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"YOU MAY BE LOOKING, BUT ARE YOU SEEING?"--We hold these homespun truths to be self-evident!

 

When we are growing up, we often don't see the value in the life lessons we are being taught by our parents and grandparents. We may be looking and listening, but still not comprehending. Sometimes, it takes maturity and similar experiences in our later years to really grasp the full meaning of their examples. Life is a continual learning process, full of starts, stops, and restarts. In the same way, we also explore and perpetually evaluate our faith through contemplation and prayer. The truth is always there, waiting. We just have to find it. It already knows exactly where to find us.

 

I grew up without my Dad, but I had the most wonderful male role model I could want, and that was my beloved grandfather. His name was Tazewell, and his nick name was Taz. My nick name was Little Taz. Yep, we were close. I was a "Paw Paw's girl". I only had my grandfather for nineteen years, and he was the light of my life. He's been gone for over thirty years, and I miss him more than I can say. My favorite Summer memories are of the times I spent with my grandparents working in our garden. My grandfather was a natural "master gardener". He grew the best tomatoes that I have ever tasted! 

One of a Southerner's favorite meals is a slice of juicy, ripe homegrown tomato on a fresh, hot butter biscuit! I used to love to help my grandfather plant the tomatoes. Dig a little hole, add some water, drop in the little plant, pat the dirt down, add a little water, repeat. On and on we went, row after row, until we were done. It was never work to me, it was just a special time shared with my Paw Paw. He was a very modest and conservative person, and he had a natural wisdom that still guides me to this day. 

My mother had an altogether different experience with tomato planting. She was the oldest child, and she had to help pull the plow in the family garden, which was much larger than the little garden patch I helped to work. This was not cruel and unusual punishment, this was how families had to work together during the Great Depression and the recovery years. Mama really loved tomatoes, and she looked forward to reaping the rewards of her hard work. One summer, she noticed an alarming trend in the tomato patch: Every Sunday, while the family was at church, someone was sneaking into the garden and taking ripe tomatoes. Some other vegetables also went missing, but it was those prize tomatoes that the thief coveted. This greatly upset my mother, and she was in tears when she pointed out the robberies to my grandfather. His response was: "Well, Sis, if that fella has to sneak into the garden while we are in church, then he must need that food more than we do." 

Mama didn't understand at the time how Paw Paw could be so calm, but later on she always repeated the story with a tone of admiration. One of my grandfather's beliefs was that if you have more than you need, then you have too much. Even though he had to put a lot of hard work and precious resources into planting and harvesting his garden, he was content and more than happy to share with others. He also knew that the Lord had a greater plan, and somehow all would be as it should.  
My grandfather was not really a cook, but he could handle kitchen basics. He was a great potato peeler! He would often hum while he was peeling potatoes, and he enjoyed eating a few chunks of raw potato as he worked.

Potato Patch Soup

 
2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 lb. carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 onion, diced
4 c. water
1 pint (16 oz) light cream
1/4 c. butter, sliced
1/2 tsp garlic salt (California-style with parsley flakes)

8-oz. pkg. shredded Cheddar cheese
3 slices bacon, crisply cooked and crumbled
coarsely ground black pepper

Combine vegetables and water in a stockpot over medium-high heat. Cook until vegetables are fork-tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce heat to low; stir in cream, butter and seasonings. Heat through, but do not boil. Garnish each serving with a sprinkle of coarsely ground black pepper, and top with cheese and bacon.  

My grandmother was the best cook ever, and she cooked and canned wonderful foods that we grew and harvested from our own garden. Gran and I would also go on "nature walks". She knew the name of just about every flower and plant along the way. One day she had me smell the leaves of a low-growing plant--Teaberry--just like the chewing gum! It smelled wonderful, and it made my mouth water! For many years, we lived at the top of one of the highest hills in town. 

When you live in the mountains, you live with hills. The back side of the hill was an overgrown mass of trees, shrubs, assorted plants and other woodsy things. A perfect place for a curious child to investigate. I discovered some lovely flowers, a bench, and other wondrous things, and I couldn't wait to show my Gran. My wonderful, patient, wise Gran let me lead her down through the overgrowth into my woodland play world. With her gifted, learned eyes and her naturally intuitive intelligence, she saw what I had not seen. 

At some point in time, probably around the turn of the century, someone had painstakingly landscaped that hill. Gran saw it all. The bench, the fish pond, the strawberry patch, the innumerable flowers and shrub plants, and the wonderful high arch between two large boxwoods. Gran said that it was a lover's arch where sweethearts stole a kiss. As I stood there with my remarkable Gran, I knew that I was in the company of someone very, very special. The powerful jolt of love and pride that I felt for her that day remains in my heart.

 
My Gran loved chocolate:

"Love Me Tender" Chocolate Pudding Cake

1 two layer chocolate cake mix
3 oz. pkg. instant chocolate pudding mix
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
4 eggs
1 cup water
2 cups sour cream
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup milk chocolate chips

Spray a 4 quart crockpot with non-stick cooking spray and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, pudding mix and cinnamon. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the water, then add the sour cream, oil, and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Add to the dry ingredients and beat well. Stir in the chocolate chips. Pour into crockpot. Cover slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours, until top springs back when touched very lightly with finger. 8-10 servings. If desired, top each serving with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

   

 

My mother was a very musical person. She played "by ear". I used to tease her about adding extra notes into the music she was playing. She would just smile and say "that's the way it's supposed to sound". While she was growing up, she studied piano, and she later became the organ player for the little country church the family attended. For many years, the only music in the church was provided by my mother. I have to smile every time I think of her getting carried away on the old foot pump organ, with the churchgoers as her captive audience. Mama also loved old sheet music, and she would often buy boxes of obscure sheet music at yard sales. She would then spend hours playing songs that no one had heard in many years. I am sure that Mama had a special place in Heaven reserved by the long-dead composers. She could see the worth in those yellowed pages, and then she added her own flourish. Mama was really very talented, and I am proud that she played the keyboards with such style, always wearing a big smile.

Mama's favorite pie:

“Lightning Lemon Meringue Pie”—That extra zing will make your taste buds tingle!”

1-1/2 cups sugar

6 tablespoons cornstarch

Dash salt

1-1/2 cups water

3 egg yolks, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup lemon juice (about 3 lemons)

1 Tbsp. grated lemon peel

1 Tbsp. lime juice

1 pastry shell (9 inches), baked

MERINGUE:

3 egg whites, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

6 tablespoons sugar

In a saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Stir in water. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until thickened. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 additional minutes. Gradually stir in 1 cup of hot filling to egg yolks; return to saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in butter, lemon juice, lime juice, and peel. Pour hot filling into pastry shell.

For meringue, beat egg whites, vanilla and cream of tartar in a bowl at medium speed until soft peaks form. Add sugar gradually, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high until stiff and glossy. Immediately spread over pie, sealing edges to pastry. Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes or until meringue is golden. Cool. Store in refrigerator. 

 

 

I live in a small town with few job opportunities. Years ago, I worked as a call center customer service representative. This was a high-paying non-labor job for my home area, which is dominated by factories and manual labor jobs. After seven years of business, the company closed its doors. Since I have a background in advertising and sales, I decided to promote not only the empty call center building, but the town, the people, and the whole way of life here in my home area. For five years, I worked on my own as an unpaid economic development aide. I made over 1000 contacts to possible employers for the call center, legislators, print and broadcast media, etc. Emails, snail mail, phone calls, person-to-person–however I could get the word out. I gave speeches, rode on political floats in parades, and was featured in a newspaper article by our largest regional newspaper. Some people applauded me, some people snubbed me, and some people asked me to run for office! 

After five years, a company did come to the call center. For the grand opening ceremony, I was the one who cut the ribbon. I worked for the company for over three years until they began to downsize and eventually lost their contract with our customer. I was unemployed for eighteen months. Losing your job through no fault of your own during the middle of a global recession is not for the faint of heart. What I have been through these last few years has left some permanent scars. I went back to work last year at the same facility for a different employer.

During my time of promoting economic development, I went through an amazing learning experience, not only about the ways and whys of the world, but also about myself. At the time of my great campaign, I also went back to school. One of my biggest milestones, and greatest celebrations involved starting college at age 43. I skipped a grade in elementary school, and graduated high school with honors at age 16. Due to family responsibilities, I immediately started working. Twenty eight years later, I finally became a college student. I was so worried that I would not “make the grade” in my college studies, but I pulled it off. I graduated “Summa Cum Laude” with a 4.0 grade average. Whew! Unfortunately, my studies only slightly improved my work situation, but they greatly improved my self-esteem. It’s never too late to try to improve yourself. One should never stop learning!

I am an apple lover from the great apple-producing state of VA:

Virginia Apple Joy Cake  

3 eggs
1 teaspoon soda
1-1/2 cups oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
3 cups Virginia apples, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pecans, chopped
3 cups all-purpose flour

Beat eggs; add oil, sugar and vanilla. Sift together flour, soda and salt. Add flour mixture and beat well. Fold in apples and pecans. Bake in tube pan, 1 hour at 325 degrees Fahrenheit or until done. When cake is done, top with the glaze recipe below.

 
Glaze

1/4 cup evaporated milk
1/2 stick margarine
1 cup brown sugar

Cook 1-1/2 minutes and spread on cake.
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I hope you enjoy my recipes and reminiscences. Please share your own--I'd love to hear your thoughts!