The most right thing

Archived | December 26, 2011 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It’s been a humdinger of a few days and I’m happy to say we made it through a number of holiday gatherings intact. I am tempted to use the word “gauntlet” but that implies something not positive and all in all it was a good time. The kids got some lovely gifts from their grandparents — money, books, slippers, hunting knives — and some really memorable gifts from Mr. Sundberg and myself: a letterman’s jacket, a unicycle, some fine leather boots. And flannel pajamas. And underwear.
We ate well. Ham and turkey, ham and turkey, ham and turkey. Lots of ham and turkey. I love ham. I really like turkey. And now I am craving fajitas. And hamburgers. And rice. Maybe a salad even. And a nap. Oh, yes, a nap. Because my mother gave me this lovely blanket — soft and ivory and plush and warm — and I need it to be wrapped around my body at some point as I drift away from the stress.
Because there is always a bit of stress in the joy of the season. It kind of culminated in a comment from Mr. Sundberg’s brother about how we always leave early, and nice how the car was parked in such a way (I backed into their driveway to ease up the unloading process) as to make a fast getaway. Well, it was easy to get out of the driveway. However, the whole wanting to leave early thing has been an issue over the years, and the truth of the matter is not that we want to get away from family, but rather go toward time alone. Together. In this beautiful season. Because Mr. Sundberg works hard, very hard, and I rarely see him, and it’s mighty difficult to sit staring at plates of food and making small talk and playing games when really all I want to do is snuggle up in his arms by the fire with the tree on and the kids tucked away. Feels selfish to me. But it’s true. It’s not about not enjoying relatives and such. I love all that. But I love even more being alone with the people I strangely don’t get enough of. I don’t think that’s wrong. In fact, I think it’s the most right thing.
Anyway, it’s not an argument. It’s simply a plug for intimacy, and for time at home, and for something like fajitas or even a frozen pizza. I wish all of that for Mr. Sundberg’s brother, and perhaps for someone with whom to share it all. And that would be my Christmas wish, for him and for all people who feel a bit lonely.
Here’s a recipe for fajita beef that’ll make you tip without a doubt. Cook it up tonight, and Enjoy!
Marinated Beef for Fajitas
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
the juice of 4 limes
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3-4 lb beef skirt steak, trimmed
Place ingredients in a sealed container. Marinate in the refrigerator from 20 mins to 8 hrs, turning regularly. Remove meat and place on heated broiler or grill. Cook to medium rare, slice thinly and serve with your favorite fresh fajita toppings like grilled onion, tomato and sautéed pepper. Add avocado if you’re an avocado person and roll in a warm tortilla.

That Christmas Spirit

Archived | December 19, 2011 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I sat and listened while I ate a slice of apple pie, remembering the sweet potato pie my neighbor Mrs. Roesler brought over about this time last year. It was the best pie, a bit lumpy and kind of spicy with a brown sugary edge just before the crust. She did it every year — baked a dozen of something and took it to all the neighbors just before Christmas. It was very thoughtful, really, all that work and then it disappeared.
But not really. She brought me a pie, but she also made me feel kind of special. It was so out of the blue. I was mixing up reindeer balls and there she was at the door, still wearing her apron and comfortable shoes, with a pie in her hand and a smile on her wrinkled face. She looked like an elf, or an ad for a bake fest. “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Sundberg, and a Happy New Year to you and to yours.” She handed me the pie and before I could speak she’d made her way down the steps and was halfway to her car. “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Roesler!” She didn’t look back, just raised her right hand and waved. She was on a mission.
She died on Christmas morning. They found her on the kitchen floor, sitting with her back up against the cupboards, her silver hair drawn up in a bun, her head turned to the left. She was wearing an apron and there was a wooden spoon in her hand, and she was smiling. They said she just died of natural causes, right there in her kitchen. There was sweet potato pie served at her funeral. She had no family, but everyone from the neighborhood was there, on New Year’s Day.
The small things one does in a day really are what make a life. I miss that woman. That Christmas Spirit. May heaven have a kitchen, and a drawer full of aprons just her size.
I have a favorite spritz recipe, but it’s nice to have a backup, something a little different. This cookie is remarkably light and flavorful.
Cream Cheesy Spritz
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. pure almond extract
1 T butterscotch schnapps
2-1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream together butter and cream cheese; add sugar.
Cream mixture until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk, beat well; stir in flavorings. On low speed, gradually add flour and salt.
Cookie dough will be soft and somewhat sticky; if too sticky, adjust by adding a tablespoon of flour at a time; if dough too stiff, add a tablespoon of milk at a time.
Fill cookie press and press cookies onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle with colored sugars or color dough with a few drops of food coloring to make festively colored cookies.
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Store in airtight container. Freeze if keeping for more than 2 weeks.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

A kind of hope

Archived | December 12, 2011 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was feeling pretty good after a day with family, a holiday gathering at my brother’s home to the north — all kinds of dips and ham and turkey and potatoes in a cream sauce and bars and cookies. Just about anything a person might want to eat. We did a few photos and laughed and talked and played Scrabble and just WERE together. A good ol’ time.
It wasn’t until sometime on Sunday that Whatever It Is that I have set in. It wasn’t the food or anything, and I haven’t been running myself into the ground. But I did catch a bug, a virus, a malaise, and Lord Almighty it flattened me good. I was functioning pretty well on Monday even, but Tuesday I had to lie down and I haven’t gotten up since except for a few bathroom visits and a number of trips to the kitchen for Alka-Seltzer Cold medicine, the orange fizzy pills, best thing for malaise since cod liver oil which I’ve yet to try and hopefully never will.
I don’t think I have to say how much I loathe being incapacitated. So I won’t. I will say the world is different when you are forced to retire to a couch for more than a day, and you notice things. I’ve noticed that there are cobwebs in the corners of the family room ceiling. I’ve noticed that the neighbors’ Christmas lights continue to flash in my head a good three minutes after I close my eyes. I’ve noticed that my body isn’t as young as it used to be and I have to gear up to roll over when my head is pounding and my body aches. And I’ve noticed that, amidst everything in our lives, there are only a few things we truly need. Water is one. Comfort is another. And to have our existence acknowledged and affirmed is pretty darn big.
I think the best moment of the past few days was when Mr. Sundberg came downstairs with a cool glass of water. He handed it to me, tucked my blanket in around my legs, and touched my forehead. It made me feel alive and I felt a kind of hope. (A bit different from the kind of alive I felt when the kids let the hamsters run over my blanket while I slept comfortably until one of them climbed up behind my ear.)
So here’s to cool water and forehead kisses and the hope of feeling good again.
Here’s a short one, a quick recipe for a holiday treat that everyone will love, and I like to think it’s a healthy one, too. Protein in those nuts, you know. And chocolate takes care of the rest.
Peanut Clusters
24 oz vanilla almond bark
12 oz milk chocolate
6 oz semi sweet chocolate
2 lb salted peanuts
Melt together and mix well.
Drop by spoonsful onto wax paper.

What matters really is the thought

Archived | December 5, 2011 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I spent Saturday doing house things and cleaning a bit and getting ready for Christmas. I’m so glad worm season is over, I have to say. Not that I don’t like worms but my goodness, after a while a person gets tired of scraping them up off the garage floor. They don’t do much but poop, which makes fertile soil and for which I am grateful, but I am glad to not have that smell around for a spell.
It’s cold out there but I’m not complaining. As I’ve said, it’s part of the whole deal of living here and warmth takes on a whole new meaning. If I WERE to complain about this season, I would put forth the issue of commercialism. My gosh. I was still wearing my vampire pastry maker costume when the Christmas bulbs went on the shelves, and why a person would wait in line for hours on Thanksgiving Day is beyond me.
And the list. I am a list person, and I love lists, but trying to get separate lists for the kids to people to avoid gift repetition is a bit of a pain in the backside. What happened to impulse, to spontaneity? I get it, of course, and I’ll play. People are busy and lists make it easier. But this year I’m going off the beaten trail with my own gift buying and finding things I stumble upon and purchasing in the spirit of serendipity and risk and fun. We’ll see how it goes. Got my mom something lovely yesterday, and who knows whether she’ll like it. I think she will. She likes red, and warmth, and, after all, clicheish as it may sound, what matters really IS the thought…
Comfort foods galore, and if you have leftover turkey in the freezer, pull it on out. I’d suggest using extra dough cut in seasonal shapes to decorate this pot pie, if you’ve extra time and feel like a bit of fun.
Turkey Pot Pie
6 T butter
6 T flour
2 cups turkey or chicken broth
1 cup milk or heavy cream
Salt, to taste
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 cups cubed cooked turkey or chicken
1 lb. frozen peas, carrots and onion mixture
Crust for a two-crust pie
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat with the garlic cloves. Whisk in the flour and cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally. Gradually stir in broth until absorbed. Add the milk slowly, stirring constantly so that lumps don’t form. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, uncovered, at a low simmer until the sauce has thickened, stirring occasionally. Cool for at least 30 minutes (may be made a day ahead).
Thaw the frozen peas, carrots and onions for 15 minutes. (Note: you can use 12 oz peas and carrots with 1 whole fresh onion, chopped).
Lightly butter a deep dish pie pan or shallow casserole. Line the bottom of the dish with one of the pie crusts. Add cooked cubed turkey and the vegetables. Pour in the gravy mixture. Cover with the upper pie crust and crimp the edges, if you wish.
Bake at 425 for about 40 minutes or until golden brown.