my days by the water

i’ll never forget my days by the water
a childhood so perfect
it almost hurts to remember

seashells and crab boils, best friends and cousins
a brother so close
he was almost my double

sunburns and skinned knees and sand in our eyes
fishing and sandcastles
huge wide-open skies

potluck parties where parents talked politics
where active listening happened
and no one left mad

“beach bum” friends of my parents, ex-soldiers
recovering from war
found peace in the waves

bonfires, fireworks, beach birthdays and family
acceptance and love as
abundant as sunshine

i’ll always remember
those days by the water


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Image by Bikurgurl

I stumbled on the concept of “100 Word Wednesday” in a blog called Bikurgurl and decided to participate this week, Week 15 of the challenge. The prompt was this beautiful lighthouse, and the rules are simple:  write something 100 words long, use this image or another of your choosing, and link back to the original blog. The lighthouse made me think of my childhood living by the water on a very different kind of shore on the Bolivar Peninsula in Southeast Texas.

This rough little poem came spilling out of me as I thought of those halcyon sand-ridden childhood days and so many memories flooded in.  Everything seemed so safe, so permanent, so lively-lovely in our tiny town of 600, Gilchrist, Texas.  My brother and I went to the beach almost every day, even in the winter.  My aunt and uncle moved just down the street from us, and our cousins became more like brothers. Beach birthday parties and fireworks spawned grass-fires and the scruffy men of the volunteer fire seemed delighted to be called out.  My mother made mirrors rimmed with sea shells and sold them at a local art gallery.

My parents, while definitely not hippies, had escaped the mind-numbing sameness and materialism they found in suburban life for the quirky, slower and sometimes downright backward way of life on the Bolivar Peninsula.  I didn’t realize at the time that the larger world was present, even there.  Mom and Dad hosted election parties and invited all kinds of folks from both sides of the political aisle, and taped the lively but respectful conversations to send to my uncle, who worked for Hamilton Beach in Africa and was on a plane that was hijacked on his way home (he survived).  A young man who was AWOL from the Army climbed up our stairs turned himself in to my Dad on our deck one Saturday morning while we were watching cartoons.  “Beach bums” staying in a cabin a few doors down from us turned out to be Vietnam vets, confused and weary guys trying to patch up their lives and come to terms with their experiences.  They were kind to an awkward tween-age girl; they paid me a few dollars to embroider peaceful sayings and seagulls on their frayed bellbottoms.  They remained friends with my parents long after they all left the beach for more stability inland.  Hurricane Ike took away the entire town in 2008.

So many more memories and stories, but this was supposed to be a post for 100 Word Wednesday.  So I’ll leave you with some links with related stories and a few pictures.

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In this photo, my brother was the awkward tween
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Mom on the deck; she made those macramé plant hangers
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My Dad and brother, fishing in the Intracoastal Canal, at the end of our road
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The view from the deck, some years after my childhood but before Hurricane Ike

 

Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook

The Thankful Foreigner: An Award-Winning Essay from a Millennial

And now, as I keep a vigilant eye over the discrimination in my society, I wonder: When will the other people, blinded by prejudice, have the eye-opening experience I had that day?

This little story from a few years ago is incredibly relevant today.

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Let the adventure begin!

In 2011, an incredibly cheap last-minute Houston-to-London roundtrip airfare offer coincided with my son’s 14th birthday and a lazy Thanksgiving week in which we had nothing planned.

So we cooked up a weeklong Mom & Kid trip to give the young ‘un (our last milennial) an opportunity to experience his first international travel:  three nights in Paris, followed by three nights in London.  We left Houston right after school on a Friday afternoon, tickets in hand for our first adventure, scaling the Eiffel Tower less than 24 hours later.  I knew it was going to be a worthwhile trip when, dazed and tired from the overnight flight to London and a couple of hours of fitful sleep on the high-speed EuroStar (Chunnel) train on the way to Paris, he leaned over to me – before our adventures even began – touched me on the arm and said:

Mom, thank you for showing me the world!

We alighted in Paris, stumbled to our hotel, took a few minutes for a power nap, and set out to ascend the Eiffel Tower.  But I digress; that’s a story for another time. Today’s focus is on my son’s memory, captured in his award-winning essay, which he shared post-competition on Facebook, as follows (in his words).

From February, 2012:  The following essay is what I wrote at the Klein Academic Competition that won first place for 8th Grade Ready Writing. The story is non-fiction; these events did actually happen.


The Thankful Foreigner

The sounds of honking European cars, people of all kinds conversing in French, and muffled, slimly audible brakes from subway trains all formed a soundtrack to the beginning of my day.

Trying to force my eyes open, I sat up, told my mom good morning, and, after slowly rising to my feet, walked over to the window of our hotel room. Pushing the red curtain away, I looked down upon the busy Parisian street, where people were walking in and out of shops and cafes, waiting to cross the intersection, and riding on motorcycles or in cars.

Now I knew it was true. The previous day had involved exhausted scrambling through airports and train stations, causing more of a feeling of trauma than that of a vacation. But now I was sure; I was really in Paris.

Within about a half hour, both my mom and I were dressed, clean, and ready to hit the street. Our first stop, as we had already discussed, was going to be a nearby cafe. We needed breakfast.

It called out to us the second we stepped out the door; across the street, a nice neon-red sign reading “La Porte de Montmartre” flashed out at my eyes. Immediately, I asked, or, I should say, STATED: “We should go there.”

So we took a risk; we waited for a pause in traffic, then dashed across the street.

It looked even better from up close. All the tables occupied by regular French citizens who all looked like some character in a classic movie…we had to get coffee here.

So my mom and I walked straight through the cafe to the bar, where we instantly mounted ourselves upon two vacant stools, and at the bartender’s acknowledgement, ordered two cups of coffee.

I noticed soon enough that this man was very young and handsome, yet obviously exhausted. He also, however, seemed like the kind of Frenchman that one of my less considerate classmates would sneak snide comments about back home. I knew about the unfounded views other countries have of the French, but…I knew that not ALL the French people were pompous and arrogant.

As he came back from the kitchen with our two cups of coffee, my ever-so-inquisitive mom asked what I’d been wondering: “Where are you from?”

The second she asked that, his face brightened up. “You tell me first,” he said through his grin, his French accent indeed present.

“We are from Texas, in the USA,” I said. “And you, sir?”

He stood up straight and said, rather proudly,

Normandy Beach. The ruins of the D-Day attack. All of the American liberators are buried there…Many of my people are not as grateful to the Americans as they should be. I mean, thanks to your country, we are all still French. So, personally, I thank you and all your people.”

Within two seconds of his ceasing to speak, I knew that any anti-French sympathies I could’ve had prior to this day would be gone.

It was obvious that this man was at least 30 years too young to have experienced the historic World War II battle that had brought recognition to his hometown. Yet he had the heart to honor and respect a foreign country and its military for the well-being of his own.
Since then, the “French” slur and stereotype has been something I make a goal to avoid. I now see the prejudice and ignorance behind many comments that, before that sunny Parisian morning, I might not have seen.

And now, as I keep a vigilant eye over the discrimination in my society, I wonder:  When will the other people, blinded by prejudice, have the eye-opening experience I had that day?


 

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The Thankful Foreigner, himself
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The wise 14 year old, our last millennial 
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We’ll go back to La Porte Montmartre when next we are in Paris

Back to the Present

Back to the present, back to my voice…Wow.  I’ve experienced this story in a myriad of ways:

  • When it originally happened; I realized that the young French man would be someone we remembered forever.  “Because of you, we are all still French!” is how I remember him proclaiming his appreciation for the American and Allied liberation of France.
  • When my son’s name was called at the UIL district competition award ceremony as the first place winner…I I lost my self-control, rose from my seat in the uncomfortable gym bleachers and screeched “Woooooo!” before sitting back down, red-faced and yet unabashedly proud.  Then, a few minutes later as I almost strangled him with hugs, he told me the topic of his essay, and we reminisced about that morning, that young man, that authentic gratitude.
  • When I actually read the essay after he got it back a few weeks later and understood what the magical moments with the young man in the coffee bar had meant to my son, and wondered at how he translated the ridiculousness of petty prejudices into this insight:  “I now see the prejudice and ignorance behind many comments that, before that sunny Parisian morning, I might not have seen.”
  • And now, more than 5 years later, as our country struggles with immigration, our place in the world and how we interface with those who are “foreign”.  Perhaps I’m biased – well, heck, of course I’m biased – but I find my son’s final statement in that little essay truly profound:

And now, as I keep a vigilant eye over the discrimination in my society, I wonder: When will the other people, blinded by prejudice, have the eye-opening experience I had that day?

What’s that old saying…”out of the mouths of babes”?  How about:  “out of the mouths of millennials”?

Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook; The Thankful Foreigner printed with permission of the author, Thomas Wenglinski

 

Telling the Story of a Picture

img_1334My Dad is an amazing person.  Faithful, honest, smart, steadfast, loving, fair, funny, interesting, loyal, hardworking, generous, talented, a true “servant leader” – there just aren’t enough superlatives for me to describe him.

I know how blessed I am to be able to say that about a parent when so many others have not been so fortunate.  I am thankful. Every day.

Dad with Fancy CameraNot one to sit still, Dad worked as a consultant part-time well into his 70s.  Since he finally retired, he has had a little more time for his hobbies, including travel, woodworking (see my cutting boards), vegetable gardening, reading and photography.  But mostly, he and my Aunt-Mom have been super-busy volunteers, serving on the boards of various churches and charitable organizations.    Over the past few years, when they weren’t organizing food drives, or community repair days for shut-ins and the elderly, or fundraisers, they were spending nearly 40 hours a week revitalizing and relaunching a charity resale shop and food pantry. This drive to serve wasn’t new – both of them have been active in church leadership and taught Sunday school for almost all of their adult lives, and Dad was on the school board where I grew up for 15 years.

Dad and my Aunt-Mom didn’t just focus on the organizing and planning of these charity endeavors – they rolled up their sleeves and got dirty.  I called Dad once last year on his cell phone and after speaking with me for a moment, he said, “Well, I’ve gotta cut this short, I’m at the top of a ladder with my cell phone in one hand and a 2 x 4 in the other.”  He was repairing a roof for an “elderly” person during a community work day they’d organized.  At 77.  That’s my Dad.

But Dad has had a kick in the pants lately with some unique health issues that are proving challenging to resolve, and has a little more time on his hands to do inside things.  He’s making a beautiful table / kitchen island with various types of wood that my Aunt-Mom has designed – you can count on seeing photos of it here.  And he has documented this wonderful story for me about an original piece of art that has been in the family as long as I can remember.  I never knew about its origin and asked about it one day recently when I was visiting.  Here’s what he told me.

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Fred Olds in 1957

In 1964, I was attending North Texas State University (now North Texas University) and working my way through college at KDNT radio station, selling ads and doing the voiceovers.  You were less than a year old.  Your mother was working as an RN, the head nurse on a medical floor at Flow Hospital.  One of my clients was The Nation Bank of Texas.

One day,  the bank representative called and wanted to buy a 30-minute on-site live interview of the artist Fred Olds to draw customers into the bank.  Evidently Mr. Olds was all set up in the lobby with his brushes, paint, paper and easel and I was going to interview him while he was painting.

As I started to interview Mr. Olds, he said,”Can I paint you a picture?” I said yes, and he got out a box of crayons. I really did not know where this was headed, but in no time at all he painted a beautiful picture of an Indian using only crayons, all while doing the interview.  

I took picture home, had it framed and put under glass to protect it. We still have it 53 years later.

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The crayon Indian drawn in less than 30 minutes by Fred Olds in 1964

The American Indian in the drawing is proud, noble and free; you are drawn into the image and can sense his dignity.  It’s a remarkable piece of art, even more so because it was done so quickly and informally.  Dad didn’t realize Mr. Olds was a renowned Oklahoma artist until we Googled him after talking about the drawing.  What a cool story.  Dad has lots more stories to tell, and hopefully will share many of them here.

Fred Olds died in 2005.  Here’s an excerpt from his obituary:

Born to Dr. Frederick C. and Rena Olds on April 27, 1916 in Fremont, Ohio, Fred grew up in Warsaw, Indiana. He served as a bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Corps in North Africa and Europe for four years in World War II. He was educated to teach and coach at Ohio Wesleyan University and received his Master of Fine Arts Degree from Columbia University.In 1949 Fred married Flora Anne Conner in Port Washington, New York where he was teaching art and coaching football and track. In 1950 the young couple established a home in Warsaw where Fred taught art and coached in the public schools.

Fred painted every day. His artwork depicted his love of horses, cowboys, Indians and the West. Achieving success in art shows in the Midwest and Southwest, he moved his family to Wynnewood where he fell in love with Oklahoma when he taught Oklahoma History and art in the Wynnewood public schools. He taught art in the Yukon public schools. The family moved to Weatherford where Fred taught various art classes to student-teachers at Southwestern State (College) University to teach art. He helped to set up the College Rodeo program. Fred was a foundation breeder of Longhorn Cattle and won four national championships with his Appaloosa horses.

In 1972 the family moved to Edmond then Guthrie where Fred was engaged to rehabilitate the Oklahoma Territorial Museum and Carnegie Library. He served as director there for fourteen years and his paintings and sculptures are exhibited worldwide, in museums, churches, universities, on public grounds and in private collections of neighbors, statesmen and celebrities. He painted more than one hundred pictures of the Oklahoma Land Runs. In 1996 his “Horses from the Sea” was unveiled in the Red Earth Indian Center. Fred wrote poems describing most of his paintings and in 1999 he earned the Westerners International Poet’s Award for his volume, “A Drop in the Bucket.”


If you’re interested in learning more about Fred Olds, check out this article about him from 1957 (it is warm, wry and amusing), or this one from 2013.

The Chili Bee and Round Top, Texas – A Little Tale of Community, Chili and Small-Town Magic

Facebook reminded me today of an event from four years ago that still brings me joy.  It’s a tale of a chili cook-off fundraiser in a tiny Texas town, two friends, five gallons of spilled chili in an SUV, dozens of very kind people and a chance meeting with the state’s governor.  Just another January Saturday in Texas…

In January of 2013, my friend Theresa and I decided to enter the Round Top Chili Cookoff.  It’s a great event that benefits the public library in this most picturesque of small Texas Hill Country towns.  They have braggin’ rights, too:  Round Top is the smallest town in Texas with a full service public library, and they aim to keep it that way (small and book-lovin’).

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The January sky over Round Top, a most picturesque little town

We started planning our cook-off participation by email, first by picking a name.  It had to be something special, something that reflected our long friendship rooted in family and food and stories and support…so we chose “The Chili Bee,” a riff on the old quilting bees where ladies got together to talk and solve the mysteries of life while making beautiful quilts.  We played around and created a logo and I had a sign made.Chili Bee Final.jpg

Over the next week, we negotiated over the recipe (no beans, she won), did the shopping, and then met up at my house on Friday after work to roll up our sleeves and produce the world’s best chili.  We stayed up until the wee hours – chopping, sautéing, simmering, tasting and telling stories, and set out for Round Top on Saturday morning with our 5 gallons of chili in her car and the propane cooker, table, chairs and tent in mine.

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Our preparations that lovely January Saturday morning included reheating the massive pot of chili and transferring it into a 5-gallon Igloo, where it would stay plenty hot during the 90-minute trip and be ready for the high noon judging.  While only a quart was necessary for the judges, contestants had to bring at least 4 gallons to enter.

Well, there was a “problem-ation” on our journey.  I was leading our 2-car caravan on US Highway 290 and lost Theresa at the cloverleaf intersection with Texas Highway 36.  You have to take a very sudden, sharp and tight turn to stay on 290 on the outskirts of Brenham –  drivers in this part of Texas will know what I’m talking about – and that little cloverleaf was our Chili Waterloo.  I looked in the rearview mirror, and Theresa just wasn’t there any more.  I pulled over, and called her, and called again – no answer.  Finally, I could see her in the distance, and then she drove slowly by me, motioned for me to follow, and pulled into a convenience store about a mile up the road.

The Igloo wasn’t secured in the car and toppled over when Theresa careened around the cloverleaf turn…and apparently, we didn’t have the lid on tight.  It was bad.  Oh boy, was it bad.  There was a chili explosion.  It was all over her, all over the car, all over everything.  Chili drops were on the rearview mirror, the headliner, in Theresa’s purse.  It was a chili-apocalypse.

And imagine…5 gallons of steaming hot chili, 2 inches deep in the backseat floorboard of Theresa’s Nissan Pathfinder, and then think what would happen if you opened the door…chili pouring out all over the convenience store parking lot!  It was actually an amazing sight – a volcanic flow of chili! – and I really, really wanted to take a picture, but I couldn’t because of the look on Theresa’s face.  She was completely deflated, more sad about not being able to participate in the cook-off than upset about her car or her clothes.  We knew the rules:  you had to have four gallons to enter, and we figured there was only about 1 gallon left in our  toppled Igloo.  Her disappointment broke my heart, because she’d been struggling with the after-effects of chemotherapy and was finally feeling frisky again, so she really needed and deserved this open-air Texas good time we were planning.

It wasn’t about winning the cook-off.  It was about living.

We called the event organizer, a marvelous woman named Betsy who is the piledriving personality behind tiny Round Top keeping its public library and the rockin’ good time that is the annual chili cook-off.  Betsy wouldn’t hear of us turning back, even though we didn’t have enough chili to enter.  Betsy went into Save the Day Mode, in the way that some ladies are so incredibly good at:

  • She said that each of the other participants would be happy to give us some of their chili, that it would be a true Chili Bee, with our entry a melting pot of all the chilis.
  • She said she’d have a sheriff there to meet us and ensure we got a parking spot at the front, since we were now running late.
  • She told us to take a back road, ’cause we’d get there quicker.
  • She further said that there was no need for us to stop at the local Wal-Mart for clothes for Theresa, because someone would help out with that, too, even if she had to go home and get something out of her own closet.

In other words, Betsy would not accept us turning tail and running back to Houston, licking our chili wounds.

OK! After three rolls of paper towels and five minutes wrangling the convenience store’s water hose, we were on the road again, still in two cars.  Hers, all bedraggled and chili-smelling, mine still toting the rest of the gear.  The back road that Betsy told us to take was Texas Farm Road 389, and it was gorgeous.  I started to feel pretty good about Betsy’s Save the Day plan, Theresa’s well-deserved good time being salvaged, and the story that was evolving from our day.  So I spent the rest of the drive trying to write a limerick about it in my head.

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Theresa in her borrowed apron

When we arrived in the tiny center of Round Top, it was clear that Betsy had sprung into action and publicized our plight:  the sheriff was indeed waiting to direct us to our primo parking spot, the mayor was also there to greet us, there was a borrowed apron for Theresa to wear, and the judges were waiting to get our remnant quart of chili before starting the judging.  The local radio station was broadcasting from the event and Betsy was so tickled by my limerick that she had me go on stage read it on the air.

Our chili took a tumble
But we’ve no cause to grumble
The town rallied ’round
– it’s a heck of a town –
Round Top, we’re ready to rumble!

We went around with a big plastic pitcher like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel (but with a much better reception) and collected a bit of chili from most of the other contestants, fired up our propane heater and served that Chili Bee / chili quilt concoction to lots of happy attendees.  They loved it and we ran out.  Everyone there knew our story because the radio station MC had made a big deal of it before we arrived.  It was a wonderful, life-affirming experience and I will never forget the sense of support and community that Betsy and Round Top gave us.

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What a wonderful day we had in Round Top

royers1But that wasn’t all!  We had been joined by Theresa’s son Nick, who was going to college in not-too-far-away San Marcos, and after we ran out of chili, we closed up shop and walked across the street to Royer’s Round Top Café, a local restaurant that really is The Bomb.  Especially their pies…heavenly.  We laughed, we talked, we practiced and honed the story we’d be telling everyone about our day…and we realized what an incredible blessing it was to have had this remarkable experience.

And then we met the governor.  It was that kind of day.

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Texas Governor Rick Perry was also enjoying the fine food at Royer’s that beautiful January Saturday in 2013; he was extremely gracious and didn’t even ask if we had voted for him (which I will not comment on since this is not and will never be a political blog)

In the evening, we met up with Betsy and other Round Top locals at the Stone Cellar Winery. (The Stone Cellar bartender had been the donor of the apron that covered the huge chili stain in Theresa’s lap.) We relived the day, giggled over our new name, The Chili Spillers, reveled in the fact that the cook-off had raised a ton of money for the library (even though we didn’t win!) and figured that life would be simpler if there were more chili cook-offs and backroads and less freeways.


January 21, 2013 (email)

Hello Betsy,

Thank you so much for your encouragement and support in the face of our “chili-mergency”. We had such a marvelous day in spite of our chili spill and will definitely be back next year with a crowd. You are running a delightful and fun event and it is great to know that we are doing our small part to support reading and the library. We promised to send our pictures, and the best few are attached, including the one with our famous / infamous governor. I have also included the limerick I wrote in my head as we were driving along that beautiful back road you told us to take. It has several variations (because there are so many rhymes for “umble”).

Version 1

Our chili took a tumble
But we’ve no cause to grumble
The town rallied ’round
– it’s a heck of a town –
Round Top, we’re ready to rumble!

Version 2

Our chili took a tumble
But it didn’t cause a fumble
The town rallied ’round
– it’s a hell of a town –
Round Top, we’re ready for your rumble!

Version 3

Our chili took a tumble
But we’ve no cause to grumble
Round Top rallied ’round
– it’s a hell of a town –
Their kindness leaves us humbled

And finally, for your personal archives, here’s the 1-minute version of the day that we posted on Facebook. I think every friend we have from the Houston area will be there next year.

“The Chili Cookoff story must be told in person to get the full impact, but here’s a brief synopsis: 4 of our 5 gallons of chili spilled in the car, the Round Top folks rallied and told us to come anyway and they would share their chili so we could still enter with our one gallon that was left (the rules state that you have to bring at least 4 gallons), our story of chili disaster and perseverance was told on the radio and the mayor greeted us when we got there (late), a constable on duty at the cookoff came by and told us he had seen the results of our chili spill as we were parked on the side of the highway (he said, “I thought that was a bad place to park, but when you opened the door and the chili came out, I knew where you were headed”), everyone at the cookoff knew who we were and treated us like we were special, we met and took a picture with the governor, and made tons of new friends. Round Top is a marvelous, welcoming town, and a great place to have a good time. Are we going back next year? Heck yeah!”

Looking forward to next year – but how could it possibly top this year?

Kim and Theresa, The Chili Bee


Betsy sent an enthusiastic response (“you’re famous!”), shared our photos with the local newspaper, and they published our Posing with the Governor photo. She checked in with us at the beginning of 2014 to urge us to enter the cook-off again, but by then, Theresa was too ill.

In 2015, Betsy contacted all of the previous cook-off contestants with this beautiful note, and that’s when I found out that something else very special had happened in Round Top that day, after we’d run out of chili and started hanging out with the governor.


Feb. 7, 2015 (email)

Everyone–I wanted to share this poem that Barbara Smith sent me. We all remember how the 2013 Chili Cook Off came to a standstill when a funeral procession passed. The family was very touched, as is evidenced by a poem one of the family members wrote and shared. Yes, we are a caring community and that’s why I love living here. Please pass this on to any and all you think would have been there.

Betsy

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Feb. 7, 2015 (email)

Dear Betsy –

Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful poem. My friend Theresa and I participated in the cook off in 2013 as The Chili Bee, although perhaps we are best remembered as the “chili spillers”. You and the rest of Round Top’s finest were very good to us after our chili catastrophe which left a flood of 4 gallons of it in Theresa’s car. She was between chemotherapy treatments that beautiful January day, and with our remaining chili and a positive attitude, we soaked up the sunlight, the local color and a beer or two. We even met the governor in the late afternoon at Royer’s. What a great day.

That 2013 Roundtop Chili Cookoff was the last good time for Theresa and me. She battled her cancer over the next year, even while still doing some caterings with her husband and business partner. She wanted to sign us up for the 2014 Cookoff, but just felt a little too feeble. She left us for good on a beautiful day in May last year, and the memory of our adventure in Roundtop is one that I will always treasure. The poem that you sent makes it even more special. God bless small town folks, and God bless you.

Kim


The Round Top Chili Cook-off is this Saturday, January 21.  If you happen to be in Texas, you might just want to stop by for a little small-town magic.

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  • For another story about my inimitable friend Theresa, click here.
  • For my chili recipe (with beans!), click here.

Copyright 2017 Glover Gardens Cookbook

(except the David Markwardt poem and Royer’s photo)

Haiku: Ode to My Christmas Tree

I love to decorate the Christmas tree each year and remember the where, when and who of each ornament. We have tinsel from my paternal grandmother’s tree dating back to the 50s, kitschy baubles we picked up to remember family holidays, ornaments from my mother-in-law’s native Germany, handmade treasures from craftsy folks and schoolchildren, and gifts from years and years of stuffed stockings and generous colleagues.  Decorating a Christmas tree together and talking about the ornaments is almost like a family’s oral history.  I woke up this morning with this haiku about the tree in my head.

Ode to My Christmas Tree

Decorated, you
  are evergreen memories,
  ghosts of Christmas Past.

Cooking with Friends: A Root Vegetable Christmas Memory

winespectatorratings-mar13-2011Some of the most alluring recipes I’ve come across in my years of cooking have been published in Wine Spectator.  They are always perfectly paired with wine, described delectably and photographed beautifully, and I’ve been known to keep back issues for years, planning to make that picture-perfect meal a reality in my kitchen.  Someday.

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Photo from Wine Spectator online

The December 23, 2002 issue had just such a meal:  A Holiday Menu from Wine Country.  Oh my, it looked good:  White Bean Soup with Fried Sage, Pan-Roasted Duck with Root Vegetable Hash and Sweet Potato Puree…whee!   I held onto that issue of Wine Spectator for a couple of years, revisiting the recipe and ingredients a bit wistfully from time to time while realizing that my everyday life with a small child didn’t really support making this super-sophisticated meal.  But as they say, good things come to those who wait.  I finally broke out that recipe for a very small girls’ night at my house during the holidays a few years later.  It was just two of my closest friends and me, ready to cook, laugh, tell stories and maybe even cry a little (if necessary) in the little kitchen of my 1920s wood-frame cottage.  Two of us were single moms at the time, and the third a “restaurant widow”: her husband was the managing partner at a very popular restaurant, and was never home in the evenings.  All three of us were without children that night, for various reasons.  “Like sailors on leave,” one of them said.

The menu from the magazine, billed as an easy holiday meal to make at home, was provided by the executive chef of Napa Valley’s Auberge du Soleil, Richard Reddington, who was described as wine country’s “hottest young chef”.

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“Richard Reddington today is known as  ‘the most-loved bad boy in Napa Valley’ by the locals who adore him”, says Haute Living magazine.  Reddington owns and runs Redd, a high-end spot and Redd Wood, an Italian-style casual eatery.  They are on my list for the next Napa Valley trip.

The last thing I want to do on a holiday is kill myself in the kitchen,” Reddington says. “I want to be done and I want the kitchen to be clean and I want to sit down with my guests for an hour and drink a glass of sparkling wine.”

Gentle readers, you should know that there are definitely different definitions of “easy”.  Easy, it was not.  Tasty, it was.  Might as well drink that sparkling wine while you’re making the dinner, because it will be a while before you get to the finish line.

In my little kitchen with my two girl-buddies, there was a frenzy of chopping and chatter, and it took us a couple of hours to get the meal made.  We had a marvelous time, uncovering the meaning of life and praising the fiber of root vegetables as we sautéed each of them individually before mixing them (they don’t cook at the same rate and might get mushy if crammed together in a pan). We also praised ourselves for being smart and sophisticated enough to appreciate root vegetables – no bourgeoisie, we!  We exclaimed over the richness of the pureed sweet potatoes as we laid crispy-skinned pan-fried duck on them and began the devouring.

We drank our wine and told our stories with the desperate urgency of moms who only have a night off a couple of times per year – and of course the kids took center stage in all of those stories.

We knew were were the luckiest gals in the world that December evening, with our wine, our stories, and our fiber-laden root vegetables.  I cherish the memories of that night, with that meal, and those ladies.  One of them has left us and is now cooking with the angels, and I imagine her in heaven savoring the super-crispy duck skin with the rich, smooth pureed sweet potato and crunchy, root vegetable hash without worrying about the calories.  If you’re interested, you can read more about her here, but grab a cup of coffee first, ’cause it’s a long one.

Gather some friends and try these recipes one day when you have time.  They won’t be quick and easy, but you won’t be sorry. Here it is again:  A Holiday Menu from Wine Country.

Copyright 2016, Glover Gardens Cookbook

A Hurricane Rita Story: No One Understands a Mom Like Another Mom

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m reposting this little story about my adventures with another mom during a time of uncertainty.  Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there, and if you have small children, my wish for you is that you have supporting friends like the one I profile in this story.  I have been blessed to have several.  (You know who you are.)

Click to read the story: A Hurricane Rita Story: No One Understands a Mom Like Another Mom

Sound asleep in the back seat