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Warmest regards: Finding joy in a drawer

Published November 10. 2018 06:13AM


This morning I was infused with a rare energy to clean some of the neglected corners in my house.

I was feeling good as I cleaned in crevices and took away some of the clutter.

Then “feeling good” turned to absolute joy when I opened a drawer and found some treasured friends in a long-forgotten file.

The “friends” were in the form of favorite recipes from cherished friends and family.

I have recipes all over the place — in two filing cabinets and in dozens of recipe books. But these old recipes were so special that I was filled with joy to find them again.

It was a 50-year-old newspaper clipping that created that joy as it took me down memory lane.

Smiling at me from the yellowed page was a beloved woman my daughters called Mama Molnar. Catherine wasn’t related to us by blood — just by heart strings.

There are a few special people that when we meet them there is an immediate strong bond. That’s the way it was with Catherine and me when I was just a young newspaper reporter.

I had stopped to admire her husband’s stunning flower and vegetable garden.

Louis Molnar was immediately welcoming when I asked about the kohlrabies he grew. I had never heard of it before then.

He brought me in the house to meet his wife, Catherine, who insisted I try a tomato sandwich made with their heirloom blooms.

That was the beginning of a true, long friendship that continued for decades. When I had my two daughters, Mama Molnar, as they called her, surrounded them with bushels of love and played an important part in their lives.

As far as we were all concerned, Catherine was family, a family we cherished until she passed away.

How nice it was to see her smiling face beaming at me again, even if it was through an old recipe from a 50-year-old newspaper.

The newspaper article also featured her recipe for Hungarian Chicken Paprikash, a dish I love so much.

She shared her recipe with me, and I made it dozens of times through the years, even though it was time-consuming.

But my version of her Chicken Paprikash couldn’t come close to hers. Any “store-bought chicken” couldn’t taste the same as Catherine’s “real thing.”

To get the chicken for her recipe, we had to travel an hour from her home in Kulpmont to Jim Thorpe so she could buy a freshly killed chicken raised by a farmer there.

“If we don’t have a fresh chicken, it’s not the same,” she said.

Through the years I adapted the recipe to my lifestyle, dumbing down Catherine’s recipe that took all day to make.

Yet even with my dumbed-down version, it always got rave reviews when I made it for company.

As I get older I take more and more shortcuts in my cooking. Old time-consuming recipes get pushed aside, shoved into a file that is soon forgotten.

Some of the recipes in that newly found file are absolutely priceless.

For decades I had wished I had my mother’s recipe for what was called depression cake. It was my favorite dessert growing up. But Mom never wrote down her recipes, and whenever I attempted to duplicate depression cake I couldn’t do it.

I was flooded with more joy when I found the yellowed family recipe in that forgotten file. It was sent to me decades ago by my sister Cindy, who did a good job of getting mom to tell her how to make what she called “Rich Man, Poor Man Cake, ” better known as depression cake.

The cake was made with one cup of lard, not with margarine or shortening. During the Depression and the lean years that followed, lard was easier to come by.

The forgotten file was definitely a treasure trove of favorite recipes from long ago. It was also a springboard for my mind to remember good times with good people.

If you’re serious about cleaning out a shelf, drawer or closet that contains photos from the past, don’t plan on making much progress once you find photos of those who own a chunk of your heart.

Catherine’s photo ended my cleaning spree, but it was worth it when I could spend time remembering the past and those who were dear to me.

I’m not what they call “a nagger” because I know nagging someone to get something done is seldom productive. But every now and then I drop a gentle hint to my husband about his need to clean out his closet. It holds nothing but relics from the past that haven’t been touched for decades and never will be.

Gentle persuasion doesn’t work.

Then, one day out of the blue David announced he was going to clear out that closet. I kept my “I’ll believe it when I see it” comment to myself.

After a half-hour he came to show me an exciting find: “Look at these old pictures,” he beamed. “Look at my little brother.”

I knew that would be the end of David’s cleaning.

Few things can command more attention than those photos from long ago.

I was right. After oohing over the photos, David put everything back where he found it.

Well, at least he found his own temporary version of joy in a drawer.

Contact Pattie Mihalik at


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