One of the things that came to me from my mom’s “estate” – the few possessions that were left when she died some fifteen years ago – was her recipe box. I’m not sure why I got it because I’m not the best cook in the world. Mom would have been amused.  On the other hand, she had already given me her precious bread board, along with her ancient cast iron frying pan and Dutch oven, so at least she knew I had a love for the historical. Anyway, I recently had occasion to pull the box out of my cupboard a few weeks ago when I was searching for her recipe for corn bread.

          Corn bread (or as we called it, Johnny cake) was an integral part of one of my favorite meals growing up in South Buffalo. It would start with Mom cooking an old stewing hen in our stove’s deep well burner, which was a regular back burner sunken into the inside of the stove. An aluminum pot with a cover fit down into it and it was great for cooking soups and stews. The hen would cook for hours and hours. And hours. The resultant tender chicken was made into chicken fricassee one night and all of the broth became chicken soup for another meal. We loved both, but the soup was my favorite. Served with the Johnny cake, it was hearty fare for a cold winter’s night.

          When my husband and I were first married, it quickly became evident that I was to be the chief cook and bottle washer. Still am the chief cook, too. (For the record, though, the deal is, if one guy cooks, the other cleans up. “But I don’t cook,” he protests. “Exactly,” I say. And so he does the bottle washing. Also the pots and pans, etc.) So I cooked the chicken and put the meat away for another meal, then made chicken soup with vegetables and noodles, just like my mom. For some reason, we never had actual chicken meat in our soup. I also made some johnny cake, warm and slathered with butter. And I served it to my husband. And he ate it. Enjoyed it. Smacked his lips and asked, “What’s for dinner?” 

          “What’s for dinner?” I repeated. “That is dinner.”

          In all fairness, this was a guy who ate four sandwiches for lunch. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that my “dinner” came off as an appetizer. 

          All this came back to me in a rush as I sorted through my mom’s metal recipe box. Times having changed a bit and us getting older, the classic soup and corn bread meal is now perfectly okay. Even preferred. I found the slip of paper tucked in with clippings from the Buffalo Evening News and handwritten recipes for Baked Cheese and Shrimp (Ruth Holmwood), Chicken Divan (Nell Fitzgerald) and Quick Oatmeal Cookies (Susie Butler Hoak). I do know Susie, but the not the others. Nevertheless, I imagine they’d like to know that their legacy lives on.

I stared at the johnny cake recipe for a moment. It was written in Mom’s own hand, so like my own, and had a big ink blot at the corner. I grinned as I suddenly wondered if anyone even knew what an ink blot was anymore. And then I thought of my own recipe collections—at least the current ones, which are computer printouts stuck in an office file keeper on the counter along with some directories and other odds and ends of paper. How sad, I thought, that we may be seeing the last of handwritten recipe cards. If I want someone’s recipe, it will most often show up in an email or a link to Allrecipes.com. Sure, it works, but it’s not quite the same, is it?

Another thought is that recipes have changed over the years. They’ve been sliced, riced, diced into mere shadows of their former selves in an effort to remove all trace of fat, sugar and salt. And often, taste. Good for most things, I guess, but sometimes if it ain’t broke, it’s probably a sin to try and fix it.

          A few years ago, I was at our daughter’s house for Thanksgiving, ready to make my famous pumpkin muffins, courtesy of my tattered and stained Betty Crocker cookbook. Suddenly, I realized I’d forgotten to bring either the book or a copy of the recipe. No problem, I thought. I’ll just go online and get it at the Betty Crocker web site. Well, they did have a recipe, all right, but it was a poor substitute. It, too, had been “perfected.” Now I don’t take any chances. I have it on my iPod, my iPad and my computer. And I still have the cookbook, too. 

          Maybe we ought to have a national Send a Recipe Day, and what better time to do it would be just before Thanksgiving? I am going right now to the kitchen and write out my pumpkin muffin recipe and send it to someone. Not sure who, at the moment. But there are plenty of people who will be glad to get it. On second thought, maybe I’ll send a few. Are you with me?

          Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


          The sun has a little different slant these days. The air is crisper, reminiscent of a bite into an off-the-tree Cortland apple. I’ve pulled out my heavy wool socks as a buffer against the morning’s chill on the floors. Turtlenecks and flannel shirts aren’t far behind. And my heavy wool sweaters that I sometimes even wear to bed. From Lower Bear Lake comes the excited honking of Canada geese, gathering for their migration south or maybe just the bird world version of Octoberfest.  The calendar confirms it. Autumn is upon us.

          It’s a beautiful season, really. We love taking trips to Monroe’s Orchard and picking the last of the tomatoes off the wild tangle of plants in our own garden. Sometimes I think we have way too many, but then in a few days, I worry that we won’t have enough. I tried drying some of the smaller varieties to add to pasta dishes and that was fun. I’m hoping for a taste of summer in January.

          I’m cranking up my knitting with visions of toasty cowls and fingerless gloves and maybe a couple of caps to tug over my ears when the freezing breezes blow. I curl up on the couch (Yes, Mom, I still sit on my feet. Sorry. You may have been right. I’ll never be a lady.) and let the stitches fly from one needle to the next, watching the finished product appear under my hands. Sometimes, if the pattern isn’t too complicated, I plug in my MP3 and listen to an audio book while I work. There’s a special rhythm to this craft—knit one, and as my friend Janie says, purl a prayer. Lots of stitches, lots to pray and give thanks for.

          Leaves are starting to change to a riotous display of color and eventually to drop to earth. It’s almost a seasonal rite with me to go out and scuffle my feet through them. I like hearing them crunch underfoot. Or I’ll scoop up a big armload and just toss them up in the air. They rain down on my head and I laugh as they snag on my hair and my sweater and I feel like a kid again.

          There’s plenty of fireplace wood out there at the edge of the wood. Only problem is, it’s in huge chunks, leftover from our 2012 toppled tree summer.  A few we kept for seating around the bonfire pit, but it’s a small dent in the largesse.  Guess we better find someone with a splitter.

          Mr. Tree, the huge beech at the end of our drive, is laden with nuts. The squirrels are going to be sitting pretty come winter. Mr. Tree is getting up there in age and his leaf-covered limbs stretch out many feet, even spanning the driveway. He looks quite handsome in the snow, too, not that I’m too eager at the moment for that scene.

          Thanksgiving is around the corner—one of my absolute favorite holidays. Nobody complains about Thanksgiving. Nobody. Oh, you may get a few worrisome types who insist on counting calories, and I don’t think turkeys themselves are too enamored about it, but there’s no horribly long lead-up to the day and afterwards, the entire holiday just sort of morphs into a plethora of turkey casseroles and bowls of turkey soup. 

          So raise your cup of hot mulled cider on high! Here’s to the glory of an Indian summer day and a harvest moon and the end to lawn cutting and the lighting of the first fire in the fireplace and the bounty of the earth!


                This is a requiem. And a welcome.
                It’s not often you find someone you can rely on. Someone who will see you through thick and thin, ups and downs, ins and outs, winter, spring, summer and fall, all you gotta do is call. (A little James Taylor riff here)  For 15 years, this Friend was my little 1998 Honda Civic. 

                It wasn’t much, as cars go. The biggest improvement it had over my previous wheels was an intermittent windshield wiper. The windows needed to be cranked, the key used to get in and start it, the locks engaged when I pushed them down. And it had a tape player that handled the audio versions of all seven books of the Harry Potter series a few years ago.  And it was a stick shift.

                I never got a speeding ticket in that car. I guess it never attracted the law’s attention as, say, a red Corvette. And there were only two minor accidents to the body, not the inner workings. Hey, I even had the same license plate for all 15 years!

                One of the Honda’s first passengers was my mom. I think we went to Ted’s Hot Dogs in Buffalo. It was one of Mom’s favorite spots. She liked the car and must have blessed it with a taste of her own longevity. They both had a lot in common with the Energizer Bunny. Mom passed away that fall at the age of 97; the car just kept going and going.

                A few weeks ago, however, upon my return from the Northwest, I got in my car and turned the key. There was this horrible screeching sound and stinky white smoke erupted from the tailpipe. It settled down and I almost took it on my errand when I noticed the battery light on. That seemed ominous, so I decided not to chance it. When I talked with our car guys, they said it was probably the alternator belt. And it was, along with what I suspected were some brake issues. I’d been pouring some serious cash into repairs during the past year, so despite the fact that it only had 130,000 miles and still got over 30 mpg fuel,  I decided the time had come to get something more reliable and went shopping. Of course, my first choice was a Honda Civic.

                I don’t know what I expected a 2013 Honda Civic to be like, but it wasn’t what I faced when I got in one to take a test drive. The dashboard lit up like Cedar Point on the summer night. Lucky I had my sunglasses on. In those fifteen years, things had changed a bit. Talk about bells and whistles—and they’re all standard. I drove, I liked, I got. Like my old car, it’s a stick shift and a good thing it is, too. It gives me something to do. I hope it has the same staying power.

                Someone else saw the good in my old car, though, and snapped it up. He’s a car mechanic and I’ve no doubt will keep my old friend going another fifteen years. It may be gone, but will never be forgotten.