A story about Adam’s mom, her delightful quirkiness, her surprise involvement in a patriotic game of hide and seek and a favorite all-American dessert.
I have to say that my mother-in-law, quite the character and eighty-five years old in just a few weeks (I can’t believe it’s been five years since that epic party!), is in pretty darned good shape for her age, if you ask me. With the exception of poor vision to the point of blindness due to macular degeneration and her being almost completely deaf in one ear (which, shamefully, sometimes makes for some very funny moments since she’s so hard of hearing and misunderstands words frequently. I need to get my computer fixed so I can get that Skyke thingie! Oh! Dolce and Gabbiano! I loved them when I lived in Italy!), she’s an incredibly vibrant octogenarian. She goes to her Pilates class twice a week, still travels on occasion and walks her dogs most days for about 45 minutes in her thick, dark sunglasses, signature straw Panama hat, with bright red lipstick on, lots of genuine bling on her fingers and black Chanel slip-on sneakers. Yep, you read the last part right. She has a great sense of humor and even jokes about her physical condition (her inability to see or hear well) with a chuckle, saying that she’s “healthy from the neck down.”
But, I would – and do – like to add that her mind’s still razor-sharp and – this is the thing that just kills me – she has an uncanny memory. I can’t remember what the hell I did two days ago if it’s not written on my calendar, but she can recall things that happened to her 50, 60, 70 years ago! It’s astonishing and, frankly, maddening that I have to document my life on a daily basis when she can rattle off how many times they moved over the years (she recites the list by country), who visited their Tuscan villa in 1985, or the time someone sent her mother a pig as a thank you when she was twelve without so much as blinking. She had an extremely charmed and luxurious life, living all over the world in so many extraordinary places in their cities’ Golden Age of discovery and innocence, racking up some amazing experiences over her eight decades. She was sworn in as a deputy sheriff in Lima, Peru (short story). She was arrested in Mexico (longish story). She hobnobbed with the King and Queen of Spain (longer, envy-inducing story). She met the Pope (yes, the same time as this story). You know, the usual fantasy stuff most of us dream about. Did I mention that she was also a world-renowned artist?
She tells her tales very well and they’re always entertaining, but…but… she recites them the same, exact way, with the same exact words, with the same exact emphasis on those same, exact words every, single time. I’ve heard them all about 7,000,000 times in our almost eighteen year relationship but never once, when she has asked me, “Have I told you this before?” said that I had. Ummmm….no, I don’t believe you have….so, please do go on.
I’m ashamed to admit this and would absolutely be mortified if she ever knew that I internally sighed or secretly rolled my eyes to be hearing one of them yet again, but I wouldn’t dream of squelching her Glory Days recollection for the world…because she’s (almost) 85-years-old and the mother of my husband and someone I love. My momma raised me right.
Honestly, all of her stories are/were quite fascinating and riddled with alarming attention to detail. So much so that I sometimes wonder if they weren’t somehow airbrushed to perfection in her mind to make them live up to her what she thought really happened. I do wonder sometimes. But that could just be the jealousy talking.
This, however, is one I never tire of hearing.
Backstory: Just a few miles down the road from us is The Linville Gorge, a.k.a. The Grand Canyon of North Carolina, one of Eastern America’s most scenic and rustic gorges and is part of the Pisgah National Forest. It is formed by the Jonas Ridge on the east and Linville Mountain on the west and is bisected by the Linville River, which drops 2,000 feet into the valleys below. It is a densely covered wilderness with steep terrain and numerous rugged rock formations. For these obvious challenges, it is used by the military for tactical maneuvers and simulated war training.
The scene: 1960-something. She’s in the kitchen preparing the night’s dinner, here at their summer house.
Knock on the door. She opens it to find a young man in a Green Beret uniform.
“Ma’am, the enemy is after me. May I hide in your house?”
Surprised, she answers, “Well, okay. Come in.”
He disappears and she continues her work. A few minutes later, there’s another knock at the door.
“Ma’am, the enemy is chasing me. May I hide in your house?” the second soldier asks.
She glances over her shoulder and shrugs, “Well, okay. Come on in.”
There’s a third knock. Another soldier. One more knock. Soldier number four.
“Ma’am, the enemy is after me. May I hide in your house?”
Four knocks later and four soldiers hiding in her house. She continues to chop and dice in quiet. About an hour later, there’s an enthusiastic rap on the door. A fifth Green Beret, obviously a more senior man from all the decorative bells and whistles on his jacket, appears at the back door.
“Ma’am, I’m searching for several escaped prisoners. Have you seen or had contact with any of them?” he questions authoritatively.
She slowly shakes her head and shoulders back and forth and lies through her teeth, playing her role in their war game, “Ooohhhh, noooo, Officer. I haven’t seen anyone at all.”
He tips his hat and says, “Then you won’t mind if I search your house?”
She waves him in. About an hour later, the Sergeant enters the kitchen alone, snaps to attention, salutes her and quickly leaves.
Thirty minutes later, the other four soldiers file out one at a time, each man touching his hat in salute as they march towards the back door.
“Ma’am, thank you ma’am.”
“Thank you, ma’am. Have a nice day.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Ma’am, thank you ma’am. Have a nice day.”
She always finishes her story with, “Do you know I could never figure out where they were all hiding?”
But here’s my Photoshopped version Alternate Ending of the Patriotic Hide and Seek:
She runs out the door after the four soldiers.
“Fellas! Wait just a second! Wouldn’t you all like some Jumbleberry Cobbler? It’s just out of the oven and still warm! A little treat before returning to your mission?”
The soldiers look at each other for a group consensus, shrug and say, “Sure! Gee, thanks, ma’am, that sounds great!”
She plops a few generous spoonfuls of the dessert into individual bowls and scoops out some vanilla ice cream to go on top, which starts to melt and puddle around the hot cobbler. The hungry men devour it in record time.
“If you don’t mind my asking, just exactly where did you all disappear to inside? My house isn’t that big!” she inquires.
A tall, dark-headed young man, apparently the squad leader, stands up and replies, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but that’s classified information.”
After another round of gratitude from the men and as they head back out to the woods, the same soldier turns on his heel and says, “Oh and by the way, ma’am, nice tapestry upstairs. You’re a very talented lady. Good day.”
With a satisfied smile on her face, she knew exactly where they had been hiding. The secret attic door concealed by her wall hanging.
Lots of folks define cobbler differently. Some like this baked, deep-dish fruit dessert topped with a thick biscuit crust and sprinkled with sugar. Some like it more as a crumble. I love it all ways but this more pudding cake-like version is probably my favorite and the one that I’ve been making for years. An easy, one-bowl batter comes together quickly that you pour in a buttered baking dish and dot with lots of berries. Then it’s sprinkled with a generous dusting of sugar. Into the oven it goes and the batter magically puffs and cloaks the fruit in a beautiful cobble pattern.
- softened, unsalted butter for the pan
- 1 cup self-rising flour
- 1 cup sugar, plus ¼ cup for the topping
- 1 cup buttermilk
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup raspberries
- 1 cup blueberries
- 1 cup blackberries
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 3-quart baking dish and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and 1 cup of sugar. Add in the buttermilk, butter and vanilla and mix until smooth. Pour the batter in the prepared pan and rap it on the counter a few times to evenly spread it and eliminate any air bubbles. Evenly distribute the fruit on top and sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup of sugar over the top of the fruit. Bake until the cobbler is golden brown and bubbling, about an hour and 10 minutes.
…from the Picture-Perfect kitchen:
Planning: If you don’t have buttermilk, you can substitute regular whole milk or make your own buttermilk by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to the milk. Let it sit for five minutes before using. Feel free to switch out the fruit for others, if you like. Peaches and blackberries are a dynamite duo.
Product Purity: Self-rising flour is an all-purpose flour to which baking powder and salt have been added. White Lily brand is a staple in my household. When it comes to vanilla extract, only the pure stuff will do. Nielsen-Massey is the best. Find it at kitchen specialty stores.
Presentation: I like to serve cobbler in shallow glass bowls so you can see all the glorious colors and textures of this fabulous dessert. You can’t have cobbler without a dollop of ice cream on top! Well, you could but why in the world would you want to go and do a thing like that?