Figuring out Grammy’s Goulash

I am not one of those cooks that can just toss some ingredients into a pot and come out with something fabulous. I need a recipe. Sadly, the women in my family tend to not write down things like measurements and directions. I can get the basics and then am left to try to figure out the right combination of things to get the taste right. I am close on a lot of them and each time I try them, I get a little better. Here’s my latest attempt at Grammy’s Goulash – I’m estimating it’s at least 5 servings but I’m still figuring that out…

IMG_5473

The latest batch on the stove

Ingredients:
1 tsp olive oil
1.5 lbs ground beef
1 medium onion
1 lb macaroni
2 jars of Ragu with meat flavor
1 Tbsp oregano
1/2 Tbsp Basil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Chop and fry onion with the olive oil. Cook slowly so they don’t burn.
  2. Add beef to onion, season with salt and pepper. Cook through and make sure meat in small pieces, not big chunks.
  3. Add hamburg mixture to cooked macaroni. Add sauce and spices.
  4. Warm through before serving.
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Food Stories (and a recipe!)

I’ve been watching, slowly but surely, the lectures from Edible Education 103, a class held at UC Berkeley last fall and headed up by Michael Pollan. I love to eat so a class looking at food and our relationship with it seemed like a good place to start looking into what MOOCs are but also, the class has just been fascinating. The one I watched last night was with NPR’s The Kitchen Sisters who presented on collecting stories about the “hidden kitchens” in communities all over the country. One of their tenets of storytelling is that “Food is the New Music” – everyone has an opinion, a story, a song they want to share and food, like music, can trigger all sorts of memories.

Food is important in my family. We like to get together and eat. Most of my happiest memories involve food in some way. We have certain meals we eat at certain times of the year, we have certain foods we like to share with people, foods we hope our friends like when we bring them to parties. I’ve always loved sharing my family’s recipes over the years with friends or being asked for them as my friends have scattered all over the world on their own adventures. I know my box and folders of recipes with titles like Grammy’s Goulash  Jodi’s Pumpkin Bread, Uncle Gary’s Meatballs always meant I took a little piece of home with me no matter where I went.

Come summer, I pull out all the recipes for cold salads, dips and grilling. Recently, I made a batch of my Aunt Marcia’s spaghetti salad. This was a dish I insisted I wanted for a grad school graduation cook-out to not only have as one of my favorite dishes, but also to share the dish with some of my best friends from school. Word of advice to the singles, this recipe makes a TON of food so halving the recipe means you still have leftovers but just not so much that you’re sick of the dish by the time you are done. And hey, if you’re invited to a potluck BBQ this summer, this recipe is a unique and delicious one to take along!

Perfect summer meal in my book! Burger and spaghetti salad

Aunt Marcia’s Spaghetti Salad

Ingredients:
1 lb. cooked spaghetti
1 large green pepper – chopped fine
1 red onion – chopped fine
8 oz. Kraft Zesty Italian Dressing (1 small bottle or half a larger bottle)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 bottle McCormick Salad Supreme

Directions:

1) Prepare spaghetti as noted on box. Mix together with all ingredients in large bowl.
2) Let chill for 24 hours before serving
3) Still well before serving as the vegetables tend to settle towards the bottle of the bowl over night.

Santa Spoilers

In case you have some true believers still around when you read this – beware! As a character on one of my all time favorite shows is fond of saying, Spoilers!

 
From article, Santa Spotted by NORAD
So, it was my younger sister who told me that Santa Claus might not be as real as I would like. I’d had inklings of course, I’m not that daft, but I didn’t really want to not believe. I loved the magic of Santa and leaving out cookies and milk with sugar for the reindeer. Writing him a note to leave on the table, hoping he and the reindeer were having a good night. There was nothing quite like getting back to my house on Christmas Eve from my grandmother’s and rushing off to bed because the next day was going to be the best day of the year. A little magic is lost when I realized that the presents had been moved from my grandmother’s during the Christmas Eve festivities, that your dad was the one who ate the cookies and that your mom was the one who left the note, written with her left hand so we wouldn’t recognize the writing. 
 
But, on some level, I made a deal with my eight year old self. OK, so there wasn’t a physical being called Santa who came down my chimney but the idea of Santa and everything he stands for? I’ll believe in that until the day I die. Because, well, I don’t want to live in a world without a Santa Claus, without that possibility of magic and kindness and miracles. In fact, I think the world could all use more believers in things like that. This was long before I read Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus but obviously that is an editorial after my own heart. In fact, I consider it required reading about this time of year.
 
So, that little piece of my heart that is eight years old forever still gets excited for Christmas Eve and that moment when I get to go to bed. I know Mom and Dad are out in the family room putting out the gifts but I still love going down the hall and seeing it on Christmas morning, the mountains of gifts radiating from the tree and the overflowing stockings sitting in the easy chair because they are too heavy to hang back up. Even now, there is no room more magical than the family room all lit up on Christmas morning with snow out the window. The snow though is becoming more rare (curse you global warming!). 
 
But one of the best parts of the season is that we still have little ones in the family who truly believe. For years, I was Santa for my cousin. I’d call to get the inside scoop on his school and friends and things he’d done that year and then write up a letter from Santa to send to him. I loved coming up with the picture of the North Pole for him. I usually re-read some of them about this time of year too. It was fun to think up why elves would be putting together an iPod or where a sports jersey might come from if Santa needed one. Today’s kids are smart – you have to stay ahead of them!
 
While my cousin has long outgrown those letters, I still get to hear from my other little second cousins about their excitement, about all the things they found on Christmas morning (paw prints in the yard! half eaten carrots!) and to share for a little while in that absolute certainty that of course Santa exists, how could he not?  
 
As I head home for the holidays, I wish all of you and your families the very best and magical moments the season has to offer. Happy Christmas Everyone!

Under I feared I would lose it…

“Under I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird

From the Dayton Metro Library’s Flickr stream

Banned Book week always makes me think. As does the quote above. I only just read To Kill a Mockingbird late last year and fell in love with it. However, the quote above took a moment to sink in. It is true; one does not love to breathe. It is simply something we assume is working the way it should be. It is an essential piece of keeping one alive but a piece we rarely think about until, as Lee notes, it is lost or threatened in some way. Reading is to me, as it was for Scout, as essential as breathing.

I am not sure where that comes from exactly. I was always being read to as a child. I can remember certain books at my grandmother’s house that were read to me so often that I could “read” them from a very young age simply because I had them memorized. I remember there was always a bookshelf in my room and it was always filled – I don’t remember ever owning an empty bookshelf. My talent for reading though was cultivated when my aunt used me as a guinea pig for her college projects. She was studying to be a teacher if I recall correctly but I don’t remember what I had to do for her at all. I do remember the gift she gave me when it was done – a hardcover, gorgeous edition of Beauty and the Beast based on the Disney film version. I still have it to this day. On the first page of the story, the word “majestic” appears – I remember being proud that I knew what that word meant and how to pronounce it the first time I opened the book. I was in second grade.

I always had my nose in a book. I could read anywhere – in a car, on a plane, lying out under the sun, cozy under the covers, in a loud crowded room (essential around my family). Any place was a good place to pull out a book and dive in. I think my family thought I was slightly nuts but they never stopped me and always encouraged me. I am thankful they let me read what I wanted, that they trusted me in my reading choices. I remember Mom reading to both my sister and me in my early elementary school years – Shiloh was one we cried our way through. Encouraged by teachers and what I was reading in school, I got to read some fabulous books in elementary school. Fourth and fifth grades though are when I start to remember classroom reading well – The Girl with Silver Eyes, Farmer Boy, The Iceberg Hermit, Where the Red Fern Grows, Summer of the Monkeys. We read the Tripods trilogy as a class in 5th grade and my love of science fiction was born (much to my father’s delight). Dad also made sure I read Jack London’s works, Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Dove while in elementary school. House rules for school reading challenges: I pick one book, Dad picks the other. The only time this didn’t work was when he set me to Have Space Suit, Will Travel. It was one of the first books I didn’t much get along with though it would take me years to learn it was OK to walk away from a book I didn’t like without finishing it and the world wouldn’t end.

My book explosion came in 6th grade when I discovered the Anne books. I had been bored with Babysitter Club books and other series didn’t really interest. I went through a Catherine, Called Birdy phase but then somehow, and I don’t even remember how, I stumbled across Anne of Green Gables. I don’t think it’s a day my mother thinks of fondly. For the next few months she was continually running me out to the mall so I could buy the next book in the series. Finally, I bought the last three books in one fell swoop. I adored Anne, and later her kids. I wanted to live in a world like they did. From Anne, I discovered Jane of Lantern Hill and all of L.M. Montgomery’s short stories. I also fell into Holocaust literature in a big way in 6th grade – I read everything I could find though If I Should Die remains one of my favorites.

As I got older, reading for fun was regulated to summers as during the school year, I had too much homework, far too many extracurricular activities and other responsibilities that time to read for fun was lost a lot of the time. College was even worse but I was an English major, I had to read for most of my classes. Here is where I discovered Dickens, Austen, and the Brontës in all their glory. I came to them late (well, Dickens I had met and loved in high school but I never got back around to him), but not a moment sooner than I needed them. At the end of four years of studying English and writing papers, these authors reminded me of why I loved to read in the first place.

But to return to why I started to write this in the first week, Banned Books week. I had never actually looked at the Banned Books list before today. I’d read about books when they were being challenged and I had a vague idea that I’d read a good many of them by now but I’d never actually checked because the idea seemed sort of silly to me. Just a list of books I might not want to read? Why on earth not? Some of the most compelling reads are ones that challenge what you belief, what you think is right and what is wrong and that shows you just how grey our world actually is. Why would someone want to deliberately stay “safe” and not read something that will make them think and defend themselves? So, perhaps, speaks the English major, but it seems to me the very opposite reason I read. I read to be entertained yes, but also to be challenged, to learn to question myself and the world around me. In short, I read to learn about myself and the world I live in and the great thing about reading is, the book doesn’t even have to be a realistic setting! It can be on another planet, in another time and I will still learn. Sigh, the joys of reading! May I never lose it!

Some Thoughts on Princesses

And no, I’m not going all Kate Middleton on you at this late date. I was recently catching up on some Disney podcasts and the last episode of Mouse Lounge was focused on the Disney Princesses. It’s a fascinating topic to me because 1) I am a bonafide Disney geek and 2) I was a women’s studies student and a proud feminist to this day. I found myself defending my love of Disney often in my women’s studies classes.

Still from Disney’s Fairy Tale Wedding Line. From Ranker

I never really overanalyzed though until a fellow WS student asked me a few questions about her senior project. She was looking at the Disney Princesses and their effect on young girls. This was just a few days after the first release of the Disney Wedding dress line and she hadn’t heard about that yet so I told her about that and didn’t think about it again until her presentation on her work in class. Her findings were telling if not unexpected – Disney Princesses could give girls the wrong impressions, and those imprssions fell all across the board: If I just wait, he’ll come rescue me (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella); If I change enough, he’ll fall in love with me (The Little Mermaid, might have an argument for Mulan here as well); If I just love him enough, he’ll change and be the man I need (Beauty and the Beast). I’m paraphrasing and certainly hoping I remember this well enough but you get the idea – the princesses are passive; beauty objects to which things happen but they themselves have no control over them. I remember listening and getting progressively more uncomfortable. Did I subconsciously take all that in? I was a kid long before the current Princess craze and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques but maybe, a part of me had taken that in anyway? The more I sat there in class, the more I thought back and wondered.

Ariel was technically my first princess. I vaguely recall seeing The Little Mermaid in the theater when it came out and I loved the music but the story was never my favorite. It was Belle and Beauty and the Beast that ruled my world. I had loved to read already; all I had to do was perfect walking and reading at the same time and I was set. However, I don’t recall pining for my prince. I wanted to go off and have an adventure sure – wander forests, ride in to the rescue in the end, marry the Beast for his library…sorry, off track. The thing is, I never saw Belle as someone who was fishing for a man; the fact she finds one in the end is just sort of a bonus. I think it helped that my dad focused me on how smart Belle was, on how much she liked to read, on how brave she was. He never pointed out that she got to wear a pretty dress and married a prince. It was sort of besides the point in my world. So, I spoke up in class. I don’t think my friend was surprised. I was the girl writing her thesis on Cinderella after all (for WS, I was more into looking at the sexual revolution of women in the 1890s-1920s, but I got Disney in on the English side. Poor Cindy, she needed someone to prove she was a bit more than a perfect shoe model). I talked about my Dad’s point of view and how he presented Belle to me. It was true, I was an odd kid but I was just as inclined to love princesses as anyone. I am a born hopeless romantic but for me, Belle was never just a princess, she was first and foremost her own woman, with or without a man in the picture. My class found this interesting and we ran off into the whole nature vs. nurture discussion. But I’ve never forgotten thinking about my relationships with the princesses.

Fast forward to today and Disney Princess culture is everywhere. Talk about a merchandising mint. But my approach to the princesses hasn’t changed. They have their place, most of them accurately reflect the idea of women in society for when they were created (let’s all have a field day approaching Sleeping Beauty with that in mind) which is why Belle reigned supreme for me even over the more overtly feminist princesses Jasmine and Mulan. Then came The Princess and the Frog.

I had totally gushed over her dress first

I discussed this briefly when I looked at Tangled; Tiana, the princess for my 20s. Hard-working, practical, secretly funny and a dreamer at heart though she tries to deny it, Tiana and Belle run neck in neck for my favorite princess award these days. “Almost There” is a song that gets me through the hardest days, the days when I forget I do have bigger goals, bigger dreams and if I just keep working for it, with a little dreaming for good measure, than I’m almost there for sure. Mouse Lounge focused on Tiana a lot and how she is a more “modern” princess and has the mentality to prove it and I had to laugh because the little girl they were discussing in the podcast still just loved the music, the colors, the adventure of Tiana’s story. She wasn’t thinking about how Tiana is a positive representation of women in animation but about how pretty her dress is in the end. Because, let’s face it, girls will be girls and even those of us who like to think we’re above that stood in line to gush over Princess Tiana’s dress at the Magic Kingdom.

The Princess culture is fascinating but ultimately, I think it is a combination of things that make some girls fall head long into it and others just enjoy the ride along the way. One thing is for sure, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon and I am sure to see many a little girl happily skipping up Main Street decked out as her favorite princess on her way to the Castle for breakfast with Cinderella during my trip in September. And honestly? I don’t see a thing wrong with that.