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I Wish I Liked Bananas

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 8.26.33 AMLast week I wrote about Mom’s recipe for pie filling and later as I layered slices of bananas, vanilla wafers, and pie filling to make the best banana pudding ever, I decided it was time to overcome my aversion to eating a plain banana. I like everything about bananas, except their slimy texture. The ripeness doesn’t matter. Green or black-speckled, all bananas feel slimy.

Bananas are perfect snacks to eat quickly and easily and they’re healthy. They provide fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and various antioxidants. They may even help prevent asthmacancerhigh blood pressurediabetes, cardiovascular disease, and digestive problems.

I like a banana’s flavor, its convenience, and its health benefits. But every time I’ve tried to eat one, the slimy, mushy texture triggered my gag reflex. One bite, one chew, and I breathed deeply to avoid spitting it out. I told myself it’s a healthy fruit and its potassium might alleviate night leg cramps. The antioxidants are good for my heart and keep free radicals (whatever those are) from attacking my cells. And it’s cheap and I don’t need a plate or spoon. But in the past, mind over matter has never worked. That bite grows bigger and slimier the more I chew.

Friends have told me I need to pair a banana with something else, and peanut butter and bananas are natural partners because the banana offers quick carbs and peanut butter offers protein. Since a spoonful of peanut butter is my favorite quick hunger solution, it was worth a try. I sliced circles of banana and topped them with peanut butter. The flavors definitely compliment each other, but after one bite, I couldn’t eat another.

I smashed a spoonful of granola into the peanut butter. It was better, but I only managed two more bites. Sunflower seeds are crunchy so they would surely camouflage the banana. How can sliminess overpower crunchiness?

Next, I made fruit salad with apples, peaches, grapes, and small chunks of banana. I won’t notice anything except crispness I told myself. But that was a lie. My tongue rolled over the slimy banana and I chewed quickly and swallowed.

Sweetness could surely make a banana palatable. I cut three banana slices and dipped each into one of three sweeteners: chocolate syrup, honey, and brown sugar. All were delicious, but still slimy. Enough sweetness makes anything go down. I’d kid myself to think the nutritional benefits offset the harmful sugar effects.

So now I’m back to accepting that I don’t eat bananas although I do love Mom’s Banana Pudding and banana splits and banana bread. What’s better that a sliced banana with three scoops of ice cream (one vanilla, two chocolate) topped with chocolate syrup, real whipped cream, and a cherry? And overripe smashed bananas baked in banana bread surely provides some antioxidants and potassium and all that other healthy stuff.

But I still wish I could peel a banana, take a bite, and enjoy it. Suggestions, anyone?

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Mom’s Vanilla Pudding

Husband calls it Real Banana Pudding. I call it Mom’s Banana Pudding, but we agree it’s delicious. My stained and frayed 3 x 5 recipe card for the pudding is labeled “Pie Filling” and “from the kitchen of Mother.” The penciled writing is Mom’s and mine.

Recently, I took banana pudding to Husband’s family gathering and the dish was practically licked clean. The best compliment possible. “I bet you cooked it in a double boiler. It’s a lot of trouble,” Husband’s cousin said. I said that Mom taught me how to make pie filling years ago and it’s not trouble, just takes a little time.

Mom used the same basic recipe for all cream pies and banana pudding, and it’s the one I still use. About fifty years ago, Mom and I made a chocolate pie. She recited her recipe and we took turns measuring, stirring, and writing this recipe as we worked.

Mom’s Pie Filling

            1 cup sugar

            2 cups milk

            2 eggs

            3 T. cocoa

            3 T. cornstarch or flour

            1 T. margarine

            2 t. vanilla

            Mix the cocoa, flour, and sugar. Add milk and cook ‘til the pudding is nearly thick.            Add the beaten eggs yolks and cook ‘til thick. Add margarine and flavoring.

            Variations: Vanilla- leave out cocoa. Coconut – no cocoa, add ½ c coconut. Pineapple – drain juice from small can of crushed pineapple and use juice to substitute for some of the milk. For banana pudding, make vanilla pie filling.

Mom and I didn’t write details. I’ve learned to use whole milk, like the milk Mom used from our cow Dad milked every day. Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks in a small bowl; place the whites in a glass bowl to make meringue.

Mix the flour or cornstarch (my choice) and sugar and milk in a heavy saucepan, cook over medium heat and stir often. When the mixture thickens, add a few spoonfuls to the beaten yolks and stir to warm the eggs before adding them to the hot pudding. Pour the egg mixture slowly into the pudding and stir continually. After the mixture thickens, remove from heat. Add margarine, (or butter) and vanilla and stir.

Line the bottom of an 8” x 8” baking dish with vanilla wafers. Top with a layer of sliced bananas and then ½ of the pudding. Repeat the layers.

Beat the egg whites, ¼ cup sugar, and a pinch of cream of tartar at medium speed until the whites are fluffy, and then spread them over the pudding. Brown in a 350 degree oven for 10 – 12 minutes.

There are many recipes for banana pudding and all cooks have their favorites. This is mine. Not just because it’s real banana pudding and Husband’s favorite, but also because every time I pour warm beaten eggs into hot pudding, I see Mom wearing an apron tied around her waist, stirring with a wooden spoon, and standing beside her stove in an un-air-conditioned house. I treasure that memory.

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One Solitary Sundflower

Daughter posted a picture on Facebook of one sunflower plant beside a utility pole. Right in the middle of town. Inches from the sidewalk. A five-foot tall plant growing from a palm-size area of soil surrounded by asphalt. One beautiful bright yellow plate size flower. An unexpected sight.

So unexpected that Daughter’s 9 year-old daughter, Ruth, shouted from the back seat of their van as they drove past it, “Whoa, look at that flower!” A few days later, my Grand pointed it out to me. “Look, Gran, just one flower. It’s pretty, it’s it?”

This flower, this plant, intrigues me in many ways. I think of the huge fields of sunflowers that I saw while driving across Kansas six years ago. Bright yellow blossoms covered the prairie from the interstate highway to the horizon. Such a contrast: millions of blossoms and one single flower.

Sunflowers have been around a long time and are valued for practicality and beauty. Evidence of sunflowers has been uncovered at archeological sites as far back as 3,000 B. C. They were first cultivated by the Southwestern Native Americans and have become valuable as medicine, fiber, seeds, and oils. Early European settlers sent seeds back to Europe where the sunflower became popular in cottage gardens and then Van Gogh’s paintings in the 1880s gave this flower prestige.

Sunflowers adapt to soil from sand to clay and tolerate dry to medium moist soils as long as the soil isn’t waterlogged, which is why the one time I tried to grow sunflowers they drowned and died. They are remarkably tough and grow best in full sun. Yet, this solitary sunflower grows in a low place where rainwater pools, and it stands on a tree-lined street.

Daughter and I talked about this plant. There are many questions we’d like to ask it. Are you lonely being the only one in a sea of asphalt? Were you planted on purpose? Or did a stray seed make its way into that tiny crack of dirt between the utility pole and street? Are you struggling to live? Do you know you preach to us?

Daughter says, “We see you standing there so strong and lovely. You make a difference by bringing beauty into the mundane of driving down our street to get somewhere in life. You remind us to look for lovely. You stand, and sometimes, that is enough.”

I see strength and determination. Against all odds, you survived. You stand proud, but not nearly as tall as the towering utility pole that brushes your petals. You grew where planted: not in a cottage or backyard garden, not among friends in Kansas, but on a small town city street.

Elaine, age 7, was with me in my van when we past this flower and she said, “Gran, have you seen the sunflower? It shouldn’t grow there, but it does.”

“It’s persistent and determined,” I said.

“Per what? What does that mean?”

Sunflower, do you know the lessons you teach? The inspiration you share?

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Happy 4th of July

Screen Shot 2018-07-04 at 6.40.02 AMTo celebrate our independence we wear red, white and blue, gather with friends and family for backyard picnics, light firecrackers, and watch community fireworks shows. Is this the way our country’s birthday has always been celebrated? Why do we shoot fireworks? Who decided hot dogs are eaten at picnics?

While researching, I discovered that maybe we should be celebrating two days earlier since on July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted for independence and declared the legal separation of the thirteen colonies from Great Britain. It took two more days of debate for the delegates to agree upon the Declaration of Independence and have paper copies printed to distribute to states for ratification. Because those papers were dated July 4, 1776, the date was adopted as our country’s beginning.

Historians claim that only two people signed on the 4th: Secretary Charles Thompson and John Hancock, who was the president of Congress. About a month later, August 2, all fifty-six congressional delegates had signed their names on the document.

One of our founding fathers, John Adams, wrote, “The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.” He was right that we Americans continue to commemorate this significant event and we can give him credit for the tradition of fireworks. He wrote that America’s birthday should be honored with “games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.”

The holiday has always been celebrated with loud bangs and fire. On July 4, 1777, the first celebratory fireworks to mark the Declaration of Independence were set off in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Cannons and explosives left over from wars were part of our country’s earliest celebrations. By 1783, fireworks were easily available for public purchase and this year about 14,000 fireworks displays are planned nationwide.

It’s estimated that 150 million hot dogs will be consumed during the 4th of July week. And it’s no surprise that July is National Hot Dog Month. According to urban legend, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island began on July 4, 1916 when four immigrants challenged each other to a hot dog eating contest to prove their loyalty to America. Whoever ate the most hot dogs was the most patriotic.

But there are no records to prove this contest’s origin. The competition continues and now there are separate events for men and women and the contest is televised.

Like many of you, Husband and I will celebrate in all the traditional ways. I’ll eat only one hot dog and sparklers are my choice for backyard fireworks. And maybe we should all take time to include a reading of the Declaration of Independence as was done during the earliest Independence Day celebrations.

A copy is available at http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/ or listen at https://learcenter.org/event/dramatic-reading-of-the-declaration-of-independence. It’s worth fifteen minutes.

Happy Birthday America!

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Pass-through Window

IMG_5255Husband restated my request. “You want the screen taken off the front window by the kitchen table? You mean left off?”

“Yes. Left off. Without a screen, it’ll be a pass-through from the kitchen to the front porch table,” I explained. “And I wish we had a small table or storage something right under the window on the porch. Something to set things on from the kitchen. The kids and I will love it.”

I appreciate Husband. He’s a do-it, get-it-done person. Within days, he’d taken the screen off and ordered the perfect flip-top, storage stool. White to match the front porch wicker chairs and table. So most mornings, I raise the kitchen window, set my breakfast tray on the stool, put the window down, pick up my morning quiet time books and writing notebook, and walk out the front door. The pass-through saves me about 100 steps, because I don’t make two trips from the kitchen to the porch. But I’m really not lazy, it’s the convenience I like, and the fewer steps I take carrying coffee the less chance I have of spilling it.

One day last summer, when I raised the pass-through window to set Dean’s and my afternoon snacks on the stool, my six-year-old Grand’s eyes opened wide. “I’m setting our snacks on the porch. We can go out the front door and they’ll be there,” I said.

“Or we could go out the window,” said Dean. He stood by the open window with his head outside. “Can I, Gran?”

My Grand climbed out the pass-through, back into the house, and out again. With a grin of someone who had done something he thought he wouldn’t be allowed to do, he said, “That’s cool, Gran.” He hurriedly ate his snack so he could climb back inside the house.

Another day, while Lou, Ruth, and I put vanilla wafers and lemonade on a tray for afternoon ‘tea,’ Lou asked, “Can we eat on the front porch, Gran?”

“I’ll go outside, Lou, and you hand me stuff,” eight-year-old Ruth told Lou, age 6.

“And then I’ll climb out,” said Lou.

“Don’t hand me everything,” said Ruth. “I’ll come back in and hand something to you.” Ruth ran to the front porch and took a glass of lemonade from Lou. Lou climbed out the pass- through. Ruth ran inside through the front door, through the dining room, to the kitchen and handed one thing to Lou and then she climbed out. They took turns inside and outside until the cookies, drinks, and napkins were all on the front porch table.

After we finished eating, Lou said, “Can we climb back in the window?” The girls decided climbing in wasn’t as much fun as climbing out.

The novelty of climbing out and in the pass-through window has worn off and now, a year later, my Grands rarely climb out, but they still think it’s cool to set things outside and not have to carry them through the house and out the door. So do I.

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Anchovies, anyone?

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 7.23.45 AMWho eats anchovies? Those salty, slimy, oily little fish sold in metal tins – no thank you. Many times before ordering pizza for friends or family, I’ve asked what they like on pizza. And often the reply has been, “Anything and everything, except anchovies.” I’d never consider anchovies on pizza.

The only way I’ve ever eaten these little fish is in salad. A few minced anchovies, combined with mayonnaise, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and Dijon mustard to make the dressing, adds zing to a Caesar salad’s unique flavor. It’s one of my favorite salads, but I can’t see the dark, reddish-brown, unappetizing minced fish.

And then I learned about fresh anchovies. While travelling in Italy recently, Lucca, our tour guide in Cinque Terre, suggested a traditional Italian meal at his friend’s restaurant, Teverna del Capitano. The waiter offered our group of seven a three-course meal: salad, fried fish, and pasta.

Sliced tomatoes with basil leaves and mozzarella balls drizzled with olive oil. Delicately battered fried seafood, fresh from the Mediterranean Sea only a hundred yards from our table. Calamari, shrimp, white fish, and anchovies. And clam and mussels pasta, topped with pesto and olive oil. All sounded delicious, especially shrimp, except I couldn’t imagine yummy delicately battered fried shrimp on a plate with yucky, stinky anchovies.

“Fried slimy anchovies?” I said to Lucca, who was seated beside me.

“Probably not like anything you’ve eaten. These are fresh. Probably caught this morning,” he said.

When the fish platter was passed, I chose several large shrimp, a couple of calamari strips, and fish. The whole anchovies, without heads, were silver and light gray, but didn’t tempt me.

On his plate, Lucca used a fork to split, beginning at the tail, a four-inch long anchovy. Then he lifted the tail and the skelton to leave two narrow strips of white and flaky meat. “You’ve right,” I said, “I’ve never seen or eaten an anchovy like that.” Lucca ate half and gave me half.

Oh my. In an instant, every preconceived notion I had about anchovies vanished. Mild, light, tender. Not salty. No strong fish odor.

“That’s delicious,” I said. “Show me how to get the bones out.” Deboning an anchovy was as easy as Lucca made it look. The flavor was better than shrimp and a squeeze of fresh lemon brought out the taste. I pushed the other fish aside and ate anchovies as fast as I could debone them.

I now know the processing of anchovies gives this fish its bad reputation. Because they are small and have a high oil content (a healthy oil), they don’t transport well. So anchovies are cured and packed in barrels of salt for several months and the white flesh turns a brownish red color.

Will I give fillets of anchovies packed in tins another chance? I don’t think so. I can’t get past the look: slimy and an unappetizing color. But when offered fresh anchovies, I’ll be the first in line.

Remember Time with Dad

 Father’s Day brings memories. As his only daughter, Dad always let me know that I was his best and most-loved daughter. He told me and hugged me and kissed my cheeks and rubbed my back and spent time with me. The quiet times we shared are some of my happiest memories with him.

When I was growing up, there was a big wooden rocking chair with a red padded seat and back in our living room. It sat next to a window and across the room from the front picture window. A coveted seat. Dad often sat there to read the daily newspaper or study his Sunday school lesson or read a book.

Many times I sat in Dad’s lap while he sat in that red rocker and he often read aloud to me. I really liked when he read the Sunday comics and he’d share some newspaper articles.   And we’d take turns reading aloud whatever book I was reading at the time, usually a biography or fiction book from the school library. After we read, Dad asked questions. What was that chapter about? What do you like about this book? Now, what do you think will happen? Looking back, I realize he was teaching, which was his profession for many years, but as a child, I liked the comfort and security I felt sitting in Dad’s lap.

Another memory is sitting between Mom and Dad during Sunday church service.   We always sat in the same pew, about eight rows back on the right side. The sanctuary was small and most Sunday’s church attendance was about 100.

Mom put her hand on my thigh and if I wiggled too much her soft gentle caress became a firm squeeze. We didn’t have a church bulletin and I never had paper to draw or scribble on, but Dad knew how to keep me still and quiet. He handed me his blue ballpoint pen that was clipped in his shirt pocket and laid his hand, palm up, on my lap. I rarely wrote with a pen so I clicked the pen’s top several times.

Then I drew lines along every crease that crisscrossed Dad’s palm. And I drew pictures using those lines. Silly faces. Trees. Unusual shapes. Dad sat perfectly still and so did I, intent on my drawing, and sometimes he closed his eyes. Then Mom eased her arm across the pew behind me and nudged Dad’s shoulder. He jerked his head, opened his eyes, and he and Mom exchanged glances, and I kept drawing.

Dad taught me to ride a bike and drive a car. He encouraged me to climb trees and ride horses. He ate the practice biscuits I made for 4-H baking contests and he clapped loud when I bowed after playing my piano recital pieces. But I most remember the quiet times. Sitting in the red rocking chair. Drawing on his hand during church. Now, decades later, I still feel Dad’s love.