Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It had been a quiet day, quiet round the house and around town, where people have come down here and there with something making them tired, generally down, lacking gumption. It’s not the kind of thing where you sneeze, or feel feverish, or hack up anything. More a mood affecting the body, laying a person flat for a day or two with no appetite and not much attention to pay. A malaise, perhaps.
I don’t have it. But a number of people I care about do, and I think it’s sad that at such a beautiful turn of the season with fall starting last Friday and the cool winds and sun and all that there are those who aren’t able fully participate. My thought was to help out a bit so I loaded up a batch of homemade pumpkin cupcakes smothered with homemade cream cheese frosting and some hot chocolate mix to take on over to my neighbor Raylene who works harder than just about anyone I know.
Raylene is raising her grandson. She lost her daughter awhile back and she doesn’t talk about it much. It was cancer and her daughter went fast. Now Raylene is doing what mothers do, when she ought to be relaxing a bit and visiting grandchildren and canning and going on those bus tours to see the foliage and such.
The cupcakes didn’t cure her malaise, but they sure made her smile. “People just don’t bake things for me,” she said, as she licked the frosting off an entire cupcake. I watched her bite into it, watched her eyes close as she lay her mass of long auburn hair back against her pillow. “Now that is one humdinger of a cupcake,” she said. And it was. And so were the five I left at home, one for each of us. I just ate mine. Made me smile, too, all that frosting. Doesn’t take much some days, to bring on a smile.
Comfort food is on its way, and here’s something you can throw together between yard work and a shower.
Autumn Pork Chops
4 top loin pork chops
6 T teriyaki sauce
2 T molasses (or ketchup)
Marinade chops overnight in teriyaki and molasses.
Season with salt and pepper.
Grill over medium high, basting with teriyaki and molasses. Or brown in a skillet and place in a baking dish. Pour remaining marinade over, and bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or so, turning chops halfway through.
Serve with corn casserole, or a rice dish. Maybe some corn on the cob.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. First show of the season, the opener, and I got home just in time after picking up Mr. Sundberg at the airport. I’d planned a bit ahead and had his favorite dessert waiting for him on the counter, still nearly warm, and he was so happy about that. Apple Caramel Crisp, with a little extra cinnamon, and some vanilla ice cream on the side.
Mr. Sundberg is not what I’d call ebullient when it comes to sharing his innermost feelings, but he came close that evening as we sat listening to the show — saying over and over again how good that cake was, and how it was worth the long layover in Chicago and how good it felt to be home and how every time he smelled cinnamon he thought of me. “You’re my Spice Girl,” he said and I threw a pillow at him and he got up and chased me around the living room. (Which looks much different than it might have twenty years ago, but a chase is a chase.) And then he caught me because I let him and we hugged awhile, pressing our cheeks together, not saying much of anything.
Sometimes words don’t work so well. Sometimes they get old, or disappear, and then what do you do? I read a quote a while back, something Sophia Loren said about how cooking is an act of love, “a gift, a way of sharing with others the little secrets — “piccoli segreti” — that are simmering on the burners.” She’s got something there. “Here’s a dessert I made for you,” can change the course of someone’s day. It says “I love you,” yes, but it says other things, too, the little secrets. Like, “I have time for you” and “I know what your favorite things are” and “I want you to experience apple intoxication.” And so we busy ourselves in the kitchen, and drive to the airport and home again, and take out the garbage, and play chase. And press our cheeks together, and all that takes us from there to here. And back again.
Here’s the dessert that resulted in a broken lamp and a bump on my forehead because if a cabinet is open, I’ll find it with my head, especially during a game of chase, where Mr. Sundberg thinks he is the Grand Champion, and we’ll simply let him believe so. Try this dessert over the weekend, especially if it’s overcast and you’re planning orchard time. It’ll warm you right on up after apple-picking.
Apple Caramel Crisp
1 1/3 cup oats
2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup toasted almonds
1-2 tsp cinnamon
A pinch of salt
1 1/2 sticks butter, melted
6 green apples (peeled and sliced)
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 T cornstarch mixed with 2 T cold water
For the topping, combine the oats, flour, sugars, nuts, and salt. Stir until blended. Pour the melted butter over and mix with a fork. Chill until ready to use.
To make the filling, whisk together the sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water. Cook over medium heat without whisking until you see an amber colored syrup. Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the cream. Return to the heat and add the apples, cooking them until they’ve softened a bit. Add the cornstarch mixture and cook until thick. Pour into a square baking dish, and crumble the topping over the fruit filling. Bake at 400 for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. Serve warm with ice cream.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It was pretty warm outside and I spent much of the day cleaning up the yard, weeding and trimming and paring it all down for autumn, for fall, for my very favorite time of the year. Everything has a golden cast to it, and feels rich the way rich was meant to be: purples and brown and oranges and yellows and reds; scents of nutmeg and cinnamon and lovely thick sauces and dense, chewy breads; crisp air, pink cheeks, the sound of feet moving through dry leaves, geese honking in the evening sky.
The thing about this time of year is the reminder that things come and go. Nostalgia’s door is flung wide open, and Memory gives us a complimentary tour. It’s not a sad time, but thoughtful, and more lovely the walks in the woods. My best memories are of autumn days, rolling in the leaves with my brothers and our family dog, waking early on frosty Saturdays to go cut wood with my father in the F150 we named “Ruby”, long afternoons in the kitchen baking pies and cookies with my mother.
You can’t go back, for sure, so forward it is. We’re older now–all here but the dog–and our parents are now grandparents. The beauty of it is that the leaves are going to need raking, and we’re all craving apple pie. The pantry is full up with flour and nutmeg, and my brothers and I have our own children to haul out to the woods. It’s the Turning, the blessed Turning. And so it goes.
Now we’re cookin’. If you grew up where I did, the name of this dish alone will bring up a fine memory or two. My grandmother made it for us after orchard visits in September, and who can resist a mix of sausage, apples, and cabbage? Not this girl.
Red Cabbage and Kielbasa
1 medium red cabbage
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 T butter
1/2 cup dry red wine
salt and pepper
2 tart apples–peeled, cored, sliced
1 pound kielbasa or Polish sausage
Slice kielbasa in serving-size pieces. Brown lightly in a skillet and set aside. Shred red cabbage and scald with boiling water. Drain. Pour lemon juice over cabbage and melt butter over medium low heat in a Dutch oven or stock pot. Add red cabbage, seasonings, and apples. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Top with Polish sausage or kielbasa and cook for 15 minutes longer.
Serves about four.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I heard it all, the lovely sounds of the State Fair in the background, the crowds, the children giggling, and I could almost smell the deep fried delicacies I so long for this time of year — the sausages and cheeses and breads, donuts with fillings and glazes and sugars and nuts. Mmm. Comfort in its simplest form, apart from the human hug, which I have been craving since last Thursday, on which day sometime in the afternoon before the sun began to fall, I drove away from my daughter, the oldest, the first to fly, leaving her to her new home, her roommate, and four years of pure joy ahead.
I love quotes. I search for words, and stumble upon someone else’s thought — someone who hits the nail on the head — and I say, yes, oh yes. A woman named Elizabeth Stone nailed it when she said, “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
I am thinking there is always a kind of ache in the space left by a child flying away into her own life. I try to see it, rather, as a full-circle beautiful thing, the way beauty is flawed and everything is broken but it is the right way of things, and good, and healthful. It is as it should be. However, I will admit to stumbling through these past few days in a weird kind of longing for my little girl, and avoiding her bedroom because it is so quiet and all I can smell is her. I also hear echoes.
At the same time, I am so happy. Life is happening. I will have my Big Cry, and who knows when. There are two children here who miss their big sister, and I have them to hold and lift on up. There is homework to do, and string instruments to repair, and walks with Mr. Sundberg when he’s home for a stretch. I have a freezer full of salmon and halibut, and autumn is not long off. Neither is Fall Break, thank goodness, and the Homecoming. Onward then, toward the Next Thing.
Though it’s salmon and halibut I’ve a boatload of, there’s still some walleye from the summer’s fishing, and this recipe lends a nutty savoriness to a walleye fillet that’ll have you asking for one more small piece, if there’s any left.
Pecan Crusted Walleye
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp ground paprika
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 pinch salt
1 cup ground pecan meal
4 (4 ounce or so, each) walleye fillets
1 T butter
1 T vegetable oil
Beat the egg with the garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne, and salt until evenly mixed. Spread the pecan meal into a shallow dish. Dip the walleye fillets into the egg mixture, then press into the pecan flour.
Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place walleye fillets into the pan and cook until golden brown on both sides and the fish flakes easily with a fork, 3 to 4 minutes per side.