Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. All kinds of baking and cooking going on in the kitchen – apples pies, two of ’em, and apple crisp. Wild rice soup, too, with crumbled bacon, and some biscuits with cheddar cheese, and a pan of chicken enchiladas. One of those days when I couldn’t stop myself, and things haven’t slowed down since. I’ve got a stack of recipes on the counter just waiting for a stretch of hours, and the cupboards are stocked with spices and flour and sugars. Enough to keep me going awhile.
Can’t explain it, really. The change of seasons is my big guess, and more specifically, the wind that’s been blowing for a few days now. Something about wind has always had an effect on me, all good, and why try to explain it. What I do know is that when it picks up like it has, begins howling and swirling and carrying things with it from one yard to the next, when the trees bend and moan in the night and windows and cupboards rattle, I can’t help but put on a coat and go out there and stand in it and just feel it. Feels like something alive and breathing, something with purpose and intent, something wild. And when it blows so hard I lose my balance, when it takes my breath away, well, that’s my kind of windy day.
It’s pretty easy to settle into a comfortable swing of things, and what I like about a good windstorm is how it’s unreasonable and doesn’t have much regard for silly human things like the enormous potted flowers by the door, or the neatly stacked woodpile, or a person’s plans for the leaves. It’s random in its ways, and a good reminder that life isn’t all about order and perfection. Good hair days are rare for a reason, people. And don’t blame the wind if your stuff is all over. Maybe you have too much of it. Think of it as a breath of fresh air, Minnesota style. Get on out there and let Mother Nature give you a great big hug. The wind won’t be here long, and while it is, give it a chance to lift you up and move you around a bit. Maybe you’ll get it in you to cook up a pot of stew, and tear down, once and for all, that fence you keep putting back up. Maybe you’ll dance a while. Maybe you’ll just stand there and feel something wild and breathtaking for the first time in a good long while.
If you don’t have a crock pot, go next door and borrow one. This is one comfort food you don’t want to not make this fall. In fact, a crock pot full of baked apples would make a fine gift for someone you love.
2 T golden raisins
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 tsp lemon zest
6 small to medium baking apples, washed and cored
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 T butter
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup water
Mix together in a small bowl the raisins, sugar and lemon zest. Fill the core of each apple with the raisins and sugar.
Place the apples in a crock pot or slow cooker and sprinkle with the cinnamon and dot with butter. Pour the orange juice and water over the apples. Cover and cook on high for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours or on low for 7 to 9 hours.
Remove the apples from the sauce and place in individual bowls. Top with the remaining sauce.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I’m having a hard time focusing on what I’m supposed to be doing because it’s just so dang beautiful outside. It’s the tail end of the colorful time, and there are few things more pleasurable than walking through leaves on an autumn afternoon. The cool musky scent of the fields, the tang of fresh apples, the smoky orange of pumpkin piles, the light wind on the skin, the darkening skies to the west, the sound of children playing in the yard a few houses down.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what I’m supposed to be doing. Not like the laundry and such, and cooking and getting the kids going and so on, but purpose-wise. The Big What I’m Supposed To Be Doing. The Meaning of My Life kind of thing. Big picture thinking.
Never one for lofty vision-type thoughts or grand horizon plans or such, I’m not thinking I’m on a world-changing path. Leave that to Mr. Gates and his wife and the great humanitarians and thinkers and philanthropic livers of life and heroes and scientists, who are doing just fine. John Wesley, the great Methodist, said once to simply, “Do all the good you can.” I can aspire to that, but I’m only human and don’t always use the best judgment. I remember being told I was the naughtiest girl in third grade. I’ve been incarcerated for being disrespectful to a police officer. I’ve coveted gardens and stolen my share of tomatoes, and a few times I’ve even wished things would fall on Mr. Sundberg so he’d stop talking.
I read somewhere that you’ll find your purpose at the crossroads where the needs of the world and what you can offer meet up. Seems to me the world needs just about everything, so I ought to be able to come up with something. Maybe a little bit every day will add up to a life of purpose. Today we’ll start with a pie for my neighbor. Pumpkin, I think, with a bit of nutmeg and clove. I’ll see about tomorrow when tomorrow comes. Focus on today, Mrs. Sundberg. Pie.
Fried Apple Pielets
I’ve always enjoyed things fried, and deep fried pie has got to be one of the great inventions of the modern kitchen. Try this one on your dearest friends, and you’re sure to be the talk of the bridge game. Or the book club. Wherever your friends may be.
2 cups flour
1/2 cup shortening
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold water
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup vegetable oil
Peel and dice apples. Add sugar and cinnamon. Cook in a saucepan on low heat until soft, then mash with fork to form a thick sauce.
Sift flour and salt together. Cut in the shortening. Add water and mix with fork. Roll out on a floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut with a large cookie cutter (4 inches in diameter). In each round, place 1 heaping T fruit. Moisten edges with cold water, fold and press edge with a fork.
Heat oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Fry pies, a few at a time, 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden brown, Drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.
Makes 8 small pies.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It had been one of those days outside where I mowed and raked and weeded and pruned and the kids helped out here and there stuffing leaves into plastic bags and hauling brush and whatnot. One of those days, those lovely gathering it up and putting it in its place days where the day slides into dusk and your skin crackles in the gold of the setting sun and you feel as if you’ve done something to care for your small corner of the world.
The world has so many corners. The kids are heading off to a far away one later this week, down in South America, a nine-day field trip of sorts for their Spanish class. They’re going to do some work at a mission, and visit Lake Atitlan and tour a castle and so on. I’m a bit nervous about the whole thing because they’re my kids, for God’s sake. They’re traveling to another part of the planet and I am feeling that feeling mothers feel when they let go of their kids and let the world take over. Which is how it is supposed to be. I know this, mind you. It’s my job. Equip them to live without me and then send ’em packing.
I envy them a bit. They get to go to a foreign land, meet new people, experience a culture and days and nights different from here. They are going to think and feel and see and hear things that will, ultimately, change them. And the food. My gosh, they’ll eat amazing things and hear stories told by the people who prepare their food and they’ll fall asleep at night with “far away” meaning something new and come home with more to share than they’ll have words for, and won’t that be something.
Yes. They’ll come home, back to this corner, our corner, small as it is, and familiar, to shower and rest and repack for the next adventure. They’re coming along faster now, the goings-away.
And the returns? Sweeter than ever. So sweet.
Chocolate Truffle Cookies
Another batch of cookies is never a bad thing. Here’s one for the chocolate lover, and make sure you save some for yourself.
4 squares (1 oz each) unsweetened chocolate
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour
2 T baking cocoa
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Melt unsweetened chocolate, 1 cup chocolate chips, and butter. Cool. Beat sugar and eggs for
2 minutes in mixing bowl. Beat in vanilla and the chocolate mixture. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Beat into chocolate mixture. Stir in remaining chocolate chips.
Cover and chill about 3 hours. With lightly floured hands, roll into 1 inch balls and bake on ungreased sheets at 350 for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly puffed. Cool and dust with confectioner’s sugar.
Makes 4 dozen cookies.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It was a lovely autumn day, and I listened from the porch. The leaves are turning, and change is in the air. It’s a bit of a challenge for some of my neighbors, to be sure. There are people in the world who would be perfectly fine if things simply stayed as they are for now and evermore, and isn’t that a tragic thought? I mean, really. A man named W. Edwards Deming said something about change not being necessary, that survival isn’t mandatory. Of course it isn’t comfortable, but nothing really worth your time IS entirely comfortable. Think about it. Childbirth, hard work, growing up, healthy conflict. That’s why we have hot baths, hot dish, hugs and naps. We seek comfort when the routine changes.
The colors are amazing right now, and I’m hungry for things I hadn’t even thought of a month ago. Meat, for one. I’m hungry for roast and ribs and anything that can fit in the crock pot. Which I got out of the pantry over the weekend. It’s all cleaned up and ready to fill with pork chops and gravy and caramelized onions and potatoes. Hungry for beans and breads and porridge and pastry, for pumpkin and squash and nutmeg and sage. Hungry for stuffings and glazes and toppings and crusts. Get out the casseroles, bring on the feast. I’m thinking dumplings for the weekend and a recipe for pasties I’ve never made, and who knows what else.
When I was a kid, I remember well the change from summer to autumn, and coming home to banana bread still warm on the counter and hot chocolate just before bed. I remember pheasant in a cream sauce in the crock pot on Saturdays, and venison jerky in the oven, and the yeasty-sweet smell of cinnamon rolls on Sunday afternoons. Pumpkin pie and a chicken rice dish with rosemary and celery salt and thyme, and the amazing array of canned cream soups in the pantry. Roast beef that melted in your mouth, buttered carrots and mounds of potatoes mashed with garlic and sour cream and salt. Sauerkraut and sausage and rye bread and a homemade cake frosted with coconut and brown sugar and butter lightly broiled. Oatmeal cookies flavored with orange, and a “How was your day?” Comfort enough for any kid, or adult, for that matter, on a day when October winds blow cold, and leaves swirl, and skies darken toward November, and inevitable winter.
Italian Sausage and Bean Casserole
Here’s a recipe with “comfort” written all over it. I’d bake a squash alongside, and some apple crisp to follow.
12 slices white sandwich bread
2 lbs smoked Polish or Italian sausage, halved lengthwise, cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
2 large onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 can (14 1/2-ounce) chicken broth
1 cup dry red wine
1 tsp thyme
4 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) Great Northern or cannelloni beans, rinsed and drained
In a food processor, pulse bread until large crumbs form (about 6 cups); season with salt and pepper. Set aside. (Or bash ’em up in a baggie or however you do it.)
Cook sausage, onions, and garlic in a 6-quart heavy-bottom saucepan, stirring occasionally, until onions are clear and sausage is starting to brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
Add tomato paste, broth, wine, thyme, and 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer; add beans. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened but still soupy, about 10 minutes. Stir in 2 cups of the breadcrumbs. Divide sausage mixture between two 3-quart shallow baking dishes or eight 10-ounce ramekins. Top with remaining breadcrumbs.
Bake, on a baking sheet, until topping is golden, about 30 minutes at 375.
Cook’s note: You can always throw some cheese in there if you’re so inclined.