Here are the few things I remember about my father’s mother, Angie. She always wore a dress and pearls, even at the lake. She taught me how to play canasta, a card game that involves multiple decks of cards. She had two great charm bracelets. My favorites among the charms were: an elegant high heeled shoe; a birthday cake – if you pushed a button on the bottom, the candles popped up; a comb; the Eiffel tower; the statue of liberty; and one for each of me an my brothers that had our name and birth date on it. I’d sit on her lap for hours looking at the charms saying “what’s this?” I must have driven her crazy. Finally, she would always bring molasses cookies. The zing in the lemon icing is the perfect complement to the earthy molasses. Now, when my family gets together, my sister-in-law Kathy bakes and brings these.
“You don’t make the cookies?”, my mother asked appalled.
“Why would I make the cookies? I don’t have any kids.”, I replied.
“You make them and give them away”, she responded.
“But most of my friends don’t have kids either.”
“They’d still like them.”
No they wouldn’t. The last thing my friends want in the month of December is a plate of cookies. Especially these cookies. You eat one, and you can’t stop. It starts with a small Santa Claus (the littlest cookie), before you realize it, you’ve stuffed a bell, a Christmas tree, and a ginger bread man (the largest cookie) into your mouth. They complement both coffee and wine, so you can have them for breakfast, and after dinner. Or, have one for lunch with a glass of milk. The recipe calls for a pound of lard. I know what’s in them, but I still can’t turn them down.
Thanksgiving was my Father’s favorite holiday. He loved the thought of families all across the country sitting down at the same time with only one purpose … to give thanks for all that they have. His eyes would tear during grace and shine throughout the rest of the meal. He loved having the table surrounded with family, friends and friends of friends.
He always started Thanksgiving day with a football game. Neighborhood kids joined in, sides were picked, the game commenced. All chiefs, no Indians, and more ego than athletic ability, we would scramble, hit, and cheat. After a few tears, a little blood, and a lot of sweat, we would return home, one half winners and the other half losers.
My mother had 5 sons, and 1 daughter (me). Every time a son was born, my grandfather, George Smith, would come visit and say “that’s a fine lookin boy, what are you going to name him?” On the fourth son, my mother finally got it right and said “George”, which made my grandfather very happy. So, she named him George and then decided to call him by his middle name, Steve. I’m not sure how my grandfather felt about this.
The chaos from our most recent renovation project finally ruffled John’s feathers. Everything we own—from wine and bread crumbs to bike pumps and ski helmets—was strewn throughout the living/dining room in our new loft. Clutter from our once organized pantry occupied every surface in the kitchen. Paint cans, rollers and brushes were piled in the sink to dry. We had just finished priming the shelves in the soon to be “coolest pantry in Denver.”
We were both tired, cranky and starving. The setting sun was just low enough in the sky to make our new sun umbrella totally useless. The air was hot and still and the sun was bright. Still, we opted to eat on the deck to escape the chaos inside.
I had taken two steaks out of the freezer that morning. While John fired up the grill, I surveyed the sparse contents of our refrigerator and found 1/2 an onion and some frozen peas. I chopped up the onion and threw it in a pan with 2 tablespoons of butter. When the onions became translucent, I added one teaspoon of our organic Tarra·Cardamom Rub, two teaspoons of black currant vinegar and about a cup of red wine. I brought the whole thing to a boil then reduced it down. Mushrooms might have been a good addition, but I didn’t have any.
Though I take credit for what turned out to be an amazing sauce, it could not have been created without the genius input from Reese Hay, the chef du cuisine at the 8100 Mountainside Grill in the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek and the creator of our Tarra·Cardamom rub.
While the sauce reduced, I picked through a jumbled pile in the living room and discovered a treasure—a bottle of Cristom. It’s an awesome pinot noir with “intense berry flavors, firm acidity, and light almost feminine tannins—near perfection in a glass”. [ The words of Conde Cox of the Portland Monthly Magazine, not mine. To me it just tastes good.]
The meal was the perfect reward to a tumultuous and labor-intensive day: steaks grilled to perfection and drizzled with my new favorite red wine reduction sauce, and a great bottle of wine. The sun finally dropped behind Union Station, the sky lit up in reds and oranges, and a gentle breeze softened the heat of the day.
Who cares if the peas were frozen?
Collaborating with Smith & Truslow spice maven Jean Gleason on this blog transports me back to a late night in our college dorm. We had a paper due the next day for our History of the American West (aka “Cowboys and Indians”) course and in typical fashion neither of us had started it. The assignment was to use a symbol as a metaphor for discussion of what we learned in the class. Visits to the local pizza joint and to the Ice Cream Machine had not resulted in inspiration. Jean decided to cook up a batch of popcorn to fuel the long night ahead.
I woke to the sound of the front door closing, my mother leaving for her only moment of peace … to fish in the early morning mist. My father was rattling in the kitchen. I rose quietly, not wanting to wake my brothers, crept down the stairs, and curled up in the corner of the couch, my night gown wrapped around my feet to fight the morning chill. My father handed me a cup of black coffee. I held it under my chin and let the steam warm my face while I listened to the comforting sounds of breakfast in the works; the eggs cracking, the refrigerator door opening and closing, and the spoon scraping against the big red and white enamel bowl. When he finished his prep and closed the oven door for the final time, he handed me a big plastic tumbler and sent me down to the lake to pick blueberries.
The lake was warmer than the cool morning air and a thick mist had formed. I did not see my mother and her rowboat, but I knew she was there. I heard the rhythmic squeak of her oars as she trolled for bass in the warm shallow waters along the opposite edge of the lake.
I watched a spider crawl along the damp leaves of the blueberry bush and curl into a ball when it hit a big water drop. Holding the branch and cup in one hand, I knocked the blueberries off their stems and heard them drop into the cup. (more…)