Playing in the Water

Growing up in the country gave us ample time in the summer to roam the pastures and the sparse woods. On searingly hot Kansas days, we often played in the creek. Water provides hours of fun for children. We created holding pools with small dams of gravel and mud to hold the crawdads and minnows that we captured. Wading up the stream, we floated short sticks as our pretend-boats and followed them as they twisted and turned with the flow of the current.

When thirsty, we cupped our hands to scoop up the chilled water that bubbled up through the sandy bottom of the spring. With nary a thought about bacteria, we quenched our thirst. Barefooted, we waded over slippery stones and whiled away the hours.

summer 1953

karen in creek

Karen Martin playing in the creek.

These photos from 1954 show my sister Karen taking the time to smell the wildflowers and enjoying some bare-footing. She was the youngest of five, so amply supervised by older siblings. Later, Shannon was born so then we became the six Martin kids.

toddler shannon and fish June 1963, may be late development

Shannon Martin with a fish.

We were so lucky to have a free-range childhood. I encourage parents to give your child unstructured time in the outdoors to play and explore. I’m sure our mom (Gail Lee Martin) relished some child-free time each day for her own sanity.

This post was inspired by the Sepia Saturday challenge. Their photo to match for this Saturday showed a vintage couple in a tidal area. Since Kansas is a long way from the sea, I used the water theme for my match.

Sepia Saturday 527 - 4 July 2020

This post is a day early for the challenge as I already have a 4th of July post planned for tomorrow. See you then.

Sauerkraut Cake

My mother, Gail Lee Martin, used to make a lovely German chocolate cake. This was back in the day when you didn’t buy a container of pre-mixed icing, so she laboriously made that with the coconut and chopped pecans and other ingredients. It really was special to eat that cake. The cake’s name came from the German chocolate bar that you had to melt for making the cake.

My sister, Karen, found an easier chocolate cake to make that didn’t require melting baker’s chocolate but did have a strange ingredient (sauerkraut). Her recipe produced a very moist chocolate cake and it looked wonderful with the German chocolate icing on the top.


Karen made the cake during her teens and college years. I didn’t realize that she still made it until a picture appeared on her social media recently. That brought back memories, for sure.

sauerkraut cake and spice cabinet

You can tell from the range of spices in the cupboard behind the cake that my sister is a serious cook. She even made a recipe book for her daughter with all their favorites in it. Of course, it included the Sauerkraut Cake and the Coconut-Pecan Icing.

sauerkraut cake in KK cookbook

Just to tease you a bit more, here’s a slice of the cake on a plate ready to eat. I think a glass of milk would be perfect with this rich and moist cake.

sauerkraut cake on plate

I asked her where she had found such an off-beat recipe. She still had the original recipe booklet, so I’ll include that here. That recipe called for a mocha cream icing, but I think it was brilliant to use the coconut and pecan icing recipe from the older German Chocolate Cake.

sauerkraut cake sourcesauerkraut cake title pagesauerkraut cake recipe


Karen’s Memories of Paper Dolls

Last year, I shared Gail’s little sister’s memories of paper dolls. Now, we have Gail’s daughter with her own memories

Karen Kolavalli – “The paper dolls we had most often were families cut out of catalogs. I remember we would create houses for them by placing books together–each book cover was a separate room and bigger rooms could be created with books that had the same color covers.

I loved Betsy McCall paper dolls from McCall’s magazine and thought Grandma McGhee was very unreasonable when she wouldn’t let us cut them out if she hadn’t finished the story on the other side.

And one special Christmas with all the Martin cousins, my gift was Lennon Sisters paper dolls that came in a cardboard and tin carrying container. I found quite a few for sale online. Apparently, they came out in 1960. I found some on eBay that sold for $31!

Also, I have a vintage sheet of Betsy McCall paper dolls that I have framed. I’ve heard that our generation is buying back our childhoods.

Ooh, forgot the paper dolls from the Sugar and Spike comic books! When we’d go with Mom to the grocery store, sometimes we each got to pick out one dime comic book and I always picked Sugar and Spike.”


I see there were earlier Lennon Sister paper dolls from 1957 that are just in booklets, not in a nice carrying tin.

Lennon Sisters from the Lawrence Welk Show Paper DollsLennon Sisters from the Lawrence Welk Show Paper DollsView DetailsLennon Stars From the Lawrence Welk Tv Show Paper DollLennon Stars From the Lawrence Welk Tv Show Paper DollView Details1958 JANET LENNON cut-out doll - authorized edition Paper Dolls1958 JANET LENNON cut-out doll – authorized edition Paper DollsView Details

Sugar and Spike

I didn’t remember paper dolls with Sugar and Spike that Karen mentioned, but I sure remember how fun their comic books were. Maybe we should save the topic of favorite comic books for another post, but I couldn’t resist checking Amazon for them. The vintage covers are quite pricey.

Sugar & Spike (Oct. #85/1969) (DC Comic Book, Oct #85)Sugar & Spike (Oct. #85/1969) (DC Comic Book, Oct #85)View DetailsSugar And Spike (Sugar And Spike, No.41)Sugar And Spike (Sugar And Spike, No.41)View DetailsSugar and Spike Dc Comic Books Issue 68Sugar and Spike Dc Comic Books Issue 68View DetailsSugar & Spike (1956 series) #77Sugar & Spike (1956 series) #77View DetailsSUGAR AND SPIKE COMICS #67 (NO 67)SUGAR AND SPIKE COMICS #67 (NO 67)View DetailsSugar & Spike (1956 series) #80Sugar & Spike (1956 series) #80View Details

Tell me about your memories of paper dolls.

Remembering the Old Wood Stove

Guest Post by Gail’s daughter, Karen.

“I remember using these to shovel out the ashes from our wood stove. They haven’t changed at all in 60 (yikes!) years. That part of heating with a wood stove was fun. You shoveled the ashes out of a little door at the bottom.

karen's photo of ash shovel

We had a 2-story late-19th-century farmhouse. The wood stove in the living room didn’t help much with the upstairs bedrooms!

We moved there when I was 7 and lived there until we moved to town when I was in junior high. We all had electric blankets, but we only went upstairs when it was time for bed during the winter. I remember there being ice on the inside of the windows. Good times.

I remember huddling around that stove as we hastily put on our clothes in the morning. Brrr!”

That memory triggered her sister, Ginger, to add, “in the evening, we’d sit around the stove and prop our feet as close as we could to get warm. If you smelled singed leather, you were too close.”

Karen wrote, “and thanks to Mom saving papers for each of us kids, here’s a drawing I did of OUR actual stove from the Greene farm (proving early on that I wasn’t going to be an artist!) But the teacher did give me an A on it. ”

old stove

A drawing by Karen Martin showing the black wood stove similar that we had.

Sister, Cindy added her memories, “I remember the year we got the little red wagon for Christmas and thinking at the time; weren’t we all a little old for such a gift, except for Shannon. That idea sounded good, and we thought, cool! we can take turns pulling her around in it. We quickly found out what the little red wagon was for…., hauling frozen rabbit water bowl and firewood up to the house. As an adult, I understand that loading it on the wagon was a lot better than carrying a stack in my arms.”


Sunday Drive with Gail

Guest Blogger: Gail’s daughter, Karen Kolavalli.

Remembering another special day with Mom and my daughter five years ago. A Facebook chat memory.

Gail Lee Martin: Enjoyed a Sunday drive along Butler county back roads with Karen and her daughter. Saw lots of beautiful wildflowers. Returned home to see vases of Karen’s special iris blooms and to watch the cubs ballgame that had been on a rain delay for 2 hours and 40 minutes.

karen's iris

Iris from Karen’s yard

Cj Garriott: Sounds like a delightful afternoon!

Karen Kolavalli: Gail Lee Martin, my daughter, and I had a great time puttering along the back roads of Butler County–wildflowers, birds (scared up a big ol’ turkey!), and even a box turtle.

Karen Kolavalli: Was that one flower you were trying to remember a “mock orange”?

Gail Lee Martin: Yes that was what it was. Thanks ·

Karen Kolavalli: yay! Glad we didn’t make you miss the Cubs’ game!

kk photo road trip with gail

Some of the scenery on the Kansas road trip. Photo by Karen Kolavalli.

kk road trip 3 with gail

Wild plant photographed by Karen on the road trip with her mom.

KK road trip 2 with gail

Kansas sunlight filtered through the trees. Photo by Karen.

Thoughts about Mulberry Pie

This is an old newspaper clipping about mulberry pies that Mom had saved. Plains Folk was a column written by Tom Isern and Jim Hoy (and apparently they’re still writing it:
mulberries clipping

A distant cousin, Susan Hunnicutt-Balman, remembers her grandparents “had a big old mulberry in their back yard also good for climbing. My sister and I had the job of climbing it, shaking limbs to Grandma’s clean sheet below for collecting mulberries for baking. We liked just eating them off the tree!”

Karen Martin Kolavalli also remembers a childhood mulberry tree. “We had our swing on a huge mulberry in the back yard where I grew up. I wonder why we never gathered the mulberries to use? We just left them for the birds.”
I do remember Mom making gooseberry pies and she put strawberries in to sweeten the rhubarb for pies. Personally, I found the gooseberry pie too tart for my taste, but I do love the strawberry rhubarb combination.
I’ll have to rummage out her recipe. In the meantime, here’s one to try.

Mom and Bierocks

A friend of Mom and Dad’s, Tonda Alvarez, just mentioned them on Facebook. She wrote, “Made bierocks for supper tonight. Missing my friend Gail Lee Martin, because I always took her some for her freezer.” That surprised me, as I had no idea that Mom ever ate something as exotic as bierocks.

Gail and Tonda_2

Tonda Alverez and Gail Lee Martin with a display of their canned goods.

Immigrants of Russian or eastern European origin brought the recipe with them to Kansas and Nebraska. Our family leaned strongly to the meat and potatoes diet of England, Ireland, and Scotland. As far as I know, there are no Russians or eastern Europeans on our family tree.

If you want to see a recipe and photos of bierocks, follow the link. If you live in El Dorado, Kansas, check with the Alverez family at the farmer’s market in the summer. Maybe they have bierocks along with their famous fruit pies.

I asked Tonda about the folks liking the small meat pies. She said, “She loved them. I would wrap them individually for their freezer, but she would always eat one the minute I got them there!”

I’d never eaten bierocks until visiting my sister, Karen, in Lexington, Kentucky a few years ago. She made a batch which we enjoyed very much. Since we were traveling in our RV, she sent some along with us for our lunch further down the road.


Home: A Sense of Place

This is a guest post, by my sister, Karen Kolavalli.

Karen Kolavalli, the author of this essay.

Karen Kolavalli, the author of this essay.

Whenever anyone asks “Where’s home?” I immediately picture an isolated farmhouse north of El Dorado, Kansas. I’ve been thinking about the concept of home this week as part of the coursework in an anthropology class I’m taking.

While I don’t have the writing skills of Daphne DuMaurier (“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”) or Isak Dinesen (“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”), my memories of my growing-up home place are just as poignant. The house burned down a few years after we moved out. I remember as a child, a family brought their elderly mother to the house and asked if she could look around. She had grown up there herself. I’m sad that I can never be that old lady revisiting my childhood home.

My family moved to the country when I was just 6 years old and we remained there until we moved back to town when I was in junior high. Growing up free and wild in the country was, and still is, the best childhood I could imagine. My four sisters and brother and I endlessly explored the woods, the pastures, the creek, and the river, together and on our own. It was a magical time and place.

Cindy, Karen, Ginger and Susan - Quite a long time ago, when we lived in the country.

Cindy, Karen, Ginger and Susan – Quite a long time ago, when we lived in the country.

I was a big reader and I would also get lost in the make-believe world of paper dolls cut from the Penney’s and Sear’s catalogs. We played a lot of board games as a family when bitter winter cold and snow kept us inside. The downstairs of our house was kept warm with a wood-burning stove. The upstairs was not kept warm at all. We children shared beds, which helped keep us warm, although not “toasty” warm. I remember ice on the inside of the windows upstairs in our late 19th-century farm house.

So, yes, that’s “home,” even though I’ve lived in many other places. “Last night I dreamt….”

From Kansas to India and Back

The recipe has gone around the world with me. As I pulled it out today to make my “Texas” banana bread, I took a minute to read the notes I’d jotted down over the years. It looks like I first made it in 1991 when I was newly married and living in Ahmedabad, India. Another note shows that I made it for my daughter’s 4th birthday party in July of 1994, still in Ahmedabad. In 2008 I’m divorced and back in Kansas, still using this recipe. At some point, my daughter started adding her notes to the recipe as she began baking. She was the first to add a lemon glaze to the bread. I see that I substituted 1 cup of dahi or curds (plain yogurt) for some of the bananas when I was short on bananas one time.

The recipe is from a cookbook my aunt gave me for Christmas back in 1978, when I was living in Wichita, Kansas, and she was a new Texan. She was working as a typesetter in Austin and The Wide, Wide World of Texas Cooking is one of the books she worked on. When I moved to India to marry, it was one of the few books I packed to take with me. It was my go-to book when I was homesick for American food.

Tonight I spent some time flipping through the pages of the book and realize that it’s a veritable journal of that part of my life. I’ve never been able to keep a real journal for more than a few days at a time (despite good intentions!), so it’s a delight to see that I WAS actually keeping a journal of sorts during those years.

Yes, the notes on the recipe do evoke memories.

Recipe for Pecan-Banana Bread. Yes, the notes on the recipe do evoke memories.

The first note in the book dates to the time before I moved to India, when I was single and living in Wichita, Kansas: Jalapeno Buttermilk Cornbread (served with country spareribs) in Wichita before I moved to India. The note is brief, but I vividly recall serving this meal to my parents and my brother in my apartment along the Arkansas River in Wichita. Dad was a big fan of the jalapenos, but Mom and Owen would have preferred plain cornbread. My parents are both gone now and my brother is in a nursing home, partially paralyzed from a stroke, so these are bittersweet memories of a happier time.

My first years in India show that I must have really been missing American breads and pies! I made Flannel Cakes, Sour Milk Cornbread, Amarillo Risen Biscuits (for Easter), and Butter Biscuits. Pies just weren’t something you found in India, so the only way to get my fix was to make them myself and, boy, did I! Apple Cream Pie, Osgood Pie, Pumpkin Custard Pie (from fresh pumpkins from the market), Oatmeal Pie, Fried Pies (that page is really grease-spattered!), Old-fashioned Egg Pie, Lemon Chess Pie (I substituted rava, which is coarsely ground rice, for cornmeal), Lemon Meringue Pie, Buttermilk Pie, and Banana Cream Pie. These would have been served with chai in the afternoon or for dessert after an evening meal.

Karen with her daughter.

Karen with her daughter.

The notes show that I managed to celebrate American holidays in a traditional way during my years in India. For my first Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, I made Baked Hen with Dressing, Buttermilk Pralines, and Date-Nut Roll, which I wrote was “like Uncle Glenn’s recipe.” I also found recipes that reminded me of my Mom’s cooking when I was growing up, such as Mrs. Spitzenberger’s Apple Oatmeal Strudel, which I noted was similar to my Mom’s apple crisp. Another recipe was for Cinnamon Puffs, “like Mom’s cake doughnuts she used to make on the farm.” I remember teaching my Indian cook how to make egg noodles, but my daughter liked to be the one to cut the dough into noodles, just as I did when I was her age.

The finished pecan-banana bread.

The finished pecan-banana bread.

The banana bread is out of the oven, cooling on the kitchen counter. And I make another entry in my well-worn recipe book/journal before I return it to the bookshelf. In the fall, the cookbook will be packed away to make the journey across the country with me when I move to Kentucky to start a new stage in my life. I’m enjoying the adventure!

To follow Karen’s adventures in Kentucky, check out her blog, Kentucky Day Trips.

Pie Crust Scraps

This is a guest post by my sister, Karen Kolavalli:

“Tonight I’m remembering the cinnamon and sugar pie crust scraps Mom used to make for us. I don’t know if this is just something my mom did or if it was a common practice back in the day. The scraps, of course, are what’s left over after a pie crust is rolled out and fitted into the pie pan. The excess is trimmed off with a knife.

The pie crust scraps are placed on a cookie sheet and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and then baked for about 10 minutes. As soon as they’re out of the oven, they’re divvied up among the kids and eaten hot and fresh.

The pie dough scraps ready to go into the oven. (photo by Karen Kolavalli)

The pie dough scraps ready to go into the oven. (photo by Karen Kolavalli)

The ones I made tonight (in the picture) are bigger and not as “scrappy” as my Mom’s because I had a small ball of dough left over after making a small fruit cobbler. I rolled out the ball and cut it into strips. They were lovely. 🙂

Those sweet pie crust scraps are a special childhood memory.”

Karen's photo of the ready-to-eat pie dough scraps. Just like Mom used to make. My mouth is watering already.

Karen’s photo of the ready-to-eat pie dough scraps. Just like Mom used to make. My mouth is watering already.

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