When I was 16 years old, I used to wander over to the Contemporary Resort at Disney World to lay out in the sun on their beach, something that isn’t possible anymore because of alligators. But, then, Disney was still young and the gators hadn’t yet infiltrated the lakes.
I was fat, but wore a tube top and a bathing suit bottom that went up to my belly button, keeping my midriff exposed to the sun.
These were the days before we knew about skin cancer and using sunscreen. I had my trusty bottle of baby oil that I slathered on every couple of hours. (Tanning at home, I used Crisco.) Just reading it, I’m checking all my freckles and moles!
No one ever checked to see if I had a room key or asked if I belonged on their beach. That would never happen today. Because no one cared, when I got hot, I’d dive into one of their two pools, swim around (I’m a great swimmer), get cool, then go back to my spot on the beach.
One time when I was in the pool, there was a woman sitting on the side hollering, “Barbie! Barbie!” and I answered her, asking, “Yes?” I swam over to her and she was calling one of her twin daughters, also named Barbie… we laughed, then introduced ourselves. It took less than 2 minutes before we were fast friends. After we were done swimming, I took them on a guided tour of the Magic Kingdom (the only park open then) and they took me to dinner. Barbie’s mom and I corresponded for 10 years, talking on the phone a lot, too. They lived in Canada, so never saw them again. I think about the family often wondering whatever happened in their lives.
Frozen Orange Daiquiri
But, what about that Frozen Orange Daiquiri?
While I lay on the beach, servers wandered around asking if people wanted something from the bar (including snacks!). Can you imagine that happening today? No way in the world would they traipse in the sand selling drinks. But then, it was awesome.
The first time I had enough money to buy something to drink, I asked if there was a virgin anything cold and the server said, “We have Frozen Orange Daiquiris,” and I probably said, “Yes!” way too loud, but she toddled off to the bar to get me that drink.
I swear she floated back, my drink balanced on her tray, my mouth watering as she came upon me like an angel of Frozen Orange Daiquiris.
It was served in a clear plastic cup with an orange slice on the rim.
It was exquisite.
Sipping the thick icy treat, I found using the orange slice as a scoop to be more efficient as well as yum-MEEEE! I asked the server for a few orange slices when I ordered the next drink and she brought me a bowl of them!
This became my special treat and even when I didn’t feel like laying out in the sun, I’d go to the Contemporary Resort, sit at the Sand Bar and order one Virgin Frozen Orange Daiquiri after another. With a pile of orange slices to dip, use as a scoop, then peel the orange from the rind with my teeth.
I can taste it even now, feeling the searing sun on my back, slurping the icy drink off the orange slices.
Where Are They Now?
I have not figured out why, but no one seems to make Frozen Orange Daiquiris anymore. They make Peach, Mango, even an Orange-Banana, but where are the unadulterated Orange ones? I’ve ask experienced bartenders to make me one and usually get a look of confusion. I’ve probably only had 5 in the last 40 years. And even those didn’t taste like I remembered.
Yes, I am aware that the atmosphere of the burning sun, the white sandy beach, being on Disney property, the server wending her way through the lawn chairs, the piles of cold orange slices create a memory that can never be recreated, that no matter how many Frozen Orange Daiquiris I have, none would ever taste the same.
I’m salivating remembering the tart sweetness over the decades.
Let’s bring the Frozen Orange Daiquiri back to a drink everyone asks for!
Not one person who has seen Fried Green Tomatoes will think of anything else but Idgie’s love for Ruth and how she wanted to impress her by getting a honeycomb directly from the hive.
“You’re just a bee charmer, Idgie Threadgoode.
That’s what you are, a bee charmer.”
Honey in Birth
Honey has a great supply of natural sugars and most midwives had honey of some sort on hand, whether in the Honey Bear…
…or Honey Sticks.
…or some Honey Lollipops.
If a woman’s energy was waning, a couple of spoonfuls of honey or 2 or 3 sticks, could perk her back up for awhile more… even if she was unable to eat or drink much else, honey was a great pick-me-up.
Honey has antimicrobial properties, it is a hydrogen peroxide thing, and there is a lot of research showing honey, Manuka Honey in particular, used on infections can help heal the wound quicker… and without the risk of medication interactions/allergies. Honey is often used on diabetic ulcers, it being more effective than many other treatments.
New Use for Honey (for me)
So, I kind of knew this, but when I was an intern midwife in San Diego, I got to see the range of what home birth midwives do with honey.
Mind you, by the time I was interning as a midwife in San Diego, I had been in birth for over 20 years and had gone to hundreds of births in hospitals, birth centers and at home. Over the years, I would see things done I had never heard of before, but could usually be shown the research about it.
Honey was often used in the way I mentioned above; for energy.
So when a woman’s perineum tore at birth and said she did not want to be sutured, I was pretty shocked (every woman who had ever torn in my experience was sutured, it wasn’t ever a consideration not to be). When the midwives acted as if this was a normal thing, choosing no stitches, I was baffled. When they pulled out the plastic Honey Bear and grabbed a spoon from the family utensil drawer, I blinked.
Honey was spread onto the back of the spoon, the woman’s legs opened a bit and the honey “painted” on the tear, all the while the “antibiotic” properties of honey explained. She was instructed to keep her legs together except to put more honey on it.
I’m not kidding.
I still cannot find medical research showing honey’s aid in normal healing of a perineal or vulvar tear; it remains a midwife’s tale that it does anything at all. (This is different than an infected wound, where the research is copious.) Many midwives, myself included, believe it was keeping the legs together that did much more to heal the tear than the honey.
I mean new parents know to never give their infants honey because they might have spores of a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. Wouldn’t that follow that it might not be the best thing for a perineum?
Here is a medical grade honey-gauze that might have been an okay thing for an open wound.
Or perhaps a tube only used only on your body and no one else’s?
I remember when my dad (whom I am missing so very much lately) would bring us miel (honey) in the comb from the Cuban store. I loved biting into the wax, feeling the honey ooze out of the tiny openings, then chewing the wax like gum. I wonder if my kids have ever had that experience.
Miel. One of the best Spanish words in existence.
A Recent Conversation
“I had some cereal and some honey.”
That’s what he said.
“You put honey in cereal? With milk? That’s pretty gross.”
“No, cereal without milk and honey separate.”
“You were spooning honey into your mouth?”
“No I was using a fork and dipping it into the honey and eating it.”
Now I was really on high alert.
“You are telling me that you put a fork into the honey, suck the honey off… then put the fork back into the honey and do it again?”
“Uh, yeah. Why?”
“You are telling me you double, triple and quadruple dip your fork into a communal honey jar?”
“I never thought of it that way before. It never occurred to me.”
Maybe, knowing what I do now about honey’s medicinal properties, it might not be the grossest thing after all.
I read and read before ever trying that first loaf. I’m sure I almost memorized the Basic Recipe by the time I poured the first packet of yeast into the bowl of warm water. After a few months, I never had to look at the recipe again; I could feel the different amounts and measurements.
It’s been 30 years since I’ve baked a loaf of bread, yet I can still smell the scent of yeast as it was mixed with the warm water. I tried lots of different sweeteners to “feed” the yeast… sugar, honey… but settled on dark molasses.
When I learned yeast was a living being, it changed how I saw raw dough. I began treating the dough with more purpose and attention. I respected the yeast more, hence also the dough.
I learned that adding flour (I always used whole wheat flour, spring wheat if possible), even to the counter so the dough didn’t stick, wasn’t the best idea, that dough stops being sticky after kneading until you feel like your hands are going to fall off. Then you knead that long once again.
Before learning to respect the dough, I plopped it into any ol’ bowl, even plastic ones. Forgive me! I didn’t know any better! Once I learned more and shifted my attention, I bought 2 enormous glass bowls, specifically for rising dough. Learning to cover the dough with plastic wrap was an epiphany, but I also got myself 2 white cotton dish towels to protect the dough as it rose. I didn’t realize it, but I’d developed a Bread Baking Ritual.
I always had to set some dough aside for the kidlets, so they could knead at the dining room table. I’d sprinkle flour over much of the table and the kids would be busy for an hour, creating their dough shapes, letting them rise and then waiting to eat them after they came out of the oven. Oh, how I wish I had pictures of those times. I can see it clear as day in my mind, though. It’ll have to reside there forever.
When it was time to “punch” the dough down after it rose the first time, I did just that… punch… finding it amusing to watch the dough curl around my fist. After my this-stuff-is-alive realization, I began being gentle pushing the dough down again. I would use my hand like a spatula and slide against the side of the bowl, watching the (gluten) threads stretch then snap back to the mother-dough.
I nudged the dough down before folding it neatly, then covering it with plastic wrap again and placing the white cotton dish towels on top, allowing it to rise (in half the time as the first rise!) once again.
Into the Oven
After the second rise, I hand-spatula’d the dough down once again before separating it with a plastic scraper into the proper sizes for the bread pans. Over the years, I tried a variety of ways to keep the baked bread from sticking to the pan: oil (yuck), Crisco (not bad), but finally settled on Pam spray. I curled the raw dough into the bread pans, covered them with plastic wrap and the dish towels yet again, allowing them their last rise.
I wanted slashes in the top of my bread. It took at least 100 times before I didn’t deflate my dough trying to get a lovely slash in the top. I tried sharp knives, serrated knives, forks… even razor blades… and always struggled with that part of baking. Eventually, I learned to zip the knife through fast, not slow and deep. Just pull the knife quickly. Poking around for pics, I see there are now dozens of tools to make beautiful scores in your bread. But back in the olden days….
My Nose Knows
It was when I began baking bread that I realized I had an interesting cook’s gift; I can tell when baked goods are finished cooking with my nose. I need no timers, there is a distinct scent that wafts around the house and I’m able to get the bread or brownies or pie out of the oven before any burning occurs and without any under-baking.
Out of the Oven
There is no smell so heavenly as fresh baked bread right out of the oven.
It was a red-letter day the first time I tumped a loaf out of its cooking pan without it falling apart. Once the loaves were out, I put them on cookie racks to cool.
As with the slashes, I had to learn how to cut the bread. This was a shorter learning curve, quickly passing on the dinner knife and non-serrated knife. A sharp serrated knife is definitely the way to save your loaf from looking like crumbs. If you have the capability to let the bread cool even just a few minutes, it won’t fall apart as easily as right out of the oven bread.
And then the butter. Ahhhhh, butter. Not margarine… ever! The fresher the butter the better. Slathering it on, watching it melt into puddles on the bumpy surface, air bubbles holding the creamy sweetness aloft, just waiting for your first luscious bite.
Types of Bread
Besides the Basic Whole Wheat Bread I made every day for years, I experimented with other types, rarely finding success.
I could not ever ever ever get Sourdough Bread right. I tried a dozen “full-proof” recipes, believed the promises that grandma’s 100-year old starter would be The One to give me a lovely loaf of sourdough bread. Nope. It never happened. It was worse trying to make starter myself! It reminded me of how I could never keep a plant alive… cultivating living things just was not one of my fortes.
In Laurel’s Bread Book, she waxes poetic about Desem (Day-zum) Bread. It is a massively complicated process that includes burying your small starter loaf in a 50-pound bag of whole wheat flour for a few weeks, taking it out for air every few days, taking away some of the dough, replacing it with new flour… on and on. And on. (I have not looked at the recipe in 30 years so I could be telling you something totally false, but this is how it was for me trying to make the Desem Bread.) How I thought I could make Desem when I couldn’t even keep sourdough starter alive was beyond me. But I tried. More than once. Failed every single time.
Where I did find success was in Laurel’s Banana Bread recipe. I started with hers, but quickly altered it to my tastes. For real, you need 6-8 ripe (not over-ripe!) bananas (“the bread will only taste as good as the ingredients”… great life lesson right there.) to make this 85-pound loaf of bread. 6-8. In each loaf. Not kidding.
I usually made 2 loaves; one with raisins and one with nuts. I like raisins, Zack liked the nuts. You can put cranberries in there… cran-raisins, chunks of chocolate, cherries… anything your banana heart desires.
The scent of banana bread in the oven is exquisite. (I could smell when it was done as well. No timers for me!) Eating hot banana bread with gobs of butter… I’m nearly weeping remembering the taste.
Passing It On
All of my kids have made bread. I like to believe I had something to do with offering fearlessness when trying those first few times.
Technology has given us bread makers, but I know I would not use one because of the hypnotic deliciousness of kneading the dough, watching it rise, punching it down, watching the second rise, then into the pans for their third rise… all before baking.
Looking from this vantage point, there is something special about the length of time it takes from yeast proofing to butter on hot bread. Lessons in patience, small attentions and watching the making of a staple of life humbles me.
Hmmm… didn’t know I would say so much! Hope the kids enjoy this.
The kids’ dad and I moved to Tacoma with an Army transfer. We were at the bottom rung of the pay scale. Poor. Poorer than poor. Tristan was 16 months old and I was several months pregnant with Meghann. It was a wrangle to get a lease on a house, but we did it.
(I swear the house did not look like this when we rented it. This is the new & improved exterior.)
Our Household goods were super-slow getting to us, so we were given a few things to tide us over… one of which was a crib mattress for me to lay on. Tristan slept in the playpen and the kids’ dad slept in a sleeping bag (if I recall correctly).
One middle of the night, I heard something skittering above me, in the attic. Humorously, my former husband put his boots on (and nothing else) and grabbed a trenching tool and stomped around looking for the noisemakers. He didn’t find anything, but I laid there listening to the scratching far after he fell back to sleep.
When our household goods still hadn’t arrived a month later, the Army bought us a bed. A waterbed. How time-warp is that?!? We had those rainbow sheets on it.
We also had satin hearts in a swirly mobile hanging over the bed.
Meghann & Me
I had Meghann at home, in an Unassisted Birth (called a UC or “freebirth”)… the stupidest thing I have ever done in my entire life. You can read her story here if you are interested: Meghann’s UC Birth Story.
Relevant to this story, however, is my never-ending time breastfeeding.
I’d nursed Tristan for a mere 4 months and had big expectations to nurse until Meghann weaned herself (which she sort of did at 2.5 years old). So I was a nursing zombie. I was so tired, but then we got our tv and (we had to have gotten) cable because voila! there was MTV.
Meghann was born May 27, 1984. MTV had been around since 1981, but it was really in its heyday during the time I was watching it in the middle of the night, baby at my breast. In fact, the first Top 20 Video Countdown began in March 1984 (and it SUCKED! Watch it on YouTube!), so right before Meggie was born.
The songs that stood out most for me, the ones I waited for with baited breath:
Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Want to Have Fun– (WOW! The people in it are incredibly diverse for that time period. I never noticed before.) Tristan loved this video, especially the part where the girls are floating in the bubbles/circles and going around. I can see him as if it was yesterday, in his footie pajamas, dancing and pointing at the TV.
While Holiday was Madonna’s first hit, her first video hit was Lucky Star. From the first moment I saw her, I was enamored. She came out with a string of hits in 1984, but when Meghann was a newborn, Borderline was the video I salivated for. (Clearly, I know wayyyy too much about Madonna’s early career!)
We’d inherited a sofa bed from the kids’ dad’s parents, a little larger than a loveseat, with two big square pillows to sit on. I’ve scoured my thousands of pictures and the Net looking for the sofa. This is the best I could find.
Here is how the sofa opened into a bed.
I sat on the couch on the right side. Every time. Before Meghann was born. And after she was born. That was my spot. I plopped a feather pillow with the rainbow pillowcase under my right arm, holding up my elbow, and I would nurse for hours. Sitting on that right side of the couch.
At night, we just sat nursing by the light of MTV. We kept the volume low for her dad who had to work the next morning, but we still bee-bopped to whomever MTV put on in the wee hours.
One dark early morning, I was nursing on the right side of the couch and out from behind the huge square furnace we had in the living room, came a rat. Then another rat. Then 3 baby rats.
I screamed bloody murder and the kids’ dad ran out, scaring them so they skittered back from whence they came.
How to Kill a Rat
When the Landlord finally came over, he gave us some mouse traps and rat food. He walked around showing us where they were getting in. One place was behind the toilet which freaked me out every time I had to use the bathroom. Picture fat pregnant me with my legs raised while I did my business. Ugh.
The landlord gave us the perfect solution to keeping the rats out.
Crush some glass and sprinkle it where the holes are.
I stood there blinking.
“Uh, I have a toddler! I cannot have crushed glass around the house.”
“Well, that’s the best idea I have.”
We checked the traps and poison a few days later and the bait had all been taken, the poison eaten… and the rats twice their size and twice as active.
We had to move.
By the time a solution appeared, Meghann was 4 months old.
Some friends of the kids’ dad were managers at an apartment complex and said they had a place we could move into. The challenge was we did not have the deposit, so they said they had not cleaned it yet and if we were willing to clean it ourselves, it was ours.
We headed over right away to go clean, taking some more friends from the military. When we opened the door, ghastly smells wrapped around us; cigarette stench was the main foulness, but there were others we could not parse out.
The walls in the living room were vile. Drips of nicotine painted them.
Where the previous tenants removed photos, we could see what the once pristine white walls had looked like.
Looking at the white areas, we saw we really had our work cut out for us.
We set to cleaning.
Being fat and not able to climb, I chose the kitchen. Kitchen HELL I should say. Not only were there nicotine streaks, the people before us cooked with grease. A lot of grease. A lot of spattering grease. Within 5 feet of the stove, the grease and yellow cigarette goop challenged each other for dripping space.
The only way I could think of cleaning this disgusting mess was with SOS Pads. Steel wool with soap on them if you aren’t familiar. I set to wetting the SOS pad, then scrubbing the wall, that blessedly, had glossy paint. Small favors.
I was cleaning madly (literally, not very happily doing this hard work) and got right there around the plastic plate where the plugs go in the wall when suddenly there was a huge -POP- and a giant blue flash that zipped up my arm and threw me against the refrigerator across the kitchen. People ran in to see what happened and I innocently told them what I was doing and their eyes all bugged out.
“THAT’S METAL AND WATER YOU PUT IN A LIVE SOCKET!”
I didn’t know!
What I did know was my right arm felt like it had been smashed with a baseball bat from fingers to shoulder.
I was banished to the couch that had just been brought in. I quietly smiled, grabbing Meghann and sitting on my side, nursing not only my baby, but my really hurting right arm.
We cleaned as best we could, the place looked normal again, but there were lingering smells we just couldn’t seem to get rid of.
One night, while I was sitting on the right side of the couch nursing Meghann, Tristan playing on the floor, their dad had had enough of the growing stink. I told him it smelled like rotting potatoes and maybe we accidentally left some in a box somewhere in the closet.
He set out to find the horrid stench and pulled the boxes out, throwing stuff wildly around the room. I yelled asking if he couldn’t please be neater? He did not answer. I just heard him as he went from room to room, under the bathroom sink, into the kitchen, under the cabinets… digging digging… and throwing things, many of which ended up on the hall floor.
He came up empty. Then looked at me menacingly.
“What?” I was still nursing Meghann.
“GET UP NOW!!!!”
I jumped up, Meghann still attached and he pulled off the cushion I always sat on and there, on top of the mattress mechanism, was a rat. A dead rat.
A SQUISHED FLAT AS A PANCAKE DEAD RAT.
It had been under my ass! FOR MONTHS!
My former husband began laughing his head off. Reliving the rat’s last moments.
“I can see him! ‘Oh, some peanut butter and jelly leftovers!’ Then SQUISH, you flattened ALIVING RAT!”
He jumped around the room, doing the killing-the-rat routine half a dozen times.
Yeah. Me and my fat ass had killed a rat that had been 3 inches from my lap and my baby. I started crying which made him laugh even harder, telling me how funny it was.
Then he said he was going to get something to get the gross flat thing off our sofa. I begged him to throw the couch away. He refused, loudly reminding me we had no money for furniture and it was the only place I could nurse. He came out of the kitchen with Playtex yellow gloves on and a spatula. I could not watch.
He laughed and laughed as he scraped the disgusting animal off our couch’s pull out bed top, then danced outside to the dumpster and threw it all in.
The room still reeked and he looked in the kitchen, finding the Carpet Fresh. He came back and sprinkled the carpet fresh where the rat had been squished to death by my flopping-on-the-couch butt.
To this day, the smell of Carpet Fresh reminds me of that horrid stench. The smell that lingered until we were able to throw the couch away a year later.
As you can imagine, I hate rats. I can barely write it without shuddering with revulsion. Because of my rat-phobia, everyone in my life has agreed to call them “Potatoes.”
And damned if that flat rat didn’t smell like rotten potatoes.