Monday, December 19, 2011

A Birthday Christmas

For twenty-plus years, I have been baking gingerbreads as Christmas gifts. The first year I was devoted to this new tradition of mine, I had baked one-half dozen-or-so individual gingerbread loaves for my neighbors and co-workers. Santa appeared on a fire engine just as I was in the midst of the Christmas spirit of writing and addressing my greeting cards. We rushed outside to collect the peppermint candies a very thawed Santa was tossing to the children, donned in his heavy red velvet suit and shades on this bright 82 degree December day. By the time I got back to my calligraphy, I dropped to the floor, slowly fading into the darkness. I developed pneumonia as a result of the type of artwork I was doing in North Carolina at the time. It was the heart of the Christmas season and like a good little Elf, I had much work to do! As the bug set in, the details became blurred with the whirlwind of activity and excitement that go with the season. There, on the counter, were neatly wrapped gingerbread loaves in a row, names on each and tied with a bow. “I have to get these delivered before Christmas!” I blurted in a panic. I must have been in shock from the 103 degree sustained fever, because I insisted my husband at the time, drive me all over town to deliver these bloody gingerbreads! I have a vague memory of one of those recipients visiting me days later, and decorating my then quarantined bedroom with pop-up poinsettias and paper garlands. 2 weeks later, I was loaded in the back of the truck like a sack of toys, on my way to the Cleveland Clinic for some much needed medical attention.

Ten years later, I was baking and preparing my traditional gingerbread loaves, recalling the 3 ring circus I had created a decade before. I neatly tied my loaves with the customary name tag and ribbon, putting one aside for our Aunt R. Aunt Ruth was in California, where she stayed with her Grandkids for 6 months out of the year. Her scheduled return came around my Daughter's birthday, just a couple weeks before both hers and my Dad's. We celebrated Christmas together, exchanging gifts while singing “Happy Birthday”. Our 88 y.o. Aunt R. was unwrapping her Christmas gift with the excitement of a young child when she stopped abruptly. She had this incredulous look on her face, rapping her present firmly on the coffee table inquiring “What's this - a door stop?” Like the cake I was petrified! It never occurred to me that the tightly wrapped and now fossilized gingerbread loaf would go stale! What WAS I thinking? Perhaps the fever I sustained from the pneumonia had caused some permanent brain damage, although my heart was still in the right place. She let our peels of laughter until I likened it to fruit cake, to which she commented in a sobering tone “I like fruit cake”.

I never lived down that day when my beloved gingerbread tradition became known as my gift for making successful door stops. Feeling unappreciated, I retired the gingerbread loaves, replacing it with the ritual “Christmas Pears”. More perishable than the gingerbread, I only have to make one and it serves many. It's a better tradition, soon to become my legacy. (Thanks Mom S.)

*HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our Grandson, Christopher, born on Christmas Day.

Gingerbread Cake for Health

This simple low-fat, gluten-free Gingerbread Cake recipe is rich in iron, & modified to benefit those with digestive, cardiovascular & inflammatory disorders. Nutritional alchemy for all to enjoy!

Preheat oven to 350F
Grease 9x9” square baking pan or Lg. loaf pan.

Sift the Following dry ingredients together:
(less the sugar)

1½ C. brown rice flour
1 C. arrowroot or tapioca flour
½ tsp. sea salt
1 Tbsp. ground flax seed
2Tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes
1½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. Penzey's baking spice
Touch of fresh ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. allspice
¾ C. Turbinado sugar
1 Lg. free-range egg (or equivalent egg substitute)
½ C. rice oil
½ C. unsulphered dark molasses
1 C. boiling filtered water over all

Beat together in large mixing bowl at high speed for 3 min.
Pour into greased pan

Bake for 40 min. at 350F degrees
Allow to cool @ room temp. then sprinkle with organic powdered sugar
or topped with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, or whipped cream alternative.

The above recipe is intentionally soy free. Eliminating the dairy topping will make it lactose-free.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I heart pink grapefruit

Why I didn't grab the grapefruit spoons is beyond me. You know, the ones with the bamboo handles and serrated edges. Dad and I were the only ones in the family who ate and even liked the tangy breakfast fruit. A real “eye-opener”, especially when it squirted in your eye, which was every time we ate it. Pink grapefruit was my favorite. Something about the color drew me in-of course, anything my Dad liked, I liked too. The “Red River” pink grapefruit were sweeter than the regular grapefruit, but we customarily added sugar anyway, giving the otherwise smooth and slippery refreshing treat a little texture. The saw-like scoop of the specially designed grapefruit spoons separated the individual juicy sections from the rind, sometimes bringing the thin, bitter membrane along with it. “That's where all the vitamins are” Dad would say with a squint. That was the moment when the inevitable squirt of acid would land right smack in the middle of your eyeball. You couldn't blink fast enough, half knowing it was coming and being equally surprised by the AM shock to your system. “Really Dad?”, I'd ask sarcastically, rolling my now stinging eyes. Like I was going to believe anyone who chronically told me food myths, usually about things I didn't like to eat. “Eat your Brussels sprouts, it'll make hair grow on your chest”. Yea, like every little girl wants that to happen. “How do you expect to grow-up big and strong like me?” was another Dad-ism intended to entice us into eating anything any child would turn their noses up at.

Truth of the matter is that the most beneficial nutrients of the grapefruit are in the fleshy lining of the rind. Dad just knew these things. He was a plethora of common sense knowledge he'd proclaim with a twinkle in his eye, making his statement of fact less believable. His delivery was characteristic of his Irish roots. His older, near twin brother was ironically a Pediatrician, granting him both the credibility and similar gift of stretching the truth. I loved my Uncle. It was he who instructed my Dad to let me eat anything I wanted after catching me snitch the curled chocolate off the cake on the buffet before dinner. “Latest word from Harvard...” I remember him say from the next room. Whatever study he quoted was ammunition I used for a time, but was most powerful in my Uncle's house.

I still prefer dessert before dinner but find myself exercising great constraint. I have grown to love fruits and vegetables and always have fresh produce in my house. This grapefruit was intensely naturally sweet which was a welcome surprise. A better surprise than having it squirt in the eye - especially with contacts. I prefer to juice grapefruit since I don't have the special spoons. Either way, it's appreciated more when you have to work for it. As Dad would say, “Here's mud in your eye”. Cheers!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Because I'm the Mom, that's why

I have vivid memories of being age four, three, two and even as early as one. My mother said that wasn't possible. She used to say things like that, like her description of a “teetotaler”. “What's a Tea Totaler. I'd ask, thinking it had something to do with drinking only tea. “It's someone who doesn't drink”, she stated. Well, to a preschooler, I literally thought that meant they didn't drink anything and surely they would become desperately thirsty. I could not perceive how that was biologically possible.

Another of my earliest memories was the viewing of President Kennedy on T.V. as he lay in state. The whole country seemed to be standing still, suspended in time. A few short years to follow we witnessed broadcast of the Vietnam war on the same black and white T.V., that played-out in stark contrast to the safe and protected life my Mother provided me through her colorful explanations.

With my 3rd and last grandson's upcoming 1st birthday, I reminisce with the thoughts and accompanied feelings I first experienced a lifetime ago. I wonder what memories will permeate the boys' young minds whilst growing up. I think about the little things my parents said or did that made such a profound impression, echoed in almost everything I still do to this day.

Yesterday marked the seven year anniversary of my father's sudden death. I shared his last minutes with him as he asked about my one and only daughter with whom he had a deep and devoted relationship. Mom serendipitously left this plane at the exact same time of my daughter's birth, on her 13th birthday. They referred to one another as “Angel Friends”. Nearly seven years later, dad and I said our customary “goodbyes” incorporating our secret handshake. My daughter too learned the secret handshake she ritualistically performed with her “Krampa”. My father never knew his great grandchildren as he passed just one brief month before his granddaughter became pregnant. These milestone events reminded me that our “secret handshake” is the most memorable gift I can give to Sean and his brothers, as our patented connection, binding us all forever. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Grandma's Blankets

Brandon's 1st Birthday Quilt
Everyone who knows me knows that I am a “pen and paper” kind of person. When my bank teller offers me more pens, I gladly accept them knowing they will be used. Writing things down is a more dependable way of saving information. As my Grandsons were born, I wondered how I was going to share of myself with them. I considered all the wonderful links and photos and comments, often about them, and how I would preserve them in some sort of a scrapbook. Video tapes were the rage when my daughter was born, however; the equipment with which to view them is obsolete. I wanted to create an electronic scrapbook to preserve the memory of their youth and those who participated in their lives. Social networks such as Facebook are an ever changing 3D collection of visuals and personal commentary that cannot be saved. I wanted to give them something tangible, to hold and feel and experience with all the senses, for years to come. Websites come and go and hyperlinks are as fleeting as the disposable computers and discs used to store such information. Who knows what future forms of communication will be like. 
Christopher's 1st Birthday Quilt
I thought about how to be with our Grandsons when we were apart. They live so far away so we exchange phone conversations and photos and even videos at the click of a button, but that is no replacement for feeling, hugging and holding. I decided to make small simple quilts that were durable and meant to be used, while hopefully lasting into adulthood.
My Grandma Feeley's Blanket
My Grandmother was crippled with arthritis and crocheted all day, every day as both physical therapy and distraction from her painful disability. She crafted the most beautiful but functional blankets, pillows, scarves with matching hats and mittens, slippers that we looked forward to every Christmas, and even handbags from bread bags! My Sister and I had a one-of-a-kind collection of fabric art we wore with pleasure. One Christmas I received a matching blanket and pillow that was my absolute favorite. I treated it with great care, hoping to pass it along to my own Daughter some day. When that opportunity became a reality, I couldn't part with it. My Grandmother passed away when I was still in Jr. High and what seemed to be an endless supply of crocheted goods came to an abrupt end. It was then I learned to never take anything for granted. 
I am not a gifted needle worker and never figured out how to crochet, after many patient attempts by my Gran to teach me. I have her hooks and looms anyway, in the event I should be magically inspired. Instead, I found Teddy bears and designed matching quilt-style blankets to present our grandchildren on their first birthdays. This week is the birthday of our first Grandson, who will be 6, and I was reminded of my “tradition”. Our third Grandson is turning 1 in March so it's time I start sewing my final blanket of green and navy blue to match his “Brooksie Bear” we found a year ago.
"Brooksie" Bear
Jessica Feely Photography
I was searching for my Uncle Marshall on line last night, to no avail. Coincidentally, the search produced a match to a product called “Behind the Blanket”, blankets made with love by Grandma Feely for her first Grandchild, Marshall. Grandma Feeley was the name of my Grandmother, too, my Uncle Marshall's Mother. Behind the Blanket makes quilt-like blankets, with a therapeutic twist to stimulate the senses. Inspired by her Grandson, Marshall, who was born with down syndrome, “Behind the Blanket” was also born. He called it his “Touchy-Feely” blanket as it was made with materials having different textures and colors and patterns to stimulate sensations in a warm and loving way by his Grandma Feely. I still feel my Grandma Feeley's love and warmth in the cherished blanket she made me. I hope our Grandsons will sense our love shared through their blankets for years to come.  Happy 6th Birthday Brandon!