You never do know

Archived | May 27, 2009 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Mr. Keillor’s words inspired me, as they often do — this time to take a walk. Mr. Sundberg was in Chicago until Monday, giving a motivational talk on authenticity, so I invited the kids to come along with me, and on Sunday afternoon we set out for a walk in the woods. “An adventure,” they called it, and they brought water bottles and walking sticks and chocolate chip cookies and a compass. We’re only going to be gone a while, I told them. “Well, you never know,” they said.
As we walked, we talked about school and summer plans, and how they’d like to drive for a day and pitch a tent somewhere and eat beans out of a can. We talked about growing up and growing old and the worst day of our lives so far and what we’re looking forward to, and how fun it was the time we went tubing down the river, and how good the wild honeysuckle smells. “Only nine days of school left, and look out, walleye, I’m comin’ to getcha’,” one of them said. “Then we get to be home every day,” said another, “and we can help you bake and wash windows and stuff. We can plant a garden with just herbs and maybe even cook fish over the fire. Wouldn’t that be cool?” “I don’t want school to end,” said the third, “I’ll miss my friends and what’s there to do at home? I can’t wait to graduate and go to college. Then I’ll have a part-time job and you can come visit me every weekend and bring me cookies and make curtains for me. I think I want green ones.”
The tear in my eye wasn’t about anxiety or sadness or poison ivy issues. While the kids were talking, I was appreciating the moment in the moment and I was moved by how wonderfully different we all are. Thing is, you aren’t going to love everybody. Nope. And not everybody’s gonna love you. That’s what I tell the kids, anyway. The important thing is that you have a good heart, and things like bullying and gossip aren’t going to get you anywhere. What will take you everywhere is hard work, truth, and a good compass. Chocolate chip cookies aren’t a bad idea, either. The kids are right. You never do know.
Spinachy Bacon and Cheese Dip
This dip is great with chips or fresh vegetables. Set it out for the kids after school or as a meal in itself with bread and salad.
1 lb Velveeta cheese
1 10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
4 oz cream cheese
1 can Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies, undrained
8 slices cooked, crisped, crumbled bacon
Microwave in bowl on high 5 minutes or so, stirring every few minutes.
Or put all ingredients into a pan on the stove and simmer for a while until
bubbly. Makes about four cups. Serve hot.

Float above it

Archived | May 18, 2009 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was at a retreat for spiritual growth and rejuvenation at a place run by some lovely nuns and wouldn’t you know there were no clocks anywhere and the rule was to stay with the group which made the show a bit of a challenge. When you live a life filled with cream soup, poison ivy and power outages, you learn to be resourceful and that I am. I figured no one would notice if I slipped out and hauled my dinner tray to my room where my radio was hooked up and ready to go. I reclined on the nest of blankets and pillows I’d made on my bed and fed myself grapes and brownies while listening to an old show from Hot Springs, Arkansas.
I have never experienced a genuine hot spring. Unless, of course, you count the time Mr. Sundberg sneezed and blew coffee all over me at the front and center window table over at the café. He couldn’t help it, poor man, something just climbed right up in his nose while he was telling me about his latest motivational speaking idea (I could see his nose twitch a few times) and then he took a big swig of coffee and then AAAHHPPPLOOOOOIEE!! All over me. Everywhere. And you can’t really get angry at something like that. You have to just float above it.
So, because I’ve never experienced a genuine hot spring, and because it’s possible that I never will, I take a lot of hot baths and go to an occasional retreat. This past weekend was not about taking a hot bath, mind you. Depending on what you’re looking for, a retreat can get you to where you need to be. The place I visited was without a hot spring, but it had a labyrinth, and it was quiet, and I spent most of my time with a lovely group of people talking about life – self-awareness and grief and forgiveness and hope. You name it, we hashed it over. The beautiful thing about talking with people is that they teach you things about yourself you didn’t know you already knew. And you don’t need a hot spring for that.
Seven Layer Salad
This salad is a perfect side dish for chicken or burgers, or a fine meal of its own. I like to throw in a few shredded carrots with the radishes because like them in my salad, but I don’t change the name to “Eight Layer Salad.” “Seven Layer Salad” sounds better, and if people have enough time on their hands to actually count the layers and have a problem with it, well, then, I guess it’s time to seek out another hobby or two.
1 bag (10 ounces) ready-to-eat mixed salad greens
8 medium radishes, thinly sliced
5 medium green onions, thinly sliced
12 slices bacon, crisply cooked and crumbled
1 package (10 ounces) frozen green peas, thawed
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise or salad dressing
3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese or grated Parmesan cheese
Place salad greens in large salad bowl. Layer radishes, onions, bacon and peas on salad greens. Spread mayonnaise over peas, covering top completely and sealing to edge of bowl. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours or so to blend flavors but no longer than 12 hours. Just before serving, toss if desired. Store covered in refrigerator.

Go with What You Get

Archived | May 12, 2009 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. There was a full moon that evening so everything was a bit off, if you know what I mean. The kids were a bit more rambunctious than usual at the dinner table, Mr. Sundberg — while out for an after-dinner walk — thought he heard a bird call his name, and I felt compelled to make French silk pie. Not just one, mind you, but enough pie to empty the flour bin, the egg box, and the sack of chocolate on the pantry shelf. Enough pie to visit, on Sunday morning, a few mothers I find rather special and wish them a Happy Mother’s Day, and hand them a French Silk Pie, with whipped topping. And chocolate shavings.
“When’s the next full moon?” Mr. Sundberg asked. The Full Strawberry Moon is coming up next, I told him, on June 7. “Oooh. Can I place an order for Strawberry Pie? With glaze and fresh whipped cream?” I can’t make any promises, I told him. But I’ll make a note of it.
That’s the thing about what happens during a full moon. It’s like a storm or a mood or the postal service or birthday or a test result from a doctor’s visit. You know something’s happening, but there’s that element of surprise. A tornado might appear, or you may lose your temper. There may be a letter from a long-lost friend, your friends might throw a surprise party, the tests could very well come back positive for Lyme’s disease. Or not. You just never know. You can’t control things, so you go with what you get. One month you’re making pies, the next you’re thinkin’ pickles. And who says it has to be about food? One full September moon I built a catapult right out the backyard, out of two-by-fours and nails I found in the garage. We spent that October catapulting pumpkins into the trees, and was that ever a humdinger of a time. And then there was the full February moon when I had a notion to stencil little chickens all along the top of the kitchen walls. That was way back in my chicken phase, of course. Thank the Lord that one passed quickly. Most things do. They come and they go, and each full moon is another month of life lived, and lived well, if you’re blessed and tend to see the bright side of things.
Cashew Chicken Casserole
Here’s a recipe you can make ahead of time, something warm for a stormy spring evening. Serve it with biscuits, and strawberry pie for dessert.
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
3 cups cubed cooked chicken
1/2 cup cubed American cheese
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 (8 ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 1/3 cup milk
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can chicken broth
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
2/3 cup crushed saltines (about 20 crackers)
3/4 cup cashew halves
In a greased 13 x 9-inch baking pan, layer the first seven ingredients in the order listed.
In a bowl, combine the soups, milk and broth. Pour over water chestnuts. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Toss butter and cracker crumbs; sprinkle over casserole. Top with cashews. Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes or until macaroni is tender. Serves about 6.

Kind of like falling in love

Archived | May 5, 2009 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I get to laughing like that and I forget where I start and everything else begins. I like that feeling. Kind of like falling in love, where you lose yourself in the other and it’s a while before you regain composure and find yourself again. I suppose you could compare it to being a parent, too. It’s all this powdery goo goo glory and “How cute is that?” and “My, he’s got your eyes” and you’re all proud of them and they do what you say for the most part and you’ve got this parent/child rapport going and…wait. No. I take it back. Being a parent and a good belly laugh don’t have much in common. Love and laughter, maybe. But those sweet babies grow up and turn to you one day and say something like, “I’m going to ignore you until you start making sense” or “I’ll do it when I feel like doing it” or “I can’t wait until I graduate so I don’t have to live here anymore.” Which is why, each year, as Mother’s Day rolls around, one might feel less and less guilty about that ever-growing sense of “It’s Payback Time.”
Well, it’s a nice thought, anyway. To really sock it to ’em and present them with The List: Mow the lawn, do all the laundry, Murphy’s Oil Soap all the floors, wash every window inside and out, scrub the showers and tub, and vacuum under the bed. Clean out all the dead Asian lady beetles from inside the ceiling lights and clear the random cobwebs drifting here and there throughout the house. Pick all the dead leaves out of the landscaping rock, scrape the earthworm carcasses from the driveway and dispose of them properly. Wash my car, vacuum my car, give me a foot massage, bake me a seven-layer cream cheese fudge truffle something-or-other nasty dessert, and let me watch Sixty Minutes for sixty solid silent minutes, and let the bath shortly after be in peace. And leave on the counter, before you go to bed, a short essay on why your life is beautiful.
I have this “A Frog-a-Day” calendar, and I like it. But sometimes the Frog of the Day looks at me in a way I don’t like. This is good because it reminds me I am not Manager of the Universe. A good reminder when you’re a mother. Because there’s just not all that much you can control, and what you can control sometimes does the old shifterooni on you and you lose control of that, too. So what you do is figure out what you can count on and what you know for sure, and the rest of it’s a crapshoot.
As for Mother’s Day, what I want is for my children to be happy (or at least civil to one another) while I spend some time at a bookstore or taking a walk by a lake or just sitting on a bench watching other mothers and people who aren’t mothers enjoy the day. By the time I get home Mr. Sundberg will have finished the paper and the kids will be hungry, and perhaps we’ll go out to a place we’ve never been, a Mongolian barbecue buffet, and eat until we’re a bit too full, and drive home as the sun sets, where there will be cards and some chocolate and a new spatula or two, and few dandelions in a juice glass. The kids won’t have written essays on why their lives are beautiful, but that’s fine. Some things don’t need words, now, do they.
Cinnamon Peach Cobbler
I’ve been craving peach cobbler since the snow turned to rain. Here’s a recipe that’s been in the family awhile, and is best right out of the oven. I prefer the fresh peaches. This one’s good for a Mother’s Day visit. Bake it up in a lovely dish to leave with your mom.
5 cups sliced peaches, canned or fresh
1 1/2 T lemon juice
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten
6 T butter, melted
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, whipped with 2 ½ T sugar
Ground cinnamon
Sprinkle peaches with lemon juice, stir to coat and spread in 8×8, lightly-buttered baking pan. Mix flour, sugar, and salt. Add egg and toss with fork until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over peaches. Drizzle with butter. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Serve warm with cream. Sprinkle lots of cinnamon evenly over cobbler.