Monday, November 21, 2016

Cobblers for Dessert: A Vintage Greykitten’s Thanksgiving

Fine food plays a major part in this joyous season, but as hostesses we face a dilemma.  Give family and friends a memory of a table full of tradition and flavor, or to risk a guilt trip over the fattening dishes we serve? Especially those desserts! Since holidays sans sweet are an anathema, this year, I offer you the solution: tasty and lean cobblers.

There is no Thanksgiving in Latin America, but it’s the festivity Latino immigrants tend to adopt faster than others.  Perhaps it has something to with the glow of food and feasting. My fondest memories of such holidays are linked to taste and aroma. Not the taste and aroma of turkey, not my mother´s secret stuffing recipe, not the cranberry sauce that I still adore. Thanksgiving to me was associated to the word “gratitude” and gratitude meant “pie”. Pumpkin, apple, sweet potato, and pecan pies filled November with their sensuality. Yes, their flavor, looks and smells were better than sex.

Sadly for us, pies are calorific. They have thick crusts and sometimes lids of dough, even if it is just a couple of strips positioned there to create the lattice effect. Within those two sheets of dough lies a stuffing rich in sugars that we tend to exacerbate with custards and coats of extra sweet marmalade. Just think of classics like Boston Cream Pie, Key Lime Pie or that horrible (but scrumptious) habit of serving “Pie à la Mode”, warm and topped with ice-cream.

I have a dear friend, a former student of mine, who used to take me in for Thanksgiving . At the time, she was living with her in-laws in a three-floor Brooklyn house. Her husband´s family came from the South. Their sense of hospitality was drenched with Southern hearty fares and impressive spreads. I used to come home after those Thanksgiving’s meals, stuffed like the just eaten turkey, rolling like ping pong ball, and burdened with a heavy tray of desserts samples. My hosts had so much food; they had to share the leftovers it with their guests.

They used to set up a table in the kitchen to locate desserts, and such a bounty Pirate Jack Sparrow has never seen! Guests were encouraged to bring additional dishes for that last course.  Those contributions joined other sugary victuals baked at home. On my first visit, being the only foreigner in such an American occasion, I was in needles and pins. What could I bring? I ended up making an apricot cobbler. I didn’t know it then, but the cobbler is as American as Apple Pie.

Pilgrim Fathers, sorry… Pilgrim Mothers were the brains behind the cobbler. Unable to make their heavy British puddings in their new land, these early settlers developed the habit of tossing dumplings on top of vegetable and meat stews. Eventually they did it over stewed fruit and a dessert was born.

In simpler terms, a cobbler is a sheet of fruit. You can use pie filling; you can use canned or fresh fruit.  All you have to do is drop dollops of batter (very light cake batter)  creating a sort of cover, but one that lets you see the bottom layer. Those clumps were originally called “doughboys.” So American was the dessert that “Doughboy” became the nickname of soldiers that went abroad to fight The Great War. I guess I´ll have to think of Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby and John Gilbert in “The Big Parade,” next time I bake a cobbler.

Thick Doughboy on top of cherry ad apricot filing (Photo by The Boreka Diary. Flickr)
The nice thing about the cobbler is the control you have over the ingredients. You can skip sugar, you can add less than the usual amount, you can replace it with Stevia, agave syrup or whatever artificial sweetener strikes your fancy. A cobbler uses less butter than a regular pie. And you can avail yourself of margarine or canola spread. The thing is that you can turn a cobbler into something healthy and yummy. And for us, the beleaguered elderly cooks, it´s an easy dessert since we can even cook cobblers on a skillet or casserole and over the stove. No need to bend or drag heavy trays from the oven.

And now, let’s get down to business. Here come my favorite cobbler recipes.


Easy Cobbler Batter
1 cup (one stick) of melted butter (margarine, or any corn spread)
½ cup of flour
1 tsp. of baking powder
1 pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar ( replace it with your favorite sweetener)
¾ cup of milk
Microwave the butter until it melts. Sift the dry ingredients, add the milk, stir it and finally add the melted butter to the mixture. Don´t worry if it’s a bit lumpy or crumbles. It should be that way.
Spread the filling on the bottom of a baking tray, one thick (about an inch long) layer. Take the batter and drop the doughboys on top of the fruit. You can spread the batter like a pie crust or just make individual clumps that let you admire the fruity contents.

If you want to dispense with flour and baking powder (or you are allergic to lactose) turn your cobbler into a “crisp.”

Crisp Crust (photo by Grammar Fascist. Wikipedia Commons.Org)

Crisp Crust
½ cup of oats
½ cup of almond flour
3 spoonfuls of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of margarine
1 tsp of cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
Mix the ingredients until you get a crumbly texture. Use the combination to blanket your fruit.

There is only one possible ingredient: fruit.

Uncooked cobbler (Photo by Chris Young)
If you’re going for fresh or canned fruit don’t chop or slice it. Use nice plump halves: apples, pears, peaches, plums or apricots. Place them face down on the tray setting them about ¼ inches apart from each other. Squirt some lemon juice on top; add one tablespoon of brown sugar and two tablespoons of cornstarch. Perhaps a wee dusting of nutmeg and cinnamon to enhance the flavor. Then let the dollops fall in the cracks between.  Let it go to the oven for 50 minutes at 350º. After baking, the fruit will be exposed, yet framed by a golden crust (a friend calls them “nipples”), creating a lovely visual effect.

Gluten and Dairy Free Blackberry Cobbler (Photo by Cassidy)

If you are working with fresh berries, toss them whole on the tray, unless you are using large strawberries. Those you slice in half. Spray the fruit with lemon, cornstarch and spices and proceed to fabricate your cobbler.

If you going for canned pie filling, dare to be adventurous! Blend apple with blueberry; cherry with pineapple, and so on.

Talking about about boozing it up? Add ¼ cup of liquor to the fruit filling, before cooking it.  Whisky or sweet liqueurs like Amaretto, or Triple Sec, are the best choices.

And now for something really wild. …so wild it has no name yet. It’s up to you to christen it.
(You´ll need only three ingredients)
1 bag of frozen berries (or two if you want to combine different fruits)
1 box of cake mix (vanilla or white cake)
2 cans of 7-Up, Sprite or Ginger Ale.
Toss the fruit on a tray. Cover it with the cake mixture. No stirring, no whipping, no fancy ingredients. Just like that. Open your can and slowly spill the soda on top of the fruit cake-mixture. Do not stir. Wait a couple of minutes. You´ll see it bubble like champagne. Toss the mixture inside the oven. Bake 45-50 minutes at 350º.You´ll get the cutest and tastiest cobbler in this world.

So Vintage Greykittens, I know somewhere above I promised a top-of-the-stove recipe. One where you don´t need to bend over to pull baking trays from fiery furnaces. Here it goes:

(Photo by Carol from PURESUGAR.NET)

Skillet Cherry Cobbler
1 can of cherry pie filling
½ cup of Bisquick
2 tbs .of sugar
2 tbs of skim milk
2 teaspoons of grated orange zest
¼ glass of orange juice
Combine the dry ingredients; add some milk to moisten the dough. Set aside. In the skillet (get a nice iron cast one) bring to boil the pie filling and the juice. When it’s nice and bubbly, drop mounds of the batter on top. Reduce heat, cover and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Lift the lid off and let it simmer for another extra 7 minutes or until the dough is cooked and golden.

By the way, people (can't blame them) do serve the cobbler with custard sauce, whipped cream, or ice cream. Do it at your own risk, I won´t tell on you. Just remember that we are trying to eat healthy here, and that the cobbler is so delicious , it needs no more improvement.

Bake a couple of cobblers for the holiday dessert. I bet you nobody will miss the pies. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

50 Shades of Grey Hair: Your Right to Look Vintage

For centuries, women have tried to hide all signs of aging. That includes those inconvenient and unwelcome grey hairs.  In the dawn of time, Egyptian ladies bleached their tresses with henna; Roman ladies of status wore wigs the moment they noticed they were going grey, and Native Americans used a sage and walnut shell preparation (rather effective, I’ve used it). So it´s understandable that modern culture encourages us to go for the Clairol bottle the moment our hair color changes. It’s part of our Culture of Youth. But is grey hair really ugly or repellent? Isn’t it time Vintage Greykittens reclaim their right to grow silvery manes?

I find it puzzling that the English language has no word to describe age-blanched hair. In Spanish we call them “canas”; a person whose hair has lost its youthful luster is “canoso” or “canosa”; going grey is described as “tener canas.” Such a word is necessary because those locks are not always grey. They could be white, sterling silver, or even yellow.

My first canas appeared in my early adolescence. I thought them interesting and felt they gave me glamour. Since I always looked younger than my real age, those yellowish streaks among my dark hair were often misconstrued as highlights, or signs that I was a closet blonde.

After my fortieth birthday, my canas became a different tale and I decided to do something about them. Being allergic to ammonia, for a long time I had to rely on a  L’Oreal  product called Casting Crème Gloss. It had no ammonia, granted a purplish hue to my ringlets, and hid my offensive canas. But a couple of years ago, I ceased all efforts to conceal those accusatory symbols of old age.  Hiding them was a grueling, boring, and expensive process. I was living in near poverty and had too much in my hands to worry about looks. I felt I had to live my age, because I felt old.

About a year ago, my man and I ran into a meter lady at city hall. Although she seemed agile and pert, her wrinkled face and canoso hair told us she was beyond her sixth decade. We commented on how sad it was that she still had to work, but how nice it was that she had found a dignified job. However, she didn’t act like a “poor old lady.” For starters, her body was young and slender, her dark pants and leather coat were anything but drab, and her hair, long and of a perfect silver shade, was gorgeous. She was a Third Age Beauty. “You know,” my boyfriend remarked, “grey-hair can be rather sexy.” Thank you, Kind Sir!

That incident taught me to enjoy my canas. Now I look forward to a total silver hair like Daenerys Targaryen’s. 

I have earned the right to have tresses any color I want, including a natural tint that tells I have lived a long and productive life. And I’m not alone. Let´s review some well-known personalities who are not afraid of the “going grey “ label.
Stacy London. Age 47 (Photo by Phil Plait)

Look how pretty Stacy London´s grey streaks look!  Being a fashion consultant she s knows canas are in.  She is not the only one that is wearing white or sliver streaks as highlights. Other examples include  First Lady of France, Carla Bruni and even thirtysomething Olivia Wilde.

Olivia Wilde. Age 32. (Photo by Nan Palmero. Flickr)

Carla Bruni Sarkozy. Age 48. (Photo by Remi Jouan)

On the other hand, legendary country singer Emmylou Harris looks even more beautiful with that shoulder length hairdo. It makes her snow-white hair look more striking.
EmmyLou Harris. Age 61 (in this picture) Photo by Eric Frommer. Flickr

Journalist Kathleen Sullivan opts for longer silver hair and wears it on a sort of ponytail that makes her look younger and quite attractive.
Kathleen Sullivan. Age 63 (Photo by Alan Light. Flickr)

Meryl Steeep, another quintessential Vintage Greykitten, showed us the glamour of white in “The Devil Wears Prada,” but in real life she doesn’t go for the short silver coiffure. 

She wears her hair in layers and lets it cascade down to her shoulders.  It makes her look young and trendy (and I love the eyeglasses).
Meryl Streep. Age 67. (Photo by Neon Tommy. Flickr)

Talking about long hair, who said that being old meant sporting a crew cut?  I constantly hear that after forty every woman should keep her hair chin-length.  Short hair is easy to maintain, but it is not the only option for a well-groomed Vintage Greykitten.

Women with short hair are only a century old image. From classic times onwards, matrons and grandmothers wore their hair long and up. There are several coiffures that are associated with older ladies. As a child I used to wrap my braids around my head in a crown shape. Mom always said “You look like a crone!”

BB doesn't look like a crone  France´s former sex symbol Brigitte Bardot has never cut her locks. Now in her 80s she keeps them up in a sexy chignon.
Brigitte Bardot . Age 82. (Photo by Cdrik bo6)

I’ve also noticed that ethnic women usually get away with longer hair. I can’t think of a prettier image than Ruby Dee’s  Rapunzel locks in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing. “ 
Copyright © 2016 CBS Interactive Inc.

Mexican actress Josefina Echanove´s long white braid was her lovely trademark.

Author Maxine Hong Kingston is a  fairytale creature with that flowing silvery hair.

( Photo by David Shankbone. Wikimedia Commons))
Now, if long hair requires too much effort, or if you find it doesn´t suit you, by all means keep it short. It´s the same with hair coloring.  I wrote this piece because rules bother me. Once you passed your youthful stage, there should be no rules concerning your hair length or its color. It should all be optional. To prove it I shall give you some examples of Greykittens who had no qualms to go both ways.

I have placed this blog under the protection of two saintly Vintage Greykittens:  Dame Liz Taylor and The Queen Mum.  The latter had gorgeous light brown hair, but when the time came, she went silver with royal grace and elegance. “I’m not an actress” she quipped when asked to use hair dye, “I’m a queen.”  

Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was a different story. Born with an impressive mane of jet black hair, at an early age she began experimenting with commercial dyes.  

In 1949, to play Amy in “Little Women” she went blonde. From then on, she played with the available palette. In her golden years, she switched from brunette to auburn to dark brown and so on. But she was such a goddess she could be as chameleonic she wished and that meant that she could proudly parade  her canas ,  as this picture shows. 

And so can we!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

What’s a Vintage Greykitten?

Originally this was to be a cooking blog. The companion piece to The Hag´s Guide to Breakfast, a collection of tips on how to control your kitchen once age,  illness, or both, had turned cooking into a thorny affair. But as I started to collect recipes, and scribble drafts, it dawned on me. I had a deeper concept in my hands.

Facing the Midlife Crisis

Menopause, and the years that followed its onset, were traumatic for me .Therefore, old age it’s not something I’m looking forward to. Becoming my parents’ caretaker has brought me closer to the ugliest side of what, in Spanish, we know as “La Tercera Edad” (The Third Age.).And yet I know people who navigate through that process clad in serenity and joy... How do they do it?

I started writing this blog on the eve of my fifty-seventh birthday. I was surrounded by images of youthful “old women”:  51-year old Monica Bellucci skinny dipping; Salma Hayek’s glowing arrival to her fifth decade, Janet Jackson pregnant at fifty, and this gorgeous blonde to whom I cannot attach the” middle-aged woman” tag.

Was I mistaken? Was I the only fiftysomething going through a midlife crisis? I think not. Madonna and company are multimillionaire stars with unlimited access to Botox, plastic surgery and any miraculous fountain of youth they can pay for.

What about the zillions of middle aged women who despair over losing looks and strength? “Age doesn’t matter” is a nasty platitude. Climacteric takes an enormous toll on a woman´s body, no matter how fit “The Change” finds her. And let´s not start with the alterations in mind and spirit that are the dreaded cohorts in the latter part of our lives.

However, I know women for whom senectitude is really a golden age and not because they are prodigiously strong, beautiful or mentally alert. They can enjoy their present precisely because they accept their past.  Recognizing that there are certain things they can’t do anymore, enables them to replace such activities, find new ways to continue enjoying others, and learn, discover, explore what the evening of life offers.  (Boy! Am I learning euphemisms and metaphors for “old age!”)

Going Grey, Going Vintage
Who are these intrepid females? What drives them? How could we strive to be like them? In order to answer that question I had first to come up with a label to identify them. I didn’t want to use the word “old. “It always brings to mind images of decrepit Third World beggars. So I went over the euphemism list and stopped at “Going Grey.”  It led me to  a surprising fact. 

While searching for stock free photos, I ran into snapshots of Rhianna and Cara Delevingne sporting silvery locks. Apparently gray hair had become fashionable among the Pretty and Fabulous crowd. So if grey was the new blond, my image of a pretty old lady could  proudly wear  an ashen mane.

Grey hair is now a trend among young women.

Having the adjective, all I needed was a noun. “Grey Lady,” “Grey Woman,” “Grey Queens,” they all sounded like Hogwarts ‘ghosts, so ...Off my catalog!  Grey applies to many animal furs and feathers. But “Grey Fox” is a lecherous old man; “Grey Wolf” sounds like a Sioux Chief; “Grey Owl?” No, not really.

The cat is my totem animal, but “old cat” ((like “hag, ” a word I love) has been for years a derogatory term for disapproving battleaxes. My final decision was that my lady would be a younger cat, a kitten. The word encompasses two youthful qualities I believe we should bring into our old age: playfulness and cuteness.

I chose to fuse adjective and noun together, and so I came up with “Greykittens,” the perfect bridge between ages. But there was something missing there. A Greykitten’s grandeur lies in her background. It´s what makes her special, it’s what makes her precious. What we tend to forget when forsaking and deriding our senior citizens, is that each one of them is a depositor of memories, a silent witness to past history. Therefore, as any vintage article, they are high-priced, and we should treat them as such.

Vintage! There was the magical word I was seeking!  Buy a modern  armchair and leave it on a corner of your living room. Ten years go by. Unless you have been doing regular maintenance, the chair will deteriorate. The color will fade. It will need constant repair. It might even need transformation. If you do it well, in twenty years, that chair will become a costly vintage piece.

Don´t get me wrong, the steady care that leads to becoming Vintage Gretykittens is not about exercise, balanced diet, and monthly medical checkups. Although I encourage a healthy lifestyle for all of us past menopause, being a Vintage Greykitten does not exclude the wheelchair-bound, the bedridden, the disabled or the obese. The greatness of Vintage Greykittens comes from beating physical odds while relying on weapons that can only be found in the spirit. Such weapons are serenity, self-contentment, acknowledgment and wisdom.

Secrets of the Greykitten Sisterhood
While in Library School, I took an internship at the Simon Hevesi Library, in Forest Hills. Senior citizens comprised more than half of my clientele. You couldn’t meet a more fascinating bunch! I learned to love and appreciate many of clients. They taught me a lot, but their most striking lesson was that you can find beauty in the elderly. It was my first close contact with the Vintage Greykitten breed and a beauty that surpassed wrinkles, a beauty that transpired from within.

Since those ladies came from all countries in the world, and all walks of life, it was difficult to pinpoint what made them exceptional. Over the years, I managed to create a profile to spot  a Vintage Greykitten. First came their chronological career.  Having witnessed and gone through major historical moments, they were monuments to the past. They had experienced tragedies and seen miracles. They were survivors but none felt a victim. They cherished their memories and were willing to evoke them.

Although emotional and given to tantrums (if the occasion called for it,) they were relaxed most of the time. Their poise had a calming effect upon us the young and already stressed-out crowd. Their sense of humor taught me to laugh at my misfortunes.  I noticed their wit, which went beyond the usual self-deprecating Jewish humor, was shaped by their insight.

The Talmud tells us that true wisdom is a synonym for kindness, and my Vintage Greykittens were terribly kind and wise, particularly to those of us who needed an adviser. In later years, after I have lost almost everything material, when I have seen my dignity trampled, and I have been appalled at my failure, I always remember their maxims. “True wealth has nothing to do with bills and coins;”“you are only poor if you can’t aid somebody else;” “I f you have no money to lend, always lend an ear”; “Teaching does not need a classroom and a blackboard, just the will to share your knowledge.”

It  may sound  like  “The Prudent Grandmother “cliché. The difference rests in the fact that The Vintage Greykitten can be a mother figure, a mentor, and  a friend, but she is  foremost a woman,  especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Because regardless of pacemakers and threats of strokes, their hearts are forever young.

The Hevesi Gretykittens came in all sizes and shapes. Some went around in simple garb; others were sharp dressers who prided themselves in their grooming. Some were sassy and flirtatious. Many found romantic partners at the library. A couple actually got married during my stint there. And yet their approach to love, romance ,and even that secret word (sex) ,was quiet different from the romantic strategies of childbearing age women.

It took me time to realize their secret. It was so simple. They had stopped competing, they did not try to look younger or conform to trendy fashions or impossible ideals of beauty. They felt they had different things to offer to potential lovers, and they peddled their goods in ways that would probably baffle a woman raised in days of feminism, sexual freedom and other myths.

Even the manner in which they handled rivals, was way smoother than girls deal with those that arouse their jealousy. They knew the difference because once a Greykitten, commenting on the ill -fortuned romance of a chum, said to me: “Poor So-and-So. She still uses the same tactics of a twenty year old. She´ll never get anywhere like that.”

In a nutshell, that is the secret of a Vintage Greykitten’s success:  finding new ways of doing things (lovemaking included) , learning the true meaning of giving, sharing her past experiences and looking forward while looking back with no regrets.

This blog’s agenda
I would like this blog to be a platform for the making of new Vintage Greykittens. To those who are already meowing under your silver wigs, please enlighten us. To those who (like Yours Truly) are striving to be vintage and grey, let´s share everything we are doing right and wrong in this aging process. And to those of you who are still young ,but fear the tsunami wave of decay, here is the answer of how to ride over it. So I bid you welcome to what I hope would become our blog.

Together we can examine  the careers of famous Greykittens, some of whom already grace my banner. What makes Liz Taylor  an epitome of “greykitteness”  while the same tag cannot be attached to Marlene Dietrich? Why was the late Queen Mum a true vintage product , something that couldn’t be said about her lovely and tragic daughter, Princess Margaret?
Queen Mum and Liz Taylor (1968)

We’ll go over established and absurd rules that limit the growth of  Vintage Greykittens (VGKs for short) such as acceptable and desired length of hair and skirts. We can share tips on how a VGK survives the kitchen, the workplace and the bedroom. And we´ll talk about  magic tricks to add glamour to our infirmities, quirks, and other inadequacies that arrive with age.

 Finally we shall talk about recollection. As a child and caretaker of a man afflicted with dementia, I can tell you the most horrible aspect of aging has to do with losing your past and having a present devoid of the skills to recognize, retain and recall. Let´s work together to preserve, while we can, the treasured memories our previous lives have left us, and this is the place to do it.