Where are the Oreos?

I’d been in the Braack’s kitchen more than a dozen times, but when you stand in a kitchen that you’re visiting, it looks different than a kitchen in which you now live.

Even a five-year-old knows where the spoons and cups in her own home are kept. You know if the cookies are in the canister or one-two-three drawers up (climbing them like a staircase), scooching your bottom onto the counter, turning from butt to knees to reach inside the breadbox where the cookies are kept.

What happens when you have to live in someone else’s world?  Where are the Oreos?

I was five years old. Five and a few months. It was late fall of my kindergarten year when I was left with the Braacks.

I’m guessing I cried.

Probably Pat lifted me with the arms that had rocked her own four daughters, and consoled me as much as one can console a child whose mother is gone. Surely, Doug jostled me on his knees as he did his daughters.

I have a fleeting impression of thinking ‘My very own bed!’ The mattress was long and slender, so big for my tiny frame, and stood near the door of the room that I shared with their four daughters. In the shards of memory that remain, it is daylight. I am sick.

Pat brought me a bowl to throw up in. I felt so relieved that I would not get sick on my blankets. I was proud to puke in that bowl. Can you see how a small gesture can be such a gift?  It gave me control. My father, mother, and siblings were gone, but I had a bowl. My kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Wing. Did she look like a chicken? I can’t remember. Did she buk-buk-buk?  Did she know a bowl could take the place of a family for a while? Between childhood and middle age my fingers have danced the edges of many bowls. I wandered through some years like a lost child, looking for center in other people’s eyes.

I left the Braacks when I was six; saw them next when I was forty-four. It was Doug and Pat’s fiftieth wedding anniversary.

I met my Braack-sisters again.

It wasn’t the occasion to say, “You gave me a bowl when I was sick.”

Instead, I said, “It’s good to see you again.”

Pat scooped me into her arms. Doug jostled me in his. I wondered if their kitchen looked the same.

Having Faith

“Cooking a huge, complicated meal out of Mastering is also a terrific idea.”

                                                    ~Karen Karbo      Julia Child Rules  

Last Thursday, I found two recipes in the Goodwill bins. Today, my grandaughter (great-granddaughter technically, but relationships aren’t about technicalities) Faith is here for the week-end, and she always loves to cook. She’s four, and doesn’t quite read, so I read the directions to her while she studies the picture, then she follows the steps that she remembers. Sometimes she adds a few steps of her own.

Faith and I started out by watching a classic moment between Julia Child and David Letterman.

Faith laughed when Letterman asked Julia what she did if something didn’t turn out.

“I give it to my husband,” Julia said.

Apparently, even four-year-old Faith understood the humor in that.

One of the recipes I’d found at the bins sounded so awful that I thought it would be funny to prepare as part of my Live Like Julia challenge: the perfect example of terrible 70s food. It came from the 1975 General Mills Betty Crocker Step-by-Step Recipes card set, and is designated as an “In-Betweener” menu item, apparently meaning it would be a great option to serve between meals.

Or, in this case, it’s a great thing to cook if you’re skill set is somewhere between four years old and Julia Child.

The recipe is called “Snack Thins.”

After Faith and I washed our hands, we assessed what she’d need to prepare this recipe. First, she needed a footstool so she could reach the counter top. “If you’re too tall, you don’t need a stool,” Faith says.

Then we gathered the ingredients.

First, you measure the dry ingredients. Faith likes to use the finger leveling method.

Faith likes to pat all dry ingredients down to remove any air pockets. This is one of  her special techniques. Besides, it’s fun to see the flour fluff up the first couple times you pat it.

Next, you add the liquid ingredients and the cheese, then stir until it forms a soft dough. “It gets hard to stir,” Faith says, “so you have to hold the bowl.”

Now you spread the dough onto a greased cookie sheet. The Betty Crocker recipe called for it to be patted flat onto the pan, but Faith decided she would rather roll it out with a junior-size rolling pin. Faith says, “Sprinkle a little flour on top before you roll or it gets all stuck.”

It’s always good to check the recipe once you’ve finished a step. This would be especially important for any of Julia Child’s more complicated recipes, but it’s even important for Faith when following Betty Crocker Step-by-Step Recipe cards.

The recipe calls for Vienna Sausage. Faith calls them “corndogs” but they are the small can of Libby’s you can find near the sardines and tuna in your favorite grocery store. Dump the slimy juice out and put the “corndogs” on a cutting mat.

Cut half of the corndogs in circles and half of the corndogs the long way so they look like rectangles. If you are four years old, make sure a grown-up helps you.

Arrange the corndogs on top of the rolled out dough. Press them down into the dough so they are almost flush with the dough.

If you forget the pattern that you were trying to follow, look again at the recipe card. Study the photograph carefully.

When you’ve pressed all of the corndogs into the dough, set the tray near the recipe so you can compare how well you’ve done. If you’re satisfied with the arrangement, “bake until golden brown, 8 to ten minutes.” (That is from the official  Betty Crocker recipe.)

Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven, or, if four years old, have an adult help you. Put on the longest oven mitts you have to protect your forearms. Suck in your belly so it doesn’t touch the hot pan. Use a pizza cutter to cut up the tasty-looking Snack Thins.

Feel proud of your culinary skills. Serve with a smile.

If you would like to hear the adapted recipe from Faith herself, click on
Faith’s Directions for Making Snack Thins.

It’s not beef bourguignon, but in Faith’s words, “Actually, these are pretty good!”

Julia Child never seemed to feel dismayed if something turned out pretty good instead of excellent. She just kept after it, modifying the recipe.

Having Faith made everything right.

Two Girls, 4 and 6, Twirling in the Park

I stood under the hundred year oak
watching little girl bodies intersect
at the belly where one lay across the other
at right angles on the doughnut-shaped swing
and a young man—clearly not their father—
spun them round and round.

I got dizzy watching
in the warm afternoon wind,
worried what to say, not knowing
any of them– just gaping
like some voyeur, sordid and obsessed
with the relentless need

to stare and the nudge of something
in my gut. Maybe it was
how his hands moved so quickly
to spin them; the little one’s cries
rising in near delirium, clamoring
for him to stop while he kept on

twirling them round
and round and round
on the city park’s Big O
tire swing until they melted
into tender, mewing kittens
willing to be held.

“Two Girls 4 and 6 Twirling in the Park” first appeared in Green Monsters on Red Moons.