Friday, November 25, 2016




We never eat fruitcake because it has rum
And one little bit turns a man to a bum
Can you imagine a sorrier sight
Than a man eating fruitcake until he gets tight?

                                                                       The Chad Mitchell Trio’s version of The Song of the Temperance Union

Ah, fruitcake! The stuff of legends. Derided in song, derided in the media, it seems to be the ubiquitous non-comestible. To tell the truth, there are some very awful versions of it foisted on the public each year. These are the overly sweet, grossly dense, preserved-fruit-laden hockey-pucks-on-steroids available in every supermarket in America. Glacéd, crystalized or candied, whatever you choose to call them, the fruits and citron can overwhelm the taste buds. It is really a mystery why thinking people would purchase these cakes as gifts. It becomes a tradition to laugh over or to moan over. Just think of the waste when the rejected cakes get tossed into the trash. What will future garbologists think of us?

There are many, many verses to The Song of the Temperance Union. They suggest that there is little to be eaten or done, including drinking water and jumping rope, that can’t turn a man into a beast. The fruitcake lyrics might have been apt many years ago, but today, though they can be found, it is rare to find a good spirit-lace fruitcake for sale.

Oh, but you can certainly make a soused version in your own kitchen. Work with whatever fruit or nuts type cake or bread recipe you have. The key to a good soused version, be it done with rum, bourbon, or whatever tipple you prefer, is to have a good cake-to-fruit ratio: smaller pieces of fruit and nuts, easy on the citron, as with a good Italian Panettone cake, and with more cake to absorb the liquor.

The secret to the sousing is to start early. Plan on baking the weekend after Thanksgiving - I'll start mine tomorrow. Fill a spray bottle with your beverage of choice. Once your cakes are out of the oven and cooled, begin the process of spraying them thoroughly on all sides. Store them in air-tight containers or bags. Get them out once a week for four weeks, and spray them thoroughly again. By the holidays you will have a scrumptious fruitcake to give or keep - and keep it will. Some soused fruitcakes, properly kept in the bottom of the refrigerator, have been known to last, slice by slice, remembered now and then for a special treat, for well over a year.

Friday, November 18, 2016


This is a huge tom. I do miss seeing these big birds wander through
the back yard, year round, of our previous home in upstate New York.
This picture could have been one of mine.
And did you know they could fly? Yep! As we were driving down our dirt road,
we'd come upon a flock of them and watch them scatter
and fly up to the overhanging trees. Lots of noise and fluttering,
and a strange sight to see.

The menu varies from time to time, and from place to place, but the basic Thanksgiving meal that comes to mind traditionally consists of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, cranberry sauce, rolls, and apple pie. Purists say that the only things on that Thanksgiving plate native to this country, meaning the lower forty-eight, are the turkey, wild as it was, and the cranberry. If we consider just that lower forty-eight, yes, that’s correct, and only because those two were here before humans came across the land bridge from the other side of the world. Most of the rest of the meal made its way from Central and South America with population movements throughout the hemisphere.

We can assume that those original travelers brought food stuffs with them, but they would have found plenty to eat here. There were wild rice, which isn’t a rice but a grass, and nuts: walnuts and pecans, to name two. That’s a fair meal if that’s all you have, but they could forage and include wild grapes, black cherries and other berries, and greens like amaranth, wild asparagus, and others. You have to know what you can and can’t eat, and you have to know how to cook them. Trial and error. Of course, there were always fish and game, and honey and fruit for sweets.

If we consider all of the Americas and what was here before the Pilgrims celebrated that first Thanksgiving, if we really want an American meal, then we have to leave out what the Europeans brought to these shores: anything made of wheat, which originated in the Near East, and apples, which come from Central Asia. There go the rolls, the stuffing, and the apple pie. Corn bread anyone?

Cranberries before the deluge. Many people thing they grow under water.
Check out the Ocean Spray website and learn more.

People around the world have always celebrated and given thanks for a bountiful harvest. We Americans have raised the tradition onto a pedestal. And yes, especially as far as our feast menu is concerned, we do have a lot to be thankful for - for the turkey and the cranberries, and for the corn, the potatoes and sweet potatoes, the beans, the tomatoes, the peppers, the wild onions, the pumpkins and other squashes, and the bouquet of sunflowers for the table.
The Europeans brought the wheat and the apples - all the rest were here, waiting to be enjoyed and spread to the rest of the world.

Friday, November 11, 2016


In honor of my husband on this Veterans Day, I am posting this article I wrote for this month's community magazine. Frank is a font of stories about his time in the army during the Korean War - some are funny, some upsetting, some would just curl your toes and make you want to run for cover.

Frank at Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas, 1952

One day in 1952, Frank Johnston, a young man from the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, arrived in Korea. He arrived there via Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, where he’d gone through basic training, had turned down the dubious honor of being Soldier of the Month, and had filled out a questionnaire about what he’d done in civilian life. Among other thing, he’d been a mechanic and he knew a thing or two about engines and motors. That knowledge got him into what was then called the 556th Signal Radio Relay Company, and to the top of a mountain in Korea.

He vividly remembers the voyage across the not-too-Pacific Ocean. Fortunately, or unfortunately, as the case might have been, he had good sea legs. He’d spent a lot of his preschool years on the tugboat of his dad who was the harbormaster of New York City’s Erie Basin, so seasickness wasn’t a problem. His older brother had advised him to be sure to take a top bunk near a ventilator opening, and to take his shoes up with him into bed at night.  Good advice, as it turned out. It was a very rough crossing and guards made sure no soldier went out on deck. The vast majority of the guys on the transport go very, very sick. Trashcans were soon brimful of the results. The regular hands on the ship noticed that Frank was among the healthy, and so he was dragooned into dragging trashcans full of “upchuck” up on deck to empty them overboard in high seas. They tossed a few trashcans, contents and all overboard before the crew realized what was happening and made them tie the cans to the railing. The healthy guys were on trashcan duty and KP, but they got to eat whatever they wanted, including steak.

The northern and eastern parts of Korea are fairly mountainous, much like our Appalachians, and they posed problems for effective communications – thus the Radio Relay teams. Up on the mountain, Frank was part of a team of nine who, assisted by men of the Republic of Korea Army, known as the ROKs, maintained the generators and equipment needed to transmit information between corps headquarters and the front lines. There was no road up the mountain. Everything, including the generators, cans of fuel, food, and other supplies came up on the backs of the ROKs. At one time they even carried Frank up the mountain after he’d had a dose of a potent pain killer for dental surgery at base camp.

The winters on the mountain were brutal. Everything froze. Surrounding it with the fuel and food to be kept at a useable temperature, they had a stove glowing red hot in the main tent. Sitting around that stove, they roasted their chests and froze their backs. It was always cold up on the mountain. When headquarters called for the return of winter clothing and bedding in the spring, the savvy guys failed to comply.

The mountain wasn’t an easy posting. Among other “interesting” incidents, there was the time when rats became a problem at the base of the mountain, so the whole base was fired to kill the rats. It only succeeded in driving the rats up to the top of the mountain, providing excellent target practice for the overrun relay team.

Frank got to travel a bit around the country. There was the time he went to visit a buddy he’d met in basic. The guy was a forward observer, and Frank got pinned down with him under enemy fire for several days. Occasionally, he’d travel to the coast and bring back fresh seafood, especially octopus, for the ROKs. They declared Frank to be “Number Huckin’ One!”

On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., Frank got to visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial. It happened to be raining that day. Frank said that the men in the squad were carrying all the different arms and equipment appropriate to the time, and were dressed for the rain and gloom of “The “Forgotten War.”

On a rainy morning at the Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.
Frank recognized the guys and their gear.

Friday, November 4, 2016


I’ve read many of Stevenson’s novels - Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and others – and I grew up with A Child’s Garden of Verses. I’d never read any of Stevenson’s other poetry, that I remember, until I came upon this one at The Writer’s Almanac this past April. I’ve saved it until November, Stevenson birth month.

I Will Make You Brooches

I will make you brooches and toys for your delight
Of bird-song at morning and star-shine at night.
I will make a palace fit for you and me
Of green days in forests and blue days at sea.
I will make my kitchen, and you shall keep your room,
Where white flows the river and bright blows the broom,
And you shall wash your linen and keep your body white
In rainfall at morning and dewfall at night.
And this shall be for music when no one else is near,
The fine song for singing, the rare song to hear!
That only I remember, that only you admire,
Of the broad road that stretches and the roadside fire.

In searching Google Images for an illustration for this poem, I came upon the lovely calligraphy above by Susan McGill, and also the fact that the poem had also been put to music. I didn't know that. Learn something new every day.