actual handles but the coloring with the fad red to brown is spot on. I finally ended up entering vintage red stock pot. Vintage bah!

I regress, if no company was coming I knew it was a long time until payday and we would be seeing soup the next few days. This vegetable soup had any vegetable that could be found in the crisper, regardless of age and bags of cheap frozen vegetables, rarely was there meat, even hamburger in this soup. The one served for company always had hamburger. When I reflect back, I am not sure I ever remember anything getting chopped to put in the soup; more an opening of cans and frozen bags of vegetables. Maybe a fresh onion or two.

I find it interesting how the same food can trigger so very different memories in people. Apparently, my paternal grandmother made vegetable soup as my cousin excitedly texted on of the cold winter days that she was making our grandmother’s recipe. My text bubble said, great! Enjoy!! My thought bubble said, Damn glad we are 3 hours apart!

Scones

If you had asked me 15 years ago my dream vacation location, I would have said Ireland. If you asked today, I would say Ireland. Unless it is the middle of winter and I just finished shoveling snow and then I would say any warm island. When I returned from my trip those many years ago, I told my mom that I now knew what Green smelled like.

Me in Ireland

While there, I insisted we stop for tea and scones on our last leg of the trip when we were in Dublin. Yes, it was very touristy but this was something I had dreamed of. I must say when the first brought the tea and that tiny thing on the side of the cup! I was NOT impressed.

Tea and Scone

Turned out that was not the scone. Silly Tourist.

I am pretty sure that we had tea and scones when we arrived at the first bed and breakfast after we got to Ireland, but I was so darn tired, she could have fed me stale white bread and I would have smiled.

My other scone adventure was in London on the recommendation of a friend. It was a plate for tea. And when we got to pick our “one last thing” on the final day, mine was go back for the Plate for Tea.

Plate for Tea in London

I do not make very yummy scones. I try. But I am always a tad (or more than a tad) disappointed. I did find some decent scones at a bakery once and took them to my mom. I was eager for her to enjoy this amazing treat only to have her say to me, tastes like a glorified biscuit to me. I ate the rest for her. Maybe I should have served it with tea.

Now in her defense, my entire life she made biscuits from scratch. Cut the Crisco into the flour, add the other dry ingredients, milk, roll them out, cut into circles and baked. They were amazing. My idiot brother, when we were in middle school, complained one time about “how we can’t have them from a can like the rich kids”.

To me, scones and tea make me feel fancy and relaxed. I will keep trying to perfect mine and when I do, I will be sure to share the recipe.

Over the Falls

My husband and I got married on Tunnels Beach on Kauai. It was magical. Needless to say, we have been back more than a few times. If only the plane ride from the middle of the United States were a bit shorter, we would go even more.

Wedding Sunset

We explored mostly the North Shore of the island. There were so many local places to eat and try. We tried very hard to not go back to what we knew (and liked) and keep trying new places. It was hard. We did frequent our breakfast spot (and Mermaid’s Café for fish tacos) more than once. We stumbled upon this very small coffee shop in Hanalei that had excellent coffee (slightly abrupt waitstaff) and “Over the Falls” stuffed French toast. Why not? we thought.

Over the Falls

It was amazing, ok more a dessert than a breakfast but the perfect Vacation Breakfast. The toast was stuffed with this amazing custard and then topped with crushed pineapple and then whipped cream. The first time we ordered we both got our own … we shared one going forward with a shared plate of eggs and meat to help balance the sugar high.

I have tried other stuffed French toast, but it is not the same. Maybe it was being on vacation or sitting out on the deck, sometimes listening to it rain, sometimes listening to the birds and watching the waterfalls come down the mountain. A delight for all the senses.

Gravy

I come from a long line of people who can make really good white sauce and gravy from, well to be honest, it seemed like flour, milk and magic. There was never any measuring going on. It was a plop of this, spoon of that. It was just use the “fixin’s” or the left over grease, it is easy. My father made excellent sausage gravy (if a bit too spicy for me). My mom was the goddess of white sauce… creamed spinach, creamed beef on toast, creamed hard boiled egg on toast.

My own family? For years, they have gotten Thanksgiving gravy from a jar (with a bit of cut up turkey in to hopefully distract from the jar quality). Ok, I also even put it in a pan on the stove and hide the jar in the bottom of the trash.

One time I said to my mother, I would REALLY like for you to write down your White Sauce Recipe. It is very handy thing to know and I cannot make it. She eye rolled me and told me there isn’t a “recipe” ; you just put flour in and milk and let it come to boil. But how MUCH I would ask. And she would tell me, when it looks right, you know.

She then made me a recipe card… that she had copied out of the Betty Crocker cookbook. But also the following recipe card, that reads pretty much like she tried to explain to me a zillion times. It makes me smile to read it.

White Sauce Recipe – Side 1
White Sauce Recipe – Side 2
White Sauce Recipe – Side 3
White Sauce Recipe – Side 4

I have learned in just the last few years to make a white sauce (it is pretty much an adaptation of a Chicken Pot Pie recipe I have found) and she was right, once you make it enough… when it looks right, you know.

Banana Bread

And March begins. Let’s take stock, how did February go for you? I found the prompt of people to be quite difficult. Some people I had to narrow down by event and other people I just felt that I did not do them justice. There were a few ideas in my notebook, I just didn’t have the ability to remove myself enough to write about yet. I think that prompts that start small seems easier and lend themselves to more detailed written accounts. Hopefully Food does a better job and is a bit more fun. Onward!

***

My whole life my mother would make homemade banana bread. She had two loaf pans and when I saw those being prepped with Crisco and flour, I knew what the day would hold. With hindsight and age, I realize she was just not wasting food as I was very particular about the ripe range in which I would eat my banana.

No nuts were ever involved in the bread as my brother did not like nuts. I honestly never even thought about nuts being in the bread until I went out into the world on my own. I am not sure what was better, that first warm slice once it came out from the oven, or the next day toasted with a warm, soft center and slightly crispy outside. They both were delicious.

My son and my mother also made lots of loaves of banana bread together. We would go down for a visit. They would insist that I leave so they could do important grandson and grandma things and I would return to find loaves of fresh bread or a pan of brownies. My mom was the queen of letting a kid be a kid and she would later share pictures of him covered in batter and “helping”.

ok this is brownie batter but you get the idea of how my son helped

We would all devour one loaf and then she would carefully wrap the other one in foil and send it home with us. I would keep it in the freezer and then one day when we both needed a pick me up, take it out and we would feast. She died over eight years ago and we still have the last loaf in the freezer. I am sure it is freezer burnt and not very yummy but it is a reminder of a wonderful time for both of us.

At her visitation, along with the cards of memory, I made copies of the recipe that people could take home with them and attempt a new tradition in their homes in her memory.

front side of the recipe card
side of of the recipe card

Connie Lakes

As I mentioned, I started a brand-new school in first grade. We had moved to the town not that long before the start of school and while I knew a lot of business owners (my parents ran a hobby shop downtown) and the librarians (because they rock), I did not know a lot of people my own age. My mother would help this later by being a leader of my Brownie troop, but I started first grade being the new girl.

Mrs. Lakes was my first-grade teacher. She was young, newly married and working to finish her teaching master’s degree. She had kind eyes and long straight brown hair. I was instantly in love with her and wished if I had an older sister, it would be exactly like her.

Part of finishing her degree needed a student to conduct testing with or something. I honestly have no idea what we did or how long it took or what. All I knew was 1) I was important to be selected because this meant my favorite teacher liked me and 2) she and her husband took me to dinner as a thank you. We were not a family used to going to restaurants. I am sure we did, but I cannot picture the four of us out to dinner. Even when company came, it was always a big meal in the dining room; birthdays were the same way. When we finished, Bill and Connie took me to the mall (45 minutes away) to Morrison’s Cafeteria and they said, pick whatever you want. There was so much food! They let me have my own tray! I could pick ANY DESSERT I WANTED and didn’t have to finish all my food to eat it. It was amazing. I felt like such an adult.

Connie is big on Christmas ornaments. I have never seen her house at Christmas, but she has given me one as a wedding gift with the date on it and one for my brother’s passing. Her mother died the week of my mother’s funeral. She sent a lovely card and note. Telling me that she had always looked up to my mom and was so glad she had her as a scout leader. The tone of the note and the special place my mother had in her life sounded a lot like how I feel about Connie.

We have snail-mailed in the last few years during the pandemic. Talking about getting together and catching up. She lives four houses down from my mother-in-law but still we have not been able to make it work. I do hope it is a summer thing. I would love to pick her brain more about my mother as her scout leader.

This picture not only has Connie (top row, third in) but me (four more pictures over) and two of my husband’s cousins. Oh and of course Charles.

And aside, as much as I love Connie, it was her classroom that one of my sayings has its roots. When something in the nation or at work or in life happens, when the larger masses are punished for the stupidity of a smaller group or one person, I tend to say Charles was throwing scissors. I am old enough that we had room monitors when the teacher left the classroom. One child was appointed to stand in the front middle of the classroom and watch for any infractions in the teacher’s absence. As we learned, it had to be pretty bad for you to tell on the other kids because then you got labeled. However, Charles, who would have benefited from a more one on one style of teaching, would use that opportunity to throw his scissors at the room monitor. This then led to a chorus of CHARLES THREW HIS SCISSORS AT (fill in the blank) when she got back. And then we would all miss recess. With the value of age, I see the point of trying to teach chain of command and not tattling. I will, however, go to my grave using ‘Charles threw scissors’ as an exasperation of managements decisions.

Connie was an amazing teacher and exactly what I needed that first year as the new girl. Hopefully in the coming year I can tell her all that and listen to her stories (ok and also write them down afterwards).

Dad – Music Edition

Some of my best memories of my father involve music.

In my formative years, we attended a Baptist church in the next town. It was a bit fire and brimstone. I remember being quite worried for the preacher as he grew red-faced, sweaty and pounded the pulpit. I never thought of us much as a religious family but more a church going family. Your belief was just expected but not really discussed. Anyway, the choir was a big part of the church as was singing. We had at least 3-4 songs during the service and the choir would sing yet another one. I remember seeing my dad up there in the bass section wearing his mint green leisure suit, singing the parts I could only dream of singing and feeling so proud. I was sure he sang even deeper than Harold Reid.

Growing up we had a record player in a credenza that my father built (and apparently had written loving things to my mother on the inside doors; I only discovered this one day when after the divorce the credenza doors were missing and I saw them burning in the brush pile out back). My father played mostly what I would consider Old Johnny Cash albums and the like. Rock Island Line is probably the Cash song that makes me think of him the most, with Daddy Sang Bass a strong second and Hey Porter rounding out the top three.

I know there are like a million other things to focus on in this picture, but mostly it is the credenza you are to be looking at!

The credenza also held Hank Williams (Sr), Charlie Pride and Jim Reeves LPs. But those make me think of my mother more than my dad.

He got the big black beast; it had shag carpet in the back and an 8 track tape player. When he would pick us up for his weekly visits, we would get to pick what 8 track went in. This expanded our mutual music experience to include The Statler Brothers, Willy Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Ricky Scaggs (one of the few of concerts I have attended in my life) and Merle Haggard. His second wife introduced Anne Murray and John Denver to the mix (not going to lie, 30+ years later, I still change the channel if they come on or hit skip).

Me, Dad and the Beast

He plunged deep into Bluegrass as I discovered the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and 80s music. Our relationship was one of varying degrees of closeness and our music tastes ebbing and flowing in similar fashion. Towards the end of his life we were back to suggesting songs to each other. I had just sent him a link to Lyle Lovett’s That’s Right, You’re Not From Texas and he had suggested I check out John Prine.

There are two songs that are not Cash or Statler Brothers related that make me think the most of my dad, and oddly it is because we danced to them at two different weddings. Both songs instantly conjure him in my mind.

The first was at my cousin’s wedding (his niece). He was out on the dance floor cutting a rug, if you will and told me to come out and dance with him. I am not a huge dance person but he insisted, so I joined and we shook it to Love Shack by the B52. I know, you are as surprised as I was that this became a memory. It does make me smirk a bit when it happens.

The last song is Crazy by Patsy Cline. He asked me to dance with him at my step-sister’s wedding. Not on the dance floor but quietly standing in the shadows by the table as we were standing there. Seemed we had come full circle both in our relationship and music-wise.

James David Scharf

My uncle Jim was my mom’s older (by two years) brother. From pictures, it looks like they spent a good deal of time together growing up. This makes sense as they lived down on the Ohio River and there were not a lot of other children around. Their younger brother did not show up until about ten years after my mother.  

Jim and Susan

Later they appeared friendly but there was a distance involved. My uncle was a very driven man. He enlisted in the Army after graduating from Purdue University. He was in the Vietnam War and continued with the military until he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. It was his desire to leave his small hometown see the world, and he did. I feel his siblings never felt that way, their town was plenty big for them, and there were some hard feelings with regards to him leaving. I had similar struggles with my brother and departure from our growing up town, so maybe I am projecting or maybe that is what bound my Uncle and I.

Jim Scharf

My Uncle married Aunt Carolyn and they had three children. Their youngest child, Anne was three months younger than I, and killed by a drunk driver when we were in high school. I could not fathom it in 1985, and I still cannot fathom how that changes a person today.

Jim was big on promises, less big on follow through. That was fine to me as when he did follow through, it was always clutch and amazing. He and Julie (his second wife) would sometimes be at Christmas, sometimes not. One year they dropped in and he said what do you want for Christmas. This was the 80s designer jeans, everything with a name on it and I was a kid that saved her money from working at Ponderosa to buy one pair of Calvin Klein jeans and wore them constantly. I told them a Coca Cola Jean Jacket, knowing it was so far out of my budget I would never ever see one. And yet under the tree, it appeared. I still have that jacket, though it doesn’t quite fit as well.

Me looking quite sassy in my new jean jacket

Like I said, he didn’t always follow through. I know he promised his siblings and mother; things that never appeared, but I feel in my heart he always meant to, just some other idea took over or distracted him. He promised me a sherpa rug for my dorm floor. It never appeared but he was there when I needed him more than things.

I went to a college I had never set foot on campus before I arrived Freshman year. We had enough money to send me on a plane there but neither parent was going with me. At the time Jim and Julie were living in Virginia and they agreed to let me ship my boxes of clothes, etc. to them and then meet me at the airport in Boston to make sure I got settled in. This was at a time when Logan airport was one of the few airports that did not allow non passengers down to the gate (but I did not know that). I got off the plane, 40% excited 60% scared to death and there was no one to meet me. I started to walk knowing that at a minimum I needed to get to baggage claim and get my luggage. And there after walking out of security, they were waiting for me. They picked up my luggage, got me settled into my dorm, took me to dinner, quick stop in the bookstore and then went home. When my Uncle died, Julie sent me the college sweatshirt he had picked up for himself that day. It was well worn and made me smile.

While my grandmother was somewhat interested in family history, my Uncle Jim went through a period of time where he was very devoted to genealogy. He taught me about Soundex and how to figure out what microfilm you needed to review (long before the internet and all its wonderful digitalization). He would have me hunt things where I was and shared finds from the National Archives with me. I still have quite a few compilations that he put together and often think how amazed he would be that it is so much easier to find things. And how excited he would be that I am working in the genealogy center in our library.

He built my first resume for me. Showed me how to do it, what to include, what phrasing to use. At that time not a single family member was literate in this art. He took his time, many drafts and patience to teach me this much needed skill to get my first job. I think about him a lot when I update my resume or help a friend with theirs. He was such a quiet, stable part of my life for being someone I saw rarely and I am not sure I even own a picture of the two of us together.

My mom, Uncle and Grandma Scharf

Mom – Rocking Chair Edition

My mother whistled it seemed, constantly. If I ever lost her in a store, I would just listen for whistling. I learned it meant that all was well in her world. I am not even sure I could pinpoint an actual song or tune, I am sure she knew it, it just wasn’t common to me. I don’t remember her really listening to music or the radio except for maybe LPs when I was little. She had bird song cassettes that my son can remember always being on when he would visit her as a child.

We had an old rocking chair (origins unknown, its whereabouts unknown) that she would sit and rock me (and my brother) and sing to us. Maybe bedtime, maybe when we were sad, maybe when we just needed a break. Just a running soundtrack of song after song, in no order, sometimes repeating. Later I realized they were mostly old girl scout songs and folk songs, she had learned at camp (she was a 25+ year girl scout, me not so much).

End page of 2003 Christmas gift – memory book

In 2003, I found a blank book with Maya Angelou quotes and filled it with pictures and things I had written and gave it to her for Christmas. [An aside, if you do have someone you can write things to now, do it. You remember better and those written now things can trigger other memories when you read them later. It hurts if you get them back when the person has passed; but what a wonderful gift to give someone] The following was one of the pages. I think it shows best how I remember her singing to me and the random of the songs but how they all flowed together. (She would sing the whole song before blending into the next; this was more my remembering parts)

The squeak, the creak, the sigh of the rocking chair

Snuggled close, almost too close to hear the words but only the soft rumble of the sound before it is spoken.

‘sweetly sings the donkey at the break of day, if you do not feed him; dark brown is the river, golden is the sand, they flow along forever; make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold; bed it too small for my tiredness, give me a hilltop with trees; Desert silver moon beneath the pale star light, Coyotes yappin’ lazy on the hill; day is done, gone the sun, from the hills; In Dublin’s fair city, where girls are so pretty; A gypsy’s life is free and gay, O faria; Rise up of flame by thy light glowing; Peace I ask of the oh River, peace, peace, peace, when I learn to live serenely cares will cease; Let every good fellow, now join in our song, Vive la compagnie!; Swinging along the open road under a sky that’s clear. Swinging along the open road in the fall of the year; Follow winding paths through the forest, follow gentle streams to lakes of blue; I love to go a wandering along the mountain track and as I go I love to sing, my knapsack on my back; Zum gali gali gali, Zum gali gali.; whener’ you make a promise consider its importance.’

Cuddled in a quilt, surrounded in song and love, safe and at peace.