Bacon for Forgiveness

There are a few smells in life that will pull in a person in from the back yard or rouse someone out of bed in the morning. Chocolate chip cookies in the oven. Marinara sauce simmering on the stove. Coffee brewing, or even better, a cup of coffee placed under your nose when you’re barely awake.

And one of these smells is that of bacon cooking. I remember waking up on Sunday morning when I was a small girl to the smell of Mom cooking bacon in the kitchen. Mom didn’t cook breakfast for us that often since she worked almost every day at the bakery. So Sunday morning bacon smells were special.

Bill said his mother made his father breakfast every day of their married life. And every day that breakfast consisted of bacon, eggs, and white toast. Rex probably was used to that from growing up on the North Carolina farm, although my guess is the white toast was biscuits when he was a child, North Carolina and all.

When Mom made bacon, she laid the slices of smoked meat in a skillet, let them cook a bit, turned them over, let them cook a bit, and then repeated until the bacon was cooked through and crispy. She laid them perfectly straight and in a row in a skillet.

All of her kids thought everything that Mom did in the kitchen was perfect, so it was with great surprise the first time I saw my brother cook bacon as an adult. Rather than laying it carefully in the skillet as I did in imitation of Mom, he simply tossed the entire pound of bacon in the skillet until it began to cook. At that point he separated the slices and continued cooking. Heresy. He’s lucky Mom always liked him best.

The first time I cooked breakfast for my mother-in-law Wilma, she watched carefully as I broke some eggs into a bowl. Before I could add any liquid, she casually asked, “Do you use water or milk for your scrambled eggs?”

Gulp. “Water?” I asked more than said. Ding ding ding. It was the right answer. Dodged that bullet.

When I first met Wilma, she cooked her bacon in a skillet like my mom. In her later years, however, she would cut each slice of bacon in half and place them on a paper towel; she would then cover the bacon with another paper towel and cook them in the microwave. The bacon always turned out perfectly.

My daughter-in-law Jll does the same thing. She always (or at least always when I’m there) cooks her bacon in the microwave and it always turns out perfectly. I have tried it my friends. It is safe to say that it has never – NEVER – turned out even close to right. Here’s what happens every single time: I lay the bacon on the paper towel and cover it with another paper towel. I set the timer for the correct amount of time (there is a formula for how many minutes to cook based on how many slices you’re cooking). I check the bacon and it is limp and undercooked. I cook it for another minute. I check it and it is undercooked. I cook it for another minute. I check it and it is undercooked. I cook it for another minute. I check it and it has disintegrated into a dust that formerly was known as bacon. Sigh.

So I continue to cut my bacon in half in imitation of Wilma and cook my bacon in a skillet in imitation of my mother.

Bill and I enjoy the bacon as part of our breakfast. And here’s my dirty little secret: One of my favorite ways to eat bacon is on buttered white toast. There’s something about the butter mixed with the bacon grease that is just good, if it isn’t healthy.

And, also like my mother, I cook my eggs in the bacon grease, breaking the yolk on one for Bill…..

And, while I’m not a huge breakfast eater, there is hardly anything better than bacon and eggs and white toast, just like Bill’s father ate every morning of his married life.

Sunrise, Sunset

As you read this blog post, Bill and I will be on the road, heading towards our Denver home and some beautiful Colorado weather. We’re leaving AZ at about the right time, just as it’s starting to get consistently warm and then even warmer. Because we stayed later than usual, we experienced one day of over-100 temperature, and that was quite enough, thank you very much. When I telephoned our neighbor in Mesa – an older woman who is a permanent resident – I said, “We’ll see you again in the fall, Patsy. Try to stay cool.” She laughed and said, “Well, I’ll just be staying inside a lot.”

And that’s the very best thing about Colorado summers. While people complain when it hits the 90s, the truth of the matter is Coloradans are rarely confined to being indoors in the summer. Maybe in the winter, but not in the summer.

Our time in AZ was wonderful, as it always is. The opportunity we have to enjoy our AZ family in the winter is not one that we take for granted. We are blessed. It’s true that this winter was not exactly what I would call smooth sailing. We’ve dealt with illness (all recovering nicely I’m happy to say), my sister-in-law broke her back (an injury from which she is also recovering in an amazing fashion), Bill’s mother passed away (at just three months shy of 100 years old), and we all suffer from the aches and pains associated with getting older. But lots of good things happened as well. We had a visit from some of our Denver family in February……..

 

We watched the Cubs play during Spring Training…..

 

We made a trip down south to Tombstone, something that was surprisingly on my bucket list….

I went to more racing events than I expected (and that’s all I’ll say about that!)….

And, of course, we took a hot air balloon ride (something that wasn’t on my bucket list, but I decided it should have after our ride)….

Our niece Brooke graduated from Arizona State University, and will begin teaching Kindergarten when school reconvenes…..

Pretty sunsets…..

And, of course, because it’s us, lots of good food…..

Next time you read my blog, we will be trying to remember where things are in our Denver house!

Pomp and Circumstance

In a galaxy far, far away (well, really it was the same galaxy but just a period of time that was long, long ago) I graduated from college. Twice, actually. I earned my bachelor’s degree in 1977 (when dinosaurs walked the earth), and my master’s degree in 1993 (by that time, neanderthal humans were around). I didn’t walk across the stage when I earned my undergraduate degree, something I can’t really explain and regretted almost immediately. So when I earned my master’s degree, I made sure that I walked across the stage to receive that hard-earned piece of paper, and that my son Court saw me do it.

I know just how hard it is to earn a college degree while working because I did it for all of the years in college. Poor me. But that is just to say that I couldn’t be more proud of my niece Brooke, who graduated this past Friday from Arizona State University, where she earned a degree in Education, and she worked the entire time she was in school. She will start teaching Kindergartners in a few months. Now that’s hard to believe, because she’s just a kid herself, isn’t she?…..

My justifiably proud bother and sister-in-law Dave and Sami, with ASU graduate Brooke.

Brooke poses with her little big sister Jessie, who last year at this time was receiving her own degree from Northern Arizona Unversity.

Graduation ceremonies are funny, because they take hours, and you really are only interested in about 20 seconds of that time. The 20 seconds when your loved one’s name is read, her name goes up on the big board, and she goes up to receive that hard-earned degree. As Brooke’s time to receive her degree neared to within seconds, the woman sitting directly in front of us stood up to take video of her darling son or daughter receiving their degree. My dissatisfaction with her choice was obvious as I groaned (quite loudly, I’m afraid), “No, no, no, no, no, no, don’t stand up!” Her husband quickly encouraged her to sit, and we managed to get this……

In celebration of her graduation, some of her family and friends gathered for (what else) a meal….

….this time, chicken wings. Nothing says graduating cum laude from a major university and being within months of the first teaching job like chicken wings…..

And on Saturday, the rest of the family gathered to honor Brooke at the home of Erik and Josey, where there was, of course, lots of food and lots of cousins/grandchildren/nieces/nephews…..

And speaking of those little ones, I think college graduations from this side of the family are finished for a few years. Next time, we will be attending graduations of these little ones.

And it will come before we know it!

Saturday Smile: M is for the Million Things She Gave You

Behind all your stories is always your mother’s story. Because hers is where yours begin. – Mitch Albom, For One More Day

Mothers are generally not only mothers. Mothers are always also daughters and sisters and wives and grandmothers and stepmothers and friends and employees and church members and neighbors and many other things. We all know this intellectually. But at the end of the day, they are simply our mom.

My mother passed away in 1995. I think of her almost every day and miss her like she left for heaven yesterday.

But I am blessed to have had a wonderful stepmother….

Celebrating Shirley’s birthday on her 80th birthday.

….and to have had a loving mother-in-law who joined my mom in heaven recently…..

Wilma and her great grandson Joseph.

All of my mothers have been all of the things I mentioned above. But I honor them today because they have been my mother. And that was and is no easy task.

Jen, Mom, and me circa 1990.

Dad and Mom with many of their grandkids at their home in Dillon, circa 1982.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mother’s in my life, and to all of my friends and family members who are mothers. It’s the most important job we have.

Friday Book Whimsy: The American Heiress

Still reeling from Downton Abbey withdrawal, I enjoyed watching PBS’s Victoria this past winter. Though based on a true story, there was enough romance and intrigue to keep me interested in a way that I wouldn’t have had it been a documentary. And as I watched the credits after the first episode, I saw that the series was based on a novel written by Daisy Goodwin. And I remembered that while I didn’t have that novel, I did own – and had owned for four or five years – another novel by that author called The American Heiress, a novel I had never gotten around to reading.

The American Heiress is the story of young Cora Cash, a New York socialite living in the late 1800s whose father was rich as triple chocolate fudge and who ran with the likes of the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers. However, not being old money like the Astors, Cora’s mother thought the way to bring the family name up to that caliber was by having her beautiful daughter marry a British royal. A trip to England ensures that happens.

Cora’s wedding to Ivo, Duke of Warham, appears to be a perfect match. She gets a title and he gets all of that money to keep his dukedom running. And he’s so darn cute and she’s so darn pretty. But marriage to a royal when you are not only NOT nobility but not even British brings its own set of problems. And why is Ivo so quiet and withdrawn? Drama and intrigue abound. But also romance and the glorious upstairs/downstairs relationships we came to love with Downton Abbey.

The American Heiress is Goodwin’s first novel, and I found it to be captivating and interesting. The author sets the stage so clearly that I could practically smell the dust on the chandeliers. I was sorry it took me so long to finally read this book, and I will read Victoria next (even though I know FOR SURE how that one ends).

Highly recommend.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Alfredo the Dark
My sister Bec took Bill and me for lunch at our favorite pizza restaurant here in the east valley – Oregano’s. We nearly always order a pizza, but this time Bec and I were in the mood for something besides pizza – namely pasta. So Bill was on his own, and I ordered something they call Alfredo the Dark. It’s basically an alfredo with a bit of a Mexican flare. Poblanos, pasta, and a light cream sauce, with a grilled jalapeno on the side. Man, it was so good. I ordered it with a side of Italian sausage, but I wouldn’t do it again. Despite the fact that it was the lunch version, it was a lot of food. I seem to be doing restaurant reviews as of late. Hmmmm…….

Where are the Wet Wipes?
I’m not the only one who enjoyed my food yesterday. My nephew Erik and his family went out for hot wings last night. My great nephew Carter does love him some wings. Perhaps he shouldn’t eat them if he’s wearing white…….

Messy pastries
Among my very favorite pastry treats are crispies. Or krispies. However you spell it, they are delicious. My dad used to make them at the bakery, and if we were good, Mom would bring some home to eat on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Crispies are flat puff pastry, cinnamon, and big pieces of sugar. At the bakery, they came six to a pack. We wrapped them in stiff cellophane that was sealed by using a heavy and very hot iron that looked something like this…..

Anyhoo, Basha’s makes crispies, and quite good crispies. My brother knows how much I love them, so he will occasionally bring me a package that he has made because he makes the very best crispies – no lie. He sent me a text message the other day with a photo of a crispie attached. His message said If there was a beauty contest for crispies, I introduce the winner……

 

I had to agree with him. I asked him if he’d made it, and he admitted he had.  And 73 more just like it, he added.

Dumpster Diving
I get a weekly digital newsletter from PERA (my retirement plan), and it’s usually a bit bland, but might have an interesting story or two. But the one I got Tuesday had an item that took me by surprise. The article was about inexpensive things to do for fun in Colorado this summer. Cheap seats at a Rockies game, for example. But one of their ideas seemed a bit odd. They recommend dumpster diving in Cherry Hills, a high-end village in the southern part of the metro area. Grab a few friends and hunt down their dumpsters – we bet you there is GOLD inside. Seriously? They are suggesting we dig through trash dumpsters in someone’s back yards? Sometimes I think I’m just getting old. But that seems intrusive, if not illegal. Really PERA? Seriously, tell me if that lands on you as odd as it did on me.

Homeward Bound

We leave Monday for Denver. Among the many things I’ll miss about AZ are evening skies that look like this…..

Ciao.

When the Moon Hits Your Eye

In a blog post from way back in 2014, I mentioned a couple with whom we are casual friends who had visited Italy. They stunned us when they told us how awful they found the food during their travels. Stunned us, because Bill and I loved the food in Italy. I would be hard-pressed to think of a meal that I didn’t like. Of course, I never did get brave enough to try the horsemeat that was on the menu during the spring months in northern Italy, so there’s that….

Anyway, what we concluded is that this couple was expecting Italian-American food, which is quite different from the food served in Italy. At least the food served in restaurants that didn’t cater to Americans. In a recent visit to an Italian restaurant in Mesa, we overheard the server introduce himself to the table next to us, and start out his whole spiel with the caveat that they featured genuine Italian food and not the Italian-American food with which most are familiar. He had apparently been pummeled with dissatisfied customers looking for spaghetti and meatballs.

One of the best foods we ate throughout Italy was pizza. Italian pizza is amazing, and we did plenty of research, I assure you. However, in general, it is quite different from pizza you would (and likely do) get in the U.S. For one thing, it is often baked in a wood-burning oven. Not a gas oven with flames, but an oven heated using some kind of hardwood and stoked by red-faced chefs to keep the 700-some temps in place. The crusts are generally thin, though not cracker-crust, and usually bubbly and toasted and imperfectly round. They are served unsliced, and the Italians eat them with a knife and fork. That was hard for us to get used to, but we managed to power through. They aren’t covered with red sauce and smothered in mozzarella cheese as they are here. Often there is no sauce at all, but only tomatoes, garlic, basil, fresh mozzarella, and hot peppers. Yum.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not being a snob. I love pizza here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. But we sure did enjoy Italian pizza. While in Rome (where we probably ate the best pizza of all) we often dined with Bill’s nephew, a Catholic priest who at that time lived in Rome, and had for some time. The first time we had pizza with him, we were surprised when he turned up his nose at the first place we suggested.

Nope, he told us. That is pizza made for American tourists. He would look at the menu posted outside, and if the pizza cost more than five euros, he looked elsewhere. He didn’t steer us wrong, that’s for sure.

There is a pizza place in Phoenix that has pizza as much like Italian pizza as any we have found here in the United States. Pizzeria Bianco is located near downtown Phoenix, right across from Chase Field – home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. It is small in size, and if you try and go for dinner, fuggetaboudit. So we go at lunch, and always get right in. The smell when you enter is familiar – a combination of baked bread, burning wood, and red sauce.

The simple ingredients and the bubbly crust were also familiar, and oh so tasty….

Our before and after photo shows you that we didn’t hate the pizza.

Just as with many of the restaurants in which we dined throughout Italy, there is an herb garden from which the pizza chefs pull the fresh herbs that help give the amazing flavor to the pizzas….

And then there’s this…..

My brother begs me – BEGS ME – to do a pizza review every Friday rather than a book review. I’m sticking with my book reviews because I like sharing books with my readers. But perhaps more than that, I’m reluctant to do any kind of food review because I hate tempting someone with a delicious pizza that’s in Phoenix and they live in Omaha. Or Seattle. You get the picture. Nevertheless, if you’re ever in Arizona, Pizzeria Bianco is a must-visit restaurant.

This post linked to Grammy’s Grid Link Party.