This is the first thing I read when opening up The Gardeners’ Community Cookbook this morning. They seemed like the perfect words to share this Thanksgiving.
With much love to all,
* * *
Flora’s Forum has been taking a break since Dec. 21st because, well, I really needed one. I think many will agree that 2016 might have been one of the most trying years (collectively, as a nation) in recent memory. Like many, I was emotionally exhausted. I needed time to heal and regain my strength. I needed time to rethink a few things, time to delve into other projects, time to get some kind of plan of action together for the future.
But now that spring is starting to stir, I’m getting out of hibernation!
I think I’ll be able to offer you a lot of great poetry again, soon. I don’t know for sure; I haven’t communicated with Tricia in a little while, or the other poets, but I think they’re up for it. Are you Tricia? Virginia?
I also hope to offer more prose! And other artwork that fits the Flora’s Forum art-in-nature/inspiration theme!
So, if you’re a writer or artist with work to share, I’d love to see it. Send me an email at maefayne(at)msn.com. As some of you know, I don’t bring in any money from this site, so I, sadly and regrettably, cannot offer payment for publication. (Full disclosure: I did receive $50 in the Tip Jar way back in 2015, and it went toward the $99/year it costs just to keep the site free from ads that I do not approve of. Remember that time that fracking ad appeared out of nowhere?? UGH! I could not let that ever happen again!).
Thanks for sticking around, I love you all!
Last week I wrote about our family’s old stove, a stove I used while our children were young, while we were all growing up. It was a charming 1930s model, and we loved her, but as time went by things changed. As we approach the holiday season with the accompanying cooking and family gatherings, a tale of kitchen friends, past and present, seems appropriate. This is the second half of “Stove Love,” written four years ago.
* * *
It’s spring again, almost a decade since my first ode to the other stove. She’s just been moved to the front porch, newly (but by no means perfectly) scrubbed, awaiting the next chapter of her life. We’re not sure what that will be, if we’ll sell or keep her, as quick decisions are not a hallmark of our household. Andy and I are pokey, often impractical, romantics. At first I thought I couldn’t bear to part with her. Maybe I’d use her as a potting table, fill the oven and storage drawers with planters and supplies. Then I thought of the economy; with two girls headed for college sometimes it’s not such a great idea to hang on to the past. I scouted, briefly, for possible buyers on the internet, then became sidetracked with other concerns.
For a few days after we moved her from the kitchen I sulked and even resented my new used stove. Its plain-Jane practicality and efficiency mocked me. Less glamorous, less fun. I saw it as a mirror held up to my life—you are getting old and boring, practical; you’re selling out romance.
The 1930s stove, like me, was showing her wear. After twenty-some years in our family the chips in her pretty green-marbled and yellow enamel had grown bigger, dings now dime-sized, quarter-sized pits enlarged to silver dollars, the rusty front drawer rustier, cast iron burners more clogged, the porcelain drawer pull showing more hairline cracks. Several years ago the oven door went sloppy, opening on its own at inopportune times. Baking meant adding a cardboard shim. The cardboard in the door became a temptation for Chancho, our wiry, naughty, Chihuahua-terrier mix. He would run off with the cardboard, requiring a repeat (grab a Celestial Seasoning box, tear off a piece, fold) every time we baked. Andy attempted a repair of the door with some wire; it worked for a time, then didn’t, and we blew off dealing with it. When you are using a seventy, eighty-year-old appliance, it’s easy to go with the “why bother” mentality.
So, while I was bonded with this stove, I had been growing impatient. There’s a certain charm (you’re oblivious to at the time) when you’re young—in driving beat up cars, dealing with the quirks of aging appliances. They’re only minor irritations, and it’s easy to not give too much of a damn because you’ve got your whole life ahead of you and things will get better, you’re sure of that. But then the years fly by and when life doesn’t produce that voila! magic transformation that you’ve dreamed of (though life is still good), there comes a drop in tolerance. Eighty-year-old stoves with crap doors aren’t so charming. The sour thought that a new stove would be nice starts to occur to you; that it’d be real damn nice not to have to put this freaking cardboard in the door every time you bake muffins. But you look at hubby and he, God knows, has enough to deal with, too—so you check the nagging.
When I was a teenager my five younger siblings and I would come home from school, scavenge a snack, and gather around the TV for after-school-recovery-time, right before get-the-chores-done-before-Mom-comes-home time. Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch were our usual fare, but sometimes we’d zone out to the materialistic antics of the contestants on The Price is Right. We didn’t really like the show, and I wondered at the lame displays some of the winners made regarding, to my mind, hopelessly boring prizes, like appliances. They’d jump up and down, some quaking, or even, if you can imagine, crying, at the glorious sight of a new refrigerator or washer/dryer combo, previously fondled by one of Bob Barker’s beatific bimbos. “What the f?” wasn’t in my vocab in the late 70s, but that was my reaction. Then I grew up, became a homeowner, and learned that reliable appliances were pretty nice indeed. Especially after you’ve spent some time in a laundromat with a baby, or, even more fun, pregnant, with a toddler running around the laundromat as you fold clothes. If you’ve experienced the joys of defrosting a non-frost-free freezer with a hair dryer you will know whereof I speak.
So it was just the natural progression of life and not really old-fogey-ism when a rush of excitement came upon me when Andy, working on a home remodel in our wealthiest part of town, told me that there might be a great stove up for grabs.
“What kind?” I asked, although a very precise picture had formed in my mind. With money came quality. I flashed on stoves I’d coveted over the years in decorating magazines . . . stainless steel, definitely . . . with badass names like Viking and Wolf. Stoves that could withstand the lightning bolts of Thor, that could cook Grandma whole.
“It’s stainless steel, a four burner, with an electric convection oven.”
My pulse quickened. “Is it a . . . ” I stammered, dared to hope, “a Viking?”
“No, some other brand.” Andy told me that not all the best stoves were Viking, never mind the advertising campaigns.
I didn’t know exactly what a convection oven was, but I knew this might be my dream stove. I didn’t get my hopes up, though. Several weeks went by. Andy negotiated with the contractor. He researched the brand on the Internet (a damned fine stove, indeed!). I held my breath. It looked like we’d probably get it and then, no, the contractor’s son wanted it. That was that. No new used stove for me.
I was disappointed but not crushed. It didn’t surprise me that they wanted to keep it. Yet it did make it more difficult to fry my eggs on the old one.
Then, two years later, another turn of events (I told you things don’t happen fast around here). The contractor’s son decided to sell the stove. Andy could buy it, for a pretty penny but still a fraction of its value, and less than an ordinary stove. He would pick it up in Boulder, ninety miles away.
It was weird, changing them out. Next to the 1930’s beauty, this stove looked as tough as a womens’ prison guard. No nonsense. Boxy. Bulky. Black and silver. Her label was DCS—Dynamic Cooking Systems.
It took three of us to get her up the front stairs and into the kitchen. My shoulder hurt for days. She was ungodly heavy. Her oven door, with its glass window, was massive and it closed up tight as a safe.
Our two daughters weren’t exactly thrilled with the new stove, either, at first. One of Lily’s friends, Shelby, was especially disappointed. She loved the quirks—having to light the burners and oven with a lighter, the cardboard shim thing. She had known that stove since kindergarten, it had played a role in tea parties, and pancake breakfasts after sleepovers.
Our new stove had one broken knob, an injury during the first move (a replacement’s on order), and one of the burner sensors needed cleaning. Otherwise, she was in tip-top shape. Low mileage, as her previous owners were away most of the time. The streamlined ease with which she’s designed is admirable. A row of five tiny rubber buttons to push for: Off, Bake, Conv, Broil, Light. Four big black burner knobs which go from high flame to the tiniest simmer flame I have ever seen, a light (a light, what will they think of next!) in the oven. Three tiny red lights to indicate: Oven On, Heating, and Door Locked. Not super fancy, not slick, but so practical. We’ve tried her out, and it is a magnificent experience to cook with someone of her abilities.
She suits me pretty well and I’m gradually looking past the hard-edged exterior into the inner possibilities. The other night, after hours of shoveling dirt in our new community garden, I drifted off to sleep at about 7 p.m., in front of the TV with my work clothes on. When I awoke, Ruth Reichl (food writer extraordinaire) was on some PBS show talking about gardening and food. She was showing how to oven dry tomatoes—drying them to the point where they can be powdered, and then using this wonderful tasty ingredient on pasta, deviled eggs, etc. Although I am secretly scheming to get Andy to build a solar food dehydrator this year, I thought, excitedly, half-asleep, the possibilities bringing me to consciousness—I can do this this summer with home-grown tomatoes. This would be perfect in my new oven!
Zora, our oldest daughter, immediately came around to loving the new stove. “The rice cooks better,” she announced after preparing a dinner of Indian food, a once-a-week ritual she’s adopted this year. She was the first to bake with the new stove, making cupcakes for her classmates on her eighteenth birthday. They, too, were perfect. I’ve played with the convention aspect and marveled at the speediness, the evenness, the crispness it brings to bread crusts. This new girl can cook.
I know now that what really bothered me about the stoves, the whole out-with-the-old in-with-the-new, is that they symbolized the change in our home this year. While we’ll have a child at home for several more years, our family is growing up, getting older, and, like all transformations, all growth, it has not been easy or painless. Zora will leave this fall to college. While I always thought I would not be one of “those moms,” those overly-sentimental women falling apart when fledglings fly the nest (because, I imagined, they probably didn’t have enough going on in their life) I’ll be damned if I’m not one of those moms, when I let myself be. An era is ending, and I try not to dwell on it, because when I do I cannot help but to mourn. At the same time, I know I should be joyful that I have reared a perfect young woman, and I am, and yet . . . This will be a year of work for me, getting my mind and heart around it all, moving toward acceptance. This stove-change has reflected it all. A very pretty, albeit impractical and outrageous era draws to a close, yet I have grown, too, into a competent, secure, happy-with-her-life middle aged woman. I like who I am now. I am not as young and pretty, but I’m not as flakey, inexperienced, and filled with high drama either.
This new chapter in my life is one to look forward to—delicious new recipes, new experiments, and discoveries. Soon I know I will have a feeling—that I can’t wait to start cooking.
I thought I’d go this week with the theme of “nourishment.” It’s a writing theme I came upon when deciding a long time ago that I wanted to publish a love letter to my 1930s stove. I used this stove for twenty years; my girls grew up with it. My mom once laughed at how, as small children, Zora and Lily were amazed at her stove, which required only the turning of a knob to light! No match or lighter necessary!
How times have changed. I wrote another essay about our comparatively high tech/much newer stove about five years ago.
This week I am putting the vintage stove up for sale.
It’s time. This stove, which has been on our front porch since its retirement, has served our family well, but it’s a new era. I need to let go, pare down, move forward.
It seemed fitting, too, in this season of thankfulness, harvest, and family, to revisit my “stove love” essay. Just this week a friend wrote about cast iron cookware; last week my sister Rhonda and I joked about cleaning our stoves. The world turns and yet it stays the same.
(First self-published 2004, reprinted in MaryJanesFarm, Oct.-Nov. 2010)
It’s spring cleaning time and today I’m tackling the grease, the grime, the soot; in other words, my stove. She’s from the 1930s. There’s a metal plate located inside, just below the burners, that declares her a product of The Eureka Steel Range Company, made in O’Fallon, Illinois. She was obviously top-of-the-line then, as the plate informs me she “Complies With National Safety Requirements,” but her ability is lacking by 21st century standards. She does the basics. Most of the gas holes in the top four burners, set too close together for cooking with more than large pot at a time, aren’t clogged, and the oven does a fair job, though it’s not insulated very well. The temperature regulation is, well, just a little flaky.
Her porcelain enamel finish is far from perfect. A dozen or so chips, from dime to quarter size, mar her surface. But she’s beautiful to me. In fact, I’ve loved her since the first time I laid eyes on her. She stands on four, nine-inch tall, curvy, porcelain enamel-plated, buttercream yellow legs. That color also graces her doors, sides, and the four-inch tall curved back panel. The secondary colors are two tones of sage green, a darker background with lighter streaks, in a faux marble pattern. The trim around the edges and Bakelite burner knobs are black, and fancy white porcelain pulls that dangle like earrings from chrome plates open the oven, broiler, and drawers. Not only is she colorful and curvy, but I love her design. She’s divided into two parts. One side has the four top burners with a faux-marbled cover and storage drawers below, on the other, above the oven and broiler, is a flat surface. There you can place a mason jar full of wooden spoons and whisks, spatulas, or an interesting trivet or two, or nothing, if you’re one of those minimalist types. But a minimalist would never own this stove.
The most wonderful aspect, though, is not her art deco looks. She holds memories. I first saw her when I was about eighteen, visiting my future brother-and sister-in-law’s house for Christmas. It was the early 1980s but Danny and Vicky were children of the sixties. They lived in a Victorian-era house filled with groovy thrift shop finds: fringed throws on their worn velvet sofa, faded Oriental carpets, shelves full of mismatched floral dishes, and assorted curiosities such as a brass perpetual calendar hanging on the kitchen wall and a racy early 1900s nutcracker in the shape of a set of bare, booted female legs sitting in the coffee table’s nut bowl. As I watched Vicky pull the roast duck from the oven, I admired the stove. Vicky told me it came from Goodwill. They’d paid twenty dollars for her.
A few years later, my husband and I bought our first home, an early 1900s two-story so dilapidated that my mother cried after her first visit. At the same time, Danny and Vicky were moving from their shabby chic home to a 1920s bungalow. They now had a young son, Vicky had a college degree, and they were moving closer to the mainstream. I learned that the person who bought their house was going to turn the half-acre lot into a scrap yard. I felt sickened that the beautiful cottage-style garden Vicky spent years creating was going to be destroyed, but I nearly panicked when I heard they were leaving the stove. “You have to get that stove,” I said to Andy. Fortunately, he felt the same. He contacted the new owner, who was happy to trade the treasure for our boring white Magic Chef. I felt like I had rescued a piece of family history.
I get to work, scrubbing the stove with the soapy steel wool, listening to Elvis, our rescued canary, twitter and trill to the chickadees outside the living room window. Cleaning the front surfaces, I see skinny light green streaks that mar the marbled finish between the oven on the right and the storage drawers on the left. Andy had the best of intentions. About a year after he brought her home, he wanted to do a thorough cleaning job. He’d just finished remodeling the kitchen, and wanted to surprise me when I came home from work. He had no idea the cleaner would bleach the porcelain finish as it dripped down its surface. That was over a decade ago and I still remember the look of remorse as he told me about it.
I lift the stove cover to get to the burners and notice a warning stenciled in small red print: “Caution. Turn off gas cocks before placing this cover over burners.” It takes me back to the time my sister Renea, then fifteen, pointed it out to me while bursting into laughter. That was well over a decade ago too. Renea was experiencing some serious teenage rebellion and my dad asked if she could come stay with me and Andy in Colorado for awhile. We welcomed her that spring and although there was an eleven year age distance, we became good friends. More than once, to her amazement, I left work in the middle of the day to go to her when she called me about some crisis she was having at her new school. By that summer, we were both older and wiser, and she was very homesick. She promised she would behave and went back to Missouri. I was left with memories of her ribald humor, the humor that made her crack up at the stenciled warning on the stove.
I scrub around the porcelain pulls, hanging from their decorative chrome plates (one pull, its chrome attachment piece missing, is still in a drawer, has been for years) and think of the many Christmas dinners I’ve prepared with the stove’s help. Many of my firsts were cooked in this stove–first duck, first goose, first leg of lamb. The stove has helped me prepare many holiday sweets, hundreds of sugar cookies baked with my young girls, dozens of loaves of sweet breads and many pans of baklava have emerged warm and fragrant from her womb.
As I clean out the compartment that holds cast iron cookware, I study embossed maker marks on pots and pans. The cornbread mold, touting rows of ears of corn, reads No. 273 Griswold Crispy Corn Stick Pan, Erie PA USA. Warner Ware skillets hail from Sidney (I assume Sidney, Nebraska) and a very small, and, I think, very old, skillet reads Martin Stove and Range Co Florence ALA. They hold memories of flea-marketing, searching for bargains to stock the kitchen, this stove, my life. I wonder who used these utensils, seasoned the skillets, before me.
I think of the life I’ve lived during two decades of cupcakes and gumbos. We cook now with two young daughters who love the magic of turning wet batter into golden cakes, tossing and pouring ingredients into pans, and stirring pots while they bubble and steam. One of their specialties is pizzas. Lily, now in first grade, helps me mix the dough while her sister, Zora, three years older, makes the sauce. Her recipe never varies: one can of tomato sauce mixed with minced garlic, basil from our garden, and freshly milled pepper. We grate and chop and sprinkle together. So much has changed. Andy and I have stayed together, though there have been plenty of times when I wasn’t sure we would. Danny and Vicky weren’t so lucky. It’s hard to believe that their son will graduate from high school this year, and that their daughter is almost a teenager. Danny didn’t live to see them finish middle school. My sister Renae grew up, moved to Tennessee, and is helping rear two stepchildren who adore her. She still entertains all who know her with her bawdy humor.
I finish my task and the stove stands cleaner, waiting to serve, to bake the next loaf of bread, fry the next egg, or boil the next kettle of water for the next pot of tea, a slightly-battered but loyal helpmate on this ever-revolving world, a world where everything changes yet somehow stays the same. She’ll become grimy again, yet she’ll also help nourish us through our tragedies and celebrations, a piece of the heart in the art of living.
* * *
Postscript: Oh, how my life was graced with the sweet vibe of young children during that time. Girls helping me cook, and all of us teaching, sharing.
Until next week, INTERMISSION. Then I’ll share what happened when a new, very different used stove came into our lives.
There are times when it’s necessary to go “off topic” to something far more important than gardening, or books, or any of the other dozens of things I’ve posted about.
Because “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
I hope you will watch this powerful speech, presented to the UN by Emma Watson on September 20th, and share it with the world.
With love and equality for all,
P. S. Here’s a link to the text of the speech.
P. P. S. Tell your men about the movement and send them here to join!
As the Western Skies essays continue this summer, I found this lazy summer piece, reminding us to try to stay chill and appreciate the little connections.
My eleven-year-old daughter and I, out on a walk, were startled by a yell, “Hey, your dog’s in the road!”
We turned to see a man in black spandex slowing down on his bicycle. He nodded at a mutt headed our way.
“He’s not ours,” I said.
The rider shrugged and pedaled off. The dog lumbered up. A big mutt with a sweet face, floppy wheat-hued ears, and fur clipped close to his body for the August heat. I guessed from his looks maybe some St. Bernard and German Shepherd. “Hi, there, boy,” I said. I gently grabbed his collar, noticed the dry patches of skin on his back. Ewww.
“What’s his name, Mom?”
“Don’t know, Lily.” The tags jingled in the quiet Sunday afternoon. “There’s only a license and rabies tag.”
I didn’t want to end our walk when we were only two blocks into it, and I wasn’t keen on corralling a non-threatening but perhaps mange-ridden dog with our own. Surely, his owner would be cruising the street soon, calling for him. I’d been there, so had most of our neighbors—an unlatched gate or open door was an invitation for your dog to split. I released him and he padded purposefully in front of us. A slight limp and scrawny hindquarters said he was an old guy. I was pretty sure he wouldn’t do anything stupid.
He stuck with us. A block down he wandered into a yard with two women, one holding a baby. The young mother smiled until I said, “He’s not ours.” Then she clutched her baby to her chest. I’d alarmed her. Sorry, I thought.
We walked and the dog led, pausing every now and then to hike his leg, lagging behind, leading again. The blocks passed and Lily and I didn’t talk much—the dog commanded our attention. In a gravel parkway he stopped and squatted. Loose stools. “Oh, gross!” we exclaimed (now I really didn’t want to take him home). We continued. He paused to sniff a calico cat under a Jeep. A pretty blonde teenager smiled from the porch. “Oh, he’s cute,” she said.
Everyone noticed him, no one felt compelled to take him under their care.
Soon it was time to head back home. He’d been with us nine blocks, we had a mile walk back. We stopped at the corner, the dog kept going. “He’ll probably keep going,” I whispered.
“Bye,” Lily called.
“Why did you do that?” I scolded. We turned around, crossed the street, putting distance between us and tag-along. But he spotted us, ambled up again.
Lily grinned. “Looks like he is ours.”
“If he follows us home, I’ll find his owner.”
We passed the girl on the porch again.
She laughed. “He’s still following you?” We crossed the street again, in a last attempt to shake him. It didn’t work. I knew he had to be thirsty. First thing I’d do when we got home was give him a bowl of water.
Two blocks from our house, he crossed the street and disappeared.
“That’s where he joined us. He’s going home.”
I was glad to be rid of him, but happy for his company. What was the nature of Zen Doggie? A mysterious geriatric escapee, or a serene, mystical visitor? The answer was clear. Just a fellow traveler, joining us on a Sunday afternoon.
* * *
For this week’s post, I thought I’d share a confession.
It happened years ago, but the sweet memory lingers . . .
* * *
The affairs began within a week of each other this summer. After twenty-some years of marriage, my husband and I were surprised to find ourselves ensnared by others—he with his wrong-side-of-the-tracks trollop, me with my beautiful Mexican lover.
I could not help falling in love with Tulio. His eyes, my God, wonderful espresso eyes that gazed, no, bored, into mine with such romance, such intensity, such devotion. He had it all—a personality that drew women wherever he went, and yet an ability, when we were alone, to make me feel as if I were the only one. I knew I wasn’t, that he belonged to someone else, but I didn’t care. Our time together was ecstatic. Caresses, kisses, nuzzling . . . his mouth on the buttons of my blouse, first pulling playfully, then urgently. Once, his tongue darted into my ear and . . . electrifying.
My husband’s lover was different. Oh yes, she was beautiful. She possessed a taut, lithe young body, and she poured her attention on him like molasses on a buckwheat pancake. Yet, she was common. I knew her type and it was legion—gorgeous young, ordinary old. She’d call, bitchy and demanding, and he’d jump. He thought her demands were “cute.” He showered her with gifts, while I looked on, jealous, but mired in my own guilt. My husband wasn’t Elowen’s only love either, but, like me, he knew and didn’t care. He reveled in the attention, worshipped her youth.
We knew about one another’s infidelity, and we flaunted our summer loves.
One afternoon my husband caught me and Tulio nuzzling on the bed. I looked up and smirked, as if to say, “He’s so much nicer than you, you cannot imagine.”
“He’s cute,” said my spouse, “but not what I’d call a real dog. A Chihuahua . . . good grief.”
“Only three-quarters. Don’t forget the miniature pincher.” I planted a kiss on Tulio’s tiny head and he turned his melty eyes toward me. “Mmmm, puppies are a girl’s best friend. Your feline, on the other hand, she’s a mutt.”
“Elowen? Aww, she’s a sweetie.” At the sound of his voice, slinky grey tiger Elowen leapt upon the bed and brushed up against my husband, gently scent-marking him with her velvet cheek.
Tart, I thought.
Our two daughters came into the bedroom, catching us in the act. “Hey,” said ten-year-old Lily, “why don’t you get your own pets if you like ours so much?”
“Here, kitty, kitty,” her thirteen-year-old sister Zora beckoned.
Elowen ignored her owner; she had spotted Tulio. She raced to him. Delighted to see his playmate, Tulio bolted from my arms, tail wild with excitement. The two began their routine, one we’d seen dozens of times already. They began to roll and tumble. They took turns pinning one another down, biting with gentle vigor. Two four-month-olds, more interested in one another than any of us.
As we watched them absorbed in their play fight, I thought about the one that my husband and I had indulged in this summer. Our little mock rivalry had been fun, serving to awaken the youngsters still very much alive in both of us.
There’s nothing quite like middle-aged puppy love.