They might not have rhubarb, but they have fried pickles

Also, it was warm enough that I actually wanted ice in my water, which has not happened in like thirteen years

pickles
A glass with condensation on the outside. I have not seen that in so long.

I had to go to Charleston for work, which, all things considered, is not the worst thing, although leaving Wisconsin in June seems like a bad idea. I wish I could have gone to Charleston in say, February, when winter here has gone on so long that a person might start to google, “Is it a crime to strangle people just for breathing too loudly in the dark cold that will not end and why do I even care about living when there is nothing on the horizon but ice and despair?”

But anyway. I had to go to Charleston with a bunch of co-workers who are from up here, which means they did not know what pimento cheese was and they did not know what fried dill pickles were, so I took the liberty of suggesting that we order both of them.

They thought they were OK but apparently not great which was fine with me because I ate most of it after I had given everyone a completely fair chance.

And then I got to have shrimp and grits which were delicious of course. It was a ton of food, as you can see, so I brought some home, even though I had forgotten to take a Tupperware with me –

grits.jpg

what? you don’t take your own containers to restaurants?

I try to remember to bring a Tupperware with me when we go out to eat because restaurants give you way too much food and even though I would be delighted to eat it all in one sitting, it would not be wise.

Marido and I went to the chile cookoff in Milwaukee a few years ago. I calculated that we would be getting a total of 48 ounces of chile samples, which is a lot of food. (That’s three pounds of chile, in case you don’t remember any of this stuff. And for my international readers who use a logical measuring system, that’s about 1.4 kilos. No matter how you measure it, that’s a lot of food.)

I took several small Tupperware containers with me. I was worried people would laugh at me, but I was even more worried about wasting food or overeating.

I should not have worried.

I should have known.

As I scooped chile samples into the containers, people around me said, “What a great idea! I wish I had brought containers!”

I was with My People.

So I brought leftover shrimp and grits home and got two more meals out of it and it was delicious.

And my co-workers did not know what this was and asked if it was fingers.

peppers

 

Olé it’s my grandmother’s rhubarb bars

You asked, I answered

rhubarb recipe

I prefer the second recipe.

You can see I have updated it with my Great British Baking show by the gram information. I love my little food scale – it’s so easy to just pour flour and sugar into a bowl. Fewer dishes! More accurate!

Not written because I know this part by heart is that I often double the filling. It makes them gooey, but that’s OK – you just eat them with a spoon.

You might not need all the sugar – the recipe as written is very sweet. My co-worker Matt has been giving me rhubarb. It’s a new variety that’s not as tart as the School That Is Old Rhubarb, so I cut the sugar in half for his.

My grandma cooked and baked for us. I don’t think I ever arrived to visit her not to find cake, bars, cookies, or pie waiting. She would gather raspberries from the brambles by the railroad tracks and freeze them in old Cool Whip containers. When she had enough, she would make raspberry bars for us.

She had a crabapple tree in her yard and would put up crabapple preserves, which were delicious.

She made poppyseed roll and kolaches and pupaki. She informed me that I was not Czech, I was SLOVAK and there is a difference.

She made strudel and she made bread and she taught me how to make them as well. She taught me to make pie – “Don’t work the crust too much!” she warned. “It will get tough!”

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer, I worked on perfecting my strudel. (I didn’t have a lot to do when I wasn’t at work.)

I used the recipe in Joy of Cooking because I didn’t know by feel how much of anything to use. But my strudel wasn’t working. I wrote to my grandmother and sent her a copy of the Joy recipe.

“You need to let the dough rest longer than 20 minutes,” she wrote back. “A few hours at least. And put a little bit of vinegar in the dough.”

She was right. By the time I left Chile, I made an awesome strudel. I still do, although I more recently, I have been working on pie. (Yum. Pie. I need to write about pie. I will do that.)

I didn’t want much from my grandmother’s house after she died, but I was very happy to be able to get her strudel cloth. Every time I make strudel now, I think of her.

granma_bmp
My grandmother making strudel.

She has passed her legacy on to her family. Below you see the rolls we made for her funeral.

DSC_0455.JPG

 

 

Ach, for shame, Ole. Dose are for after da funeral

Because my uncle’s nickname is Ole and he loves rhubarb and he kinda started it

rhubarb
My rhubarb bars are in the metal 9 x 13 with the lid. I found the pan and the lid at an estate sale for only $1.50, which is why you go to estate sales, you guys.

I know I said I wasn’t going to write about the funeral, but I lied.

I sat next to my uncle at the lunch after the funeral.

I told him I had brought rhubarb bars and asked if he wanted one. “I made them with Granma’s recipe,” I said.

Oh yes he wanted one. “I love rhubarb!” he said.

He asked if I felt like the layer between death and me is disappearing, which yes, I do feel like is happening.

Then he said something about how he is the layer so it’s even worse for him.

That’s when I decided that given these facts

  • It’s after a funeral
  • It’s about rhubarb
  • His nickname is Ole

it might be OK to him tell the Ole/rhubarb/funeral joke, which I wrote about a while ago in this post.

No. Not just OK.

Required.

Ole is on his deathbed. Pastor Inqvist has been to visit Ole and to give him the last rites. After a cup of coffee with Lena, the pastor left.

Ole is upstairs. He is waiting to die. Which is boring. But what else does he have to do?

Then he smells this delicious aroma from the kitchen.

It’s rhubarb bars – his favorite.

“Lena!” he calls. “Lena!”

But she does not hear him.

He calls again.

No Lena.

He has to take action. He tries to sit up, but he is too weak. So he rolls out of bed, falls to the floor, rests, and then starts crawling: out of the bedroom, down the hall, to the stairs, down the stairs, one by one, to the kitchen.

He gets to the kitchen and slowly and painfully pulls himself up to the counter.

As he is reaching for a warm rhubarb bar, Lena walks in with a basket of clothes. She sees what he’s doing, drops the basket, and runs to him.

Ole looks at her in gratitude.

She slaps his hand and says, “Ach, Ole! For shame! Dose are for after da funeral!”

He loved it and made me tell it to my other uncles.

 

We – don’t go hungry in Wisconsin. Ever.

When your husband asks, Have you MET your family?

milk

Marido and I had to up north recently for a family funeral. I don’t usually like to write about this sort of thing because I feel like this is not my story to tell and I feel awkward when people extend their sympathies to me but not to the people more directly affected – I feel as if I don’t deserve the sympathy in the same way my cousins do.

But I am not going to write about the funeral. I am going to write about food.

This is the second funeral we have attended in two months. Sadly, I have lost an uncle and an aunt. My uncle was 89, so his death was not unexpected, but my aunt was only 71, which does not seem that old at all.

We planned to drive up on Friday night and then come home right after the funeral, which was planned for 11:30 Saturday morning.

Which – leaves us with the problem of food.

Not that food is hard to get up north, but – what were our options?

Me: Should we go out for lunch after the funeral?

Marido: Why?

Me: Because it’s a five hour drive home! And I will be hungry!

Marido: Why would we need to go out to lunch? Won’t there be lunch after the funeral?

Me: Ummm. I don’t know.

Marido: And you don’t want to ask.

Me: No, that would be the height(h?) of tacky, I think. My cousins and my uncle are burying my aunt. They have far bigger concerns than lunch.

Marido: You are seriously worried there won’t be lunch?

Me: Maybe.

Marido: Have you met your family?

And then I realized oh yeah. He’s so right. When has there ever been a family event where there has not been a ton of food?

And there was food and as we do in Wisconsin, there was milk to drink, and it was lovely to see everyone, even on such a sad occasion.

funeral rolls
Aunts and sister making rolls for my grandmother’s funeral a few years ago. How could I forget that My People Do Food?

Because life is a party

My people look for any chance to get together. (Including funerals. Which are sad but still, we get to see each other.)

1963 Christmas Eve 2 SS-LCM
Hanging out with the granma, the aunt, the uncle

Marido thinks it’s a big deal to have people over for supper and thinks it’s a little weird that I make brownies for new neighbors and food for friends who have babies or when there is a death in the family.

He thinks it’s odd to write condolence notes: Nobody sent me a note when my parents died. Nobody helped me when my parents were sick. Nobody brought me food.

Me: Maybe because your parents didn’t form the reciprocal social relationships that lead to that sort of interaction.

He was annoyed when he tried to call me and I had my phone in airplane mode: What if there were an emergency? Then how would I reach you?

Me: You would call Maggie (our next door neighbor) or Ken (our catsitter). They both have keys to the house.

Marido: I don’t have their numbers!

Me: Then I guess you need to get them.

I am coming to realize that one of us grew up in a completely bizarre home.

I don’t think it was me. I. Whatever. I am descriptive instead of proscriptive when it comes to language.

Isn’t taking food for babies and for deaths normal? Isn’t writing condolence notes the right thing to do? Isn’t having people over to eat or having people stay at your house if they are visiting your city normal? Isn’t it normal to have a party that’s just a party and not a fundraiser for some politician I don’t care about?

(NB If you ever have a fundraiser at your house, do not make any effort with the food. Get the cheapest veg tray you can from the grocery store and don’t worry about it. Cooking all the food from scratch does not mean you will get more money. It just means you do more work for the same amount of money.)

(Even more important NB: Don’t have a fundraiser at your house.)

Me: So… What kind of social interactions did you parents have when you were a kid? Did they have friends? Did they know their neighbors?

Marido: They had some friends they would go out to dinner with, but people didn’t come to our house. That’s why I get so stressed when you invite people to dinner. I think the house needs to be perfectly clean for that.

Me: The house should be clean all the time, not just for company.

Marido:  Having people over is extra cleaning work.

Me: It shouldn’t be. The house doesn’t have to be perfect all the time, but it should be walk-in clean. That’s how I want it and I am just as important as company. Did they have parties?

Marido: No!

Me: Did people stay with you?

Marido: No!

Me: Did you stay with other people when you traveled?

Marido: No!

Me: What on earth did your parents teach you?

 

 

 

 

 

The state of rhubarb

Maybe I am making this too complicated, but social relationships are not unidirectional

rhubarb-54084_960_720

I told you I would write about rhubarb and now I am doing it.

For those of you in the south, I am sorry.

But by the same token, almost nobody up here knows the joys of collard greens or okra.

Here is how rhubarb happens:

You know someone.

People who pay for rhubarb have no friends or have no sense. It’s like paying for Black-Eyed Susans or kittens – if you look hard enough, you will always find someone who is giving them away.

(I myself am digging up a bunch of purple coneflower this afternoon to take to work tomorrow to give to co-workers. It’s taken over my garden but I can’t bear to put it in the yard waste.)

You get rhubarb by knowing someone. For me, that someone is a co-worker who left a few pounds of it in the break room a few years ago. By the end of the day, it was still there, so I felt safe in taking it all home.

A few weeks later, someone left another bunch. Again, I waited the prescribed amount of time not to be a greedy pig and was able to walk out with it.

The next day, I left a note in the break room:

Whoever is leaving the rhubarb, thank you and give me your name. I will make you some rhubarb bars.

Which of course was not the right thing to do because the last thing someone desperately giving away rhubarb wants is more stuff made of rhubarb. They just want to get rid of the rhubarb and will force you to take it, as you can see in the video below by the brilliant Charlie Berens.

But what they do want is chocolate. 🙂

As does the person who left this in the break room:

fish

Which Marido and I turned into this:

fish cooked

And which is why I spent yesterday evening making brownies that I will deliver to work tomorrow to my fish dealer and my rhubarb dealer. It’s all legal tender in this state.

 

Am I becoming Bernice?

Not that that’s a bad thing, but I thought it would happen in a few decades

sugar packet hoarding

So when you guys are traveling and you don’t know what the food situation will be – OK – even when you know your sister in law is making meatballs and gravy, roast pork, cannoli dip, and a tray of chocolate-covered fruit, do you maybe Save A Little Something For Later?

Or am I the only one?

In my defense, the biscuits at the Homewood Suites in St. Augustine are divine. And it never hurts to have a banana, does it? And yogurt doesn’t spoil. I know this because for my first year as a Peace Corps volunteer, I did not have a refrigerator. I ate unrefrigerated yogurt yet I live.

Related: Marido gets all worried if cheese is getting old. I remind him that the entire point of cheese is a way to preserve milk without cold. Cheese can get old and still be edible. I am not dead yet.

Back to wrapping food in a napkin and putting it in my purse. Is that wrong?

WHAT IF I GET HUNGRY AND THERE’S NO FOOD AROUND?

Other than the candy I keep in my purse. WHAT THEN?

 

 

TW: This is an indelicate topic so stop here if you are squeamish or very proper

We’re talking about peeing and I know I am not the only one who has this problem

1potty

There are many good things about being a Woman of a Certain Age. I have reached the age of I just don’t care anymore, the age of whatever, the age of no I am not moving aside so you don’t have to watch where you are going, the age of nope I am not ashamed to admit that I would rather be by myself reading a book than be with most of the world’s population (my wonderful friends and family excepted of course, although it depends on the book), the age of why did I waste so much of my youth worrying about losing weight when 1. I looked great and 2. I should have been worrying about smashing the patriarchy.

But. There are a few drawbacks.

The neck part.

And we shall speak no more of that.

The everything hurts when I wake up part.

And the what the heck is going on with my bladder part.

I would ask my doctor about this, but I have a $5,000 deductible and I can’t get anyone to tell me how much it costs for an office visit – not the doctor’s office, not the hospital he works for.

Ah, the hospital. You can send them an email request for price information. But they will not email you back with a price. They call you. And if you can’t take the call, you, I suppose, as I did not do this, call them back and there is this infinite recursion of phone calls that may someday end up with an actual conversation where no information of any value is shared, like – the price. Or, if that information is divulged, there is no way to prove it later.

Because I can’t ask my doctor, I will ask you guys. I don’t think I am alone. Am I? Is this just me? Or is this yet another glorious benefit of middle age?

When did my bladder become so sensitive that I not only think about it but cater to it?

I have learned to drink lots and lots of water because apparently, when urine is too concentrated, it irritates the bladder.

I guess there is nothing wrong with lots of water, except I was in an all-day meeting at work this week. This guy who used to be a reporter for Europe’s biggest newspaper was giving us a seminar on storytelling and it was amazing and I didn’t want to miss one second of it, but when you drink lots of water, you also have to get rid of lots of water. How to time the bathroom breaks?

I have learned to endure headaches and any other kind of ache without medication because guess what? If I take a pill, two days later, as it is leaving my body, I feel as if I have a UTI. Even though I don’t have a UTI. Which took me a while  to figure out.

And then last, I have learned that although drinking water is necessary, it’s better not to drink it before bed. If I do drink it at night, my body will turn on me and release that water in one-tablespoon increments at one-hour intervals throughout the night.

I spend most of my night in very bad, intense dreams and suspect that a fire might not wake me, but a tiny amount of urine that could have waited SEVEN HOURS is the signal that puts my body on DEFCON 1.

Is it just me? Or do I have a sisterhood out there?

 

 

Speaking of How Southerners Talk, what’s the deal with baby showers?

I didn’t know a housewarming party was a way of asking for presents and I threw one for myself. I am still embarrassed about that.

June 2007 260.jpg

A tale of two showers.

When I lived in Memphis, in my beautiful little uncluttered 1928 bungalow, my friend Leigh was going to get married. She had this friend whom we shall call Sissy who wanted to host a shower for Leigh, which was lovely. I was happy. I wanted to celebrate with my friend.

Sissy, whom I had met once, briefly, asked if I would co-host. We could have the shower at her house. This sounded so easy! Too good to be true! I would not have to clean a house to party standards.

So sure. I will co-host! It was going to be a potluck shower. How hard could it be?

Apparently, not hard at all. When Megan and I arrived early with our multiple cakes and appetizers to help set up, we were greeted by Sissy’s two very aggressive little dogs, who made it very clear they did not want company in the house.

“Why don’t you put the dogs outside?” Megan asked.

Sissy declined.

Then Megan and I went upstairs, probably to snoop, and discovered dog poop on the carpet. We informed Sissy. She – did not address the situation. She did not clean up the poop. She did not put the dogs outside.

People arrived. Every time they did, the dogs barked and lunged at the front door. Sissy warned, “Don’t let the dogs out!”

Leigh started opening the presents.

One of them was wet.

With dog pee.

The dogs had peed on Leigh’s presents.

Megan had had enough. “Put the f*ing dogs outside!” she told Sissy.

A few days after the shower, Sissy called me and told me I owed her $60 (was it more? whatever it was, it was a lot for me) for my share. I had not been involved with any of the financial decisions. I had not been asked if I agreed. I had not noticed anything that cost money – remember, this was a potluck shower. I did not even know this was how things were done. Maybe it’s not. Maybe this was just a Sissy thing.

Leigh is no longer friends with Sissy. Sissy neither hosted nor attended Leigh’s baby shower, which was a lot of fun and was a potluck with friends who knew that bringing baby clothes from the Junior League Thrift Shop was not only an acceptable idea but welcomed. Leigh doesn’t waste.

Then there was the bridal shower at work here in Wisconsin. I don’t know if this was a Betty thing or a Wisconsin thing. I think it was a Betty thing because even my boss, who is an immigrant from a non-Western culture, was appalled when I told him what Betty had suggested.

Here’s the situation:

Jane is getting married in August.

Samantha is getting married in August.

Jane is on my team. We are in accounting.

Samantha is not on my team. She is in sales and is in the office maybe once every two weeks. I have met Samantha maybe twice.

Jane, I work with all the time. Samantha and Jane have probably never met. They for sure have no reason to talk to each other.

We have a women’s group at work. About once a year, someone has a baby and we have an all-women potluck shower with the woman’s boss buying the cake.

At first, I was annoyed by the idea, especially as I did not know the women being showered, but then another woman explained to me that there were so few women in our office (which means we never have to wait in the bathroom) that we look for opportunities to get together.

And the men always show up anyhow bearing food and presents. These are good people I work with.

Me: Let’s have a bridal shower for Jane! I will organize it. Will you send out the email? (I do not have the distribution list.)

Sarah (who organizes the women’s group activities – she finds speakers, etc): OK! Let me ask Betty if she’ll help!

Betty: We don’t do bridal showers.

Me: But – we could. We just haven’t had a wedding before. It’s not like we have philosophical objections to bridal showers, is it?

Betty: What about Samantha? Most of her team is in [other US city].

Me: What about her?

Betty: She is also getting married.

Me: Fine. Throw her a shower. Two showers are better than one.

Betty: But it’s so much work! And people hardly have time to attend one shower, much less two!

Me: Then don’t throw her a shower!

Betty: But Samantha is also getting married!

Me: Then – throw her a shower.

Betty: But – too much work!

Me: Then don’t throw her a shower.

Betty: Let’s throw them a joint shower.

Me:

Me:

Me: What?

Me: No.

Me: Never mind.

Me: We are not having a joint shower for two women who don’t know each other. You’re on your own with Samantha.

NO WE ARE NOT THROWING A JOINT BRIDAL SHOWER FOR TWO WOMEN WHO DON’T EVEN KNOW EACH OTHER!

We had a team-only shower. Our boss bought lunch.

Betty never did anything for Samantha.