REAL COOKING

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CHERYL JOST
Our summer vacation from school is rapidly coming to a close. I, for one, would like an additional week of freedom from the classroom, but I’m not the one in charge of making up that schedule.

It’s only been of recent days that our family has been unencumbered of heavy farming duties and a seemingly endless commitment to ball teams, so Aug. 15 seems way too soon to go back to school. To me, it feels like our summer vacation has really just begun.

Knowing that our holiday time is limited, we’ll try to pack some relaxation and fun into these last few days of liberation. Our trip to Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., is something that we are all looking forward to, even though the pace will be hectic and the crowds, we’ve been told, will be horrendous.

I have a sneaking suspicion that on our return, we’ll need a vacation to recover from our vacation. But I don’t think that’s going to happen with our summer days slipping by.

Last week, the kids and I did make time to go along with Becky Lindsay, her daughter, Suzy, and Donna Jost for a day trip to Abilene. We started off the morning with a tour of the Lebold Mansion.

I hadn’t been to the Lebold in several years, so I was delighted to see the results of the newest owner’s expertise of restoration. Larkin Mayo and Gary Yuschalk have turned the mansion into a work of art using wallpapers appropriate to the 1880s.

When I last visited the Lebold, it was rather a hodge-podge of this and that, a work in progress. Today the furnishings are opulent, the draperies luxurious and the parquet floors brought back to their original luster.

Mr. “call me Larkin” Mayo served as our charming and informative guide. The hour-long tour took us through every room of the Italianate home, including a trip to the basement kitchen and laundry rooms, and a climb to the attic tower, where panoramic views of Abilene can be appreciated.

All along the tour, Larkin provided interesting facts about the mansion, the previous owners and what life would be like if one had been living in the home during those early days in Abilene.

Under the loving and skilled hands of Mayo and Yuschalk, the Lebold has come back to life. Abilene has a gem.

After the tour ended, we were all feeling a bit peckish, so on Alex’s recommendation, we drove to the Kirby House for lunch. It seemed only right to dine in another restored 1880 mansion.

I had the most wonderfully refreshing salad. Celebration salad is a plate of fresh mixed greens topped by a choice of chunked fried or grilled chicken and sliced fresh strawberries. Then to make it even better, toasted sliced almonds are liberally sprinkled over all. Celery seed dressing and toasted coconut bread alongside make the lunch entrée complete. Delicious.

By the way, recipes for Celebration Salad, the restaurant’s celery seed dressing and coconut bread, can be found in The Kirby House Cookbook by Meta Newell West. I highly recommend it.

Following lunch, we made a trip downtown to visit Treasures by Tracine, a jewelry and gift boutique owned and operated by Durham native Tracine Klein Saulters. Tracy was her gracious self, encouraging us to sample the many lines of lotions and creams that she carries. I couldn’t resist buying a jar of Morning Mint hand crème.

And Alex picked out a candle to enhance our rustic downstairs décor. The tinned candle, wrapped in a brown label decorated with a campfire and coffeepot, smells just like fresh brewed coffee.

While I tried on lotions, Meg tried on jewelry. Tracy fashions her own pieces using unique beads to create one-of-a-kind works of art. Meg found several pieces that she has now added to her “wish list” for Christmas.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with browsing through the many antique stores that are located throughout the city. More than once, Becky, Donna or I would stop the kids to say, “I had one of those when I was a kid” or “I remember my mom using one just like that.” We came away with a few minor trinkets, but the real treasure we found that day was just having fun together.

To end our day in Abilene, we went to the Russell Stover’s chocolate factory’s outlet store located at the plant just north of town. Just walking into the place makes one (at least this one) yearn for chocolate.

We indulged at the table of free samples, and then went in search of the bargain of the day. Large Easter bunnies, filled with peanut butter or caramel and pecans, were on sale for 50 cents apiece.

I was toying with the idea of buying one when a woman came to the display and filled her basket with boxes of bunnies.

“Melt them down,” she advised. “They make the most wonderful frosting. Use a little cream and a little powdered sugar to get the consistency you want. The caramel pecan bunnies are the best. Put them in the freezer until you want to use them.”

That’s all I needed to hear. I bought three. And a box of chocolates. All at a big discount.

On our way home that day, we all agreed that we should make a trip back to Abilene during the Christmas season. The town’s vintage homes will be decked out in the finery of the season, and both the Seelye Mansion and the Lebold Mansion will be open for special Christmas tours.

And the many specialty stores, like Tracy’s, along with the antique shops, would be wonderful resources for unique and meaningful gifts.

And discounted fine chocolate. What could be better?

*********

How’s your garden this summer? If you need another recipe for zucchini, here’s one to try.

Squash Stuffed Chicken

3 tbs. butter

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 tbs. minced parsley

1/2 tsp. dried basil

2 medium zucchini, shredded (about 2-1/2 cups)

3 slices of bread, torn into coarse crumbs

1 egg, beaten

3/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese

1/2 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

4 bone in chicken breast halves (with skin)

In a skillet, melt butter. Sauté onion, parsley and basil until the onion is tender. Add zucchini and cook 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and stir in breadcrumbs, egg, cheese, salt and pepper. Carefully loosen the skin of the chicken on one side to form a pocket. Stuff each breast with the zucchini mixture and place in a greased baking dish. Bake at 375 for 50-60 minutes or just until juices run clear.

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