A Manageable Endeavor

Archived | December 29, 2008 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was at my parents’ kitchen table for most of the show, in the midst of a large number of nieces and nephews and brothers and sisters-in-law and dogs. Three dogs — two golden retrievers and a black lab. It had been a happy day, and there was food everywhere — dips and cheeses and ham sandwiches and cherry pie — and for a short while as I sat there, pretty much unable to move, with the nieces and nephews screaming for joy in the background, a dog shoving its head up onto my lap every few minutes, and my father offering me a chili pepper beer just to try, I felt at complete and utter peace.
It’s not something you can pencil in, like a visit to the hairdresser. Real peace is elusive, and sometimes it comes out of nowhere, when you least expect it. You simply have to welcome it and enjoy it while you have it, because if your life is anything like mine, it isn’t going to be around long. I tried that. Instead of making a New Year’s Resolution, I pick a word I want to make more a part of my life, and I chose the word “peace” one year. I read books about it, I talked about it, I researched it, I meditated upon it. Did all I could to make “peace” a bigger part of my life. Unfortunately, that was the same year the kids got a potbellied pig for a pet, our neighbor Mr. Tully bought himself a drum set, and the garage roof was ripped off by what they say was a severe storm but what I saw with my own eyes was a small tornado. Sure, I found peace, but it came and went like the seasons themselves.
Anyway, I would recommend the whole choose-a-word-for-a-year exercise over a New Year’s resolution any day. It’s a manageable endeavor, and you don’t set yourself up. There’s really no way you can fail. And no, peace is not a major part of my daily life, but when I feel it, I recognize and appreciate it. And it does appear a bit more frequently than it once did. Same thing happened with “patience.” And “tenacity.” And “forgiveness.”
Haven’t chosen my word for 2009 yet. I’m down to a short list, though. “Happiness” and “Truth” and “Courage” are among the choices. So are “Flight” and “Nutmeg” and “Flexibility.” I’m not worried; I’ll get there. Until then, the kids have gift cards for a bookstore or two, I’ve a slew of decorations to box up, and I’m thinkin’ Sweet and Sour Pork and Eggrolls for New Year’s Eve. Something spicy. To kick off a Happy New Year.
Peanut Blossoms
Mrs. Jungerberg lived across the street from the house I grew up in, and she made these cookies just about every week. My brothers and I could smell ’em from the porch swing, and we’d wait there ’til she peeked out her side door and gave us the “come on along” wave, and we’d run across the street and there would be a plate of the warm cookies on the step.
1 c. butter
1 c. peanut butter
1 c. white sugar
1 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 bag chocolate stars or kisses
Cream butters and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well.
Add dry ingredients and mix gently until blended. Roll into walnut-sized balls and roll in white sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. When done, press a chocolate star or kiss in the center of each cookie, and put back into the oven for 2 minutes or so.
Makes a big ol’ batch.

Cheers, and a merry one to you, and to yours

Archived | December 23, 2008 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I’ll confess I got a bit emotional a few times during the show. Mr. Keillor did a go-round of “Silent Night” and that always gets my throat all bound up and I can barely sing along. And then there was that whole story about the man and woman who left a party and sat in his car talking about the things they love and then he proposed to her, right there out of the blue. And she said “yes.” Oh, my. There I was, tears all the heck over, trying to eat my French toast. “What’s wrong, Mom?” the kids asked. It’s just the Spirit of Christmas, I told them. Gets me sometimes.
The Christmas Spirit is a strange and wild thing. Things happen you can’t explain, mysterious things, and beautiful things, and you’d best go with the flow or you’ll lose your mind. I haven’t been able to fall asleep before midnight for a good ten days now. Mr. Sundberg thinks it’s a bit odd. “You were doing WHAT at 12:30 a.m.? Baking spritz cookies? Is everything okay? Maybe you need one of those spa weekends.” Christmas Spirit, I told him. I’ll sleep next year.
And then there are the Christmas cards that come in from people I’ve never heard of. “Lorena Nelson” sends a card every year along with a photo of her son, Malcolm, who is about sixteen now. Who are these people? I’ve yet to meet them, but I can tell you whole lot about their lives. Lorena loves working for the DMV and Malcolm is going to China next year with the band. If I say something now, I’m sure she’ll wonder why I waited ten year, so I figure, just let it go. Besides, I rather enjoy the updates on Lorena’s love life. She’s engaged again. To a saxophone player named Leon. Which, she points out, is “Noel” spelled backward.
It’s the Christmas Spirit, I imagine, behind the anonymous gift of $100. that came to our house on Wednesday of last week, with a note attached reading, “Enjoy something local.” And behind the plates of cookies and loaves of bread on the counter from friends and neighbors. Someone shoveled our walk for us early this morning, and the Wilsons put up an inflatable nativity scene, complete with a hovering angel. My mother called on Sunday — she’d accidentally doubled an already-doubled recipe and ended up with over 300 peanut blossoms. I didn’t believe her when she told me she took a box of them down to the hardware store and stood with the bell ringer and handed out cookies. Until I saw the evening news.
People are eating berry compote and wearing sweaters that light up and ties that play music. They’re donating hams and turkeys to the food shelf and calling their grandparents and baking cookies with their children late into the night. They’re weeping at intersections and searching for the perfect gift and working longer hours. The scent of pine is everywhere. And so are bowls of chocolate, and nuts, and the perplexity of fruitcake. It’s Christmas, and we are not ourselves. Cheers, and a merry one to you, and to yours.
Reindeer Balls
This recipe came to my from my mother, accompanied by a story about how Santa ran out of reindeer food at the North Pole one year, and the only thing the reindeer would eat were these Russian-tea-cake-like cookies. The reindeer loved them so much, the cookies are now the reindeer’s main food source. Notice how they’re also nut-free; oatmeal has been substituted for crushed walnuts. Mmm!
1 cup butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp almond extract
2 1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup oatmeal
Cream butter with powdered sugar. Add almond extract. Stir.
Add flour, salt, and oatmeal. Mix. Roll dough into balls the size
of walnuts. Bake at 400 on ungreased cookie sheets for 10-12 min.
Roll in powdered sugar when cooled a bit, then again when even
cooler. Makes 4 dozen.

Where’s your list?

Archived | December 16, 2008 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It’s been a week, let me tell you. One humdinger. I’ve been baking and wrapping and planning, but the decorating is done. We managed to do the whole shebang in fewer than two hours this year. Not bad. Not that I wanted to rush it or anything. Just that time seems precious lately, and I’m not convinced that hours of draping and festooning and hanging is how I want to spend it.
Took the kids shopping over the weekend so they could buy gifts for each other, and for Mr. Sundberg. We spent most of Sunday afternoon wandering around Target. I served as point person with refreshments and maps, and they ran off in all directions and came scurrying back with their finds, tucking them discreetly under the pile of coats in the cart. I did some shopping of my own along the way, adding a red wool scarf for Mr. Sundberg and a Johnny Cash Christmas CD for my parents to the growing pile of gifts my children were so carefully selecting for each other and for their father: a 3 lb sack of M&Ms; battery operated toothbrushes; a lava lamp; a small jar of something called “Flarp” (it makes fart sounds when you press on it, which I know because I asked and a young man was kind enough to explain it); Aqua Velva aftershave; a number of DVDs and CDs and some glittery blue nail polish and so on.
I can’t explain it, but I somehow managed to get everyone through the checkout line with the proper items and into the car and through the Arby’s drive-thru and onto the road home without anyone seeing anyone else’s purchases, without any major arguments, and without loss of my own composure for more than three or four seconds. We sang along with the radio as we drove along, and I must say it was an all around fun day. “We only have one person left to buy for,” the kids said. And who would that be? I asked. “You!” they hollered. “Where’s your list?”
When I told them they didn’t need to get me anything, that if they’d clean up their rooms once in a while and not drop out of school I’d be happy, there followed a long silence. And then, “But we WANT to give you presents. You’re our MOM.” And then, for a moment, I saw her — the little girl I once was, handing the carefully wrapped Whitman’s Sampler to my mother, and the Old Spice Aftershave to my father. They were my parents, and it felt so good to be able to give them a gift.
I told the kids I’d make a list and put it up on the fridge. And I did. There’s nothing on the list I can’t live without, for sure. But. I have three children who want to give to me, and that’s something, if you stop and think about it. Sure is.
MOM’s Christmas List
Corningware casserole dishes with lids — oval, white.
Gift certificate for a large cheese pizza at any pizza place within driving distance.
Thought-provoking wood signs for the house. I have “Home is where your story begins.”
Refrigerator magnets. No profanity, please.
Wooden spoons. Spatulas with wooden handles.
A turkey baster. I have no turkey baster.
Bubble bath or fun bath stuff but no oils, and nothing that will dye the tub purple like last time.
Peanut Butter M&Ms.
Potholders and flour sack towels.
A decent colander. Doesn’t have to have flower designs or anything. Sturdy is good.
A book about how to plant a garden. Seriously.
Current road maps for Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Twin Cities.
A book about chakras.
The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen
A trampoline stunt book.
A new mouse for my computer. Mine is missing its ball.
A carbon monoxide detector.
A compact black umbrella. Quality. Not like the last one. One major wind gust was all it took.
A rug for the mud room. Something I can throw into the washer over and over again.
Whitman’s Samplers are lovely gifts. They sure are.
Erica’s German Tea Bread
I shared this with you nearly two years ago, and am sending it along again. The lovely woman who taught me to make this bread passed away recently, and I’ll keep a candle lit in her memory as I make this delicious stollen for my friends over the holidays.
Soften 2 T dry yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Set aside.
Sift together
4 1/2 cups flour
4 T sugar
2 tsp salt
Cut in 1 cup butter.
Add 1/2 cup canned milk, the yeast mixture, and 2 unbeaten eggs. Mix well and chill 2 hours or overnight.
Before baking, melt in a skillet ½ cup butter, 1 cup packed brown sugar, and 1 cup chopped walnuts. Add 1 tsp almond extract. Leave on low heat.
Divide dough into four sections. Pat out each section to 8 inches round on a floured surface. Put 2 T (I use a bit more) of nut mixture on 1/2 of the round. Fold dough over into a crescent and seal. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Make cuts 1 inch apart along the outside edge and gently turn cut sections onto their sides so filling is somewhat exposed. Let rise 45 minutes. Bake at 350 for 20–25 minutes. Frost while warm with powdered sugar frosting, and adorn with sliced cherries where the cuts were made.

Lives of Radical Uniqueness

Archived | December 8, 2008 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It had been one of those lovely December days where you try to fit it all in and you actually pull it off. Not only did I clean the house and bake a chocolate-cherry cake, but I made sesame beef for dinner, we put up and decorated the tree, and the kids festooned the house with Christmas — statues and garlands and candles and books. By their bedtime, it was done, and I had in me that feeling of lovely completeness, of everything where it ought to be, if only for a while.
Anything left to do was optional, so after the kids were tucked in, I sat down on the floor by the tree to make my Christmas list. I could hear Mr. Sundberg coughing upstairs; he’s had an awful cough all week, and at last it had slowed down a bit so he could rest. Between decorating the church for Advent all morning and hunting for the perfect tree all afternoon, I believe he may have worn himself out. He fell asleep right in the middle of the Hanging of the Lights, and woke up only after the kids tried to roll him from the couch onto my back so I could haul him upstairs and tuck him into bed. It was their idea and they were giggling like all getout and we almost had it just right when he teetered and went rolling on off my back onto the living room floor.
Of course, he wanted to know what in the Sam Hill was going on and then he started hacking away and walked on upstairs on his own. “Who’s ‘Sam Hill’?” one of the kids asked me. It’s another word for “hell”, I said. “Why doesn’t he just say that in the first place?” Well, I said, there’s nothing wrong with being predictable, but it’s not a bad thing to be a little bit mysterious or quirky or unique. Some people take it to the next level and seem to make it their prime directive. They live lives of radical uniqueness. Not that that’s a bad thing, either. Be who you are, is what I say. It’s the one real way to live. I imagine you’ll live longer, too.
Some Really Fine Broccoli Salad
Around this time of year there are so many rich and sweet foods around, I get to craving something a bit on the healthful side, and this salad is really something. Mmm.
5 cups broccoli, trimmed
1 cup each: sunflower seeds, craisins (dried cranberries),
shredded cheddar cheese, 1 cup fried bacon crumbles
Toss above ingredients together in a large bowl.
Dressing: 1 cup Miracle Whip, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 2 T red wine vinegar
Add dressing just before serving salad.

Why not switch gears?

Archived | December 1, 2008 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Did a little dancin’ this time around while I made bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches on toasted English muffins. I made some cheesy hash browns, too, but not pancakes. I often make pancakes, too, or waffles, but I’ve felt the need to simplify lately. And not just at mealtime. Seems there’s so much, too much, of everything, everywhere. Not that a lot of everything is a bad thing. But really, people. Why not switch gears awhile and pare it down?
And today is a good day to begin. The first of December, the dark month, the corner you round into Christmas and the New Year. Instead of going all out and getting all carried away with the season and working myself into some kind of list-induced-migraine-frenzy, what is it that really matters? Well. Instead of sending out Christmas letters to friends and relatives who all pretty much know about me and my life, I’m going to send a few cards to people whom I know could use a piece of real mail. For Christmas Eve, rather than a big ol’ dinner with all the fixings, I’ll make everyone’s favorite hors d’oeuvre, along with a homemade pizza. No new Christmas outfits this year. We HAVE nice clothes. Let’s wear them. Instead of keeping a grid of numbers and prices and types of gifts for the kids, I’ll simply buy a few nice gifts. And one of their gifts will be a trip to the grocery store to pick out groceries for another family, chocolates included. As for all those boxes of decorations and the big plastic Santa and the sacks of garland, well, perhaps we’ll leave them and just do up the tree this year, and set out candles all over the house and light them each night.
Things don’t have to be so complicated. You can wrap all the gifts in one pattern of wrapping paper and nobody is going to flip out. You don’t have to make ALL the Christmas recipes in the box. If you don’t make it to the holiday open house at the bank, your account won’t be charged. You have one life, people. If it’s not crammed full of stuff, it doesn’t mean you’re wasting it. It means you have time and space. And time is nice. Space is a good thing. Especially if an opportunity to make a snowman comes along.
Ham and Egg Bake
This recipe takes only a few minutes to throw together, and will leave you glowing warm inside all day.
1 can crescent rolls
1 pkg (8 oz) smoked ham
6 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar is good)
Press dough into a greased 9 x 13 cake pan or baking dish,
covering bottom evenly and sealing off holes. Shred ham
and sprinkle it over the crust. Whisk eggs and milk until
blended and pour over ham. Sprinkle with pepper and cheese.
Bake 25-30 minutes or so at 350.