Friday, April 18, 2008

Brainstorming and Meat Loaf

My Mother is the one person in the world that I admired the most. She had the knack, the intelligence and the drive to resolve any dilemma or problem. She and my Dad made an excellent team with her brainstorming and his mechanical aptitude. Many times I would hear them discussing how to attack a problem starting with “What if a guy took and…” and working together to try different variations. It was really something to watch the essence of cooperation between them. Almost always they could devise an acceptable solution that was creative yet simple and impressive.

I can still remember how Mom would address a situation. You could practically see the wheels turning as she considered the potential options, weighing each of them in turn until she had selected the first one to try. She then quietly proceeded to make it work one way or another through a series of trials and errors. She instilled in me that there is always more than one way to accomplish a goal. In many cases, she was able to reach a resolution at essentially no cost except for the investment of some time and some tinkering. I also learned that a homemade solution was much more satisfying than spending good money for an inferior product.

A prime example occurred when I was about six years old and my older sisters needed desks on which to do their homework. A good education for all of us kids was important to my parents, even though Dad never went to high school and Mom didn’t go to college. They could have bought new desks, but instead they built their own. I had an uncle who worked in a factory that made Formica kitchen sets and he brought home salvaged pieces of Formica. Dad scrounged through his brother’s stash of material until he had enough matching pieces to make not one but two desks.

Mom & Dad worked together to design two sturdy desks with wrought iron legs and three drawers on one side. One desk was yellow and the other white, with wooden trim painted black to match the wrought iron legs and wooden knobs on the drawers. Both desks made the rounds among us kids, both while we were at home and later when we had our own homes and even our own children. In fact, the desks have held up remarkably intact for over fifty years. Not many purchased furniture pieces would have survived for as long.

When we were working on projects that take a lot of time and concentration, an easy solution to the question “What’s for supper?” is to put dinner in the oven. After an hour or so of tantalizing aromas, supper is ready for the whole family to enjoy.

1 ½ lbs lean Ground Beef
3/4 C Oatmeal
1 C Tomato Sauce
1 Egg
1 Onion, diced
1 ½ t Salt
½ t Dry Mustard
¼ t Pepper
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Mix all ingredients in large bowl.
• Shape into loaf in 9 x 13 pan sprayed with non-stick coating.
• Bake for 1 ½ hours at 350 degrees.
NOTE: This makes a great meal when potatoes are baked at the same time.
Serve with Ketchup as desired.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Just today I noticed that my rhubarb is starting to sprout out of the ground, which is a sure sign of spring! When it finally matures enough to pick, I will make one of Mom's luscious Rhubarb Custard Pies.

This recipe is unique from other rhubarb pies in that it has a creamy custard center rather than a sugary one. Since this was the only type of rhubarb pie I had ever tasted until I was grown up, I was unpleasantly surprised to try other kinds. They just seemed to be a waste of good rhubarb!

1 unbaked Pie Shell, 8"
2 Eggs
2 T Milk
1 1/2 C Sugar
3 T Flour
1/2 t Nutmeg
3 C Rhubarb, sliced
2 t Butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Beat Eggs & Sugar. Add Milk, Sugar, Flour & Nutmeg. Blend well.
Fold in Rhubarb. Pour into Pie Shell. Dot with Butter.
Bake at 400 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes until golden brown.

Top with lattice crust.
For larger pie, use 9" Pie Shell and increase all other ingredients by half.

8 Servings

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Fluffy Lemon Cheesecake

Until I went away to college, this was the only type of cheesecake I had ever eaten. The first time I had New York style cheesecake, I thought it was too thick and grainy. Eventually, however, I learned to like its heavy texture.

I still find the Fluffy Lemon Cheesecake to be a deliciously lighter version of a cheesecake and much more palatable after a big holiday dinner.

Fluffy Lemon Cheesecake

1 box Lemon Gelatin
1 C Hot Water
1 can Milnot, beaten stiff
8 oz. Cream Cheese
1 C Sugar
2 t Vanilla
1 pkg Graham Crackers
½ stick Margarine, melted

• Mix Gelatin & Water together. Let stand until cool.
• Make crust with crushed Crackers and Margarine in 9 x 13 pan, reserving ½ C Crumb mixture.
• Beat Cream Cheese, Sugar & Vanilla until creamy.
• Pour into prepared pan, top with reserved crumbs.
• Refrigerate overnight.
NOTE: Milnot is a canned milk substitute that can be whipped to make a topping similar to whipped cream. It was kept as a staple in every home, especially because it did not need to be refrigerated.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Family Recipe for Apple Crisp


Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons with the start of the new school year, foliage beginning to change and the onset of cooler days and nights. One of our memorable pastimes was to pick our own apples in a local orchard.

We brought our own containers - a variety of boxes, bushel baskets and tubs. For consistency in measuring how much we picked, the orchard provided their own bushel baskets to use during the picking process, then the apples were gently transferred to our own. It was lucky for us that they could not measure how many apples we managed to eat while picking.

There was an especially bountiful harvest one autumn when my son Jason was six years old. He and I had recently moved back to my hometown after living in the "City", that is, anywhere north of Interstate 80 as far as my Dad was concerned. It was a beautiful cool, crisp day with the sun shining as we drove to the orchard with Mom & Dad.

The trees were just covered with big juicy apples that year: Jonathans, Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious and McIntosh. Naturally, we had to grab the biggest shiniest ones to taste test before we could begin picking.

As we moved from tree to tree, Jason delighted in running ahead to survey the next target and cry, "Wow, look at all the big ones in THIS tree!" It was so easy to get caught up in the moment of fun & discovery that the four of us ended up picking seven full bushels of apples.

That was a huge amount of apples for us or for anyone. Fortunately, I had an old spare refrigerator in my garage, so we were able to pack it full with the apples that didn't fit into our main refrigerators. With all that food stockpiled, we stuffed ourselves (as well as family, friends and neighbors) with all manner of delectable apple delicacies.

We had apple pies, apple crisp, apple cake, apple coffeecake and apple pudding. And still we had more apples.

We had fried apples, caramel apples, taffy apples, apple butter, apple salads, apple muffins and apple dumplings. And still we had more apples.

Jason took bright polished apples to school for his birthday treat, and for his teacher, too. For Christmas, we hung shiny red apples by ribbons onto our tree and made apple pomanders for gifts. And still we had more apples.

We had enough apples to last us all through that Fall and Winter and into Spring. By the time we had finally finished eating all those apples, I realized two things: 1) an apple a day really does keep the doctor away, and 2) I never tired of apples.

An apple a day may keep the Doctor away, but maybe next time we'll try to not get so carried away with picking them.


For a chewier texture, use Old Fashioned (5 Minute) Oatmeal instead of Quick (1 Minute) Oatmeal.

4 C tart Apples, peeled, cored & sliced
3/4 C Brown Sugar, packed
1/2 C Flour
1/2 C Oatmeal
1 tsp ground Cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/3 C soft Margarine

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Lay Apple slices evenly in bottom of greased 8 x 8 pan.
Combine remaining ingredients in small bowl. Sprinkle on top of Apples.
Bake about 30 minutes at 375 degrees, until golden brown.

NOTE: Delicious served warm with Cool Whip or fresh cream.

Add 1/2 C Raisins or dried Cranberries
Add 1/2 C chopped Nuts to topping

6 Servings

Monday, April 7, 2008

Playing Cards & Games

Whenever we started to run out of things to talk about after dinner (and perhaps a few of us had enjoyed a little snooze), we would clear all the tables and get down to the serious business of playing a card game called Euchre. We drew cards to determine partners, then assembled at various tables in groups of four. The head table would play until someone got to ten points. The winning team remained as partners at the head table, but the losers moved down to the lowest table and switched partners with the losers there.

The marvelous thing about this process was that everyone participated and had a great time, from about age ten up to the grandparents. By switching partners, we all had a delightful chance to visit with each other and enjoy the intimate camaraderie of family and friends. As always at the end of a wonderful evening, we would have one more opportunity to share another piece of Mom’s fabulous pie, a little coffee and a whole lot of love.

We often played a variety of board games as well with friends and family, such as the old standbys: Monopoly, Clue, Parcheesi, Scrabble, Sorry, Cribbage and Chess. One Christmas I received a Chess set and considered myself to be quite a competent player. However, that complacency was shattered one evening when elderly friends came by. Once I taught “Uncle Marce” the basic rules, we started a game. Within a matter of minutes, he had me in checkmate, so I humbly learned a very important lesson: You can in fact teach an “old dog” a new trick.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Birthday Bashes

With a large family, we learned very early in life that we all had to share in order to get along harmoniously. Whether it was toys and games, or bedrooms and beds, or hand-me-down clothes, it was all fair game for sharing. However, the one exception was our birthday. Each birthday was our very special day of the year. Even though most of our birthdays happened to occur in late October and November, Mom always made us our own personal cake of choice. So during that three-week period each fall, we celebrated five birthdays, each complete with cake and ice cream, candles and a family party.

Living on the farm, we had a Guernsey cow that provided milk and incredibly luscious cream. We used a machine called a DeLaval Cream Separator to separate the cream from the milk and then a gallon of the milk was Pasteurized for drinking. We kept the fresh cream in a quart jar where it soon became the consistency of warm butter. Once the cream soured, we churned our own butter, which also gave us natural buttermilk for biscuits, pancakes and other treats.

One of our favorite desserts was a huge sour cream chocolate cake made in four graduated layers. Sometimes Mom made a sour cream icing that was essentially brown sugar fudge. It was the ultimate indulgence, but it was always delicious and an impressive sight. Whenever she brought one of her cakes to a bake sale for a fundraiser or pot luck dinner at church, school or a community event, it was never likely to be available on the table for very long.

Each Saturday morning we all helped bake desserts to be enjoyed during the next week. That was a significant undertaking, considering the size of our family. Mom had to plan for dessert after supper, lots of drop-in company and also brown-bag lunches for everyone. Typically, there would be at least two layer cakes (usually one round and one heart-shaped) plus a couple of dozen cupcakes, several pies and a huge batch of cookies. If there were extra eggs to be used up, we might have custard or bread pudding, angel food cake using the egg whites and a jelly roll using the yolks to make a rich sponge cake.

Heart-shaped layer cakes exemplified the love and caring Mom put into everything she did. She didn’t just slap on some frosting then move on to the next dessert. She made the extra effort to create a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Mom put pieces of waxed paper under the edge of the cake on the cake platter while she decorated it. When she carefully pulled the papers out, the plate was left pristine and the cake most appetizing. Presentation was an important consideration, especially with cakes.

Mom taught herself (and us girls) how to decorate cakes with flair. She was a whiz with butter cream frosting and a dab of food coloring, but she excelled on layer cakes. The first step was to put a layer of icing or fruit atop each layer of cake. The next was to cover the entire cake with a thick, creamy coating of white icing. Then a decorative squiggle of pink or green icing was carefully applied around the top and bottom edges of each layer. For special occasions, the final step was to write Happy Birthday (fill in the appropriate name here), Congratulations, or whatever was appropriate for the coming celebration.

My mother cherished our entire family and every day she showed us in both big and little ways. Family was by far the most important element of her life.

This makes a large cake that is very rich and moist. It can be made in three layer pans, or four graduated layers, or in one 9 x 13 pan.

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake
4 Eggs, well beaten 2 C Sour Cream
2 ¼ C Flour 2 C Sugar
2 t Baking Soda 6 T Cocoa
¼ t Salt
• Prepare cake pans (3 layers or 9 x 13) with shortening and flour. For layer cakes, line pans with waxed paper for easy release. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Beat eggs well, then blend with sour cream. Set aside.
• Sift together the dry ingredients. Add gradually to eggs and cream, beating well after each addition.
• Bake @ 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
• Let cake cool slightly, then remove from layer pans. Let cool completely on wire rack.
• Frost with “Wallpaper Paste” Frosting, Sour Cream Fudge/Frosting, or combination, such as fudge between layers and white frosting on top and sides.

Sour Cream Fudge/Frosting
2 C White Sugar
2 C Brown Sugar
2 C Sour Cream
• Combine all ingredients in large sauce pan and bring to a boil.
• Continue to boil to soft ball stage, stirring occasionally.
• For fudge, pour into 9 x 13 buttered pan.
• For frosting, cool slightly before applying.

“Wallpaper Paste” Frosting
5 T Cake Flour (or 2 T Cornstarch and 3 T Flour)
1 C Milk
• Boil Cake Flour and Milk until thick. (It will look like wallpaper paste, hence the name) Cover and let stand until cool.
½ C Shortening
½ C Margarine
1 C Sugar
1 t Vanilla
• Add remaining ingredients to milk mixture.
• Beat until light and fluffy. Add Vanilla.