Category Archives: Nostalgia

Snapshot: Found Objects

At the risk of outing myself as a complete slob, I recently unearthed my daughter’s decade-old “Little Mermaid” backpack while cleaning a closet. Serendipity struck in the form of a backpack collection drive that my friend Karen Benke was having to send backpacks to children in Colima, Mexico, and off the Little Mermaid pack went.

The body of the backpack had long ago been emptied, but the small front pocket held a surprise collection. Dumping it on the kitchen counter transported me back more than a decade — to a time of baby barrettes, film cameras, and our delightfully worn membership card to the Bay Area Discovery Museum. I was reminded that every purse and backpack from that period contained crayons and crayon markings. I remembered Anna being entranced by a magician’s tricks and adding her writing to his card. I remembered exploring San Francisco Bay on a slow afternoon that probably included pretending to be a captain atop the Discovery Museum’s dry-land boat.

Modern-day Anna was amused that the Mermaid backpack would have within it a guide to the seashore.

What treasures have you unearthed lately?

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

From Treehugger: Frugal Green Living Posters

Canning, victory gardening, carpooling, conserving resources, living frugally — There are a lot of parallels between a whole swath of trends and activities today and those from the 1940s. In both periods, outside forces (war, the economy, the environment) have caused a lot of us to take stock and change some of our homefront habits. In the process, many of us discovered or rediscovered some relatively lost arts on the way to using less.

The always-relevant Treehugger has offered a terrific blog post, Frugal Green Living: Posters for the Movement, which features a collection of 1940s posters that, while making statements urging people to reconsider wasteful habits, are also themselves wonderful examples of message-oriented graphic design at its mid-century zenith.

I love these for their bold graphics and nostalgic style and marvel that they are fairly relevant today – except for the last one, of course. Though Treehugger makes the point that cooking fat is now collected for biodiesel fuel, rather than to make explosives. And that is undoubtedly a good thing.

Posters: Minneapolis Public Library

Happy 50th Avenue of the Giant Redwoods

50 years may be a lot to us, but it’s a mere blip to some redwood trees, the oldest of which live 2,000 years. (Most live 500-700 years.)

Regardless, the Golden birthday is nothing to sneeze at, particularly in regard to the Avenue of the Giants Parkway,  the 32-mile-long road that stretches from Garberville to Scotia, a bit inland from the Northern California coast, that is home to some of the oldest-growth redwoods in the world.

Originally a stagecoach road, the Avenue of the Giants was officially dedicated by CA Governor Edmund G. Brown on August 27, 1960. It seemed that the new,  high-speed Highway 101 allowed the Redwood route to become, in Brown’s words, “a serene drive where kids and families can cross the road at will, where traffic moves at a far slower pace.”

Luckily for us!

I had always wanted to take this drive, which my family did last summer. It was amazing to be in a tunnel of truly majestic redwoods.

We also visited one of the three world-famous drive-through coast redwoods, which I’d seen on postcards most of my life.

We drove through the Leggett Chandelier Tree.

We also got to walk through it.

The whole area is rich with wonderful and strange tourist stops, like the One Log House and Hobbiton, USA, both in Phillipsville, and various redwood-themed amusements and artisan shops along Highway 101.

I highly recommend driving the Avenue of the Giants and Highway 101, perhaps in conjunction with a trip to San Francisco, or the northern CA or southern OR coast.

The Save the Redwoods League offers fun activities to help families explore the Avenue of the Giants.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Blueberry Tuesday: Summer Triple Berry Crisp

Continuing the series on desserts that use luscious blueberries and other fruits at their peak (see the Blueberry Buckle recipe), this post features my all-time favorite fruit dessert, the Crisp. What makes a crisp a crisp, and not a buckle, crumble, cobbler, or slump? you may be asking. Crisps have exceedingly wonderful crunchy, sugary tops over a slightly thickened cooked-fruit base. Fruit and topping are perfect together — different from one another, yet complimentary.

This recipe is adapted from June’s Apple Crisp in the Silver Palate Good Times cookbook. As you’ll see, crisps can be made with berries, apples, apricots, peaches, or any fruit that’s tasty and in season.

Triple Berry Crisp

Serves 6

Approx. 2 C fresh berries or other fruit, washed (and peeled in the case of apples)
1.5 T fresh lemon juice
1 c flour
1 c sugar
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter cold, cut into pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8″ cake pan.
2. Place a layer of berries in the pan and sprinkle with lemon juice. Repeat layers until all berries are in the pan. Lightly press on the berries to even them.

3. Process the flour, sugar, cinnamon, & salt in a food processor fitted with a steel blade just to combine. Add the butter and process, using repeated pulses, until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
4. Press the crumb mixture evenly over the berries, making sure the edges are well sealed.

5. Bake until the top is golden and the fruit is tender, about 1 hour. Fruit and juice may leak into the topping – this is fine.

The crisp is equally terrific made with peaches or apricots.

Why choose?

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like: Bake an Old Fashioned Blueberry Buckle

Blueberry Thursday: Bake an Old-Fashioned Blueberry Buckle

Something about ripe summer fruit brings out the old-fashioned baker in me. I reach for recipes for all manner of cobblers, crisps, crumbles, grunts, betties, muffins, and pies. And I’m not the only one. On Father’s Day, my daughter offered (or did my husband request?) a homemade blueberry buckle.

This one comes from the superb Jim Fobel’s Old-Fashioned Baking Book. A similar recipe is in Marcia Adams’ equally inspiring Cooking From Quilt Country. She calls it Blueberry Cake with Streusel Topping. That turns out to be a fine description for the Buckle: a moist coffee cake with a crunchy crumb topping.

You’ll need:

For the topping:

1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter, chilled, unsalted, sliced

For the batter:

6 Tbsp. (3/4 stick) butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. sour cream
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 1/2 c. fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried

Position rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8-inch pan.

Prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. With a pastry blender, cut in the butter to resemble coarse crumbs.

Prepare the batter: In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Gradually beat in the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth, then beat in the sour cream.

In a medium sized bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt to evenly blend.

Quickly stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture just to moisten: the batter will be thick and lumpy.

If you are inspired to do a batter dance around the house or yard, this would be the time.

Gently fold in the blueberries and turn into the prepared pan.

Crumble the reserved topping over the batter.

Bake 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the cake portion emerges clean. Cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes. Slice to serve. (9 squares makes healthy portions.)

Yum! Thank you Jim Fobel, and the roadside stand in Maine, where we first had a buckle and decided we liked them.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

Blueberry Tuesday: Summer Triple Berry Crisp

 

All Aboard for National Train Day

Sunset Limited. Hiawatha. Empire Builder. Super Chief. I can’t hear the names of the great American train lines without finding myself completely smitten. The Romance of the Rails has gotten to me pretty much every time I’ve taken a train, even a lowly commute one. My first long-distance trip was on the Coast Starlight, a two-night journey (was it supposed to be one? I didn’t care) from San Francisco to Seattle. My daughter and I boarded about midnight, when many of the passengers were already asleep. We were given warm chocolate chip cookies as we tiptoed to our sleeping car. I stayed up most of the night, staring out the train window at the houses and yards as they passed by in slices, under a full moon, at just the right speed for contemplation. The train’s mournful whistle occasionally sounded onto the empty main streets. At rural stops, a passenger or two would come aboard, their drivers shuffling back to their hulking cars.

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In the morning, we ate on a table set with a white tablecloth, as the train circled a snow-covered Mt. Shasta. We’d later play games in the observation car, meet Europeans who talked politics and American father-son pairs touring the country’s ball parks, drink wine with a very knowledgeable and funny sommelier, watch movies in a beautiful, lower-level movie screening car, and continue staring out the window at the tiny logging towns, the green college towns, the gorge-filled Willamette Valley, and the fir-lined Cascade Mountains. We may have been a full day late getting into Seattle but, of course, we couldn’t have been happier.

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cascadestream2

Richard Talmy, the sommelier, was indeed a trip highlight. He was encyclopedic about California wines and wine tasting, as well as train and Coast Starlight history, and he served all up with a great deal of verve, encouraging everyone to eat and drink up, to have fun, and to just acknowledge the fact that we’d “get on the train as passengers and leave as freight.”

Train Web writer and photographer Carl Morrison wrote a piece on parlor car wine tasting with Richard Talmy, where you can see the man in action and get a bit of the flavor of a tasting.

DiningCar

I’ve learned since that first trip that the Coast Starlight is the only Amtrak route to feature a parlor car with wine tasting and a screening room. (And that the parlor car itself is a refurbished car from the historic El Capitan line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.) Even so, last summer I had the pleasure of taking the Washington D.C. – New York train (which bore the unromantic name, Acela) and, truly, just a window seat and a garden burger were enough to make my day. Dusk and sunset didn’t hurt the mood, either, as I took in every aluminum-sided diner (themselves former train cars), corner tavern, brick row house, backyard swing set, hilly main street, church steeple, and pane-windowed factory building as the train swung through Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and finally to its resting place in a tunnel beneath Penn Station. Only the vaulted Grand Central lobby would have made the trip more complete. I could have come with this placard of warning: Beware romantic, yearning West Coast person experiencing train rapture.

SunsetTrain

Our car attendant on that first trip was named Douglas and, like Richard, he seems to be a character of lore among Coast Starlight riders. From the cookie on, we knew we were in good hands. A big man, I’ll never forget him cruising through the dining car, about mid-morning, calling out “Hungry Man Walking.” His humor (and our laughter) continued the whole trip.

We slept in a “roomette”, really a closet with beds that hinged out from the walls. (I’ve since booked a family sleeping car, which is roomy and sleeps four, but sacrifices views.) What we didn’t have, apparently, was the grand-era Pullman sleeper car service and room. While George Pullman didn’t invent the sleeper car, it was he who realized there was a market in luxury, comfort and service, and he and his Pullman cars dominated the industry during its golden age, when everyone traveled by train. A key component of Pullman service was the Pullman porter. The porters were black men — the first ones were former slaves — and it is said that, even though some of the work could be demeaning, Pullman provided them with almost unequaled earning opportunity and job security for the times. During World War II, there were 12,000 Pullman porters. Their union was referred to as a Brotherhood. It’s shocking, then, that the last Pullman car would take a run on December 31, 1968, a victim of the plane and the car.

pullmanx-large

Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, and Olympic athlete Wilma Rudolph are just three famous offspring of Pullman porters.The last Pullman porters, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, are gathered for last year’s Train Day celebration at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.

National Train Day commemorates the “golden spike” that was driven into the final tie that joined the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railways, thus creating America’s first transcontinental railroad, on May 10, 1869. I salute Train Day, the Pullman porters and the grand era of rail travel, even if it comes in the form of a refurbished Parlor Car.

Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are among the nearly 200 cities celebrating National Train Day with events, entertainment and exhibits at their train stations. Visit the National Train Day web site for complete event information and other resources about train history,

I suggest this site to get lost in some wonderful train sounds: dieselairhorns.com/sounds.

amtrakstop

IACMusic.com

Pullman Photo Courtesy of A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum
Early 1900s: Waiter John Larvell Dorsey, left, on Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

It’s Girl Scout Cookie Time

Whether from enterprising Brownies behind a card table or on a sheet tacked to an office bulletin board, few can resist the call of Girl Scout cookies. Cookie sales represent equal parts tradition, flavor, entrepreneurship, and the winning qualities of the scouts themselves. As a troop leader, I oversaw numerous table sales, and it was not uncommon for customers, upon seeing us, to brake their cars abruptly, whip out their checkbooks, and ask to buy every last box of Samoas or Thin Mints in our possession.

Throughout much of the U.S., public cookie sales start this week, as do deliveries to people who pre-ordered cookies from co-workers or neighbors.

Cookie sales are an involved process. They’re also big business. Each troop has a Cookie Sale Mom and a mom who oversees the Cupboard, or stash, which is added to and taken from throughout the duration of the public sales. Troop units have people further overseeing delivery and sales. Here are the cartons of cookies coming into our local Scout Hall to be divided for pick-up. (At 12 boxes a carton, that’s a lot of cookies.)

The first Girl Scout cookies were sold in 1917 by the Mistletoe Troop in Muskogee, Oklahoma. In 1922, a cookie recipe was published in the Girl Scouts’ The American Girl magazine. Its author estimated the cost of ingredients for 6-7 dozen cookies to be 26-36 cents. It was suggested that troops sell the cookies for 25-30 cents per dozen. Here is a recipe for the early Girl Scout cookie.

Girl Scouts in the 20s and 30s continued to bake and sell sugar cookies packaged in wax-paper bags. In the mid-30s, Councils in Philadelphia and New York began to use commercial bakers. They smartly stamped the trefoil logo onto the cookies, which grew in popularity around the country until World War II ended their production due to shortages in sugar, butter and flour. (The clever Girl Scouts turned to calendar sales.)

Pre-war customers in could display a Girl Scout cookie window decal:

With 50s suburban growth came tables at shopping centers, which augmented door-to-door sales. There were now three types of cookies: Sandwich creme (in chocolate and vanilla), shortbread (called Trefoil), and Chocolate Mint (which became Thin Mint). Peanut butter cookies were added in the 60s. (I knew them as Savannas. They are now called Do-Si-Dos.) Other cookies have come and gone over the years. Different regions use different bakers and even different names for the cookies. In recent years, Tagalongs (chocoate casing over peanut butter and wafer) and Samoas (a gooey, sweet chocolate-coconut-caramel cookie) have done well.

Thin mints still reign in popularity. Here’s the breakdown of cookie sales by type:

25% Thin Mints
19% Samoas (sometimes called Caramel deLites)
13% Tagalongs (also called Peanut Butter Patties)
11% Do-Si-Do (aka Peanut Butter Sandwich)
9% Trefoils (aka Shortbread)
23% All other

You can see a listing of all the types of Girl Scout Cookies, some of which I’d never heard of, at this girl scout cookie site.

So where does that cookie money go? According to the Girl Scouts, approximately 70% of the proceeds stays in the local council. A small portion of that goes to the individual troop (usually 7-12% per box). The balance goes to the baker to pay for the cookies. In addition to contributing to the coffers, scouts also learn a lot through cookie sales, whether by making change for a customer, talking to customers, taking inventory, attempting to earn incentives (like grown salespeople!),  or deciding how to allocate troop profits.

This site tells you where you can find girl scout cookies in your area.

Even with my daughter’s well-honed sales pitch to “Buy extra boxes – the cookies freeze well”, they do tend to run out. Luckily, various bakers have come to the rescue, with their own recipes for homemade versions of popular Girl Scout cookies, should you find yourself craving a Samoa in November.

Love and Olive Oil has a nice review of a Tagalong/Peanut Butter Patty recipe that originally appeared in Baking Bites.

Fortunately for Girl Scout cookie fans, Baking Bites also offers its take on the Samoa. In addition to the yummy-sounding Samoa recipe, they offer a Thin Mint recipe and a Do-Si-Do/Peanut Butter Sandwich recipe, which sound delicious to this Do-Si-Do enthusiast.

One cookie that might not be so delicious right now is the Lemon Chalet Cremes, which were just recalled because the taste and smell were deemed by the bakers to be less than the standard.

All this begs the question, What’s your favorite Girl Scout cookie?

Images: Susan Sachs Lipman, Scouts on Stamps Society International

Mixed Reviews for New Necco Sweetheart Flavors

I admit I was a little (okay, a lot) worried when I read that one of my favorite childhood candies, Necco wafers and sweethearts, was being reformulated after a whopping 163 years of tradition and success. Necco wafers were good enough to accompany two explorers on their expeditions (Admiral Byrd’s to the South Pole and Donald MacMillan’s to the Arctic) as well as feed the WWII troops, plus they featured the most wonderful iconic bright colors and flavors — Why would the company want to mess with that?

Mostly, as it turns out, to replace artificial ingredients with natural ones, an endeavor it’s hard to argue with. According to the Necco site, the roll contains the same flavors it always did:  Orange, Lemon, Chocolate, Clove, Cinnamon, Wintergreen and Licorice. Artificial ingredients have been replaced with natural flavors and colors from red beets, purple cabbage, turmeric and cocoa powder.

A panel of adult and teen tasters assembled by Slow Family Online tasted the company’s Sweethearts in preparation for Valentine’s Day. The group applauded the inclusion of natural over artificial ingredients and even liked the new, slightly softer, texture of the candies. While some of the new flavors were fine, others didn’t fare as well in the transfer and we bemoaned their loss.

The group found Purple (grape) to retain the most classic Necco flavor. The grape flavor is actually a little more pronounced than it was before. We all continue to like Orange (color and flavor), a favorite, which is definitely more citrus-y than its predecessor. The Green (green apple) has a new flavor, instead of its traditional, vaguely lime one, which I had really liked. Like the Purple, it retains the Necco chalky quality we like. The apple flavor got mixed reviews. I found it somewhat cloying. Light blue (blue raspberry) is brand new, in flavor and color. It’s a bit sugary tasting, but then the tartness of the raspberry comes on. This one could grow on me, despite the additional strange newness of its color. My daughter was particularly disappointed with Yellow (lemon), which she says used to have a more banana flavor. I was particularly let down with Pink (strawberry). Gone is the classic, nostalgic, unclassifiable Necco pink flavor. In its place is the much too bright strawberry.

I’m glad to report that the bright colors definitely remain intact. I’ve watched the sayings get updated over the years, as new ones like FAX ME and E MAIL ME came on. This year brings TWEET ME as an addition to classics like SOUL MATE, SWEET PEA, SAY YES, and ALL MINE. The Necco Sweetheart page tells us that all the previous sayings were scrapped to make way for sayings that were voted on by the public. I’m glad, then, that the voters thought to include LOVE YOU along with U R HOT.

Sweethearts are the top-selling nonchocolate Valentine’s Day candy. 6 billion little Sweethearts are produced each year. They’re so successful that they are now going to be produced for occasions other than Valentine’s Day. You’ll soon see Sweethearts with sayings targeted to the Twilight vampire book series, as well as a patriotic line.

I’m eager to try a Necco wafer roll next. I’m looking forward to Chocolate I remember. They wouldn’t mess with that, would they?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Photos: Necco

Bonus Trivia Question: What does Necco stand for?

Answer: New England Confectionary Company

Inspired by Grass Stain Guru: The Joys of Being a Free Range Kid

One of my favorite bloggers, Bethe Almeras, the Grass Stain Guru, has a consistent and wonderful gift for capturing the joys of childhood and the outdoors. She has posted often about simple pleasures, outdoor creatures, and all kinds of activities and play.

Recently she posted a short reminiscence called Free Range Guru about her childhood in which she enjoyed the freedom to wander, explore and play in nature. She also regularly accessed her imagination — so much so that she actually talked to sticks. It’s a lovely post and it sparked the memories of readers, including me.

What it brought up for me was this:

“I also talked to sticks! And ants and bees and rocks and marguerite daisies and tiny flowers that grew on bushes in Southern CA that had a distinctly wonderful smell. I lived in an apartment until age 9 and, while I loved moving into a house with a big backyard and a perfect climbing tree, the apartment neighborhood also offered wonderful opportunities for exploration.

I lived in walking distance of two lovely parks and my walking mom took advantage of them. But I also found plenty to observe in the (sometimes green) spaces between and around buildings, and at 6 or 7 I would announce that I was taking an adventure walk and would do just that. People of all generations (well, mostly seniors and kids) seemed to be around and, except for crossing streets, which I was allowed to do one by one, it was not particularly exceptional to do this.

I also had media and school and activities, but there did seem to be a space for exploration and imagination that many kids don’t have today. I know I have a certain sense of the natural world, of neighborhood and community, as well as a delight in being by myself, as a result of these childhood experiences.”

Does this sound like a child you might know today? Perhaps, but more likely not. They don’t often find the same stretches of time available for play, the same parental spirit that lets a child  – in age-appropriate fashion — wander a bit. As a result, children miss out on opportunities for play, as well as development, friendships, and the ability to order and navigate their surroundings. As witnessed by Bethe, me, and so many others (including Lenore Skenazy, who writes the Free Range Kids blog), these skills and experiences can color our whole lives.

I also use my own experience to note that one needn’t grow up in a rural area to experience nearby nature. Nature and its value can be found in a park, or any wild or green space, even a small one and even one between apartment buildings.

I’m very excited about the work the Children and Nature Network is doing to inspire and educate people about ways to connect children to nature. So much so that I host their discussion forum. You might want to come along!

Following is a sample of the nearby nature where I grew up. As a kid, even the smallest (the better for secrets?), local, and not always particularly special looking, spaces fed imagination and play.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Celebrate Christmas at CA’s Columbia State Park

Columbia State Historical Park, part of the California State Park system was the place to be during the California Gold Rush and it is the place to be more than 150 years later, perhaps especially at holiday time. That’s when this living historic town, just three hours from San Francisco in the Sierra Nevada foothills, puts on its lights and decorations, hosts a passel of events, and perhaps even provides a little snow, as it already has this season.

This special town, in which you literally step into history, offers costumed docents year-round, along with shops and activities, such as tours, mining cabins, gold panning, a working blacksmith, and stagecoach rides.

Holiday events this year include:

Miners’ Christmas, Sat and Sun., December 12th, 13th, 19th and 20th, from 1-4pm each day.

Miners will roast chestnuts, make coffee and cider, and tell stories around a campfire. Participants can partake in classic Christmas crafts and a visit by Father Christmas.

Merry Merchants, Fri. and Sat., Dec. 11th and 12th, 5-8 p.m.

Shops are open late in what is a complete antidote to the modern mall. Free carriage rides are offered on Main Street. Carolers sing and storytellers perform. Guests can warm themselves with roasted chestnuts, gingerbread and other specialties, and enjoy a visit by Father Christmas.

Equestrian Parade, Sun., Dec. 13th, 11 a.m.

Las Posadas Nativity Procession, Sun., Dec. 13, 5 p.m.

Enjoy this Spanish tradition that re-enacts the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. The procession is a 25-year Columbia tradition which features many costumed townspeople, from Bibilical as well as mining-camp times. Luminaria and candles light the way for the special evening parade and performance.

For more information, visit the Columbia State Historical Park web site.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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