Memories of Christmas Dinner Past – Missing Mom

Our silver tinsel Christmas tree, decorated with hand blown glass ornaments, stood regally in our home’s entry hall on Meramec Street, South St. Louis in the Dutchtown neighborhood. Visible from the road, strands of multi-colored cone-shaped ‘C’ style bulbs (as they were called in the 1960’s) brightly illuminated our porch, shining through the glass front door, and stationery French door (complete with mail slot).

Mom, of German heritage, cooked up the tastiest meals, preparing holiday feasts for our large group of cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandmothers.

“Turkey should only be served at Thanksgiving!”, she’d exclaim.

The choice of meat for Christmas – baked ham, coated with brown sugar, covered with pineapple rings and maraschino cherries. Beef roast with red onions often accompanied the baked ham.

I’d like to think Mom was a cross between Lucille Ball and Julia Child.  She possessed the hilarity of Lucy mixed in with the masterful culinary techniques of Julia.

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The precursor to preparing mashed potatoes – sipping sherry or a Tom Collins from a cordial glass or water goblet. She saved up enough S&H green stamps to buy an entire cut glass collection. Her potatoes always turned out buttery and fluffy, no matter how much she sipped.

Of course, there’d be Bing or Frank on the radio singing carols, with Mom’s voice as back-up, all the while concocting a divine creamed spinach, broccoli, or strawberry jello dish. Light on her feet, she was known to dance around the kitchen table while cooking.

Baking was another art that came easily to Mom. Donning an apron of lavender, crimson and yellow flowers (which I inherited), using the wooden rolling pin (with lacquered green handles) she’d skillfully craft pie dough on the countertop. The rolling pin, a gift from Grandma Muskopf, later was gifted to me.

Dad’s favorite pie was mincemeat – a combination of dried fruit, distilled spices and spirits, and sometimes an unrecognizable meat. (The mincemeat concoction was purchased at Bettendorf’s grocery and didn’t always list the ingredients.) Apple, coconut cream, pumpkin, or lemon meringue pies were sure to find a place on the Christmas menu, as well.

Leaning over the festive table complete with china and linens, Mom, still in her apron, struck a match, lighting the tall white candles of the shiny gold-plated hurricane lamps. As everyone took their seats, Dad carved the ham and the roast, and plates of savory sides were passed.

Long after the meal settled in everyone’s bellies, she’d be up on her feet clearing tables, hand-washing china and silverware. Grandma, aunts and cousins took turns drying the dishes.

Finally, she’d garner a seat at the kitchen table, kick off her black flats, puff a Kool menthol cigarette, followed by a sip of Folgers. Dad, with a twinkle in his eye, admired her from across the room.

The house was warm, family was content, and “It’s a Wonderful Life” played on the RCA console tv, complete with rabbit ears antenna.

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If anyone has foolproof recipes for the following, please send them my way, or feel free to comment below. I have yet to master these dishes. They were favorites from my childhood.

Some of my favorite meals that Mom rocked

  • Russian tea cakes
  • Pan fried chicken and milk gravy
  • Stewed chicken and dumplings
  • Homemade beef chop suey
  • Lemon meringue pie

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Sheree K. Nielsen is the award-winning author of four books  –

Her newest poetry and photography collection, Mondays in October, recently won the Royal Dragonfly Book Award: First Place – Poetry, First Place – Fine Art/Photography, and Honorable Mention – Coffee Table Books. Mondays in October is Sheree’s love song for the beach, and her eternal companion water. She’s dedicated the book to the Siteman Cancer Center Nurses who helped her make chemotherapy more bearable.

Ocean Rhythms Kindred Spirits – An Emerson-Inspired Essay Collection on Travel, Nature, Family and Pets, based on her adventures (Chanticleer Semi-Finalist for Nonfiction Guides – Insight and Instruction)

Folly Beach Dances is her 2015 Da Vinci Eye Award Winner, a healing coffee table book inspired by her lymphoma journey

and coauthor of, Midnight the One-Eyed Cat, 2019 Chanticleer Little Peeps First Place Winner for Early Readers, Montaigne Medal Finalist, and Foreword Indies Review Finalist

Midnight, the One-Eyed Cat is here! Happy Book Birthday!

Midnight, the One-Eyed Cat is finally here! Her book birthday is today!

Five years ago if you had told me I’d be publishing a children’s picture book with an author friend, Pat Wahler, I would have said you were crazy.

But at that time, a little seed was planted by my husband who made the comment that Midnight, our black cat, looked like a one-eyed cat with a feather in her hat, the way her tail plumed above her like a periscope when she pranced about the house.

“That’s a really great book title,” I said with confidence. “I’m going to scribble that down and pin it to my bulletin board in my office.”

He said, “Why thank you for thinking that.” Of course, I chuckled.

Every day as I walked past that bulletin board, I stared at the piece of white paper written with the book title written in blue colored pencil.”

Two years passed.

Suddenly, one morning I awoke from a dream I had about Midnight. I quickly grabbed my notepad, thoughts pouring out easily, and wrote an entire story in fifteen minutes. The ending and certain parts of the storyline needed tweaking, so I called my author friend Pat Wahler to collaborate on the story to make it perfect.

After querying agents and publishers, we received a response from a small indie publisher in St. Louis (Amphorae), who seemed interested. They mentioned how they loved the message of courage, confidence, and overcoming disabilities. Would we be willing to making a few changes, and resend the manuscript back to them for review? We agreed. That was three years ago.

Believe me when I say it wasn’t easy. There were at least six edits (maybe more) on this children’s book of approximately 450 words. All the while, we were hoping for a certain illustrator to come into the picture — Janelle Dimmett. We loved her style and use of color.

After Janelle was hired to illustrate, it was then up to her to interpret our story. Janelle also went through many illustration updates to coincide with the book’s message.

Fast  forward to today.

I am so proud of this book and the message of “it’s okay to be who I am, just the way I am.”

With the help of Midnight’s best friend, a three-legged white rat named Starlight, and a bunch of bird buddies, she gains the confidence and courage to realize she was already okay, just the way she was.

So welcome Midnight to the world.  Happy book birthday!

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Midnight, 18 years old, (pictured above) was extremely impressed she was the inspiration for this story!

Midnight, the One-Eyed Cat is available on Amazon, and can be requested at your bookstores and libraries.

midnight no background - 3d cover

 

 

Comfort Food = Relationships

We all have one cookbook filled with favorite recipes from Mom, friends, and family, don’t we? And we’ve even gathered a few recipes from newspapers and magazines to add to this cookbook.

As Thanksgiving draws near, we are reminded of those people who took the time to either write, type or photocopy their cherished recipes and pass them on to their children, friends and acquaintances.

My cookbook, given to me by friend Peggy, is a cute spiral bound number with colorful illustration of glass olive oil bottles on the cover. The pages are chockfull of recipes created a lasting impression in my mind.

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There’s Mom’s Split Pea Soup, which literally takes several hours to create, but the flavor from the ham bone is so savory, the soup is worth the preparation.

Then there’s the White Chicken Chili recipe that my long time friend Tina finagled from a server at Lewis and Clark’s in St. Charles years ago that warms you on a brisk day with its spicy jalepenos.

Dad Nielsen’s recipe for dove breasts is in the cookbook, too. I refuse to ‘do game’, so the hubster cheerfully grills and prepares the bird.

My friend Diane B’s Tuna Casserole from 30+ years ago made it into the book – before I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Mom’s turkey dressing recipe with walnuts, raisins, celery, and those yummy turkey livers and gizzards reminds me of the bounty prepared with her loving hands for Thanksgiving guests numbering 30+ at our South City home when I was a young child.

My friend Janet’s flat dumpling recipe means so much to me. In all the years Mom was alive, she forgot to write her dumpling recipe on paper. Janet helped me fill that void, and I often think of Mom when I think of Janet’s flat dumplings.

My cousin Chris’ recipe for Cinnamon-Chocolate Chip Butterballs, along with the decadent cookies, was a gift on Christmas Eve. His recipe always reminds me of my cousins, and a festive cornucopia of comfort food and libations. And, of course, Beatrice the border collie trying to sneak roast beef from the dining room table.

It’s amazing how flipping through the sturdy pages of this aged cookbook is reminiscent of life and relationships formed over the years.

So with that thought, I’ll leave you with my favorite Coastal Cookie recipe, torn from the pages of my favorite southern home magazine. This recipe, tried and true, is ever so tasty and buttery. I love how the icing color mimics the cottony blue sky above. It brings back memories of lazy days in the sun and surf.

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Coastal Cutout Cookies

So this Thanksgiving, share a recipe with a friend or family member. You’ll never know when you’ll leave an impression in someone’s life.

Now go and have a Blessed Day!

Music, Poetry and True Glory

20150605_192734powell orchestra pitLast Friday evening, I attended a concert at Powell Symphony Hall with my friend Nancy. Like a child opening a gift, we were ecstatic to see Chris Botti and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra perform together. If you’ve never heard of Chris Botti, he’s only the best jazz trumpeter to walk the face of the earth. I’ve not missed a concert of his since he opened for the silken songbird, Diana Krall over 12 years ago at the Fox Theatre.

With no musicality in my family, I love to listen to music of all genres – jazz, classical, Christian and rock.

Entering the venue, seeing everyone dressed in their best, eyeing the winding staircases and the magnificent chandeliers, made me smile.

20150605_191709 powell chandelier 1As we settled in our seats and the lights dimmed, the audience became silent. I closed my eyes for a moment and listened to the sweet melodies permeating from the orchestra, the smooth sounds of Chris’ trumpet, and the weeping strings of the guest violinist. It was nothing less than magical.

Over the course of the evening, Chris brought out guest singers, highlighted his band, and introduced new up-and-comers. As the concert drew to a close, the lights dimmed deeper, and the spotlight was on Chris and his pianist. The room’s ambiance felt like an intimate jazz club.

On Sunday, I headed to another cultural event at the Unity Center in Columbia, Missouri, Friends Abby and Marcia accompanied me to the book launch of Well-Versed 2015. Marcia and I were receiving awards for our works from the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writer’s Guild. Our poems and prose were accepted for inclusion into the anthology.DSC_0145DSC_0135

Winners and contributors read aloud poems and stories about Moms, mystery, nature, pets, and even family conflicts. I listened intently.

DSC_0136Some stories had me rolling with laughter, others made me think; still others stirred up such raw emotion I found myself sobbing.

Each event had one thing in common. The performers – whether musicians or writers – glorified God.

When a human being is doing what he or she was created to do, then God is honored and glorified.

When God is honored, “Other people take notice. The world wakes up a little bit, sees things in a clearer/holier light, and seeks the source of that light,” says Coffee with God author, Sarah Arthur.

Performers glorify God by “using their talents to their utmost,” Arthur says.

Sometimes I don’t feel fully alive. I’m either wandering aimlessly throughout the day, depressed or unmotivated. (Like yesterday)

When I take the time to glorify God (right now with my writing), that’s when I feel alive.

And that when I think He is happiest.

Peace, love, and all that Jazz,

Sheree

For Mother’s Day…..Reminiscing about Uncle Willie’s Farm

me and mom backyard Meramec002 crop

Growing up, my best memories were the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of South St. Louis.

The corner confectionary sold rainbow-colored candy buttons and chunk chocolate. Housed in a shiny glass case, the candy was the main act, on show for all to see.

The brick five-and-dime store on Meramec Street, about three blocks from my house, sold everything imaginable. The same store where my cousin Carol, pounded her fists and kicked her feet in a full-out temper tantrum, because my Aunt Katie refused to buy her what she wanted.

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard on Grand Avenue, still standing to this day, made superb lemon floats. I remember many reflective walks to the custard stand with my friend and neighbor Cindy Winschel.

As an adult, I loved hearing Mom’s childhood stories. She frequented Uncle Willie’s Illinois farm as a young girl, and spent lazy weekends exploring with sisters Georgia Lee and Isabella, often getting into trouble with her cousins, the Wagner kids.

What I remember most about Mom is that she was tough. Tough as nails. And funny.

So here’s a tribute to my Mom ‘Gladys’, and to all moms everywhere.

It’s a story that was published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on October 13, 2010 titled Visiting Uncle Willie’s Farm. I hope you like it.

Visiting Uncle Willie's Farm - STL Post 2010001Happy Mother’s Day…no matter what kind of mom you are….even moms of animal children.

Visiting Uncle Willie's Farm - STL Post 2010002