Book report: It ain’t over till it’s over

Reposting this one in light of the recent Charlottesville tragedy. The book offers some insight into why that particular war is not yet over. Why the fascination with and glorification of the losers of two wars–Nazis and the Confederacy?

Lorie Schaefer

confedsConfederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War

By Tony Horwitz

Think you understand the Civil War? Think you understand its causes and the influence it still holds on America? This book may cause you to think again, especially about why some folks can’t let it go, 150 years later.

As a boy, the prize-winning war correspondent Tony Horwitzwas fascinated by the Civil War, particularly the books of old photos he studied with his Jewish immigrant grandfather. That passion is rekindled when, after returning from assignments in Bosnia and the Middle East, he is awakened one morning by the musket fire of Civil War re-enactors just outside his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those shots signaled the beginning of a quest.

Throughout his travels, Horwitz demonstrates his curiosity and courage, his sense of humor and of history as he introduces readers to a host of characters…

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Love is why I carry a hanky

My Irish grandmother always carried a hanky. She’d stuff it up her sleeve or down her decolletage, what she called her “bosoms.” I thought it was her hay-fever, but now I think I’ve discovered the real reason.

You see, I’ll turn sixty-seven this week, and while I am healthy, I am reminded daily that I am no longer young. Chores and walks take a bit longer. When I look down, it’s my mother’s hands I see. I relish the hour or so I spend stretched out on the couch each afternoon, not sleeping, but simply resting and reading.

Furthermore, I’ve had time to reflect on what this aging business means. You see, I plan to be a very old lady one day. My goal is still to live until my 100th birthday. However, I’m beginning to realize that many of my friends and loved ones won’t be there to celebrate with me. I must learn to balance the contentment I feel each morning with the sadness that yet another dear one has passed. It’s also why my mother advised me to keep making new friends, because the old ones will keep dying.

Last week was rough. Two long-time friends passed away. Two. Both big, strong, active guys–both close to my age–who were simply and quite suddenly gone. Upon hearing the news, I was incredulous, but tried to go about my usual routine. Yoga class. A walk in the neighborhood. I cried during both.

So that’s why my grandmother always carried a hanky!

Still, I know this isn’t about me. The wives and children these men left behind are devastated and heart-broken. They will face each day, diminished is some way, slightly less than they were before. I hope they also know the profoundly positive influences their men had on those lucky enough to call them husband, dad, grandpa, or friend. These were good guys who should have had many more years to go on being good guys. We who loved them are grateful for the gift.missing-you-honest-quotes-about-grief-winnie-the-pooh

Still, the tears come. I have to tell myself that this grief is the price we pay for living and loving each other. For being human.

Throughout my life, I’ve gone through cycles of birthday parties, bridal and baby showers. Now is the time for goodbyes.  Now, whenever I buy a sympathy card, I buy two. Just in case. And that’s why you see me standing at the Hallmark display, sniffing quietly and reaching for my hanky.

Novel Tamale Pie

Why novel? Because the cornmeal is mixed in, not made into cornbread batter and spread on top. Well, that and the fact that this food memory comes from one of the characters in my novel.

tamale_pie2
Tamale Pie

From the kitchen of Libby McCormack Cooper

While this wasn’t necessarily my favorite thing when I was growing, it now definitely qualifies as comfort food. I’ve adapted it a bit here–using Rotele tomatoes makes up for other seasoning–but it’s still pretty much as my mom made it. We like it topped with a little sour cream and served on a bed of shredded lettuce. Mom served it with a wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with a dollop of mayo that she called a “salad.” Times and food tastes have changed.

1 pound ground beef or turkey

1 small yellow or white onion, chopped

1 large can of diced tomatoes, with liquid

1 regular can of Rotele tomatoes with the added chilies, with liquid

1 regular can of corn, with liquid

1 regular can of whole or sliced large black olives, drained

yellow cornmeal (approximately ¾ to 1 cup)

1 cup or more shredded cheddar

  1. Brown the meat with onion. Drain.
  2. Add the contents of all the cans. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
  3. Start sprinkling corn meal in the while stirring. Just add in small amounts until the mixture thickens and the boil bubbles make a very distinctive pfff sound.  There is no exact measurement for this. Sorry. As soon as it pfffs, remove from heat.
  4. Grease or spray a 9×13 baking pan. Scoop the mixture in and smooth it. Or if you are using an ovenproof skillet, you can save washing up an extra pan.
  5. Sprinkle top generously with cheese.
  6. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. It does not have to bake long because it is already hot.

 

 

Legendary Scones

 

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, another scrapbook page from Annie.

 Scones
from the kitchen of Libby McCormack Cooper

These are so easy to make, especially if you have a stand mixer. I made them every year for St. Patrick’s Day at school. With only half a stick of butter for a big batch, they are pretty low in fat, if you worry about such things. And people tell me they have magical healing qualities so are the perfect gift to take to an ailing friend.


4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
3 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp. butter
1 cup raisins
1 3/4 cup buttermilk (or milk soured with 2 Tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice)

  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Mix dry ingredients. Cut in butter. Add raisins. Add milk and egg. Mix until dough forms.
  3. Knead 2-3 minutes on floured board. Divide dough in half. Pat each half into a flat circle, about 12 inches across.
  4. Cut each circle into 12-16 wedges. This is the shape my grandmother made her scones. At this point you can sprinkle them with course sugar, such as Demerara, if you like.
  5. Bake 10 minutes on lightly greased or sprayed cookie sheet. As soon as they are cool, place them in a zippered plastic bag. Serve with marmalade, raspberry jam or lemon curd.

Variations: Raisins can be replaced with currents, dried cranberries, or other fruit. The cranberries work especially well if you substitute a little orange juice for some of the liquid and add a bit of grated orange peel. I’ve also added nuts or chocolate chips from time to time.

scone cranberry

Novel cookies from childhood

 

fudge cookie1

Quick Fudge Cookies
From the kitchen of Libby McCormack Cooper
Aunt Ellie made these for family picnics, but I think every Home Ec class in the 1950s and 60s made them too. They are great to make in the summer because you don’t have to turn on the oven and heat up the house. And who doesn’t like peanut butter and chocolate? You can even call them “healthy” because of the oatmeal, right? I think they’re gluten-free, too. Who knew?!

Mixture #1: 2 cups sugar
3 Tablespoons cocoa
¼ cup margarine or butter
½ cup milk

Mixture #2: 1 tsp vanilla
Pinch salt
½ cup crunchy peanut butter
3 cups quick oatmeal

Cook Mixture #1 at rolling boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add Mixture #2. Mix well and drop by spoonful (or use that scoop again) onto wax paper. Let set until firm and cool.

oats

This novel recipe is icing on the cake. Literally.

Another page from Annie Cooper’s Recipe Scrapbook. You might begin to see why Libby struggles with her weight.

Fluffy White Icing
From the kitchens of Fran McCormack & Libby McCormack Cooper
I’m not sure where my mom got this unusual frosting recipe, but it was always a hit, especially when piled high on chocolate cake. Unlike regular buttercream, it stays soft and fluffy instead of developing a crust.  And since I don’t keep Crisco around (does anyone?), I just use more butter.

3 heaping Tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
¼ cup Crisco (I substitute more butter here, another half stick)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring flour and milk to soft boil in saucepan and cook until thickened. Cool completely. Transfer to mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients. Beat until fluffy.

Soft Ginger Cookies are a snap

 A second helping from Annie Cooper’s Recipe Scrapbook. ginger cookieSoft Ginger Cookies
From the kitchen of Libby McCormack Cooper
My mom adapted this recipe from my Grandmother McCormack’s original that made
crispy gingersnaps. My mom preferred softer, chewier cookies. So do I. These were always the first cookies she made once the weather cooled off in the fall. They make the house smell wonderful. As long as you’re in the mess, you might as make a double batch and put half in the freezer.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Measure flour, ginger, cinnamon, soda, and salt into a medium bowl.
  3. Cream butter until soft, gradually adding sugar, creaming until light and fluffy.
  4. Beat in egg and molasses. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture a bit at a time to prevent flour from flying everywhere. Blend well.
  5. Form rounded tablespoonfuls of dough into balls. Or do what I do, use that little cookie scoop that’s just the right size.  Roll balls in granulated or fancier Demerara sugar. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. GingerMolassesFifteenSpatulas-640x424
  6. Bake in 350 oven for 12-15 minutes or until tops are slightly rounded, crackly and lightly browned.
  7. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool completely on wire rack or waxed paper. Store in airtight container.

Novel food: Claire’s favorite breakfast

This is the first installment of what I hope will be a regular feature here under the category “Annie Cooper’s Recipe Scrapbook.” Second and third helpings will be available in coming weeks.  I’ve wanted to include recipes in my book for some time because I love how Laura Kalpakian included them in her wonderful novel, American Cookery . However, I haven’t been able to do so as elegantly as she did. Yet. For now, consider this an archive (and maybe a teaser) for my book.

Annie, the twenty-something daughter of one of my main characters creates a scrapbook of her family’s favorite recipes as a gift for her mother, Libby McCormack Cooper. Libby’s best friend is Claire Jordan, whose mother contributed this yummy recipe. Each recipe will be accompanied by a few cook’s notes from one of the characters.


dutch baby 2

Dutch Babies
From the kitchen of Sylvia Jordan
This big puffy pancake was Claire’s favorite Sunday breakfast. She thought it was magic the way it puffed up in the oven, but was always a little sad when it deflated. It’s the same basic recipe as for Yorkshire Pudding or Popovers. I think the original came from Betty Crocker, but I adapted it for the high altitude of Carson City, Nevada by adding more eggs. For breakfast, serve it with syrup, jam, fresh berries or applesauce. A dollop of whipped cream or yogurt doesn’t hurt.

¼ cup vegetable oil or butter (or combination)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
4 eggs (2 at lower elevation)
Preheat oven temperature to 450°F (425°F for a glass pan.) Place oil and/or butter in 9-inch square pan or cast iron skillet. Put pan in oven and heat until hot. Meanwhile, beat flour, milk, salt and the eggs with wire whisk just until smooth. Pour batter into hot pan of oil. Bake 18 to 23 minutes or puffy and golden brown. Cut into squares or wedges.

Dutch-Baby-Pancake-28383

Is that you, Mother? I didn’t expect you so soon

Donegal 2004Today would have been my mother’s 91st birthday. This photo was taken at Donegal Castle, Northern Ireland in June of 2004, just weeks before she surprised us all and broke our hearts by passing quite unexpectedly. She was 79. The cane you see is hers, by the way. I was only minding it.

In the intervening years I retired, became a grandmother, and qualified for Medicare. However, the biggest change is that before I turned sixty, people argued when I told them my age. “No! You can’t be that old!” Now when I state my age, they don’t argue. It hurts, you know?

It is with thoughts of that inevitable process of aging that I wrote this piece fifteen years ago.  It first published in the Nevada Appeal on December 20, 2001.


I saw her again this morning. My sweet mother. She lives 500 miles away but there she was staring back at me from my bathroom mirror. It’s her all right; there’s no mistake.
Soft brown and gray curls, soft sags of skin, laugh lines, a few age spots. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom and would introduce her to you proudly if she were standing beside me. It’s just that when she looks back at me from the bathroom mirror, it’s … well … unsettling.
So every day I spend a considerable amount of time pushing her back out of my way and finding myself, recreating the person who greets the world. The steps have become a ritual.
To my clean and exfoliated skin I apply a moisturizer with sunscreen. It’s my first line of defense, my armor against any further damage from the sun. Apparently those summers at the beach in Southern California 40 years ago have been burned into my skin as well as my memory.
Next, I sponge on the foundation. When you build a house it is the foundation that holds everything upright and straight, making it endure. This foundation just allows my little illusion to last throughout most of the day. And then concealer. It goes to work hiding dark under-eye circles from the wakeful nights that began when I became a mother in 1976. I have been collecting those little bags through 23 years, two children, colic, croup, curfews, and college.
My brows are alternately plucked and penciled, growing thickly where I do not want them, thinly where I do. Like the lawn. And of course it is made even more challenging by failing eyesight. Dime store glasses and a magnifying mirror aid in this task. Then eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara are applied to enhance what people used to tell me were my best features, but which now lie hidden behind bifocals.
Finally a bit of blush to mimic what I can no longer trust the sun nor my innocence to produce: a rosy glow, an embarrassed flush. I’m not sure the makeup conceals much. Perhaps it’s only an attempt to reveal the person I believe still resides in this middle-aged body — someone who was considered intelligent, creative, friendly, fun and — once upon a time — even cute.
It is getting harder to find that girl with each passing year. I suppose sometime in the future the law of diminishing returns will cause me to reassess how I spend my time.
Although I had an old auntie who put on a fresh coat of makeup every night before going to bed explaining, “If I died in my sleep, nobody would recognize me.” She lived to be 100.
Perhaps one day I’ll accept these little imperfections as battle scars, as medals of honor. Perhaps one day I can wear them as signs of survival and triumph. Perhaps someday. More likely though, as aching joints and old age creep in, I’ll just be grateful for the sunrise and breath. Merely being clean will be good enough.
And maybe one day when my mother isn’t around anymore, I will even find it comforting to see her in the mirror, to know she’s close and that I’ll always have something to remember her by. Right in front of me.
Not today though. Today I will color and curl my hair, carefully apply my makeup, and accomplish a nearly complete makeover each morning. I’ll look into the mirror and see myself again and not my mother. Once the transformation is complete, I’ll put on my control top pantyhose, my sensible shoes with the orthotics, and my bifocals. I’ll take my hormones, allergy pills, vitamins, extra calcium. Even ginkgo biloba, if I remember. I’ll check the mirror once more and walk out the door accepting the fact that someday my mother in the mirror will be moving in to stay. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of my life. Continue reading “Is that you, Mother? I didn’t expect you so soon”