Tuesday, February 24, 2009

HOLY FRENCH COOKING, BATMAN! Strange Face Seen at Bottom of Le Crueset Pot!

Caramelized Jello© chocolate pudding mix or freakish portent baked on enamelware? You decide!

What does this mean? I burned some pudding mix on the bottom of my Le Creuset pot yesterday (yes, I turned on the burner, added the mix and forgot to add the milk right away...that will teach me to make it from a box). When I went to wash it today--yes, today--behold, a vision! But what is it?

Oddly enough, the image looked best, and even more freaky,
when 3-D enhanced under running water.

I soaked the pot a bit and then poured the water off and before soaking it again, there was this odd form that looks like a face. It does not appear Biblical in nature. I don't believe it is anyone I know. That weird face on Mars? Julia Child or Emily Post crying out about my life in abject squalor?

I just hope that the folks at Le Creuset do not find out and charge me with expensive-enamel-French-pot abuse! "Idiot!" I can hear them saying. "Cet Americaine est stupide!"

Maybe I should contact my new favorite supernatural show, Paranormal State on A&E. However, I have likely missed my chance as they were just in nearby Russell Springs at an alleged haunted home. As their opening credits state: "We are students. We are seekers. And sometimes (long pause), we are warriors." I guess I'll just have to brave this one alone.

[NOTE: This post appeared, slightly altered, in its original form at Cupcake Chronicles, our book group blog, where we all-too-frequently depart from things literary...]

Friday, February 20, 2009

Frolic on Friday the 13th!

Last Friday we had our first "frolic" (also known as a barn-raising amongst we English). In December, when Melvin Hurst and his crew started simultaneously building our chicken house, shop, oil tank shed and wood shed, he told me we would have to have a "frolic" for the larger shop building. As it happens, a Mennonite (or Amish) frolic is a work party, a "Dutch" name for a building or barn-raising or other event where members of the community gather to help quickly assemble something that would otherwise take hours and weeks with a smaller crew. The men volunteer their time and the women volunteer their food or baked goods (as well as time at the event). It is a chance to socialize as well as work together and help out another family, whether planned or because of unforeseen catastrophe.

The crew arrived around 8:30 and by 10:30 the roof trusses were already half on.

Temple and Levi hook up trusses to the crane.

Up, up...

and away!

Steady as she goes.

The chuck wagon crew: Anna, Irene and Debbie. I couldn't have put on this meal without them. (I also realized that I could never cater professionally unless medicated. I don't know how these women cook for so many and so frequently--even in their daily lives.)

Roof trusses will not allow for storage space (probably a good thing!) but provide a good strong roof capable of surviving most Kentucky winds.

Metal roofing is rust-proof and does not need painting.

Older men--and our boys--were useful on the ground where it was much safer.

While we do have a regular paid crew, led by Melvin, a frolic is a way of getting larger volunteer reinforcements for big jobs like roofing or siding. As our son Henry said, "A frolic is when you get together and eat a lot of food...and oh, yeah, work!" [We kept our boys home from school for the day for this unusual occasion in our lives.] As for us, well, we hadn't ever imagined when we watched the barn-raising scene numerous times over the years in the movie Witness or after visiting Lancaster and Holmes counties on countless occasions, that we would ever be a part of something like this.

We have never participated in such a thing before but had certainly heard about this custom of community work and effort in the Amish and Mennonite orders. We were overwhelmed not only with volunteers (nearly 20 men) but with food (3 women brought food and helped set up). My husband had gone around to various Mennonite farms in late August and September to help "fill silo" during the corn harvest and several men had offered to come here to help when we started putting up buildings.

Just two weeks ago it was finally warm enough to pour the floor (after the cement foundation was poured a few weeks before that, but before a long cold snap). Five days later the sides were up. But, as the fates would have it, we had a Kentucky wind storm, even a tornado warning, two days before the frolic on the evening that the frame was put up. I never saw it, or got pictures, as I was cooking, but the next morning on the day before the frolic the men arrived to discover that the frame had twisted and toppled in some places. By noon the frame was up again, and the walls were being reinforced and clad. Even Melvin had said, "I didn't think it would be this bad," when he first saw the damage.

Of course, Henry was right: there was a lot of food. I made vats of American "chop suey" (basically meat sauce with elbow macaroni), meat loaf (8 loaves) from a favorite recipe in The Amish Cook, macaroni and cheese (a new way of making this delectable dish that Anna Hurst uses all the time from her family cookbooks--I will post it soon after I make it myself and if you want information on ordering the Oberholtzer family cookbooks, that Anna edited, you can email me at info@catherinepond.com), cole slaw, cherry gelatin with fruit, and garlic bread (homemade, of course). I also made bar cookies for dessert--Congos and brownies.

Anna made lemon meringue pies and several dozen filled donuts for morning coffee. Irene Zimmerman made a fruit salad. Elvin Zimmerman's wife made coconut cream and apple pies. Everything was designed to be transported from our kitchens to the job site (my kitchen is only just down the road--we are building the shop where we will eventually build our farmhouse). After a near mishap with a cooler of spring water (that I'd requested from Anna and Melvin's delicious water) dumping over Anna's donuts in the back of our car, fortunately averted by her well-placed plastic wrap, everything arrived in one piece. The temperatures were in the 50s so an outdoor buffet picnic seemed the best plan.

Pies were served again--this time apple and coconut creme from Mrs. Zimmerman--for afternoon treat at around 4 o'clock. [A small snafu: the men forgot to bring them that morning so I "ran out" to get them after our noon meal. Fortunately, we were not short on desserts.]

I should also note that a true Mennonite frolic meal would be served in the farmhouse kitchen of the host family with a long table pulled out and proper dishes and silverware. The women pass the food down two sides of the table and you take what you can get when it is going by because you might not have a second chance. Also, the men eat first (not a tradition only reserved for Mennonites in such settings). The metal foil serving pans are not what you'd call photogenic but easy as we had to bring hot food from my kitchen just down the road from the site so I figured, well, these foil pans will keep everything warm while portable. Just something to ponder next time you see a magazine with an enticing decorative food spread outdoors--just think of all of the work that goes into preparing the food, hauling it, and displaying it to look picture perfect, and then serving it (forget weather issues!). No, I could not be a caterer and my various food styling for a few articles over the years was great fun but much harder than it looks!

Melvin, left, and Temple, center, confer about when to take an afternoon pie and coffee break.

Aunt Cynthia joined us for lunch on Ida's golf cart.

Everyone got into the act and our boys learned some valuable skills. Here Henry helps to trim cedar siding.

Eli hands tools up on the ladder.

By late afternoon, the roof was going on in grand style.

A week after the frolic, I selected my fortune cookie from the tray after dinner tonight at a Chinese restaurant with Temple and our boys. Expecting the usual proverb or promise of riches, instead it read: To build a better world, start in your community. Some of my friends and I have often bemoaned a lack of community in our lives. I was not a very good New England villager (as it was too close for comfort for our semi-reclusive states of mind--well, at least mine!) and it's been a long time since I have felt a part of a place.

However, we have found one in abundance here: good neighbors on our ridge, friends in town and in the Mennonite valley nearby. It's an amazing feeling to feel so embraced, even though I do pang for old friends and family on occasion, too. But day by day it is beginning to feel more like our new home and that is what it is meant to be--that is what it is.

We are very blessed, indeed.

The shop a week after our "frolic." Instead of metal or vinyl we are cladding it in cedar from our property and planed at a local Mennonite sawmill. By using our own wood we are also able to realize some savings. [Cedar is a natural termite deterrent and weathers well, too.]

NOTE: No Old Order Mennonites were harmed in the shooting of these photographs. I did not ask anyone to pose and they knew we were documenting the occasion for our own family and building history. They also knew I was being discreet and was at a respectful distance with very few close-up faces. I hope I have not offended any readers of this blog. Some Mennonites do not mind being photographed but will not pose for the camera because, like the Amish, they consider that as both an act of vanity and modernity.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I Wore My Apron to Walmart: A Domestic Tale

Yesterday was a bit trippy and unusual for me as many days have been here in Kentucky. I got up, put on one of my aprons (something flowing and with an ample bib, purchased at the Bird-in-Hand Farmer's Market in Lancaster County, PA a few years back), threw on a comfy black fleece cape (perfect for mild Kentucky winters) and headed to my friend Anna's who was making over 200 donuts for a community gathering to help a widow in need. My job was to show up and truck Anna and her trays of donuts to the event, a feat that doesn't really work in a horse and buggy. [Of course I deliberately did not eat breakfast so I could nibble on some--I don't usually like donuts but Krispy Kreme® has nothing on Anna Hurst's homemade glazed donuts.]

I love my aprons and all they represent and have a large collection: some new but vintage in style, some old and collectible, some soon to be made out of fun material I have found recently. Aprons are affordable works of art, iconic bits of our domestic past, usually one-of-a-kind, and much has been written about them, especially by apron guru EllynAnne Geisel, who wrote The Apron Book. [My friend Linda gave me this book for my birthday.] The best kind of apron has pockets and is large enough to wrap around and cover you. There is something "Wonder Womanish" about an apron. I always feel empowered, in domestic mode, able to multi-task and focus in a single bound (in fact, I'm wearing one now). My Mennonite women friends don't leave home without them and wear them as part of their dress. There is an assured confidence in their step as they wear their domestic armor and take great pride in their domestic abilities ("not that there is anything wrong with that..."). Of course, men have worn them throughout history, too (think blacksmiths and other artisans, cooks, waiters).

After we dropped off the donuts, we decided to do our shopping for the "frolic" that we're having at our house on Friday. [More on that later but it is a gathering of people for a barn-raising, in our case "shop raising," and the women in the community all cook for them: ours is a modified version.] So we headed to Somerset, the nearest "big shopping" town, and to the ubiquitous Walmart Super Center. I bought a big water cooler, a coffee urn and groceries.

As it was warm I left my cape in the car. I was half-way in the door when I realized I still had my apron on. Never mind, I thought. This will be fun. Besides, it miraculously coordinated with my skirt and shirt and those large pockets are so handy. And Anna was in her apron as she always is, except for church dress. [Anna and the women in her Mennonite community wear calico patterned aprons and dresses which are more varied than their plainer Amish counterparts.]

What unfolded was an experiment in contemporary life. I got a few strange looks and one woman asked me if I worked there and did I know where the ladies' socks were? "No, but I'll bet one of those people running around in a blue polo shirt and Walmart badge could help you." She seemed shocked that I was not an employee, despite my floral-designed apron. People really didn't seem to know what to make of me. Rather than the Mennonite bonnet I was wearing one of my usual bandanna headbands and German felt clogs. I then heard a guy in cosmetics whisper to his wife "There are a lot of Mennonites here today..." He was probably also questioning why I was browsing in the Valentine card section.

The highlight of the day came on the way home at Kroger. A man came up to me, tall and elderly and well put together. "I love your apron--I have one at home, well, it's white of course, but I wear it all the time. You look like you mean business both as a cook and a shopper." I offered that I'd forgotten to take it off earlier. "Oh no, it looks great!" Well, that just tickled me.

Then I came home to this blurb in the Farm Show newspaper on "The History of Aprons" [written, or compiled, by Mark Newhall, editor and publisher in his "Editor's Notebook" (vol. 33, no. 1)]. Well, it really spoke to me about why we love them so, as much for their nostalgic associations as for their practicality -- Yikes, I just found a slightly different tweaking of this copy at Itz Sew Lucy so who knows where the origin of the copy comes from! It is all over the Internet, unattributed. Old Anon, perhaps?]:
Do your kids know what an apron is? I'm not sure mine do because my wife never uses one. But her grandma did. The principal use, of course, was to protect the dress underneath, but, along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven. It was also wonderful for drying children's tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears. From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs. When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids. And when the weather was cold, grandma wrapped it around her arms. Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron. From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls. When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds. And when dinner was ready, it served as a flag to call the men in from the fields to dinner. It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that old-time apron that served so many purposes.
[They forgot to mention pockets for clothespins and tissues, two of my favorite uses.] I had a good chuckle because not only did a man write about an apron, or at least include a blurb in his column, but a man paid me such a kind apron-related compliment at the store, and then my husband passed me the above article while we were reading last night (do you think that Farm Show is on my side of the bed? On second glance, all aprons aside, it will likely be on occasion now...and I don't even have space to talk about the "Goosemobile").

[NOTE: The lovely vintage image at top is from the Itz Sew Lucy website -- trying to find original source of that, too. But can you beat that? A bib-aproned clad woman in what appears to be an early 20th century pantry space or well-appointed period kitchen. Be still my heart! Also, the black and white image of "Grandma Love" from Coalgate, Oklahoma is from a collection of original photographs I purchased on eBay a few years ago. While I did not take the image, it belongs to me, so please use only with permission or credit "Grandma Love, Coalgate, Oklahoma." ]