The really scary things are more ordinary

Archived | October 26, 2009 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was home alone in a house I’d spent the afternoon cleaning with nothing to do but bake up a batch of cutout cookies and a loaf or two of bread, enjoy a glass of wine, and listen to the show. Mr. Sundberg was out with the kids at one of those Halloween attractions where people dress up and try their best to scare the bejesus out of you, and I’ll confess I felt a bit guilty. The kids had asked me to come along, and I said no, I simply wasn’t up for it. Not that I was in a bad mood, or sad or anything. I just wasn’t in that Halloweenish zone where being grabbed by a ghoul would be a thrill.
Besides. I’m not really good at being scared. The scariest things to me aren’t monsters or people with fangs jumping out at me. The really scary things are more ordinary. Like if a man were just standing there, in the yard, looking at the house. That would be scary. Or if I were home alone and went to take a shower and came back and all of my underwear was gone. Just like that. I’d be rather shaken up and tempted to make a call. Or if a voice, say God, for instance, just called my name out of the blue: “MRS. SUNDBERG.” That would pretty much do me in. Of course, had I gone with Mr. Sundberg and the kids, I would have given a courtesy holler or two for good measure, in the spirit of the season and all, and I imagine it would have been a fun time. And it was.
I know people who are dying slow deaths from guilt, and others who are seemingly being kept alive by it. For a lot of my life, I let guilt dictate how I spent a good deal of my time. Until, worn down by it all, it dawned on me that — though in some instances guilt has its place — most of the time guilt is a waste of energy. One of my favorite thinkers, Jean-Paul Sartre, said that guilt is an anguish which accompanies the recognition of our total freedom. Now, that makes a lot of sense. And there certainly is some freedom in spending a Saturday evening alone in the kitchen. What to bake first? And all that frosting, and those unopened bags of Halloween candy… Why bring anguish into the picture? The kids are having a great time, the house smells like cinnamon and fresh bread, and all’s right with the world.
This recipe was originally made with ground venison, which makes a perfect substitute for the beef, though you may wish to add a bit of beef for the fat, if you know what I mean. Serve this up with saltines or oyster crackers, and some shredded Colby or cheddar. Keep a bottle of Tabasco sauce handy for those who like a bit of zing.
Big Beef Chili
1 1/4 lb ground beef
Brown beef with 1-2 T chopped onion. Drain excess fat, if any. Return meat and onion to pot.
Add the following:
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained
1 can chili beans, not drained
1 can (46 oz.) tomato juice
1/4 tsp. cracked or ground black pepper. Salt to taste.
2/3 – 1 T chili powder
1/4 tsp. cumin
1-2 dashes Tabasco sauce
Good options: Add 1 can diced tomatoes along with tomato juice.
And/or 1-2 stalks of celery, diced, at end of browning meat.
And/or 2-4 oz. sliced mushrooms, or 1 small can of mushrooms, drained,just before adding beans.
Simmer a while and serve with homemade cornbread.

It’s one of those things I’m a bit embarrassed about

Archived | October 20, 2009 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was on my way home from the grocery store when I tuned in for the opening song. I’d thought for sure I’d make it home in time, but there was a sale on butter — .99 a pound — and a limit of two pounds per visit, so I pretended I forgot something twice and ended up with six pounds of butter. I would have gone back after the show for more, but it seems there is a point where one ought to exercise restraint, and six pounds of butter ought to keep one going for a while. You’d think, anyway. Plus there were two more pounds in the fridge, which made eight.
It’s something I don’t talk about much, my love for butter. It’s one of those things I’m a bit embarrassed about. Not sure why, really. Perhaps because it brings out the glutton in me. Other things do that, too, but like I said, I do know about restraint and it has gotten to the point where I simply don’t eat potato chips. I love the things, and if I eat even one, the whole bag is a goner, so I just don’t. Same with French fries. Love ’em, but don’t eat ’em. Except on special occasions. Now, butter is different because it’s like oxygen. You just can’t eat pancakes without butter. That wouldn’t be right. And baked potatoes wouldn’t be the same without butter. Neither would some frostings or toast or homemade cookies. I don’t eat it plain, mind you, like that woman on TV, but I do tend to use it frequently and in generous amounts.
So you can imagine my pure delight when Mr. Keillor told how there was deep fried butter served up at a wedding in Lake Wobegon last week. My gosh, I just about tipped. Butter frozen into little balls, dipped in batter and deep fried? Sounds like one step short of Paradise to me. So I dug out all my cookbooks and turned to the “batter” section of each and found a recipe for a batter of reasonable consistency. I dug out a pound of butter from the fridge and, with a melon baller, made as many little balls as I could and threw them into the freezer. It wasn’t long after the show was over that Mr. Sundberg and the kids were feasting on wonderfully crunchy golden nuggets sprinkled with powdered sugar. And, fifteen minutes later, Mr. Sundberg was sound asleep in the recliner, and all three kids were dozing off on the couch.
I still have a bit of work to do to perfect the butter balls, but let me tell you, they taste pretty darn good. Restraint may have its place, but so does reward and you ought to take time now and then to indulge yourself. Just for a moment.
Fabulous French Silk Pie
If you’re looking for something simple yet decadent, chocolately but not overly rich, here you go. This one will leave quite an impression, I promise.
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 large eggs
1 10-inch baked pie crust (graham will work, too, but flour/butter is best)
Melt chips in double-boiler or microwave. Cream together butter, sugar and vanilla. Add slightly cooled chocolate. Add eggs, two at a time, beating at least three minutes after adding each pair. Pour into pie shell. Filling will be soft and piled high, but will set up in three or four hours in refrigerator.
For an 8 or 9-inch pie crust, you may cut filling recipe in half. Pie will not be as amazing to look at, but half the recipe will fill a smaller pie crust. Serve with whipped cream and chocolate shavings or sprinkles if desired.

When you find it, grab on to it, and smile.

Archived | October 12, 2009 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It’s tough to listen to a show like that and not forget the world for a while. I imagine that’s why a good number of us listen — to tune in the happy thoughts and tune out the bad. Not that there’s a lot of particularly bad things going on lately. Depends how you look at it, of course, and I like to think that life is pretty good and there really isn’t much to complain about as long as a person has work, and something to look forward to, and someone to love. And one’s health, of course. Really, things are decent. There’s even snow on the ground and how can you beat that?
But you think about it, and the answer to what makes a person happy is as colorful and storied as the number of people on the planet. Some people don’t care much for work, and others are content in the moment and there are people with terminal illnesses who know more about happiness than most, I imagine. And I suppose there are people who don’t think much about love, can take it or leave it like the cucumber water at the hair salon. Might be nice, but you won’t die without it.
Not my friend Angela. She’s not desperate by any means, but she’s looking for love with gentle yet unwavering determination. She believes, in the marrow of her bones, that life — her life in particular — was not meant to be lived alone. So, after months of not really meeting anyone just doing the things she likes to do (my suggestion), she joined an online dating service. Thing is, Angela also believes her life was not meant to be spent with someone with whom she is the least bit uncomfortable, someone with whom she feels she must pretend to have qualities she doesn’t have, or someone whose desire for her is disproportionate to her desire for that person. And vice versa.
Long story short, Angela has been on three dates in the last two weeks, and she has another planned for this coming Saturday. Her one observation I find it rather interesting: in the photos posted along with their profiles, the majority of men are posing and smiling and holding a fish. Whatever floats your boat, I say. Happiness is elusive. When you find it, grab on to it, and smile.
Hearty Beef Stew
It’s cold out there, and time for something to keep you warm all day. Serve this up in a stew bowl with fresh dinner rolls or a good, dense bread. Because stew is an art form, no two batches should turn out exactly alike.

  • 1-1 1/2 lbs. lean beef (or venison) cut into 3/4-1″ cubes
  • 2 T flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 T cooking oil
  • 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 T minced onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • 1-2 small shots of Tabasco or 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (if desired)
  • About 3 cups peeled potatoes, cut into cubes (If reds, you don’t have to peel ’em)
  • 3-4 med. carrots, peeled and chunked
  • 3 large stalks of celery, chopped into small chunks

Shake meat in paper bag with flour and a little salt and pepper. Brown in oil over high heat, stirring frequently. Add onion near end of browning. Turn heat down to low, just barely cover meat with water, and add bouillon, garlic powder, thyme, basil, and bay leaf. Simmer in covered pot 1/2 hour or so (more if meat is tough). Add tomato sauce. Stir occasionally. When meat is just about tender enough, add carrots, celery, and potatoes, in that order, at about 1–2 minute intervals. Simmer further until vegetables are tender, adding more water, if needed, just to keep covered. Stir occasionally, checking for doneness of vegetables. Add Tabasco or cayenne, and more salt and pepper to taste, if needed.

Something you’ve always wondered, and now you know.

Archived | October 6, 2009 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was a bit surprised I made it through the whole show, as I’ve been falling asleep halfway through everything lately. I watched that series on the national parks last week but saw only half of it because — yep, you guessed it — each night I fell asleep about an hour into it. I’ve fallen asleep folding clothes on the couch in the late morning, reading in the afternoon, and eating popcorn while snuggling with the kids after the dinner hour. I nearly dozed off while talking with my friend Angela late one night, though I did a decent job of pretending I was thinking about something deep and philosophical.
It’s not that I’m not getting enough sleep, though I probably could stand a bit more. It’s not my age or my diet or a head cold. It’s simply that the year has turned a corner and the days are darker now. The sun sets earlier and rises a while later, and shadows fall long and slender on the walks and driveways about town. Leaves are falling, too, and things are turning brown and gray, and I’m craving foods like stew and dumplings and potpie and hash.
The fact that it’s rained for six days in a row now hasn’t helped much, either. Something about gray-shaded skies and a steady rain and the way the drops hit the puddles makes a person’s eyelids heavy. It’s cool outside, and damp, and the heat is on for a while in the evening, and I’ve been baking banana bread and cinnamon coffee cake and apple muffins and a pie here and there. You throw all of that together with an early sunset and a soft-lit lamp and you’re bound to doze off on the couch well before bedtime, feet up on the ottoman, afghan draped over your legs, head tilted back and slightly to the side, mouth open a bit — enough that the kids notice and giggle and poke their fingers in it and wake you up and then do for you an imitation of you sleeping with your mouth open so you know what you look like when you’re asleep. Something you’ve always wondered, and now you know. Another mystery of the universe solved on a rainy evening in October.
German Hotdish
When you come from one place and live in a town where everyone else comes from another place, you feel a bit compelled now and then to give a little shout for the homeland.
3 lb sauerkraut, drained
12 oz egg noodles, cooked and drained
1-2 lb pork sausage, cooked and drained
Mix above ingredients. Pour into a 9 x 13 cake pan or large casserole. You might want to throw some cheese on top if you have a hankering. Heat thoroughly and serve with rye bread and a mug of beer.