Is it Spring yet? I have to keep checking. You know all those weather reports that you're hearing about the cold spell in the Middle Atlantic States? Well, I think that it's sitting right on top of our house. We have a new heating system, and boy are we glad about that. All the same, I still don't like cold weather.
In particularly, I don't like February.
Except for February of 1983.
I was nine years old. It was cold that month, but there had been no snow. I was still in foster care, and recovering from bronchitis, though I was back at school.
I remember that it was a Tuesday night, and my foster mother sat me down and told me that the next day a strange woman was coming to take me away from them forever and that I'd never see any of them again. I was terrified. Not that I was so all-fired happy in that home, but after all, "better the devil you know...."
I was too scared to sleep that night. Somebody had said, shortly before I went to bed that I was going to be adopted by a fat witch, who would beat me and kill me. There was a going away party the next day in school for me, but I was too scared to enjoy it. I dreaded the end of the day, when I would have to go home and SHE, the fat witch, would be there.
There was a strange car in the driveway, and the caseworker's car was there, too. I was shaking.
She was sitting on the sofa, between two case workers.
First thing I noticed was that she wasn't fat. She had on a brown velvet pantsuit, (later, I learned that she had made it herself) and her hair was up on top of her head. It was red, like my own. She smiled, sort of a scared little smile. (Could witches be scared?)"This is Ms. Smith," somebody said. "You will be my new mommy?" I said, scornfully. I wasn't going down without a fight. "If that's OK with you," she said.
All of a sudden, I wasn't scared. I grabbed her hand and showed her my room. (The only one in that cold house without even a small bedside rug on the floor.) We went back into the living room, and one of the caseworkers said to her, "Well, do you still want her?" As though I were not there."Of course," the red-haired stranger said. "I'm in love." She was annoyed at the caseworker, I could tell.
To make a long story shorter, she sat on the floor with me, and opened her briefcase. There was an "Annie" doll in it, and a bunch of Barbie clothes, and a locket. She put the locket around my neck. "Just like in the movie," she said. I didn't know that she was talking about the "Annie" movie, because I had never seen it."I heard that you have a Barbie doll," she said. "Please go get her."
I was embarrassed, because the other kids had pulled the left leg off the doll, and most of her hair. But I brought her out. The stranger took her from me very gently. "Can you help her?" I blurted out. She nodded, very slowly. "I think so," she said. "One of my hobbies is doll-making."
When it came time for her to go, I expected that I would go with her. I was ready. Of course, Social Services was not. We had to "visit". I put my arms around her waist and hung on."You will come back for me?" I begged. "Nothing will stop me," she said. I made her take Barbie and Annie with her. I didn't know what the kids would do to them. I wanted them safe with my new mommy. Like I would be. "When will we go to your house?" I asked. "Sunday," she told me. It was only Wednesday. It took forever to get to Sunday from there.
And that was how I met J. M. Smith, author of Merlyn, in February of 1983. And she taught me to kick butt, and nobody has bullied me since.
Now, in honor of our 17th anniversary, and also in honor of President's Day, I have some very American recipes to help us survive this month.
- 1 cup white cornmeal
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten, or equivalent substitute
- 1 cup milk
- 3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease muffin tins that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Sift the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Combine the eggs, milk, and butter and add to the dry ingredients. Do not overmix. Spoon the batter into the greased muffin tins, filling each tin completely full. Bake at 400F for 20 minutes or until done.
- Yields: 18 muffins
- Preparation Time: 30-45 minutes
- 3 pounds sweet potatoes
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed, divided
- 3 tablespoons butter or margarine
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 400F. Grease a 1-qt casserole. Cook the sweet potatoes in boiling salted water until done; drain, peel and mash them. Stir in all of the ingredients, except 2 tablespoons of sugar. Turn the mixture into the prepared casserole and sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Bake at 400F for 30 minutes.
- Yields: 8 to 10 servings
- Preparation Time: less than an hour
- 1 lb red beans
- 2 cups canned tomatoes
- 3 ribs celery, chopped, divided
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 2 cups tomato juice
- 1/2 teaspoon pickling spice
- 1 large bay leaf
- 1/2 cup carrots, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup green beans, finely chopped
- salt to taste
Put the beans and tomatoes into a kettle with 4 quarts of water. Chop the celery, reserving 1/2 cup. Add the celery, onion, tomato juice and spices to the mixture in the kettle. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, for three hours, reducing the liquid to about 3 quarts. In a separate saucepan, cook the carrots, green beans, and reserved celery in 2 cups of the soup broth. When the vegetables are cooked, strain the broth and return it to the soup kettle. Strain the soup through a double thickness of cheesecloth. Salt to taste and garnish with cooked vegetables. Serve hot or cold.
- Yields: 6 to 8 servings
- Preparation Time: about 4 hours, but you don't have to watch it simmer the whole time!
- 3 fresh oranges
- 3 fresh grapefruit
- 1/2 small fresh pineapple
- 1/3 cup orange juice
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup flaked or fresh coconut, shredded
Peel and section the oranges and grapefruit. Peel and dice the pineapple and mix it with the orange and grapefruit sections. Combine the orange juice and syrup. Divide the fruit mixture into 6 sherbet glasses, pour the juice over the fruit, and top with the coconut.
- Yields: 6 servings
- Preparation Time: about half an hour