Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater

Delving deep into history can be fascinating – even if you’re not by nature a history lover. Can you guess why we know that “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater” probably came from the U.S. – and not England, as so many other Mother Goose rhymes did? Because the English weren’t familiar with pumpkins when it was written (and, apparently, they still aren’t big pumpkin fans).

From Eulalie Osgood Grover’s Mother Goose.  Chicago, [1915].  
Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn't keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well.

I admire Peter for being a pumpkin eater – but egads, he kept his wife in a pumpkin shell? And – as a naive little kid – I was supposed to read that and think it’s okay? It’s all for fun? And, actually, the story gets more sinister when you read that supposedly it was about unfaithful wives and murder!

Or how about another familiar ditty from Mother Goose

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. 
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do. 
She gave them some broth without any bread; 
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Oh and there’s so much more. Babies falling from cradles (Hush-a-bye, Baby, on the tree top), drowned pussy cats (Ding Dong Bell), lady bugs with burning babies (Lady-bird-Lady-bird, fly away home), starving dogs (Old Mother Hubbard), blind mice (no doubt you know that one.).

There may be some complex political references in the rhymes, but they’re tricky to figure out w/o Wikipedia or some web search or in-depth historical knowledge. Who could possibly know that “Mary Mary, Quite Contrary” may be about England’s Bloody Mary – and “Ring Around the Roses” about the Bubonic Plague? It’s just more fun stuff for the young’uns to think about!

The cover of Eulalie Osgood Grover’s Mother Goose.  Chicago, [1915].  

Have you ever wondered who this delightfully fun Mother Goose was? In 1697 a Frenchman, Charles Perrault, wrote “Contes de ma mère l’Oye,” which gets credit as the original Mother Goose, but it’s mostly comprised of fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Puss in Boots. According to my 1915 edition of MG, there has been speculation that a Boston grandmother, Mistress Elizabeth Goose (I kid you not) told these stories and her son-in-law assembled her ditties and published them as Mother Goose’s Melodies for Children in 1719. Our 1916 edition of The Real Mother Goose states that the rhymes were first published by John Newberry in 1791.

Our version is the Fifty-Fourth printing of this 1916 classic, released in 1970, just before our daughter was born. We were ready to give her nightmares!

Digging out our 1916 Mother Goose book gave Andy pause about the bedtime tales he told our kids and our grandkids when they were little. Had he ruined their lives? See today’s Andy’s Corner.

But back to eating pumpkins. My grandmother may have sometimes made her own pumpkin puree (using the small pie pumpkins, of course) for her wonderful pumpkin pie, but I’m too lazy. Canned pumpkin works fine for me – and anyone who wants to simplify things. And there are so many great pumpkin recipes that it’s a shame we mostly think of pumpkin pie and Thanksgiving. Here are two winner recipes for pumpkin (eaters). And because I like pumpkin seeds maybe even better than I like pumpkin, let me remind you of some of my favorite recipes with pumpkin seeds….for snacking, for dipping, for a salad, for breakfast, for tacos (of course!).

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Too Much of a Good Thing?

Can there be too much of a good thing?

Are 11 Aussie pups too much of a good thing? Colorado’s Desert Storm, this mama, – who is related to our Aussie, Oakley – would probably say “YES!!!”
Are too many flowers too much of a good thing? And I love Brooklyn’s stoops!

Yes, this September 14, 2020, New Yorker magazine cover speaks to me. Along with many others, I over-planted this summer – as the pandemic impacted our daily lives, and colorful flowers and veggies took on a new role – a bright, lovely and healthy respite from life with masks and isolation and dreariness (as an aside, Andy finds his respite from life in one of his dresser drawers – see Andy’s Corner).

Have I said it before? I don’t “do” annuals – at least not until this year. During all of our years with our gardening business, MiniBlooms, I was happy to plant annuals for others, but I stuck with perennials and shrubs for our home. My argument? Life is too short to have to buy and replant year after year after year.

The summer of 2020 was SO different. I enthusiastically, almost obsessively, brought home 6-packs of zinnia orange ‘Profusion,’ 4″ pots of mango-colored calibrachoa, and a few of the fabulous little petchoa (a cross between calibrachoa and petunias) in an amazing dark reddish-brown color. I stuck those between the ‘Vancouver Centennial’ fancy leaf geraniums – that are normally considered annuals but actually survive our Northern California winters.

It was a great summer diversion. But in the long run, it wasn’t my style. I still love my more simple and permanent perennial beds. Now we’ve got the lovely echinacea ‘Tangerine Dreams’ (from Cottage Gardens of Petaluma), sempervivum ‘Centennial’ (from Sonoma Mission Gardens), achillea ‘New Vintage Red’, and chrysocephalum apiculatum ‘Mini Gold Buttons’ (both from Friedmans). If you live in Northern California, fall is a perfect time for planting perennials.

And do I have advice about planting your perennial beds? Of course! The biggest mistake I see folks make is planting just one or two of something. You need repetition of the same plant to unify the bed. Don’t plant too many different varieties. Stick with drought tolerant if you’re in the west. Mulch. Don’t line plants up. And PLEASE have a color scheme!

Our annual bed – summer of 2020.
Our newly-planted (and still very young) perennial bed – fall of 2020

Vegetable gardens can also produce way too much of a good thing. Take zucchini plants, for example. We have neighbors who wince when they get their box of CSA (community-supported agriculture) produce, dreading the amount of zucchini that may be included. While we are one of the few who are only fair at raising zucchini, we have enough Thai chile peppers on our one plant to burn our tongues and make our eyes water and noses run through about 20 meals. Actually, make that 40 meals. The plant has more than 20 little red hot chiles and we can’t bear to put more than half of one into any recipe.

Can you have too much zucchini? 🙂 I hear “YES!” from y’all. Whether or not they’re a “good thing” might be debated.

If you’ve got too many zucchini – and maybe don’t even like them much – I heartily recommend our zucchini bread recipe. I guarantee that even the biggest zucchini hater won’t detect their presence. And it’s such a refreshing change from banana bread! If you have lots of zucchini and just need some more recipe ideas, you can’t go wrong with Zucchini Fritters, Zucchini and Mint Frittata, Zucchini and Mint Turkey Burgers, or Sesame Noodles with Zucchini and Ground Beef.

Are the 20+ crazy-hot peppers on our Thai chile pepper plant too much of a good thing! For sure.

If your one Thai chile pepper plant is over-producing, try Thai Spicy Basil Chicken (which just happens to be from one of our daughter’s cookbooks). And, of course, a teeny bit of minced Thai pepper can go into any recipe calling for Serrano or Jalapeno pepper. Just remember that Thai chiles are about 20 times hotter than a Jalapeno, using the Scoville Heat Units.

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One Handshake Away

Six Degrees of Separation.  Or the Six Handshakes Rule.  The notion that everyone in the world is separated by just six other people.

Sociologists and mathematicians and political scientists have played around with this concept ever since 1929 when the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy wrote a short story suggesting a game be played in which the players tried to make those links. 

University researchers in the 1950’s and 60’s were fascinated with the idea of human connectedness and started crunching numbers and publishing papers.  Intellectual stuff.  Andy remembers one of his sociology professors during his graduate school days at Colorado State University lecturing about how many folks we were just “one handshake away from.” The idea is you shake the hand of a person who has shaken the hand of a famous person, and that puts you one handshake away from the famous person.

(an update on these numbers:  Facebook research done in 2016 indicates we are now connected to everyone else in the world by only 3.57 people!) 

Well, I’m kind of fascinated with this too.  And I too suggest that in these days of isolation and boredom you might want to try outdo someone with a game of “I’m one handshake away from…”   Do it via Facetime!  Or Zoom!  Or Facebook (if you must).  Better yet, sit outside on your patio with a space heater going, carefully distanced,  and play it in person with your Besties.

Here’s our offering.  I’m covering the bright light side; Andy in Andy’s Corner has the sordid and seamy side (think David Duke!) covered. See if you can outdo us.  I’m upping the ante a little by demanding that there be not only a handshake from your go-betweens – but a conversation.  In other words, just a “meet and greet” – and no talk – doesn’t count.

I’m one handshake away from Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower.  (My granddad was a U.S. Congressman for 18 years.)

Should I brag about my grandfather and THIS handshake?

I’m one handshake away from Julia Child (our daughter, Sara, sat beside her at a luncheon in Napa.  But Julia was elderly and slept most of the time; the conversation wasn’t great).

Julia – years before she met our Sara. Nice knife, Julia! Are you missing the point?

On a more modern note, I’m one handshake away from Maya Rudolph and Natasha Lyonne (our L.A. friend, Danielle, heads up their Animal Pictures.  FYI – Animal Pictures will have an apropos comedy special out on Netflix late October starring Sarah Cooper. The title? “Everything’s Fine.” We need that to be true!).

This New Yorker virtual “Festival” sounds great. Eclectic group, including Natasha and Maya…we’re one handshake away! 🙂

But here’s one that I think is a game-changer!  I’m one handshake away from Bobby Zimmerman Bob Dylan.  This is what my friend Carolyn has to say about Bob:

Here’s the scoop. We were both from Minnesota. We were both Jewish. So it was inevitable that we ended up at Herzl Camp together. Bobby Zimmerman was adorable (and became my best friend’s boyfriend at camp). He wrote poems that made us cry (about the drunkard’s son, and about a dog that got run over . . . if memory serves me right). I still have copies of those poems in the mimeographed camp newsletter circa 1954. Some four years later we ended up at the University of Minnesota together. He was a frat boy (Sigma Alpha Mu) and would pull out his guitar at parties and sing in his gravelly voice that didn’t impress us one bit 🙂 He claimed he was Bobby V and that he had recorded “Suzy Baby.” I have such a clear picture of him (end of summer, 1960) in his shades and a leather cap announcing that he was going off to New York to make it big. Ha! we said. Sure! we said. Lots of luck! we said. Little did we know.

Bobby and Carolyn at Camp Herzl

And here’s an amazing video – a must watch – of Bob just a few years after he left Minnesota “to make it big.” It’s a 1963 TV appearance; Dyan is 21, and he’s singing his fabulous – and still relevant – “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

It’s weird to be writing about handshakes when the news of the day is filled with stories about the end of handshakes, given the virus – and maybe viruses to come.  I hope – when safe – we keep hugging and shaking hands.  Amazing how much human contact seems to be needed.

Now to the recipes.  I could post a martini recipe in honor of Winston Churchill.  Too simple! He apparently preferred them with just gin – no vermouth.  Maya Rudolph is well known for the disaster following her Brazilian steak dinner in the film Bridesmaids. Maybe a recipe for a Brazilian steak? 🙂 Or I could find some famous Minnesota recipe in honor of Bob Dylan.  But then there’s Julia.  How can I resist? We are a food blog…theoretically. The problem with Julia Child is that I generally find her recipes way too complicated for the lives we’re living. But here’s an easy one and a delicious one: Clafouti. It’s perfect for the pears, plums and apples available in early fall.

Julia Child’s Clafouti

Julia Child's Clafouti

This was originally made with pears – in Mastering the Art of French Cooking – but you can use peaches, apples, plums and – to be most French-like – cherries.

  • 1 1/2 lb firm, ripe pears – or peaches, apples, plums, all thinly sliced – or cherries; if you are using apples, see the footnote below
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup sugar – divided into 1/3 and 1/3
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup flour

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Combine the milk, 1/3 c of sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, and flour in a blender. Cover and blend at top speed for about 30 seconds, scraping down the sides as needed.

Pour a little of the batter (about a 1/4-inch layer) into a buttered 9″ or 10″ baking dish or pyrex pie plate about 1 1/2 inches deep (a cast iron skillet also works nicely). Place in the oven for about 5 minutes–until the batter has slightly set in the bottom of the dish.

Spread the fruit on top of the slightly-cooked batter.  Sprinkle with the extra 1/3 cup sugar (unless you’re using apples – which you’ve already cooked in sugar). Pour on the rest of the batter.

Bake in the middle position of the oven for about an hour, until the clafouti has puffed and browned and a toothpick stuck into its center comes out clean.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

If using apples, saute the slices, 2 T lemon juice, and 1/3 c of the sugar in 2 T butter in a frying pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring and turning. Add a pinch of cinnamon. Add that to the slightly baked batter and cover with the remaining batter. Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

I Have Eaten the Plums

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I understood nothing in my “20th-Century Lit” class which I took in 1963 at Colorado College.  NOTHING.  We read pages and pages of poetry, and each poem left me more confused – and wondering why in god’s name I thought I could be an English major.  (I should note: Andy had similar fears about being a college professor.)

I wasn’t the only one confused.  After a good friend wrote a lengthy (and hysterically naive and incorrect) response to a test question in her lit class, someone had to tactfully and delicately explain to her the “significance” of the corn cob in Faulkner’s Sanctuary.

But as far as poetry, William Carlos Williams is a case in point.  He lived from 1883 until 1963.  The Williams’ poem which we studied – and which sticks in my memory – is The Red Wheelbarrow:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens 

In retrospect, reading the poem again and contemplating why Williams was considered so great reminds me of a favorite painting Andy and I have – which we bought at the wonderful The Arts Guild of Sonoma a number of years ago.  Upon seeing this painting for the first time, a family member remarked that her kindergarten students could easily have painted something just as good!

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Our Frank Kreuger art

Though it wasn’t included in Modern American & Modern British Poetry (my well-worn edition of the book, edited by Louis Untermeyer, was published in 1955), another Williams poem is quite famous:

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

And so this brings me to Ruth Reichl.  🙂

Reichl, well known amongst foodies, was the restaurant critic for the LATimes and the NYTimes – and then the Editor of Gourmet Magazine – until it folded in 2009.  Her 2019 tell-all book – about her days at Gourmet – is entitled Save Me the Plums – because of her fondness for that Williams’ poem.

I’m still dense.  I couldn’t figure out why Save Me the Plums – a riff on the poem’s beginning line, “I have eaten the plums” made sense as Reichl’s title.  But – thanks to Google – I found the following Reichl interview with the LA Times.  I don’t want to ignore the deeper meanings, but my take on that interview is simply that being Gourmet’s editor was a “plum” job.

Including recipes seems to be trendy in food memoirs and Reichl is no exception.  I figured she’d be pretty sure to pick delicious recipes from Gourmet, given that she included only a few in this recent book.  I tried three – Spicy Chinese Noodles, Thanksgiving Turkey Chili, and Chocolate Cake with Mascarpone.  And all three were hits with Andy and me.  MountainWestBob, our friend in Albuquerque, gave the chili a try, after reporting that he loves chili but that he’d never made it without tomatoes.  And, yes, he and his wife, Gayle, liked it! Whew.

Though there were “plum” recipes in Reichl’s book, there was no plum recipe per se, so I’ve included a favorite of ours (and of many, many others). Continue reading

He’s As Corny As Kansas In August

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He’s as corny as Kansas in August; I’m as normal as blueberry pie.

I’m pretty sure that’s true of Andy and me…though I’m not a big blueberry pie enthusiast and would never consider it “normal.”

I had to look up which musical my riff on Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics came from – and it’s South Pacificwhich premiered on Broadway in 1949.  I haven’t seen the stage play, but I know that as a 14-year-old I saw the 1958 movie, starring Mitzi Gaynor as Nurse Nellie Forbush.  I had totally forgotten about all the racism dealt with in that film – and never knew that some asked that the song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” be taken out…not because it comes from a “white” perspective but because tolerating something like interracial romance was unacceptable.

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John Kerr and France Nuyen in the 1958 South Pacific film

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught

Apparently, Oscar Hammerstein considered himself a bit of a preacher – preaching the importance of “reaching across differences,” as a Broadway historian described him in an essay for NPR.

Now as for “corny.” It too may be laced with some lack of respect for differences. Some etymology research suggests it came about as a reference to farmers – who some might have considered unsophisticated…”hicks”… even dull!”

I take it all back. Andy is certainly NOT corny – as in dull and unsophisticated. BUT his jokes! Corn PLUS! (see today’s Andy’s Corner.)

When Andy and I arrived in Colorado for his first visit with my parents, his most telling remark to them – while we were driving up the interstate from Denver to Fort Collins – was when he pointed to a man in a field (maybe it was a cornfield?) and asked my unsuspecting mom and dad, “You know what a farmer is, don’t you?”  Pregnant pause. “A farmer is someone outstanding in his field!” OMG.

And Andy thinks this is super funny:

image

So – I’ll bet you’ve already guessed what recipes I’m going to share, have’t you? It’s going to be all about blueberries.

WRONG

It’s about corn. Please forgive me, Michael Pollan, for loving corn no matter what you’ve researched and written about it.

Did you grow up hearing that corn crops should be “knee high by the Fourth of July?”  Maybe that was a Colorado thing.  Now highly-hybridized (and often GM) corn matures so early (as do chickens, cattle, and hogs) that the more appropriate expression is “as high as a elephant’s eye.”  And – yes, we’re back to Hammerstein lyrics – this time from Oklahoma!

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Gordon MacRae in Oklahoma, the film

(True confession: I think I was secretly in love with Gordon MacRae after seeing him sing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” in the film.  Or maybe I was in love with his horse!)

We’ve already posted some d-lish recipes using fresh corn (and, might I add, frozen corn kernels work really well if fresh corn is out of season).

But today (yes, appropriately enough, it’s August) I’m going back to our Louisiana past and giving you a recipe for Maque Choux (pronounced like “mock shoe” – and the name supposedly being an odd combination of Creole and Native American words).  This is definitely a recipe geared for David in Albuquerque – who loves to improvise. 

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Maque Choux

Maque Choux

Make this recipe your own by frying and adding diced bacon, sliced okra, chopped celery, some minced jalapeno, ham, shrimp, or andouille sausage, and/or at the end of sauteing – a little cream.  Scraping the cobs of corn to get some of the milky, juicy part to add is also traditional.

Heat oil in a large skillet, then sauté onion and bell pepper over medium heat 3-4 minutes or until tender. Add corn and tomato and seasonings and cook, stirring often, about 10 minutes.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

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