Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #11: Gelatin Gems from the Past

As a kid, I thought Jell-O was a generic term. Although I remember seeing Royal gelatin and pudding mixes at the store, my mom was a loyal Jell-O consumer.

I love finding these cute vintage recipe booklets at the used bookstores or antique shops and snagged this one dated 1942. I even wrote in the back where and when I purchased it, which I often forget to do: Hancock, MI, August 28, 1991. I lived near there, in the Upper Peninsula, for many years.

This booklet contains recipes for puddings, “ice box” desserts, pies, ice creams, candies, soups, gravies, fruit salads, main dish salads, and of course, gelatin desserts! Here’s one that looks rather refreshing for a hot day like today…

Whenever I see a “fancy” gelatin recipe like this, I think back to a major Jell-O fail I experienced in my youth. The spring I graduated from high school, I was supposed to take a dessert to the Junior/Senior Banquet at school. My parents and younger brother were going out of town, I think to pick up my older sister from college. My mother told me how to make the dessert out of Jell-O, fruit, and something to make it creamy…maybe Kool Whip? She warned me to make it well in advance so it would have time to set. Well, that didn’t happen, and I took a very soupy dessert to school that evening.

No one at my table ate any of it, and I certainly didn’t admit that I had provided that particular dish. The next day, we were supposed to pick up the washed plates and bowls from the cafeteria, and I was embarrassed to do that, thinking the workers would connect my face to the disaster in the bowl. I think maybe I told Mom it was nowhere to be found when I went to check. Possibly I never told her the truth. Knowing me as she did, she may have guessed something close to the real story.

Speaking of gelatin, I’m reminded that this particular product is made from animal parts. Now eating as a vegan, this bothers me, so I looked into some likely vegan gelatin substitutes. Several of these are brand name products that may or may not be available at the grocery, health food store, or online. A few of the suggestions are more generic, however, and can be found in many shops. If you know of any similar products that are easy to find, please let us know in the comments.

And if you have any “Jell-O fails” you’d like to share, we’d love to read about them!

Vintage Bedtime Stories

I can still see that dark orange set of books lined up on the shelf in my paternal grandparents’ home. In the mid-1950s, I would have begged someone to read one or two of the Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories to me. Later, I learned to read them on my own. That’s when I realized why my parents and older sister often skipped over certain tales they guessed would be much too sad for my taste. People died in some of those stories…even parents and children!

Heavy on guilt, prayer, and in-your-face morals, I did love many of the stories, however, especially those about being kind to people and animals. To this day, Volume One rests on my own shelf, amid other vintage books I’ve saved or collected. When I leaf through the pages, breathe in that old-book smell, and look at the illustrations, I can picture myself sitting contentedly on the floor in my grandparents’ small house, guarded by the highbush cranberry trees at the end of a quiet lane…

I’m happy to say that my own quartet of bedtime stories has recently been published on Empowered Parents! Pushing no heavy-handed morals, they do gently teach some important life-lessons about friendship, kindness, and family. I hope you’ll take a look and maybe share them with a little person in your life!

Uncovering the Asian American Old West – YES! Magazine

I was fascinated to read how Linda Sue Park uses her childhood love of Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s “Little House” books to bring Asian American characters alive in this setting!     ~Becky

“Asian Americans were conveniently written out of history about the Old West. But they were present—and prolific.”

Source: Uncovering the Asian American Old West – YES! Magazine

What Is a Plant-Based Diet?

Source – Meatless Monday: What Is a Plant-Based Diet?

Becky’s Easy Microwave Eggplant

Sometimes I want something fast, without turning on the oven to heat up the apartment or suck all the moisture from the air. I love eggplant and have come up with this easy dish!

In a round, covered casserole, layer/arrange the following:

Portions of your favorite plant-based sauce in the bottom & then between layers

Raw spinach

Eggplant, sliced into rounds (additional option: zucchini, sliced the long way)

Portobello mushroom slices

Peppers, sweet red or green, sliced

Onion and/or garlic, chopped

Top with plant-based cheese (my current fave is Miyoko’s) or sliced tofu dusted with cayenne red pepper (I love the dry texture of Hodo tofu). Optional topping: sliced black olives, drained.

Cover and cook in the microwave for 15 minutes. So easy and yummy!

Trees are the Bee’s Knees!

Quote from Tarun Sarathe

The last Friday in April is National Arbor Day, though some states also celebrate this on various dates, depending on ideal planting times. The importance of protecting our trees and planting new trees to replace those that die or are cut down cannot be exaggerated!

Besides providing the oxygen our bodies require, trees also offer us lovely views. From childhood, I fondly remember the stately maple trees in our front yard, each autumn turning fiery shades of red, yellow, or orange. Near the edge of our property, we had an apple tree that was just the right size for a little girl who wanted to climb trees but was afraid at the same time.

Behind our house, a huge willow tree grew. In my father’s bedtime stories, the Teenie Weenies of his tales, who were based on William Donahey’s books and comic strips, lived under that tree. I suspected for many years that this was truly the case. Walking out by the willow tree by myself was exciting but a little scary. What if I were to come face to face with one of those little people?

In my last home in Michigan, we had many beautiful trees in our yard and nearby. From small to large, some blossomed, while others provided a lovely green cover in the summer. But one small, funky tree holds a special place in my heart. It was a larch I had known since its infancy.

Each winter, I felt certain and horrified that it might die. Its branches were of the “weeping” variety, and the thin trunk appeared rather weak and almost bent. In the summers, I checked it often, lugged buckets of water during dry spells, and marveled at the feathery new growth each spring.

I miss that tree and all the surrounding beauty. There it is, below, near the middle of the photo, just to the right of the house corner. The light green on the ends is the new growth. I wonder if “my” tree still grows in that yard.

Where I now live in Texas, my only gardening space is the balcony. Although some people grow small, ornamental trees in pots, I have not tried this, yet. I recently read about growing miniature citrus trees in containers, which can then be brought in during the coldest parts of the winter. It’s a thought…

WHY READING IS MORE IMPORTANT NOW THAN EVER!

FROM THE WEBSITE:

“During the last year when most countries have seen periods of confinement and people have had to limit their time spent outside, books have proved to be powerful tools to combat isolation, reinforce ties between people, expand our horizons, while stimulating our minds and creativity. In some countries the number of books read has doubled.  

During the month of April and all year round, it is critical to take the time to read on your own or with your children. It is a time to celebrate the importance of reading, foster children’s growth as readers and promote a lifelong love of literature and integration into the world of work. 

Through reading and the celebration of World Book and Copyright Day, 23 April, we can open ourselves to others despite distance, and we can travel thanks to imagination.”

Happy reading, blogging friends! ~Becky 

A Poisonous Mistake?

Staghorn Sumac in Michigan

I have very few memories of my paternal grandfather because he died when I was so young. I do quite clearly remember, however, the day he urged my sister and me to touch our tongues to sumac that grew in my grandparents’ back yard. This is probably so clear not because of its lemony flavor but because my mother was NOT pleased when she heard about it! Like many others, she may not have been sure about the difference between poison sumac and the safe variety of staghorn sumac.

I remember at the time my father assured her that he knew it was safe. I didn’t know until he told me his story years later exactly how he knew that the sumac was edible. He recounted to me that as a child he had been worried his parents were making a poisonous mistake by planning to use sumac berries in making an inexpensive, lemonade-type beverage. As the berries ripened, he took it upon himself to discover the truth about their safety. That’s the story I tell in “Sumac Summer,” which I am happy to say has just been published by Modern History Press in the U.P. Reader #5 anthology!

Reverend Ernest Ross and Family (Becky’s father, Philip, is 3rd from the left in front, wearing the dark sweater)

Because this has just been published, I won’t be posting the story here until next year. Meanwhile, I told readers of my blog last year about publication of a story regarding an early spring walk near Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A face-to-face meeting with an indeterminate species brought about a rather humorous situation, which I chronicle in my short story, “Much Different Animal.” I hope you’ll read and enjoy it!

Much Different Animal

by Becky Ross Michael

Spring in Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula arrives late and is a whole different animal from other places I’ve lived. Harsh realities of winter recede, inch by inch, while signs of sprouting spring replace them in fits and starts. “Unpredictable” is the key word, and if the weather is pleasant for ten minutes, you should take advantage.

“Let’s go for a ride out by Sand Bay,” he suggested, as the two seasons collided on a clear Saturday afternoon.

Happy to make enjoyable use of weekend hours away from the classroom, I agreed. “Great idea. Let’s leave the dog home,” I added, glancing at our little, black Shi Tzu. “Boo Boo’s muddy from our walk this morning, and I don’t want him in the car before he’s had a bath.”

The drive along a two-lane, twisty road from Laurium toward the bay was relaxing, as always. I imagined the smell from clear, icy waters of Lake Superior greeting us as we turned northward. That day, unfortunately, the sky darkened as we neared the lake, and the view through the windshield became misty.

 We passed a small waterfall and a bakery displaying a closed sign. I looked forward to when the monks would reopen The Jampot for the tourist season. Their delectable muffins often enhanced our trips to the beach.

Spotting the driveway to a house where one of my students lived, I knew we were approaching the turnout. By the time we arrived at the graveled parking lot, the air was a thick, soupy fog.

We parked next to a lone car wearing an out-of-state license plate. Tourists didn’t usually visit so early in the spring. Donning our jackets, we headed to the path. This was in the years before the posting of erosion regulations and construction of steep wooden steps for traversing the sand dunes. Our zealous beach-dog, Boo, had helped us blaze a trail during previous summers, and it headed west at an angle to avoid the steep decline of the bank. The winter’s snow and ice were gone, but flattened grasses, bent bushes and cracked tree limbs attested to their recent occupancy.

Picking our way along the path, I envisioned warm summer days and wondered if we’d be able to see anything when we reached our goal. From the calm lake, I heard only a soft lapping when an occasional wave reached the shore. Toward the end of our descent, a male form materialized through the mist in front of us, as we gained on him. The tourist? When the figure came to an abrupt halt, we almost ran into him, standing stock-still and looking toward the beach.

“Those your dogs?” the stranger asked, with a nervous edge to his voice.

Our gaze followed where his hand pointed, through a narrow expanse of underbrush and grasses. Slinking along the sand, their ghostly forms appeared out of the haze. As their sure paws wove around piles of stones formed from the scraping of winter ice floes, the two moved past us without a sound.

I held my breath.

“I don’t think those are dogs,” answered my partner.

 Eyeballs widened, the stranger turned to face us for confirmation. Without missing a beat, he ignored the path and clawed his way straight up the steep embankment.

Relieved we hadn’t brought Boo Boo along, we also decided to use caution and cut our visit short. With a bit more decorum, we stuck to the path.

Back in my elementary classroom on Monday, a typical indoor recess was necessary due to spring rains. During that wild twenty minutes, I overheard the student who lived near Sand Bay mention “dogs” while talking with a friend.  With practiced nonchalance known to many teachers, I asked them if anything special happened over the weekend. The child then recounted a story about their “hybrids” escaping the house and how they found them across the road at Sand Bay.

To this day, I picture the stranger telling anyone who will listen about his run-in with the “pack of wolves,” in the untamed wilderness otherwise known as the Keweenaw.

END

Natural Egg Dyes and Seasonal Children’s Books: Secular and Spiritual

Imperfect Foods is my new favorite source to buy produce that is less-than-perfect or in surplus at a reasonable cost, in efforts to help reduce food waste. Boxes are delivered to the door according to the schedule you choose. On the company site, I found this article about natural egg dyes. I’ve used the turmeric and red cabbage methods in the past and know they work! ~Becky

And from Publishers Weekly,

One year into the pandemic, the holidays have not yet returned to their full festive scope, but there’s still cause to celebrate the coming season. The arrival of spring brings a parade of Easter and Passover titles, as well as books on baby animals. In addition, Margaret Wise Brown’s classic Runaway Bunny, illustrated by Clement Hurd, is hopping over to HBO Max in a musical adaptation. We’ve gathered a selection of new and noteworthy springtime picture books for young readers, both secular and spiritual.

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #10: Mixing Up Memories

I absolutely love used bookstores, especially those that house specialty sections, such as ephemera, advertising, or cookbooks. The booklet pictured above has been in my collection for years, and I don’t remember for sure in which shop it was found. Dated 1948, this was published not that many years before I was born. The black-and-white pages offer information about handy home gadgets and detailed recipes for various meals, including desserts, like cakes and other sweets.

Becky’s 1st Birthday, March 19, 1953; with Mom (Ella Ross) in the White Blouse

My mom’s kitchen arsenal didn’t include an elaborate mixer with a stand, turntable, and large bowl. The following image from the booklet is more like the mixer she would have used when making my birthday cake.

My Grandma Witzke (pictured above next to my mother) was the first person I remember who had a blender. It looked much like the one shown below.

Friend, Andrea, with Becky; outside my Grandparents’ House in Tawas City, Michigan in 1958

During my early years, Grandma and Grandpa Witzke lived nearby, and we would often visit. On lucky days, Grandma would make us malts in her blender, and vanilla was always my favorite (and still is today).

Over the years, my birthday weeks have involved many memorable activities: a horse-drawn sleigh ride in childhood, moving into “my” first house as an adult, trips to Florida, an overnight stay in a lighthouse, gorgeous flowers, delicious meals drenched in wine, thoughtful gifts, my parents singing to me over the miles, and wonderful times spent with my children and grandchildren.

This year, my big event is a much-needed haircut. Whoo-hoo! These days, I’m thankful for the smallest of favors. And it WILL be a happy birthday and a good year!