An Alternative to “Southie Rules”


I get it. Long day at work, or studying, or taking care of itty bitty babes. Traffic was bad, the lingering cough is getting worse, dinner was something scraped together from the cabinets and (gah!) the freezer is devoid of treats. The couch is calling, and nothing sounds better than tuning in and quieting down your headspace.

So tune in! But maybe just for tonight, if it’s your usual habit, exchange the reality cotton-candy fluff for something a little more substantial, a little more thought-provoking. Trade the manufactured drama that has all the fizz and excitement of a half-liter of flat soda for the real, historically documented stuff that molded and shaped eras and people.

I’ve got to confess an ulterior motive – the documentary I’m pushing tonight is one that took up the better part of a year of my working life. A stellar team created it – director, writer, editor, producers and assistants of all levels. I think the music and sound design are great. The old film footage and photographs are unreal. And the parts of the story about the life of one of the most familiar names in American industrial and automotive history might surprise you. So instead of giving your hard-earned free evening time over to “Southie Rules” or a re-run of “Real Housewives,” please tune in to “Henry Ford” on PBS tonight, 9-11 p.m. EST. You can always DVR the fluff!

P.S. If you watch and have feedback, I’d love to hear it. Friendly critiques make all of us better.

I Love You, A Bushel and a Peck

First things first. This is Mema:

She uses straws to drink huge goblets of beer while looking like the world’s biggest cutie pie. That’s just how she rolls.  You can do what you want when you’re 88 years old.

During our trip to Texas in August, Matt and I got to spend a few blisteringly hot days visiting Mema — we roamed around Waco to see where my mom and her siblings grew up and then enjoyed a dinner out with all of them (my uncle has a Texas accent so thick that he can’t get Siri to do a damn thing for him), helped with a few errands and chores (H.E.B. runs and a little 105 degree weeding), and spent hours rooting around in an incredible cache of old photos and films.  Every photo came with a story, some of which I’d never heard before.  Like how my mother was named after my Grandpa’s favorite student Sandra, (said in a sing-song voice) “the smartest girl in the class.”  How Mema remembers her own grandfather always eating Limburger cheese (“Oooo-whew! And it smelled!”) And how Mema was engaged to another man when my grandpa, who was away at his marines posting and whom she wasn’t dating at the time but had in the past, wrote her a letter that read, simply: “Are you married yet? If not let me know.”  It was a characteristically succinct message from him, yet effective, because as they say: the rest was history.

On one morning during the visit we took a 45-minute drive out to Cedar Springs where Mema and Grandpa once owned a farm.  My sisters spent most of our childhood holidays and weekends there, and I wanted to relive the experience and have Matt see it for the first time. Just turning from the asphalt highway onto the rocky, dirt country road that leads to the house conjured up a gusher of memories: old blankets spread in the back of the big red suburban, where the heat from the road and the blast of the A/C made for the very best of naps, scouring freshly churned field rows for arrowheads, the smell of the peeling cedars and algae-blanketed pond and old cheese for baiting the hooks that caught the catfish that you’d name Charlie and then throw back, all underscored by the constant, undulating drone of cicadas.  Mema would make tuna fish sandwiches, Miracle Whip for some, but Hellman’s for those with more refined palates, and Grandpa would yell at rookie news anchors with bad politics while we giggled from behind his chair. Mema would care for her roses and flowers, and we’d marvel over the soft, raised veins in her hands that she said we’d all get some day.  Grandpa would read and read and read, but he’d move like a flash to the locked gun cabinet if you said you spied a water moccasin in the pond.

We’d do Thanksgiving there with ambrosia always part of the spread – for the uninitiated, that’s canned crushed pineapple, canned mandarin oranges, maraschino cherries, sweetened coconut flakes, mini-marshmallows, and sour cream all stirred together into a sweet, gloppy mass.  In college I thought myself quite clever when I called it “kitschy.”  I know better now, and it still holds a place of honor on our holiday table.  Grandpa would make killer brisket until he went vegetarian, which typically wouldn’t fly in that part of rural Texas, but no one dared mess with Grandpa.  During my vegetarian stint, when we had Hamburger Helper at home I had little alternative than to sneak handfuls of it into the potted plant centerpiece. (“So that’s why it smelled so bad!” says Mom).  But when we were at the farm Grandpa would give me some of his pile of sautéed peppers and onions and say that we vegetarians would live to be one hundred.  Once in a blue moon, Mema would pull out her accordion (yeah, that’s also how she rolls) and she’d play a polka, or this song.  She’d also squash the rogue scorpion that snuck into the house with nary a moment’s hesitation.

I’ve got the beginnings of the raised veins in my hands, and a Becker nose that will persist for generations, but I still hope to someday be as tough and chipper, social and effervescent as Mema, and as quietly smart, adaptable and hard working as Grandpa, who started delivering ice from a truck as a teenager, and went on to be a first lieutenant in the Marines, a high school principal, a baseball coach who hardly knew a thing about baseball, a businessman, and a grandfather to thirteen grandchildren.

The end.

Except for one more thing…

Aren’t my mom and her sisters and sister-in-law total babes??

Now & Later


David Byrne / St Vincent “WHO” from martin de thurah on Vimeo.

And later:

Go visit your grandmother, and you just may find blackmail-worthy photos of your mom to put on the internet.

A post about family heirlooms, and the memories and stories they resurrect.

4th Generation Fruit Cobbler

Just returned from a weeklong Texas trip, so recaps and reviews are in order.  To start things off, here’s a recipe for my version of my mom’s version of my Mema’s version of my granny’s version of fruit cobbler.  So ultimately it’s a modified 4th generation Hoelscher-Becker recipe from (clap-clap-clap-clap) deep in the heart of Texas. Everyone in the family has their own distinct recollections of the making and consumption of the cobbler, but they all like to reference the crunchy, butterscotch-y edge pieces, a result of pouring the wet batter into the melted butter.

I asked my sisters for some of their related memories.  Here’s what they conjured up –

Gooey plips snuggle
Scarlet turned golden
Tickles my nose
And my memories of
Pumpkin carvings
Fireworks versus arrowheads
Cowboy hats and edelweiss
My insides grin
The recipe unfolds
In my own kitchen
Black and white checkered
linoleum floor
I know what to do
I will keep this alive
This beautiful cobbler
Sigh: an Oath
I’ll pass this along
I’ll pass this along

M: On the rare occasions Mom would make cobbler, I remember smelling it from my room. I’d leave my homework and follow the smell down the stairs and into the kitchen. Usually the only light on in the kitchen while it was cooking was the light above the stove. Opening the oven while something is cooking in this family is strictly forbidden so whilst peering into the oven one had to cup their hands around their eyes and squint to see the golden cobbler baking. And of course the lightbulb in the oven was always out so the suspense built until the tart-sweet treasure was pulled out… It wasn’t so much that the cobbler tasted delicious – I think I’ve always enjoyed it because it’s been handed down and I like thinking about mom eating it when she was my age or Granny cooking it for Mema. I always imagine them in the same dim glow similar to the lighting in the kitchen when I’d creep down to check to see if the cobbler was ready yet. 

4th Generation Fruit Cobbler**

Approx. 3 cups roughly chopped fresh fruit (peaches, plums, nectarines, raspberries, blueberries, etc). You can supplement with frozen fruit (raspberries, blueberries, and peaches work best)
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar (could use a little less or a little more depending on the sweetness of your fruit)
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the stick of butter in an oven-safe ceramic or glass cake pan and put in the oven to melt while you chop the fruit.  Once the butter has melted, remove about a half of it to a mixing bowl. (Take care in doing this – hot pan, hot butter!  Alternately, you could melt half the stick of butter in the baking pan in the oven, and half in the mixing bowl in the microwave.  The main point of this is to leave half a stick of melting butter in the baking pan).

Once butter in the mixing bowl has cooled a little, add the milk, vanilla, and sugar, and mix with a whisk until combined.  Then add the flour, salt and baking powder, and mix until just combined.  The batter will be a bit like a loose pancake batter.  Don’t worry if you have a few lumps.

Carefully scatter about a cup of the fruit in the baking pan with the butter.  Then pour in the batter.  Scoop the remaining fruit on top of the batter, aiming for even distribution.

Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until the top is golden brown, fruit juices are bubbling at the sides, and the edges are crispy.  Enjoy very warm with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream with a little sea salt sprinkled on top.

**If you want to go uber-decadent, you can also make an oatmeal crumb topping, as shown in the photos. For this, cut 2 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter into 1 cup of old fashioned rolled oats with 1 teaspoon of salt. Chill this mixture until you’re assembling the cobbler.  Sprinkle it on top of the last layer of fruit before popping the cobbler it in the oven. 

Towels Free, Mustaches Extra

Came across this little gem of time-yellowed archival material from 1939 at work today, replicated for your reading pleasure below.  It’s completely irrelevant to what the work project will ultimately be about but made for some fun reading.  I wish I had seen it three years ago for wedding menu inspiration, although I guess if this kind of stuff was still en vogue The Knot would have yet another “to do” (“Write menu poetry liberally speckled with puns and wit and have your calligrapher sketch it on onionskin sheets that white doves will carry in their bedazzled beaks to each and every rehearsal dinner guest! If you want!”) to add to their “Panic Inducing List of Half a Billion Things That We Try to Make Brides Think They Need to Do to Prepare for Their Weddings or ELSE.”

No matter.  I’ve got at least three friends in my back pocket that would appreciate having this style of printed menu when they come over for dinner.  Ok, two friends. Ok, one friend, and my husband. And the friend is my sister.  Also, we won’t be having anything on the menu because it took me so long to make it that we’re eating dry spaghetti and a can of beans from the cabinet.

June 3, 1939

“Think as you munch how hunters tense and grim
Risked everything, risked life, risked limb
To lure the savage olives from their lair
That we might have them on our bill of fare!”
-R. Daughters, B. ED.

“How when I stare upon this small red sea
My thoughts sing me this lyric litany:
How exquisite, ineffable, how super-luscious,
How lovely looks m’lady when she blushes!”
-D. Taylor Coleridge, A.B.

“This of resistance should be the very piece,
One half a pound, no less, immune from grease.
And though we land that fine philosophy:
That in short measure life may perfect be,
Ah, Wilcox! mark you, let there not appear
The faintest vestige of short measure here!”
-E. Dooley & Com., OGPU

“Hats off to him with ringing rhyme
Who raised the spud to heights sublime
Who gave the lowly pomme-de-terre
A fluffy, creamy, regal air.
Greater than Ickes or Jim Farley
He was a real animal rationale.”
-Shea & Labouvie, FAC.

“Dutchmen like their fragrant cheese,
Their foamy beer and skittles.
Lawyers dote on fatted fees
And quick acquittals.
But asparagus and native peas
Are my fondest victuals.”
-E. Solemando, A.B.


“Ice Cream! Did I hear you say?
Then let the horses have their hay,
But tie me, lash me e’re I swoon
To a deep-grooved large-sized spoon!”
-E. Krohn and M. Mahaney, B.S.

“Join in the dancing if you’re able
To leave your plates at the table.”