Even Only Now and Then

Made some cherry bing bars Saturday and they were not bad. I grew up eating cherry bing candy bars and these are so close to ‘em I have to share. Almost as good as the almond roca bars I tried out last week. So good. And the buckeye bars. My gosh, I love candy. Always have, always will. Lemon drops, root beer barrels, Reese’s peanut butter cups, butterscotch, peanut butter M&Ms, toffee, anise candy, fudge and peppermints.

I think we all have favorite candy that takes us back to the day, back when our feet were bare and we searched for tire swings and wide open sandy beaches, and swinging on the porch swing was the thing to do at day’s end. I thought I was going to write about candy, but it occurs to me that it’s the sweetness I’m after, and aren’t we all? The sweetness of life. Because there is so much we get lost in that isn’t sweet, and my gosh, we need it. Even only now and then.

And now I’m thinking I’d like to write about all the sweetness there is in my life, and all there ever was and even will be. But in the interest of time and sanity, the sweetness of this day will do. The thought of rolling down grassy hills. Firelight. Sounds of children playing outside. The flight patterns of barn swallows. How it feels to work hard, and to be done with it for the day. My granddaughter struggling to form her first word. A young woman trying on her wedding dress. The one day in months when there is no back pain. The smell of prime rib on the grill (a couple hours at 250, with a rub of some kind). My mother’s windblown hair in a photo sent a while back. How Mr. S wrote “polenta” and “squid” on my grocery list. Sounds people make when they nap on hot days. My daughter’s voice in a voicemail about how excited she is to go shopping with me whenever I have a bit of time. The last paragraph of a fine, fine book. The first sentence of the next. Someone down the street singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” while weeding the garden. The “love” stamp on the Father’s Day card envelope. How children leave their footprints in bath towels. A bouquet of wildflowers. Guitar music at twilight, Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed” then “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven.” And ice cream. Butter brickle. One bowl, two spoons, three scoops.

Let not the shadows distract you. They have their own sweetness in the light which brings them to life. It’s today, and we are here, and wouldn’t a pie taste good about now? A cherry pie, perhaps. How ‘bout it.

To sweetness, then, with a bit of salt.

Cherry Bing Bars

2 cups sugar
2/3 cup evaporated milk
12 regular sized marshmallows
1/2 cup butter
10 to 11 ounces cherry chips (1 package)
1 tsp vanilla
11.5 ounces milk chocolate chips
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup salted peanuts (chopped)

Combine sugar, milk, marshmallows and butter in a saucepan.
Cook over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring all the while.
Boil for 5 minutes, and keep on stirring.
Remove from heat and add cherry chips and vanilla.
Pour into a 9 x 13 inch lightly greased pan and let cool.

Melt chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl and add peanut butter and chopped peanuts.
Mix together well and spread over the cherry mixture and chill in fridge until set.

Enjoy!

There, Behold, the Calm

Made some truffles Saturday and they were not bad. I wanted something sweet, something light, and somehow, this time of year, things like heavy caramels and dense cakes take a back seat to the Light and Fluffy, Fruitful and Gelled. You know? I made so many truffles I loaded up little white cardboard boxes with them and dropped some off everywhere I went this morning. I don’t know why it is, but the truffles were a hit at the post office, the hair salon, the bagel shop, the church office, the bank and the gas station. Not so much at the auto shop where Ron works along with two high school boys. I’m sure they would prefer something of substance like monster cookies or bacon cheeseburgers.

Ritual is good, especially in transition. Only a month and a week ago we were buried ‘neath a blizzard, and now the heat is enough to fry an egg on the hood of the old red truck. Seriously. I think, living where we live, we’re built to switch gears in silent and graceful ways, but it can be rough on one’s spirit to go from a snowmobile suit to a bathing suit in such a short time. It’s tempting to look behind you now and then to see what else might be comin’.

Last night it was a storm. Big one, with thunder and lightning and lovely dark clouds shaped like galloping horses and old abandoned castles. I loved it, and sat out on the porch eating truffles, watching it roll on in, and just before the rain, I got up and wandered down the drive and up the street a ways, face to the sky, feeling how small I really am. There’s that stillness that comes with the darkening, then the winds, then tentative rain, then sheets of it. It went on for a time, and I got a bit wet, and when the clouds broke at the last there was no sun, only twilight, and once again the frogs spoke up, and the birds, and the water dripping from the gutters and the trees kept on into the night.

Today the sun woke me, and there was a breeze lifting the green leaves storm-scattered on the drive. This is how it is. The ritual of nature, to erupt and burst and blow about, then come the sunlight and the healing winds. And we walk into it and through it, and there, behold, the calm.

Wherever you are, whatever your storm, walk. March if it helps. Forward. Not around. No turning and running. Walk right into it. There’s another side, and when you get there, you will know things you wouldn’t have had you chosen to hide yourself away. There is wisdom in all the chaos. Part of it is knowing it will end. Part of it is knowing there is more. Beyond. Keep your eyes there, on the horizon. On the beautiful line where tomorrow begins. I’ll meetcha there. You bring the cheese and the berries; I’ll bring the lemonade and cucumber sandwiches. And the truffles. If there are any left. If not, I’ll make more, perhaps milk chocolate and raspberry this time around.

White Chocolate Lemon Truffles

8 oz white chocolate-chopped
5 T unsalted butter
3 T heavy whipping cream
pinch of salt
1 tsp lemon extract
powdered sugar

Over a double boiler melt chocolate, butter and cream, stir until smooth. Mix in salt and lemon extract, and cool slightly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours (or until firm enough to roll the balls).

With a small spoon or a melon baller, scoop out the mixture and roll into 1 inch balls (if it’s too sticky, drop a small amount of white chocolate mixture into powder sugar. Makes it much easier to roll into a ball, then roll it again in the sugar when the ball is formed.)

Roll each ball into powdered sugar to coat well. Store in the fridge in airtight container up to 1 week, freeze for longer storage.

Enjoy!

Pink Tulips and Lemon Bars

Made some honey muffins Saturday and they were not bad. After that blizzard a week ago, I’m feeling an odd joy marveling at how fast the snow is melting. Normally I love all things winter, and I still do, but I can’t think of much that’s fun if you don’t get a break from it. That’s the glory, isn’t it? That the best things don’t go on and on without end; they come and go, and it’s the having been away, the return, the reunion that brings on the goosebumps and the excitement and the thrill.

I’m not good with constants, yet I’m not a huge fan of surprises. If I had to choose between the fields of random abstraction and concrete sequence, you’d find me perched on the fence dividing the two. It’s all about the mix, people. About the balance. About change and change and change. Snow and rain and sun and clouds. Pizza today, beef stroganoff tomorrow, a new recipe for tapas down the road.

Which is why we were all beside ourselves there for a while. Winter is our thing, but gosh if it goes on and on. Blizzards in April aren’t at the top of my list; I’ll take mine in February, and for as long as it takes. In April I’m thinkin’ pink tulips and lemon bars, sundresses and watering cans, ant traps and cucumber sandwiches and iced tea on the porch.

I fall asleep at night to the sound of water dripping. I leave the window open for fresh air in the night, and the sound of water falling and splashing is second only to the frogs singing down in the marsh. They started up a few evenings ago, soon after the big snow and in the middle of the melt. Out of the darkness, one then three then seventeen frogs, and soon there were hundreds, and on they sang as I fell into a deep and restful sleep.

So much ahead, people. Summer nights, and waves. Birds aloft and children playing and walks along the lake. Road trips in the sun, bare feet, pears. But for now, I am here and so are you, and we ought to clear away those oak leaves so the lilies of the valley and tulips can find their way into the light. They’re purple this year, for a change. A shade you don’t see much around here. A shade you’ll recall in coming years, in another springtime, on another day.

Here’s a light and sweet recipe for a coffee break with neighbors. Just enough to fill you up, but not enough to make you full. My favorite kind of snack.

Honey Muffins

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1 cup 2% milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup honey

Preheat oven to 400°. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a smaller bowl, combine egg, milk, butter and honey, and stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fill muffin cups about ¾ full. Bake 15-18 minutes or so, and cool down a bit until serving.

Makes a dozen, and they freeze really well!

Time To Sing a Waltzing Song

The View from Mrs. Sundberg’s Window

“This time called life was meant to share.” ― Walter Rinder

I’m a bit of a introvert, I must say, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like people, like being around them, like sitting on the fringe at the party or the corner of the restaurant or the bench at the barn dance and takin’ it all in. It’s been a quiet stretch of weeks here in what feels like a new polar region (not a complaint, but almost) and I got to thinkin’ the other day how much I need people, more than I’d figured. It’s been a bit of a downer of a winter, with one sad thing after another awful thing in the news, and no fire for a while since we ran out of wood, and Mr. S gone more days than not and the kids busy with their unfolding lives. A person can get to feeling sorry for herself and that’s when it’s time to stand on up and give it a shake. Seriously. You get to taking naps when the thought occurs and pretty soon those naps turn into SleepFest 2018 and it would take a mule and a couple hefty ropes to drag your sorry butt out of the knot of quilts you’ve crafted for yourself. Trust me, I know.

So I am taking it upon myself to drag my own sorry patootie not out of bed but up off my chair by the window. I’m done waiting for Spring. Done feeling a bit off. Done wishing for things I can make happen on my own if I simply get a grip. Done thinkin’, “Why shovel? The snow is just gonna melt.” Done eating peanut butter out of the jar with a teaspoon (and dipping it in chocolate chips on the way). Done not cooking because it’s just me this week and why bother. Done procrastinating. Done keeping quiet. Done falling asleep in a tub of hot lavender water and waking up at 2 a.m. from a zombie dream, wondering what century it is and are they really out there, in the backyard, waiting to eat my face? Done eating only edamame for lunch. Done aching to run through a meadow with bare feet, grabbing at wildflowers along the way and tilting my face to the warm sun. Done waiting for something that’s bound to arrive, but why not get out there and meet it halfway?

Lived half my life, dear friends, and the other half ain’t gonna live itself. Time to finish my taxes. Time to bake a loaf of bread, just for me. Time to drive on over and visit my grandbaby and see if I can get her to say “Yappadoo!” Time to clean out the hall closet and shovel the steps and wash the window above the kitchen sink. TIme to buy myself some roses, time to dance awhile in the soft moonlight. Time to sing a waltzing song and get rid of the things piling up and make some bars and visit my neighbor Patsy whom I haven’t seen in a good long while. Time to pull over at the next snow-covered field and run through it anyway, snow and all, and find that sun with my pale, wintered face.

Spring has her own challenges these past few decades, and who are we to complain? No saying we can’t carry on and do our own thing, as we see fit. She’s bound to appear. In the meantime, I plan to wash some curtains this weekend, and bake a coconut cream pie and find a fresh green to paint the bathroom and wander on down to the river. Heck, I might even take off my boots a while and feel the snow between my toes. There’s still a snow angel or two in me, and I imagine there might be one in you. Come join me. Bring some buttered popcorn. I’ll make some hot chocolate or Irish coffee, or both, and we’ll have a time. Perhaps she — Sweet Spring herself — will join us as well. Perhaps She’s been taking her own naps, waiting for us to get things going, a frolicking snow party where She can join in, even if She lingers out there on the fringe of things. Ain’t a bad place to be, out there on the edge. You can see the firelight on everyone’s faces, and with a turn of your head, there they are, up high, all those crazy glimmerin’ stars. Winkin’, I swear. As if they know things we’ve yet to learn, and they do, and learn we will. Long as we have seasons and wood fires, hot coffee and someone to call when the silence of a season leavin’ gets a bit too loud. Long as we get up. Long as we have something giving meaning to “forward.” Come what may. And yes, please. May. Come.

Here’s a salty indulgence for a Friday evening. Serve it during a movie, or a Monopoly game, or while everyone’s sitting around reading and dozing and waiting for a sane bedtime. Or opt for a few mugs of hot chocolate, a bit of crème de menthe mixed in, a Hershey’s kiss hovering at the bottom.

Bacon Dip

4T cream cheese
1 ½ cups mayo
5 green onions, chopped
8 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
½ cup slivered almonds
1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese

Mix.

Chill.

Serve with crackers, or your favorite deli bread
sliced thin.

Enjoy!

It’s Going To Be A Fine Week

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I’d spent a good part of the afternoon wandering through the dairy section at the grocery store trying to come up with something to make for my friend Esther, who needs a bit of cheer. I’ve known her for quite a few years now and though she lives only a few miles to the west I don’t see her much. She’s quite a bit older than I, and doesn’t get out real often except for Bingo Night down at the Town Hall and the late service every Sunday. We have the kind of friendship where we check in now and then, and laugh a bit, and share something we learned lately that might help the other, like when she gave me the book on gardening after I managed to kill off a planting of peas and tomatoes. And like how, last summer, I helped plan her trip to Canada to visit her brother.

The truth of the matter is Esther doesn’t have much time left. I don’t recall the doctor’s exact diagnosis, but Esther told me she hopes to see in the New Year and whatever happens after that doesn’t matter much because her life has been one fine trip. So we chat every week or so, and sometimes she calls after the show and asks whether I heard that lovely song about twilight or the monologue about sledding from one county to the next and I say yes and we laugh and I smile for awhile after we hang up and I imagine she does too.

I’ve always had a rough time knowing what to say when people I care about are suffering or grieving or in pain. What I’m thinking, though, is that since death is a part of it all, it makes sense to treat it that way. Not to make light of it, mind you, but carry on with things because days are precious and you wouldn’t want to waste even one of them steeped in melancholy. Oh, no. There are things to be done and misery isn’t all that productive. Which is why I decided to drop in on Esther Sunday afternoon and bring with me a still-warm cream cheese coffeecake. I knocked and Esther hallooed and I let myself in. She was sitting in her kitchen near the window drinking green tea and paying bills.

Brought you something, I said, and her eyes got big when I set the coffeecake on the table. “Why, I’ll never be able to eat all that,” she said, “but I’ll sure give it a go if you help.” I got two plates and a coffee cup for myself down from the cupboard and she pulled a knife from the drawer near the table and there went Sunday afternoon. The sun was low in the sky when I got up to leave. I hugged Esther tight and she hugged back and it occurred to me that one day soon I’ll call and she won’t answer, and that will be the way of it. Mortality gives life its own particular beauty. I have Esther now and she has me. The leaves are nearly gone, and snow is in the forecast, and it’s going to be a fine week.

And here it is once again, the recipe for cream cheese coffeecake, one of my all time favorite things to make for just about any occasion. Even for no reason at all except to make it, and to have a slice while the afternoon rolls on and thoughts of spring come rollin’ along.

Cream Cheese Coffeecake

1 loaf frozen white bread dough, thawed.

Filling: 8 oz. cream cheese, 1/2 c. sugar,
1 egg, 1 tsp. vanilla.

Topping: 6 T butter, 1/2 c. sugar, 3/4 c. flour.
Cut with a fork until crumbly.

Quick Icing: mix 1 ½ -2 c. powdered sugar, a bit of milk and
1 T vanilla until smooth and desired consistency.

Let dough rise until nearly double. Press into a greased pizza pan or 9 X 13 cake pan and poke several times with a fork. Cream cheese and sugar; add egg and vanilla and mix well. Pour and spread over dough. Sprinkle topping evenly over the cream cheese mixture. Let rise ten minutes, and bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes. Drizzle icing over. Serve up for breakfast or brunch. Enjoy!