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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Grandmother Stories from 2006

Sam, just under two years of age, kicked his mother. He was wearing his cousin Burton's shoes at the time, shoes that Burton's mother had handed down to little Sam. I learned of this by phone. I said, "Hi, sweet Sam." And he said, "They're taking my shoes off!" And I asked why. And Sam said, "Because I kicked Mommy when I was wearing Burton's shoes." And I said, "Oh Sam, that isn't a very nice thing to do!" And Sam said, speaking in full sentences as he did from the very beginning of speech, said, "No, Nana. It isn't." The shoes were put away to wait for a wiser Sam.


We were approaching the departure date for our trip to Nova Scotia, where we would be watching Olivia, 6, and Burton, 9, for two weeks. Before we left I got a letter from Olivia, written and spelled by her, asking if, while I'm there, I would make her Halloween costume. So I phoned.


"What do you want to be for Halloween?"


"An M & M," says Livvy. Then later, "or a Jedi" (and what does a Jedi look like? Don't ask ME!). Then later "Princess Leia." And then Burton chimes in with "Or you could be a swizzle (or some such name)" and he described a tiny pink ball-like creature that's part of one of his computer games.


It was going to be an interesting sewing session.


During that same phone conversation I also talked with Burton.


"Nana," he says, "will you teach me to make pinwheels [that's the pastry kind, not the ones that blow in the wind] while you're here? That way I can have some whenever I want."


"Sure," I say.


"Actually, I think it's not really too hard to make them," says Burton, full of untried confidence.


"But the good thing," says the Nana, "is that you'll learn to make pie crust at the same time. So you can make a pie whenever you like."


"Actually," says Burton, "I don't much like pie. I just like pinwheels." So pinwheels it was, not a pie in sight. And at Halloween Livvy was a royal blue M&M, with a costume made from a hula hoop.


Later was another exchange. Burton says, "Nana, I just love the "Yuck" book you made for us. But I think you need to make a "Yum" book, too. I've already started listing things we like. But it's hard to find foods that start with "q".


For the "Yuck" book I used quinoa and quark. Burton says he thinks he likes quinoa now, so maybe we could re-use it with an opposite connotation. I suggest using "quiche." He says he's never heard of a quiche.


I need to talk to his mother about this failure to introduce him to one of the major food groups—the ubiquitous quiche.


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Excellently Improvised Soups

In my mind it's so ordinary to improvise soup (whether or not "excellently") that the doing of it scarcely merits mention.


Winter squash? Cook with onions, garlic, and apple in stock or water. Throw in a potato if you have one. Season with salt and pepper and thyme. Puree. For greater elegance, run the puree through your food mill. Add cream, or milk and butter, or just plain milk.


Vegetable soup? Look in the vegetable crispers for what's on hand. (Omit crucifers unless you want their strong taste.) If you plan to puree this soup, cut veggies into same-sized chunks. For a textured, unpureed soup, cut them carefully into matching dice. Carrots, onions, celery, sweet potato, rutabaga, parsnips, winter greens. Tomatoes (canned or dried). Herb the soup the way you like.


I've never met a soup that wasn't improved by homemade croutons: cube leftover bread and toss with olive oil.

Fry up or bake (if the oven is already on). Sprinkle on soup as you eat it, a few at a time, so they don't get soggy.


The best way to eat soup? Puree it and serve it in a mug, for sipping. Goodness knows my mother taught me the proper way to approach a soup bowl (move the soup spoon away from you as you scoop the soup, sip the soup from the side of the spoon). I can don the mantle of civilization if forced to, sitting at a table and eating my soup with a spoon. But I'd rather lounge on a sofa, feet up, with a mug of hot, pureed soup in one hand and a book in the other, to indulge in my two favourite pastimes at the same time: eating and reading. Which is actually just one favourite pastime: eating-and-reading.

Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 11, 2011


When I lived in Alabama during my first marriage, my parents came to visit us only once. I was perhaps 30 years old, still yearning to be seen by my parents (by my mother) as . . . as what? A daughter to be proud of? A worthy colleague? An equal? I was never sure what it was that I wanted, but I knew unequivocally that I had never gotten it from her.


They drove down from Indiana to stay with us for a long weekend—my husband and I, three children under five, and my parents, all folded into our tiny house for three days. I no longer remember what we ate, but I do remember my determination to make calas for my mother, Eileen.


It's not that there was a family tradition of calas. We have no ties to Louisiana. But I do love doughnuts, and I had always loved my mother's homemade doughnuts (I thought for years that she had invented doughnut holes all by herself). And the idea of making those yeast-raised rice fritters for our breakfast was irresistible.


In the evening, after dinner, I cooked the rice for the calas. Eileen was as excited as I was about having calas for breakfast. I let the rice cool.


Have you ever tried to cool cooked rice? Rice could be used as a heat source in the winter. You think it's cool enough (the coolness is an inch deep), but when you turn over a spoonful you find the center is still steaming. So you wait a bit longer and turn it over again. Cooling rice takes a long time.


I tend to be impatient. I decided it was time to add the softened yeast to the cooled rice and let the mixture rise overnight. So I did it.


And Eileen, having bitten her tongue for as long as she could bear, couldn't resist saying, "I think the rice might still be too hot."


I ignored her advice. It was my home. My kitchen. I was a grown-up. And so I did what she had accused me of doing all my life: I cut off my nose to spite my face.


I went ahead and added the yeast slurry to the rice, along with the other ingredients. And the minute I did it, I knew Eileen was right. (I actually knew it even before I mixed them together, but how could I give in?)


I spent the night waking periodically to send good thoughts to the yeast: please don't be dead! Please show that you were able to overcome the excessive heat of the rice. Please be growing and expanding in the morning.


Alas, my prayers were in vain (rather self-centered prayers that they were: please let me win!!). When I uncovered the bowl in the morning, the rice was inert, the same volume it had been the night before. The yeast had died. The calas were ruined. Eileen had known. And I had failed.


I don't remember what I did. Did I try to deep-fry the rice fritters without leavening, ending up with deep-fried rice-flavoured hockey pucks? Today, I might try to salvage them by leavening them with baking powder, but I didn't think to do that. Maybe I made sourdough pancakes with maple syrup, instead.


But the lesson I took from that failure was that—no, that's a lie. I took no lesson from it, other than the knowledge that I had once again had to swallow my humiliation.


Looking back, however, I see the pattern. I see how desperately I wanted to make my mother proud of me, to accept me. It may have looked, to the world outside, as if I was trying to impress her. But it was simpler than that, and more subtle: I just wanted to get her attention. I was just saying, "Here I AM! LOOK at me!"


I recently sent a piece to the family website commenting on the fact that I never felt that my mother loved me. My dear youngest brother, usually laconic to a fault, wrote back that Eileen loved us all. She just, for reasons related to her own childhood, had no idea how to express it.


One of my teachers used to say, "It is the duty of the parent to inflict the sacred wound." And I'll be durned if we don't all manage to perform that duty, one way or another.


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Some Doughnut Thoughts

If someone asked me to write about cutting a doughnut into pieces, I would have to ask: who would cut a doughnut into pieces? Why would you take that perfect shape—round, with a hole in the middle to ensure that the doughnut fries all the way through—and slice it? It's like slicing a banana. And the only time you should do THAT is to put a piece or two on the tray of the baby's highchair so you can watch the tiny fingers work at picking it up. (The only other time you'd slice a banana is if you live in France and are trying not to look like an uncivilized and wild New World bumpkin. In France, you eat your banana with a knife and fork, the way God intended.)


Where was I? Someone was talking about cutting a doughnut into pieces. I suppose you would do it if you had four people at your tea party and only one doughnut. You could slice it into 12 pieces, each slightly slanted, since you can't slice a round thing into square pieces. Even better, make it 13 pieces, so each person could have three and there would still remain a piece about which to say, "You take that last piece." "No, I couldn't possibly. You take it." And so on, a conversation that could last forever or until someone finally gives in and eats the durned thing.


Of course, since I have recently found that I actually have a wheat allergy, all this talk of doughnuts is academic. I have a choice, says my body. I can avoid wheat and look normal, or I can eat wheat and endure a painful, itchy, bright-red rash on the front of my neck. So far, I prefer to avoid wheat.


There are, as I'm sure everyone knows, seven zillion wheat-free (and gluten-free) recipes, most of them for sweet treats. One cookbook is called BabyCakes after the author's gluten-free bakery in New York City and Los Angeles. The lovely young author is very proud of her doughnuts. Like most wheat-free recipes, this one calls for a combination of oddball flours (in this case, brown rice flour, garbanzo and fava bean flour, potato starch, arrowroot, and the always essential xanthum gum). I haven't yet made myself a batch of wheat-free doughnuts, but I see a baker's dozen in my future, because who can live without doughnuts?

Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor