SOUTHERN LADIES, RUSSIAN STYLE: HOW TO MAKE REAL RUSSIAN TEA

There’s all different sorts of ladies, I guess, but for me (me being Mrs. Hate), as a little girl in the 1960s, a Southern lady in a small town would conjure up this image: playing Bridge or Canasta on Saturday afternoons while eating chicken salad and tomato aspic, with pound cake and boiled custard for dessert.

And to drink?? Russian tea was always de rigueur…I could promise you on a stack of Baptist Bibles that no Russian had ever, ever lived in my small town, but Russian tea was considered quite lady-like on Saturday afternoons.

For card playing Saturdays, you didn’t dress up quite like going to church on Sundays, but you dressed a little more fancily than you would if you were just around the house by yourself. And I daresay that the cards themselves were a little more fancy than the cards one played with for everyday play.

And I should know all this, because my grandmother taught me how to play Canasta when I was just a wee awkward little girl six years old, and I watched her make all the preparations for her Saturday afternoon Canasta games, games that were rotated through the little circle of friends’ homes…of course!! One of those unspoken rules that just simmer and birth over the years, rules yielding the blessed safety and sanctity of routine, with “taking turns hosting” being the first rule.

Canasta and Bridge days were certainly a carefully proscribed affair, with allowances made for each individual’s cooking specialty and allowances made for the idiosyncrasies of the players. Examples as follows:  “you know Martha always has to sit in that chair” or “you know Julia has to talk ten minutes about her grandchildren before we can even get started” or “you know if Lois doesn’t get a wild card in any of her hands she’ll pout ‘til next time”…all harmless little comments for this little set of friends, no viciousness or spite regarding looks or husbands or monetary status. I should know, because these women were of a different time and character. Were they saints? Not necessarily, but they just “knew” that you just “knew how to act”. So hard to explain this…a combination of innocence, character, and too much hard work keeping house and going to church and circle meetings to have time to be vicious and catty.

Granny was a very neat, very thorough scratch cook with a delicate touch; no fear, there will be plenty of Granny stories to come. For this story, however, the focus is her Russian tea, which was even served in the sweltering hot days of July and August. Imagine 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon in July with the temperature pushing 100 degrees and saying “why yes, Mildred (Granny’s fantastic, plain-jane name) I’d LOVE some Russian tea”.

There was a sad time in the 1970s and 1980s when Russian tea was some concoction with a base of instant Tang powdered orange drink, or was it Tang powdered instant orange drink, or Tang instant orange powdered drink, or…so interchangeable with this Tang stuff. But hey, Tang had its place…astronauts and all that. Fun Fact:  the creator of Tang, William A. Mitchell, also invented Pop Rocks, Cool Whip, a form of instant-set Jell-O, and other convenience foods (thanks to Wikipedia reference). And Cool Whip? Oh my Lord in Heaven…oh Lord have mercy…NO COOL WHIP!! ONLY LIGHTLY WHIPPED AND SUGARED HEAVY CREAM!! (but you know, there’s something about cherry Jell-O and Cool Whip…)

However, Granny’s Russian tea was as follows:

  •  1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 16 cups cold water
  • 12 tea bags
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar

Bring to a boil cloves, cinnamon, and water.

Remove from heat and add tea bags.

Let sit for 5 minutes; remove bags and cloves and cinnamon.

Add orange juice, lemon juice, (and surely you know the juices need to come from fresh oranges and lemons…no frozen or bottled stuff) and sugar and stir well.

Strain for extra fineness and serve hot.

 

I haven’t had Russian tea in years, and I mean YEARS, but digging for that recipe and remembering Granny and her organized, efficient, phlegmatic little small-town Southern self makes me want to mix up a batch right now…and it’s going to be 82 degrees today. Not bad Russian tea weather, but I long for July and August when it’s a smothering and humid 100 degrees and I will dress up in a neat shirtwaist dress with hose and small pumps and a string of pearls and a circle pin and drink scalding-hot Russian tea. Divine.

The day came when my grandmother was 93 and lonely (but hung on to life until 6 weeks short of 100), and my mother said to her “why don’t you call up some friends and play cards?” to which my grandmother oh so truthfully replied “they’re all dead” as she stared out the crank-out windows on her little back porch. Time passed, the living room that had hosted so many Saturday afternoon Canasta games was silent, and the card-players were just ghosts lingering only in our small-town memories, except for Granny…who had both the blessing and the curse of living beyond her span.



Mary Cassatt

“Five O’Clock Tea”

 

HATE POINT:  obviously, Tang-based Russian tea, complete with instant tea powder

 

LOVE POINT:  Granny’s patience with me and enjoyment in teaching a lonely little six-year old girl how to play a grownups’ card game

 

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THE OLD DAYS, OR “THERE ARE NO ACCIDENTS”

some of the greatest blessings in life

are the unexpected blessings… 

they are a gift in the midst of everyday life

and, as we look at our life, especially when we are

gifted

with the advancing of years and aging

…aging just gives us more opportunities for experiences…

we can see blessed experiences have piled up and are there

if we but recognize them and cherish them as they unfold

***

a quote we often hear is

“there are no accidents”

and here is a story about a no-accident that is a true blessing

***

the patient…an older black man

the therapy worker…a younger white woman

the patient seemed to know who the therapist was…

but the therapist had never heard of the patient

***

the patient started to question the therapist and said…

I know who you are…

your doctor granddaddy set my arm way back in the 1930s

when I was a little boy

and fell off climbing over that fence

and broke my arm

***

he was a fine man, a good man

and my sisters and I remember your great-aunts

and their cats and dogs and chickens

and their horse and buggy

and their pistol

and their palm-reading

and how we all lived out there on your farm…

all of us, my granddaddy and my uncle too

and we walked that dirt road

and fished in that pond

and played in those woods

and gathered eggs underneath your aunts’ house

***

the patient said…

I can sit in this room in the hospital

and look out the window at the woods

and remember the old days

of running through those woods

playing and running and being so happy and alive

***

as the therapist did not have the privilege of knowing

her grandfather and great-aunts

…they died before she was born…

she was

so thankful

for the opportunity to hear these stories

and meet the man who was her connection to her past

and the man was thankful to meet the woman

who had the family “blood” in her

and had her grandfather’s voice

and her grandfather’s walk

***

with tears in his eyes, the patient told me…

it’s just so good to talk to somebody about the old days

he remembers his childhood as a blessed happy time

what wonderful memories he has

and how wonderful that he came into my life

completely unexpectedly

***“there are no accidents”***

thank you, Mr. Johnny


from Doc-eeee

*****

I live outside the city limits of a small town of less than 6,000. One would think that somewhere along the way the patient, Mr. Johnny, and I would have met up, more than likely in the grocery store…which is usually the best place in town for having a friendly chat. Truth is, I had never laid eyes on him, so his searching looks at me and questions to me of “do you know who I am? I bet you don’t know me” discomfited me slightly, yet he seemed harmless enough.

Once the floodgates opened and Mr. Johnny started pouring out memories, however, I saw the past come alive. I had heard endless stories of my wild, loving grandfather and eccentric great-aunts from my mother, but there was something about hearing a stranger’s remembrances of living on the farm and the love he had for my grandfather that gave me a whole different perspective on how a non-family member viewed my family and this safe time in his life.

Mr. Johnny might take umbrage at being termed “a non-family member”, and you know what? He would be right. I felt as close to him and as comfortable talking with him as I would my blood kin.

And you know what else? Saying Mr. Johnny “had tears in his eyes” is not quite right either.

Mr. Johnny actually was speechless with dry sobs and emotions almost every time we talked. Such is the aching,  stirring beauty of shared memories of “the old days”.


A BURNING ALZHEIMER’S QUESTION: CORNELIA, DO YOU THINK THIS IS A GOOD TIME FOR MY BATH?

my friend, if you’re reading this, it’s

Cornelia

writing about our fun times together

when you were a patent in the hospital

do you remember how we talked and laughed?

do you remember telling me about your boys and their personalities

and how sweet their wives and your grandchildren are?

do you remember talking about men and women

and saying

“honey chile, that’s just how men are”?

do you remember telling me about the cake that your mother said was

“a sufficient cake”?

I remember all those times, even if you don’t…

because that bad Alzheimer’s had to go and upset your brain’s wiring

Cornelia will always be the friend you thought she was…

a little thing like being called by a different name didn’t really matter

as long as we were having a good time together

*****

The patient, Mrs. X, was the quintessential old-fashioned Southern lady. She was soft-voiced, humble, comfortable and gracious around presidents and their subordinates and captains of industry—and yes, she truly was around them—as well as those without a penny to their name. Though I could tell by our conversations she was an excellent cook, Mrs X would just laugh that sweet laugh and say “oh, it’s just plain old cooking like I grew up with”, but such is the self-deprecation of one who knows that there is no need to “put on airs”. She had the elusive talent of being both self-assured and modest, a personality combination we would do well to emulate.

To the patient, I was “Cornelia”. At the beginning of her hospital stay, Mrs. X called me by my Christian name; I might have had to remind the patient of my name every morning, but that was no problem. One day, however, I walked in and was dubbed “Cornelia” by the patient, and from that moment on, Mrs. X and “Cornelia” shared many confidences. One of the most poignant moments I experienced with Mrs. X was when Mrs. X was unsure about whether it was a good idea to have the CNA give her her bath before therapy. I saw the hesitation and confusion on the patient’s face, the CNA was standing there with soaps and towels and basins, and then Mrs. X’s voice dropped a little and she whispered “Cornelia, what do you think? Do you think this is a good time for my bath?” So “Cornelia” said “well, yes, I think it would be a fine time.”

What went through my mind during this interchange? How unsure, yet trusting, Mrs. X was? How hard it is to witness a human’s decline, whether it be mental or physical? How easily those without strong minds and strong bodies could be taken advantage of in all sorts of ways by those with evil intentions? Of course—all these thoughts and more.

I know that we can’t solve all the world’s problems, but allowing this patient to exist in these in-the-moment safe bubbles of idly talking and laughing and reminiscing with the one she thought was her childhood friend “Cornelia” seemed to be the answer to the problem of “how to give an Alzheimer’s patient a little respect and joy on just an ordinary day”.


SHE SMOKED UNTIL 93, LIVED UNTIL RIGHT AT 100…IS HER POUND CAKE THE SECRET TO LONG LIFE?

Granny was probably one of the very few people who could smoke and not get lung cancer or emphysema or anything mere weakling mortals would. You see, Granny was tough.

Her fingernails may have been just slightly yellow, and her Buick and little back porch may have always smelled of stale Winstons, but I’m guessing Granny’s sheer toughness repelled anything bad catching hold of her (“bad” being cancer or emphysema or such as that).

Or, was it her pound cake that formed a shield against ill health??

All I know is, she could have easily cooked a thousand pound cakes in her long life. I should know…there was usually one on the kitchen counter on Sundays for strawberry shortcake.

And what’s interesting about this to me is, Granny cooked only ONE pound cake recipe her entire life. It was a good pound cake, and it tasted the same year in and year out…a classic, if you will…but I’ve tried all sorts of pound cake recipes and enjoyed every minute of it. Furthermore, I’ve analyzed this recipe-trying trait in myself and have decided it’s very obvious that it comes down through my mother and my grandfather (Granny’s husband), in that the desire to try new things and be stimulated and curious and restless and have challenges both large and small comes from the mother and the grandfather, not from Granny.

Granny was even of temperament to the point of being functional, phlegmatic as described in the Russian tea story, and pretty much devoid of curiosity…therefore, one pound cake recipe. It would be a disservice to refer to her as “shallow”, but she certainly didn’t display her emotions. And all of that was all right, because she was Granny.

You see, Granny was about 5’3” tall, probably weighed 100 pounds, smoked Winstons until she was 93 (and only quit then when the cute young doctor told her she needed to), had a worm bed a.k.a. compost bed that was beyond superb, had Guillain-Barre syndrome in the 1950s and was in an iron lung machine, got hit in the head when she was 80 for her pocketbook in a Greyhound bus station bathroom on the way back from visiting older sister in New Orleans (I cried when I went to Granny’s house across the road to check on her as soon as she got back, but Granny didn’t cry), picked pecans up in the sleet in November at age 93 (bending straight over from the waist to pick them up), shot at cows with a BB gun when she said they were putting their hooves in the cow trough and messing up the water, chopped snakes’ heads off with a hoe, drove home from her mountain house, a 6-hour trip, at age 89…89!!!…all by herself with double vision and said “oh, I just shut one eye and then I would see only one car coming”, and lived to be almost 100.

Why be creative and curious when you can do all that??

WIthout further ado, here is Granny’s pound cake recipe. Frequently served with strawberries crushed up with a little sugar and whipped cream for…ta-da…strawberry shortcake. It should last close to a week before a little staleness might start creeping in, but—as we all know from reading so very many cookbooks—pound cakes tend to improve after the first day or two and get moister and moister and moister.

 

GRANNY’S POUND CAKE

1  2/3 cups sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter

2  1/3 cups sifted cake flour

5 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

***

Mix the standard way

Bake at 325 for 1 hour and 10 minutes in a greased and floured Bundt or tube pan

HATE POINT:  I’m a little afraid of being bushwacked by a pound cake hit squad being sent after me, but…cream cheese pound cake and sour cream pound cake
LOVE POINT:  loving that hopefully one gets such an interesting mix of character traits and personal quirks from all parts of the family gene pool that each individual will make his or her own unique way in this world, enjoy life to the hilt, and be thankful for their family heritage


A PERSPECTIVE ON GRIEVING FOR AN ANIMAL VS GRIEVING FOR A HUMAN

DISCLAIMER: MRS. HATE LOVES DOGS

I love to cuddle them and scratch their ears and all those affectionate things that come naturally if you love animals. I grieve when they get hit by a car and die or when they age and their bodies fail them, just as we humans age and die.

However, what I DON’T love and what bothers me is when people put grieving for a pet right up there with grieving for a human.

And again, this opinion is coming from an animal lover.

There are way too many scenarios to expound upon, but here’s a few, with a compassionate viewpoint filtered through the lens of perspective.

You’re old and housebound, your family has all died out, even your children have pre-deceased you, and all you have left to love is a cat or a dog. Is this a sad situation? Yes. When that pet dies, will it be sad for the owner? Yes…very.

You’re a child, and you love your pet. A snake bites your pet, or maybe a car runs over your pet, and pet dies. Is this a sad, traumatic time for the child? Yes. Will the child always remember this first pet death and the void that followed? Probably.

So what’s the problem here? Why the hate, Mrs. Hate??

Look at these situations:

You’ve just been told your child…let’s say he or she is around eight…has cancer, and the prognosis for healing is not good. This eight year-old is old enough to know that death means death and leaving loved ones and leaving playing with friends and leaving a future. You, the parent, get the agony of explaining sickness and death to your precious child. How would you feel if you overheard someone talking about how sad they were that their dog or cat had died?

You’re pregnant, getting close to delivery time, and you find out that your highly-anticipated child has died in utero. Do you want to hear about someone grieving over their dead pet?

Your only child has been born with multiple birth defects and his life will be spent twisted and contorted in a wheelchair, with catheters and such attached, and his measured intellect will remain at a two-year age level. Do you really want to hear about your neighbor’s ongoing sadness over her dog who just had its leg amputated?

You’re a loving family, and the full-of-life daughter and sister has been kidnapped, tortured, and killed. Her body is found desecrated and rotting in a garbage dumpster. Can you empathize with the person who’s talking about how much they miss their dog or cat who just died of old age?

People, put all this into perspective. Love your pet, be thankful for the joy and happiness it brings, but please don’t over-dramatize pet tragedies vs. human tragedies.

And, if you lack the insight to see the difference between grieving for a pet vs. grieving for a human and putting that grief IN PERSPECTIVE, at least don’t go on and on about your pet sadness in the presence of people who have human sadness going on in their lives.

I know if I had one of the human tragedies listed above, or anything of a comparable nature, it would be hard for me to keep a civil tongue in my head if I heard someone going on and on about their pet’s health problems.

 


I JUST WANTED SOMEBODY TO LISTEN

a night janitor with a fifth-grade education, late sixties, living alone

children scattered

but a devoted sister nearby

when he was young and strong, he never imagined that one day it would take him

two hours

to crawl across the floor to reach the phone to call the ambulance

the patient arrived at the hospital for swingbed therapy very weak after that piteous crawl and the grueling illness that followed

with tired tears oozing from closed eyes he repeated for the third time in two days his crawling story

he remembered the horrors of being alone and crawling and sick with fears of

A SOLITARY DEATH

on that floor

his listener was touched and leaned over his bed and patted and kissed him, saying

“you don’t need to worry any more…you’re here and safe and warm

and

people are all around you and we’ll take care of you”

the patient cried a little more

and said…

thank you

I just wanted somebody to listen

I was scared I was going to die alone

the patient and his sister came back to visit after his discharge

he was so, so happy

strong and walking

smiling from ear to ear

in the presence of those who had comforted him and encouraged him

and

listened to him 

a brother and sister who started out young together

and then

grew old together

*****

This experience with this patient crystallized for me the importance and value of patient and empathetic listening in the healthcare setting (and also, of course, in our lives away from our work environment). Because the patient appreciated the time taken with and care shown to him, he did indeed feel safe and trusted me, and his therapy progressed in its own time as a result of the agape love we shared.

Mrs. Hate might expound in her “diatribes” how hard it is for healthcare workers to attain the extra time many patients, especially the elderly or lonely ones (and aren’t elderly people often the most lonely?), need and deserve. She, however, was most fortunate and blessed in that her particular job allowed her many opportunities to spend extra time with those she cared for. For that, Mrs. Hate is eternally grateful.