Sunday, September 29, 2013

My Mentor, My Hero, My Grandmother

My Grandmother was an amazing woman. She was a fabulous cook, a wonderful seamstress, a caring mother and grandmother, a woman full of spunk and moxy. She was generous with her time and her heart. She was the glue that held our family together. 

Norma Jean Lancaster was born March 9, 1930 in a small Utah town called Crescent. Crescent doesn't even exist anymore, that's how small it was.  I knew that she had attended the University of Utah. I remember my Mom telling me that in those days, progressive Utah women went to college to meet their husbands. What I didn't know until just recently is that she was also there studying Fashion Design. My Mom told me stories about how when she was a little girl, she found sketch books where my Grandma had drawn pictures of models with beautiful clothes on them. I wish I could have seen those.

Anyway, It was there in college that she met my Grandfather, Clarence Kay Robison. They were married on September 7th, 1950. Two years later, my Mother was born. Then came two more children. My Grandmother was the textbook woman of the 50's and 60's. She cooked all the meals, kept the house, planned the holiday parties, socialized with her girlfriends. I wish I could have seen those days. I imagine her in a fabulous party dress with a martini and a cigarette, lipstick on, hair done, gossiping with the ladies. I've always had a fond place in my heart for that era.

I've said that Grandma was the glue that held our family together and no statement could be truer. Every holiday, we would all gather together to share meals and memories at Grandma and Grandpa's house. Thanksgiving was always a huge, traditional spread. Christmas would be a buffet style party. There would always be a plate of spiced apple rings. I knew they were supposed to be for everyone, but mostly, they were for me. My mother, brother and I would spend the night at their home on Christmas eve and wake up Christmas morning to a mountain of gifts under their artificial, yet super classy, white Christmas tree. Grandma would always tuck little hidden surprises into our gifts, like money hiding in a pocket of a new coat or the drawer of a new jewelry box. We'd throw our wrapping paper into the basement stairwell and Grandpa would start a fire to burn it all up. I loved climbing down the stairs through that huge pile of paper and bows.

When I was 5 or 6 years old, Grandma started making clothes for my baby dolls. At Christmas time, I would get a huge box full of all these wonderful outfits she'd made. Matching skirts, jackets, tops, dresses, bloomers,  you name it. When I was a little older she started to make Barbie clothes. Imagine how difficult it would be to produce a tiny ball gown for a doll like Barbie on your sewing machine. When I was a teenager, Grandma started making clothes for porcelain dolls. I know it was something she loved to do. I imagine she was probably sad when I grew out of the doll phase.  To this day, I still have all of those clothes. My own daughter plays with them. That is how well they were made. I look at those clothes now, and learn so much about tailoring and attention to detail.

Grandma also made clothes for me. At the time, I hated that. I hated being the only kid in school who couldn't wear name brands. It took me a long time to realize the amount of time and love it took for her to make those clothes for me. She tried so hard to make them trendy too. I remember in third grade, I had a pair of black parachute pants that she'd made. We also called them M.C. Hammer pants. I remember playing outside on a windy day and nearly flying off like a kite in those pants. I did finally have the wisdom to realize that those clothes were one of her ways of caring for me. I asked her to make a special dress for me, for a school dance. It was the only time that I went with her to pick out fabric. I picked out a dusty rose colored, moire fabric. I believe that was my first time in a fabric store. I got into trouble for wearing that dress to the dance. One of the teachers scolded me for wearing a dress that fancy to a simple school dance. But I didn't care. I loved that dress.
Time flew by and when I was 19 years old I'd made some bad decisions in life. I'd moved in with my Grandparents to get away from a bad relationship. I lived in the basement for about 6 months. I remember waking up one morning and going up stairs for breakfast to find Grandma eating a piece of cake. I thought that was the craziest thing at the time. I asked her why she was eating cake for breakfast and she said, "Because I am almost 70 and I do what I want." That was her! She was "YOLO'ing" before it was cool.

I moved away shortly after that and met the man who would become my husband. He was involved in an historical re-creation society and I wanted to impress him by making myself a French Cotehardie. I bought a pattern for the dress that was to be made with ELEVEN yards of fabric and cut on the bias. Until that time, I had only sewn small projects and never anything from a pattern. I didn't even know how to read a pattern. As I sat on the floor, nearly buried under all that fabric, trying to sort out the pattern, almost in tears I decided to call my Grandma for help. I told her what I was doing and her response was shocked silence. I informed her that I didn't even know what a selvage was and she burst into laughter. Somehow, even though we were hundreds of miles apart, she helped me through that project.

DH(who was still DBF at the time) and I flew down to Utah on September 10th, 2001 so that I could introduce him to my family. We stayed in my old basement room. We woke up on the morning of the 11th to find the country in the midst of that horrible disaster. I was grateful to be with my family during that terrifying time. I remember Grandpa saying, "Well, we're at war." and Grandma's response was, "Yep. What would you like for breakfast." They'd lived through some terrible times already. It wasn't that they didn't care, it was that they were seasoned to it, in a way.

 A few months later my Grandmother had a stroke. She spent some time in the hospital and some time in a care facility, but ultimately my Grandfather took her home to care for her. She was paralyzed on one side and had a difficult time with speech. I was devastated when she got sick. I wanted to do something for her, but I was living far away. I decided to make her a doll. I made a small doll with red hair and even made a little outfit for her. When she got it, she named it Rebecca. She told my mom that the doll looked like the gal who was helping my Grandpa care for her.

DH and I got married on September 13, 2003. We flew to Las Vegas for our Honeymoon and on the way there we had a 2 hour layover in Salt Lake City, where my Grandparents lived. I remember wishing that we could have left the airport to go and visit them. I hadn't seen Grandma since she'd gotten sick. On October 2, 2003 I received a call from my Aunt that Grandma had passed. I hung up the phone and wailed for an hour. I felt so guilty that I hadn't been able to say goodbye. My husband has a very different way of dealing with death. He told me I shouldn't be sad. She was in a better place. He said, "Don't worry. She'll come back as a dragonfly." There was no reason for him to say that and it was very unlike him to say such a thing, but somehow it was very comforting.

My Mom and I drove down to SLC to help Grandpa with the house and the funeral arrangements. A lot of our family had gathered together for the funeral so it was like a big reunion. Even though she was gone, Grandma was still bringing us all together. Mormon families traditionally have a funeral and a big feast called a wake so that everyone can get a chance to pay their respects. It was a long process of grieving and remembering. I met so many cousins and friends of the family. It was amazing to see so many people brought together in her memory. When we finally laid her to rest in the cemetery, I felt like I didn't have anymore tears to cry. I sang a botched up job of Amazing Grace as they lowered her casket. I sat down next to my mom and the next thing we knew there was this HUGE beautiful dragonfly, flying around her grave. There was no water anywhere nearby so it was unusual to have a dragonfly there at the cemetery. I had told my mom what DH had said about the dragonfly and we both burst into tears of joy. Every time we see an out of place dragonfly now we say, "Hi Grandma."

Since my Grandmothers passing, I have tried to take on Grandma's role. Family dinners sort of became my thing. Bringing everyone together for the holidays, cooking a big meal, I always feel like I am channeling Grandma. I have had to self teach pretty much everything I've learned about sewing, cooking, crafting, parenting. But every time I have a success I feel like Grandma is watching over me, guiding my hand and laughing at my mistakes. This time of year is exceptionally difficult because the anniversary of her death is close by. Its been ten years since the world lost a great woman and our family lost the glue that bound us together. I am using her lessons daily to create that bonded feeling for my own little family.

Every time I help my daughter dress her dollies up in one of the items Grandma made, I get a little bit sad that I was never able to tell her how much I appreciated all of her hard work. I hope that when I am making new doll clothes for my daughter and for other little girls that Grandma is getting the message that I truly loved all of those personal touches and I've learned so much from her.

I can tell that my emotions are making it very difficult for me to finish this blog post. So I'll end it now by putting this out there. I love you Grandma! My little Bug would have loved you so much! I am so grateful for all of the lessons you've taught me. I hope I've made you proud by following in your footsteps. Now, I'm going to go eat a piece of cake in your honor.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Necessity is the Mother of awesome recipes in the kitchen!

So, I wasn't going to post again until I write the piece about my Grandmother, but I made such an amazing dinner tonight that I had to share with you all (i.e. three friends and a handful of family. . . but whose counting? Oh yeah me!)!

Earlier today my daughter wanted to make soft pretzels. I love them and they are a fun thing for us to cook up together in the kitchen so I said what the heck, lets do it! Well the soft pretzel recipe makes 12 fairly large, buttery, delicious, warm, salty, chewy pretzels. Are you drooling? I am! After our snacking, we had a bunch of leftover pretzels that I didn't want to waste. I was thinking, why don't I just make some sort of sandwich with these! I had planned on making stuffed squash for dinner tonight, but failed to get my shopping done yesterday. I had the ground beef thawed already, so I ventured to the fridge for inspiration.

Remember the other night I made that Oktoberfest stew (which was so delish BTW)? Well  I had a half head of cabbage leftover. We generally only eat cabbage in March so I don't cook with it often, but I didn't want to waste it. So I grabbed that and an onion, some grainy mustard, some garlic and some apple cider vinegar. The result was a phenomenal, loose meat sandwich with a distinctively German theme! I threw some thinly sliced potatoes into my fry daddy for some homemade potato chips to serve on the side and voila! (or the German equivalent) Dinner was served!

One other thing I wanted to tell you all before I give you the recipe: I am sorry that I don't have awesome, step by step photos of all my posts. I wish I did, but in all honesty I don't have very good lighting in my house for photos. I love the look of a brightly lit, well focused, food shot. But I often wonder if these people only cook at 2 o'clock in the afternoon! Its never that bright in my kitchen at dinner time! And even when it is, my photos still come out sub-par and I'd rather you used your imagination to see my food in your mind than look at a crappy pic. But I digress so, without further ado I give you:

Oktoberfest Loosemeat Pretzel Sandwichs

1lb ground beef
1 medium onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 head of cabbage, halved again and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1tsp ground mustard
1tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
1/2 cup German beer (I only had Blue Moon on hand, but it was great)
2tbsp Apple cider vinegar
Stone Ground Mustard

Brown beef in a skillet over medium heat until cooked through. Drain off fat. Toss in onions and cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until just translucent. Mix in the ground mustard, salt and pepper. Add the cabbage and mix well, stirring until cabbage starts to soften. Add the beer and cover to allow the cabbage to steam for about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cover the pan again. Stir occasionally. Keep cooking until your cabbage is nice and soft and reduced in size. You'll know its done cooking when its translucent and there no longer seems to be more cabbage than beef. Just before serving, stir in the vinegar.

Slice the pretzel rolls in half and put a spiral of stone ground mustard on both halves. Spoon your desired amount of meat onto the bottom of the roll and squish the top on. Serve and enjoy! Its a messy sandwich, similar to a sloppy joe but without all the sauce. You may need a fork! We each had one sandwich and have enough leftover for lunch tomorrow! YAY!

Here is a link to the recipe I used for my pretzels.
Okay, so this pic turned out pretty good. But its just the pretzel.
Rather than making them very long and thin, like mall pretzels; I made tight, thick knots so that they would be more "roll like". Feel free to comment if you have any questions. If you try my recipe, I'd love to hear what you thought! If you chose to blog about it, please link back to me!
Ein Prosit!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ten amazing years!

Hello my dears! I am sorry that I've been absent. Its been a very busy couple of weeks where in I finished a big project for a friend, cooked many wonderful meals, mourned and remembered our fallen patriots and celebrated the tenth anniversary of the day I married my husband!
Handfasting Ceremony
Taken overlooking Big Bear Lake, Sept 13, 2013.

September 13th, 2003. It was a beautiful North Idaho day. I woke early, my stomach full of butterflies and anticipation. My soon-to-be-husband had spent the night away in the old tradition. He had his own preparations to attend to. We had spent the last six months planning our wedding down to the last detail. We wanted a ceremony that was both magical and meaningful. We had written all of our vows together and composed the whole ceremony.

Our wedding took place outdoors, on a cliff overlooking Lake Pend Orielle. The skies were clear and deep blue. The wind was mild. My beau had built a beautiful, cedar arbor that we would stand under to exchange our vows. We had chosen music from our favorite movies to be played throughout the ceremony. Everything was perfect! Bald Eagles dipped into the lake to catch their dinner. Several deer pranced around the grass. To this day, we still look back in awe of how wonderful our day was.

This past weekend, we were able to have a very romantic getaway at Big Bear Lake, California. We rented a tiny cabin, went kayaking on the lake, when antique shopping, sat in a hot tub under the stars, slept until 10am. It was great! Such a wonderful way to rekindle our love.

I am making our Sunday dinner while I write this post. Oktoberfest Lager Stew, from this recipe:
And I am taking down notes to prepare a very important blog post about my personal hero, my Grandmother Norma. I want to make sure I give this post the attention it deserves so it may be a few days in preparation.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Life throws a few curve balls

Hello lovelies! Last week, I had planned to give you all a few great recipes and a tutorial. Mother nature had other plans, however. You see, I live in the High Mojave Desert in an area that frequently sees 110° weather and rarely sees any precipitation. Last week though, we had monsoon weather come through from tropical storm Ivo (I think that's what it was called) which created a flash flood. The ground could not absorb the water fast enough and so it all just picked up and moved. Seriously, our whole town was decimated. The building where my roller derby team skates was filled with two feet of water, sand and mud. Many buildings were flooded, trees ripped out of the ground, parks are now devoid of sand and full of large boulders and sharp rocks, streets were filled with mud and debris, wild animals were displaced from their natural habitats and took up residence in peoples back yards. It was a mess.

I live on a military installation and so we were lucky enough to have our own "built in response team". It was really great to see soldiers and families banding together to clean up the streets and repair buildings. The elementary school was hit hardest of all. Soldiers worked day and night to clear out a barracks and relocate the entire school so that the kids would only be out of their classrooms for a few days. Unfortunately, the State came in and told us that the buildings were not up to their standards so all that work was for naught. Still, it was great to see the response time.

So, here we were, recovering from this massive flood and then what happens next? A storm blows through town about 100 miles away and knocks over two power poles which feed our post with electricity. In this 100° plus heat, we were now without power for over 24 hours. This is actually the third time this year we've experienced these outages. Let me tell you how much fun it is to have no electricity when its hot as Hades. . . its not. There are many people who are well suited to live through crisis with a smile on there face and a wonderful plan for weathering the storm (as it were). I. Am. Not. That. Person. Beast-mode kicks in and I get very irritable. I tried my best to keep a happy face, for my daughter at least. We made origami butterflies and played dolls and puzzles. The heat became too much so we retreated to my car where we could languish in the AC.

My weekly meal plan pretty much went out with the power outage and we had to improvise, so I have no recipes for you. I did however make a really cute little diaper bag and set of accessories for my Bug from this fun tutorial:
Here is Bug modeling her new bag. I'll post pics of the rest of the items when I get them all finished up. I had to hand sew the diapers when the power went out. I was lucky to have just finished the bag right before the lights went out. I still need to make a changing pad, a few more diapers and some bibs. So far, Bug is thrilled with her new toys! Her baby dolls, Luke and Leia are very happy too.