Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Smell of Fresh Baked Bread

(Looking out over the Wisconsin channel of the Mississippi River, my grandparent's porch)

Last night a friend, @jenmontfort, posted a wonderful photo of her grandmother's recipe drawer along with one of a cookbook her grandmother had put together. We had a lovely chat discussing our respective grandmother's recipes, how lucky we were to have these culinary treasures, the notations they made by certain dishes...and then we got to bread. Fresh, amazing, homemade bread. I could sense we both had the same kind of ecstatic memories when it came to our grandmother's delightful, soft, delicious, fresh out of the oven, loaves of love. *Literally, picture the classic cartoon image of someone floating helplessly toward a heavenly scent...that's how good my grandmother's homemade bread smelled.*

I make a number of recipes that were my grandmother's. Her coleslaw, her pie crust, her cookies, her rhubarb custard pie...all special taste memories that I really enjoy recreating. My cousins do too, from what I can tell, we have reminisced many times about the special cakes or pies that Grandma K made for us on our birthdays or how she'd always send cookies home with us. My grandmother's pineapple rolls, pecan rolls, and cherry turnovers were always among the first to go at the Rosary Society bake sales at the Immaculate Conception Church in Fountain City, Wisconsin.

What none of us have ever really mastered, however, is her bread. And make no mistake, bread was a staple in their home--there was no low-carb or carb-free diet at grandma's. In the morning there was toast, on the lunch table--along with pickles, some kind of meat and vegetables--there was a stack of sliced bread; on the dinner table, the same. I can't imagine how many times a week she baked, but there were always pies and cookies in the freezer and fresh bread on the table. And there was always a little something sweet for dessert--maybe a dream bar, or apple crisp; a raspberry pie with cream cheese on the bottom (that was her special treat for me); or a few of her frosted sugar cookies that we all called "Grandma Cookies."

Several times when I was quite young I remember "helping" her (read as: likely being in her way) but as a teenager--and for many years after--the thought of cooking, let alone baking bread was WAY off my radar. But the sensory memories of her baking have never left me. This bread was so important that I once Fed-Exed it overnight to a boyfriend to show him how incredible my baking lineage was--a complete ruse, really, but I know he gobbled the bread appreciatively nonetheless. Thankfully he's never asked me to make good on those bread baking skills in the years since then.

I've had a few wondrous, "choirs-of-angels" bread related experiences--the fresh baguettes on Rue Lepic in Paris, a pain de compagne that was part of an unforgettable picnic at Pointe du Hoc, a little sourdough boule that I tore at while walking the ramparts in St. Malo--so I hold a good loaf in the highest of esteem. But no loaf, boule, or baguette will ever come close to the warm, crusty, loaves of love that were served up daily on that little table, in the small kitchen, with the picture window overlooking the mighty Mississippi River.

Someday I will make a loaf of bread worthy of the memory of Viola. It wont be in the well-worn loaf pans she used, and I don't have a radiator to put the large aluminum bowl on to speed the rising process of the dough...but maybe in my own small way (with reasonable expectations) I can recreate my own little slice of heaven.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Long Gone (but not forgotten)

I'm essentially a nostalgia junkie. For all my attachment to my beloved BlackBerry and MacBook Pro, one of my most prized possessions is my table-top Victrola. The 78 rpm records that spin on the green felted turntable are a little scratchy and they are easily broken. (Just ask my father who, as a teen, used them for discus practice in his back yard...that way he "always broke a record."I kid you not.) But the sound that comes out the doors of this beautiful little gem is unlike any other music you'll hear. In all honestly I'd much rather hear Benny Goodman or either of the Dorsey brothers--scratches and all--on a 78 than on some luxe Bose sound machine.

Anyway, the other evening I was spinning tunes on the Victrola (Les Paul and Mary Ford's Tiger Rag played more than once...) I got to thinking of all the things that were once taken for granted as stable and long lasting and now are no more. Whether it is a job or profession or an electronic appliance, the obsolescence rate is a little overwhelming when you really stop to think about it. And as industries and our way of life change, what we embrace of the new and what we choose to cling to of the old becomes more and more difficult to decide upon. 

I know this is not terribly groundbreaking thought here, but it really did hit me...between my Victrola--which would have been a staple in many if not most homes throughout the early years of the 20th century--and some of the photographs I've taken lately I was reminded by how cyclical our world is. 

Drive by any strip mall or, much more sadly, any Main Street in much of the country and see how many buildings and storefronts are empty. And as industry moves to other countries and leaves a community completely, there are large campuses that will be let to go to seed if someone else can't find a way to utilize them. It is the way of the world and I understand that. And not everything that we're losing needs or deserves to be saved, I fully understand that as well. But contemplating how to move forward and embrace the new without shunning the best of the old is a tricky bit of navigating.

My photographs from yesterday's post show the ruin of what was once a bustling part of port life on the Hudson River. Today they stand as a reminder to a way of life that once was...but one which would make very little sense to many of us today. 

And a the photographs that follow are of a similar nature. These places are long gone...but I think still worthy of consideration.

The two photographs above are of the Harlem Valley State Hospital (top) and Wingdale Prison power plant (The Sing-Sing Country Club.) Part of the campus was a state hospital for the insane and part of it was used as a prison facility for the "criminally" insane. A kindly State Trooper was good enough to share this info with me (as I was nearly trespassing) and then I of course researched it a little further when I got home. The campus is quite something and the buildings, which mostly seem to have been built ca1910-1920s have some wonderful details to them. Here's a great link with more details and some great vintage postcard views: http://harlemvalley.org/wingdale/

This is about all that remains of Pier 54 in NYC where the survivors of the Titanic, aboard the RMS Carpathia, disembarked. If you enlarge the photo you can see where White Star and Cunard painted signage overlap. This is also the pier where the Lusitania left from, so there is a lot of great history here. Another link to a little more detailed info: http://www.atlanticliners.com/pier_54.htm

And finally, since I'm a little obsessed with iron work (as with the remaining piece of Pier 54), this is a little piece of highway to nowhere. New Yorker's will recognize it because there are sports fields and courts underneath it on the UWS. I love the graceful sweeping arches and the play of light and shadow.
Driving past the Harlem Valley campus or past an abandoned farm or estate always makes me wonder about the people who lived and worked there, their stories. All these ruins once contributed to a community and served a population...today, they are shells and remnants. I can't help but wonder what pillars of our community, what places we depend on today will end up like this. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On the River...

At various times during the course of the year I find myself thinking of my former days in NYC. On balmy summer days there was nothing lovelier than heading out to Riverside Park and having a long walk along the Hudson--often with the promise of a stop for ice cream or a treat at the Boat Basin Cafe. Along one section of the Hudson River Greenway bike and walking paths are some spectacular ruins, and if you've stopped by here before, you KNOW I love a good ruin.

Archival photos of the Hudson show what a hard working river it has always been and I'm just glad it's coming back as a river and a gathering place for good, healthy outdoor fun.

So in keeping with my theme of pictures being worth a thousand words...here's a few photos of that unique industrial ruin...and yes, I had a little fun with the CameraBag app filters.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

If a picture is worth a thousand words...

Then I hope this post (3 photos= 3000 words, right?) will make up for my month long absence.

The muse of the written word has left me for more verdant pastures so I've spent some time messing about with old photos in CameraBag and Photoshop applications. The words will be brief, but hope you enjoy my futzing with filters.

This first installment is from an ESPN advertising campaign that was up all over NYC ca 2003 or so...I loved the images and was again reminded of the power that sport can have to bring us together.

Nice to be back...I've missed you all!