Sunday, March 18, 2012

Inspiration


Wow!  I have a blog!  What to write about first?  How long, how short?
    
I’ve decided to tell a little bit about family members who inspired my creativity.  I have a huge family.  Put us all together, and there’s just shy of 100 of us!  Yep, that’s right --- 100 people, and that’s only on my Mom’s side of the family.  I have no sisters, but I have lots of aunts and female cousins.    I was also blessed to have had two wonderful grandmothers who passed on their love of all things handmade as well as their expertise!

                                          
INSPIRATION ---

My Aunt Mary has always been my mom’s ‘crafty’ sister, and I have had that in common with her from a very young age.  I loved seeing all the new things she had made whenever I went to visit.  She did everything or tried it at least once!  She sewed, made quilts, decoupage, painted!  She even decorated a whole piano with her artwork!  Her home has always been a treasure trove of inspiration!  I still have some of the things she made for me --- a painted rock paperweight with a butterfly on it, and these dolls she made and posed on rocks before she sprayed them with clear coat acrylic spray to preserve them forever.  It worked because I still have them, and they still look pretty much like they did when she gave them to me.  I got both a boy (in blue jeans) and a girl (in a dress that went with my bedroom d├ęcor back then).  She didn't do many boys so I felt special when she gave me that!   She has made beautiful bridal and bridesmaids’ gowns for people.  When her grandchildren were born, they always had the cutest, color-coordinated outfits!
 
Aunt Mary’s good friend, Judy makes china.  I don’t mean pottery – I mean fine china like Lenox! I have Christmas ornaments that she made especially for our family to commemorate our reunions.   They all have a lily of the valley design because my mom’s maiden name means lily of the valley in Bohemian.

LEARNING ---

My paternal grandmother, Emma, taught me to knit when I was about 7.  I used to stay with her during the summer when school was out.  At night after dinner, we would watch TV, and she would teach me to knit.  I still have the brown and cream acrylic scarf I made as my first project.  It’s pretty wide for a scarf, and it is all garter stitch.  It was striped because I wanted to learn how to change colors.  I still have the oddball needles she gave me to learn on – one wood and one bent, yellow plastic one – along with the ball of heathered, burgundy mohair she gave me to practice.  Yes, it was mohair and yes, I ripped and ripped that ball of mohair over and over!  The surprise is it still looks pretty good!
 
She taught me to sew when I was a little older.  One summer, I made all my brothers matching ‘jam’ shorts in the same blue paisley print.  Three little boys running around in matching shorts that they wore everywhere!  I also made one brother a stars-and-stripes terrycloth bathrobe for Christmas one year.  One of my favorite memories is taking the Skokie Swift with my Grandma to Marshall Field’s in downtown Chicago to go fabric shopping.  Some of those fabrics are still in my stash!   One very special one is a beaded and embroidered black wool she gave me.  It was moth-eaten back then, and she hoped that I could somehow work around that and save the fancy part!  Still waiting for that perfect thing to use it for……..  I also learned to needlepoint from her.

My maternal grandmother, Marcella, sewed beautifully and by hand.  She didn’t live close, but I always loved going to visit.  She was always greatly interested in my projects.  I still have some old fabrics she gave me - again looking for the perfect project to do them justice!  

She was an excellent baker and cook, and she passed that on!   At Christmas time, she spent weeks making all kinds of Christmas cookies.  Our gift was a box that each of us got to take out on the porch where she kept the cookies and fill with our choice!  And I’m sorry, but no one - ever - anywhere has made a better pie than she did!!!   Extra pieces of pie crust were sugared and baked right along with the pie as an extra special treat!

My mom’s side of the family has published three family cookbooks with one still in the works.  All of them are comprised of those recipes that we use for every day meals and special occasions.  All family members are required to contribute – even the men and boys!

One of the cookbooks has stories of my Grandmother Marcella’s life as a young girl in Iowa - and later left with three little sisters to care for when her mother died --- at age 11.  She picked one night after a family occasion to tell those stories, and because my grandmother had never talked much about that part of her life, one of my uncles got a tape recorder.  Her stories that night became the front page of each part of that cookbook for all of us to remember! The third cookbook was named for her - Marcella's Kitchen - and contains a number of her special recipes that her children remembered from their childhood!

The recipe I’m sharing first has been the main course at every wedding shower and baby shower that I can remember including my own.  It was given to us by a friend of my parents, Aunt Sue.  Whatever she made was always fabulous, and I’m sure she had no idea what this one little recipe would be to our family when she gave it to my mom, Susie.  The men love it, the women love it and the kids love it!!!  This is the recipe we make in bulk, and always reserve out that extra dish that goes into the freezer only to come out a few weeks later for a special dinner!  It’s the one I always receive requests for when going to a potluck dinner.   Simply put --- it’s the best!!!






SHARING ---

Aunt Sue’s/Susie’s Chicken Tetrazzini

7 oz. thin spaghetti, broken into pieces
8-10 chicken breasts
2 – 8 oz. cans of mushrooms
½ cup butter
2 cans cream of chicken soup
2 cups sour cream
½ cup dry sherry
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup Parmesan cheese (please, not the green can kind!)

Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Bake in a 350° oven for one hour.  Bone the cooked chicken and dice.  Cook and drain the spaghetti.  Saute the mushrooms in butter.  Mix together the soup, sour cream and sherry.  Add the chicken, mushrooms and spaghetti to the soup mixture.  Add salt and pepper.  Stir well.  Put the mixture into a 9x13 inch casserole dish and sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top.  Bake uncovered in a 350° oven for 40 minutes (until golden on top).


Now for the “Family Notes” and different ways we’ve interpreted this recipe ---

  • Boneless chicken breasts have been used although bone-in chicken still gives the best flavor.
  • Chicken has been boiled/poached for 20 minutes, cooled and pulled apart instead of baked.
  • Cheese is good!  More than one cup is okay, but remember it's on top so don't overdo it! 
  • When I make this recipe, it’s usually doubled or 2 ½ times the called for recipe.  That makes enough for two 9x13’s which are usually enough for any family party plus leaves a smaller casserole to put into the freezer for a later date (usually no more than a month in the freezer please or the flavor suffers).  I have a huge stainless steel mixing bowl that handles all of it at one time.
  • It’s real butter, not margarine --- and no, this is not a good dish if you’re dieting!  It is definitely that special splurge!  Serve this with a croissant and a salad – maybe Cousin Tracy’s Spinach/Strawberry Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette - and that’s all you need!
  • It’s sherry (and not white wine) that gives it the flavor --- cooking sherry from the grocery store is okay if you don’t have the real thing!  But it’s gotta be sherry!
  • Leftovers can be frozen, but after a month or so, they do lose flavor.


Enjoy while I think about what I will write about next time!  I already know what recipe I'm sharing!

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