Thursday, August 30, 2012

We Thought He Was Gone.....

In the late 70’s, Herman arrived in Santa Cruz.  He was fun.  We shared his company.  He attended parties and family functions.  But frankly, after a while we just wished he would die.  

Herman was a sweet sourdough started introduced to us by Barbara Burklo, late food editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel.  The process involved making this simple starter, feeding the starter and stirring daily.  After ten days, you would bake one of a selection of recipes including pancakes and coffee cake using a fourth of the starter.  You would divide the remaining starter, keeping a cup and sharing the other two portions with friends, who would then be expected to feed, bake and share with THEIR friends - a baking pyramid of cosmic proportions.  At first, it was GREAT.  Cinnamon rolls, and coffee cake, and pancakes and can see where this is going.  After a while, every baking friend you knew had Herman stewing in a bowl in the frig and most all were fed up with Herman.  You would jump at the opportunity to bake a double batch of something Herman for a potluck only to find Herman was the main selection on the banquet. Herman became the zucchini of the baking world.  Eventually,  people would just “forget” to feed the starter and “accidentally” kill Herman.  Others would, in a mad fury of baking, use all of their starter and be done with it.

Fast forward twenty years.  We were living in Minden, NV when a teacher gave me, as an appreciation gift, a starter for Amish Friendship Bread, white goo in a ziploc baggie.  Directions had you leave it sitting on the counter, squooshing it each day in lieu of stirring, feed it after ten days and divide it into bags to be presented to friends.  My initial problem was having few friends that baked so no one wanted my ‘gift’.  The bigger problem was the attached tea bread recipe - it required a box of instant pudding.  Even then, I was not a fan of eating packages of mysterious ingredients so the thought of lovingly tending to starter only to contaminate it with a box of instant pudding was well, off-putting.  I went looking for an alternative recipe.  It took a while but I persevered and found a recipe using the starter that contained only recognizable ingredients.  And when I found it, it was named “Herman”.  Really?  It’s just Herman?  Two decades pass and I am once again dealing with Herman?

Prior to receiving the Amish Herman,  I had mixed up a standard sourdough starter with my Girl Scout troop as we worked on the Folk Arts Badge.  This was in 1992 and  It was shoved to the back of my frig between uses -  I reasoned  that anything able to survive in the saddlebag of a crusty miner, would certainly survive in a chilled box.  Once I realized that Herman was apparently Amish, I decided he could survive in my frig as the other starter had done.  Then I decided that one jar was enough and dumped them all together - cohabitate successfully or die!  

We moved from Nevada in 1995 and Herman came along. That’s right, I have something in my refrigerator that we actually consume that is nearly twenty years old.  And I will tell you that he packs a kick!  Those starters are not frail.  They do not need to be coddled or used up quickly. They apparently can be stored indefinitely with the right care.  With no kids at home, I don’t bake as often as I used to but, when I decided to take Herm for a spin, I just feed him, stir him down and back in the frig he goes.  I’ve offered to share but, even after enjoying a taste of coffee cake or other succulent offering, no takers.  One co-worker is still repulsed by the fact that I have kept something that old in my refrigerator.  And EAT it.

Now, more than twenty years after “Amish Friendship Bread” came into my life in the form of a pasty white mass in a plastic bag, Herman is still residing in a plastic jar in the back of my frig. To be honest, I’m not happy about the plastic but frankly, Herman gets a bit....gassy and at least the plastic can expand under pressure.  I don’t want to think about a glass jar exploding in the frig, not to mention the loss of Herman who has become a part of the family.  Occasional pancakes, biscuits, cinnamon roles and the subsequent rejuvenating feeding keep Herman happy.

Is the current resurgence of homesteading and scratch baking and preserving a sign that it’s time for another run at this starter?  I have a Herman Cookbook that is out of print and in these days of online recipe forums, have found a number of postings about Herman/Amish Friendship bread.  There are even people who cryogenically store Herman in the freezer then reanimate him when needed.  I couldn't take the  chance but you can.  

If you decide to try it, just be assured that he saves well.  Search "Herman" or "Amish Friendship Bread" and you'll find all sorts of recipes.  Ask me nice, and I might, to use the local vernacular,  offer a clone from this kicky little mass I have.  Come know you want to.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Find Your Own Way Home

Should a person really be this excited about a trip to a place that is neither exciting nor exotic?  Well, to be honest, maybe Wisconsin is both; I’ve never been there. I just know my mom USED to live there. Until her father passed away in 1941, she lived in Eau Claire. She worked at a candy plant and the pressure cooker plant. I know this because there are old black and white photos of her with the “pressure cooker gang” or the "Webster's Crew 1939" from the candy factory. There are countless pictures of her with her friends and old beau in their brand new winter coats hanging out in a park along a river. Well, next month I plan to see that river and, hopefully, that little park. 

While she is on maternity leave, Monica (along with little Alton) will accompany me on this adventure to Wisconsin to visit the graves of my grandparents and many of my aunts and uncles. We’ll visit the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay where there is a research library of Wisconsin history in hopes of tracking down my elusive uncle Charlie. I hope to meet family but, to be honest, I’m not sure they feel the same. I have searched with and the world-wide interwebs, the names of my cousins and their children then have tried to make connections through Facebook but they don’t respond.  My paranoid self wonders, could it mean they have looked at my profile and don’t see anything they like. Perhaps they don’t often go on Facebook so just haven’t seen my messages. Perhaps they will eventually respond and we will knock back shots of Patron and have a high ol’ time. I hope so.

Aloisia and Karl Goettlicher
My German (actually Austrian) side seems to be a mite....standoffish which was the impression I got from my mom and, in later years, my aunt who I contacted for info.  Seems no one ever talked about the past.  They didn’t discuss the journey they made from the old country when my grandfather and his oldest son, Charlie, boarded the SS Cassell in Bremen on August 4 of 1910 and barely two weeks later, made their American landfall in Baltimore.  My grandmother didn't talk about the subsequent trip she made in October, with six children, including a 9-month-old Raley sailing on the Freidrich der Gross (Fredrick the Great), coming through Ellis Island.  Such an amazing journey but they didn’t talk about it.  They apparently didn’t share the stories of their portage that would make them come alive in my mind.

So I have the headstones of Karl and Aloisia; just their names carved in granite.  Aloisia, the inspiration for my middle name - Louise.  I wrinkled my nose at the name as a child but have grown to love my connection with a grandmother I never met, who died when my mother was only nine.  It was also passed on to her second daughter, Louise.  When in Eau Claire, we will visit my Uncle Joseph who is buried with his wife near Grandma and Grandpa as well as my Aunt Raley, Aurelia, and her husband.  I have tracked the locations of my aunts Louise and Augusta (Gusty) and Anna but am still searching for Mary.  And Charlie.  But if they are all I have, I want to visit.  I want to walk among those fields of granite and stroll past the river where my mom hung with her besties.  

Mark and I have traveled the southern part of the country on our honeymoon drive to South Carolina.  We've visited the east coast and the north as far as Montana.  Until now, the midwest has escaped my company.  We will actually stay in Green Bay...two people people who care less about baseball, you’ll never find...*kidding*.  We’ll probably spend a bit of time tracking down a lighthouse or two along Lake Michigan. But mostly this trip will be about family and about following the trail of crumbs that lead us to our ancesters.  The connections that make me laugh when I see my mom and her sisters when I look in the mirror.  It's nice to know I have that connection.  If my relatives are concerned about this stranger from California, I suspect they will see the family resemblance.

Monday, August 6, 2012

In These Troubled Times It's Hard Enough

Yeah yeah yeah....Chick Fil-A.  Much ado about chicken.  In case you haven’t heard, it’s not about the chicken.  It’s also not about sex.

After a sadly heated exchange last week, and other friends and relatives who posted...”whoot whoot we support Chick Fil-A” posts, I wanted so badly to say something...WRITE something SO profound that they (or perhaps YOU) would consider another view.  Just for a moment.

I finally decided to challenge those who feel strongly (generally backed with Biblical rationale) that homosexuality is WRONG (bold, uppercase, exclamation highlighted by a curse from the Almighty)!  Yes, I challenge you, DARE YOU to talk to a gay.  Yep, find yourself one of those gays and talk to them.  To him.  To her.  You know you know one.  A friend (well, maybe not a good friend since they know how you feel about them), a coworker.  A relative.  Pull them aside and ask them when they decided to be gay.  Ask them about their “lifestyle” choice.  Why do they choose to be gay?  Or, if you want a more productive conversation, perhaps ask them when they knew they were gay.  When they knew they were different.  Ask them what “coming out” meant to them.  How hard was it?  Ask them about the first time they fell in love.

I hope that, for some of you, putting a face and a story on your stand against same-sex marriage may help you to see these people as they people not issues. Not a lifestyle choice. Real people just like you and me who love and want to BE loved. Some of them are jerks.  Just like the rest of us.  They, like us, are human.

Many, dare I say most. of you are absolutely unable to have that conversation.  If that is the case, for whatever reason, please try and read this blog.  I will warn you that it was written by a gay man striving to help his friends, people who call him their friends yet don’t think he should have the same rights as others, to understand his feelings on the issues.  To understand why pumping your fists at the long lines at  Chick Fil-A on the first of August was crushing.  He does not discuss sex.

 If you get through THAT, read the follow up linked at the end of the first blog and see that people DID understand.  They reconsidered, against all odds, their previous stance.  There is even a man of the cloth who opened his mind and his heart.

Please.  Please. PLEASE try and read it.  No one will know.  Your best friend won’t know.  Your husband.  Your wife. Your drinking buddies at the bar.  Your priest won’t know you read it.  You don’t need to comment to my blog.  In fact, I don’t WANT you to comment, unless something you read has profoundly changed the way you think on this issue.  Comment to tell me that something in your conversation or in reading what Wayne (who I don’t know) wrote has changed your HEART and made you think how “smiling to wound is its own punishment".  Any thing else will be deleted because, frankly, there’s just no point.