The Kitchen

Following is an excerpt from Lucie's Kitchen, a collection of stories and recipes from Lucie Olmstead's life coming out soon.

Clyde was home on leave from the Navy. He wasn't sure when he would be home again, so he and Helen planned their wedding on a Friday, August 12, 1955. Her sister Alice's wedding was the next day, but that was OK. Helen's wedding was a happy party, a casual gathering of friends and family glad to see the young couple get their start. Nothing extravagant.

Helen and Clyde would go on to live and raise four children in their hometown, together for close to 60 years-- and counting.

Helen-Clyde-wedding-party
Newlyweds Helen & Clyde Jenkins (center), with matron of honor Sally McDermid and best man, friend of Clyde.

When asked for a favorite recipe from Aunt Helen's daughter Tricia, this main dish was her pick. But like Edna's Scalloped Corn and Lucie's pies, Helen's Beef Tips and Noodles weren't tied to a hard and fast recipe. "Oh, I just use some leftover roast beef, add some gravy, and boil some noodles." reported Helen. "Homemade noodles though." she added. That's the key: her kids loved this dish, but the noodles are essential. "They're just egg and flour," Helen said "but the kids ate those first."

That's the truth, isn't it? Sometimes the most practical, uncomplicated things are what we crave the most.

Beef Tips and Noodles

by Helen Jenkins

Ingredients
Cooked roast beef
Gravy
Noodles

Cut the roast beef into chunks and brown over medium heat in a heavy skillet. Make gravy separately and add to the pan. Stir in cooked noodles.

Noodles

by Lucie Olmstead

Ingredients
1 egg
salt
1 T cream, milk, or water (or 1 tsp butter)
Flour

Mix the egg, salt, and cream together in a bowl. Add enough flour to form a soft ball.

Roll on a well-floured area to the desired thickness. From one end, roll the sheet up into a log. Cut the rolled dough into 1" wide sliced, then uncurl each noodle. Allow to dry for 1-2 hours. Drop noodles one at a time into boiling water or soup (after everything else in the soup is cooked). Cook in boiling water for 5-7 minutes.

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Hard FoughtOne day in November, the final canning session for the season was over. Ten quarts of applesauce would have to do, stretching themselves through the winter months for our family of 5. It’s not what I’d hoped for, but it was the best I could do given the circumstances.

The jars watched me from their perch on the kitchen racks, waiting for me to finish the last chore: carrying them down to the basement pantry. I finally relented to their stares, grabbing a random armful of jars on my trips to the laundry room.

As I opened the old slatwood cupboard doors that shield the pantry shelves, I expected to see an empty space. With the start of a full time job this year followed by a midsummer move, this wasn’t my most productive canning season. I had, in fact, been hosting a bit of a pity party about everything I didn’t accomplish this year: jam, tomatoes, pickles (thankfully I was a little overzealous with my Picklepalooza last year), let alone time for trips to the beach and the zoo with my kids, knitting, gardening, my plans for sheep…. sometimes I wonder if my “want to” list will ever live up to my expectations.

But as I reached up to place the jars on the top shelf, I was surprised to see that the cupboard was almost full. Relish, salsa verde, and a surprising amount of peaches. When did that happen?

I scanned the shelves in front of me and the answer came: every jar was hard fought this year.

There were no lazy days meandering the farmers market or afternoons driving to u-pick berry farms on a whim. Rather, I power shopped at the farmers market on my half-hour lunch and hogged the work refrigerator until it was time to go home.

It wasn’t easy. Canning this year made me yearn for the slower days when I had lots of time and little money, when I savored every bite of my day. This year I straddled the fence between the fast lane and the homemaker, gripping tight to the handful of hours in-between to preserve my ideal. Sometimes I thought it would be better to give in, to just buy the damn food and stop trying so hard.

But then what?

But then I would have missed the joy: the memory of pecking our way around the back roads to find the peach farm on our way home from a weekend up north, and later, the warmth of my husband and kids pitching in to help can the fuzzy orbs in the evenings.

Absent would be the pride at the dinner table whenever a jar of jam or salsa was popped open, or the relief on those days when I hadn’t made it to the grocery store yet and could send applesauce to school.

I would have missed out, too, on meeting new farm friends at the farmer’s market, and entertaining co-workers with my armfuls of produce. “What did you buy today, Becky?” was something I looked forward to every Wednesday, as well as passing out the spare cucumber or apple.

I didn’t get to everything on my list this year, but it was more than nothing.

This year was hard. Not bad, just a whole lot of work that hasn’t produced fruit yet. It will, I’m confident, but sometimes when you are in the middle of pursuing a dream, when it’s all work and little reward, it’s easy to lose sight of joy. It pays to take a step back, scan your progress so far, and recognize your progress instead of your missed goals.

You might be surprised at what you see.

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“Mom, can I help you with that?”

My daughter was watching me cook a batch of chocolate frosting for the fudge cake we were about to devour. Her eyes told me that this was more about a chance at licking the frosting bowl. My independent girl, the one that would soon brave her first year in junior high at a new school, the one I found—at two years old—directing traffic at the top of a slide swarming with kids, the one that gets mean when she’s sad, just like me. The trailblazer that runs ahead of me all day long, but at night asks for me to cuddle her to sleep. The child that still holds my hand.

So we make frosting together, her adding the ingredients that I measured out for her, me lecturing on the proper speed of stirring (fast enough to keep it from scalding, not so much it splatters all over your shirt).

And as I’m demonstrating she asks

“How did you get so good at cooking?”

This stops me in my tracks as I stifle laughter. Because I am no great cook. I can can all day and am handy with dessert, but I often come up short at mealtime in comparison to her chef of a father.

So I’m tempted to correct her, but stop myself. I need to be careful here. My goal is to raise a confident, mighty woman that does not apologize for herself or negate her gifts. I want her to take a compliment gracefully, to achieve her full potential, and not hold herself back out of some twisted notion of modesty.

And, too, if I really listen to the question, she was asking how to learn, not debating my kitchen skills. It’s not about me.

So instead of correcting her honesty, I say “Well, honey, with a lot of practice. My mom taught me, and-- here—you go ahead and try.” And with that I hand her the whisk and let her do it. It’s awkward and imperfect because she’s eleven and still learning, but it’s FROSTING and when it comes to my kid’s joy, perfection can go jump in a lake.

Gwennie's Fudge Cake with Chocolate Frosting

This is why I cook real food. This is why I let my kids in the kitchen and spend time—gobs of time—and dirty all of the dishes in my cupboards and spend time at farmer’s markets and grow what I can in my garden. All of it. This is why.

It’s healthy and economical , yes, but it’s so much more than that.

When I invite my child into my space and she learns how to do things for herself in the process, she becomes more confident. And more self-reliant too, and suddenly cooking becomes a way of expressing her independence without (too much) rebellion.

When we are cooking together, the sweetest conversations bubble up. Standing side by side working together to create a meal, life happens. Questions are asked. And if I make this cooking of the meal the priority, and have managed some sort of balance in the rush of life, I can breathe. And I can answer.

This doesn’t happen always. There are days when we order takeout or when I’m tired and my patience is gone and the words are less than graceful. There have been days, especially when they were younger, that the kids were shooed from the kitchen just so I could slap a meal together.

But most days, the kitchen is where you’ll find a child cracking an egg or flipping a pancake or me nervously watching them practice knife skills. We have braved their creations ranging from salad to “soup” and have learned from their, ahem, adventures (graham crackers dipped in cider are a thing. Try it.)

This day it was frosting. It was a little runny. So my daughter and I took turns drizzling on the chocolate frosting, making a mess and laughing at our efforts. The finished product was predictably ugly. But it was delicious, and my family gobbled it up. No special occasion, just a regular day. Because regular days are when we cook around here.

Classic Fudge Cake Recipe

Gwennie’s Fudge Cake

Gwennie Olmstead was Lucie’s sister-in-law, Uncle Oral Olmstead’s wife

Ingredients

1 cup sugar
2 TBSP cocoa
1/3 cup shortening (1 large TBSP)
1 egg
¾ sour milk*
1 tsp soda
1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup hot water—added last

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°. Mix the sugar and cocoa together in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the shortening, creaming together until mixture is crumbly. Mix in the egg. Sift the baking soda and flour together in a small bowl, then add to the chocolate mixture, alternately with the milk. Stir in the vanilla. Add the hot water last. Pour into a greased 9x13 pan. Bake 30 minutes until edges are pulled away from the pan.

Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Frosting

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

*Sour milk was abundant in the days before refrigerators, and it was put to use in old recipes like these. If you don’t have any sour milk around, just add a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to your milk, and you’ll be good.