Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When I Think of Spring

Rhubarb Pie--a spring favorite in Michigan.

When I think of Spring, I think of fresh wild asparagus, daffodils and tulips, and rhubarb. I don’t know why I think of rhubarb, but I do. I know that there were two hills of rhubarb growing way in the back of the farm behind the chicken coop and the asparagus beds, to the left of the orchard that never really bore fruit.

Our house on McKean Road in Willis, Michigan circa late 1950s.
In my own personal mythology I can’t remember my mother ever making anything with rhubarb. Maybe she made a pie, but it doesn’t stand out in my memory. But I have this obsession, every spring, to make a rhubarb pie. So I watch for it at my local supermarkets. Sometimes they don’t have it. Other times the stalks are just too green and I know there won’t be much taste or the taste will be too bitter. But sometimes I get lucky and I find a decent batch of rhubarb, not as good as fresh-picked, but it will do when you have the obsession.


In 1974, after graduating from the University of Michigan, I left for Florida in January in a snowstorm, and never looked back. Somewhere in the three years I spent in Naples, Florida, I acquired a cookbook titled “A Treasury of Great Republican Recipes” compiled and edited by The Women’s Republican Club of Greater Naples, published in 1970. The recipes included Mrs. Richard M. Nixon’s Barbecued Chicken Sauce and Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Sugar Cookies, but the only one that caught my eye was Mrs. John Kyl’s (Wife of U.S. Representative Kyl of Iowa) Rhubarb Cream Pie.


It isn’t really a cream pie, more custard than cream. And some people don’t care for it because of the custard, expecting a pie more like cherry or strawberry that is only fruit. But for me, when the rhubarb is good, and the sweetness of the custard melds just right with the tartness of the rhubarb, it is nirvana. I think of spring and dream of new beginnings and fresh starts, and the scent of daffodils and tulips.


Rhubarb Cream Pie with Almond Crumb Crust

Crust:
1 9- inch pre-made pie crust (I like the Marie Callender Frozen Pie Crust when I don’t have time to make a real pie crust)
1 egg white, slightly beaten


Filling:
3 cups rhubarb cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 and 1/2 cups white sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons half and half
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Crumb Topping:
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2 cubes
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare pie crust. Brush with slightly beaten egg white. This helps to seal the crust.

For the filling, stir together in a large bowl, the sugar, flour, eggs, butter, and nutmeg and mix just until combined. Add the rhubarb and stir gently until all of the rhubarb is coated with the filling.

Spoon filling into the chilled uncooked pastry shell.

To make crumb topping, sift together sugar, cinnamon and flour. Put in food processor. Add butter. Pulse until the mixture begins to look like coarse crumbs, about 2 minutes. Empty mixture into large bowl and add sliced almonds. Use two knives to break up flour mixture and incorporate almonds.

Spoon crumb crust topping over top of pie.

Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Reduce temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking for 30 minutes. If crust edges are browning too much put a foil collar around the edge of the pie.

Cool the pie to room temperature before serving.

Serves 8.

Prep time: 30 minutes.

Bake time: 45 minutes.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Strawberry Shortcake Trifle

Strawberry Shortcake Trifle
This recipe would never have been served during Lent as it is such a treat, but I was making it for a pot luck this evening and I thought you might enjoy it. The theme of the pot luck was bring a dish that you associate with your childhood. Something with strawberries in it came to mind. We grew them at home and there were several small farms in the area that grew them for sale near Whittaker, Michigan.

Whittaker, Michigan has always been a small town in southeast Michigan. A railroad track ran through it, but I don’t ever remember seeing a train. There was an old sawmill near the tracks, I think abandoned, even when I was a child. There were a couple of small churches, I remember one because it was an African American church, and the other was our mission church, St. Joseph Catholic, served by the priest from Immaculate Conception in Milan, about 15 miles away.


Whittaker was the home of the Augusta Township Hall and the Augusta Township Volunteer Fire Department. Both buildings sat at the corner of Talladay and Whittaker Road. Each summer the fire department would have a strawberry social as a fundraiser. Picnic tables were often set up in the field next to St. Josephs. Even though we grew our own strawberries at home, there was something special about getting a dollop of stewed strawberries on a piece of yellow cake and vanilla ice cream served in a cardboard container.

Last year, my 80-year-old friend Paul was celebrating a very special anniversary and he was hosting a reception for his friends. He was planning to make strawberry shortcake for a very large group of people. We convinced him that that would be too much work for him as friends would be visiting from out of state so a group of friends of his got together at my house and made strawberry shortcake for about 75 people. We made three 9”x13”x4” pans. Less than a month later we once again made the same strawberry shortcake, but this time it was for his memorial service as he had passed away. His goal had always been to live long enough to make that 50th anniversary and he did.

Paul was very kind to me during a very difficult time of my life. He told me to keep things simple. And he asked me to quit smoking. And I’ve done both.

Strawberry Trifle
The recipe that follows is sometimes called a Strawberry Trifle as it incorporates vanilla pudding instead of ice cream. It has become my go to dish when I am asked to bring something for a crowd. It’s easy and everybody likes strawberries, cake, pudding and whipped cream. When I make this recipe I usually have some leftovers as not everything will fit in the pan, so even if I leave my dish behind, I know that a midnight snack awaits me at home! You can also readily adapt this recipe for folks that are on a low sugar diet by substituting Splenda for the sugar in the strawberries and using artificially sweetened pudding and whipped topping. We did this for one of the pans for the memorial service and I don't think anyone noticed the difference, except those who had to watch their sugar were extremely appreciative of the tasty treat!


Strawberry Shortcake Trifle

1 box butter recipe cake baked as directed
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
2 quarts fresh strawberries
2/3 cup sugar
2 4.6 ounce packages cook & serve vanilla pudding
6 cups milk
1 21 ounce can strawberry pie filling
2 tablespoons butter, divided and cubed
1 16 ounce container Cool Whip whipped topping
4 tablespoons red currant jelly
1/2 cup sliced almonds, slightly toasted (optional)

Prepare cake mix as directed adding in 1 teaspoon of grated orange rind. Bake cake as directed. Allow to cool completely. When cool, slice about 1/2 inch off of the top. This piece can be reserved in a medium serving bowl. Put remaining cake in a 9”x13”x4” disposable aluminum serving pan.

Wash and hull the strawberries. Set aside about a dozen nice ones. Slice the remaining berries into halves or more if very large and sprinkle with 2/3 cup of sugar. Cover and put in refrigerator and allow to set for about 4 hours until sugar is dissolved and some juice is released from the strawberries.


Mix strawberries with one can strawberry pie filling. Spoon strawberries over cake, covering cake completely. Don’t put too much in as you have to keep room for the pudding and whipped topping. Pour remaining strawberries over leftover cake. Refrigerate.


Prepare pudding as directed. Whisk constantly during cooking as you do not want the pudding to burn. When done, remove from heat and whisk in butter. Continue whisking until butter is absorbed. Put pan in a cooling bath of ice cubes and water and cool until almost room temperature, whisking occasionally to keep the pudding smooth.


Spoon pudding over the strawberry layer until complete covered. Leftover pudding can be put on the leftover cake and strawberries. Return to refrigerator and chill for about four hours.

Top with whipped topping. Again, use leftover topping for cake, strawberries and pudding that was set aside.

Heat red currant jelly in small saucepan. Stir until dissolved and allow to come to room temperature.
The finished Strawberry Shortcake Trifle.

Slice all but one of the strawberries in half. Gently brush all of the strawberries with currant jelly. Arrange sliced strawberries in a rosette patter on top of the whipped topping using the whole strawberry for the center.

Decorate edges with toasted sliced almonds (optional). Allow to chill for about an hour before serving.

If you have a large enough round glass container, you could break up the cake and then layer in the strawberries and pudding leaving room for the whipped topping on top. It makes for a very dramatic presentation!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Beginning of Lent: Polish City Chicken for Fat Tuesday!

Lent, Fat Tuesday, City Chicken, Polish, Detroit
A plate of City Chicken with Busia's Fried Potatoes and Mizeria (a dill and cucumber salad).
I wanted to create a dinner menu that would be suited to the weekend prior to Lent. It would have to be rich and filling as Lent is a time of fasting and sacrifice so the contrast needed to be obvious. I settled on a salad of cucumbers and sour cream, City Chicken for the main dish, and Busia's smashed potatoes for the side, with Paczki, Polish jelly-filled doughnuts for dessert. That should be rich enough! You can always skip the doughnuts!

Cucumber Salad with Sour Cream (Mizeria)

Ingredients for Mizeria.
“When my grandmother made this recipe, she would pick fresh cucumbers from the garden, slice them and salt them, let them sit for ½ hour to drain, rinse them and add some thinly sliced white onion. She would put them into a large bowl, add vinegar and sour cream, stir it up, no measuring.”—Barbara, my sister.

Mizeria, Cucumbers, Sour cream, Dill, Detroit, Polish
Mizeria (Dilled Cucumber Salad).

1 medium cucumber peeled and thinly sliced (I used the English hothouse cucumber because has less acidity)
Salt
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
4 heaping tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh dill weed (optional)

Sprinkle the cucumber with plenty of salt and leave to drain in a colander for at least 1/2 hour. Then rinse in cold water and drain. Mix the vinegar with the sour cream and sugar. Add dill and cucumber and mix well. Chill for 30 minutes. Put in serving dish and garnish with remaining dill before serving.

Busia’s Fried Potatoes

Busia's Fried Potatoes - simple, but delicious!

4 large potatoes, quartered and parboiled
2 cups carrots, sliced and parboiled
1 medium onion, quartered, sliced, and chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

Sauté onions in butter and olive oil in an non-stick frying pan until golden. Slice and add potatoes. Add carrots. Sauté over medium heat, until potatoes and carrots are soft. Stir occasionally. Golden bits of potatoes are good.


Busia, Fried Potatoes, Onions, Carrots, Polish, Detroit
This bowl of Busia's Fried Potatoes makes my mouth water just looking at it!


Dad took Busia and me to Chicago to visit her sister and other family in the area. I have lost touch with all of the cousins in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. It was a long trip then, along US 12, Michigan Avenue from Detroit to Chicago, so Busia brought along a casserole of City Chicken, so that we would have a snack along the way. Driving into downtown Chicago was awesome. It was incredible as we drove along Michigan Avenue, trying to find directions to our family.

City Chicken platter
A platter of city chicken.
City Chicken contains no chicken. It is made up of chunks of pork and veal that are put on a skewer, breaded, and then fried. Tradition has it that during the Great Depression, city folk did not have access to chicken as it was too expensive, so they made do with "mock" chicken. If you use your imagination City Chicken can look a bit like a breaded chicken drumstick!

Christenings were another event that were so important to my memory, as so many of us were born in the summer. Everyone would gather in the backyard of the house on McKean Road. If it were too hot, some would gather on the side porch off the garage. Food would always be served in the basement, where it was cooler. There would always be an oven roaster full of stuffed cabbages. Kielbasa was always served as well as potato salad. Sometimes there was City Chicken, but I never realized the time it took to make them!

Prepping for city chicken.

City Chicken

1 pound pork for stew
1 pound veal for stew
1 onion
Flour
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 celery tops, very coarsely chopped
Bread crumbs (I use Japanese Panko breadcrumbs, made finer using a rolling pin)
Wooden or bamboo skewers
Vegetable oil

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut onion in half. Cut halves into thirds. Turn and cut again into thirds. You should have many half pieces of onion. Microwave for 1 minute. Check to see if tender. Continue to microwave until tender.


Cut pork and veal into 1” or chunks. Spray skewers with cooking spray. Alternate one piece of pork, 1 piece of onion, 1 piece of veal, 1 piece of pork, etc. until you have about a 4” skewer of meat. Salt and pepper to taste.


Dredge in flour. Shake off excess flour. Beat eggs, add milk, and whisk together. Dip meat into egg mixture. Coat with breadcrumbs. Fry in medium hot oil until lightly brown on both sides.


Transfer to baking pan. Top with celery. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.


Serve hot or cold.

Finished platter of City Chicken.

Fat Tuesday! Polish Paczki Day!

Fat Tuesday, Polish, Paczki, Detroit
My Aunt Sophie and my grandmother "Babci" would make these at Easter, but they take a lot of work to make. I am happy to find them here in Florida at my local Publix supermarkets.

It is the weekend before the beginning of Lent, a forty day period of fasting, sacrifice, and penance for those who are devout Catholics. My remembrance of Lent was of dry fish sticks, only marginally better than cardboard, with a little ketchup on them if we were lucky. We did have, on occasion, beet soup and potato pancakes, recipes I will post in the next few weeks.

A treat I did remember was Paczki, Polish jelly-filled doughnuts that were traditionally made on Fat Tuesday, except that in Detroit in the 1950s everyone had to work during the week, so my Grandmother and Aunt made them on the Saturday before Lent began.

Along the stairwell leading to the partially finished attic in the house on Florida Street, was a cutout pantry where many of the kitchen utensils were stored. I was especially amazed at the wealth and the large sizes of the mixing bowls, every color, size, and shape imaginable. The big bowls were brought out to make the Paczki.

They were nothing like typical jelly doughnuts found in a supermarket deli or even a doughnut shop. These were big, hearty, orbs of dense, rich, eggy pastry, often filled with jelly, usually raspberry, or sometimes only with a handful of white raisins in the dough.

Paczki are very labor and time intensive. The recipe I provide below is from our family, but I have never made them. In fact, I don’t remember having seen Paczki being made. I only saw and savored the end result! I called my sister before posting and even she, the great cook that she is, doesn’t make them by hand, but orders them from a bakery in Detroit.

I have no such nearby bakery, but this year our local supermarket, had something they called Paczki. They weren’t as brown or as dense or as rich as those of my childhood, but they will have to do. If you do make my recipe I would love to hear your comments. on how they turned out.

Polish Doughnuts (Paczki)

1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 whole egg and 3 yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups flour
1/2 cup raspberry jam
Optional: 1/4 cup white raisins

Dissolve yeast in water. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, gradually beat in egg and egg yolks. Add yeast mixture, vanilla, orange rind and salt. Gradually add flour, blend ingredients well, and knead until dough is smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Set aside in warm place until doubled. On floured board roll out until 1/2 inch thick. Cut into circles with glass or biscuit-cutter.

Place a spoonful of raspberry jam at center of each circle, fold in half, pinch and roll into balls snowball fashion.

Fry in hot oil or shortening until dark brown. Transfer to paper towels. When cool dust with powdered sugar.

Note: For a lighter texture, the formed and filled paczki can be set in a warm place to rise once again before frying.
Paczki come in several flavors, but I like the raspberry filling best.

10964 McKean Road, Willis, Michigan --- Kindergarten

I have kept a small, tattered, brown cardboard box for over forty years. Although I have moved many times; sometimes halfway around the world, I have never misplaced it. I know exactly where it is. It is the only tangible evidence I have of living on McKean Road as the label is addressed to my mother. The box had contained an iron that my mother had ordered from a catalog. I think I keep the box so that I will not forget our first address, 10964 McKean Road. Willis, Michigan.

Willis, Michigan was a small town in southeastern Michigan, about thirty miles from Detroit. There was a grocery market with a soda fountain; a hardware store; a barber shop; a convenience story that served as the Greyhound bus station, a farmer’s feedlot, and an oil delivery station, There were a couple of dozen houses and a couple of churches, but that was all. There was a railroad track that you had to cross to get into town. I think that someone was killed there, because they did not hear the train whistle. I cannot say this for certain.

Dad brought home chicks in the springtime. He fixed a box in the basement with a light bulb to keep the chicks warm. I know it bothered me that that in addition to the chicken feed, he fed the chicks chopped eggs. I felt sorry that the chicks were eating their possible sisters and brothers.

I have no memory of anything in my life before I was five years old. There are pictures of my parents and me in front of the big, red brick house. There are pictures taken on my first trip to Wisconsin when I was almost two. My mother told me a story about that trip. Along the way, they told me that they had forgotten my baby bottle at our cousin’s house in Wisconsin and that from then on I would have to drink from a glass, and I did. There are pictures taken at Christmas at my grandmother’s house with my cousins and aunts and uncles. Pictures are the only things I have left of that house at 10964 McKean. Pictures and that box.

My first day at kindergarten; I do not recall getting on the big, yellow, school bus that took us to school. When it was time to come home someone put a tag on my chest that let everyone know which bus I was to take home. They put me on the wrong bus. I was only five—what did I know? I only knew my address: “10964 McKean Road.” Everyone had been delivered safely home. I was the only one left on the bus. The bus driver asked me where did I live? I answered “10964 McKean Road.” “Show me your address!” She said. “You are on the wrong bus!” Makes no difference, I knew my address “10964 McKean Road.” The bus driver headed for McKean Road, I recognized my house and got off. My mother was frantic. I was over an hour late getting home. “What happened? Why are you so late?” I had no idea. I sprawled out on the dining room floor and “read” the comic section of the newspaper. My mother brought me a bowl of chicken soup. I ate it on the floor. I was oblivious to my mother’s questions.

I have only vague memories of my kindergarten teachers. It is only my imagination that I picture one as being tall and thin, the other being short and fat. Both had gray hair. One did have coiled braids wound tightly around her head.

My parents were called in for a conference with my kindergarten teachers. This was unusual. I came with them. I kept my head down and looked at my teachers’ shoes; they had the same shoes—black, lace-ups, tied in a bow. I did not look at the teachers, only at their shoes! I was amazed that they both wore the same shoes.

They told my parents that if their child was to succeed in America, they must never speak Polish to me again. My parents did not challenge teachers—certainly not as some parents do today. Polish was never spoken to me again. I had learned Polish as easily as I had learned English. My neighbor, Mrs. Gerak had babysat me. I had visited my grandmother everyday. They did not speak English—if I was to communicate with them, I had to learn Polish. And I did—what did I know?

My mother always gathered us in the hallway in our house on McKean Road and we said our evening prayers, in Polish, before the crucifix that hung in the hall. After that conference with my kindergarten teachers, we never said our prayers in Polish again—we said them in English. My mother, our extended family, and the neighbors only spoke Polish when there was gossip, gossip they did not want the children to understand. I had learned too much however and I still knew some Polish, so they had to be careful when I was around.

It was coming up to Easter. Our teachers had sent home a note, telling parents to send their child with one hard-boiled egg to decorate. I proudly carried my egg to school. We decorated our eggs with crayons. My egg was so beautiful. We made Easter baskets out of construction paper, colorful strips woven into basket shapes at the direction of our teachers. It was naptime. We were told to close our eyes and not to peek. I peeked. I saw the teachers fill our baskets with Easter grass, candies and our special egg. We were told that the Easter bunny had filled our baskets, but I knew who did it. It was not the Easter bunny at all!

We were on the bus going home. I held my basket triumphantly in my hand. I was carrying an Easter basket for my mother. The bus lurched to a stop. The paste, still wet, which was supposed to hold the basket together, gave way. My egg fell to the floor. I tried to get it, but it rolled right out the school bus door. I had no Easter egg for my mother. I yelled for the bus driver to stop, but the bus continued on. I was inconsolable. The egg was lost—I was being punished because I peeked, when I was told not to. I had nightmares about the egg rolling out the bus door for years afterward.

That was not the only nightmare I had. It was only one of the milder ones. I had nightmares about the Lone Ranger and Superman, except in these nightmares, they were the bad guys and they were coming to get me. The worst nightmare, the one that I feared the most, because after I awoke from it I was afraid to go back to sleep, involved a huge circulating vortex. It whirled and whirled. I was being sucked in, and I knew that when I reached the bottom I would die. I would wake up, shaking, afraid to fall asleep again in case the nightmare would reappear. I never told anyone about my nightmares.

My brother, Thomas, died before I entered kindergarten. Maybe things would have been different if he had not died. It was winter. It was the middle of the night. My father was working. There was a commotion in the house. Mrs. Gerak was there. Someone from the Gerak family was taking my mother and brother to the hospital. Too late, he died on the way. I do not know what caused his death. My mother did not talk much about it. I found out later that it was pneumonia, and it could have been cured. Suddenly my life changed.

This visitation for my brother was at Roberts Brothers funeral home in Belleville, Michigan. I have been there many times since, but this was the first time for me. There were flowers, so many flowers, in fancy arrangements. My brother was there. I asked if he was sleeping. No, they told me, he had gone to heaven, but he looked like he was sleeping.

We went to the cemetery. I was not with my parents. I was kept in the back with my Godmother, my Aunt Pauline. I wanted to see my mother, but Aunt Pauline would not let me. I do not know how I got home, but when I did I found my mother on the bed in my bedroom and the door was closed. I do not know where my father was. I opened the door. She was crying. She screamed at me: “Get out! Get out! Get out!” The last nightmare, the one that still haunts me, even today.

I was never hugged or kissed by mother after that day. It was not until I was an adult that I would hug her again. Then the hugs were different. They were the type of slightly awkward hug that acknowledged that this was my mother who should be hugged, not the hug that says I love you, care for you, and miss you. It was not our way.

Mom’s Macaroni
My ultimate comfort food--Mom's macaroni.
To me, the following recipe is the ultimate comfort food when I am feeling blue. Mom never served this with "real" Parmesan cheese. In fact, I never knew that Parmesan cheese came from anything except the Green Kraft can until I was an adult! But first, a story!

In the early days at the McKean Road house, Mom always hung the laundry out to dry when the weather was good. One early spring, when snow was still on the ground, she realized that she had lost the diamond from her engagement ring. She searched for hours, but finally gave up. Our neighbors, the Geraks, told her they would pray to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost causes, and a few weeks later, after the snow had melted, Mom noticed a bright, rainbow speck in the grass—it was her diamond!

1 pound ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 and 1/2 cups macaroni
1  28 ounce can stewed tomatoes (I use the petite cut)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional) or Kraft Parmesan Cheese in the green can
Salt and pepper

Cook macaroni until firm, but done. Drain and rinse with cool water. Sauté onion in olive oil until golden, add ground beef and fry until done. Drain off fat.


Add tomatoes; chop them up if the pieces are too large. Bring to slow boil, and simmer for 10 minutes.


Add macaroni. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to slow boil and shut off heat. Keep pan covered to let macaroni absorb the liquid.

I like eating this lukewarm with a healthy handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.


I am thinking about the night we were coming home from Detroit and as we got closer we saw this huge glow in the sky. Dad instinctively knew it was a fire, a farmer's worst nightmare. It looked like it was coming from our grandparents' farm. He sped up and as we got close to home it wasn't that barn, but old man Blazak's barn a half mile away. Dad parked nearby. There were dozens of cars, but it was too late. You could hear the animals screaming as they burned to death. Blazak had horses and cows inside. I had nightmares for months after that. We went back the next morning. There was nothing left. Just the concrete pad and burning embers. The barn was never rebuilt.

There are more stories. It was probably 1959. My dad's father, and my dad's stepbrother crash into each other at a curve not far from my grandparents' home on McKean Road. Both have to go the hospital. The accident is blamed on a tree at the roads' edge obscuring vision around the curve. My mother is on the phone calling the Washtenaw County Road Commission to cut down the tree. They refuse. She tells them that the tree is going to be cut down blocking the road. It is a dangerous curve. It could have been a school bus. The County officials threaten to send the sheriff. Whoever cuts the tree down will go to jail. Sawhorses are set up at the junctions of McKean Road and Judd and Talladay Roads warning that the road is closed. Neighbors and family gather. Everyone has saws and axes. A newspaper is called. A reporter comes. A sheriff deputy appears. The tree has been felled. Cousins and uncles and neighbors sit on the tree, saws and axes in hand. Everyone claims responsibility. A photo is taken. The deputy doesn't arrest anyone. A couple of days later the county removes the tree. The sawhorses are taken down. I wish I still had that picture from the newspaper.

I think it was 1960, late summer. My dad was testing a kerosene lamp in the garage. I don't know the occasion, but it must have been a huge party. Dozens of aunts and uncles and cousins were there. The party went on forever. As dusk came, the adults were dancing in the garage by the light of the kerosene lamp. The cousins and I were rolling down the swale in front of our house. I was so dizzy from rolling over and over. It will be the last party I recall at 10964 McKean Road.

My grandfather died in 1961. It must have been late winter. My mother sewed a black armband around my winter coat. I was in one of the first cars and looked back at the cortege of cars behind us, as we made our way up from the Roberts Brothers Funeral Home to St. Anthony's Church in Belleville, Michigan. The line of cars stretched forever, purple funeral flags fluttering. It was the end of an era. There would not be such a line of cars again.

There were issues, so many issues. My father bought the headstone for my grandparents. The stonemaker coming to the house with his book of samples. He leafed through the book. I watched as my father picked out the images and text that would go on the tablet.There would be no more parties at the house on McKean Road. The family, on my father’side had been riven. It would only get worse. The decision was made to leave the farm. It would be years before I saw some of my cousins again. Some I would never see. Some I would never know.

It was the Christmas of 1962. We would be moving to Belleville the following summer. My dad had the attic renovated to include two bedrooms and a half bath. I had the big bedroom. It was so lonely up there. I asked if I could have a Christmas tree in my room. “No way. Too expensive,” he said. And then, just before Christmas my dad came home with a tree. He said he was following a truck of Christmas trees and as it went over the railroad tracks in Belleville a tree came loose and fell off and he stopped and picked it up. He couldn't believe it. Here was the tree for my room! I am sure it was a tall tale. But I had my Christmas tree! I couldn't believe he had such heart. And then I demanded a radio. It was too scary and quiet alone by myself in the upstairs room cut off from the family. “No way, too expensive,” I was told by my dad.

We made our annual trek to Florida Street that Christmas Eve. I was depressed. I was twelve and here weren't toys for me anymore, only shirts and socks and other useful things. I watched with sadness as my sisters tore into their toys and games.

When I awoke on Christmas morning, on my desk there was a clock radio! I think it was an RCA. It was white, and big, and had gold trim. And it picked up CKLW from Windsor, Ontario, clear as a bell! I could listen to MoTown songs whenever I wanted to. It was the greatest Christmas gift ever! How did it get there? Dad must have put it there while we were packed in the car, ready for the trip to Detroit. I never noticed it when I got home, because it was so late.

Maybe I didn't appreciate my dad enough.

The Christmas tree.

The radio.

You always have second thoughts about how much your dad loved you until you are too old, and he is gone.

Calves Liver with Coffee Gravy

This is a strange sounding recipe, but oh so good! Absolutely do NOT substitute beef liver for this recipe—it is too tough, and has too strong a flavor. Do not let the coffee in the recipe stop you from making this dish. It will not taste at all like coffee when it is done. Also, don't overcook the liver. Many people do not like liver because they had only eaten dried-out over-cooked beef liver!

1 pound calves’ liver
1 to 2 cups milk
2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons brewed coffee
Flour for dredging
Salt and pepper

Cover calf liver with milk and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours. Drain and pat dry.

In large frying pan, sauté onions in butter until golden. Remove with slotted spoon, trying to leave as much butter in the pan as possible. Add vegetable oil.

Slice liver into 1x2 inch strips. Salt and pepper. Dredge lightly in flour.

Place strips in single layer in frying pan. Fry briefly on each side for a couple of minutes until golden brown, but still pink. Combine water and brewed coffee. Pour over liver. Add onions. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer until thickened, not more than 5 minutes, or the liver will turn tough.

Serve over mashed potatoes.