Saturday, December 21, 2019

Oh Glittery, Felt Christmas Tree!

 When I was in the first grade, I made the best Christmas gift of all time.  At least, I thought so.  I was so proud of it for many years until it slowly became a bit of nostalgia, as I grew up.  
  We cut the palm sized green felt trees out with dull safety scissors.  The metal kind that dug into soft, fleshy child hands.  I followed the black marker outline as closely as humanly possible with those dull scissors, concentrating and trying my best to get into the corners so the tree would have triangular edges instead of resembling an oddly shaped oval.  I am sure the cutting out process took an entire afternoon as my fellow classmates likely did not have the privilege of practicing at home with their mothers' very sharp sewing scissors and odd scraps of fabric.  Whereas I spent long hours after school making doll clothes and outfits for the cat using Val's special scissors.
  After what seemed like days later, the cutting out finally completed, we were instructed to place a tiny dot of Elmer's Glue on the back of the tree.  Once this glue drop was placed in the correct location, our teacher stopped at each of our desks, to place a small safety pin horizontally over the glue.  We were told not to touch the trees again until tomorrow and to take care when putting up our chairs as the final bell rang.  "The glue will dry overnight, " she said.  I knew this to be true having used loads of Elmer's on the fore mentioned doll and cat clothes.  However, some of my lesser experienced classmates where skeptical.
  The next morning, the best day of the project arrived, when I could unleash all of my creativity.  As our teacher walked slowly around the classroom placing bottles of glue and containers of multi colored glitter to be shared in groups, I couldn't wait to get my hands on them before they might be squandered by less restrained students.  I was ready to show the world my design style that would mirror the artistry of our teacher's demo glittery felt tree.  Hers was decorated with  perfect swags of glitter with a dot at the top signalling a star.  It was expertly crafted, but I was confident that I could copy it.  
  I squeezed the glue bottle upside down, in both my hands, willing the wet goo into the exact places to emphasize the look of garland.  I almost had to wait too long for the glitter to be finally passed to me, fearing the glue would dry too quickly and the right amount of glitter would not adhere.    I was nervous, this was a masterpiece to be presented to my mother.  I wanted it to be the best gift under the tree.  As our teacher raised her cheery voice and said, "Not to worry about too much glue, it will dry clear!" for those who got a little messy, I felt elated as I looked down on my creation, in my mind having made a beautiful gem that my mother would be sure to praise and cherish as she opened it up on Christmas morning along with all of the other less significant gifts.
  It seemed like forever to wait for a day or so for the glue and glitter to be ready to be packaged up and carefully sent home on the last day of school before the holiday break.  I am not sure if I had help boxing and wrapping my tiny treasure, perhaps my older sister had a hand in that.  But looking at the felt tree pin, so many, many years later, the glitter having worn off, the felt softened with wear, I am still reminded of the excitement of giving this handmade gift to my mother and the pride and happiness every time she took the pin out of the safe keeping of her jewelry box to wear it again, year after year on Christmas day.

  These cookies are an homage to the glittery, felt tree pin.  I used a classic recipe that Val has been making for years.

Cut Out Sugar Cookies with Frosting
(makes about 3 dozen according to the size of the cookie cutter)

For the cookies:
3/4 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 cups flour (plus extra for rolling out)

  In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Add the eggs and vanilla.  Add baking powder and salt, mix to combine.  Slowly add the flour until well incorporated.  Separate dough into two pieces, flatten into discs, wrap in plastic and place in refrigerator for at least an hour.
  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  On a lightly floured board, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out small pieces of chilled dough and cut out using floured cookie cutters.  Place on lined cookie sheets and bake for 8-10 minutes until cookies look dry and  edges just begin to turn golden.  Remove cookies to cooling racks and allow to cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting:
1/4 cup softened butter
3 cups powdered sugar
4-6 tablespoons milk (plus a little more to make this version a bit runny)
1 teaspoon vanilla
green food coloring
edible glitter

  In a mixing bowl, cream butter until smooth.  Add sugar and milk alternately until desired creaminess is reached. Add vanilla and mix well. (This frosting should be a little runny to make the soft edges of the tree and allow enough time to adhere glitter decoration.)  Add green food coloring a few drops at a time until desired color is established.  Spread frosting on cookie and immediately sprinkle with edible glitter.  (I use a brush to scoop up the glitter, then tap it gently onto the frosting.)  Repeat frosting and adding glitter to cookies, one at a time.  Allow cookies to dry uncovered, overnight until frosting hardens.  Store in an airtight container up to one week.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Over the River and Along the Winding Coast of Maine


 It takes just about five hours to get to Camden, ME from here and another four hours to get to our final destination in Lubec, ME, but it always seemed so much longer a trip than that.  In fact, I always thought it was a twelve hour drive, and it could have been with all of the stops that we made and possibly a few wrong turns due to some navigation arguments.  We made the trip from Cape Cod to northern Maine to the eastern most town in the U.S. from pre-dawn to dusk on the day before Thanksgiving to visit my grandfather.
  I'm sure the goal was to leave by 4:30am, to get most of the driving done during the short amount of daylight in late November.  My father was always the one behind this grand idea.  But by the time everyone got settled into the car with our heavy winter coats locked in the trunk to make more room in the backseat for all three of us kids, it was probably closer to 5:30am.  As we made our way north, through the still sleeping city of Boston, I imagined what life was like in those tall buildings lit up like Christmas trees, and tried to read all of the billboards as we sped through the city.  Not long later, as the glamorous city life faded out of site, we eventually made our way to the big rest stop at the New Hampshire/Maine border and knew that we still had many miles and hours to go. 
  Camden was our lunch destination.  A tiny town on the coast with it's quaint harbor and main street of local shops.  It was at the harbor where my father parked the car and my mother took the red and white Playmate cooler out of the trunk so we could enjoy our homemade sandwiches as early as 10:30am, before any restaurant would possibly be ready to serve lunch.  We unwrapped chicken salad sandwiches on homemade white bread and got to drink a can of Coke or Ginger ale.  Wise Potato Chips were an extra treat, something we did not have regularly at home.  This was a special, once a year trip, after all.  To finish it all up, Val's chocolate chip cookies or brownies studded with semi sweet morsels, but these were an everyday affair as Val always made sure there were sweets in the house for us to snack on.  We probably walked around the harbor, checking out the fishing boats that were still in the water, ready to go out and get their catch.  It always seemed chilly after sitting in the hot car for so long, fighting for space with my brother and sister, trying to read a book to get through the long ride.  I'm sure my father could have stayed for hours, inspecting the skiffs, talking to fisherman, looking at ropes and nets and who knows what else, but my mother was eager to see her father whom she only got to visit maybe twice a year.
  Finally arriving in Lubec, after what seemed like many, many hours later, at the home my grandfather made with his wife, Norma was an event in itself.  The weather brisk, the sun beginning to set and Norma was hard at work putting the finishing touches on her ladies' hair in the shop that my grandfather built for her attached to their home where you could enter through a door in the living room.  We kids had to go in and meet the customers sitting in the chairs, vinyl black capes draped over them, hair in curlers.  They all seemed to know our names and ages and so much about us even though we had never met.  They said things like, "This must be Karyn!" when talking to my sister and asked me about second grade and my Brownie troop. It was a small town hair salon, where everyone shared everyone else's business, good, bad, happy and sad. 
  Hungry from our trip and itching to stretch our legs, we helped to bring the bags from the car to the upstairs bedrooms with the dark paneling where we would sleep under the eaves.  Then, we got to check out the drawer of sweets and homemade bread filled with Great Grammie's recipe for Date Filled Cookies, brownies, pumpkin bread and so many treats made by Elmira, Norma's cousin and other ladies from church groups and town clubs. There were not too many people who came from as far away as Massachusetts to visit Lubec very often and my grandfather made sure that pretty much everyone in town knew when we would be arriving. 
  The next day, on Thanksgiving, there was turkey and pies and all of the things that make the holiday special. On Saturday night, we had hot dogs and beans because that's what Grampie and Norma ate every Saturday night.  And early Sunday morning, we got ready to head back to Cape Cod.  Except for the long trip in the car, the arrival and the departure, the fine details of those Thanksgiving weekends are little fuzzy. I mostly remember the taste of chicken salad on my favorite bread of all time, the salty crunch of the potato chips at our  picnic on the harbor, the sweet softness of the date filling in the cookies, my grandfather's silliness, the fun and laughter from one of his endless pranks and Norma saying, "Oh Donald!" in exasperation.   Now, the farthest I travel with my own children to celebrate Thanksgiving is four miles down the road to Val's house.  There is so much in our culture about travelling on Thanksgiving: "over the river and through the woods" and as much as those trips to Maine are a special part of my childhood memories, I am so very glad that I don't have to go far to celebrate with family and friends.  I will just have to make my own picnic lunch on Wednesday, the day before, at Falmouth Harbor, instead.

Chicken Salad
(Makes enough for 4 sandwiches)

2 ribs celery
black pepper
2 split chicken breasts (bone in, skin on)
celery salt
Hellman's mayonnaise (about 1/3 cup)

  Heat one inch water in a large sauce pan with a tight fitting lid.  Add 1 rib celery, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper to the water.  Once the water boils, reduce to a simmer and add chicken breasts.  Cover tightly and cook for 10-15 minutes until meat is cooked through.  Remove from heat and keep chicken in pan with lid on for 5-10 minutes. 
  While chicken is resting, finely dice remaining rib of celery.  Add to a mixing bowl with 1 teaspoon celery salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.  Remover meat from chicken bones, discard skin.  Finely chop chicken meat and add to the bowl.  Mix in just enough mayonnaise to hold chicken salad together.  Taste and adjust seasonings by adding more celery salt and/or black pepper.
  To make sandwiches, spread 1/4 chicken salad on one slice of bread and top with a second slice.  Cut in half and wrap in wax paper.  

Friday, November 1, 2019

Scalloping Season


 It's this time of year, usually while I am driving and I can allow my thoughts to drift for a moment.  I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of cranberries in a flooded bog, ready to be harvested and the electric yellow, orange and red of the surrounding trees against a crystal clear blue sky and I recall late fall days at school, going to football games with friends and eating scallops, lots of scallops for dinner on what seemed like every night for weeks on end.
  Back in the late 1980's when I was still in high school, I remember my mother wearing my father's old jacket from his skating rink days, only taking it off to drive us to practice, pick us up from school or make dinner.  During these weeks of October, her days were spent opening scallops and the jacket kept her warm and protected from the gooey, snot like scallop guts that ended up in the trash bucket along with the shells.  Her task was to finish opening bushels and bushels of scallops, as many as a commercial license was allowed to procure before my father arrived home with more. This was a time when bay scallops were ridiculously plentiful and my father called it "a bonanza".  Each day, he left before dawn, in the crisp early fall air, took off in his boat, then returned in the late afternoon.  He unloaded his catch, the scallops heaped high in their baskets, shells clapping open and shut, making clicking noises and forcing the scallops on the top of the piles to tumble onto the concrete floor and continue there, clapping, slowly: open, shut, open, shut.

  My field hockey teammates and I were working on costume ideas for the upcoming Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Each high school class and fall sport made a float in the back of a pickup truck or on an old trailer used for hauling leaves and branches.  We decorated these vehicles with our school colors: maroon and white using crepe paper streamers, and poster boards designed with magic marker slogans meant to inspire our football team, the Falmouth Clippers to glory on Thanksgiving Day.   "Go Clippers!" "Beat Barnstable!" was about as creative as we got and we tired easily of the task, turning instead to a silly game of make shift field hockey in my dirt driveway, devouring the rest of Val's homemade chocolate chip cookie and goofing around.
  I'm still not sure if she was glad to take a break from all that scallop opening, her hands chapped and raw, tiny cuts along her fingers from the sharp shells and shucking knife, to help us make costumes for the float that year.  Her talent, along with cooking and gardening, has always involved the sewing machine for which I have many fantastic Halloween costumes and my sister has her wedding dress to show for it. We had hatched an idea to make angel and devil costumes featuring angels with maroon "F"'s on their costumes for Falmouth and red devils to represent our evil rival, Barnstable. Val mustered up what little patience she had left from her long day and helped us produce brilliant costumes amidst our teenage giggling and foolishness. I'm sure there are photographs somewhere documenting her hard work and all the fun we had as dressed as devils, we pretended to drag the float carrying the Falmouth Angels along main street the day before Thanksgiving to the pep rally at Fuller Field.
  Sadly, there is no longer a pre-Thanksgiving Day parade made up of Falmouth High School students, no longer a pep rally on that Wednesday.  The kids all have the day off from school and lots of families use the time to travel out of town.  There are not as many scallops in the bays, either.  Those "bonanza" days have passed, as the cycles of nature determine. But every October 1st, without fail, my father still gears up his boat and launches it in the early pre-dawn morning hoping for a mess of scallops to bring home for dinner.  I get excited when I see the local fish market marquee lit up with the words, "Bay Scallops".  It proves there still are some out there, hiding in the muck and sea grass they call home.  It's as if all is right in the world for a moment: the cranberries, the football games and the friendships just like they always were.

  If you can find them or you know a shell fisherman willing to give up some of their catch, this is the easiest and just about the most perfect way to prepare bay scallops.

      Broiled Scallops

shucked scallops, about 1/2 cup per person

  Preheat broiler.  Lay the scallops in one even layer in a square, metal 8"x 8" pan.  Dot scallops with small pats of butter.  Sprinkle with paprika, salt and pepper.  Place under broiler for 3-5 minutes until scallops just begin to turn white and some of them begin to split on the edges.  Remove from oven and serve immediately.