Thursday, September 29, 2011

Come and Have a Cup of Coffee With Me: Drip Coffee On a Cool Southern Morning, Remembering Daddy

It rained most of the day and evening yesterday.  It wasn't a torrential rain, just enough to water in the turnip, kale, and mustard seeds freshly sowed (and lightly covered with soil) in Mama's fall garden put in Tuesday.  This morning it feels like fall again, the temperature hovering in the lower seventies.  My old house is cool enough sans air conditioning to put away the electric drip coffee maker and make a favorite beverage the right way -  the way Daddy taught me when I first started cooking as a youngster:  in a dripolator.

I don't know what the different parts of a dripolator are properly called.  They've always been the pot, the basket where the filter and coffee go, the reservoir and lid.  See my dripolator?  Mama bought it from Reynolds Variety Store in State Line, Mississippi as a house warming present when the Little Family moved from Grenada to Oxford years and years ago.  Reynolds is now just a clothing store, a sad departure from the lightly-dust-coated old fashioned treasure trove of a family mercantile.  Dripolators can be found on eBay.  I've bought several for friends from there over the years.  This one is a Mirro brand.  I love it!

Annnnyways.  If you have (or your Mama has one and you can snitch borrow it) one, this is the way to get an as-close-to-perfect-as-possible cup of coffee.

Fill a kettle with cold water.

Put it on to boil.

I use a heaping teaspoon of COLOMBIAN coffee for each cup.  That's one



Put the basket on the pot.

Put the reservoir on the basket.

Wait for the water to boil.

Put away the clean dishes while waiting.  You know you need to.

YAY!  Water's boiling.  Pour the boiling water in the reservoir and try to take a decent photo of it happening!   Use your imagination on what that looks like, okay?  This is boiling water in the reservoir.  It's dripping through the coffee grounds and the smell is pretty close to chocolate.  Which you all know smells like heaven must to me.

Wait some more for the coffee to finish dripping.

Grab the camera and take a really neat looking photo of the dew on the spider webs in the predawn light while you wait.

It's DONE!  I'm going to pour us both a cup of coffee.  Mary Poppins is mine.  I'll pour you the big white cup.  It used to be Daddy's.  He loved coffee and I think he taught me how to make it this way so he could have a supply of it if Mama weren't in the house to make it for him.  Daddy was more than capable of making it himself but he was often in his work shop making furniture or in the garden.  I never minded doing it.  I think of him every time I pour up the water.  I hear him say "Now Shug, you be careful..."

I like mine white and sweet.  Unless there's chocolate to be had.  Doctor it up any way you like.

Just in time!!!!   Come on!  Don't let it get cold...

Enjoy.  I know I have...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In the Face of Histiocytosis...

This is the face of Langerhans cell histiocytosis.  It's warped and skewed, a permanent sneer formed from thick scar tissue in the cheek bowing the nose, drooping the eye, curling the lip.  It's bound to stay this way.

There will be no fixing it, just like there's no fix for histiocytosis - only one treatment protocol after another 'til remission is hopefully reached,  heavy make up to deal with the aftermath.

Whaaaa???  What is she talking about??  Mayree -- you done gone somewhere beyond your usual self.  Well.  Not really, folks.  I'm not defined by a disease but it has certainly set parameters and helped to define my life.  It's Langerhans cell histiocytosis, formerly called histiocytosis x and also known as eosinophilic granuloma.  It's an orphan disease affecting approximately one in 200,000 births.  It's a "Side of Life"  I've a unique perspective on.

Parents of infants born with any of the five (or so) histio diseases are horrified at the lack of standard treatment available.  Children develop it without warning, the diagnosis often taking weeks and months, local disease databases being just that limited.  Adults, like myself, that develop it later in life are tasked with becoming our own best advocate;  the blurbs in standard medical textbooks insufficiently lacking with respect as to how to answer any of ten thousand questions patients and parents constantly have.

We're classified as having an orphan disease.  That means there are too few of us that die from it to warrant research by the government, not a pleasant thought when the government takes better notice and care of others.  I pay my taxes.  I vote.  I have an orphan disease and am insignificant to the country my niece's husband is defending at this very moment.  Go figure...

Annnnyways.  September is Histiocytosis Awareness Month.  It's not a pretty disease.
I can attest to that....

Here's a link for you.  It's where I found Dr. Ken McLain, pediatric hematologist oncologist/histio researcher with Baylor/Texas Children's Clinic in Houston.  I've not been able to get back to see him in the last seven years, life interfering with the best laid plans of mice and men, but I thank him whole-heartedly for his untiring research and treating scared (and scarred) adults like myself, allowing a sense of normalcy to return from the upheaval of dealing with this disease:

Please.  Don't EVER take my word for anything.  Find out for yourself.  Be histio aware.  Google it:  Langerhans cell histiocytosis.

And not ONE word about all the canine references, okay?  That's not funny at allllllll.......

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pears, A Pan, and Mama...

It was another Saturday morning spent with Mama.  I usually set aside Friday just for her but Favorite Child was in this past week and she was summarily preoccupied with his presence and maneuvering him to meet her ever-increasing whims.   Not being Favorite Child is a blessing AND a curse.  Blessedly, I very seldom measure up to favorite status, usually having to put myself in harm's way to achieve it.   Accursed is the bothersome incessant chatter of "Favorite Child this...,"  "Did you know Favorite Child that?" and worst, by far, "Favorite Child bought me a new...."  The brothers and I don't discuss favorite child activities in front of Mama.  She'll shed a crocodile tear while admonishing us that she loves us all the same.  To her mind she is absolutely correct.  We all see a difference when the REAL favorite comes home though.  Favorite Child really is quite another story for another day.

Saturday morning we went to Neely, Mississippi to pick up our Angel Food boxes from the little church twenty miles in the western woods of Greene County.  Before going to the church we took a quick jaunt a few miles more westward to the Buffalo community, halfway between Neely and McLain.  My long time friend, Murray, lives there on the old farm of his childhood.  The little house is a few miles down a narrow two-lane road lined with harvestable pine trees and fields beginning to glow with the first wave of goldenrods.  

I love the drive.  This morning the ragweed growing in the fence rows gently bowed with the breeze as if paying thankful obeisance to the allergy gods for the plentiful hay fever season about to bloom forth.  The planted pines made patterned shadows across the road that reminded me of a universal product bar code;  the car is scanning the road for the directions to Murray's home.  I'm very conscious of the fact that mine and Mama's roles are slowly but surely becoming reversed as she asks every few moments  "Is this is?"  "How far down this road is it?" "Now are you sure you know where we're going?"  Role reversal is a painful thought to accept always leading to the obvious next thought of remaining time left with her. 

 I left that  dark musing behind as the bar code roads led me on past the barn and the remaining mile or so to his home.  We'd come to pick pears.  

Mama had overheard me telling FC (Favorite Child) about the pear trees Murray's grandfather had planted, a bunch of them!  Mr. Harvison loved pears and loved tending his trees.  There are three or four old varities of pears -  all good.  It's a bit late in the season for pears but the one tree was still loaded.  Mama knew this; her hearing is not nearly as bad as she purports.  I had a foot tub for a mess of pears;
Mama, her ever-present plastic grocery sacks.  

Murray met us in the yard.   A fellow is there cutting grass and Murray's been clearing up the leggish four o'clocks and lantana, neatening the place for a good mulching before cold weather arrives.  He told us to watch out for copper heads and Mama giggled as she looked up in the trees and asked Murray had he heard about the fig tree yet.  Fortunately, no snakes are seen and the pears are uneventfully harvested.  She stops to admire the bonsai he grows.

Murray invites me to show Mama his home.  He won't come in, trying to finish the outside work by noon. 

I enjoy being in  Murray's little farm house.  There's not one thing fancy about it,  glancing at it from the road.  It's an unremarkable little old  house.  You'd never know it housed a collection of plain and ornate kerosene lamps, all beautiful in their simplicity or ornate workmanship.  

Or that he's painstakenly found oval bubble glass photo frames for old family photos.  It's not cram-packed full of antiques, just the right amount to give the feel of walking back into a comfortable time when family, friends, and good food were of much more importance than the latest model of Blackberry, gaming systems, or dire political world events.  There's not one item in his house of incredible great worth to anyone but him.  

Well.  Almost.  Mama spotted an arrangement of ceramic-on-steel dishpans hanging in the kitchen and commented on them to me.  Going through the house she made mention of the fact that it's so clean (and of course, FC keeps a clean house, too)!  It was getting close to time to pick up our boxes at the church.  Meeting Murray, ever the Southern gentleman,  on the side porch coming out,  he thanked Mama for coming to get pears, inviting her to come again. 

 And do you know?  Can you imagine?  Putting on that little-old-kindergarten-teacher's-voice she says, "Well, if you find another one of those dishpans like in your kitchen I sure would like one to make jelly in."  I'm not sure if Murray gave her the pan she desired out of the kitchen because of Mama's endearing charm or as a true token of our friendship.  It's now at her house.  She's going to cook her pear preserves in it and make sure Murray gets a pint.  We talked all the way off the porch, through the yard, and to the car; me hustling her in it and closing the door before she spotted the old wagon in Murray's shed.  

I drove us to retrieve our food boxes, picked up really good hamburgers at the Neely Store, and got Mama home and unloaded with her pears, food box, and the dish/jelly pan that I couldn't carry in, lest I ding the ceramic off.

Mama amazes me.  Her ability to finagle her every wish or wanted item is unmatched.  In the past, she's talked the county into putting in new culverts at the end of the road,  pointing out it was their own fault and bad road-grading that caused them to become dented and stopped up in the first place.  Another friend keeps her supplied with one or another beautiful pot plants out of his florist when she merely suggests she might like one,  along with fresh cut flower arrangements on her birthday, Mother's Day, and Easter.  She's persuaded physicians time after time to supply her with medicine samples - just so she won't have to make another trip into town.  She's used her finely honed  skills on her children and has, in the last five years, obtained a new roof, hydraulic wood splitter, riding lawn mower, new plumbing for the entire house, and more free cakes than I'd like to remember. 

 She's something else, for sure.  And I need to turn off the computer and get back out to her house - she needs another five pounds of sugar.  She doesn't have but one bag and she's decided to cook all the pears into that she has a nice big pan.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Aunt Selma's Pear Pineapple Spread. Ms. Mona's Pear Preserves. It's a "Pear" of names for a Southern Favorite

It's another late night writing a post after a long day of sitting in doctor's offices and radiology waiting rooms with Mama in Hattiesburg.  We hurried home as quick as we could get done with her business.  She had chickens to tend to and, well, I had Pear Pineapple Spread cooking slowly in the crock pot to be checked on.  Yep.  I cook them in the crock pot.  But before I get to the spread, also known as Ms. Mona's Pear Preserves, you've got to see Mama in Sam's Club.  She was so cute!  At 83 years old, she had never been in one.  And what did she get me to purchase for her?  A huge jug of Downy fabric softener, OdoBan cleaner (our favorite virucide/bacteriacide), bananas, and a three pound box of cherries.  It was a fun two hour stretch of time as she scooted hither and yon (mostly yon) through the super-duper-big-box store.

Now.  On to the serious stuff of pear preserves.  Ms. Mona had posted this recipe in a discussion tab of Best Southern Recipes from the Deep South earlier this week.  It's the same one Aunt Selma used to make Pear Pineapple Spread. Ms. Mona and her family eat it like preserves.  Aunt Selma always put a layer of it with cream cheese for a fancy finger sandwich.  Either way, it's delicious and worthy of putting into the search engines of google, riiight?

The pears appeared at the back door, if you remember from the Vanilla Pear Jelly post, transported there via a cousin.  I peeled and cored them, using those parts to make juice with and saving the pear flesh for these preserves.

Ms. Mona says she and her family likes the pears sliced thinly for this.  I like them grated.  In the pre-Cuisinart days the task of grating pears would have made knuckles bleed and fingers sore without ever getting out the grater.  It doesn't take long to make short work of grating a pan of pears with the grater attachment on the trusted device, though, so if you've a preference for a smoother spread, break out the food processor.  Save your knuckles for pimento and cheese made with red rind cheddar on the fine side of the manual grater.
I had cut the pears from the core the night before, sprinkling them with a light dusting of Fruit Fresh and putting them in the refrigerator.  It's the only way to go when time is short and everything can't get done all in the same day.  They were still nice and white, crisp and juicy when these were started a day later.

You'll also need sugar and a 20 ounce can of crushed pineapple.  A crockpot.  And jars, lids, and bands to can the preserves with when they're cooked.
I used the ubercheap brand of crushed pineapple.  It worked fine, especially since I ran it through the Cuisinart as well.  Sometimes the **ahem** more economical brands of food stuffs can be inconsistently processed when it comes to size and/or consistency.  I put the blade in the processor and assured myself it was all very well crushed.

Put everything in the crock pot, turn it on low, and forget about it for six or seven hours.  Carry your mother to Sam's Club.  I came home and they were almost cooked, needing only to thicken up somewhat.  I took the lid off the crock pot and made cakes.
That's a vintage McCall's Cook Book I forgot to tell my ex-sister-in-law I had of hers inherited. It's old and outdated and has a fine fine white cake recipe in it I like to use when I'm called to bake one.  I really don't like white cakes, but when I make one that's the recipe used.

The pears and pineapple cook to a beautiful dark honey color.  If you like a lighter preserve, by all means add lemon juice and lemon slices.   When Mama makes her plain pear preserves she'll slice up a lemon and cook it in the preserves.  It's my favorite thing to eat, that lemon, when Mama makes pear preserves.  Only the rind of it tastes like lemon anymore, the flesh having taken on an exotic flavor that escapes description.

Tadadaaaa!  They're all done.  There's no fob to preserves but that doesn't stop me from having a big spoonful on a slice of white bread.  And just to add insult to injury, I poured cream on top, too.  Ohhhh, deliciousness coronary style!!!
Another cake in the oven, too!

Process into sterilized mason jars.  I've never done the water bath thang with preserves or jellies.  I suppose I ought to.  The USDA recommends it.  But I don't.  And I do have a Serv Safe Food Certificate so please don't bladahblahh 'bout botulism and ptomaine poisoning and the black plague.  I know this stuff... I also have the common sense to start and end with sanitized equipment.  I'm proficient at controlling and maintaining food temperatures for optimum food quality.  I'm of the opinion that further processing in a water bath will over-cook the pears and they'll become grainy.  That's just me, though.  Some folks are of the erroneous opinion that I'm spoiled.  I'm not - I just do what I want the way I want to (most of the time).  I don't water bath preserves and jellies.
There you have it!  Six and a half pints of Ms. Mona's Pear Preserves also known as Aunt Selma's Pineapple Pear Spread.

Those ingredients again are:
8 cups pears, sliced or grated
8 cups sugar
20 ounce can of crushed pineapple

Cook all ingredients slowly until preserves consistency.  Process into hot sterilized mason jars, sealing with lids and bands.  These also store in the freezer very well, although they never actually freeze.

Do yourself a favor.  Get a block of cream cheese and white pasty sliced bread and make a sandwich with these preserves.  Oh.  Myyyy.  And if you'd like to do yourself another favor, bake a pan of cornbread.  Open up a wedge and spoon this on, topped with heavy cream - a Deep South treat from my childhood and a leading cause of childhood obesity, too!