No reason to stock up for the duration

Archived | January 30, 2012 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It’s been a lot on the spirit with this lack of snow and warm weather. I saw kids playing catch today. Sweatshirts, no jackets, and throwing a football on grass. Forty degrees and sun, and yes, lovely, but come on. We haven’t had the deep freeze yet, or the blizzard. No driving winds, no threat of wind chill, no battening down the hatches. No reason to stock up for the duration.
So we’re doing what we need to do. No weather issues to keep me from my endodontic visit on Wednesday, so I’ll be having a root canal midmorning and won’t that be fun. There are few life experiences I would avoid were I able to choose, the root canal would be one. Had ’em before, will have ’em again.
The nice part about those crappy painful life events is the aftermath. Hopefully there is someone tuned in to the enormity of your discomfort, someone who will make sure you are warm and bring you a pillow and a bowl of soup once the numbness dissipates and you are able to eat without drooling it all over your chest. And then, as the day progresses, you might need a movie, or another blanket, or some more painkillers so you can resume your mild stupor.
I allow myself (except for the three childbirths) one solid day of misery and self-pity related to tooth or minor body procedures which require recovery time. After that, it’s the routine. This time around, though, I may hole up for two days. I’ll pretend it’s a blizzard, my own mini-version, and I can’t go anywhere, or get off the couch, even, because I might get frostbite or the chilblains, and who wants that on top of a root canal?
Here’s what I’m whipping up for the kids so they have something wonderful to eat after school this week while I’m drinking blended chili through a straw up my nose. (Kidding. It’ll be yogurt with a spoon.) Anyway, this one is a sure thing.
Grapefruit Pound Cake
2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 2/3 c granulated sugar
6 T butter, softened
6 oz light cream cheese
2 large eggs
1/4 c canola oil
2 T grated grapefruit rind
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c 2% milk
1/2 c fresh grapefruit juice
1 1/4 c powdered sugar
Combine flour, baking powder & 1/2 tsp salt, stirring well. Set aside. In large bowl, beat granulated sugar, butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat in oil, rind and vanilla. Add flour mixture and milk alternately to batter, beginning and ending with flour. Spoon batter into 10″ tube pan coated with baking spray and dusted with flour. Bake at 325 for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool in pan on wire rack 10 minutes. Invert cake and cool on rack.
Place juice in a saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to boil. Cook until reduced to 3 T (about 4 min). Cool slightly. Stir in powdered sugar and a dash of salt (add scant amount of milk if needed). Drizzle over cake. Serves 16.

What better way to spend an evening

Archived | January 23, 2012 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. There was a light coating of snow outside and more to come, which it did, on Sunday, and I was cooking up my own storm. Bean soup, cornbread, cherry cobbler. It must be something primitive in us to go to town in the kitchen when the weather takes a turn for the colder.
There’s something else, too, about cooking. Other than whatever survival issues we have going deep in our subconscious. Cooking and baking, especially, make me feel both productive and calm at the same time. Not many things are like that in my world. Either it’s productive and a bit stressful, or calm without much getting done. I’m not one of those enviable people who seems to have a steel cable of calm running through the spirit.
I love to cook alone, but I must say I wish Mr. Sundberg were around more because cooking with someone you love is about as good as it gets. There’s the bumping into each other, and one person is making bread and the other is sautéing shrimp and there’s wine and conversation and tasting and nodding. It’s like a dance, cooking together. And then there’s the meal, a table with candlelight and two plates and napkins and delicious food made together and shared. Oh, my.
Cooking with the kids is another story. There’s a patience required, but a tenderness that rises up during the mixing and snitching cookie dough and banter about school. It’s a way of loving, I think, to make food together, different from the solitary art of doing it alone. Get out the cookbook, I say. Call the children and make a feast. A giant salad or roast chicken or soup. And Valentine’s Day is not long off. What better way to spend an evening than searing scallops and shredding lettuce and tasting the pasta dish…together. Dessert is up to you. I say a flourless chocolate cake, perhaps. Or something with cherries and cream cheese. Or a Pink Lady apple, cored and split on a plate, with a truffle from that little place in town. You know the one.
Here’s a sweet treat for your sweetie. Make this one on your own, and it’ll be a welcome surprise after a day at work or an afternoon cutting wood.
Cherry Chip Cheesecake Bars
1 pkg cherry chip cake mix
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 8 oz pkg cream cheese, softened
1 tub cherry frosting
3 eggs
Preheat oven to 325. Mix cake mix and butter until crumbly. Reserve one cup. Press remaining mixture in an ungreased 9×13 cake pan. In same bowl, beat cream cheese and frosting until smooth. Add eggs and beat until blended. Pour over crust; sprinkle with reserved crumbly mixture. Bake 45 minutes or so until set. Cool, cover, and refrigerate at least 2 hours until chilled. Store in fridge.

Full of questions

Archived | January 16, 2012 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I had to take a time out from talking with the kids, who seem full of questions these days, adolescence and all. My gosh. I get phone calls about what class to take, what major to pursue, how to combat loneliness, and when am I coming to pick her up. And at home, how do you know you’re in love? Why do teachers give so much homework — don’t they know we’re overwhelmed? Who won the Vietnam war? What makes you happy? Do you think teaching abstinence is right?
Well. I certainly don’t have all the answers. I’m not sure I have any answers. I have my own experience, and my own bank of knowledge, and my own ideas, and my own parents to call when I have questions. Which I do. Often.
It was the abstinence question we spent such time on Saturday afternoon. My goodness. These are my children, and they were asking about SEX, and my responses require careful thought. There’s always the textbook route, but really, in the big scheme of things, what matters really is how we love, and you can’t point to a textbook for that. So I gave my own thoughts about how abstinence is a fine aspiration for some, and unrealistic for others, and that sex isn’t like a pan of bars you share with everyone you meet. I told them there’s a lot to be said for being conscientious and safe and respectful and humble, and sex isn’t a destination but a journey and they must be responsible and mindful because it’s like giving away a tiny piece of who you are. They looked at me and nodded as if they understood, and maybe they do, or maybe twenty years from now, I’ll get a phone call where they share that they get it. Who knows.
I did say, as they got fidgety, that sex is a wonderful thing, glorious, even, and when you love someone the logistical issues and questions and awkwardness fall away and it feels good to touch each other and hold each other close as can be, because touch is good and love is good and creatures who go untouched fail to thrive. And then I gave them each a backrub and told them to hit the sack and when they did I poured myself the last of the Irish cream in the fridge and put my feet up and dialed Mr. Sundberg’s number as he’s in Arizona for the week giving a talk called “Why We Do What We Do.” “Got a question for ya,” I said, when he answered. “How was your day?” And he replied, and I listened.
This is a family recipe, delicious, and on the table every Christmas. Serve it with everything, including potatoes and salad and bread, and don’t underestimate the power of gravy.
Sauerbraten Pot Roast
Top round roast, 1/2 lb per person
Saute 2 cups of sliced yellow onions til light brown.
Add 1 pint of cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 T whole cloves
1 T allspice
1 T salt
3 small hot peppers or drop of Tabasco sauce
2 bay leaves
1 quart water
Two-three days before serving, prick the top of the roast on all sides with fork and place in re-sealable plastic bag. Pour cooled marinade over meat, close bag and turn over once a day. Store in refrigerator.
When ready to cook, bring marinated beef to room temperature, about 2 hours.
Remove beef from marinade and pat dry. Strain marinade, reserving the liquid and onions.
Preheat oven to 325. In heated oiled heavy pan, brown all sides, about 5 minutes each side.
Place beef in oven pan, adding marinade to 1/2 way up the meat. Cover pan and braise in oven, turning every 30 minutes, for about 3 hours to get it very tender.
Reduce braising liquid by half about 30 minutes before roast is done; add 1/4 cup red wine and lemon juice to taste.
Carve roast against the grain into slices that are about 3/4 inch thick.
Arrange slices on serving platter. Add raisins and raw almonds to marinade for gravy before serving.

So hard to grow up

Archived | January 9, 2012 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I’m tempted to say we were out sunning ourselves in the heat but some things just aren’t all that funny. Not when you live in a place known for wind chills and snowdrifts and plain old cold and there’s nothing but yellowed grass in the yard and a warm breeze blowing in. Just not all that funny.
Like the whole hamster ordeal this week. My youngest asked, through tears, if I would please gently end her hamster’s life as the tiny thing was clearly suffering — a number of growths, hair loss, open wounds, etc. Enough detail. Someone had to do something, and I agreed. I think I spent about an hour researching how I might accomplish the task in the most kind and painless manner, and after a small argument about car exhaust (didn’t go that route) it was decided and she went off to school in tears and I set about fulfilling her request.
Rodent or not, pets are pets and such decisions are painful. Carrying them out is a whole other ball game. My gosh. When I became a mother, no one mentioned I’d have to put hamsters out of their misery. I pride myself on exterminating any mice that show up in the house, so you’d think I’d have no trouble. The problem was the interaction. I picked up the hamster, and our eyes met. So much for detachment.
For all practical purposes, the hamster went to sleep and its tiny life slipped away, out of its ragged body. I gently wrapped the cold animal in Kleenex and sprinkled her with cloves and nutmeg and put her in a small cardboard box with some evergreen needles and poinsettia leaves. When my daughter came home, I handed the box to her and she went out into the garage and wept awhile.
The funny version of this story — and there is one — I will save awhile. One of those things where laughter might require time passing, and a bit of healing in my daughter’s heart. So hard to grow up.
The weather person just said that snow is on its way, later today. I’m just so happy about this. Was simply a matter of time. Like most things.
Nothing like a thick, savory soup full of beans on a cold winter day. Here’s the soup recipe. Now we just need a genuinely cold day and we’re good to go.
Great Northern Bean Soup
1 1/2 lbs chicken, cooked and chopped or shredded
2 24 oz jars Great Northern Beans (or 2-3 16 oz cans of navy beans)
1 can creamed corn
1 1/2 T chili powder
1 T cumin
1 can Rotel chopped chilis and tomatoes
8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, cubed and added at the end
Cook for 2-3 hours on high in a crock pot. Serve with cornbread and a salad.

A Postcard from Mrs. Sundberg’s

Archived | January 2, 2012 | By

Well, I don’t have a lot of time at the moment but I wanted to share with you that Mr. Sundberg and I are hidden away at a lodge in far northern Minnesota, a place I discovered on my recent road trip to Canada. Mr. Sundberg is out snowshoeing (he fell twice trying to get them on and there’s not much snow so he’s a bit on the crabby side) and I have a short while to relax and take in the lovely view of Lake Superior. I wanted to share the word I chose for the year, and it is “revival.” I’ve decided I need to attend to some things that I’ve let fall to the side in my life, and return to others that I’ve left behind. Friendships, embroidery, and giving backrubs. (I’m hoping Mr. Sundberg takes my cue and remembers those wonderful foot massages he used to give me…) And photographs, too. I’m going to dig through mine and enlarge and frame them. Why keep them in a box? Not many things belong in a box, and those that do, do for a reason. Love letters and old keys and tax forms. I’d also like to write a book. I began one once, and I think it might have been alright. Going to return to that. Revive it. Might buy a stick or two of lipstick along the way, too. New color. New Year. Make it glow.
Here’s a tummy warmer for the cold month ahead. Call your siblings and invite them over to play board games and share a pot of this wonderful Italian stew.
One-Pot Bean and Pasta Stew (Pasta e Fagioli)
1 pound dried cannelloni beans
5 slices bacon, diced
2 large yellow onions, sliced thin
3 celery stalks, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 pound pasta
5 thyme sprigs
3 tsp salt
10 ounces baby spinach
Pour the beans in a large mixing bowl and cover with cool water. Let sit at least 6 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
In a heavy stock pot or Dutch oven, fry the bacon over medium heat. Once all the fat has rendered, remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Pour off all put one T of bacon fat. Cook the onions slowly with 1/2 teaspoon of salt until they caramelize and turn golden brown, about half an hour. Add the celery and cook just until the celery is softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Remove half of the onion mixture and reserve with the bacon. Deglaze the pan with a cup of water, scraping up any brown residue that has formed on the bottom of the pan.
Drain the beans and pour them into the pot with the remaining onions. Add the bay leaf and enough water to cover the beans and onions by an inch. Cover the pot and bake in the oven for an hour. After an hour, check the beans every 15 minutes until they are completely soft.
Return the pot to the stove top on medium-high heat. Add the bacon, reserved onions, whole thyme sprigs, remaining salt, and pasta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente. Add more water if necessary.
Add the spinach to the pot and stir until it is wilted. Remove the bay leaf and the thyme stems. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.
Serves 8-10.