Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It had been a bit of a weekend already with a lot of adolescent issues — nothing too major, just the frequency — and I was feeling a bit on the cranky side. I went for a drive, which I do on occasion when Mr. Sundberg is away for a spell and I have little in my reserves as far as patience goes.
I had the show on as I drove around town and then down around the lake, and I ended up in what might seem an unlikely place, though I must say I visit there occasionally when I’m feeling frazzled and worn down and the serenity there brings a kind of balance back. It was the cemetery, back behind the grocery store and past a neighborhood of quiet yards, near the power plant and a forested area that goes on for I don’t know how long.
I didn’t stay there long; I rarely do. I went to the back corner, to what I think of as a small grotto, a garden, with a wall memorializing the lives of children who have passed on. There are over 30 children buried there, sweet names, single dates, and lives spanning a few short years, some days, some hours. It’s quiet, and you can hear water running somewhere nearby, and the wind in what I believe are cypress trees makes a hushing sound. There’s a bench I sit on, and rest there, and think about my kids and how fortunate I am that I have them, and that they are healthy and reasonably happy, and really quite wonderful. I think about the lives they have had up until now, and the roads ahead full up with opportunity and rough patches and joy, and I think about how they smell and how they call me “Mom” and how it feels to be asked for help with homework.
Saturday, as I sat there, the car window open and a sweet song playing on the radio, something magical happened. As twilight came upon the place, there appeared a number of glowing flowers and lit butterflies colored pink and blue and green. Solar-powered decorations on the childrens’ graves. I laughed a bit at what seemed cartoonish in such a place, and then I stopped laughing. Those butterflies and birds glowed like gifts for the night, sparkling night lights put there by family, by friends. By mothers. I didn’t feel sad, then. I felt back to myself. Perspective, you might call it. Of course it makes sense, in the Children’s Corner, to decorate with color and light.
May we all find pause, find perspective, wherever it may be. And may the children, all of them, thrive, crabby as they make us some days.
Here’s one I’ve not made ’til this year. One a penny, two a penny? Sure, back in medieval times. They’re a bit pricier now, so my thought is make your own and they’ll taste even better. And you’ll feel good about yourself in the process. Really.
Hot Cross Buns
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 T yeast
2 tsp. coarse salt or 1 tsp. table salt
2 T. light brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 tsp. freshly grated orange zest
11/4 c. milk, warmed to lukewarm
2 eggs, beaten
2 T unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 c. powdered sugar
2 tsp. milk
Splash of vanilla
In a large bowl, combine 31/2 cups flour, yeast, salt, sugar, spices and orange zest. Whisk.
With a wooden spoon, slowly add the warm milk until absorbed, then add the eggs and mix well. Add the butter, mixing thoroughly; stir in currants until well-distributed. If the dough seems sticky, add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2 hours. Or let dough rise overnight in the fridge, but no longer than 12 hours.
Prepare two baking sheets by lightly coating with baking spray or shortening, or covering with parchment. Scrape dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a cylinder 18 inches long. Cut into 18 slices, 1 inch wide. Shape dough into a ball. Using one finger to support the dough, pull the edges around and under, repeating until you have a round shape. For an even smoother ball, roll the dough with your palm on an unfloured surface. Repeat with remaining dough, arranging 9 buns on each sheet.
Preheat oven to 425 and place rack in middle position. Cover buns with flour sack towels and place in a warm area until doubled in size, about half an hour. Slice a deep “X” in each bun.
Bake each sheet of buns for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown. Cool.
Mix together powdered sugar and milk for glaze. Pour into a plastic bag, snip open a corner and drizzle a cross on each bun, following the lines of the cuts.
Makes 18 buns. Mmm.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Irish things, and green, and a jig now and then around the house. Unfortunately, I got swept up in my taxes and rushing around that I didn’t have it in me to run to the store for corned beef and rye. That’s how it goes some years. You get all jacked up about a holiday, and then it’s here, and you’re caught unprepared. Silly. So we ended up having fried egg sandwiches, which are tied with reubens, in my mind, for Best Sandwich of All.
The best reuben I’ve had was made for me by a boy I had an eye for way back when I was a girl. We’d dated a few times and didn’t know much about each other except how drawn we each were, and when he invited me to his home for dinner one Wednesday night before the church Lent service, I about cart wheeled. It was this time of year, and he was even more Irish than I, so the meal was his specialty. He cooked; I watched. He carefully fried the sauerkraut, then set it aside. Then he fried the corned beef – not crisp, but so it was a little brown and sweet around the edges. Then he assembled the sandwiches in the pan with the hot ingredients, some light rye without caraway seeds, and big slices of Swiss cheese. The bread came out toasted just right, and he poured, without discretion, the most wonderful Thousand Island dressing in a bowl for us to share. He even lit a candle, and we sat there, laughing, dipping our huge sandwiches in dressing while his parents watched the evening news. To this day, I’ve yet to enjoy a reuben as satisfying.
Fried egg sandwiches, on the other hand, rank high among the most comforting of foods. My mother made them for me on my adolescent Saturdays when the world seemed far too vast and I could not find myself. She made a fried egg sandwich when I didn’t make the play, and another when my report card was sub-standard. She made another when the boy who made the reuben showed up with another girl at the school dance, and yet another after I worked a long hot double shift at the McDonald’s drive-thru window. Two eggs, two slices of white bread, a little salt, pepper and butter – that’s all. Pure comfort.
I add cheese to my fried egg sandwiches, sometimes provolone, sometimes cheddar. I rarely make them for dinner, but this Saturday it worked out fine. Mmm, the kids said, these are something else. And they are.
Fried Egg Sandwiches
2 slices bread, preferably white
Break eggs into frying pan lightly greased with butter. Gently break yolks and spread over whites. Cook until they are the way you like them, and add salt and pepper to taste. Cut to sort of fit the bread. Layer: bread, egg, bread. Eat. Ketchup is optional. So is cheese, ham, green peppers, etc.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was just plain happy to kick back in the comfortable chair with a glass of ginger ale and a chunk of molasses cake and just listen while the snow melted and the sky filled with stars. It had been a day. I’d told the kids the day before what I’d like this year for Mother’s Day (2 months off, I know) and they gave me The Look. “It’s Spring Break, Mom.” I know, I said. Please? How often are all three of you together?
They said they’d do it. We left the house at 1:40 pm Saturday afternoon, and arrived at the photo studio just before 2:00. Not a fancy place, by any means. I had a coupon, and you could just walk in, but I did think ahead enough to make an appointment. We ended up waiting anyway, behind a mother and daughter who’d brought in the daughter’s baby boy to be photographed. He lay on the floor near his mother’s feet, growling, as the two women looked over the photos on the computer screen.
I’m a patient woman, but my kids are still workin’ on it. They’d each dressed in something comfortable that matched, somewhat, the other two. In blues and greens and plaids and sneakers, they looked like themselves, with a bit of hair gel and lipstick. They’d made a real effort and stood there trying to look as if they were ok having their photo taken together, and they began to argue about something small. “No it’s NOT.” “Yes, it is.” “If you’d only LISTEN you would GET IT.” “Look who’s TALKING.” It went on like that for a while. Then it got too loud. “This is my MOTHER’S DAY GIFT!” I kind of hissed. I don’t hiss much. But really.
The photo shoot took eleven minutes. I sat off to the side, watching my three children, each taller now than I, arms around each other, then lying on the floor looking up, then piled together, each leaning against another, smiling. My eyes filled up. My gosh. How they have grown. How their voices have changed. My son’s cheekbones cast shadows. My daughters’ lines are curved. The woman asked if there’s any other pose I might like. “How ’bout something where their arms are all wrapped around each other.” The Look again. And then they did as instructed, and smiled.
Of the 23 photos taken, three turned out really well. Including the one of them holding each other. I have my Mother’s Day gift early this year. Thing is, it wasn’t so much about the photo, though I’m glad I have them. It was those eleven minutes watching them together, laughing, in one small room. How their eyes sparkled.
The Irish meals I make are good and simple: foods like colcannon (potatoes and cabbage), coddle (sausages, bacon, potatoes and onion) and fadge (potato bread). Here are a couple recipes you might enjoy this St. Patty’s Day.
CORNED BEEF SAUERKRAUT SANDWICHES
2 (14 oz.) cans sauerkraut
2 cans corned beef
3 T salad dressing
1/4 lb. Swiss cheese
3 T horseradish mustard
Drain sauerkraut. Chop up the corned beef with a fork. Grate the Swiss cheese. Mix all ingredients together and place in a slow cooker for 2 hours. Serve on party rye.
In Ireland they say that a day without potatoes is a day without nourishment. Plain boiled, skin on, is how most Irish eat their potatoes at least once a day. “Collope” means a little bit of food.
3 medium potatoes
1 large onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 T parsley, chopped
1/4 lb. raw bacon
2 T butter
1 c. milk
3 T grated cheese
Pare potatoes and cut into thin slices. Place a layer of potatoes and onion in a greased baking dish. Sprinkle with seasonings, parsley, and diced bacon. Dot with butter. Repeat layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with potatoes. Pour in milk and sprinkle top with grated cheese. Cover and bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake until potatoes are done and top layer is brown.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. The house was quiet, with each of the kids out doing their thing: one away at school having dinner out with friends; one on a music trip for school, a four-day event as we’re now on Spring Break; and one at a friend’s house, an overnight gathering she organized, running through the woods and watching movies and eating bags of chips and plates of brownies. Mr. Sundberg was away giving a talk on “Perspectivity” (his word, not mine), and I was home–the house clean, laundry done, my feet up on the ottoman and a view of the stars from my living room window.
A person can think too much, and I have been. I’d been worried about the child who went on the field trip, and his anxieties about with whom to sit and how he really didn’t know anyone and there would be roommates at the hotel and how loneliness is so awful. He was feeling the stresses of Trying New Things and growing up and it was necessary. It was early Saturday morning when I dropped him off at the school with his bags and formalwear for performing and he looked so handsome, just recently as tall as I am.
“Bye, Mom,” he said, and pulled away when I moved to hug him and I hugged him anyway. I kissed him, too, and watched him walk away. I drove far enough away for privacy and cried awhile. You can imagine why. Helpless feeling, sometimes, doing what we are meant to do. Push those babies then young people out and away into the world. Ahhh. I told him on the way that grownups feel that same way now and then. Sometimes we don’t want to go to the party. What if we don’t know anyone? With whom will we sit? What if we are alone?
I saw the other side of it all and I was right. He is having a wonderful time. He’s not so eager to come home. All how it should be. First the fear, then the risk, then relief. I know this, that there is not impossible from here; it’s what’s in between that makes a life. So I’ll pick him up Tuesday evening, and I won’t say, See, I told you. I won’t say much at all. I imagine he’ll be doing all the talking, and I’ll be more than happy to listen. Sure will.
St. Patty’s Day isn’t far away, and I’ve been doing double-time digging up family recipes to share. Being a good bit Irish in a Scandinavian piece of the world, I don’t get many opportunities to shine a light on the Irish foods of my childhood, so here we go:
Irish Boiled Dinner
1 (3 1/2 lb) fresh beef brisket
2 (12 oz) bottles Lager beer
2 cups water (or enough to just cover)
2 bay leaves
10 black peppercorns
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 tsp. salt
2 T butter or olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 cups chopped and rinsed leeks (white parts only)
1 med. yellow onion, peeled and sliced
3/4 lb large carrots, cut into large pieces
3/4 lb small red potatoes
1 lb turnips, peeled and quartered
2 lbs green cabbage, cut in sixths (secure with toothpicks)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place an 8 to 10 qt Dutch oven on the burner and add the beef, beer, water, bay leaves, peppercorns, parsley, and salt. Heat a frying pan and saute the garlic, leeks, and yellow onion for a few minutes then add to the Dutch oven.
Cover and simmer gently for 3 1/2 hours or until the meat is very tender. (This will take about 1 hour per lb of brisket.) In the last 25 minutes of cooking, add the carrots and red potatoes. In the last 15 minutes of cooking, add the turnips, cabbage, salt, and pepper. If the vegetables are not done to your liking, cook them longer but do not overcook. Remove toothpicks from cabbage before serving.