Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It’s been a rainy stretch of days, and I don’t know about you, but I’m loving the tiny bits of green shooting up here and there, and the longer days, and the smell of earthworms. I’m loving the white flowers whose name I don’t know, and the thunderstorms rumbling over throughout the day. Bring on the mayflies. Bring on the rain. It all makes me want to bare my legs and wander through a meadow gathering hazelnuts in my skirt and sunlight on my skin.
Springtime will do that to a person. It’ll take you back to the time when you were most innocent and free. You close your eyes and breathe in, and you remember playing among sheets billowing on the clothes line and your father rubbing your mother’s legs on the couch while watching the evening news, and homemade Jell-O popsicles and grass-stains on your jeans, the knees of which your mother patched with iron-on denim patches. You wore T-shirts with rainbows on them and rode your banana seat bike along the railroad tracks and gathered taconite pebbles in Mason jars and stored them on your bookcase next to E. B. White and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Judy Blume. You fished from the dam and wrote elegies for dead pets and promised your friends you’d always be friends no matter what. And every night, as you stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes, you watched the sun set on the horizon, just past the Knudtson’s farm.
It was the time before taxes and tornadoes and therapy and breast lumps. The time before standardized test score results mattered all that much, before foreclosures and septic issues and friends with terminal cancer or HIV or an attraction to your spouse. Before keeping track of what you eat, and how much, or why. Before worrying about how you smell, before the word “sag” had any meaning, before “wild” meant natural, not promiscuous or crazy.
It’s not that I want to be young again. Nah. Innocence is bound to go. Wouldn’t give up my lines and lessons for anything. Lovely, though, that springtime brings it all ’round again. One daughter has been making mud pies with leaves and rocks and moss. She calls them “poultices” and has a station all set up for that very purpose. My son takes long walks with a big stick in his hand. He is gone for a long while and is full of stories about wild turkeys and something crashing through the woods and something dead by the road. They all love fishing; they want a tire swing, and a tree house, and a dog.
“I don’t ever want to grow up,” one of them says. Neither do I, I reply.
Here’s another one for spring. You can serve this sweet pudding up with a dollop of Cool Whip or a scoop of ice cream. It’s just right for an evening barbecue or coffee with friends.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/2 cup milk
4 cups sliced rhubarb
2 cups white sugar
1 1/2 cups boiling water
Preheat oven to 375. Mix flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl; set aside. Grease a 9×13 inch baking dish. Beat the egg, butter, and milk in a bowl until smooth. Stir in the flour mixture until moistened, then spread into the prepared baking dish. Stir together the rhubarb, 2 cups of sugar, and the water; pour into the baking dish. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and place the pudding dish on top. Bake until the dough has set and the rhubarb is bubbly, about 40 minutes.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was sitting at the kitchen counter paying bills and just about fell off the stool when Heather Masse, Mr. Keillor and the Shoe Band started up with one of my very favorite songs ever: “Sweet is the Melody.” It’s a waltz, and the words are Iris Dement’s, and they’re about as poignant as you can get:
Oh, sweet is the melody, so hard to come by.
It’s so hard to make every note bend just right.
You lay down the hours and leave not one trace,
But a tune for the dancing is there in its place.
Now, if you asked someone about the kind of person I am, they’d probably mention cooking and baking and the fact that I’m a mother. They’d say I’ve been a decent wife and that I have a rather quirky sense of humor, and I stand by my claim that no two words mean the same thing (“nude is not the same as “naked”). However, you would most likely not hear mention of billiards and hats and lutefisk. Never played pool, don’t own a hat, and I’ve managed to get by without actually eating Mr. Sundberg’s favorite meal. Oh, and singing would not be on the list, either. Can’t do it. Not the way I wish I could, anyway.
Oh, I was in church choir most of my life, right on up through high school and after, until I got married. I sang in choir in school, and was in show choir, too, where we sang and danced on stage and had about as much fun as a person can have. Mine an alto voice, low alto, which pretty much tips over when I shoot for the high notes. The low notes I can sing, right along with the tenors, and I do, and I feel solid and reliable like an oak stump. Every voice is important, I know, and it is.
Just once, though I wish I could sing with the kind of voice that would get the wind swirling and the surf crashing, and there’d be wild horses and rose petals falling all ’round and everyone in the room would gasp and then cheer. The kind of voice that sounds like the sun breaking through clouds, and feels like a thousand white birds… Oh, for God’s sake. Here I go again. Thing is, I believe in balance. If you lack something here, just look over there. If you’re weak on looks, I’ll bet you’ve got a fine brain. And if you aren’t much at gardening, I’ll bet you can cook up a storm. It’s like that. It all evens out. Polka, anyone?
It’s about that time of year again. Those of us who enjoy rhubarb have had a hankering for awhile now, and it shouldn’t be long. Here’s a different kind of recipe, a comfort food for spring.
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups chopped rhubarb
Preheat oven to 375. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Stir in the milk and cream; set aside. Combine the sugar and flour in a separate bowl. Pour the sugar mixture into the egg mixture, then stir until well combined. Fold in the rhubarb. Pour into a buttered casserole dish, and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar as desired. Bake until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It’s been one of those crazy weeks and listening to the show was a lovely break as always. As was the “Lamentation of the Peeps” dream I had Saturday night, where, all the Peeps on the shelves at my grocery store came to life after the store closed. They all put on these little monk-like shroud robes and paraded through the store humming in the near-dark until the sun rose Easter morning. Then they all threw off their shrouds and began dancing in the aisles — partly out of Easter joy and partly because my grocery store only closes twice a year and that’s a long time to go without dancing. And then I woke up.
I know what you’re thinking. That I had a glass of wine too many while I stayed up late Saturday night making coffeecake for Sunday’s breakfast. Or that I accidentally mixed my allergy medicine with my headache pills. Or that Mr. Sundberg didn’t cook the salmon steaks long enough. Perhaps you’re unfazed by it all and not even thinking a dream about Peeps dancing at midnight in a grocery store is all that unusual.
Well, it is. Because just about every night of my born and blessed life, I have dreamt about flying. Still do. Not flying in a plane or a spaceship or anything mechanical or fumey like that. A hot air balloon on occasion, but mostly it’s just me up there in the sky, soaring over fields and cities and forests and lakes. It’s not so much what I see while I fly (though I have flown over Tibetan villages and volcanoes and nude beaches); it’s more how I feel. Trying to describe the feeling is just plain silly. Let’s say it’s right up there in the top five, closer to one than five. Then again, so is dancing. Ask any Peep.
Pepperoni Pizza Hotdish
5 cups cooked penne rigate pasta (1 box)
1 26 oz jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce (I use Prego ricotta parmesan)
1 14 oz jar of your favorite pizza sauce
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
12-16 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
Mix first four items in lightly olive-oiled 9×13 pan.
Sprinkle with about a cup of mozzarella and about a dozen pepperoni slices cut in half.
Mix again. Pat down evenly. Cover with remaining mozzarella, 8-12 pepperoni, and sprinkle with garlic salt,
oregano, and basil as you wish.
Bake at 375 uncovered for about 20 minutes.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I must say I was charmed by Mr. Keillor’s singing, right off the bat, the little song with Heather Masse, “April Comes She Will.” I can still hear it in my head. And I was taken away, too, by the spicy jazz of Wynton Marsalis and his Quintet playing “Free to Be.” Nothing like music to make a person come alive. Finds its way into you and moves you around and you have no say in the matter.
It was that way at Great Grandma Delphinia’s funeral. Most somber occasion in our little church in years. An only child of a well-to-do local family, she’d been first a missionary, then a schoolteacher, and finally a pie-maker at the first and best bakery in town right on up until she died nearly thirty years ago. After she’d finished with mission work and while she was teaching, she had it in her to marry a widow, my great grandfather Lawrence, whose wife had passed on after a long illness and left him with two young children. The deal was that Delphinia would leave her work to help him raise his children and run his bakery, and he would provide for her a home and companionship and teach her how to bake pies. The best pies.
What wasn’t a part of the deal was their mutual love of music and dancing, and their deep love for each other. You never saw two people cherish each other the way Lawrence and Delphinia did. Nights she was up late baking pies, there was Lawrence across from her, sleeves rolled up, flour on their faces, laughter and lamplight spilling from the window onto the paved walk. She always wore her hair up, the way he liked it, and he never missed an opportunity to call her name from wherever he was.
It’s all true. The children loved her too, because she made their father laugh and because she was firm enough that they could count on her. And at her funeral, after the organist played “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” it was the children, now grown, who asked the organist to play it one more time, a little bit louder this time because the people in the back couldn’t hear it. And, lo and behold, the organist did. And you’ve never before or since heard a church full of people sing “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” the way they sang it the second time that day, Lawrence and his son and his daughter leading the way, eyes toward heaven, bodies moving to the music, all for Delphinia – baker of the best cherry pies this side of the Mississippi and the one true, unexpected love of one man’s life.
If you haven’t finished your Easter Sunday menu planning, throw this one on the list. It’s easy and colorful and light, and the flavor will knock your socks off. Or put a run in your panty hose.
1 small sack of carrots – regular size, not mini
2-3 T butter
Wash carrots well. Trim ends. Slice carrots into coins as thin as two nickels.
Melt butter in a skillet, heat to very hot.
Cook on high, covered, stirring frequently, about ten minutes until carrots begin to blacken along edges.
Remove from heat.
Add salt and pepper to taste.