Jambalaya ~ Past, Present, and Future

The first time I tasted Jambalaya was at a grown-up girls’ slumber party in the late 1970’s. Several of the seven females from the Class of ’76 reunited over dinner at a former classmate’s apartment in Minneapolis (she moved away before junior high but we kept in touch) and as I mentioned earlier, I have fond memories of the Twin Cities. Her Jambalaya was one of them. Never tasted anything like it until I moved South of the Minnesota-Iowa border. Good times and great flavors.

The Magnificent Seven (not including our former classmate) were outnumbered by 29 boys — yes, my graduating class totaled 36 — and although we girls were small but mighty, we were outspoken. Probably the apt word from that era is: dissenting. We weren’t afaid to disagree, protest, or try flavors foreign to our smalltown digs. The boys seemed to like our cooking, too. Memorable moment before we voted to cater subsequent class reunions: mega-batches of potato salad made in my kitchen.

Ditto on good times.

The Girls of ’76 went on to lead lives — culinary and otherwise — beyond the confines of our rural hometown. (Some of the boys, too.) But OH, how I remember that post-high school Jambalaya with shrimp, Andouille sausage, chicken, and the “Holy Trinity of the South” — sautee’d peppers, celery, and onion (hadn’t heard of that before either) — in a flavorful tomato sauce over rice.

Fast forward to present day when Joy The Baker added eggs (her Jambalaya Egg Bake was featured in Better Homes & Gardens where I first spied this recipe — with full credit going to Joy The Baker and Better Homes & Gardens.) Thanks both for featuring this flavor-fest blast from my past. Similar to Shakshuka (also discovered post-high school), it appealed to my beyond-the-border sensibilites and reminded me that there’s a lot left to experience in life — waaay beyond the the Prom floor or the bland Tuna Hotdishes I’d grown accustomed to on previous weekends.

For those of you who follow me on Facebook (thank you!) I recently posted photos of my Chocolate Roux and BBQ. (Different flavors and methods; same South of the Minnesota border spin.) Follow the links.

I’ll be making all of them again in the future. Hope y’all try ’em, too!

Enjoying past, present, and future Jambalaya — among other things,

~ Kim

Indelible Evidence

“Indelible” often refers to ink, but I believe it applies to life as well. You leave a trail whether you intend to or not. What will yours say about you?

The thumbprints above were my Dad’s (which I inadvertently discovered in one of his favorite books, besides Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove below) — James Michener’s Centennial. He told me he read it so many times he lost count! Evidently… indelibly. I included it in his eulogy five years ago.

Last winter I finally sat down to read one of Dad’s “faves” and discovered his posthumous paw prints. I bawled like a baby before I could read the rest. Not only did I touch his past, I discovered my future.

Above is the well-worn cover from his other favorite. Whether you’re into Westerns or not, it’s an entertaining read. (The Man Of Few Words ‘n’ I still watch the video series on lazy Saturday afternoons.) Dad left his mark on my heart, and my point is this: history precedes us and we all leave evidence of our existence.

Leave your trails wisely!

As for my lil’ corner of the planet, life lately has been experienced through my lens (at long last) — between intermittent storms, loss of satellite signal, and meals that will never make social media. (I ate the evidence!) It felt good. Slightly stormy, but good.

Fifteen or more tornadoes touched down in our immediate area this week — prayers to all those affected — to keep us mindful. Today it was “just” torrential rain. We’re grateful for every blessing, and truthfully I slept through most of it.  Apologies for the “post-publishing” edits, too… it’s been a long day, but I was compelled to write.

We’re doin’ okay, but the wind sock in our front yard provided evidence of the turbulent skies overhead. Nothing but “rotation” could accomplish that.

Gotta love Oklahoma!

Leave an indelible mark on your journey… the path is yours to define.

Or pass on indelibly.

Enjoying the past, present, and future,

~ Kim

Putting Away Pieces of My Life

Assimilate: 1 take in (information, ideas, or culture) and understand fully; 2 cause (something) to resemble; liken.

Since the first of June I’ve been trying to assimilate the fifteen boxes of “stuff” (with a capital S!) that I hauled home from Minnesota into my present-day life — and decor. Truthfully, I don’t “understand fully” how such polar opposites (housekeeping and memorabilia-wise) could evolve from the same household. But, it is what it is.

Basically, I’m stymied as to how to “liken” 60 years’ worth of someone else’s worldly goods into my home without losing my identity.

Apparently Mom was (is) a sentimentalist. Keeper of every greeting card she was ever given — with family mementos stashed between. (Trust me, I thumbed through thousands of ’em.) Appliance manuals, dishes, and clothing dating back to 1955 and beyond. Bank statements and tax returns, too.

I gave Grandpa’s 1940’s income tax paperwork and “corn loan papers” to my Mom’s cousin and his wife — farmers and historians, to boot. (Hallelujah.) It wasn’t just Mom’s stuff I dealt with, it was my grandparents’, two uncles’, my Dad’s, my Sister’s, and my brother’s. Overwhelming, to say the least.

Part of the difficulty in assimilating another person’s stuff into your life (and home) is that you don’t have the same frame of reference or memories they did. What was once special to Mom isn’t necessarily pertinent to me.

Here’s some of the what I brought home. A 10th (100th?) of what awaits for me to “sort” next summer. Yay for storage units! (Out of sight, out of mind?)

Stuff close up

The gravy bowl and recipe box I “remember” (fondly) because I used them.

The rest, not so much.

Here’s what else I “assimilated.” The odd ducks on my bookshelves.

Favorites

The Brownie cameras were my Grandma’s and Uncle’s. (The replica next to ’em was a gift from my daughter, xo.) Y’all know how much I love photography — even if my photos don’t always prove it. :) The Haviland demitasse cup was my piano teacher’s, or at least I “assume” it was. (She favored such things.) Without stories or memories attached — or passed down — they’re just “pretty things.” (Taking up shelf space, I might add.)

Sadly, there’s a continental divide between what I know (or have been “told”) re: the history surrounding most of these treasures. Mom’s memory ain’t what it used to be (mine isn’t either) and my past is disappearing by the day.

Was the dainty china cup a gift or a family heirloom? (I’m keepin’ it, even if it doesn’t fit my fingers!) The goblet in the corner was a reincarnation of the original Big Daddy , courtesy of my pal Tammy, xo. The “sculpture” (back right) was my interpretation of art after I scrounged whatever I could amidst the rubble of our front yard after the fire — part molten glass from our former living room windows, part melted aluminum hub caps from TMOFW’s “toasted” Ford truck. (I thought it looked kinda like a “wave” — a funky, familiar, relevant piece of “us” as perceived by me.) Art is in the eye of the beholder. Memorabilia, too.

Then there are books. (Lots and lots of books.) Currently I’m sorting through (and culling) Dad’s Zane Grey “collector Westerns” and my Sis’s Time-Life gardening and cookbook series. Miscellaneous reference volumes (most of which I’m keeping) and “how-to’s” for writers (all of which I’m keeping!)

So many tomes, so little time.

Or shelf space.

Tom n Me

However, it hasn’t all been work and no play. There’s been fun stuff, too (with a capital F! ;), including this “photo booth” snapshot (remember those?) taken a few months ago during one of my son’s & my outings with some of his heartfelt sentiments. I’m compelled to keep these forever, xo.

BTW I’m heading out to visit my daughter this week (off the grid, unless she posts FB photos, lol.) Be prepared! And, my son is driving down to visit me next week. Stay tuned.

Assimilate what you can however you can. And remember…

Simplify

One box. One shelf. One memory at a time.

Determine what’s important for you to keep.

Enjoying creating “present day perfect” from past tense,

~ Kim

The Trip of A Lifetime (Memories of Christmas in England)

Boxing Day Memories

It was Christmastime and I was twenty-one. It was also the first time I’d traveled anywhere by myself, let alone internationally. A childhood chum had extended an invitation for me to visit while she was on break from university in London and when you’re twenty-one anything is possible.

With visions of A Christmas Carol dancing in my head, I stepped onto a plane with a passport, hiking boots, and a backpack — my suitcase got lost in Iceland en route, but that’s another story — and set off on the trip of a lifetime.

Once my plane landed at Heathrow, I tried to contact my friend but the number she’d given me was busy, or so I thought. I hung up and tried again. After repeating this process myriad times she finally answered, breathless from dashing down three flights of stairs every time the communal phone in her dorm lobby rang. Apparently ‘busy signals’ in the U.S. and British phone-rings at that time sounded remarkably similar. We laughed at my naivety and chalked it up to live and learn. The adventure had begun.

During the following week I did everything I’d ever dreamed or read about… toured the Tower of London, ogled the Crown Jewels, rode red double-decker buses, sipped High Tea at Harrods, whisked about on The Tube, traveled on trains, dined at a pub in Exeter where I had my first taste of Devonshire clotted cream (sigh…), hiked to Stonehenge, marveled at the Minster and made a side trip to Edinburgh, including an accidental foray over the Firth of Forth and back with bagpipes in the background.

Basking in history centuries older than the country I’d left days before obviously made a lasting impression on me.

Souvenirs

We were scheduled to arrive at our host family’s home the afternoon of Christmas Eve, but our train went missing (never did find out an explanation for that) and after waiting what seemed hours, a replacement provided by BritRail chugged into the station — an antique collection of cars attached to an engine reminiscent of “The Wild, Wild West.” Settling onto the leather-covered bench seats opposite three distinguished-looking gentlemen, my friend and I chattered excitedly while our compartment mates did their utmost to ignore us by immersing themselves in their newspapers.

Ten minutes from our destination, I reached into my coat pocket and discovered a sprig of mistletoe I’d tucked away during an entertaining evening at a club in Exeter a few nights prior. Nudging my friend, I nodded at the sprig covertly hidden in my hand; she followed suit and palmed her mistletoe. Grinning at the prospect of a surprise attack, we waited for the train to come to a stop.

When the compartment doors opened, we sprang from our seats, held our respective mistletoe over the gentlemen’s heads, and planted a good-natured kiss on their cheeks. The previous disdain they had displayed toward “giggly tourists” quickly dissolved into surprised smiles, and as I stepped onto the platform I was tickled to hear one of them exclaim: “By jove, my luck has changed!”

Following a harrowing car ride to our host’s home (apparently there was no speed limit and our young escort seemed to relish that fact), we drove under a brick-walled arch toward a quaint two-story cottage. I can only describe it as transplanted out of a fairy tale. Gables. Ivy-covered walls. A formal garden around back. Leaded-glass windows. Wisps of smoke curling upward from tall chimneys perched above a slate roof.

Inside we were welcomed warmly — like family — followed by an invitation to gather in the the study for cocktails. For some reason, sherry came to mind. Alhough I’d never tasted a drop in my life, it seemed like the befitting beverage for such an historic occasion and our host was happy to oblige. Strolling to a closet adjacent to the hearth, he swung open the heavy door to reveal Waterford crystal goblets and decanters lining the shelves, with rows of wine bottles in the recesses. Then he invited us to be seated in the wingback chairs surrounding the fireplace to get acquainted.

I don’t know which thrills me more — experiencing it or remembering it.

Our Christmas Day celebration included champagne and wine (before, during, and after dinner) followed by additional fireside glasses of sherry. Merriment was a high priority and imbibing was part of the deal. Who was I to question English hospitality? When you’re twenty-one…

Dinner was a formal affair (thank heavens I packed one “dressy” outfit in my backpack) and the antique crystal, china, and silver gleaming in the glow of candles on the linen-covered table was absolutely lovely. Each dish was carried in from the kitchen with great fanfare, one at a time, with hearty appreciation expressed to the cook amidst oohs and ahhs. Roast turkey. Chestnut stuffing. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Chutney. Plum pudding. I felt like I was a guest at the Cratchit’s and I can still “taste” every dish.

Gifts

Our hosts were mindful that my friend and I were having our first Christmas away from home, and following dinner, they thoughtfully surprised us with gifts to open as their family opened theirs. Although my paperweight and trinket box are a lil’ worse for wear (three decades later), they’ve found a permanent place in my home — and heart.

But, the event that stands out in my mind is Boxing Day December 26th — the British extension of Christmas replete with brunch, hors d’oeuvres, tasty leftovers — and yes, more cocktails. That aside, Boxing Day is best known for its benevolence — a time to bless the less fortunate — and y’all know how I feel about giving.

In the next week or so, I’ll be sharing appetizer recipes from my English hosts, along with my first-ever attempt at “flaming” a plum pudding. It’s been steeping for weeks — have your fire extinguishers at the ready!

Merry Christmas, sweet friends. And God bless us every one.

Enjoying the joy of memories,

~ Kimby

Have you been away from home during the holidays? What do you remember most?

Now and Then

I didn’t set out to be a writer/photographer/musician, but what’s behind you often points to what’s ahead. Going through the ol’ picture file, I ran across a few photos of then…

Then

My qualifications for the job were the ability to sit for extended periods of time (I was a secretary most of my life), an acute attention to detail (lest you run over folks with the back of your trailer while making wide right turns), a spotless driving record, a sense of adventure, and an affinity for shifting gears. (I learned to drive in my Dad’s ol’ Chevy pickup with a “three on the tree.”)

Somehow The Man Of Few Words’ proposal (marriage and career-wise) tickled my fancy. For nearly ten years, I wrestled with road conditions, inched through traffic jams, secured cargo, tried to be a blessing to other drivers (my forté was praying folks down the road — including myself) and lived in a space smaller than a walk-in closet.

Home Away From Home

Most of the time I shared it with The Man Of Few Words (he’d drive the day shift; I’d drive nights) and we both lived to tell about it. Other times — many times — I’d head for points unknown in a separate rig. It was confidence-building, thrilling, and scary, but the lure of “around the bend” appealed to my soul and propelled me onward… plus, it gave me plenty of time to think.

Possibilities

Hard work? You betcha. Here’s moi preparing to clean my flatbed.

Fall Cleaning

Then, it was a matter of doing what I had to do.

Now, I’m doing what inspires me.

Potential Picnic

Ironically, writing (et al) has proved to be as hard or harder than an eleven hour day behind the wheel, but I wouldn’t trade one second of it. I’m where (and who) I am now because of millions of miles and memories then.

Life is cumulative, don’t you think?

Enjoying sitting still,

~ Kimby

Custard’s Last Stand

Custard's Last Stand

Custard is one of the simple joys in life.  A few basic ingredients and a bit of stove-top tending are all that’s required.

By the way, I generally don’t snap fridge photos because:  1)  the lighting isn’t the greatest and 2) it gets a lil’ crowded in there. :)

But, what’s a girl to do with a camera in one hand and a spoon in the other?

I also tend to favor the bain marie method “ala oven” because it never fails; however, my new double boiler was begging to be used.

Custard in progress

Plus, it employs some of my favorite cooking utensils…

Some of my favorite utensils

Grandma M’s measuring cups and spoon.  A microplane from my sister.  An apron made out of fabric that once belonged to my Grandma (sewn by my sister.)  Ramekins from Mom.  Memories of eating custard with Grandma S…

Some may beg to differ re: memories being a ‘utensil,’ but in my kitchen they’re an essential tool.

I love being surrounded by the women in my family while I cook.

Homemade Custard

Recipe credit goes to Christopher Kimball & “The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook” (another gift from my sister); method adapted by me.

2 c. whole milk

1 c. heavy cream

2 egg yolks

3 whole eggs

1/2 c. sugar

1/8 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Freshly grated nutmeg

Butter 8 individual ramekins or a 2 quart baking dish; set aside.

Bring water to a boil in the bottom of a double boiler; reduce heat to a simmer.  Keep water at a simmer from here on out and make sure the water level in the bottom pan doesn’t touch the bottom of the top pan.  (I hope that made sense.)

Add milk and cream to the top of the double boiler; heat over simmering water until bubbles form around the edge, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, whisk together the yolks and eggs in a bowl.  Stir in sugar, salt, and vanilla.

Whisk egg mixture into hot milk/cream until combined.

Cook over simmering water, stirring constantly, until custard coats the back of the spoon.  This process requires standing in front of your stove for approximately 20 to 25 minutes and I cannot emphasize the two “s’s” enough — simmer and stir — or you’ll end up with a third “s”… scrambled eggs.

Pour custard into individual ramekins or a 2 quart dish.

Grate nutmeg over the top.

Refrigerate and wait patiently until set.

Alternatively, stir together the hot milk/cream and egg mixture.

Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into buttered ramekins or baking dish and place them in a bain marie (i.e. larger baking dish filled with boiling water half-way up the custard dishes.)

Bake at 325° for 15 to 20 minutes (ramekins) or 40 to 50 minutes (baking dish) until custard is set.  Cool, then refrigerate.

Custard 1

Although I’ll probably revert to the reliable oven-baked method for future custard-making adventures, it felt rather nostalgic doing it the ol’ fashioned way again.

Custard’s Last Stand, so to speak…

Who’s in your kitchen with you while you cook?

Enjoying memories and simple joys,

~ Kimby

The Wedding Stove

Back in 1955, my parents got married, built a house, and bought a Norge.

“A Norge?”

Let me put it this way…  Last month my folks celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary, they still live in the same house, and I spent most of August 2012 in front of the stove I learned to cook on — a 1955 Norge.

Mom calls it “The Wedding Stove.”

With a control panel reminiscent of a vintage Chevy dashboard and a dead-on oven thermostat, the Norge was instrumental in bolstering my kitchen confidence.  It was dependable.  I could rely on it.

As an added bonus, the dials lit up in hues from pale amber to stop-light red, depending on whether the burners were set to “lo,” “hi,” or in between.  Very cool.

Then came the great kitchen remodel of 1969, when the Norge was relegated to the basement, replaced by a state-of-the-art JennAir.

After almost 15 years of faithful service, The Wedding Stove became an “extra” to use during the holidays, roasting turkeys too large to fit in the “new fangled” (and much smaller) oven upstairs.

Nestled in a corner of the laundry room next to an ironing board (the one I learned to iron on…), the Norge is flanked by a mirror that once hung in my grandparents’ home, alongside the original kitchen cupboards and sink my sister and I used to argue over.  (You know… “It’s your turn to do dishes” and all that.)

If stoves could talk…

Personally, I think the ol’ Norge has been been waiting for me to come home and run it through its paces again.  After all, it’s a huge adjustment to go from cooking three square meals a day to one or two turkeys a year.

So, when Mom and Dad needed help last month, I offered to stay.  I also offered to cook.  On the Norge.

(And in case you’re wondering why I didn’t use the kitchen upstairs, it’s because of the latest upgrade — a ceramic cook-top stove with a convection oven.)

Honestly, that thing has so many digital read-outs, I was afraid I’d send it into orbit if I accidentally pushed the wrong touch pad.

I call it “The Space Shuttle.” :)

So… down to the basement I went, armed with two cast iron skillets, remnants of Mom’s 1950’s cookware (retrieved from the bottom of the linen closet), and a whole lot of memories.

For the better part of August, I puttered in front of the Norge, just like in the “olden days,” and it performed like a pro.

This faithful “first stove” (for Mom and me) churned out meals that would have made Betty Crocker proud… meatloaf with mashed potatoes, baked ham with glazed carrots, pot roast dinners, homemade soups and stews, chicken and baked potatoes, cookies, quick breads, and pies.

Then I decided to make a “modern day” meal…

And the Norge blew up.

Actually, it kind of popped, followed by a flash and a fizzle… no burners — no oven — no nothin’.  I guess I finally wore it out.

Either that, or it didn’t like “convenience food.”

But Dad sure did.

He took one bite and said, “Whatever this is, it’s goood.

Stuffed Pasta Shells

1 (28 oz.) jar spaghetti sauce (your choice of flavor)

1/2 pkg. jumbo pasta shells, cooked and drained

1 chicken breast, cooked and chopped (I used leftover chicken)

1 c. ricotta cheese (or small curd cottage cheese)

1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese (plus extra for sprinkling)

1 c. shredded Mozzarella cheese, divided (reserve half for the top)

1 egg, beaten

1/2 small onion, diced (green onions are good in this, too)

1/4 tsp. garlic powder, or to taste

Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Ladle enough sauce to cover the bottom of a rectangular baking dish; set remaining sauce aside.

In a medium bowl, combine chicken, cheeses, egg, onion and seasonings; mix well.

Fill each shell with chicken mixture; place in baking dish.

Cover with remaining sauce.

Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese and reserved Mozzarella.

Cover with foil; bake 30 minutes.  Uncover; bake 15 minutes more.

Serve with warm bread or garlic toast, salad, and fresh fruit.

Sorry, no “after” photo — had to finish it in “The Space Shuttle.”

Mom is calling an electrician this week.  Long live The Wedding Stove.

Enjoying a step back in time,

~ Kim

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