Friday, February 28, 2014


Over at the resort, Hallie asked her Aunt Chris how to make hash browns. She knows better than to ask me -- her mother. At the age of nine I was chubbier than my mother liked and she asked a doctor to put me on a diet. At that time, fried foods were immediately dropped from the family diet, never to return. Among my food virtues, I eschew fried food. Among my food vices – well, you know.

Anyway, this isn’t exactly about hash browns, but it is about potatoes. My mother would slice potato into a frying pan, cook with a little onion, and when served, I remember the potatoes as delicious, but Mother never fixed them after the big diet began. Once I tried to fix potatoes this way after I was married with failing results. I never tried again.

Then I ran across a book some years back, Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm during the Great Depression, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish (Bantam Dell, 2007). I bless Mrs. Kalish for this book, which explains so many of my parents’ practices – just the way they managed life. In a chapter titled “Farm Food,” she included the following method for frying potatoes:

“In a large heavy-bottomed skillet – I recommend a cast-iron one – place two or three tablespoons of vegetable oil, heat to very hot, and add fresh, thinly sliced potatoes. Of course, on the farm we used tasty bacon fat. If you want to live dangerously, go ahead. Now sprinkle coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper on them. Stand by with a long-handled pancake turner. Don’t touch them until they are nicely browned on the bottom – about ten minutes. At this point, gently scoop the slices up and deposit them upside down into the skillet. When they are crisp and brown, serve immediately. These are a special treat.”

And there it was! -- Mother’s method of frying potatoes. And I agree with Mrs. Kalish – they were a special treat. I think the secret is to give them plenty of time to cook before turning. I suspect the bacon grease, which my parents also used in the ‘50s, is another secret.

We ate potatoes a lot as I grew up, most frequently boiled and mashed on one’s plate with butter, salt and pepper. I never boil a potato. Occasionally, Mother baked potatoes, which is my preferred method, and my dad boiled and mashed potatoes only for special occasions. Those were wonderful, too – real potatoes boiled and mashed smooth with real butter and perhaps a little cream. KW

Thursday, February 27, 2014


“Go see The Monuments Men,” said the message from Hallie. “Don’t read reviews, don’t talk to anyone. Just go see it.”

“But we’re watching the Olympics,” I wrote back. And I didn’t like to confess that we would be watching the Olympics for as long as they continued. We set the DVR to record each and every Olympics program, and with each day we were falling further behind.

Mike might have “fast forwarded” through the figure skating and ice dancing but tolerated it for my sake. On the other hand, I had to leave the room during “short track” speed skating which I found tedious to watch. In fact, I left the room quite a bit during the Olympics because I don’t celebrate the Olympic spirit when athletic endeavors might result in disability or even death. Athletics is one thing; taking deliberate chances is another. Also, as fascinating as races might be, I can’t remember the outcome, and that makes it a waste of time.

Anyway, Hallie followed-through on her suggestion the last week. “Have you seen The Monuments Men yet?” she queried.

“We’re still watching the Olympics,” I wrote back, hoping that I was keeping a certain tone of incredulity out of my voice.
Well, the Olympics have been over since last Sunday, but we still have programming to watch. I think we’re both tired of it, though. We’re beginning to watch other programs.

And last night, we did see The Monuments Men, which we enjoyed. Anytime the storyline is World War II, you know it will bring out issues and you’ll see the demise of characters you care for, but the theme of this movie was the importance of art to the history of a people and to civilization in general. The movie shows that much was saved through the efforts of a few men who cared. But, sadly, we know that so much was also displaced or destroyed.

By the way, there were about twenty cars in the theater parking lot and four of us watched this movie. I would not like to own this movie theater. We’re probably lucky that The Monuments Men was even shown in our community. KW

[The pictures depict the February sky over the last several weeks here in the Lewis-Clark Valley.]

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


This winter I’ve been focused on clearing out – using up what’s on hand and replacing with fresh if need be. It’s amazing how things just sorta sit in the cupboard getting old, and it happens all through the house if I’m not on my toes.

Some things get old gracefully and it doesn’t matter if we hoard them. Case in point: candles. My mother was a candle hoarder and I guess I inherited that tendency from her. In fact, I still have some of her candles on the farm. I suspect Mother kept some candles as an emergency precaution against the time when she might be without electricity, and candles should always be part of our readiness plan. But rotation is good is every aspect of life, and this year I’m using my candles – tea candles, votive candles, pillars, tapers, jar candles, and decorative candles. I’ve made good progress in using up what I have on hand, and I will replace them.

Other things get old, too. My towels are rags before I part with them – likewise my sheets. Let’s not even talk about the underwear drawers. Then there’s Mike’s wardrobe. Identifying a box of rags in the attic years ago, Clint remarked that for Mike they would be everyday clothes.

More important is the food. I like to have staples on hand, but sometimes they stay on the shelf longer than I realize. This winter I’ve paid attention to expiration dates on cans and packages as I cook, and I’ve also researched my supplies and planned meals around goods that need to be used. I’ve combined partial packages of baking chips and dried fruits in cookies, and I’ve tossed a few things.
It’s amazing what gets old. I found a tube of toothpaste on the farm with an expiration of 2008. (I used it anyway – shhhhh.) But the winner is the jar of “IcyHot.”

Mike tweaked his back last week and when that happens, he asks me to massage it, and this time he made a new request – rub in IcyHot.

“I bet that stuff expired 25 years ago,” I said.

“1991,” he read from the bottom of the jar. We laughed –and used it anyway. He said he felt some “iciness” from it and my hand felt “icy,” but I suspect its effectiveness isn’t what it was prior to 1991. Yes, it’s on my grocery list. KW

[Photos: Nellie learned long ago that Mike drops Sugar Babies and peanuts on the floor in the pantry and volunteered to keep it clean. It's a job she performs at least once a day -- usually while I cook supper. If the pantry door is closed, she waits patiently for me to open it.]

Monday, February 24, 2014


Work continues at Hallie and Nick's vintage Tudor in Seattle.


The kitchen cabinet doors were beautifully primed.

And on Sunday, they decided to explore layers of kitchen flooring.

'70’s vinyl – Who could miss it?


And under the '70s vinyl, '30’s linoleum.

Have you ever removed -- or tried to remove -- linoleum?

I remember linoleum on the kitchen floor -- both at our family home in Orofino and on the farm. At the farm, the linoleum wasn't glued down, and when it was time to replace it, my dad simply removed the old piece and laid down a new one. Today we see that as less than ideal, but it worked in that place. 

Actually, when we remodeled the farmhouse, I would love to have had linoleum on the kitchen floor. It's available but expensive and we didn't go that route. KW

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Have you noticed? The language of recipes is becoming archaic.

My mother taught me to read recipes.

Sugar meant white sugar unless brown was specified.
Flour meant regular white flour unless whole wheat was specified.
“To cream” meant to mix the shortening and the sugar together until well-blended.
Brown sugar was always packed – no exceptions.
Brown sugar meant “light” brown sugar unless dark was specified.
“T” meant tablespoon; “t” meant teaspoon.
Soda was baking soda. No one needed to tell you that.
Cinnamon meant “ground” cinnamon, unless otherwise stated. (The same rule applied for all other common baking spices.)
“Dry ingredients” were the flour, salt, seasonings, soda.
A “prepared pan” meant you “greased and floured” your baking pan.
“Grease” is shortening, like Crisco.
Always pre-heat the oven.

These terms were standard, Mother said, and what one needed to know in order to read a recipe. She also explained that the method of mixing ingredients was standard. If you had your list of ingredients, you could mix them even if you didn’t have directions. I don’t remember that it took a long time for me to learn this language. I was highly motivated to bake cookies.

The point is that you don’t need a lot of words in order to relate a recipe. In fact, I think it’s better if the language is succinct. If you have a question as you cook, a quick glance at the recipe reveals what you need to know. And when you go to copy a recipe, the standardized language makes it’s so much faster. But these days it’s different . . .

Recipes today – and recipes abound! -- are explicit and repetitive. Perhaps it’s a good thing. I’m sure it helps the novice. But sometimes I feel that the message of the recipe is lost in all the words. I just want a recipe “blueprint” and I don’t want to read all these words that I don’t need.

A couple of years ago I found myself laboriously copying recipes I wanted to try from online sites. It was taking me forever, and then reading the recipe as I cooked was a challenge. Then I realized that I actually “speak” the recipe language and all these words were unnecessary. I began to jot down the recipes using the language my mother taught me. After a brief listing of ingredients, I just make notes, such as:
375 – 8x8 prepared pan – 40-45 min.

What could be simpler?

[The top photo was taken at Thanksgiving, 1959.  Mother is in the foreground with my grandfather to the right of her. And yes, you can see me toward the back but leaning forward. The bottom photo was taken in the same time frame -- Mother in the backyard under the hawthorn tree. She loved the beauty of a snowfall.]