I have often told you about my Grandma K, and I’ve talked about my Grandma H, but I haven’t told you anything about one of the most incredible men who I have ever known . . . My Grandpa K. Today would have been his birthday, and he is truly missed. Grandpa was a very complicated guy, a guy who’s mind never stopped thinking up inventive ways to do things for himself, using odds and ends he had around the house, or could pick up at garage sales. He was always tinkering, building, creating and thinking. It was pretty incredible to see. I remember sitting and watching him weave fishing nets upstairs in his attic room, on a loom he built himself, with big “needles” he hand made. One time he made a net that stretched several city blocks, just to see if he could! He’d make nets to cover up the fruit trees, to keep the birds from eating all of the fruit – his garden may have looked different all draped in nets, but the harvest was always prolific! He even made nets for my brother’s school’s basketball hoops! Finer nets have never been in any other school! Grandpa grew the most amazing garden. Grandma helped, but she was the one who loved the flowers, Grandpa was all about growing delicious food to eat. He grew apple and cherry trees, blueberries that were bigger and juicier than any I’ve had since he was alive. He grew Concord grapes, a couple different kinds of blackberries, strawberries and raspberries. He even had two walnut trees! I had no idea until after Grandpa passed away how incredibly expensive walnuts were! There was a variety of greens growing in his garden, but honestly I mostly remember the fruit. When I would go visit them, he would take me by the hand and we would go sit on the swing by the garden, and be very quiet, gently swinging back and forth, watching the garden grow. I am smiling to myself as I remember his incredible “cat trap”. Now, before cat lovers start getting all upset, he never hurt any cats. The neighborhood cats kept getting into his shed and leaving behind messes – you can imagine the sorts of messes I’m talking about – and he was tired of it. He took an old fire alarm my Mom had given him (these were the really noisy, clangy precursors to smoke alarms), hooked it up to a trap he’d made with an upside down apple crate and a stick, and somehow – I don’t know how because I was too young to question it – he’d rigged it where if a cat got into the trap, it would drop the stick, the box would fall over the cat, effectively trapping it, and the fire alarm would start clanging to let him know he got one. He’d go take it and release it, hoping that the sound would have scared the cat enough to keep it out of the shed. It worked! He also made his own cornmeal grinder! He took an old bicycle he found at a yard sale, took off the front tire, hooked the bike up on a stand, connected the chain to an old hand crank grain grinder, and voila! Cornmeal grinder! He would get on the bike and pedal away, grinding the corn while he got some exercise! Amazing! One more memory I will carry with me forever would be the bicycle rides. Grandpa had an old single speed bike, one of those old ones with the wide seat? He would take a pillow and strap it onto the bar in front of the seat with a belt, put me onto the pillow in front of him, and with his arms on either side of me while he held onto the handle bars, safe and secure in front of him, he would take me on rides around the town. With the wind in my face, laughing with happiness, Grandpa telling me about all the things we saw as we rode along, every block created a new memory, every moment cemented in my heart that my Grandpa loved me. In this picture you see my Grandpa, upstairs in the attic next to his walnut drying racks. What you cannot see in the picture is the vent below the racks that was directly above the stove in the kitchen. The heat would rise from the stove, come through the vent, and dry out the walnuts! Pretty smart, hm? Happy Birthday Grandpa. Tell Grandma I love her, and give each other a hug for me.
Polar Bear Day – Today we celebrate the world’s largest carnivore. Did you know that about the polar bear? They can get to be nine feet tall when they are standing up, and 1400 pounds! Polar bears are live at the North Pole region, and are native to Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia. I remember years ago I was hearing stories about this very remote area of Alaska, that people in tiny cabins would hear a knock at the door and open it up, to find a hungry polar bear waiting for them to be its dinner. I don’t know if these stories are true or not, but I wouldn’t have wanted to take a chance. Travel brochures warned new folks to the area that the bears knew if they banged on the door that food would answer, so don’t answer the door and night, and keep all pets indoors. Scary stuff! Polar bears are a big draw at the local zoos, though I feel pretty sorry for these regal, amazing animals being stuck in a zoo. If they are born in captivity and don’t know life in the wild it is one thing, but if they are captured and put into the zoo, that’s another entirely. You will probably be able to find interesting documentaries on TV tonight about the polar bears. Enjoy celebrating this one by watching a couple!
No Brainer Day – The definition of a “no brainer” is doing something that is simple, easy, obvious and/or totally logical. Today is an easy one to celebrate since it is the day for you to do all of those “no brainer” things on your to-do list that you may have been putting off! If a project requires in depth thinking, study or any sort of analysis, put it aside until tomorrow. Today is for those chores that are just automatic – no brainers! I would like to think that everyone can enjoy, and excel at, no-brainer day!
Food Celebration of the Day –
National Chili Day – Every February, on the fourth Thursday, people across the country celebrate National Chili Day! It seems fitting to celebrate a hot, hearty dish like chili in the middle of winter, since it’s usually pretty cold, and the chili will warm a body up! Many food historians agree that chili con carne is an American dish with Mexican roots, Mexicans are said to indignantly deny any association with the dish! One possible – though far-fetched – story comes from Sister Mary of Agreda, a Spanish nun in the early 1600s who never left her convent, but had out-of-body experiences in which her spirit was transported across the Atlantic to preach Christianity to the Indians. After one of her return trips, her spirit wrote down the first recipe for chili con carne, and it included chili peppers, venison, onions and tomatoes. Well! I said it was far-fetched! And I don’t make these up, I just report on what I find. Another story, which actually sounds more reasonable, is that Canary Islanders made their way to San Antonio as early as 1723, using local peppers and wild onions combined with various meats to create early chili combinations. The earliest known written description of chili comes from J.C. Clopper, who lived near Houston. What he wrote down doesn’t actually use the word chili, this is what he wrote of his trip to San Antonio in 1828: “When they (poor families from San Antonio) have to lay for their meat in the market, a very little is made to suffice for the family; it is generally cut into a kind of hash with nearly as many peppers as there are pieces of meat – this is all stewed together.” It does sound a lot like chili! In the 1880s, a market in San Antonio started setting up chili stands where women sold chili, or bowls o’red. These women were called chili queens. A bowl o’red cost diners ten cents and included bread and a glass of water. Chili con carne began to be famous and the dish became a major tourist attraction, even featured at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893 at the San Antonio Chili Stand. By the 20th century chili places had made their debut in Texas and became familiar all over the west by the roaring ’20s. By the end of that decade there was hardly a town that didn’t have what had become known as “a chili parlor”, which was really a fancy name for a shed, or room, with a counter and some stools. Some people have said that chili joints/parlors meant the difference between starvation and staying alive during the Great Depression, since chili was cheap and the crackers were free. What ingredients make the best chili? Well, some cooks say it’s the cumin, others say coffee makes it tasty. Others say that you should use beef bouillon, but others say its beer. Popular ingredients for this thick and spicy stew are ground beef, pork, venison and chili peppers, though different recipes have other ingredients depending on where you live, like onions, tomatoes and of course, there is the beans vs no beans argument. You can do a quick search online and find dozens of great sounding recipes for everything from vegetarian chili, hot beef chili, turkey or chicken chili, firehouse chili, well, the list is pretty much endless! Now, I know for a fact that my hubby makes the most incredible chili I have ever tasted, and honestly, everyone who has ever tasted it says the same thing. It’s an amazing combination of a variety of spices, heat, sweet and savory. Delicious, delicious, delicious.
National Kahlua Day – This coffee-laced rum liqueur lends distinctive flavor to White Russians, mudslides and other cocktail classics, but if you want to try something different, these boozy treats are sure to go down easy. Thank you food.com/food-holidays for the suggestions!