I know. It’s not my usual Saturday shopping stop, but when there’s only one retailer for miles around, what are you gonna do? I was in Elkmont, Alabama, headed for a cheese-making class at Humble Heart Farms — http://humbleheartfarms.com/ — when the hay bale in front of the Saddle Rack Farm & Pet Supply beckoned me. Actually, it was the llamas, roosters and other assorted animals in the front fenced-off area near the highway that grabbed my attention, but sadly they wouldn’t cooperate for photos so I only can promise you that they were there. I love poking around feed and farm stores — my love for Rural King, the farm/home store found mainly in Illinois and Indiana, is well documented. Something about hanging out with bins of seeds and samples of fencing reminds me of when I was little and I’d go places with my dad. We didn’t have a farm (although he has a nursery now) so I’m not sure why I associate feed stores with him. But he did sell John Deere industrial tractors and for years we had a vegetable garden, so mud, dirt and dust were familiar parts of my childhood. But we never had a hay bale in a front yard. My dear husband, on the other hand, did grow up on a farm and so probably is not as fascinated with feed stores as I am.
Although I’ve never liked any kind of meringue pie, I adore meringues — those crunchy bits of pillowy slow-baked egg-white goodness. Maybe it’s because my maternal grandmother always had a reused (I don’t think we would use the word “recycled” 40 years ago) coffee can full of them when we’d drive up from Tennessee to visit her and my grandpa in southern Illinois. I assume that with her Depression-honed frugalness, she made them from leftover egg whites — although I don’t remember her making anything especially yolk-centric. Anyway, to keep me from embarrassing her by buying four containers of store-made meringues at once, Younger Daughter has perfected her recipe and technique for homemade meringues. They’re so much better and better-for-you than store-bought. Her great-grandmother would be proud.
Then fold in 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract and some grated vanilla bean. Put half egg-white mixture into a plastic gallon food-storage bag and cut one of the corners off. Squeeze dollops of the mixture onto a parchment- or wax-paper covered baking sheet. For chocolate meringues, add 1 1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder and mini chocolate chips to remaining egg-white batter and repeat. Bake at a low temperature — 225 degrees — for about one hour. They’ll be yummy but still a bit chewy. Then turn oven off and let sit overnight or for several more hours to dry out. Just remember to take them out of the oven before turning the oven on for something else. I’m just saying. Anyway, I could eat a whole pan of these at one sitting. They’re really easy and fun and have no fat in them whatsoever. And I still can taste the grandmother-love in them, along with daughter-love. That is one powerful combination.
My 22-year-old daughter and I were looking through the latest American Girl doll catalog this weekend and started getting nostalgic. Back in the early 1990s — about 15 years ago — when we lived in Athens, Tennessee, she and her now 24-year-old sister loved these dolls. Me, too. Every birthday and Christmas we added to our collection with clothes, accessories, books and furniture. I even made some of the doll clothes and — I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it’s true — on a few occasions we were a complete mother-daughters-dolls matching set. Ouch. But we had fun. Among the three of us, we had the original three dolls: Kristen, the pioneer girl; Samantha, the Victorian girl; and Molly, the World War II girl. We then added Felicity, the Colonial girl; and Addy, who escaped slavery with her mother. Almost all of our friends in Athens had them, too, and we’d have lovely tea parties with girls and dolls. Wonderful, wonderful memories. But the girls got older and gradually put away “childish” things. When we moved to north Alabama in 1995, the dolls stayed packed up and I’ve only sort of peripherally kept up with new American Girl dolls and the shifting emphasis from historical characters to contemporary Just-Like-You dolls. But when I noticed this past Christmas that the newest doll is Depression-era Kit Kittredge whose date is 1934, I knew she’d be perfect for my mom, who was born that year. The doll even looks like my mom, and Kit’s clothes and accessories seem straight from my mom’s Illinois childhood. My daughters and I are having fun getting back into American Girl collecting. I can’t wait until I have granddaughters to buy for, too. We’re sad beyond belief, however, to hear that Mattel — which owns the company now — is retiring Samantha. That’s a shame. Seems as if learning from the past is more important than ever. So long, Samantha. Thanks for being such a vital part of my daughters’ childhood. We’ll miss you. Click here to read more Samantha farewells: http://americangirlstories.typepad.com/american_girl_stories/2008/09/test.html