Monday, November 24, 2014

Alphonse and Duchess

There are eighteen grandchildren with a memory of Santa coming by every Christmas Eve.

They would sit on his knee and and tell him what they wanted for Christmas and be rewarded with a bag containing an orange and a box of Cracker Jacks. Simple things. Building blocks of love. As the grandchildren grew older, they would learn which was Santa's bad knee and avoid it.

My father-in-law had some tough times.  He grew up in St. Paul during its infamous gangster era and had a vivid recollection of Van Meter - part of the "Second Dillinger Gang" being shot to death in his neighborhood. The press snapped photos of children looking down on the body until neighbors finally brought out blanket and covered the man.

At about age 10, work was scarce. He lost his father at a young age and his mother was scraping by. Word came to her that there was work to be had in St. Paul for one of the older children. So she told my father-in-law to hop a train (yes, hop a train - no ticket) and go to Bemidji (up north about five  hours) to bring home his brother who was working at a lumber camp. He did so.

With all of those tough times, he was an optimist. He worked two jobs, put dinner on the table for a family of 11 and never complained. If my husband would make a remark about a challenge in his job he would always reply, "Isn't it great? You're working!"

I am grateful that both my mother-in-law and father-in-law were such great storytellers. I have precious glimmers into the world they grew up in. He always called his children (and children-in-laws) on their birthdays and sang "Happy Birthday" to them. We have the recording on our answering machine from this past August. But the Santa legacy is one for the ages. And if Santa is your legacy, you carved out a beautiful life for yourself.

He called his wife "Duchess" and she called him "Alphonse." He promised her he would wait until after she passed and join her soon after. And he was as good as his word. Nine weeks after Duchess left us, Alphonse soon followed. It was one week before what would have been their 63rd wedding anniversary. I don't think he wanted to celebrate it without her. And the date of Alphonse's birthday? Christmas Eve of course.

"Alphonse" loved brats, bacon and beef. And he ate his fill well into his nineties. This one's for you, Alphonse!

Steak with Mustard Butter  (from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen which I highly recommend you put on a "wish list.")

2 8-ounce ribeye steaks (or your favorite steak - I've done this with sirloin NY strips)
1/2 teaspoon hickory-smoked salt, sea salt or kosher salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon cilantro or flat-leaf parsely
Vegetable oil or clarified butterFreshly-ground pepper

Mustard Butter
2 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 generous Dijon mustard

Butter + steak? Overkill? No! Very, very French! And deliciously simple.

1. Pat the steaks dry and rub them with the salt, chipotle powder and cilantro. Refrigerate uncovered for 1-8 hours.

2. In a small bowl mash the butter with the dry butter and Dijon mustard. Shape into two small balls and chill on a plastic-lined plate.

3. Heat a little oil or clarified butter in a grill pan or cast-iron skillet and cook the steaks over high heat (searing on each side) until done to your liking. (Rare: 5-7 minutes each side for a guide.)

4. Put steaks on plates. Top with the knob of mustard-butter and freshly-ground peppers.

5. Watch the butter ooze into and around the steaks.

Missing both of them and thankful they have been a large part of my life. Very thankful. Happy Thanksgiving.


A Sunflower Life said...

What a sweet story! And the steak looks delicious, too.

Pam said...

Great Santa pics! And what a great FIL! He sounds like the best, an inspiration and I love that he called her "Duchess" and what he promised her. The steak looks pretty good too! :-)

Kitchen Riffs said...

What a lovely story! And a terrific tribute. Most of us have things so much easier than those that went before us -- we're lucky. Anyway, wonderful dish! I agree mustard and steak is a stellar combo. Great recipe, super post -- thanks.

Angie's Recipes said...

Sweet photos of Santa with his grandchildren on his knee :-))
The steak looks so juicy and tender!
Happy Holidays, Claudia!

Beth said...

What a wonderful tribute, Claudia. I'm so sorry for your loss - such a sad time for you and your husband. Take care, and I hope memories of this inspiring man (and his lovely wife) help you through your sorrow.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Your sweet story of Alphonse brought tears to my eyes. He sounds like a wonderful man and I'm so pleased that you have his voice on a recording. You don't lose the memories of love ones, but their voices, at least to me, seem to fade away as time passes. Your family has a great deal to be thankful for on this holiday. May you have a great Thanksgiving.

Janet M said...

A lovely post!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Oh Claudia- I'm so sorry that you lost both your mother-in-law and father-in-law in such a short time. But he obviously didn't want to be separated from his wife for too long. You have written a loving tribute to a beautiful man. He sounds like he was a person we'd all be honored and privileged to have in our families. I'm sure it will be a challenging holiday season this year and I hope you all can carve out some happiness amid the sadness.

Catherine said...

Dear Claudia, This is a very beautiful love story. It touches my heart. Alphonse and Duchess were blessed to have such a love.
I am sorry for your loss though the memories will live.
xo Catherine

Chiara said...

I'm so sorry for your loss but your sweet memory will live, a hug

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

This was a beautiful tribute to your father-in-law, Claudia. You have so many wonderful memories that will carry him forth forever!

The steak looks delicious! All the fine streak houses in NYC serve their steaks with butter on top!

My Little Space said...

Good day Claudia ! Such a touching life time story. Guess, everyone has their story to tell. Hopefully mine would be as wonderful as ever !>o<
Hope you're having a marvelous week ahead dear ((hugs))
Blessings, Kristy

Frank said...

These are the memories that enrich our lives. How lucky you are. Happy New Year, Claudia!