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Friday, August 31, 2012

Of Rhubarb Pie and Other Sweet Memories

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I stopped by Flying Star Cafe, a New Mexico restaurant chain, for dessert. I had a slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie, something I hadn't tasted in many, many years.

I mentioned this to a friend who also volunteers at the food pantry every Wednesday (as I do), and we started talking about the seemingly lost art of home cooking. She makes her own granola, croutons and salad dressing, among other things. I mentioned that my mother and maternal grandmother used to make rhubarb pies.
Photo courtesy

My grandparents grew their own rhubarb, along with corn, tomatoes, green beans and other vegetables. The pie crusts, of course, also were made from scratch, which made for some very tasty pies. My mother always said that her homemade pie crusts weren't very good, but no one in our family ever complained.

This discussion opened a floodgate of memories for me, as I recalled that both of my grandmothers, as well as my mother, were excellent cooks. Of course, they didn't have a lot of choice, as there were no frozen dinners, ready-to-eat meals, take-out or any of the other convenience foods we take for granted.

My mother's fried chicken was the best, bar none. A typical Sunday meal after church might include fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy (all made from scratch) and corn, followed by a homemade dessert. Her roast beef and homemade noodles was just as awesome. She made wonderful chicken and dumplings, too.

She canned fruits and vegetables during the summer, and made jams and preserves, so we ate a lot of natural foods, with no preservatives or artificial ingredients. There were some things I didn't care for, such as liver and onions, brussels sprouts and stewed tomatoes. But those are the only foods I recall not liking.

I remember the first time I had pizza. My mom had bought a package of Chef Boyardee pizza mix, and she made this strange but wonderful new food for us one Sunday evening. Another treat that heralded the coming change in the way Americans eat was an occasional trip on Sunday evening to McDonald's for burgers and fries. Burgers cost just 19 cents each. I think there was just one McDonald's in our city, and the other fast food places such as Burger King, Taco Bell, Sonic and others hadn't yet made their appearance.

I haven't yet tried to make my own rhubarb pie (I don't even know whether it is possible to buy fresh rhubarb in the stores here in New Mexico), although I have in the past tried my hand at pie-making. My yard in California had peach and apple trees (among others), and I made apple crisp and peach cobbler, which were delicious. But I cheated and used a store-bought pie crust. I have tried to find a frozen rhubarb pie, but both stores I searched had only a limited selection of pies, and neither carries rhubarb pies.

My daughter, who has grown up on prepared foods, has shown little interest in real cooking, although she likes my homemade soups. She wants us to attempt to make her all-time favorite Russian food, pelmeni, dumpling-like things filled with ground meat. They are, I'm told, not hard to make, but very time-consuming. She wants to have pelmeni and borshch for Christmas dinner, so we will need to do a trial run with the pelmeni before then.

I guess the occasional slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie from Flying Star will have to suffice for now. Maybe this little trip down memory lane will prompt me to do some real cooking, rather than relying on prepared foods. I know the food will taste better, and be better for me, without all the added chemicals, artificial colorings and flavors and the preservatives. And just maybe it will help keep those memories of days gone by alive a bit longer.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Nature's Healing Touch

May the sun bring you energy by day.
May be moon softly restore you by night.
May the rain wash away your worries.
May the breeze blow new strength into your being.
May you walk gently through the world and
Know its beauty all the days of your life.

Apache blessing

Isn't this a beautiful blessing? It speaks to me of the healing power of nature, and just reading it gives me a sense of peace as I contemplate the feelings of the sun, rain, moon and breeze.

My daughter and I recently took a trip to Russia, the country where she was born, with a 6-day stop in London on the way.  London, Moscow and St. Petersburg, where we visited, are major cities with millions of residents. People rush aout, pushing and shoving and in general behaving rudely. Streets everywhere are packed with people and traffic. Drivers show their impatience at the slightest delay by blasting their horns. Tourist spots are jam-packed with people. Although I enjoyed our visit, I was more than ready to get back to the peace and quiet of my home in New Mexico.

It's easy to forget how much strength and rejuvenation I get from spending time in nature. The quiet and peacefulness calm frayed nerves. The colors of the crystal blue sky, a gorgeous sunrise and flowers in bloom are a feast for the eyes. The smell -- of pine trees or the desert after a (too-rare) rain -- is delightful. And the sound -- or absence of noise from traffic, sirens and auto horns -- is a welcome relief. I love sitting in a secluded spot, listening to the birds sing, the wind in the trees, and the absence of noise.

My house is filled with images of nature -- wolves, sunrises, sunflowers -- soothing earth tones and lots of light from large windows and several skylights. I can see the Sandia Mountains from my bedroom, living room, dining room, office and back yard. While they lack the beauty of the red rocks of Sedona and southern Utah, it still is such a treat to see the Sandias in their magnificence and changing moods every day.

I also now understand how crucial it is that I be outdoors in the light, whether hiking, walking around, driving with the windows down and sunroof open, or dining on a restaurant patio. I just naturally gravitate toward the light and the outdoors. I have always needed lots of sunlight, but during a trip to New Mexico a few years ago, I realized just how much I need it and how I unconsciously sought the comfort of sunshine and open spaces. 

I am blessed to live in a state with so much natural beauty and so many open spaces. Just 2 miles from my house, I can walk along the Rio Grande on wooded trails. Or I can walk on a dirt path between acequias, part of a 200-year-old gravity-powered irrigation system still in use today. I did that this morning, and was treated to the sounds of chirping birds and buzzing cicadas, and the sight of scampering lizards and horses peacefully grazing in their pasture. This was a much-needed respite, and a good reminder that I need to get out and do this more often.