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Any serious holiday baker included nut roll on her/his holiday baking list, so I thought it only appropriate to give nut roll its own space.  I think there are as many recipes for nut rolls as there are nuts!  When I was organizing recipes for my mother-in-law, I discovered 17 recipes for nut roll, each just a little different from the others. With the holidays approaching, I remember Mum discussing nut roll “this-and-that” in the lead-up to the actual baking…considering at one time to eliminate it from the list because it was so much work (gasp!).  Eventually, though, Mum succumbed to the inevitability of the nut roll’s appearance on a holiday cookie tray.  I mean, what self-respecting baker didn’t make nut roll? The alternating layers of pastry and nuts of a sliced nut roll is so hard to resist.  Eventually Mum stopped making the large rolls and made the mini-sized nut rolls—equally delicious, equally impressive on a cookie tray and the only recipe that I have to include here.

As a not-so-serious holiday baker these days, I think making either the large nut roll or the mini nut rolls is the only confection a person has to make.  Packaged in a cellophane bag tied with a beautiful ribbon and placed in a basket with a bag of good coffee beans; and you have a very nice, thoughtful gift to give a special friend.  Or have nut roll on hand to serve when unexpected Christmas visitors drop in.  You don’t need an entire tray of cookies when you have nut rolls.  When you look at the “Nut Filling” recipe that follows, notice that you can use either vanilla or maple flavoring.  My personal preference is vanilla because I find maple flavoring overpowering.  Also, using purchased apricot filling instead of nuts is an equally good choice.  If you’re really pressed for time but still want to make nut rolls, you could purchase just about any filling for the dough. Almost all grocery stores have various pastry fillings in addition to the nut variety. We have a wonderful Amish store near us that sells all sorts of delicious-looking fillings in clear plastic pastry-type bags that would be perfect for this recipe.  Of course, then they wouldn’t be “nut rolls”, but would a nut roll by any other filling be as sweet?  Absolutely!

Favorite Nut Rolls

Mix and set aside:
1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
In a large bowl, mix:
6 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Cut in as for pie crust:
2 cups shortening
Mix then add to flour mixture:
4 eggs
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
yeast mixture
Using a fork, mix together lightly and well.  Refrigerate overnight.  Roll out, 1/4 at a time on breadboard sprinkled with part flour and granulated sugar.  Cut into 3-inch squares; spread with nut filling.  Roll up; place on greased baking sheet.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 12 minutes.
Nut Filling
Combine in a saucepan:  1 pound ground walnuts, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3/4 cup evaporated milk, 2 teaspoons vanilla or maple flavoring.  Heat until mixtures comes to a boil, stirring constantly.  Mixture will be thick; cool (or use purchased apricot filling).

The next recipe, Walnut Horn Cookies, is a variation of nut rolls that moves away from the traditional yeast dough in favor of a butter-cream cheese dough.  What could be better than that!  Again, if you’re pressed for time, you could make the dough but purchase the filling to make it easier and less time-consuming.

Walnut Horn Cookies
1 pound butter (no substitutes), softened
2 packages (one 8 oz., one 3 oz. [I think Mum means 4 oz. here]) cream cheese, softened
4 egg yolks
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Filling
4 cups ground walnuts (about 1 pound)
5 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, divided
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
In a mixing bowl combine butter, cream cheese, egg yolks, and flour; beat until smooth.  Shape into 1-inch balls; place in container with waxed paper separating each layer.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  To make the filling combine ground walnuts, 3 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar (the mixture will be dry).  In a small mixing bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form; fold into nut mixture.  Add extracts and a few drops of water if necessary until filling reaches a spreading consistency.  Place remaining sugar in a bowl; roll cream cheese balls in sugar until completely covered.  Place a few balls at a time between two sheets of waxed paper.  Roll balls into 2 1/2-inch circles.  Gently spread about 2 teaspoons filling over each.  Roll up; place seam-side down on ungreased baking sheets.  Curve the ends slightly.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool on wire racks.  Yield: about 8 dozen.

Your house should be filling with heavenly scents if you’re baking along!  –Linda

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Even without the advantage of the Internet or the Food channel, Mum found recipes everywhere—through family and friends; cookbooks; flour or sugar sacks; labels on the packaging of nuts, bakers chocolate, etc.; print newspapers and magazines.  For as long as I can remember, Mum had subscriptions to one magazine or another.  I would wait for McCalls magazine with as much anticipation as Mum did.  Mum poured over the entire magazine while I waited impatiently for her to extract all the cooking, needlework, household, and life wisdom for that particular issue and then hand it off to me.  I would then cut out Betsy McCall, a beautiful one-dimensional paper doll, complete with her new monthly wardrobe. I can still remember being so excited that I wiggled and sang and talked to myself while carefully guiding the scissors so I wouldn’t accidentally cut off one of the precious tabs that kept Betsy’s clothing attached to her body.  I’m pretty sure that was where my love of “women’s” magazines began.

Whatever sources she used, shortly after the Thanksgiving dust settled, Mum began drafting the list of cookies she would make that year.  Once the list was made, she’d gather in the supplies.  I have to admit that I really didn’t pay much attention to what was bought but only that the flour and sugar came in huge sacks.  I remember discussions about the twenty-five pounds of flour (venticinque).  Important discussions that involved numbers or money or our transgressions were always conducted in Italian, which was Greek to me. Buying extra food was not taken lightly in our household, especially on the heels of a food-centric holiday such as Thanksgiving.  And some of the ingredients could be expensive as well as exotic…like dates…to me something very exotic but oh so delicious.

While these date cookies are a little labor-intensive, they are well worth the effort:

Date Cream Cheese Roll-Ups

1 cup butter
1/2 pound cream cheese (8 ounces)
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pitted dates

Cream butter and cream cheese together.  Blend in flour and salt.  Chill for several hours until firm enough to roll.  Roll into 1/8-inch thickness on a board sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar.  Cut in 1 x 3-inch strips.  Put a date in each strip and roll up.  Put seam-side-down on cookie sheet.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Makes 8 dozen

As a sheltered kid growing up in the fifties and early sixties, nothing could be more exotic than alcohol as an ingredient in a cookie.  During cookie-baking season, I can remember the very distinctive bottle of Sicilian Gold being lifted from a nondescript brown paper bag as the choirs sang—“Gloriaaaaaaaaaaa….” (not to be confused with the a very popular Van Morrison hit of the sixties: G-L-O-R-I-A or perhaps, maybe)  The Wine Wreath cookies are delicious!  I loved the kick from the heat of the cinnamon candies used for decoration.  Mum included a note on this recipe that it was Rhonda’s favorite, but I’m afraid I’d have to arm-wrestle Rhonda for any last one of these on the tray.  I think I could take her!

 Wine Wreaths

Cream until light:
1 cup oleo (butter is better)

2/3 cup sugar

Add and beat well:
2 egg yolks

Sift and add:
3 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
Alternating with:
1/4 cup Sicilian Gold (or Galiano) [maybe a heaping fourth cup]

Force through star-shaped pastry tube to form into small rings; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of a sugar/cinnamon mixture or brush with egg white after baking then sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar mixture.  Decorate with red cinnamon candies like a wreath.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 6 to 10 minutes on ungreased sheets.

If you bake only the cookies from yesterday’s and today’s blog, you would have an impressive and pretty plate of cookies to share with anyone stopping by for some Christmas cheer.  Linda

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With only twelve days left until Christmas, I thought I would share twelve cookie recipes from Mum’s vast repertoire of cookie confections.  No…I’m not going to post all twelve at one time, nor am I going to post cookie recipes for the next twelve days.  What I plan to do is to include however many recipes suit my fancy at the time I’m writing.  Already I can see your eyes rolling back into your heads.  Bear with me; maybe you’ll be inspired to go out to the kitchen and whip up a batch of deliciousness!  I know there are those of you who might have even more cookie recipes from Mum than I do, or maybe you’ve developed lists of you own from a combination of sources.  These recipes will be some of my favorite cookie  recipes and standards that I remember Mum baking.

One cookie I love for its short, buttery melt-in-your-mouth goodness is the “spritz” or cookie press cookie.  I could eat the almond-flavored dough right out of the bowl, it’s so good!  Spritz cookies not only taste and smell good, but their tiny size and shape add charm…flair, if you will…to any cookie tray.  Mum would use red and green food coloring at Christmastime to give her spritz cookies a festive touch. When she passed the dough through the press, she would use the discs that she felt represented Christmas flowers or designs.  She passed her cookie press along to me many years ago, still in the original packaging.  I can tell you that that press works better than any of the new and improved “cookie shooters” that are on the market today.  I’ve tried a couple and always go back to that original cookie press handed down to me.

You’ll notice that in this recipe, Butter-Rich Spritz, Mum used oleo. I use butter. The choice is yours, of course; but if it’s named “butter-rich” why not splurge on the fat and calories?  Frankly, I feel a Christmas cookie without butter is like Santa without the “Ho-Ho!” if you get what I mean. I think Mum may have used butter more often than not despite keeping “oleo” in her written recipes.

Butter-Rich Spritz

Cream:

1 cup oleo (butter)

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

Blend in:

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon vanilla

Add gradually:

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix well.  Press dough through cookie press onto ungreased cookie sheets using any shape.  Bake in 375‑degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes.  Do not brown.

Another cookie that adds a touch of panache to a cookie tray is the Coconut Pom-Poms.  I inherited Mum’s love of coconut.  Cakes, cookies, tea breads—all taste better with the simple addition of coconut in my opinion.  I’m aware not everyone shares this enthusiasm for coconut. Ken, for one, will grudgingly eat something with coconut only if there’s no other choice, but a coconut-laced or coconut-topped cookie would definitely rate number one with me.  Mum used coconut not only within her baked goodies; she used it to garnish any frosted treat.  She made a delicious frosted chocolate cookie topped with coconut!  I don’t ever remember her putting peanut butter in the center of these cookies; but since it appears in the recipe, she must have at some point. Candied cherries are a nice Christmas touch.

Coconut Pom-Poms

Cream:

1 cup oleo (butter)

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

Add:

2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

Shape dough into 1-inch balls, shaping around candied cherries, dates, mints, or peanut butter.  Roll in coconut and place on ungreased sheets.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 15 minutes.

You’ll notice that Mum didn’t concern herself with how many cookies a recipe would yield.  I think that might be because she would make one batch of about twenty different kinds of cookies.  Each tray of cookies would have two to three cookies of each kind, more than enough cookies to savor with morning or afternoon cup of coffee or tea.  Check again soon for a couple more Christmas cookie recipes.  Linda

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A Simple Apple Recipe

During the fall season one of our favorite things to do is to visit Sage’s Apple Farm (www.sagesapples.com) in Chardon, OH. There you will find as many varieties of apples as you could possibly want; certainly enough to make one delicious apple pie or any other apple concoction your heart desires. My first bite of a Honey Crisp came from Sage’s, who provide apple corers beside each variety so you can sample.

Apples are the perfect food in my opinion–a meal in your hand without a whole lot of work other than a good washing. Delicious as is, it’s even better locked inside sweet or savory dishes. Pork and apples are an excellent pairing! Homemade applesauce, so easy to make and so delicious, always makes an appearance when I make pork chops or a pork roast. Often when I make sauerkraut, I’ll finely dice an apple and slip into the kraut to add that little extra something.

When we moved into our current home in the early 70’s, there were three apple trees in the yard. Two trees produced transparent, green, thin-skinned apples that dropped off the tree in July. Such a delicious apple! And those trees produced an abundant crop. We ate them, cooked them, gave them away, fed them to deer…just so many apples! But we lost both trees to an end-of-March heavy wet snow. In fact heavy wet spring snows felled all three apple trees and a huge oak tree in our yard. The other apple tree produced tiny gnarly apples that made the best pies, applesauce, and cobbler. What we (and all the neighbors) couldn’t eat were gathered up and given to someone our neighbor knew who made apple cider.

One of the best simple ways to enjoy apples in a savory way is to caramelize apples and onions in butter to serve as a side dish. I also use diced apple and butter and brown sugar in the cavity of acorn squash and bake for a delicious side dish.

Mum makes an incredible apple pie! Over the years I’ve learned that a really good apple pie usually has a mix of apples since each apple variety has different qualities that enhance the flavor and texture of the pie. Although there are as many recipes for pie crust as there are varieties of apples (possibly more), I stick to the basic shortening, flour, ice water crust. It works the best for me and always comes out so flakey.

Here’s an apple recipe that’s quick, easy, and makes the house smell as delicious as the bars taste. It’s an easy recipe to double and bake in a 9 x 13 pan as well. I use at least a whole apple because a 1/2 cup isn’t quite an apple.

FAVORITE APPLE SQUARES

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup butter or margarine (I use butter)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped pared cooking apple (at least one apple)
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
Cinnamon/sugar topping

Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon onto wax paper. Melt butter in medium-size saucepan over moderate heat. Remove from heat. Beat in sugars, egg, and vanilla with a wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in flour mixture, apple, and walnuts until thoroughly combined. Spread into a greased 8x8x2-inch pan. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the cinnamon-sugar mixture.
Bake in 350° oven for 30 minutes or until top springs back when light pressed with fingertip. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into squares.

Cinnamon-Sugar Topping: Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon in a small jar with a screw-top lid. Cover; shake thoroughly. Store remainder for future use.

Enjoy! —Linda

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When he was a young boy, both of Ken’s parents worked.  His mom would come home very tired after a long, exhausting day working at the neighborhood grocery store.  His father worked at a block plant.  Inspired by his grandmother Rose, who was an incredible cook, Ken decided at a young age to try his hand at cooking a meal for his mom, dad, and sister.  For one of those meals, he chose to cook a roast.  He had no clue what do so, so you can imagine the results!  He cooked the meat only until it looked done.  Needless to say, that wasn’t a stellar meal.  His mom and dad were so proud of his efforts, though, they praised him and made a fuss over his meal even though it was pretty much inedible.  Ken’s cooking progressed to the point that by his senior year of high school, he prepared an entire Thanksgiving meal.

When we married, Ken’s culinary talents were definitely more developed than mine.  I could bake a mean cake or a delicious batch of cookies because I’d been doing that since junior high; but when it came to preparing a meal–an entrée with side dishes–I was at a definite disadvantage.  Despite my lack of experience, I was determined to take on the traditional role of homemaker…even if that meant embarrassing myself in the kitchen.

With a current issue of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook (1969) and countless phone calls to Mum, I limped my way through some pretty forgettable meals.  Through those hits and misses, I learned to make my own version of pasta sauce and meatballs, meatloaf (which I still haven’t mastered), pork chops, etc.  If the quality left a lot to be desired, I made sure that quantity would provide any nutritional or taste deficits.  So, if a recipe made 8 servings, I made 8 servings; I did not deviate from any recipe.  Ken, bless his heart, did not waver in his support of me.  Whatever I put in front of him, no matter how questionable it may have looked, he ate.  If the quantity was outrageous, he raised his eyebrows but would not criticize.

Throughout those first years, meals might have been lousy, granted; but they were balanced and on time.  There was the correct ratio of protein to starch to vegetable content delivered hot and at the precise time designated as dinner.  The one area I felt beyond reproach was dessert.  I made sure we always had something sweet and tasty to top our meals.

One day Ken requested chicken and dumplings.  I had never really heard of chicken and dumplings, so I was immediately intimidated.  When he made the request, he told me that his Hungarian aunts (all wonderful cooks) would make delicious pots of chicken and dumplings, upping the intimidation to near panic.  The way Ken talked about the dish, I knew I would definitely have my sorry skills pushed to their sorry limits.  The last thing he told me about the dish was that it contained a lot of paprika.  Hmmmm…paprika.  The only time I remembered Mum using paprika was as a sprinkle on top of potato salad or deviled eggs.  This could get interesting–paprika had taste?  I thought it was just used to make things look pretty.

I opened my trusty Betty Crocker’s Cookbook to page 304 (I looked it up in the index) to find Chicken Fricassee with Dumplings.  This recipe seemed to fit the bill.  It had the two key ingredients:  dumplings and paprika.  We didn’t have any paprika in the spice rack, so I went to Kroger (this was years ago when Krogers were everywhere) and found a tin box of Hungarian paprika.  Hello!  Pay dirt!  I picked up the rest of the ingredients and headed for home.

Once in the kitchen, I put my head down and began the fricassee part of the recipe–remember:  no deviations (translated: no common sense).  Nerves aside, I was pretty sure I could execute this recipe one way or the other.  So the fat and the flour (with lots of paprika added) flew until finally the chicken was bubbling away nicely in the pot.  The fricassee-ing was supposed to take between 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours.  I could turn my attention then to the dumplings.

After reading the dumpling recipe again, this time more carefully, I didn’t have to make the dumplings until the fricassee had fricasseed.  Piece of cake!  I had 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours to stew along with the chicken!

When the time came, I used Betty’s recipe for dumplings, being very careful to follow her instructions to the letter.  I dropped spoonfuls of the dumpling dough onto the hot chicken, covered the pot, and turned around in time to greet Ken coming through the door.

“Wow!” he said.  “Something smells good!”  Whew!  I (or the fricassee) had passed the smell test. I should have quit while I was ahead.

I lifted the lid (big mistake!) off the pot and proudly proclaimed: “Chicken and dumplings!”  Ken peered over the edge of the pot: “Whaaaa? What the heck is THAT?”

I could feel my throat tighten and quick tears came to my eyes, but I was ready to defend my work; after all, it smelled good!  “That’s chicken and dumplings.”

Ken continued to look in the pot.  “What are those big white things on the chicken?”

“Dumplings?’ I was no longer sure of myself.  Who am I kidding?  I was never sure of myself!

“They’re not like any dumplings I ever saw! Dumplings are little things that float in a creamy broth,” Ken enlightened me.  I’m sure he said that innocently enough, but I heard criticism loud and clear.  I sorta remember stomping off to the bedroom, slamming the door, and throwing myself on the bed all the while wailing and blubbering…at least that sounds like something I’d do back then. I can’t remember if we ate that fricassee or not; I’ve buried the aftermath in my subconscious.  We wouldn’t have thrown good food away, so maybe we scraped off the dumplings and ate the fricassee.

Not long after the fricassee fiasco, Ken called his Hungarian Aunt Ann to ask her for step by step directions on preparing her version of chicken and dumplings.  It turns out the dumplings (the definition of which is a small piece of dough) were what Hungarians refer to as spatzels, which is a noodle-type dough.  The dumplings I made, by definition and Betty’s directions, were more biscuit-like.  Hence, one man’s dumplings are not another man’s dumplings.

What follows is the recipe as dictated by Aunt Ann to Ken.  This dish, by the way, is incredibly delicious.  Ken prepared it for Mum and Dad years ago, and both of them licked their plates clean.  Jen loved this dish, too.  I don’t think Jeff has ever had it.  We haven’t made it for a long time for some reason…damn that Weight Watchers!

CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS A LA AUNT ANN

1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery with leaves, finely chopped
fresh parsley
1 chicken, cut up
water
salt and pepper
paprika (lots)
flour
sour cream
stock base from Lipton’s chicken soup

Saute onion.  Put in chicken; brown.  Add salt and pepper.  Add parsley and celery.  Add lots of paprika.  Cover chicken with water.  Add the Lipton soup flavor packet without the noodles.  Cook for about 1 hour or until chicken is tender and leaves the bones.  Add 1 pint of sour cream along with flour to thicken.

DUMPLINGS

4 eggs
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk

Mix flour, salt, and baking powder.  Then add eggs and milk.  Cook in boiling, salted water about 10 minutes; drain.  Serve with chicken.

Method for adding and forming the spatzels to the boiling water:  Put the dough on a dinner plate.  tilt the plate slightly over the boiling water then rapidly cut off small pieces of dough with a spoon, flicking the spatzel into the water.  When the spatzels are finished cooking, they will float to the top of the water.  And, yes, they will all be various sizes, which makes them rustic-looking but doesn’t affect their delicious taste.

Bon etvagyat!  ….Linda

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Politics aside, Chicago is a fascinating, beautiful city.  Granted, our several visits since Jeff and Jacqui moved there haven’t included tours of the seedier areas, but each time we’re exposed to the allure of Chicagoland, we fall a little more in love with it.  A city of contrasts, like all cities I suppose, the evidence of corruption forms the backdrop to the soaring skyline, beautiful lake, and opulent real estate commingling with the abject poverty and the crumbling infrastructure.  Nicknamed “The Windy City” not for the breezes that blow off the lake but for the hot air generated by its politicians, we love Chicago, warts and all.

We packed a lot of activity into our visit thanks to Jeff and Jacqui’s great planning. The kids were wonderful hosts, chauffeuring us here and there and feeding us incredible food!

Day 1:  Our plane touched down at Midway Airport by mid-morning.  The kids were there to greet us and whisked us away to their large, airy, sun-lit apartment.  Jacqui had a delicious-smelling (and tasting) meal bubbling away in the crockpot.  The grandkitties welcomed us as only kitties can; and after a brief visit, Jeff returned to work to finish his day.  Jacqui fed us and then we relaxed and talked about plans for the week.

Day 2: After breakfast we headed to Evanston, a short drive away, to The Baha’i House of Worship, noted

The Baha'i House of Worship

 for its unique architectural design and beautiful, peaceful gardens.  We were all unfamiliar with the Baha’i religion but were intrigued not only with the structure and gardens, but by the spiritual philosophy as well.  Practiced throughout the world, the Baha’i core philosophy is one of unity; thereby believing that “we all belong to one human race, that all religions share a common source and aim.”  The principles include “elimination of all forms of prejudice, equality between men and women, harmony of science and religion, world peace, spiritual solutions to economic problems, and universal education.”  Coincidentally, the Baha’i religion was introduced to Chicago during the year of the World’s Fair in 1893.  The Baha’i have no priests or clergy but are governed by elected councils that oversee the communities locally and internationally.  The building was an architectural wonder of its time because of the poured cast concrete panels that make up the entire bell-shaped structure.  Each of the nine major religions and their symbols are represented in the nine arches.  So a cross appears next to a star of David next to an ankh, etc.  Inside the “temple” the writings from the major works of each of the nine religions are carved in displays, and the readings from the sacred texts of each of the nine religions are used in the daily services. The gardens are just beautiful! Wherever you are outside, you can hear the sound of water from the various fountains.  We all enjoyed roaming the temple and the gardens, though none of us was converted.

That evening the kids took us to an intimate dinner theatre, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, in the Rogers Park neighborhood for a production titled “Sweet and Hot,” a review of Harold Arlen music.  The cozy, inviting room seated about forty people; we were seated on the stage–with everyone looking up at us.  It was, to say the least, a little unnerving at first. Cast members mingled among the guests, serving food and drink before the performance and during intermission.  Composer Arlen is memorable for his music from The Wizard of Oz plus such greats as Blues in the Night, Out of This World, Stormy Weather, One for My Baby, and many, many more.  The six glorious singers plus a dynamic piano player comprised the entire ensemble.  They belted out tunes reminiscent of smokey honky tonks of the thirties and forties.  We loved it!  It was excellent!  It was clear why the troupe played to sold-out crowds the entire run of the show.

Day 3 was Jeff’s 31st birthday.  The highlight of the day was dinner at Sapori Trattoria.  The moment we walked in and were seated at a cozy table with crisp, white linens, we knew we were in for a treat! The aromas wafting from the kitchen promised delights of olive oil, garlic, cheese, bread, and more. We had arrived in heaven!  When the waiter placed our menus in front of us, we were delighted to see that they had been printed with a birthday message just for Jeff…what a nice touch!  We each ordered something different off the menu and began with bruschetta.  All I can say is “Oh my God!”  I knew if the bruschetta was that incredible, the meal was going to be stellar.  And it was! The pasta was made fresh on-site that day.  Ken and I had our pasta with a garlic/olive oil sauce…incredible!  We both had fish, Jeff had fantastic pumpkin ravioli in butter-sage sauce, and Jacqui had spaghetti barese–fresh spaghetti in a rich red sauce with veal meatballs (to die for!) and Italian sausage.  We ooh-ed and awed through the entire meal.  We were all pleasantly stuffed when our waiter brought out a very large complimentary piece of tiramisu with four forks. I’m not a tiramisu fan, but this was absolutely delicious!  It was velvety, subtle, and light.  We returned to the apartment full–more than satisfied.  We changed into comfy clothes and vegged while Jeff opened his presents.  After he stacked his booty, Jacqui served the decadent birthday cake she had baked for Jeff.  She’d made a scratch chocolate cake with peanut butter cream cheese frosting drizzled with a peanut butter chocolate ganache.  It was eyes-rolled-back-in-your-head delicious!  We all vowed not to eat the next day!

Day 4 we took a cross-town bus to the Chicago River to board a double-decker boat for an official

A view of the skyline from the Chicago River before the tour.

 architecture river cruise. The day was slightly overcast with a light, cool breeze–perfect for being deck-side and taking pictures.  Our docent was an eighty-something very knowledgeable lady.  She talked non-stop the entire hour and a half cruise, but we had difficulty hearing her despite the microphone she held.  I snapped hundreds (really) of pictures not knowing the names of the buildings or hearing their history but appreciating the beauty and splendor of their designs. The blend of the old with the new is fascinating and each building commands its own piece of real estate. The bus ride back to Uptown was crowded, confusing, and a little scary when we were briefly separated from the kids; but the strangers around us were very kind, understanding, and helpful.

Day 5 we attended the Lincoln Park Arts and Music Festival on Racine Avenue.  We parked the car in Children’s Memorial parking garage and walked about a mile to the festival.  Approximately 100 venders displayed their wares–some interesting and some not so much–everything from mixed media to jewelry to photography to painting and more.  A female group known as The Handcuffs was performing their original music, which I really enjoyed!  We left the festival and headed for Evanston for a little shopping at World Market.  Then it was off to Lou Malnadi’s Pizzeria, recently featured on an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay. We ordered two medium deep-dish pizzas–The Lou (their signature pie) and a sausage. This was authentic deep-dish pizza at its best! Now, I consider myself somewhat of an expert as far as pizza is concerned.  I have consumed and made more than my fair share.  This was by far THE BEST pizza I have ever eaten! From the buttery crust to the sliced tomatoes on top with all the spinach, mushrooms, and cheese in between, The Lou is absolutely delicious! There is nothing to compare it to back in PA…nothing. The sausage pizza was just as good, although I preferred The Lou.  The sausage and sauce were both homemade delicious!  I can understand why Bobby Flay lost this throwdown. 

Day 6 was a quiet day.  We needed a rest after all the activity.  We walked a few blocks and across the neighborhood park to Tweet, an Uptown cafe, that serves breakfast and lunch.  Menu items are named for some of the artists whose works grace the walls.  A large portrait of President Obama has pride of place on the entry wall. We had a delicious, leisurely brunch enjoying conversation and a re-cap of our trip.  We took the long way back to the apartment to burn off some of the calories we’d just consumed.  We spent the rest of the day enjoying the last of our remaining time together.

Day 7 dawned a little cloudy to match our spirits as we prepared to leave for the airport.  It’s always difficult to say goodbye; we do our best to hide our tears and to clear the lumps in our throats.  We have wonderful memories of this trip, and Jacqui out-did herself with fantastic meals and desserts.  The kids have built a wonderful life with each other, and we’re proud of the adults they are.  What could be better?

Linda

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When Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons” became a hit in the 1950’s it played loud and often in our home and we all sang along. Dad was a coal miner from the age of 14 and we knew the truths first hand that Ernie sang about, especially the line, “I owe my soul to the company store.” And Ernie Ford was a favorite singer of Mum’s. We had most of his records.

I have to admit though that our family was different and I’m sure there were other families like ours. In spite of being very poor, Mum and Dad had made up their minds that they were not going to run up a bill at the company store. And they clung to that goal for many hard-time years, in fact, they clung to it until the store burned down in the 1950’s. How they managed to do that is not a mystery.

We never had to buy staples from the store as a lot of people did because Mum made all our bread, cakes, and cookies; and she canned produce from Dad’s big garden and the hillsides around until her shelves were full to overflowing with beans, peas, corn, tomato sauce and soup, peaches, cherries, jellies, and relishes. When I think of it now it amazes me that she was able to “put away” all the things she did to feed a family of eight, and take care of six kids and a large house, too. In addition, she made most if not all of our clothes and knit us sweaters and hats and scarfs. We also wore hand-me-downs without complaining. I remember how happy I was every time we got a large box of clothes from Mum’s youngest sister Aunt Dane. She was thirteen years older than me so her skirts, dresses, and shoes were not kid’s clothes and I loved trying them on so Mum could alter them to fit me … and I’m sure my sisters got to wear them as well, maybe not Linda as she came along much later.

And then people helped each other. We got our eggs and milk from neighbors who had chickens and a cow. In fact, we had chickens for a while. I remember one time Dad and Uncle Nick got live chickens from a farm at the top of the hill and butchered them in the yard. That’s a sight I’ll have with me until I die. Our father taking an axe, chopping off the heads of the chickens, and then tying them to the clothesline until they stopped flailing and the blood was drained! Yikes! I’m glad my kids didn’t have to witness anything like that. But I digress ….

Our parents were so resourceful. I remember them butchering beef and pork at our kitchen table and making sausage that they hung in the upstairs hall so the flavors could blend. My mother would clean and then sew up the pig’s intestines they used for the sausage casings. They literally threw nothing away when they butchered an animal.

Another way they cut costs was that every payday they went to Kittanning to make a grocery order. The prices were much cheaper than the company store’s and this is when she’d buy twenty-five pound sacks of flour and sugar for all the baking and anything else she needed to make those delicious meals we had. And the best thing of all was that they always brought us each a comic book. How I wish I had all those comic books now. But back to the company store ….

The company store was the center of coal town life. It was a department store, a meeting place, and a lifeline in times of need as it had the only telephone in town. The company store in our town was pretty big, as you can see from the photo. It was on Main Street where the Post Office now stands and the little building on the right was the train station. Although the roads weren’t paved the sidewalks to the store were cement so that mud wouldn’t get tracked into the store.

1930, Yatesboro Company Store

Our company store had several departments: shoes, clothing, dry goods, butcher shop, (you could tell the butcher exactly what you wanted and he would cut it for you), candy, tobacco products, sporting goods, clothing, a grocery, and even furniture on the third floor. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something.

When Mum sent me to the store, I remember having to ask for “our book” when I got there. It had Dad’s name and House #9 on it, our address. I would go to the department I needed, give the book to the clerk, who would write down what I bought, and the price. When I was finished I had to return the book with the money to pay for what I’d bought. Sometimes I bought coffee or yeast for making bread. One time when I was in junior high school, I was in the chorus and we were having a concert. My mother wanted me to have something new to wear, a rare occasion. She sent me to the store to pick out something. I bought a yellow skirt I can still see today and was so proud wearing it to the concert the next day. I felt like a million dollars. That’s the only clothing I remember buying from the store.

We always had a list when we went to the store, a short list. But occasionally Mum would give me a slip of paper, folded, with the admonition, “Don’t open it, just give it to the clerk.” I did this a few times but one time curiosity got the best of me. I thought nobody would know if I looked at it. Feeling very guilty, I put my hands in front of me, lowered just my eyes, opened the paper, and saw the words, “1 box Kotex!” What a big mystery! I had no idea what Kotex was so I didn’t gain much by peeking and now I was sure I was going to Hell for disobeying my mother. Had I known how happy Mum must have been because she “fell off the roof” that month I could have at least rejoiced with her!

When we waited for the school bus on Winter mornings we were allowed to wait in the company store to keep warm. Sometimes we huddled together on the front steps. One day a couple of us dumber ones responded to what seemed like a harmless dare from the older kids. You know how that goes? We wanted to be part of the gang. Well, as they taunted we stuck our tongues to the cold steel porch railings. Imagine our surprise when our tongues actually stuck! And here comes the bus! Need I say more?

So those are my memories of the company store. I’m sure anyone who has ever lived in a coal town has their stories of being in hock to the company for the necessities of life. Fortunately, we were blessed with parents who knew how to manage life and in the process taught us a great deal … about what’s important, and about what’s not. —Joanne

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