Worms. Hundreds of them.

Archived | September 29, 2010 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It was a clear day after a stretch of inside days — so much rain came down last week I thought I might wake up gilled and green one morning without any effort at all. I know the good Lord said never again, but for a few hours there I was having my doubts. But what really got me going wasn’t the rainfall, or how much, or the mud, or the leaves sticking to the house or the clogged up gutters. Nope. It was a bit more complicated than that.
Worms. Hundreds of them.
I happened to leave the garage door open during a particularly rainy morning, and when I went to get the Mason jars out of the trunk, there they were — like something out of the Old Testament. They appeared almost migratory, all headed for something toward the back of the garage. If I’d grown up anywhere else, it would have been horrifying. Instead, I had before me something of a challenge: how to get the worms to retreat.
I won’t go into detail, but worms don’t respond to commands. They don’t respond to much of anything at all. Trust me on this one. Unless you touch them. Then they simply recoil, pause, and go back to what they were doing. I thought about salt, buckets of water, even the Wet/Dry vac. I ended up sweeping them out with Mr. Sundberg’s Gentle Brush broom and, despite my care, there were fatalities. Many. But I finished the job, because the worm scent was growing unbearable, and because you can’t start sweeping out the worms and not finish. You can’t.
I finished. I spent the next morning on the garage floor with a chisel. Dead worms dry fast and stick hard, and — once you pry them off — they leave a mark. You’ve got to admire them, though. There’s something to be said for knowing where you want to be and not letting anything get in your way, come Gentle Brush brooms or high water. Tenacity and perseverance are bound to leave a mark. Of course they are.
It’s apple time again, and I’ve hauled in a sack or two of Honeycrisps already. Here’s a quick dessert that is well worth the peeling time. Throw it together before the kids come home, for a light dessert, for breakfast, even. Nothing baked with apples and oatmeal is ever a disappointment.
Simple Apple Crisp
2 cups sliced apples
3/4 cup sugar
2 T flour
1/4 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup shortening or butter
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
Freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
Mix apples, sugar and flour together and place in greased 9″ pan. Mix topping ingredients into crumbles and spread over apples. Bake in 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes.

It’s always a big question this time of year, about pumpkins, that is

Archived | September 23, 2010 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It’s been cooler and I’ve been outside doing outside things, but a bit impatient because there aren’t leaves to rake as the trees have just begun to turn and everything else is in its place. The wind has picked up and the skies are darkening, and my attention has turned to pumpkins and squash.
I wandered on over to the market on Saturday to see what I could find. It’s always a big question this time of year, about pumpkins, that is. When to buy. If you buy too early, and there’s a freeze, you run the risk of rotten pumpkins by Halloween. And if you wait too long, the pickings are slim and you’re in a rush for the carving. I usually get pumpkins a week or two before Halloween and there’s not a problem, but squash I get when they show up.
I won’t pretend I’m a squash expert. I don’t know much at all about squash in general, and even less about cooking them. I do know that acorn squash is best sliced in half and baked with butter and a good amount of brown sugar, and that a ripe butternut squash is hard to beat. I can assure you you won’t find a spaghetti squash in my kitchen; I made one once — baked up with a whole lot of butter and dripping with brown sugar and nutmeg — but the kids about tipped over. It just didn’t fly, and I’m not one to force an issue. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, big whoop. It’s not the end of the world. Between you and me, I don’t much like spaghetti squash myself, or squash in general. But the things are so dang colorful, and interesting in both shape and texture, how can a person resist? You pick one up and think, There are possibilities here. You think, Hmm. Smoked mozzarella, perhaps? A bit of Gouda? How about some caramelized onions strewn over this one, or some dried fruits simmered in raw sugar? Never give up, I say. There’s always more squash for the cooking if this one doesn’t cut it. Go ahead. Give it a whirl.
Really Fine Apple Pie
Apples abound at the grocery store, and I’ve been holding back these past few weeks. If you simply can’t contain yourself, here’s a basic pie recipe to get it going for the fall season.
3/4 cup cake flour
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 T sugar
1 T lard
4 T Crisco shortening
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 T lemon juice added to 5-7 T ice water
one stick plus 1/3 stick cold butter
10 apples (Granny Smiths and Cortlands), peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sugar
2 T butter
2 T brown sugar
1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
lemon juice
Flour or cornstarch for thickening
Preheat oven to 400°F, then reduce to 375°F after pie is in the oven.
Combine dry ingredients. Mix together Crisco and lard in metal bowl. Sprinkle with flour mixture. Chill in refrigerator for 15 minutes. Slice butter into 1/2 inch chunks and add to bowl. Work butter and shortenings together into flour with fingers or a pastry blender, leaving large chunks, the size of walnuts. The purpose is to coat the butter particles with flour, but not to allow the butter or shortenings to melt. Do not overwork the mixture.
Add the lemon juice to ice water and stir quickly into dry ingredients. Mix briefly, less than 45 seconds, leave large pockets of butter and shortening. If mixture is beginning to melt, refrigerate briefly. Gather mixture together into a flat disc, approximately one inch thick, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour or up to 2 days. Freeze if you want to reserve longer than 2 days.
For the filling, use a combination of different types of apples. The best combination consists of mostly Granny Smith apples and a few Cortlands. The Granny Smiths retain their shape when cooked and provide tartness and flavor while the Cortland apples cook down into applesauce.
Mix the nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon with the sugar. Sprinkle the sugar with a few drops of pure vanilla extract. Work the butter and 2 T flour or other thickener into the sugar. Slice the apples into thin wedges and place apples into pre-rolled out and fitted pie crust, packing apples in tightly, since they will cook down significantly. Mound apples higher in center. Sprinkle over the apples the juice of 1/2 lemon, then sprinkle the sugar-spice mixture evenly over the apples.
Roll out and place top crust, fluting edges to seal tightly, creating several vent holes to allow steam to escape. Brush top of crust with a mixture of one egg white and 1 T of water or with a little cream. Sprinkle with 1 tsp sugar. Bake about 45 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.

It’s a challenge, for us, yes, a kind of thrill, even

Archived | September 16, 2010 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It’s cooled off quite a lot these past few days and the skies have darkened. I’ve been outside cleaning up a bit, some leaves and litter and dead worms and such, and taking in potted plants and lawn chairs for the winter. I know that stretch of warm is still ahead, but I like the feeling of getting some it done now, and there are going to be more leaves, certainly, so no sense in leaving it all for later.
I’ve been out walking, too, along with everyone else on the planet, it seems. Along with the cooler air there have been a few afternoons of nearly-perfect weather where the sun is silvery- golden on the lakes and the trees have inclinations toward turning and hair stands up on bare skin without a person shivering. You take a sweatshirt along but end up not wearing it, and your skin and the air feel about the same temperature. It’s about my favorite time of year, now until sometime in February when it all goes downhill, but I don’t think about that part, which doesn’t last long at all. What does last is this lovely feeling of gathering and golden warmth, when people set up stands and sell from the harvest, and there’s still enough of summer in us for lingering on park benches and walking not once but twice around the lake.
This is what gets us through the winter, I thought as I walked earlier this week. This is where we go out and gather it all up and store it those long cold months of piled-up snow and blinding cold. This is why we can live here, because it’s not the same thing all the time. We move from green spring to hot summer to golden autumn and that’s how cool blue winter is not the demon everyone says it is. Of course it’s not. It’s a challenge, for us, yes, a kind of thrill, even. We move into it head-on with our pantries full of potatoes and squash and all manner of canned goods, and our drawers piled high with long johns and wool sweaters. We get ready. We stock up. We attend.
During my walk around the lake earlier this week, I received five — yes, five — winks: four from men, one from a woman; all had graying hair. Three were sitting on benches and two were passing by. I receive at least one every time I take a walk. I imagine those winks are substitutes for words. A silent wisdom, an affirmation. Something about having been there, and keeping on, and I’m doing something right, and though I’m not sure what that something is, I’ll just keep on doing what I do. It’s gotten me this far, and where I am ain’t bad. Not bad at all.
Amaretto Brownies
If you’re headed for a gathering where you wish to lighten things up a bit, this recipe may be just the thing. Double it, and you’ve got half a cup of amaretto in the mix, and are these bars ever something to behold. Can’t stop at just one.
1 stick butter
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
6 oz choc chips
1/2 cup flour
4 T amaretto
1/4 tsp salt
Melt butter and chocolate. Beat eggs until light. Beat in sugar until thick.
Add chocolate mixture, flour, and salt. Stir in vanilla and chips.
Bake in 8″ x 8″ greased pan at 375 degrees for 15 min. With fork poke hole in brownies.
Pour amaretto over. Cool. Frost with white frosting. Refrigerate.
Drizzle glaze over after a while.
White frosting:
1 stick butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 square unsweetened chocolate
1 T butter
To double, use a 9″ x 13″ cake pan, and double the brownie and glaze recipes.
(Make only 1 1/2 times the frosting recipe.)

Here’s to the bright side and to pencil sharpeners that work

Archived | September 9, 2010 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. The State Fair show is one of my favorites, and this one was right up there. I was able to hear it all despite the noise the kids were making as they ran back and forth between their rooms getting their stuff together for school. Which started Tuesday. And let’s all thank the Lord for that.
Not that I don’t want my kids around. But the summer was good and long, and the cool winds of autumn are blowing, and it’s time. Enough swimming, enough road trips to cabins and swimming and poison ivy and sand in the sheets. Enough sunscreen on the sliding glass door and watermelon rinds on the porch steps and flip flops piled up on the doormat. Enough bare foot prints on the hardwood floors and Popsicle sticks in the planters. Time for school and everything that comes with it.
So the bus pulled up just after 7:00 a.m., and the kids were ready to go, backpacks stuffed with notebooks and pencils and cell phones and snacks. They stood there, fidgeting a bit, on the corner across the way, waiting with more than a bit of apprehension for the day to commence. What can I tell them? They’re not at an age where “be kind to your neighbor” is always going to work. People can be cruel, and I know that, and so do they. What I do tell them is that most of the crap they’ll encounter isn’t about them; it’s about the other person, and that if they run into someone who doesn’t get who they are, who somehow misses, with a sensibility lacking in emotional sensitivity, the goodness in them, let it go. Takes all kinds to make a world, and not everyone is plugged in to healthful reality. There’s going to be name-calling and there’s going to be pain, in one form or another. It’s tempting to strike back and find names of your own to holler out. Rather, take the high road, have compassion, look for the best in others, and give them the benefit of the doubt. You have only so many days in a life, and each one ought to have in it, at some moment, a kind of clarity that you really are okay, you really are headed in the right direction, and you do have enough #2 pencils to get you through the day. Hard to find that moment when you let the bullies pull you down. Sure is, and here’s to the bright side, and to pencil sharpeners that work.
Mrs. Sundberg’s Spaghetti Pie
I must have made this pie a thousand times and have yet to hear a complaint. The more cheese, the better. Serve with a loaf of warm sourdough and a plate of steamed asparagus.
6-8 oz cooked spaghetti, cooled a bit
2 eggs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
Dash or two garlic salt.
1 T parsley
Mix together above ingredients.
Pour into lightly greased pie plate.
Press gently from center toward edges to form a “crust.”
Layer 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese over spaghetti.
Pour as much of a jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce over as will reasonably fit. I like Prego, myself, but make my own on occasion. You can add ground beef, more cheese, pepperoni, or anything else you wish. Mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, perhaps.
Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Serves 4.
To double, use 12-16 oz cooked spaghetti (more is a thicker base) and 2+ cups of cheese, etc. Bake in a greased 9 x 13 cake pan at 350 uncovered for 35-40 minutes.

A person ought to do a bit of reflecting

Archived | September 3, 2010 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It was a few nights before my
birthday, and after the show I sat there listening awhile, mixing up a batch of cookies, as my daughter played Pachelbel’s Canon in D on her violin. There’s not much more I can tell you except that there were clothes that needed folding and I was thinking not cake this year for my birthday but this dessert called “Drumstick Dessert” for which my daughter got the recipe from an aunt at a family gathering.
The days before your birthday, seems a person ought to do a bit of reflecting. But when I do my thoughts go not to what I’ve done well or right but back a number of years when I was looking up at my mother’s legs on her 23rd birthday. How tall she was, how fair her skin, and her voice a constant thrum in my chest.
More than four decades have passed since. A substantial number of years in all, and my legs don’t look half bad. I don’t know how to play the violin, but my daughter does, and she is refusing to play “Edelweiss” for me. Not that I need to hear it. I can sing it to myself, and I do.
What I do know is I am still looking for the perfect blueberry bread recipe.
And for my mother, whose legs have sustained only minor storm damage, and who is hard to find these days. I am still looking for the right words to say what I mean, but mostly I’m looking for school clothes for the kids who won’t stop growing, and for a place I can stand where the wind always blows. Good for the soul, wind is. No matter how old you are, or what it is you’re looking for.
Drumstick Dessert
We’re nearing the end of summer with school starting next week. A few more hot days left, though, so keep this one in mind for a cool after school snack.
5 cups Cocoa Krispies cereal
3/4 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup light corn syrup
Mix above ingredients. Pat into lightly greased 9 x 13 pan.
Spread 1/2 gallon of vanilla ice cream over mixture. Sprinkle with crushed dry roasted peanuts. Drizzle with chocolate syrup.
Cover with foil and freeze.