A gentle spirit and good soul

Archived | October 31, 2011 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I spent much of the weekend mowing my yard with the bag attached. Which felt much like vacuuming as most of the leaves got bagged, too, and I filled a large number of the industrial-sized ones, which now rest in my garage. A big job, and something I might complain about were I so inclined. And then there’s the whole Halloween shebang, which is a small job in itself if one goes all-out, which I aspire to, but never really do. A lit pumpkin and a big ol’ bowl of candy (chocolate bars, of course) and a few window clings and scary books is about the extent of the celebration at this house. I don’t have a costume, though. Only some silly round and black-framed glasses which are pretty hilarious in themselves, and a big ol’ fuzzy blonde wig. I’ll drag the fire pit to the driveway and sit out there and smile and have a nice time greeting the neighbor kids.
My heart isn’t in it, though. The news arrived this morning, and there’s a silence in the world that wasn’t there before. It’ll blend in with the other silences, and be there among the din of ordinary life, but if you’ll listen for it, you’ll always hear it: the silence that Mr. Tom Keith, the sound effects man for the show, leaves behind. He passed away only a short stretch of hours ago, and I was so sad to hear.
He was 64 years old, and worked with Mr. Keillor since 1976. I did not know Mr. Keith personally, but I have met him, and what a gentle spirit and good soul. He made me laugh, made so many people laugh, and what a gift to the world to bring such a thing. And now he is gone, and I’ve lit a candle for him, and for the sweetness of laughter.
Here’s a lovely recipe shared by my best friend Angela, who got it from Dorie Greenspan, who got it from her friend Catherine in France, whose husband has a farm just outside of Lyon and pumpkin is one of his crops. That’s how recipes get where they’re going; you pass them on to the world.
1 pumpkin, about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
4 ounces stale bread, sliced thin and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
4 ounces cheese, such as Gruyere, Swiss, Blue, Cheddar or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2-4 cloves garlic (to taste), peeled, germ removed and coarsely chopped
About 1/3 cup heavy cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350. Either line a baking sheet with parchment or foil. For a larger pumpkin, use a Dutch oven, as the pumpkin may collapse a bit. Using a sturdy knife, cut a nice-sized cap off the top of the pumpkin. Clear away any seeds and strings from the cap and set aside while you scoop the seeds and filaments from inside the pumpkin. Save the seeds for roasting if you like. Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper and put it on the sheet or in the casserole.
I prefer to toss the bread, cheese and garlic together in a bowl, then pack it into the pumpkin, but you can alternate layers of bread and cheese and scatter the garlic. Either way, fill it well. You might have a little too much filling or you might need to add to it — it’s hard to be precise. Season the cream with salt, pepper and several gratings of fresh nutmeg and pour the cream into the pumpkin, enough to moisten the filling.
Put the cap back in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours — check after an hour — or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbly and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced with a knife. Remove the cap during the last 20 minutes or so of baking so that the top could brown. Cut the pumpkin into wedges, and serve it with some of the stuffing, or leave the pumpkin whole and use a big spoon to scoop out pumpkin and filling. You could even scrape the pumpkin into the filling and mix it all up.
Next time, try adding bacon or ham, or herbs (a little thyme might be nice) or pine nuts, or pecans. Makes 2 generous or 4 smaller servings

Don’t want to miss no more

Archived | October 24, 2011 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I’ve been enjoying watching summer sink into autumn, and autumn turn and nod toward winter. And now I am doing all of those lovely things that mark the shift in seasons. Over the weekend I hung white lights on the fence and pulled up the rest of the dead plants outside. I cleaned the kitchen cupboards and made molasses creams and swept the garage and considered Halloween costumes for the kids.
And I did some cooking. Mr. Sundberg has been away giving a talk titled “Intuitive Living” to a few groups up on the North Shore so I invited Angela to visit Sunday for an afternoon of food and conversation, and did we have a time. The kids were around, working on projects for school and commenting on the meal of pure comfort we were preparing: a whole roasted chicken (which I, in truth, have never before prepared — strange fluke — and which Angela took it upon herself to show me) and creamed corn casserole and caramelized carrots and blueberry muffins and the most wonderful baked pumpkin for which Angela brought the recipe and the enthusiasm.
It took two hours to bake. The kids thought it was a joke, some kind of Halloween trick, something that might explode if left alone on the table too long. It was a pie pumpkin, mid-sized, cleared of pulp and seeds and stuffed with bread and cheese and cream and butter and a few spices. Baked until soft, the insides scraped and mixed in with the filling, steaming hot and about the most mouth-watering pile of pumpkin goo you’ll ever encounter. It was gloriously delicious, and needed salt, and we, all of us, ate until we sat back with blurred vision and declared we could eat no more.
It’s good this golden time of year to sit back now and then and indulge oneself. Doesn’t have to be a stuffed pumpkin. Could be a good book or a hot bath. You don’t take a moment now and then, you’ll miss out. True as blue, and trust me, I know. I’ve missed my share of waltzes and boat rides. Don’t want to miss no more.
I never make this recipe in the summer time; it’s an autumn pancake, sometimes winter, and it’s perfect with sausage and orange juice on a rainy fall day.
Baked Apple Pancake
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 T sugar
2 cups white flour, sifted
3 tart apples–peeled, cored and sliced
3 T butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp cinnamon
1 container cream
Beat the eggs until thick; add the milk, salt, and sugar. Sift in the flour, mixing it well. Let batter stand for half an hour. Meanwhile, prepare the apples and cinnamon sugar (1/2 cup sugar mixed with 3 tsp cinnamon) Butter well two 8- or 9- inch round cake pans and sprinkle with part of the cinnamon sugar. Arrange the sliced apples in the pans and sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar and dot with butter. Pour the pancake batter over the apples, dividing it evenly between the pans. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and set. Cut into wedges and serve plain or with cream poured over each serving. Makes 2 pancakes.

Just the kind of day for hard work

Archived | October 17, 2011 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I’ll confess I was something of a nut case this weekend. I somehow got it in my head to wash ALL of the windows and screens in the house. An admirable aspiration, and easy to say. My gosh. After three hours, the kitchen and dining room windows were sparkling. That left four bedrooms and the basement (7 large windows and one sliding glass door).
I did get it done, sometime in the fading light of Monday, and realized as I poured a glass of Riesling, that there was still the giant window above the front door. And the two nasty bug-poop-splattered, cobwebby windows in the garage. So much for exhilaration.
The thing is, after all those hours, I have a lot more clarity. I was able — in the mindless (or mindful) motions of spray, wipe, spray, wipe — to give thought to things I normally push aside on an ordinary day: how I really want a hammock and I’m going to find one, how fast the kids are becoming who they are, how I crave protein lately and what’s the best remedy for that. A good steak, I’m thinkin’. It’s been awhile. And nuts. Salted or candied or just plain nuts.
As for the remaining three windows, I’ll do those three on Friday. It’s looking like a sunny day, but cool. Just the kind of day for hard work, for good thoughts, for clarity.
A batch of these nuts will fill a bowl several times over, and who can resist? They’re healthful, and they taste good. Works for me.
Candied Walnuts
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups walnut halves or large pieces
Boil sugar, salt, honey and water, stirring often to 242 degrees F on a candy thermometer (soft ball stage). Remove from heat; add vanilla and walnuts. Stir until creamy. Turn out onto waxed paper; separate walnuts with forks.
If you’re looking for a snack a bit more quickly, give this one a whirl:
Place 1 cup walnuts and 1/2 cup sugar in a skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves into a light brown liquid and coats the walnuts. Remove walnuts from skillet, and spread them out on a sheet of aluminum foil to cool.

Nice to have a place

Archived | October 10, 2011 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I listened on the radio as I drove home from one of the longer road trips I’ve taken in a while. Mr. Sundberg took the kids out for a morning at the orchard with the corn maze and an afternoon of pie baking (he’s decided apple pie is going to be his thing for this part of his life) and I thought I’d take a drive to see leaves and pick up some pumpkins and some bulk cinnamon at a little place up north.
It was the day. It must have been. The warm wind, the sun, the music, all those gorgeous leaves. I found myself at Betty’s Pies just past Two Harbors, and figured I may as well keep going. Why not? And I did. I’m serious. Several hours later, there I was crossing the border into Canada (I keep my passport in the car for such occasions) and I kept on going. All the way into the Municipality of Neebing, past a number of quaint little churches, to AJ’s — a tiny little café and bakery about 30 minutes into Canada. I went in to get something to drink and there were two lovely older women having coffee who said I could ask them anything. I can’t tell you their names, but they were warm as could be, I sat and had a cup, and we exchanged the short version of our stories.
They told me Thunder Bay was only 25 minutes or so, and so there I drove, and had a delicious meal of Greek gyros and souvlaki while looking out into a city I’ve never before visited. I contemplated as I ate driving another stretch to Toronto, to visit James, my son, the artist, who has now opened a pastry shop with his partner, but thought, no. Another day. This day was for me, for an adventure, for quiet, and what would Mr. Sundberg think?
The drive home was over six hours, and that made one glorious day. I called ahead to warn I’d be home late, and I was, and when I got there, waiting on the counter was a pie. An apple pie, with a note reading, “We missed you. Have some.” And I did.
It’s good to get away. It’s good to see things. It’s good to explore, and be a little bit unconventional. Better yet, though, is the return. To home and snoring and the creaking of the porch swing in the moonlight. To pie, still warm, waiting there. Wish I could share it with those border patrol people. They sure were a professional bunch, but friendly. I feel safer now, having met them. And having found my house again, hidden away on this big ol’ planet. Nice to have a place. Sure is.
Here’s the recipe I’m making this week, the week when the temperatures leave the 80s and head for the 60s and the weekend’s pie is all gone.
Almond Apple Tart
1 sheet frozen pie crust
1/2 cup almond paste (5 ounces)
1 large egg
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
5 cups apples, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons apricot preserves, heated
Preheat oven to 425 F. Coat a baking sheet with non-stick spray.
Press dough out into rectangle on baking sheet and prick with a fork to prevent bubbling.
Bake until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes; remove from oven.
Meanwhile, in food processor or blender, combine almond paste, egg, flour and sugar. Process until smooth, and fold in 2 cups apples. Spread mixture over dough. Layer top with remaining sliced apples. Brush with apricot preserves; broil about a minute until apples begin to wilt. Cut into squares and serve.

I see the woman winning

Archived | October 3, 2011 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Beautiful day, it was, and I’ve started up with the tasks assigned to closing down a season. Still have windows to wash, but I pulled up a bunch of dead things in the yard and mowed and trimmed and things are looking pretty good. I asked the kids to help, and they did, somewhat reluctantly. So much to do when you’re young, and who wants to rake the yard, really. I mean, come ON.
We’ve been fortunate, Mr. Sundberg and I, to have had few glitches along the way as childrearing people. Our biggest challenge has been that tumultuous transition from childhood to adolescence for each of them. Adolescence itself putting on its boxing gloves. With the first it took awhile, and there were a number of harsh words and doors slamming. Mr. Sundberg took the brunt of that one. And the next was shorter, and more about stress and anxiety than anything, and we all got through. We’re in the midst of number three about now, and I seem to be the one responsible for much of the crap in the world.
I’m not complaining, and I’m no victim for sure, but it’s a rough thing to love so deeply a person to whom you want to give the world, and you’re regarded similarly to how one might look at a wheelbarrow full of warm cow dung. She longs to hold on to the child she was, and I see in her the woman she will be, and the two are duking it out. I happen to be the one in the ring with the whistle, and I see the woman winning. Of course she is. As it should be. I’m rooting for her, even. The rough part comes from having cheered on that child for so many years. But what my daughter doesn’t understand and I do, is that the child will survive inside the woman, and she’ll find there one day. It’s inevitable.
Until things smooth a bit, I’ll put my energies into cleaning windows, and helping with homework, and cooking good food with lots of protein and starch and a good measure of fat for the fight. Comfort food, they call it. And it most certainly is. For every one at the table.
If you haven’t been to the orchard yet, get there. And when you’re home again with apples all over the kitchen, this recipe will take only 6 cups of them, sliced. Makes a good peace offering.
Apple Pudding Cake
1 cup chopped pecans
2/3 cup shortening
1-1/3 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups flour
6 cups peeled & chopped apples
Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease a 9 x 13 pan. In a frying pan over medium low heat, toast the pecans until they begin to color and become fragrant, 7 minutes or so. Pour into a dish and set aside. Cream together the shortening and sugar, and add eggs one at a time and beat well. Add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and beat into the sugar mixture. Fold in the apples and nuts. The mixture will be stiff. Spread into the prepared pan, and set aside.
Sauce Mixture
1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 T flour
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup water
1 cup heavy whipping cream (optional)
In a medium saucepan, stir together the brown sugar and flour. Add butter, vanilla, and water. Bring to a boil while stirring occasionally, and boil gently for 3 minutes, stirring often. Pour this hot sauce evenly over the batter. Do not stir. Bake 1 hour. Serve warm, with whipped cream if desired.