My Crockpot

23 January 2022

My Vintage Crockpot

How many electrical appliances in your kitchen are more than forty years old? Countless electric toasters, microwave ovens, waffle makers, popcorn poppers, hand-mixers, and coffee pots have come and gone in mine, along with an electric knife and a knife-sharpener-can-opener combination that I decided were not worth their counter or storage space.

I still occasionally use an electric frying pan that my brother and I bought as an anniversary present for our parents in the 1960s. It brings back memories of my college days in a first apartment shared by four of us who rotated cooking on a daily schedule. Jane owned the electric skillet, which we put to regular use, frying chicken, making stews, pot roasts, pork chops, hot dogs, and batches of chile (often using recipes from another cherished well-worn antique, the hilarious I Hate to Cook Cookbook by Peg Bracken that contained such memorable favorites as Chilly-Night Chili, Stayabed Stew, and Cockeyed Cake. I owned the cookbook, a gift from the irrepressible Gen Markle, one of my mother’s closest friends, who inscribed it (with my slightly misspelled name), “To Linnae with love, and best wishes for a happy and nutritious year.”

 I still occasionally still make Cockeyed Cake. But my usual stand-by these days is an Australian plain cake, which becomes dazzling with the addition of jam or jelly, fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, kiwis, raspberries, or whatever is available). A few dollops of Grand Marnier or Amaretto and lots of freshly whipped cream hold the layers together and cover the whole thing. I call it Australian Cake, although there’s probably nothing Australian about it. It was inspired by my friend Jenny in Melbourne, who not only added all the extras to the “plain cake” recipe found in an Australian cookbook but often presented it with the flourish of a ribbon wrapped around it, a particularly clever trick if you don’t have enough whipped cream to cover the sides.

But, my prized long-running-hit kitchen appliance is a flaming orange Rival Crockpot, one of the first purchases I made in 1973 when after four years of living on savings and meager graduate-student fellowships, I finally could afford to buy some extras. I had a real job, teaching at the College of Ganado on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona, and there was a fairly new large FedMart store in Window Rock, a thirty-minute drive over the Defiance Plateau. The store was much like a modern Walmart or an old-fashioned general store, with almost anything one could possibly need or want, at a low price. 

I would fill my crockpot with stew meat, carrots, potatoes, onions, and maybe some celery, garlic, and tomato sauce or paste in the morning. Then, I would work all day, or spend a day exploring the countryside before coming home to a delicious hot dinner. As the ads for the crockpot said, “It cooks all day while the cook’s away.”

 I’ve never done any of the fancier things the crockpot is said to do, like make cakes or bread, but for years I’ve used it to make pot roasts, stew, and one-pot meals of various kinds. I also sometimes use it to cook dried beans, and in cold weather make hot spiced apple cider, or another old favorite from one of my mother’s close friends, “Hilma’s Holiday Glogg,” (pronounced gloog), a Swedish recipe that involves large quantities of burgundy, raisins, and cardamom seeds, served in teacups with a dollop of vodka or bourbon to top off the already-potent brew.

Over the years, I have relied on the crockpot, whether I’ve been dashing off to work or school, spending a day with guests, or hiking in the mountains. It is wonderful to come home to an aromatic hot dinner and is well worth the twenty minutes or so it takes to prepare the meat and vegetables or dried beans before rushing off in the morning, leaving the meal to cook safely for eight to twelve hours. The meat cooks first, the vegetables more slowly.

 I love the simplicity of this old pot, which unlike more recent and more popular incarnations with countless buttons to push for various settings, requires nothing more than an electrical outlet. Its three settings; off, low, and high, are operated by the turn of a dial. What could be simpler? I have looked at the new instant pots, but like my new-fangled oven, which requires an instruction book to operate all its bells and whistles, they seem unnecessarily complicated, although perhaps they can do more. Sometimes less is more, and after almost fifty years, this simple appliance still works perfectly. What more could I want?

Inscription in the I Hate to Cook Book, 1964
Chilly-Night Chili Recipe from The I Hate to Cook Book

Christmas Greetings 2021 from Kent and Linnea

It is one week before Christmas Eve, and I’m still not feeling the Christmas spirit, despite participating in Advent readings with a small group and attending a glorious performance of Handel’s Messiah. I brought the Swedish straw goat and a wooden Santa Claus up from the basement and put a wreath on the door this evening. Decorating done, maybe.

I was briefly tempted by the pretty Christmas trees from Mora, NM in the lot on 4th Street, but the thought of putting everything up and taking it down deterred me. I have not baked a single cookie (yet) or bought anyone Christmas presents (besides a tip to our faithful newspaper carrier). I’ve invited guests for Christmas dinner but have not come up with a menu. Unless we get inspired, we will not set out luminaria on Christmas Eve as we did last year when the neighbors came to the end of the driveway for hot cider and cookies, happy to see each other, even in our masks, after the long months of lockdown.

Kent and I were relieved to get our first Covid vaccinations in February and March – thinking soon Covid would be gone, and we could resume life as we knew it. As we all know, that did not happen, although the threat of death was much lessened. We traveled to San Francisco several times, happy to see the family and take long walks. In August we drove to Wyoming for a gathering of Kent’s high school class, and in October and November we ventured on our first pandemic era foreign trip to Mexico City, Puebla, and Oaxaca.

We have much to be grateful for, but I am feeling sad for the future of the world. My generation, in the 1960s railed at what our parents had done, but now we are leaving behind a worse mess. Tomorrow, one full week before Christmas, would be my father’s 120th birthday.  He was born on December 18, 1901, and although he suffered from a burst appendix, smallpox, and tuberculosis, and survived the 1918 flu pandemic, he lived to be 90 years old. After more than thirty years without them, I still miss my parents.

We worked extensively on Kent’s book We Ran Away to Sea, writing and re-writing several times and cutting out enough stories to fill another book. We hope to finish it in 2022.

I participated in the local photography club through meetings via Zoom and moved out of the beginner level in the exhibitions, although I still struggle with Lightroom, Photoshop, and my camera. The judges especially liked some of the pictures taken through the glass of our small bathroom’s shower. So much for traveling to get good pictures!

Last night just at sunset, I drove to La Montanita Co-Op to replenish our supply of rye crisp. The Sandia Mountains glowed deep pink, as they often do in winter. When I returned, the light had faded, but a perfect full moon now hung over the deep-blue peaks. Had I looked more carefully earlier, I might have seen the pink mountains and the rising moon together, but I missed the opportunity.

Despite my lack of Christmas spirit, I don’t want to miss this opportunity to wish you all the blessings and joys of the season. May our hope be renewed. When I asked Kent if I should add anything, he said, “How about a little cheer?”

Self-Portrait through the bathroom glass

Companions on the Way

June 27, 2020

As I stepped into the patio this. morning, flocks of house finches and other small birds who had gathered at the new pigeon-proof bird feeder, scattered into the sky like flung confetti.  I felt a bit like St. Francis, with his bird companions.

Recently thoughts of “companions on the way,” upon which I reflected in an email sent from my Spanish Camino in 2010, have returned during this time of social isolation.

While I sat in the sun beside the cathedral in Santiago, “along came a French couple I´d met several times during the walk.  We finally exchanged names and emails.  I had been reflecting on the importance of companions on the pilgrimage and on the road of life.  How unexpected they sometimes are, and how important.  I thought about how no one goes with us all the way.  Some remain with us longer and become dearer, while others are with us for a short time, but may be no less dear and important in their own ways.”

Some companions are with us for most of our lives.  Some we would not have not chosen but seem to have been chosen for us.  There are some whose names we recall frequently and some whose names we have forgotten.   Some we mourn for having left us too soon, and some we will leave too soon.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Where I am going, you cannot follow,” which is what happens when our loved ones leave us.  He also said, “My peace I give to you,” and “I will be with you always.”  But the disciples were left alone, nevertheless.

Each of us must ultimately walk alone.  Our companions on the way may sometimes be thorns-in-our sides and sometimes treasures.  Some are soul-mates, and others are people with whom we just happen to be thrown together.

Eleanor from our cancer care-givers writing group wrote to me near the beginning of my 2010 Camino, that the entire group sent me energy and prayers during the silent meditation before writing.  I had forgotten this until I re-read those emails.  Perhaps it was their energy that kept me going during those first difficult days?  Most of the members of this group are still part of my life.  We gather every so often to talk and write. We have moved beyond the challenges that faced us as caregivers and we now live new lives and face new challenges.

I have three friends from high school – who were not my closest friends from those days – with whom I regularly keep in touch. Three of us, including me, have lost spouses. I treasure the continued presence of these companions from my youth, even though I have been blessed with a new husband with whom to share these late-life years.

Today is the birthday of my two children, born four years apart. Their father Ed died when they were in their early twenties.  They remain my companions in joy and grief as I share in their achievements and their sorrows.

Anne, my amazing library assistant, became one of my closest friends.  After a more than year-long struggle with cancer, that she chronicled with grace and insight through her CaringBridge account, she died suddenly at the end of April this year.

It has been hard to write about her.  I’ve tried to write about objects that remind me of her, like a beautiful bar of soap with the image of a bee with translucent wings pressed into it.  It is quite a marvelous construction.  I can hear her exclaiming over its beauty and ingenuity.  She gave this beautiful object to me, her friend, and now it sits beside my sink, used often during this time of frequent hand-washing, reminding me every day of her friendship and her love of life and beauty.

Oddly, it is often when I am walking that seemingly unconscious triggers call forth memories of friends and family, as vividly as the videos and pictures that also bring those long-gone to life. They are indeed with me always.

I am reminded of special kindnesses, even fleeting ones, often from strangers.  Sometimes a smile, a touch, a helping hand, or a sympathetic ear means so much.  On the other hand, a curt dismissal, an insult, or a refusal to help diminishes me.

It is easy to take out our frustrations on others, to blame to criticize, and to consider ourselves superior.  But that is not the way to promote harmony in this world that is already so full of hostility and hurt and so much in need of healing.  Anger begets anger, love, love.  So, let’s be thankful for our companions on the way, and try to respond both to those who hurt us and those who treat us with kindness, with love.

The birds, too, are our companions, even the greedy doves we try to keep from devouring the food set out for the smaller ones.  The pigeon-proof feeder allows the doves to scavenge the seeds spilled on the ground.  We no longer shout and wave our arms, scaring off the little birds as well as the doves.   All of our lives are happier now.