Monday, August 31, 2015

You Gotta Have Heart OR: Home Ec is Where the Heart Is

If you are on Facebook, you've no doubt seen posts showing images from the 1950s or 60s, asking you to "Like" them if you recognize the topic, thus indicating that you are, in fact, an old fart. One such item I saw recently was this:

Heck, yeah, I remember Home Ec. I am not about to forget it. 

We had Home Ec class every week, 7th through 9th grade: sewing and cooking, with a few housekeeping how-to's thrown in. The classroom set-up for cooking was pretty much exactly as you see it here. 

(While we girls were being schooled in home-making skills, the boys were learning more manly arts in "Shop" class where they used table saws and soldering irons and hammers to make bread boxes and cheese graters. I'm not sure what that implied. Certainly not feminism, but that came later.)

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, we learned how to make cream of wheat, baking powder biscuits, cornstarch pudding, cream of corn soup, porcupine meatballs, and fish cakes. 

I can think of no greater disincentive for inspiring girls to cook than eating the chow we prepared in Home Ec. It was ghastly. Does anyone even eat cream of wheat anymore?

In one class, I accidentally let a pot of carrots boil dry and burn. The teacher made my group of six eat my charred vegetable anyway, just to teach us a lesson. What lesson? Never cook again? 

I suppose that the Winnipeg School Board had experts who figured out what food prep basics were appropriate for our Junior high level. They hadn't necessarily thought about what we'd actually eat. Take Harvard Beets, for example. Canned beets boiled in a mixture of sugar, vinegar and cornstarch. Our sextet sat at a table with these steaming red foes in front of us; five of us going, "BLEEECCCHHH!" while one girl, whom none of us liked very much anyway, tucked in, murmuring, "MMM! Tasty!" We'd give her that withering look at which pre-teens are so talented. 

She said it every time, regardless of what poisonous gruel we were force fed. Creamed Brussels Sprouts. Fruit Whip. Tapioca Cream. "MMM! Tasty!" We were sure she did it just to annoy us. We'd push our plates aside and watch her eat, thinking, "She's so weird!" 

In the middle of grade 9, our cooking teacher, the motherly, older lady who made us eat the burned carrots, left. The new teacher who came in was young. She was a dark-haired beauty. She had an up to date wardrobe. She didn't make us wear the dumb bib aprons with our names embroidered on them that we made in 7th grade sewing! Things were looking up! 

She had a thing for meat, we learned shortly after her arrival. She had us gather around her at the front of the class room while she gleefully showed us meat cutting charts. She had a particular fondness for organ meats. She taught us how to make liver and onions. She told us how much she enjoyed a good jellied tongue sandwich. She extolled the virtues of chicken gizzards. 

One day, we sat in a circle around her like we were gathered to hear a Grimm fairy tale. She opened a huge tome from her culinary school. Grim indeed. Gruesome pages showing how to cook, well, every part of the animal; you know, "offal." None of us could move a muscle. It was like watching a horror movie; we were breathless, waiting for the gory bits to scare us to death. If somebody had said, "BOO!" we would have jumped out of our skins. 

She paused at a page illustrating the preparation of beef heart. She looked up, and met our eyes, as wide as saucepans, everyone of us afraid to breathe. "You know, I cooked a heart for my boyfriend two weeks ago." We gasped. "Yes, I thought, what better way to show him how much I love him than with a beautiful heart dinner!" We swallowed hard. Somebody at the back gagged. "I haven't heard from him since. Oh, well," she sighed and looked back at her cookbook again. 

None of us made a peep. We couldn't budge. I caught a movement at the door out of the corner of my eye. I was about to scream, but it was the principal, looking in on us. His expression was solemn. He opened the door a tiny bit, and said, quietly, "Miss Meyers, may I see you a moment?" 

I don't remember much about Home Ec after that. I think we got another teacher who complied a bit more religiously with the curriculum. We probably finished out our program eating tuna and noodles, and chicken pot pie, not ever looking up to meet each others' glances, for fear one of us might make a scary monster move and we'd break out in hysterics. "MMM. Tasty!" 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

How Does my Garden Grow? Seriously. I Have No Idea.

By mid-to-late-August, my garden is not fresh as a Daisy anymore. The Daisies are, in fact, looking a bit stale. The Peonies are well past their best-by date. The perennials are pooped. The Hostas have gone hostile. And the Day Lilies said "night night" weeks ago. 

Now begins the task of putting these plants to bed for the fall — aka, cutting them down. They were my little friends back in mid-July when they were all cheerfully blooming and I didn't need to do a thing to keep them happy. But this week, as I look around the yard at the hundreds and hundreds of stems that will need clipping in the coming weeks, I'm facing the enemy! "Curse, you, you plants you! You're doing this to spite me!"

Gardening has long been touted as a fine hobby for retirees. Who the heck said that? They're out of their mind! I'm too old for this! I don't know about you, but I just don't bend like I used to. I only recovered in late June from the pinched nerve in my neck and the carpal tunnel syndrome I got from last year's clipping calisthenics. I see why old people move to condos with HOA fees and a landscape company that comes in every week.

Then again, maybe it's just me. You true blue Green Thumbers are out there checking the Ph balance of your soil and mulching with properly stirred compost. You're using your Preen and your Miracle Gro and your diatomaceous earth. You're mollycoddling your sweet green babies with positive affirmations. "Lookin' good, Gladioli!" "You're awesome, Asters!" "Be all you can be, Bee Balm!" 

Not me. I get the weeds out of everybody's way, but after that they're on their own. A bunny nibbled some Coreopsis right down to gnarly green twigs. That's life.

And yet, I am such a sucker for beautiful gardens. This is the third house out of the four we have bought in our married life that has flower beds way out of scale and proportion to my horticultural ability. We never learn apparently.

Our first house was on a corner lot where an elderly widower had tended lovely English-style plots with all manner of pretty posies. We were young. We thought, "We can become gardeners! What could be so hard?" This from two Prairie Canadians whose parents never interred anything more than scrawny petunias that they left to die.

The first summer in the English garden, as tender perennials sprouted out of the soil, we couldn't tell a weed from a wisteria. We called in professional help. The Mister had a passing acquaintance with the head gardener at the university who hosted a nationally televised gardening show. He agreed to come over to give us some tips. I heard the man gasp from twenty feet away. Witless, we had been cultivating a crop of weeds, as high as an elephant's eye, that had choked off the very air that decent plants underneath were clamoring to breathe. I can still see him in my mind's eye — this nationally recognized TV celebrity — yanking weedy infiltrators out by their dastardly roots.

Our learning curve was steep, but we did better after that. Two other gardens before we purchased this house. "Oh! What a lovely garden!" I could be heard saying as we toured the yard at our soon-to-be current address. Sold.

The previous home owner, who is a bona fide, certified Master Gardener, started this dang garden. She did a drive-by this morning. I saw her. She was wearing dark glasses, but I know it was her. I heard her laughing as she sped off. Probably moved to a condo.