Thursday, November 13, 2014

When a new freezer just cries out for sustenance

Mother started me baking by standing me on a kitchen chair, wearing one of her aprons, and sifting flour for a cake. Back then, flour was sifted three times before mixing and baking. Mother covered the table with newspaper to catch the plops and clouds of flour I made with my vigorous turning of the handle of the sifter. I still have a sifter, and an egg beater. I still use them to cook.

I used to love to cook, and especially to bake. I have done little of either in recent years. So it is with trepidation I have decided to make a number of the old fruit breads I used to make and give for gifts. I like gifts like that--the receiver feels no obligation back, and usually is pleased. Surely habits from many years will kick in.

There's a story to the decision. Like so many things it starts with something Bad and segues into something Good.

A few weeks ago, the old freezer I had loaded to the gills died--still trying, so its' little light was on. But it was dead, and completely warm inside as I discovered when I finally smelled Something and lifted the lid. Dead, deader, deadest. Putrifying. My daughter-in-law, recovering from surgery, helped me more than she should have, and so did my 12-year-old granddaughter, who gagged but never threw up through all. We sacked and taped the bags closed and filled one tall square garbage can and one fairly large,but shorter, round can. Older son, when he got off work, re-bagged the lot in contractor's bags in an attempt to curb the smell. The cans stayed by my garage until the night before pickup. This was pretty warm weather, and the packing happened on Saturday. I took the cans to the road on Tuesday night. Ugh! horrific smell. Slight breeze from the north. I cleaned up and left for a meeting.

When I came back, a honking big truck with several lights was in the street, a couple other pickup trucks, and several people were standing around in small groups. I parked the car and headed for the door. My neighbor came running over to tell me she had called Atmos Power Company for a bad gas leak--it must be really bad because the smell was so strong. But the professionals couldn't find it. Everyone agreed it was an urgent situation.

I told her I didn't think it was a gas leak but my putrifying meat in the cans. Rotting meat and the rotten egg smell they add to natural gas smell pretty similar.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Pretty sure," I answered. "Go tell them about my garbage cans."

The discarded freezer was still stashed on the side with its' door propped open.

Ten minutes later they had all left, and I don't think anyone even checked to make sure it was the sundry beef (I will mourn those beautiful roasts I got at a price I may never see again), two turkeys, a ham, and various chicken parts.

So the poor garbage men came--I need to do something nice for them at Christmas--and the empty freezer was hauled away. And I started shopping the internet for a replacement. I found it last weekend--an upright Fridgidaire frost-free. It was delivered and put into place on Tuesday. It is very large and very empty. And I used to make those breads, freeze the same day they came out of the oven, and give at Christmas. Plenty of time. Wish I still had my old recipe for banana bread. It was so old, the oil it called for was bacon grease. It made light, moist bread that could be sliced in quarter-inch slices. I made a test loaf of a recipe on the internet and it wasn't too bad. Very moist, flavorful, but I'd like a little more flavor.

So--I'm baking. I forgot the sour cream for the chocolate bread recipe I found. I hope that's a winner. I'm thinking of sneaking some instant coffee granules into the cocoa when I mix it. Forgot the orange juice for the cranberry nut bread, and after two stores, finally found some mincemeat for a couple loaves of mincemeat bread with orange zest. I'll add nuts and cranberries and hope it turns out similar to an old favorite. Have everything for the pear bread with lemon zest. That's a good one, too. Pumpkin bread? Eh. Most people will make their own, I think.

A couple of mincemeat loaves? Well, each loaf takes two cups of mincemeat, which is really fruits cooked with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. It used to be used for pies. Each $6 jar probably has about two cups. (The 20-something clerk at one grocery said carefully, "I've never heard of minced meat." Ah, well.)

I may not ever be able to get it, or afford to get it again unless I make the stuff. Which I could.

But that's another year.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Coping with more and more Christmas hucksterism

Last Saturday, Nov. 1, an area car dealership advertised an Event with refeshments, fun, fun, fun, and a visit from Santa.

Even the kids I know were surprised.

The Christmas trees have been in the stores, all decorated, since September.

But even before the last polling place closed on Nov. 4, the Christmas ads were starting. I wish I didn't let this continuous annoyance depress me, but it kinda does.

Poor Thanksgiving. Only in the grocery stores is it even mentioned, and I LIKE Thanksgiving. Good food with people I like. Good talk and laughter. Then everyone goes home and you can take a nap. Or (shudder) go shopping. It is such a freedom holiday, overall. Well, for me, anyway.

And I think the stretching of the season all started with artificial Christmas trees. Flameproof, fairly realistic, artificial Christmas trees with cooler, perpetual little lights all over them. Not one string, or two, or even three. Little lights ALL over, jostling the ornaments for a place on the branches.

The trees had to be invented and brought into the marketplace. No way could every home have a fresh Christmas tree, although a fair number still do. And the prices are, well, pricy. They may have been cut a month before, and the shelf-life expires with a tinkling of browning needles on the floor. But they smell so good. AND a formerly live tree won't make it to Christmas Day if you put it up too early.

The Christmases of my childhood sported freshcut trees from the nearby mountains. Our tree went up Dec. 15 or later, and the shopping didn't start much before then. No television either, grasshopper. (That always convinces children I am really, really old.) How naïve we were, not to market the holiday for all it is worth but instead, take leisure time during the holidays for those remembered cookies, candies, and even grandma's fruit cake. Funny about that. Hear tell times were more prosperous then, and college graduates could always find a job. Better than dreaming of sugar plums. (I don't think I have ever seen one, much less tasted it.)

Artificial Christmas trees in most of the homes I know where children live go up after the meal on Thanksgiving Day. We have a local radio station that plays nothing but Christmas songs for the month of December, and I believe they now include November. So many find them cheery and fun. After the 20th playing of "Holly Jolly Christmas"(and no one in the Southwest has holly), I go postal. It doesn't have to be in one day. Over a week would be plenty.

I don't mind the lights on houses because they are pretty. Also,with any luck for the neighbors, silent. I am a big fan of the silent enjoyment of Christmas. Seldom heard today.

And it all started with artificial Christmas trees.

I can't get away from the ads entirely--I have to listen to the news, although public television has quite a good news program. I have 3-4 programs I watch now, with their approximately 20 minutes of the hour in ads. I have shopping to do, and as usual, nothing advertised is what I am getting. This year I have to go online, because it's not on sale in the stores, either. As usual, gifts for my adult sons confound and puzzle me.

I don't begrudge shopping for my family, and I actually enjoy it close to Christmas--like the week before. But the constant hype and jolliness is wearing.

In my neck of the plains, I am known as "The Grinch."

Still, even I have one of those pesky trees.

This is my annual rant. It comes earlier each year.

When I see lighted artificial trees for sale on my birthday in August, I may start a movement.

For now, Christmas, once a lovely holiday, is my least favorite of the year. But enough for now.

I have to go shopping for myself.

I always buy a book I really, really want to read about now, put it in the closet, and start it sometime on Christmas Day. When I had children at home, it was a way of unwinding after the busy day. After the divorce, with the children gone for the day, it was my celebration for myself. It still is. I think it takes more self-control not to open it early now than it used to.

It just sits there, calling my name.

And it isn't even fattening.