How Does Food Network Say to Do It?

imgresI have watched Food Network almost from the very beginning (which Wikipedia tells me was 1993). I watched Tyler Florence when he was on a program called How to Boil Water. He was something like 15 years old. I still prepare a chicken enchilada recipe I learned from him on the show.

I watched Emeril Lagasse entertain crowds via his over-the-top personality and garlic-laden cooking. I don’t believe I have ever cooked a single one of his recipes as they are way too complicated. Still, he was a founding food star on Food Network and fun to watch.

I watched the early Bobby Flay programs back when he had only married and divorced a couple of women and Giada De Laurentiis wasn’t even a gleam in his eye. I don’t believe I have ever even looked at one of his recipes because frankly, he annoys me and always has. How could he cheat on his beautiful and talented wife Stephanie March? You know how friends choose who they are going to stick with following a divorce? I choose Stephanie! I loved her on Law and Order. Still, I watched his shows. How could I not? They were ubiquitous.

I was a fan of Paula Deen up until, during, and after her remarks about her use of the “N” word. Her honesty was refreshing and it isn’t like she didn’t learn from her mistakes. But man-oh-man did she need a better PR strategy. As for her recipes, yes indeed I have used many. I make her cinnamon ice cream very often. It’s my go-to recipe for ice cream. If I make vanilla ice cream, I simply leave out the cinnamon and add vanilla. Boom.

You can still find reruns of Alton Brown’s Good Eats on the Cooking Channel – Food Network’s annoying little brother. Good Eats used to be on at 10 o’clock at night Monday through Friday. While it’s unimaginable to me now to think about not being in bed reading by 9:30, I recall watching the show as I waited up for Court to get home from wherever he wasn’t supposed to be. Alton Brown is seriously funny and his show was irresistible. Nevertheless, I found he made things so difficult. I remember that in his show about baking cakes, he advised that the cakemaker should weigh the two cake pans to ensure you are putting exactly the same amount in each. My apologies to all of you first-borns who actually do this, but – SERIOUSLY?

At first I took everything the chefs and cooks said as religion. For example, they said (and continue to say) you simply can’t be a good cook without a gas stove. For many years I lamented the fact that I cooked on an electric glasstop stove. A couple of years ago it hit me that, despite my use of an electric stove, I was a perfectly fine cook as was my mother, who mostly cooked on an electric stove, though I have a distant memory of a gas stove and her having to use a match to light it. It is this memory, in fact, that prevents me from reconfiguring my kitchen to allow cooking with gas, as I am terrified of blowing myself up. That, and I don’t have $30,000 for a kitchen remodel.

My favorite chef, as well as my favorite cooking show of course is Lidia Bastianich. She is not on Food Network, but instead appears on PBS. Next to my mother, Lidia is the person from whom I have learned the most about cooking. I own all of her cookbooks, and all are well-worn. I find I talk to myself while cooking as though I am talking with Lidia. I have had the good luck to eat at one of her restaurants on several occasions  — Becco in NYC. Each time I have fervently wished that she would appear out of the kitchen so that I could run up to her, throw my arms around her, and thank her for teaching me to cook.

I am pleased to tell you she never did.

I will also tell you that many of my grandkids also watch Food Network. The other night I watched Cake Wars with the McLains (aka, The Cousins) at their bequest, and Kaiya and Mylee often watch Chopped with their Dad. It brings tears to my eyes.

While I now take what the chefs tell me with a grain of salt (remembering, for example, that I am not rich enough to own a house in the Hamptons, nor do I have a sous chef to prepare my ingredients), I have learned a lot from watching the chefs on Food Network.

Next week I will tell you what I’ve learned.

And for kicks……

Homemade Cinnamon Ice Cream, Adapted from Paula Deen and Food Network
Yield: 2-3 quarts

2 c. half-and-half
2 cinnamon sticks
½ pint heavy whipping cream
14-oz can sweetened condensed milk, chilled
1 qt. whole milk

In a saucepan, combine half-and-half and cinnamon sticks. Cook for 20 minutes over low heat (do not boil) Remove cinnamon sticks and chill milk for 4 hours.

With an electric mixer, beat whipping cream on high speed until soft peaks form. Add the chilled sweetened condensed milk and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.

Add chilled half-and-half. Pour mixture into the canister of ice cream freezer. Freeze according to the ice cream maker manufacturer’s directions. Place ice cream in another container and freeze for several hours.

Working Girls Reprise….

I’ve mentioned before that my mother was the youngest of 13 children. Out of all of those kids, none remains. Earlier this past week, my Aunt Leona, the wife of my mother’s brother Elmer, passed away. She was 96 years old. She was a faithful wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and a working woman when women simply didn’t work outside the home. She was also a serious home cook. My mom always said she learned many of her cooking skills from Leona. While I know Leona is now with God, as well as back with her husband of 60 years, my Uncle Elmer, we will miss her. Her passing is the end of my mother’s family of brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law. It’s sad to see that generation coming to an end.

In tribute, I am reprinting a blog that I ran a year or so ago about my Aunt Leona….

Working Girls (Originally published October 14, 2014)

kak-leona-kris-bec-john-marylou1As I have looked into my family history, I have realized that I come from really good stock on both sides of my family. Hard working, self-sufficient, honest, kind, straight-forward, and funny as can be. There has always been a lot of laughing in my family. Still is.

And a lot of cooking.

I’ve mentioned that in my mother’s recipe box, there are recipes in her handwriting, but many recipes in other’s handwriting. Many of those recipes are from my Aunt Leona, now in her early 90s. She was, perhaps, the best cook in the entire Micek family, but don’t tell anyone else I said that. Leona was married to my mom’s brother Elmer.

I was going to talk a bit about her in my post today, and so I asked her daughter – my cousin – to fill me in a bit on her life. What she wrote was so interesting and full of love that I’m going to publish it almost verbatim. I changed or added a few things to make it clearer. Thanks Kak!

My mother taught for six years after graduating from high school in rural schools in Greeley County, Nebraska.   In high school, she took “normal training” which was teacher prep. She then took a test from the county superintendent and was in the education business.  Mom taught until she married Dad.  

When Dad was in basic training in Arkansas, she worked at McCrory’s, a dime store, and at a printing place.  She went back to teaching at St. Bonaventure Elementary in Columbus, Nebraska, when my younger brother Tom was in third grade.  She taught for 24 more years at St. Bon’s, in Duncan District 82, and in Columbus Public Schools.  My mother got her degree the hard way, a little at a time in summer sessions and night classes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Midland College in Fremont, Nebraska. 

My mother cooked from the time she was in high school.  My Grandma McGuire made great bread and noodles, but she was a slow moving woman and my mother was the oldest of seven kids.  When Dad went overseas, Mom moved in to Gramps Micek’s house and did most of the cooking there as Grandma Micek  was sick and then died.

 When we moved to our own house in Columbus, Mom cooked two meals a day EVERY day, and sometimes three.  When she went to summer school, she would leave food for me to heat for Dad at lunch.  We never went out to dinner as a family.  She and Dad went out a couple of times a year.  She also cooked for the band after dance jobs because cafes weren’t  open at one or two in the morning. 

Now that she lives in assisted living, the thing she misses is cooking for herself!

 Basically my mother raised us as Dad was mostly working at his day job and playing with his and Uncle Bob’s bands at night.  Sometimes with the band, Tom and I went along and Mom sold tickets and we sat with her.

The only disagreement I remember them having was when Dad let Tom go on the road playing dances with his rock band at age 16.  Mom thought he was too young to be driving other kids at night alone.  She was right, but Dad won.

My mother was pretty much a “working woman” before the time when that’s what women did. None of my friends’ mothers worked.  But she never missed an event!  Bless her heart!     

Dad Mom Leona Elmer

L-R, Dad, Leona, Mom, and Elmer, circa 1985.

My cousin tells such a beautiful story about her mother. I’m not sure our children can understand how unusual it was for a mother to be working outside the home in those days.

My mom also was a working mom since she and Dad had the bakery and she was always there to help out. If things had been different and if Dad had worked in a traditional job, I wonder if Mom would have been content to stay at home. She was certainly the only woman in our neighborhood with a job.

As for Leona, Mom always said she was an outstanding teacher, and I have no doubt this is true. When my brother was in 4th grade, he had Leona as a teacher. I recently asked him what kind of a teacher she was. He said, “She was very serious. And I got no special treatment because I was her Godson.” On a side note, he recalls that he wasn’t always an angel, and wonders if she didn’t know or if she just let it slide. I know the answer to that question. You didn’t pull the wool over Leona’s eyes. She knew and let it slide. So he did get special treatment because he was her Godson!

As for me, I still make her refrigerator dill pickles. They are delicious. Her brownies are amazing, and the recipe follows. I will tell you this much, when my chocoholic husband took the first bite, I saw the look in his eyes and asked him if he wanted to be alone with the brownies for a bit. Heavenly…..

Leona brownie


leona brownie empty plate


Leona’s Brownies

Cream 1 cup sugar with 1 stick of butter
Add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each

To the mix, add

1 16-oz. can Hersheys chocolate syrup
1 c. plus 1 T flour
1/2 t. salt
1 c.  chopped nuts (optional)

Mix well.

Bake 30-32 minutes at 350 in a greased 9 x 12 pan

Frosting:  Boil together, stirring constantly:

3/4 c. sugar
3 T. milk
3 T. butter

Remove from heat and add 1/2 c. chocolate chips. Stir until melted and pour over warm brownies.

Nana’s Notes: I was unable to find any cans of Hershey’s chocolate syrup. When did they stop making them? Life will never be the same. What I could find, however, is Hershey’s chocolate syrup in a plastic bottle near the ice cream aisle. I think it’s probably the same. They claim it is 24 oz., but I measured out two cups. The brownies are unbelievably moist. A funny side note is that Leona got this recipe from her friend and school secretary. Kak said another friend of hers whose mother taught in the Nebraska school system has the same brownie recipe. It must be the official Nebraska School System Brownie!


The Best Part of Waking Up

2015-02-18 18.36.59I am almost always up before my husband. Frankly, I am up before most species of birds. I am, and always have been, an early riser. If I sleep past 6:15, someone should put a mirror under my nose.

By the way, being an early riser doesn’t mean I wake up whistling. Far from it. Bill, who nearly always sleeps longer than I, wakes up annoyingly jolly. He bounces out of bed and immediately begins talking and/or asking me questions.

How’d you sleep? What’s your blog about this morning? What are your plans for the day?

Fine. Read it for yourself. I’m retired so I have no plans. Please stop being so cheerful.

Because of this difference in our morning personalities, I love my little bit of quiet time in the morning before he gets up. My routine is always the same. (Now that’s redundant!) I turn on my computer, I walk around and open the blinds to let in morning light or at least watch the sun come up. I make the coffee. While it brews, I post my blog.

By time I’m finished posting my blog, the coffee is ready. I pour a cup, and put the rest in a thermos pot that I have heated up with hot water. Then I sit down with my book and take that first sip.

There is nothing better than that first sip of hot coffee in the morning. Nothing. Better. Period. Not the second cup. Not even the second sip. That first sip of coffee, so hot it can burn your tongue if you’re not careful, is divine.

If you looked up coffee connoisseur in the dictionary and then checked for its antonym, you would see my picture. I am simply not a coffee snob.

A few years ago when I started reading food magazines and watching Food Network, I began to focus on what needed to happen so that my coffee was extraordinary. Freshly roasted whole beans that you grind every morning. The beans must come from certain parts of the world. The water had to be a certain temperature when it brewed. The coffee had to be poured at a certain temperature. It had to have a chocolate taste followed by tobacco and saddle leather flavors at the back of your tongue.

One day it occurred to me that I was just as happy with a cup of coffee from Circle K as I was from beans grown by a lonely farmer at the foot of Mount Kenya.

Yes friends. I have no coffee palate.

By the way, right now both of my sisters are absolutely cringing and checking our family tree to make sure I am actually from the same bloodline. On the other hand, my brother is thinking, yeah, I’ll meet you at Circle K for a cup of joe. My sisters really are coffee connoisseurs. Unlike us, they don’t have holes in their stomachs from cup after cup of crappy coffee.

But even I draw a line.

A while ago, I decided that I was going to try to make homemade tortillas.  I read that you could use a big coffee can to flatten your tortillas.

So off I went to Walmart to find coffee in a big can. To my surprise, coffee is no longer sold in metal cans. They all come in bags or in plastic containers.

After looking and looking, I finally found one lone brand of coffee in a big 3-lb. can. Three pounds of coffee for something like $5.75. At that price, it must really be swill, I thought to myself. Still, I needed that can.

About that time, a woman somewhere around my age reached for that same coffee. “It’s my husband and my favorite,” she told me. “It isn’t too strong and we like the flavor.”

So I bought the coffee.

The next day I brewed up a pot of the coffee. I sat down with my cup and took that much-anticipated first sip.

It was, to put it bluntly, undrinkable. Simply awful. I did the unheard of thing and poured an entire pot of coffee down the drain and, what’s more, poured the remaining unused coffee grounds into the garbage can.

Even I have standards.

banana breadSince we’re talking about coffee, let me share with you my mother’s recipe for banana bread. It is simple and delicious with a hot cup of coffee. When I made it recently, we put the much-talked-about icing on the cake by smearing it with peanut butter frosting and squeezing chocolate sauce over. Delicious.

For what it’s worth, I never use nuts. Also, it never seems to take an hour to bake, so begin looking at it around 45 minutes.

Nanas Banana Bread


Last First Tooth

Maggie tooth

Magnolia Faith shows off her missing tooth.

Our son Dave posted a photo on Facebook this past weekend of our 6-year-old granddaughter Magnolia proudly displaying a smile with a missing tooth – her first. Our son’s post stated it was the last first tooth lost in their household, as Magnolia is the youngest. While we love to watch our kids grow, it’s always poignant.

For her part, Maggie Faith was eager to see what the tooth fairy would bring her in exchange for that tooth. I remember those days, both personally awaiting the tooth fairy and making sure my son Court got a reward when he began losing his baby teeth.

As I meditated upon her missing tooth, I recalled that recently when I was cleaning out one of my bedroom drawers, I came across a little carrying case in the shape of a tooth. When I opened it, I found all of Court’s baby teeth. I don’t remember saving them, and I’m not sure how I feel about that, but oddly, I can’t seem to throw them away. In fact, they moved – along with me – to several different houses. Maybe I should make a necklace? Maybe not.

But upon further pondering about Maggie Faith’s lost tooth, another story came to mind.

Several years ago, our son and daughter-in-law – Maggie’s parents – traveled out of the country for a week or so. The McLain clan operates on the wise philosophy that it takes a village. As such, all hands that were available had a role to play in the care of the four McLain kids during their parents’ absence. My role involved picking them up from school, making sure homework got done and children got fed. Our son Allen spent each night with the kids. So, at the end of dinner, we would tag team. One of us would clean up from dinner and the other would start the bath and bedtime regime. Once the kids were in bed, I would leave the kids in the good care of their Uncle Allen.

Let me just add at this point that the whole prospect was so daunting that I requested that Bec fly in to add moral (and physical) support. She did so, for which I will be eternally grateful.

But one night as I was tucking then-7-year-old Alastair into bed, just before I turned out the lights, he said to me quietly, “Nana, I lost a tooth yesterday, and I put it under my pillow last night, but the tooth fairy didn’t take it.”

Oooo boy.

So I thought quickly on my feet and told him that I was certain that a LOT of kids had lost teeth yesterday, and the tooth fairy was extraordinarily busy, but that I was sure she would come that very night. We carefully placed it once again under his pillow.

I quickly ran downstairs and called in the Big Guns. That would be his then-9-year-old sister Adelaide, who hadn’t believed in Santa or the Easter Bunny or the tooth fairy for a couple of years. As an aside, it was actually the tooth fairy that raised Addie’s suspicions. Wise beyond her years since birth, it made no sense to her that a fairy could (or would) carry all of those teeth around. And once you realize your parents are lying to you about that, the rest of your fairy tale beliefs crumble as well. Ah, the sad realities of childhood.

Anyway, I ran downstairs and in a panicked voice, asked her, “Addie, what’s the going rate for the tooth fairy these days?” I’m pretty sure I used to get a nickel, Court probably got a quarter, but inflation had undoubtedly impacted the tooth fairy world.

Used to her nana’s panic, I don’t think she even looked up from her computer as she said, “I don’t really know, but I think it’s probably fifty cents.”

So I rummaged through the bottom of my purse until I came up with two quarters covered in lint. I handed them to Allen, explained the situation, and made him promise on his grandfather’s grave that he wouldn’t forget to place those quarters under Alastair’s pillow once he had fallen asleep.

“And don’t forget to take the tooth,” I added.

Well, Allen didn’t forget and Alastair happily told me the next day that the tooth fairy had come and taken his tooth and he got FIFTY CENTS! A veritable fortune.

Anyway, between my many grandkids, there are certainly a lot of teeth yet to fall out, but thankfully I’m not responsible for any of them. I’ll leave that up to a more efficient tooth fairy.

I want to leave you with this recipe for heart-shaped chocolate chip cookies – my Valentine’s Day gift to Bill. They are a cross between a traditional chocolate chip cookie and a shortbread cookie, and are extremely yummy.

This particular recipe came to me through a circuitous internet route, but originated from Sugarbaker’s Cookie Cutter Cookbook.

chocolate chip valentine cookies

chocolate chip cutouts

Check This Out

leadville safewayMany, many years ago, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was a grocery clerk at a Safeway store in Leadville, Colorado. That particular work experience took place during the time when I was entirely convinced that college wasn’t for me and that I would be perfectly content being married with kids and perhaps working at a simple clerical-type job.

A year’s service at Safeway was enough to convince me that, while there is nothing wrong with that particular life choice, it wasn’t the life choice for me.

I held a number of jobs while working for Safeway, from stocking the shelves in what was called the “non-foods” area to working in the understandably-detested dairy section. Detested because the refrigerators were cold and the cases of milk were extremely heavy and there was no one to help me lift them onto my stocking cart. Everyone did their own job, and did no one else’s job for them. Period. That’s the way it was. It was a union store.

But my favorite job – and the job at which I most excelled – was that of check-out clerk. It was the mid-70s and computerized cash registers were not even a gleam in Alan Turing’s eyes. Digital scanners were thirty years away.

No, it was the old push-button kind of cash registers, not much more advanced than the one which I’d used in Dad’s bakery in Columbus, Nebraska. The customer rolled his or her cart up to me, and I pulled items out, looked at the paper price tag, and keyed in the price. The thing is, I got really good at this job. I could key in the price without ever looking at the cash register keyboard. I would pick up the item, key in the price, and send it flying down to the grocery bagger so quickly that he or she simply couldn’t keep up.

I got no reward for being so quick. In fact, I worked harder than anyone else because customers recognized that they could get through my line quicker, so there would be much longer lines at my cash register. Being a union shop, it didn’t matter to other checkers whether or not I was quicker than they. The pay was the same, no matter what.

But it mattered to me. I literally would challenge myself to see how quickly I could get a customer through my line, at the same time being friendly and helpful. Man, I was fast.

I thought about this yesterday at the grocery store. I happened to get into a grocery line staffed by a clerk who had that same mentality. She tore through my groceries. She had the advantage, of course, of digital scanners, but I was checked out from beginning to end literally within a couple of minutes. And I had a grocery cart full of stuff.

I complimented her on her quickness, and you could tell she was pleased that I recognized her talent. Because I also know that she was getting paid the same as the clerk in the next line who wasn’t nearly as quick and who didn’t care at all that she wasn’t. Something seems wrong with this picture.

Anyway, I relayed my thoughts to Jen, who told me she got into a grocery line recently and noticed that the checker was one she always avoids. Despite the fact that her line was the shortest, Jen moved to the next line, where there were two people in front of her. When she finished paying for her groceries, she noticed that the slow checker was still working with the same customer and her not-terribly-full grocery cart.

Over the years, I have thought about why I tried so hard as a checker, and I concluded that it’s because I am motivated by praise more than money. That was true throughout my professional life. Nothing felt better than someone telling me I did a good job. And basically, that’s what my customers were telling me, both verbally and by their act of preferring my line.

Are there cashiers you avoid at the grocery store?

By the way, my daughter-in-law Lauren sent me an email the other day with the subject line “I thought of you”. Talk about words making me happy! It’s nice to be thought of….

Anyway, the email included a link to an amazing recipe which I simply had to make that very same day. The recipe calls for using an entire sheet of puff pastry; however, I used a third of the sheet and only made four Nutella Puffs. They were a delicious after-dinner treat, and unbelievably easy to make.

Unfinished puffs



finished puffs


Nutella Puffs

Cookie Cuckoo

When I first started thinking about this blog, I really only knew one thing. I didn’t want it to be a cooking blog.

There are a number of reasons I was firm about this decision. First, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of a kajillion cooking blogs. Second, I have lots of interests and didn’t want to limit myself to only one. Finally — and most importantly — I am only an average cook. Somehow I didn’t see a committed audience for a blog entitled Pretty Average Recipes from a Mediocre Cook.

Having said this, I feel I need to add that I really do like to cook and bake. I particularly love to prepare food for big gatherings of family and friends. And I love, love, love to cook with my grandkids. And I do so very often. In fact, my grandkids — mostly Addie — sporadically contribute to this blog in posts called Kids’ Whimsical Cooking. (As an aside, I considered calling those posts Cooking Kids until my grandson Alastair pointed out the macabre potential of that particular name. Being 9, he reminds me of it often.)

Anyway, I must confess to something that happened to me last week that reminded me that it’s a good thing I don’t have to make my living from a cooking blog.

mylee lego play doh 12.24Mylee was visiting, but was preoccupied with some sort of game that involved Legos and Play Doh. I decided to make a batch of shortbread cookies. They are easy to make and delicious. How can you go wrong with a cookie made of simply flour, sugar, butter, and vanilla?

So, as Mylee played with her Legos, I happily placed the ingredients in the bowl of my Kitchen Aid mixer and turned it on. It generally takes between 30 seconds and a minute for the ingredients to come together in the bowl. This time, however, I mixed and mixed and the dough simply wouldn’t come together. I added a bit of water, but that didn’t work. After listening to her Nana mutter and complain for a bit, Mylee, who is 4, finally came over and said, “What are you doing, Nana? Can I help?”

I told her I was making cookies, but that it wasn’t working. “Why not, Nana?”

I told her I didn’t know what was wrong because I had made these cookies many times and they had always worked.

By this time she had pulled up a chair and was standing on it and peering into the bowl, studying it intently.

“Maybe you need to add more butter,” she said.

“No, I added enough butter,” I assured her.

Still, the dough simply wouldn’t gather. But I dumped the crumbs onto a sheet of waxed paper and put it into the fridge. I don’t know what magical thing I thought would happen.

About an hour later, I was sitting with Mylee in the family room as she watched a Christmas movie. Suddenly out of nowhere, the answer as to why my dough wouldn’t come together sprang into my head like the clown jumping out of the Jack in the Box.

And do you know what the answer was? I didn’t add enough butter.

Instead of adding 3/4 POUND of butter (three sticks) as the recipe calls for, I added 3/4 CUP of butter (a stick and a half).

It turns out Mylee was exactly right. I added the necessary amount of butter, and like magic, my dough came together. I’m convinced it was a lucky guess on her part.

The cookies were delicious. Mylee, by the way, is pretending she’s Santa Claus. See her beard?….
mylee cookie 2014

Here is the delicious recipe for Shortbread Cookies.

Shortbread cookies

Nana’s Notes: Remember, it’s 3/4 LB. and not 3/4 CUP. Also, don’t leave the dough in the fridge more than 30 minutes or it will be difficult to work. Finally, it’s the one recipe where I will tell you that it really is beneficial to have a Kitchen Aid mixer. If not, you will just have to press the dough into the pan.

Praise the Lard

Marg_Reinie.jpgMy mother was the youngest of 14 kids, two of whom died as infants. There are a full two decades between Mom and her eldest sibling. Despite the age difference, Mom was close to all of her brothers and sisters. I have always found that remarkable and something to be modeled.

While two of Mom’s siblings died as infants, the remainder lived to be adults. Her brother Karl, however, was only 35 when he died. He survived World War II only to be felled by a bleeding ulcer.

Two things about Karl’s death have always interested me. First, he died in April of 1947; Mom and Dad were married in January of 1948. At their wedding nine months after Karl passed away, Mom didn’t wear a traditional wedding gown  because she was still officially in mourning over the passing of her brother Karl. I think in today’s world she would have worn a traditional gown. And, by the way, I have never known what color Mom’s dress was since the photo is in black and white. I wish I had asked her that question. (Kids, ask your parents questions now.) Jen thinks it was aqua. I hope it was.

Second, Karl married his wife Kathryn in 1938 at the age of 25. I assume he spent a couple of years at least serving overseas in the military. I know he served  in the Army in World War II, and so I think he would have been overseas for some number of years. He came home to Kathryn, they had two children, and then he died in 1947.

His wife, my Aunt Kathryn, was 34 years old when her husband died. She lived until 1999. Here’s the thing – she never remarried. She was only married nine years, and probably some of those nine years were spent apart, and yet she remained single the rest of her life.

I, of course, never asked her why. I can tell you this much…I remember her as an absolutely lovely woman, tall and slender with the tiniest waist imaginable. Though I’m sure my memory is flawed, I recall her ALWAYS wearing a shirtwaist dress that showed off her tiny waist. Her hair was perfect, in a French twist or some other sort of upswept do.

So, it’s always interested me that this beautiful woman remained a widow for some 52 years. I wonder why. Maybe that’s just what women of her generation did. Or maybe she just was so busy being a single mother of two that she didn’t have time or energy to find a new husband. I know she was a working mother, holding down a job for many years at a local savings and loan.

Or, in a more romantic scenario, maybe she so loved her husband that no one could ever replace him.  (Or maybe I read too many romantic novels.)

When my parents still lived in Columbus, Mom laid flowers on Karl’s grave every Memorial Day, right after leaving flowers at the gravesite of her parents.

One of Karl’s kids worked for my Dad at the bakery (a large number of Mom and Dad’s nieces and nephews worked for them at various times). Chuck was our delivery man, if my memory serves me. He was one of an illustrious group of my cousins – all around Mom and Dad’s age (remember Mom was the youngest of 14) – with whom they socialized. I believe two or three beers were consumed in each other’s company.

I learned during our recent trip back to Columbus that Chuck is now a deacon in the Catholic Church. Who would have guessed?

But here’s something Chuck never knew (and if I’m lucky, will never find out). I babysat on several occasions for their children. I was probably 12. One night, the baby pooped her diaper. I didn’t want to change a dirty diaper, because, well, I was 12. So I simply didn’t. Poor kid. That’s what you get when you only pay 35 cents an hour. My second cousin probably has toilet issues to this day.

My Aunt Kathryn would bring a chocolate cake as her offering to our family reunions. It was only after asking for the recipe recently that I learned the cake uses lard. I was so horrified to learn that fact that I Googled “chocolate cake with lard” and was surprised to see many recipes pop up. I further learned  that lard no longer has the reputation of being an instant killer, at least by chefs in the know. In fact, some maintain that lard, in its purest form, is healthier than vegetable shortening. The problem, of course, is that to get lard that isn’t hydrogenized and bearing preservatives is nearly impossible. Still, the result is a light and fluffy texture that shortening can’t offer.

And let me just add that my week of desserts has been one of the best weeks in Bill’s chocolate-loving life.

Kathryn’s Chocolate Cakekathryn's cake

1 c. lard

2 c. sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1 c. sour milk (add a t. vinegar to milk to sour)

1/2 c. cocoa

2 t. baking soda

2 1/2 c. sifted flour

1/2 t. salt

1 c. boiling water

1 t. vanilla

Cream lard and sugar.  Add eggs and milk.  Beat well.

Sift cocoa, flour, soda and salt three times. Add to the first mixture a little at a time.  Add boiling water and beat well.  Add vanilla.

Pour into a 9 X 13 in pan. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

Nana’s Notes:  I’m guessing on the size of the pan. Her recipe doesn’t give me a clue. I cut the recipe in half and baked it in a 9 X 13 in. pan, thinking that her original recipe made a half sheet cake. I should have used a 9 X 9. So I baked it for half the time, cut the cake in half and made it a layer cake.

In all honesty, I didn’t like the cake as much as other chocolate cake recipes I have made. I am extraordinarily susceptible to the power of suggestion, and I just couldn’t get past the fact that it was LARD. Not for health reasons, mind you, but because lard is animal fat. I don’t know. It just bugged me. Bill thought the cake was good, and his only criticism was that it didn’t have chocolate frosting!