More  Garlic,  Please

Is there any kitchen aroma more appetizing than sliced onions,  green peppers and freshly minced garlic sauteing in olive oil? Throw in some chopped tomatoes and just about anything else you want and you’ve created a feast fit for the gods. Call it whatever you wish,  pasta or pizza sauce, or, with the pasta added in it might be goulash, Johnny Marzetti, or All-American casserole. Add beans and you have the base for chili, taco soup and a variety of ethnic foods. Savory spices are a must  and there you have it, you’ve turned out a dish that can’t be beat.

The secret, of course, is to use more than enough onions and green peppers (for maximum flavor use only the green ones) and a whole lot of fresh garlic.  The fragrance alone will pull people in off the streets or, worst case scenario, drive them away permanently.

Before I retired from my kitchen due to advanced age and infirmities,  my claim to fame was my personal guarantee that I could give anybody heartburn.  They’d also get lectured on the health benefits to be gained from my favorites. Garlic is especially rich in nutrients.

Growing up in the upper Midwest,  I learned to cook from my mother, grandma and many aunts, all of whom were remembered as excellent cooks.  I dutifully followed their methods: Onions? Sure, daringly dicing up as much as a whole teaspoonful for a recipe; Green peppers? Well, maybe they’d risk a slice or two in a very few dishes; Garlic? are you kidding?  If they’d even heard of it they knew no one used it but the newest Americans and you couldn’t get near them for the lingering after-smell. Admittedly, second hand garlic odor can be pretty pungent unless you eat it too, in self defense.

Marrying into a family of equally good cooks, I felt right at home with my few skills until I got out into the world and realized what a difference a few spices and my three new favorites made in a meal. True, I was inclined to go overboard for a while there, and went through quite a few food fads.

My kids accused me at one time of never feeding them anything but liver and brussels sprouts. This was back in the day when liver was known to be good for us  because of the iron content. I still like brussels sprouts, sorry, kids. My cooking was already being liberally flavored with onions, green peppers and garlic, but sometimes enough is enough.

My husband was always up for anything  and went along with most of my fads, being as fond of the big three veggies as I was.  Garlic being his favorite, but even he had his limits. I recall a time when I was in the throes of my  “only the healthiest of basic foods” kick. Our meals began to get a little boring and monotonous.

One evening, after sampling everything on his plate, he stood up from the table, walked over to the sink and scraped the whole mess into the disposal without saying a word.

I guess a bowlful of mixed dark green leaves, with eight or more chopped veggies added, including my Big Three, as I now called them, splashed with a little balsamic vinegar, couldn’t really be called a salad.  Plain poached chicken breasts didn’t do a whole lot either for a man who grew up on breaded, deep -fried everything. I always had to learn my lessons the hard way.

Somewhere along the way, I’d been gifted with a clever little domed pottery garlic cooker to be used in the microwave. I hadn’t had a chance to try it out yet when that dear man decided to experiment without my knowledge.

We were in the habit of having Bloody Marys with a group of friends on Sunday mornings, taking turns in each others’ homes, followed by brunch in a favorite restaurant.  The gang was arriving at our place one Sunday as usual. I assumed my busy-body husband was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on the drinks as everyone got seated.

He did make a mean Bloody Mary and was just passing them around when a tremendous explosion from the kitchen had us all jumping out of our seats. Fortunately we had the the vodka to calm our nerves  as we looked around in confusion.

He’d decided to try out the garlic cooker,  hadn’t bothered to read the instructions, and put the biggest bulb he could find in the microwave, turned it on full blast  and come in to pass out drinks. It turned out that he should have sliced the bulb open across the top first so each clove was free to steam as it cooked.

The microwave was full of pottery shards and garlic shreds clinging to every surface, top, sides and inside the glass door.  The smell was overwhelming, to say the least. He spent most of the afternoon cleaning up the mess. The odor lingered for days.

So it is possible to get too much garlic.  For normal purposes, though, nothing can take the place of my 3 favorite veggies, onions, green peppers and extra garlic simmering away on the back burner as I open a bottle of pinot noir.  I do miss it, smell and all.

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The Happiest Love Songs

(A belated Valentine to all of you and a favorite re-run)

“Love, Love, Hooray For Love,  Who Was Ever Too Blase For Love?”

Love songs should all be happy.  You want to belt them out with so much energy and enthusiasm  that everyone joins in. They never get old.

Thinking back to the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s,  who could ever forget a song like “Hooray For Love?”  The lyrics were written by the great Harold Arlen, who also wrote a little something called “Over The Rainbow.”  The second line in “Hooray For Love,” “Who Was Ever Too Blase For Love?” has to be one of the most delightful lines in popular music. The imagination that wrote the word “blase”  into a love song and made it work is what made Arlen such a great songwriter.

There were so many other talented  songwriters of that era . We can all recall  Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin,  Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart, and Oscar Hammerstein,  and the list goes on. They turned out one unforgettable song after another.

Maybe it was the times,  the Great Depression, followed by  World War Two, that gave us such an appreciation for simple, joyous music. The promise of sunshine and silver linings ahead kept us going through a lot of very dark days.  Whatever the reason, those songwriters knew how to cheer up an entire nation with their words and music. Funny, isn’t it, how the spirit of an era could be lifted by a few happy songs.

Remember  “Get Happy,”  “Old Black Magic,”  “Million Dollar Baby In The Five And Ten Cent Store,”  “You’re The Tops,” or “ It’s Delightful, It’s Delovely?”   and how about “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” ” You Are My Lucky Star,”  and “Fit As A Fiddle And Ready For Love?”

The smiles just kept coming.  Who could forget “ Oh, Mama, It’s The Butcher Boy For Me,”   “A Bushel And A Peck,” or “Buttons And Bows?” Some of the most memorable songs came out of World War Two,  such as “Jeepers Creepers,” and “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree.”

And what about the  happiest, most exuberant  love song of them all? Written in 1929 and made famous in 1952 with lyrics by Arthur Freed and music by Nacio Herb Brown,  it made every one of us want to run out, splash in rain puddles and swing around lampposts. As danced and sung by the one and only Gene Kelly,  “Singin’ In The Rain” has to be the most unforgettable, inspirational, lighthearted love song of all time.

If “Singin’ In The Rain”  doesn’t cheer you up, nothing will!!

“What A Wonderful Feeling To Be Happy Again!”

Auntie Jo’s Advice to the Aging Lovelorn

( February being the month for lovers, I decided to re-run my first and favorite  Auntie Jo story. Hope you enjoy it.)

Elder-amour,  is that a real expression or did I just make it up?   Whichever, it sounds good and love can be such a rewarding addition to the aging process.  It might sneak up on any of us at any age and when it’s returned, these later years of our lives will be enriched.  Auntie Jo, my all-knowing advice giver friend, has some suggestions for us.

But how do we tell what’s real  from a passing fancy? I have another friend, using the word loosely,  who latches on to any man who comes into her orbit like a Venus-Fly-Trap sensing life.  When he gets that deer-in-the-headlights look, it’s too late for him. Auntie Jo frowns on this.  He’s been hooked and the rest of us hardly had a chance to notice whether he had hair, chewed tobacco or wore white socks with his wing-tips.

As a boon for those of you ladies who are looking, but may not be as fast a worker as my friend, I’ve prepared a checklist of priorities:

#1 Does he still drive?

#2 Does he still drive the family sedan, circa 1998?  OR Is the ratio of dents to original paint overwhelming?  If either of these is true, and you value your life, drop the guy.

#3 If the answer to #1 is Yes, he still drives, and you feel daring or desperate enough to ignore #2, don’t hesitate to make your move, white socks or not.  It’s worth a try. Trust Auntie Jo.

In the interest of fairness I’d also like to present a list that you men can refer to, especially those of you who are Not Looking.  You can call it your “Keep-Out-Of-Jail” card.

If your idea of retirement revolves around a quiet evening in front of a fake fireplace, clad in your rattiest sweats and worn down slippers while you sip a single malt and enjoy a crime novel,  Forget It! You’ve already been scouted and appraised, and you need to be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.

Desperate measures are called for here, guys, and you have only two options open to you:

#1  You could consider entering a monastery, although they might not approve of the single malt.

OR:

#2  You can discreetly drop a few hints to the effect that you’re allergic to VIAGRA.

However, all of you, if you Are looking, and you Do spot your perfect target, (pardon me), choice, you might be out of practice, so bear in mind that a certain amount of decorum is called for.  Holding hands in public is good, it’s such a comforting thing to do, and it always gets an “Aw-w-w-w, How Sweet!” reaction from everyone. Auntie Jo highly approves!

Any moves beyond gently clasping your loved one’s gnarled fingers with your own are frowned upon and will bring into play an instant  “cringe” reaction from observers, not to mention scaring the BEEJABBERS out of any offspring who might be counting on an inheritance.  In other words, keep your best moves to yourselves. No hanky-panky in the corners or behind the potted palms.

If, after long and careful thought, you both agree to cohabitate, give yourselves plenty of time to adjust to having another person in your space. This is not as easy as it sounds.  Somehow, someway you find you’ve turned into a bit of a slob. Or just the opposite, your life is now ruled by O.C.D. Whatever has happened to you, your new partner is sure to have experienced the reverse.

One of you stands at the kitchen sink to eat lunch, digging peanut butter out of the jar and licking it off the spoon.  The other one still uses cloth placemats.

One of you flails all night and throws bedding around the room.  The other one carefully tucks the sheet under a double chin and doesn’t move until morning.

One of you wears the same outfit for 2 or 3 days in a row, finally discarding it in a wrinkled, smelly pile in the middle of the floor.  The other one changes 2 or 3 times a day, carefully putting the already worn clothes back on a hanger until it’s time to do laundry.

And so it goes.   It’s called adjustment and no matter how difficult it might be, or how long it takes, the results are more than worth the stress.  To those of you lucky enough to have found a new life together, I wish you only the best. Don’t let it bother you one little bit that Auntie Jo is sitting home alone, miserable and green with envy.

And so am I.

Questions We Should Have Asked

If we could go back in time,  would we change our lives? What changes would we make?  Would we do anything differently? How about conversations we might have had with our parents?  Our grandparents? What questions would we, or should we have asked them?

The more I puzzle over this,  the more confusing it becomes.  The biggest question of all, the most obvious one, would be, why didn’t I ask them 40, 50 or 60 years ago when I had the opportunity?  My only conclusion, children and young people are so self-involved we don’t look ahead much beyond ourselves until we begin to get older.

Instead of asking the big, important things like, how did they manage as small farm families in the late 1800s and early 1900s?  How did they personally cope with The War To End All Wars, as the first world war was known? What did they learn from it? What were their reactions to the everyday loss of life and loved ones?

Instead,  I’d probably ask them all the same questions,  light-weight and frivolous. I’d ask the personal questions, the nosy ones, the none-of-my-business ones that had never occurred to me to ask at the time.

How and when did they meet? Was it love at first sight?  Did their parents approve? How about their weddings? What did my mother wear?  My grandmothers? What were their long term plans and dreams? Photos from those days are scarce now, with not enough of them left to scour for clues.

Times were hard for all of them and big splashy weddings would have been out of the question in those days.  They may never have heard of honeymoons. I picture brief, somber ceremonies in front of country parsons or county clerks with a close  brother or sister in attendance, possibly followed by a few sandwiches and lemonade, then back to work.

Maybe this is why I’m so much in favor of memoirs. I believe that recording the minutia of one’s life, while totally boring to most readers, might be of interest to enough descendants to make it worth the effort. Who knows which great great grandchild might be thrilled to learn about the goofy ancestors who moved 37 times during their married life, climbed Ayers Rock when they were almost 60 years old, and built a canoe in their living room one boring winter?