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‘Tis the season for food and family memories

As we enter this holiday season, our thoughts naturally turn to food. Whether it is pasties at hunting camp, Thanksgiving turkey at grandma’s or Christmas ham with the whole family around the dining room table, holidays are special because of those wonderful meals and the people who gather around to share in them. For me, food memories also signify the passage through a variety of life stages from my own childhood, through the college years, and each stage of my life as an adult.

My childhood memories of food are grounded in my grandmother’s farm cooking. Her kitchen, with its giant wood-propane-fired cook stove, was a magical place. She transformed wild game, home-grown vegetables and berries, and flour stored in huge pantry crocks into the most delicious meals and homemade bread that was better than cake. The warmth and aromas of her kitchen enveloped you like giant hugs the minute you set foot inside their farm house. I remember how we gathered around the big table, with its lacy tablecloth, in the parlor if it was a holiday. Any other time we sat around the kitchen table, with its very practical oil cloth firmly tacked down all around the table’s edge.

My mother did not inherit her mother’s kitchen acumen. My grandmother was a full-time farmer’s wife who was accustomed to feeding an entire threshing crew and who had grown up the oldest of nine. She helped her own mother with every household chore. My mother grew up the youngest of three and much preferred to hang out with her dad and the cows in the barn rather than with her mother in the kitchen. She became a hardworking, single mom with four kids. Honestly, the last thing she felt like doing when she got home from a very hectic day as a secretary to four bosses was to fix supper. She never planned meals so always had to stop at the store on her way home to grab something that could be thrown together quickly and cheaply. Quite often we resorted to the take-out restaurant menu. On weekends it was chicken or pork chops. I do remember she made incredible potato salad throughout the summer months and the most marvelous fruit salad every Thanksgiving. And we always had brown ‘n’ serve rolls at holidays that made great sandwiches with left-over turkey or ham.

In college, dining hall food was a real shock to the taste buds. I distinctly remember the miniature meatloaves that we named “meat grenades.” They were dry and simply tasted gray. Like most kids, I ate a lot of pizza in those days. There was a kitchen in the dorm that I used every Sunday night to fix my boyfriend — who would become my husband — pot pies before he headed home for the week. Sometimes I made him the one thing I knew how to fix — stuffed pork chops. He was always so impressed with that meal!

After we were married and living in our own apartment, stuffed pork chops became a fond memory. We certainly could not afford pork chops on our Pizza Hut wages. And he soon learned that I did not know how to cook any other meal. We survived on a lot of free pizza — a nice benefit from our jobs — a lot of popcorn and canned Dinty Moore stew. When we got tired of free pizza, we brought home just the topping ingredients and had the most wonderful scrambled eggs for Sunday morning breakfast.

My poor husband lost 15 pounds, and I am sure his mother was very worried about him. His parents had us for supper at least twice each week, which was a blessing for us and a way for my mother-in-law to save her son from malnutrition!

As we managed to find better-paying survival jobs, I started making a few things. Most of the meals were hamburger recipes with names like Fancy Pants Hamburgers, which were nothing more than a hamburger patty with a piece of cheese buried in the center, and Burger Bean Cups which was a muffin cup shaped patty that held a mixture of green beans and cream of mushroom soup. One throwback to those days that I still make occasionally was titled Hamburger Biscuit Bake. It was assembled in a pie plate and featured a biscuit on the bottom, a hamburger mixture in the center, and a biscuit on top. It was finished off with a gravy of mixed vegetables and cream of mushroom soup. Now, I make the biscuit from scratch and really season up the burger and soup mixtures with fresh herbs and spices.

Back then we had a strict grocery budget. At 55 cents per pound, we ate a lot of hamburger dishes. I remember when beef prices increased, and I stopped buying it. For the first time ever, throughout all the years of my husband giving blood, the Red Cross turned him away because of low iron. We lived next door to another young, newly married couple who said “they had figured Pat’s iron count had dropped when they found his lip prints on the fender of their Volkswagen Beetle.” We laughed so hard! Chicken was only 29 cents per pound, and a loaf of bread was only a quarter.

Once we had our two sons, I learned to make a lot of casseroles, soups and stews that really stretched a pound of hamburger into a meal for four people. My youngest son did not like things to be “mixed together,” so when I made chicken rice casserole, he patiently divided it into three separate piles: chicken, rice and peas … and never ate the peas. Macaroni and cheese became a family favorite, but it was not the boxed Kraft variety. I made it from scratch. The boys also liked tacos. Saturday lunch was always hot dogs and beans, and my husband made pancakes after Sunday morning Mass every week. Like my mother, I made chicken on the weekends or an occasional roast beef dinner, and stuffed pork chops made a return, much to my husband’s delight.

Pizza never left the menu. One would think that after all those pizzas in our survival years we would be sick to death of eating it, yet it never disappeared. We always wanted to keep the family supper hour intact, no matter how busy our schedules became, so we had plenty of Little Caesars two-for-one priced pizzas when there was not time for anything else.

Over the years, jobs improved, wages increased and children left the nest. There were fewer mouths to feed and a more relaxed grocery budget. I no longer had to take my calculator with me to the grocery store. I delved into ethnic cooking. I experimented with spices and seasonings I had never heard of and continually combed my collection of cookbooks for new recipes. I learned how to make lamb chops. On weekends we had steak and shrimp for two with a bottle of wine. We had friends over for a Mardi Gras party that featured Louisiana favorites. And, yes, we still eat pizza but now we make it from scratch.

The advent of COVID-19 has definitely changed things this year. Our sons and their families will not be coming home at Christmas for lasagna roll-ups and homemade fudge, and we will not be travelling at Thanksgiving for our daughter in-law’s turkey dinner and cheesecake. I am packing up their favorite holiday goodies — fudge and peanut butter balls — and mailing a holiday treat box to each of them. And we will visit on the phone. My husband and I will fix Cornish hens for our scaled-back Thanksgiving and buy a much smaller Christmas ham. Our annual jaunt out of town to ring in the New Year will be replaced with a quiet dinner at home with one other couple as we happily bid farewell to the challenges of 2020.

As we make the most of this holiday season, let’s celebrate sensibly and safely so we can all be together again next year. For now, let’s enjoy our memories of holidays past, content in the knowledge that the good times will, indeed, roll again.

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NURSING HOMES

The usual senior living activity calendars and senior center menus are not being published to avoid confusion. Due to the coronavirus and the vulnerability of the elderly population, daily life in the senior living facilities and senior centers has changed dramatically.

All living facilities have closed their doors to public visitation, and the activity calendars have been modified to allow for one-to-one room visits only and individualized activities to keep residents engaged and active as much as possible while remaining within the health and safety guidelines provided by state health experts.

Group games are being substituted with individualized activities residents can do in their respective rooms. Staff are providing supplies as well as “overhead announcement bingo and trivia” games and “hallway games” that can be played in individual rooms or by sitting within individual room doorways.

YouTube and DVDs are being utilized to provide religious services. A big dose of gratitude and appreciation goes out to all senior care staff for their creativity, caring and perseverance through a difficult situation.

All senior centers also have been closed to any center-based activity. Until they reopen, no information is being published that talks about activities typically available at these centers. While some have reopened with limited seating, meals do continue to be delivered.

Some centers also are preparing meals to be picked up. Menus are printed below for those centers that are either preparing takeout or providing home-delivered meals. Questions can be directed to the individual centers at the numbers listed here.

SENIOR CENTERS

Alpha-Mastodon Center

906-875-3315

Amasa Center

906-822-7284

The Amasa Center is a curbside pick-up-only kitchen for now. Call ahead for Tuesdays through Thursdays. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Beef stroganoff, noodles, California blend vegetables

Wednesday: Closed

Thursday: Closed – Happy Thanksgiving!

Note: All meals served with milk, bread and butter, fruit and dessert

Breen Center

906-774-5110

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Monday: Liver or smoked sausage, potatoes, carrots

Tuesday: Barbecue pork sandwich, potato wedges, baked beans

Wednesday: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, broccoli

Thursday: Closed

Note: All meals served with a choice of skim milk or juice and fruit

Crystal Falls Center

Head cook: Lucy Korhonen

906-875-6709

Crystal Lake Center

Iron Mountain

906-239-0278

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Smothered chicken, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables

Tuesday: French toast, sausage, spiced pears

Wednesday: Salisbury steak, rice, cauliflower

Thursday: Chicken stuffing sandwich, peas, cranberry sauce

Friday: Tuna salad sandwich, coleslaw, string cheese

Note: All meals served with a choice of skim milk, juice, or no beverage

For more information, call Christine McMahon at 906-774-2256

Felch Center

906-246-3559

Now open with limited seating from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Menu for the week —

Monday: Pork chops, cabbage, potatoes

Tuesday: Hamburger casserole, green beans, salad

Wednesday: Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, broccoli

Note: All meals served with skim milk or juice

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County, Wis.

715-528-4890

Director: Tiffany White

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Chef’s salad, whole wheat rolls, cottage cheese, fruit

Tuesday: Hunters’ chili, cornbread, cucumbers in sour cream, fruit

Wednesday: Baked fish, sweet potato fries, broccoli salad, fruit (Fence closed)

Thursday: All centers closed

Friday: All centers closed

Note: All meals served with whole grain bread and butter and milk

Fence Center/Town Hall

715-336-2980

For meal reservations, call 855-528-2372

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Florence Community Center/Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-528-4261

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Tipler Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-674-2320

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hillcrest Senior Dining Center, Aurora

For meal reservations, call 715-589-4491

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hermansville Center

Coordinator: Pam Haluska

906-498-7735

Iron River Center

906-265-6134

Niagara Northwoods Senior Cafe and Center

Meal site manager: Corrie Maule, 715-251-1603

Senior center director: Jill Anderson, 715-251- 4154

Norway Center

Director: Susie Slining

906-563-8716

The center will remain closed; however, takeout meals will be prepared for pick up — those picking up must call ahead and wear a mask. Menu for the week —

Monday: Chili, corn bread, Brussel sprouts, fruit, juice, dessert

Tuesday: Be Thankful Dinner: Pork roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, glazed carrots, green bean casserole, fruit, juice, dessert

Wednesday: Sweet and sour chicken, stir-fry vegetables, rice, fruit, juice, dessert

Thursday: Closed for Thanksgiving

Sagola Center

906-542-3273

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Meatloaf, potato wedges, carrots, bread, salad, fruit

Wednesday: Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, squash, cranberry sauce, salad, bread, fruit

Thursday: Closed

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