Holiday Cooking with Grandma Georgia

As I prepare for our Thanksgiving dinner today, I am drawn into memories of Grandma’s kitchen. That were her habitat. Queen of her kitchen, she was in command of all the fixins. I recall helping to roll up the butterhorn rolls, a favorite task for granddaughters. Nobody went hungry at Grandma’s house. After the clean up, folks stretched out for a nap before we all drove the seven-mile journey to the family farm for a walk through the bare winter trees. It’s amazing how just cooking something from the past makes me feel close to family that is gone.

Today I will feature the latest publication that will be offered at the Christmasland event with Writers of the Wheat on December 3, 4:00 pm until 9:00, at the Sunflower Plaza in Wichita. Writers of the Wheat is a loosely organized group of Kansas authors who support each other in writing, as well as marketing, their work. Join us at the Sunflower Plaza, 417 East Gilbert in Wichita,  December 3. There will be something for every reader’s taste. It seems appropriate on Thanksgiving to share a cookbook.

Foreword

Georgia’s Recipe for a good life:

Work hard.

Love deeply.

Laugh often.

Georgia Wells Harris was born in southern Missouri October 3, 1891, the third child in a family of 5 children born to George Calvin and Edith Malinda Wells. By 1900, the family had moved to Kansas, utilizing covered wagon and train transportation. They settled in Skiddy, and later Dunlap. Georgia married Charley Harris on November 20, 1912. They raised four children, Frances (born 1914), Lester (1918), Wallace (1925), and Paul (1935).

No stranger to hardship and heartache, Georgia struggled to keep her family fed during the 1930s. Her farm kitchen remained stocked mostly with things produced in her garden or on the family farm.

Her oldest son Lester, an engineer on the USS Gherardi in WWII, was killed December 2, 1942 in a violent storm off the coast of Rhode Island. Charley died ten years later, and cancer took daughter Frances in 1959. Through it all, Georgia opened her heart and her home to family and became a role model in resilience, generosity, and compassion for others. I have precious memories of her hearty laughter, which was easy to trigger and very contagious.

She was an excellent cook, and queen of her kitchen. Many holidays the entire family gathered at her round dining table to feast on exquisite cuisine.

She died June 25, 1990, well on her way to her 99th birthday.

Her meager possessions passed to various family members. After her son, my father Wallace, died in 2010, her worn pink recipe file came into my possession. The lid had long since disappeared and it was stuffed full. Many tabs of the various sections were almost torn off, but I felt a connection to my grandmother, reading those recipes—most written in her own familiar handwriting.

I suspect the file is far from complete as a collection of the dishes she served, but it’s a nice collection. Some I have specific memories of. Most I do not. Some must have been given by friends, as the handwriting was not her own. Perhaps she gained several in recipe exchanges at her women’s “72 Club.”

I long intended to divide up the cards and share them with my sisters and cousins, but time got away from me. In 2020, the year that COVID stalled many usual activities, as October rolled around I pulled out the file and started studying the recipes. Who should get which ones? It was impossible to decide. That’s when the idea of constructing a book was born. We each will have access to every single recipe in her recipe file. Each of her living grandchildren will still get a selection of her hand-written cards, but with this book, we’ll all be able to use and enjoy her recipe collection.

Several recipes were incomplete, listing only ingredients, or confusing instructions. I imagined she was standing behind me saying, “Well, you ought to know what to do with those.” After all, she knew. Where I tried to add suggestions, my words are in italics.

In places, I have transferred her exact notes, regardless of punctuation and spelling, just like they are on the cards. I find them endearing. In other places, I did a search to clear up some uncertainties. I didn’t always find answers, but where I did, I shared them.

Some ingredients are unfamiliar to me, and may be pretty hard to find. Thus there may be recipes that are not practical or useful in today’s kitchen. But they are interesting.

In many ways, recipes are heirlooms. The people she credited with some of the recipes are different than those I think of when I make the same concoction. Names in ( ) are her referrals to the sources of the recipes, but they don’t always match the credits in my own recipe file.  The cookies I think of as Grandma Georgia’s brown sugar raisin cookies, she credited to her younger sister, Ola. I wonder who Ola thought of when she baked them?

The evolution of our table food is an unending process. Special dishes remind us of gatherings, good times, and laughter. Others help us remember people we love who are no longer living. Those we favor tend to get passed around.

During the COVID seasons, I was drawn to the family favorites and felt comforted by memories of loved ones long gone as I shared their culinary delights with my loved ones today.

Mixed into the section headings is a sprinkling of wisdom as Georgia viewed life. It seems appropriate to include some thoughts she left in letters and recorded conversations, as seasonings for the book, just as her principles seasoned her life. Let your mind roam back over the decades, and just try to imagine the earlier days. She would be thrilled if we applied some of her shared thoughts to life in this century.

For more holiday food ideas, be sure to stop by the Sunflower Plaza in Wichita December 3. Visit with talented local authors. Browse the book selections. Find something special for everyone on your Christmas list.

 

What is a Windshadow?

Over the next few days, I will post information about each of the four books I have available. All of them will be part of the Christmasland Event with Writers of the Wheat December 3, 4:00 pm until 9:00, at the Sunflower Plaza in Wichita. Writers of the Wheat is a loosely organized group of Kansas authors who support each other in writing, as well as marketing, their work. Join us at the Sunflower Plaza, 417 East Gilbert in Wichita,  December 3. There will be something for every reader’s taste.

Today, I feature my first published book, a memoir titled In the Shadow of the Wind. Though I have aspired to write books as long as I can remember, it was this one that had to come first. It uncorked the bottle of my creativity, so to speak. Released in 2014, I continue to be amazed at the response of new readers. It seems to connect with new folks scattered from coast to coast, and I am humbly grateful to the Winds of the Spirit for making the story known to those who struggle with their own personal grief and need encouragement.

What is it about?

Following a series of tragic losses, at age thirty I found myself in a strange world, anticipating a lonely future.  Widowed, and grieving the loss of two infants, I retreated to the wilderness for comfort and healing. Planning to stay forty days, I set up a solitary camp on the Neosho River bank of my family’s abandoned farm homestead. Marooned by rising flood water after only a few days, I had to face my own mortality.

I discovered that there is life after loss. Through a sequence of extraordinary events, In the Shadow of the Wind tells my story: how an ordinary woman learned to dance on the threshold of fear, to cherish every moment of life, and to believe in my inner resources to conquer adversity.

Prologue from the Book

“It’s okay, Daisy Pup,” I said. The small spaniel whined. I drew her to my chest and we cuddled together. Thunder exploded in the air above our little tent. The after-rumbles faded. Seconds later rain pelted the nylon roof of my fair-weather shelter. Daisy shivered in my arms. “It’ll be okay.” I tried to convince myself.

I felt foolish. How could I have thought this was a good idea? How could I have dreamed that I would be able to withstand forty days in the wilderness? The rain turned my plan into a futile effort that bordered on the edge of insanity.

A drop of water stabbed my forehead. In the gray afternoon light, I saw hundreds of droplets hang heavily from the inside of the tent roof. The threat of a cold shower hovered  inches away.

“Good Lord, Daisy—it’s going to rain inside the tent.”

There was no escape from the chill in the air. No escape from the fingers of cold that crept up from below. No escape from—“Oh, my God, the sleeping bag is wet.”

I shifted sideways in the orange tent and discovered we huddled in a growing pool of water, now about an inch deep. “Oh, God, this is crazy.”

My canine companion stood and shook.

“You need to go out?”

She wagged her stubby tail and shook again. I unzipped the door and she jumped into the deluge. I grabbed my boots and began to pull one over a damp sock. On second thought, I tied the laces together, removed my socks, and backed out of the low-slung tent. I pulled my backpack into the soggy afternoon, zipped the tent door shut, and stood barefoot in black ooze.

Daisy splashed through standing water. She located a slight rise, squatted, and relieved herself. I glanced at the sodden landscape. Water stood everywhere, and I was already soaked in the downpour. What were we to do? I turned in a circle and searched for shelter. An old wooden railroad boxcar, the only structure that remained on the abandoned farm, stood right behind the tent.

I stooped to look under the boxcar. We could wiggle under it. I quickly discarded that idea. The prospect of lying in muck was no better than sitting in a wet tent. Padlocks secured the sliding doors of the boxcar. Even if I had a key, I doubted I could budge them enough to allow entrance. The aged wooden sides looked weathered and soft. One ragged gap at the leading edge of the north door panel appeared almost large enough for me to wiggle inside.

I slogged to the side of the boxcar and grasped the lower edge of one ragged slat. I tugged on the worn end. With my entire weight behind my efforts, I ripped off inches at a time until the opening had grown twice as large.

“Come here, Daisy. Let’s check this out.” She was instantly at my mud-covered heels. I patted the dark floor of the boxcar, standing forty inches off the ground. Daisy leaped. With an assist from me, she scrambled into the dark interior. I stuffed my backpack behind her, slogged to the tent and pulled my boots and the bedding into the storm. I struggled to maintain balance as I slipped back to the hole in the door and crammed the bundle of blankets inside. Then I leaned into the darkness of the abandoned car and jumped. On my stomach, legs dangling out the opening, I snaked forward a few inches. With flailing arms, I reached into the darkness in search of something to grab.

There. Something metallic. Perhaps an old piece of farm equipment. I didn’t know. I could see very little. But it didn’t budge, so I was able to pull myself into the relatively dry interior of the old boxcar. Across the car, Daisy snuffled and sneezed a couple times. I stood and felt my way around the area. After locating a pile of old shingles along the south wall, I propped the backpack on the floor beside them. I shook the damp bedding. My clothing was soaked through, so I wrapped the blankets and sleeping bag around my shoulders. I sat on the shingles and leaned against the wall of the boxcar.

Daisy bounded onto my lap. We shared each other’s warmth as the deluge continued outside. Moments after we both settled down, I heard scratching noises inside the boxcar. Light-footed creatures scampered about the interior. I hugged Daisy a little tighter. I could see pinpoints of light here and there, small eyes that reflected the afternoon light filtering in through holes in the wall. Oh, my God.

Rats. Lots of them.

 I screamed. “I am such a fool, Daisy. Why do you put up with me?”

She licked my chin.

I spoke to my late husband Craig. “What am I going to do? I don’t think I can do this. I can’t live without you.”

He, of course, didn’t answer. I was on my own.

Daisy whined softly and licked my chin as if she understood. The storm mirrored the anguish in my heart. The entire universe wept with me. “What are we going to do, girl? I don’t know where we’re heading. I only know where we’ve been.”

When I met Craig, we thought we had all the time in the world. A decade was hard to visualize. Had we known that all our joys, our plans, and dreams, would have to be packed into one decade, would we have spent our days differently? Would our choices have been laced with more love and wisdom, or with desperate lunacy? Based on the law of averages, we had every reason to expect several decades together.

Yet there was barely one.

“It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” I railed against the universe.

 

 

A BRAG Medallion for Elsie Lenore

Last month I received notification that Sonata of Elsie Lenore has been awarded a Medallion of appreciation by indieBRAG (Book Readers Appreciation Group).

It’s encouraging to know that the second in my series of piano novels was received well by an international team of readers. They gave the novel high marks in various judging categories and recommended inclusion in the list of recommended IndieBRAG books. The medallion tells readers who are looking for a great book that Sonata of Elsie Lenore is well worth their investment of time and money. It’s gratifying to me that Elsie Lenore joins her sister book, Sundrop Sonata with this distinctive award.

Though not all of the BRAG readers leave comments, here are a few they shared.

“I found this an interesting book to read.”

“What a wonderful book. I was gripped right away and the story held me spellbound throughout.”

“I was with Stefano all the way, willing him to succeed or terrified he’d lose.”

“An original and interesting story with well developed characters and settings.”

“I loved it, loved the connection to the music, as I play piano myself, although far from concert standard, and I liked that a piano could be so loved that it had a name.”

Sonata of Elsie Lenore is a delightfully original work.”

“I found the passages of technical description of piano restoration fascinating and the settings in Cuba vivid and engaging.”

“The climax is splendidly effective.”

With humility and gratitude, I extend thanks to the team of anonymous readers around the world for endorsing Elsie Lenore. In this unprecedented year of 2020, in which the arrival of a deadly virus ground all our usual activities to a halt, it’s hard to focus on once-upon-a-different-time hopes and dreams.

And then there was the 2020 election. After the vicious campaigning, the uncertain and contested election results, the realization that we are more divided than ever before, this little award is a breath of fresh air. Perhaps we all could use a little diversion right now.

But then we must move forward and synthesize a new future if we are to survive the chaos, the crisis, the hatred, and division which plagues the world at the present time.

If you are looking for good books to read, note those adorned with the IndieBRAG seal. And be sure to leave reviews to support the work of those of us who plunge ahead, groping blindly, but with undying hope, to forge a new pathway into an unknown future. May the words of those with benevolent hearts find a way forward for all of Earth’s inhabitants.

 

 

Writing is Like Gardening

I was recently asked to share some tips on how to market an indie book such as mine. I admit marketing the books I’ve written is a big challenge for a reclusive person like me. Part of this endeavor is like gardening. First you prepare the garden plot, then you plant a few seeds.

How do you prepare the plot?

There is no better way to spread the word about your new book than to have folks tell others it is a page-turner. For this reason, it’s imperative to put your best efforts out there. Don’t release the book until every page, every paragraph and every sentence has been reviewed and polished by you and a team of readers you select.

Revise, revise and revise again. Tighten the prose. Make every word count.

Be willing to assist your friends in their writing also, giving good reviews for others in online avenues. Enter writing contests.  Receiving recognition for good writing can help spread the word.

Make your book stand out so that readers will tell others about it. The garden is ready. Plant a few seeds and see what happens.

Plant a seed. I notified groups of friends who may enjoy the book, my musical family and community, which extends around the world, as well as the writing community.

Plant a seed. I set up a blog to post memories about my writing journey, my book releases, and my life. In each relevant post I add links to the Amazon pages of my books so readers can access them instantly.

Plant a seed. A friend designed a banner to use as my cover photo on Facebook when the suspense novel was released.

Plant a seed. I started a mail Chimp account to share the news with my contacts.

Plant a seed. I scheduled a book release party in a local gallery and sent a press release to the local paper.

Invitations to present programs for others filtered in. Though I consider myself shy by nature my mantra when asked to share my books or my experience is “Never say no.” Unless I am already booked for their meeting date, I make myself available and put together a presentation that fits the theme of their meeting. To date, I have prepared and presented thirteen public programs, with two more on the calendar later this year.

Plant a seed. Alert for new ways to publicize the books, I was honored to present a sample of my work to Robin Macy at the Bartlett Arboretum earlier this spring. She had requested that I come tune an old piano at the Arb. (http://www.bartlettarboretum.com/) Coincidentally, she let me know that beloved folksinger John McCutcheon would be performing on the TreeHouse stage July 9. (https://www.folkmusic.com/)

Another seed: Since there is a significant sequence involving the Walnut Valley Festival in Sundrop Sonata in which McCutcheon is mentioned by name, I made plans to attend this event. I met him before the concert, shook his hand, and handed him a book.

Plant a seed. See if it grows.

Sometimes it takes courage for a recluse like me to even plant seeds. Courage, I learned at my home church last Sunday, means being true to your core. I am a writer at my core, and have always been. I’m a writer who loves pianos. This week at the national convention of the Piano Technician’s Guild in St. Louis, I pinned my writer’s business card to my technician name tag. (http://my.ptg.org/2017convention/home)

A little seed. Perhaps it will grow.

Writing is like gardening. First prepare your very best work. Then plant a few seeds. It’s an adventure to see what might grow from those seeds. Follow the leads and see where your journey takes you.

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