“I know you don’t have a minute to talk, but you must tell me: how are my children doing?” These are the first words Harriet says after I answer the phone last Sunday afternoon. Not “Hello.” Not “Jennifer?” Straight to the matter Harriet is, and it’s one of the qualities I adore most in her.
Since she left us for sunny California, almost a year ago, Harriet has called every couple of months to check on her (my) children and to tell me, again, that she keeps a printed copy of the post I wrote about her in the drawer of her bedside table next to her Torah and her notebook. I break a little each time she tells me this, happy and sad at the same time.
I miss Harriet. I miss her hilarious stories, her seemingly limitless knowledge, her rosy lipstick. Even from a distance, she somehow has always known just when I need a little boost of encouragement, a nudge to revive me.
In her 88 years Harriet has seen things I will never see, whether or not I reach the ripe age of 88 myself. The Holocaust. The McCarthy trials. The birth of the civil rights movement. The introduction of computers. Between 1925, when Harriet was born, and 1965, when I was born, the world changed more than in any generation before it. So historians say, anyway.
Beyond big world events, Harriet’s also seen plenty of life’s less pleasant, ordinary happenings. Cancer, broken bones, family squabbles, divorce, recession. If she chose, she could wear all those heavy millstones and let those stories define her. Having lost two husbands and moved away from her friends, she could bathe in unhappiness and no one would question that it was genuine and well-earned.
Instead, Harriet chooses to be happy. Still; always. She chooses to ask about life’s delights, funny, cheerful things. She always says, “I love you.” And at the end of each call, she reminds me this: “You all take care of each other. It’s what matters.”
Menu Notes: This week we’ll celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas, a Dutch tradition I promised Bernard’s mother we would keep. One of the recipes is traditional dinner fare for St. Nicholas night, but all are a match for the season. Warmth and comfort. Yum.
Week of December 1| 2013
|Drunken Irish StewI’m going to find the perfect stew recipe this winter, and if I don’t find it I’ll create one. My people are slowly growing to like stew and its lusciousness, but they don’t get excited when they hear it’s what’s for dinner. Here is the latest contestant, Drunken Irish Stew, from the delightful Crepes of Wrath site. This recipe calls for both Guinness and red wine – double alcohol for extra tender meat.|
|Waffles and SausagePoor waffle irons, stuck in the back of the cabinet until the weather turns cold. Why? I don’t know. The particular fun in this meal is that the kids can make their own waffles, using the recipe from Joy of Cooking. If you don’t have that classic book, Mark Bittman’s recipe will do just fine. To celebrate the holiday season, I’ll probably even whip some cream and buy strawberries to go with the waffles. Life is too short not to have whipped cream once in a while.|
|Shepherd’s Pie | Green SaladThe vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie recipe in Skinny Bitch in the Kitch actually looks tasty, and I haven’t given up entirely on a secret substitution hoping my people won’t know the difference. I suspect I’ll go the safe, traditional route, however. Alton Brown’s recipe is the classic, although I use half beef and half lamb.|
|Vegetable PlateMashed potatoes | Braised greens | Field peas | Cornbread
I froze a dozen bags of field peas at the end of the season (thank you, Grandmother Bray, for teaching me that trick!), so we can have one every few weeks to enjoy. I might mash sweet potatoes for some variety.
|St. Nicolas du Pelem Pork w/Mustard & ApplesOn December 6, Feast of St. Nicholas, we’ll put our klompjes out by the fireplace and hope to awaken the next day to find them filled with chocolate and oranges. There are a few traditional Dutch recipes on the St. Nicholas Center site, but this French one is simpler and looks tastier. I’ll serve it with some fresh bread and cut raw vegetables so we’ll have leftover carrots to leave for the horses.|