banana pudding, cruise ships, and cookies

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I made banana pudding.

I’ve eaten it many, many times – but never made it.

It happened like this: I went to Harris Teeter for some lunch supplies. I got gefilte fish and matza (it’s Passover). Then I went to Bucky’s Produce in Spencer and got a jar of honey and three small heads of green cabbage (one for coleslaw; two for steaming).

On the way out, I looked at the bananas. They only had a few. Some were too green to eat and some were getting black. I got the ones that were getting black.

Bucky, the owner – an elderly man who sits in a chair in the middle of his store and talks with customers, said, “You can have those.”

“I don’t mind paying,” I said.

“If you had a million dollars, I’m sure you’d give me ten,” he said.

“Yes, I would,” I said.

“So you can have ‘em. If you don’t take ‘em, she’ll make banana pudding tomorrow,” he said, pointing at his wife, who stood behind the cash register.

“I don’t want to stop you from getting banana pudding,” I said.

Bucky’s wife spoke up and settled the matter.

“Take all you want,” she said. “I’ve decided not to make it.”

I grabbed four large bananas.

“Here’s what you do,” Bucky said. “Stop at the store on your way home and get some pudding and vanilla wafers. It won’t take you ten minutes.”

And then he said it again.

“It won’t take ten minutes.”

So I went by the grocery store – again.

I got a container of organic vanilla yogurt, some reduced calorie Cool Whip, and a box of Nilla Wafers.

It took less than five minutes to make, and it was delicious.

Today, I got a little over-confident – and thought I’d make cookies.

Lately, I’ve been buying lots of cookies at a bakery – big cookies with lots of good stuff inside – and taking them to my customers as little gifts of appreciation. Sometimes I get donuts. Sometimes fudge. I probably spent about $80 last week on goodies.

It’s well worth it. This is the best money I spend on my business, I’m sure. But I thought perhaps I could make my own and save some money. I could also have the pleasure of knowing I made them myself. A gift less from the wallet and more from the heart.

And, my wife told me that cookies are easy and fast – which is why so many people make them.

I got a recipe for cookies that contain all the stuff I like: chocolate chips, walnuts, oatmeal, and raisins. I went shopping.

Suffice it to say, I’ve spent a lot more than ten minutes on the cookies.

Next time, I’ll leave the butter out for a few hours so that it’s really, really soft. And, I won’t have to make a late night trip to Walmart in order to buy a mixer.

How did they taste? I don’t know. Still haven’t gotten that far yet. The dough is in the refrigerator now. In a few minutes, I’ll put them in the oven and find out.

So why the sweet tooth all of a sudden? I have no idea. I’ve never been a big consumer of sugar. Not a big eater of dessert. And here I am, hopping from one bakery to another. Mostly I’m getting gifts, but I also have a few tastes of my own.

Am I older than I think I am? I learned years ago that elderly folks seem to enjoy sweets.

The summer I turned 18, just before starting college, I worked on the Cunard Adventurer, a cruise ship, as a bus boy.

This was the hardest job I’ve ever had in my life. We served two sittings at breakfast, two sittings at lunch, two sittings ad dinner, and a midnight buffet.

In the few free hours I had, in the afternoon, instead of touring the beautiful Caribbean Islands, I got on my bed and slept.

We were allowed to eat whatever we wanted, including dessert – as many as we wanted. And the food was fantastic. I gained fifteen pounds that summer.

I realized, that summer of 1974, that we Americans can be a little soft (even though we consider this to be a country of hard work and long hours). There were three of us from Salisbury working in the dining room on that ship. We were the only Americans.

The guy who hired us said that Americans never stay long, which is why he would not buy us our plane ticket home unless we stayed the entire summer. That was the deal.

About two weeks into it, I wrote my dad and asked if he could send me the money for a plane ticket home. He told me to stick it out.

We did get to go home a few weeks early. There was an engine fire on the Cunard Ambassador, the Adventurer’s sister ship, and all the passengers merged onto our ship. A week later, there was an engine fire on the Adventurer. We were pulled to shore by a tug boat and dry docked. The company paid for our ticket home.

Passengers got first priority for flights off the island of Curacao, so we waited there for a week. During that week, I met a guy from New York who stole baby parrots out of nests and raised them in a shoebox in his house. I bought one for fifteen dollars and smuggled it through customs in the pocket of my sports coat. I named it Poppy.

Poppy liked to sit on my head.

One night, in the middle of the night, the family cat pushed Poppy’s cage off the kitchen counter and onto the floor. The cat got the bird out and killed it. I found out about this in when my father woke me in the night and told me what had happened.

I remember getting home and playing in a tennis tournament almost immediately. I still had sea legs. I lost a first round match to a guy who I had never lost to. He was so excited that he hugged me after the match. I remember not being in the mood for that hug.

I remember the breakfast shift. I went from table to table with the coffee pot and Danish tray. It was there that I noticed that elderly folks were keen for the sweet stuff.

I also saw this in my parents. My father always enjoyed a piece of cake after dinner or a bit of ice cream later on in the evening. But as he grew older, he had these and also kept a supply of chocolate in the house (for himself and visitors).

When he was near the end of life and not eating much, I used to get him cheesecake. He always loved cheesecake. It had a lot of calories and he would eat it. It was when he started to refuse the cheesecake that I knew my father was in the last days of his life.

And although I don’t see myself as elderly – could this be happening to me? Or have I just been being hard on myself in the past and am finally giving in to a bit of self-indulgence that’s been there all along?

Oh well. Time to pre-heat the oven.

just a blog about eggs

Yesterday, I dropped by Consign 120, a store in Concord, and bought four dozen eggs. Randy, the owner, also has a farm, and he brings in fresh eggs each day. I often stop and get a dozen, or two, or three.

The reason I got four dozen is because I promised to bring 30 hard boiled eggs to the family Passover Seder on Friday night. I got extra because these eggs are small.

Fresh eggs are harder to shell when hard boiled that the ones in the store that could be several weeks old. But they taste a lot better — so I’ll work it out (rolling the eggs first and shelling while hot; a little salt in the water, mutilating a few…).

A few months ago, Randy didn’t have many eggs. He had a fire in the barn and the chickens were traumatized. They weren’t laying. Now, in mid-April, the girls are happy. He has dozens of eggs on hand.

An egg, on Passover, has many symbolic meanings. In our family, we most often refer to it as a sign of life. It’s also the only food that gets harder as it cooks longer — and that has some meaning (can’t remember what).

For Easter, the egg symbolizes the seed of life and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And for both religions, of course, the egg is a symbol of spring and new birth.

But I have a different theory.

I think both holidays (and religions) started using eggs because it’s peak laying time for chickens and there were so many of them.

Somewhere along the way, a Jewish mother, and, a couple of thousand years later, her Christian counterpart, said “We’ve got to find something to do with all these eggs!”

“I’ve got an idea,” her husband said. “When everybody’s over here for Passover, put a hard boiled egg on every plate.”

And the Christian mother, who was fond of Easter and had an eye for design, said to her husband, “Look. I just decorated these eggs! Take them eggs outside and hide them in the grass. I’ll call the neighbors and all the kids can have an Easter Egg Hunt.”

—————–

Tapi, who was an exchange student at our house when I was in high school, a roommate in college, and still a dear friend, grew up in Finland.

I remember him telling me that his mother gave him hard boiled eggs in the morning, in winter. He put them in his pocket and used them to keep his hands warm on his way to school. Then he ate them for lunch.

—————–

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to spend a semester in Italy, in Venice. Venice is close to the Dolomites – very good skiing – and I took advantage of that several times.

I remember a meal from that time (1976). I was in the mountains and went to a small restaurant for dinner. I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu. My Italian was weak and, in those days, not many Italians spoke English. I had no idea what I had ordered.

The waiter brought me a bowl of broth and an egg. He cracked the raw egg and dropped it into the soup.

That was it.

Enjoy.

—————–

Growing up, breakfast before school was a little different than it is these days. My mother took orders, each morning.

She had five children, a husband, and a busy, full-time job. Yet, each morning, she asked us how we wanted our eggs. Fried? Scrambled? Omlet?

Sometimes I placed my order while I was still in bed, or getting ready for school. Sometimes I was already at the table.

Either way, my mom took special orders from everybody, every morning.

How things have changed. My kids never had eggs for breakfast. There wasn’t time.

These days, I do get eggs many mornings – and my wife fixes them (or me). But it’s a matter of how many, not how I want them cooked. Her dishes are always fantastic, but if I don’t want them the way she’s cooking them, then I can cook them myself.

Eggcetera, eggcetera, eggcetera.

Come to think of it, I haven’t had breakfast yet.

The Five Minute Passover Seder

For various reasons, I didn’t attend either a family or community Passover Seder this year.

However — it was actually quite easy to observe the season.

Here’s the blow by blow:

1. Went to Harris Teeter and bought matza, gefilte fish, matza balls in a jar, matza ball soup in a can, and horseradish.

2. We already had plenty of eggs, nuts, and raisins.

3. Hard boiled a dozen eggs.

4. Heated the soup.  (Store bought matza ball soup was surprisingly delicious).

5. Fixed a plate of matza, gefilte fish, horseradish, nuts, and raisins.

5. Thanked God for not being a slave.

6. Ate.  It was excellent.

(Forgot the wine or bitter herb, and probably a few other things — but I thought about ’em).

Full Moon 1


full moon1

Originally uploaded by smpost

Just before dark. Going for a walk in the nature preserve behind Catawba.

The full moon is way bigger than it looks in this iPhone pic.

The streetlights seemed way smaller than they look here.