When I was first married we found ourselves living in a suburb of Youngstown, Ohio. My husband was an assistant pastor and full time youth director of a small Methodist church there. Money was tight so it wasn’t long before I found work to help out with expenses like school loans and food. I’d not had much work experience except for babysitting but was thrilled to be accepted as a phone magazine salesperson. Just up my alley. I loved people and people seemed to love me! A perfect match, talk and sell magazines and make money to boot! When could I start? The following Monday morning couldn’t get here fast enough!! My husband dropped me off, we could barely afford the one car, downtown and I walked up the long dark stairway to the sales office to be quickly lead to my own little cubicle. Anxious to get started my fingers could hardly dial the correct numbers but at first try I got a real person. Soon I realized as I tried to read off my printed script that the elderly lady on the other end of the phone needed an ear to listen to her talk about her troubles and the fact that she didn’t even have enough money to pay her phone bill much less order magazines left me feeling sad and I knew I’d do better with the next caller. Well, the next call went through and I sold a few, then on to another lonely or broke person again needing conversation more than magazines. I thought I was doing ok but by the end of a very long and hard week I knew this was not for me. It wasn’t long till I landed a job with JC Penny’s in the children’s department and loved it. I worked with several older people and they all seemed to be thrilled to have someone willing to listen to them talk and I didn’t have to bring up buying magazines. Several of these associates were happy to take me under their wing and since we lived so far away from our own parents it was a very needed opportunity for us as well. Anyway, after a few paychecks my husband and I had put back enough money to treat ourselves to an all you can eat seafood buffet at Howard Johnsons which was a very popular Friday night event back in the late 1960’s in Ohio. So with our mouths watering as we entered the restaurant we asked to be seated close to the buffet. We didn’t want to waste time having to walk too far from all that wonderful food. Fried shrimp, fried clams, fried oysters, fried walleye from the Great Lakes near by, well you get the picture. Anyway, we ate our way through unbuttoning our pants to continue just a little bit more. We finally felt we had gotten our money’s worth and more and knew we couldn’t even hold one more tiny little shrimp without the breading so we paid our bill and headed home. One short stop at Penny’s to pick up my paycheck and then off for home happy to spend the rest of our Friday night evening digesting our food and watching “I Spy” with Bill Cosby and Robert Culp and “Playboy After Dark” with Hugh Hefner running around in his bath robe and all the girls wearing those little rabbit ear headbands on their heads ,which when you think about it must have been one of the earliest reality shows, from one of the three channels available back then. As I walked into the store an associate came up to me and excitedly said “Aren’t you on your way to Catherine’s for dinner now?” You see Catherine and her husband had both worked for Penney’s a long time in the Men’s Suits department a coveted place to work. They themselves dressed to a T each day, he wearing his 1930’s style hat with his suit and Catherine in her appropriate ladies ensemble. They were the cutest little couple and I actually mean that literally because they were both the shortest two adults I’d ever met, but in stature only. They were otherwise very polished and respected and looked upon as the Monarchs of the group. They knew their politics and current events and history and about anything you could bring up in conversation. Penney’s was happy to have them and allowed them to share the same schedule. So each day they would go home for lunch or dinner together according their schedule and we would hear of the finest meals they would prepare together that would give quite some competition to any 5 star restaurants anywhere. It was just the two of them each day living their lives together and talking to anyone would listen of their only child, a son, they called Ziggy. As older parents do they would tell the stories of things he did when he was young and they were younger and life was so good. To be invited to eat at their house for a Friday night dinner was envied by many. But since there were no cell phones for texting or Internet for e-mails and I wasn’t scheduled to work that day, I FORGOT !!! So I said to the sales clerk, “Oh, we were just on our way right now.” Of course I now had the job of convincing my very full husband who was waiting outside in his blue 1968 Pontiac LeMans that we had to go eat dinner again. I just couldn’t disappoint this precious couple whom I was sure had spent most of their day preparing for us to join them on what otherwise could have been another lonely Friday evening for them. We had to go! As my husband and I discussed this, we were walking around and around his car trying to digest some of the food we had already eaten. Slowly we drove to their house still so full we couldn’t even think of eating again. When we knocked on the door and they opened it together and we saw the happy smiles they gave us we knew we had done the right thing but we were still unprepared to see what came next. As we entered their home the smell of Italian food hit us smack in the face. It would have normally made our mouths water, but how were we going to get anymore food into our stomachs today? Like I had mentioned earlier they were at the top in of the scale of proper so we were lead to the living room or parlor as they called it. We sat to visit and of course the appetizers were already sitting out and it was all homemade cheese balls of various kinds and fancy crackers. As we talked I was thinking of ways to take up time to allow our stomachs to do their job of digesting. It even crossed my mind if there had ever been anyone who had died from eating too much? It was easy to get them distracted talking about their son. Remember Ziggy? Well, he should have been ashamed of himself! His parents adored him and had kept every picture and newspaper article and magazine he was ever in. Come to find out that their little Ziggy was a big wig in Washington DC and like a lot of politicians with so called big important jobs, as they liked to think, was simply too busy to put his adoring parents on his list. So we looked through album after album and walked the house looking at pictures and listening to stories, anything to help pass time. At one point we found ourselves outside looking at some new landscaping their son had paid for. My husband kept giving me the eye in disbelief that we would soon be eating again. As we were finally lead to the dining room there it was! A beautifully set table with Waterford crystal and Paragon fine bone china from England. What a masterpiece of dignity. Ziggy could have even brought The President of the United States and been proud. Mr. Catherine , because I can’t remember their last name, had us sit down as Catherine brought out our shrimp cocktail. My husband slightly kicked me from underneath the table as we each looked at MORE shrimp! As the dinner continued the Caesar salad came next and that was a new creation for us at the time. We were moving our food around as much as possible and asking as many questions as we could think of to still take up time even excusing ourselves to go to the bathroom with mouths full of food to simply spit out and flush whenever possible . The main course with all its carbs had not even been served yet. When it did arrive not only was it spaghetti with meat sauce but there were meatballs and pork chops and Italian sausage in the sauce . If looks could kill! My husband had been doing his best so far but now what? How were we going to get this down? And of course let’s not forget the garlic bread!! We again moved our food around and went to the restrooms and even tried to hide some under lettuce. Before dessert I was able to talk Catherine into allowing me to help her clear the table and put some things away before we again retired to the parlor for coffee and Italian almond cake with fresh whipped cream. I know my husband and I had never been more full in our lives nor have we ever been since but I took away with me that night the desire to learn to cook. Not just to eat but to make it an art. To find new and exciting ways to prepare foods. To serve it with flair! I wish I could tell Catherine now what a difference she made in my life and all those hours that sweet couple spent on that one meal had not been wasted one bit. Thank you, Catherine wherever you are. I wish you could have had a daughter too.
Here are recipes written in her own hand writing.
Flying to Santa Barbara from Georgia to visit with family that also enjoys cooking is an adventure in itself to the palette ! My husband and I got up at 4:00 am to catch an early flight because when you love to cook you have to schedule your flight so it arrives in LA in time for you to rent a car, drive to SB , have lunch by the ocean and meet up with family, all in time to go to the Farmer’s Market before it closes at 7:00pm Pacific time!! Whew !! My sister and her husband and their daughter and her two sons all met us downtown where they close off the streets and the market treats begin. My nephews and I were so thrilled when we found purple carrots and yellow watermelons. As we tasted our way through, we added to our gatherings apples, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, heirloom cherry tomatoes and very black avocados. On our way home we saw some romaine lettuce and corn still in its husks that couldn’t be left out of my niece Alycia’s, eco friendly bags. Wow! Look at the masterpieces we came up with after a good night’s sleep.
Cooking has been a passion of mine since as far back as I can remember. My maternal grandparents lived on a small farm in West Virginia, which seemed really big when I was a kid and had to help with the animals and gardens and apples orchards. it was settled in the perfect spot down in a valley. It looked a lot like the black hills of Germany, covered with trees, especially pine trees. The sky seemed close enough to reach out and touch. What a treat to wake up in the mornings to the smell of freshly baked bread and the sound of eggs frying in the iron skillet. Not to forget the thick bacon and sausage that came from their own pigs. Eating the homemade applesauce would bring back the joys of the hours spent with family preparing it. My sister and I would get to go with our grandfather to the orchards to pick the apples. We called our grandfather Moredaddy. To our young minds, that name was logical. He had to be Moredaddy since we already have someone we called Daddy . We would ride in the back of his old pick up truck and have fun with all the bumps along the way. Now that I am an adult with grandchildren of my own I appreciate the time he spent finding all the right places to hit all those wonderfully exciting bumps at just the right time! When the truck was full of apples, back to the house we’d go, eating a few of those luscious fruits along the way. This was just the beginning of a weekend spent with aunts and uncles and cousins galore preparing their yummy applesauce. The bakery smells and fond memories can be created today with much less work! Bake the bread in a bread machine or buy frozen loaves and bake in the oven. The applesauce can be made on top of the stove with just a few apples and butter and sugar but if you are in a hurry just open a jar and cook some adding a little butter with extra sugar and cinnamon. Enjoy!!!