Consider what is right

Archived | April 30, 2012 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I did some baking – made a bunch of cookies and a strange coffeecake with chocolate in the middle I probably won’t make again – and contemplated spring and its temperament this year. I wonder sometimes if the weather and its patterns in our childhoods really wasn’t that much different from how it is now. Maybe memory casts a fantastical glow and sifts out the dull and ordinary. I remember winters as all about snow, lots of it, and springtime of length with flowers everywhere, and no crazy tornado-ish days til the three hot heat months of summer, and long autumns, golden and rich.
Which is pretty much how it is now. Maybe as adults we just focus on different things. Rain means different things to a child whose concerns aren’t drought but no sun in which to play, and I have to shovel that snow where children build castles with it. Perspective, maybe? So this first week of May brings temps in the 80s, threats of severe weather, and wind whistling at the window as I write. I’m a lover of storms, but the heat is another story.
I was talking with the cashier today at the grocery store, who said it’s funny how people always find complaint in the weather, and she’s right. Beautiful storms, but nasty heat. Decent winter, but not enough snow. Spring started late, ends too soon, and why can’t it be autumn all year?
Seems there’s endless opportunity for complaint, really, if we’re of that mind, if there’s a payoff in pointing out what isn’t right. Well. There’s a thought for the first of May: consider what is right, and focus on that. A pile of cow manure is packed with nutrients. And it’s warm. Imagine there’s appreciation for that somewhere. And for heat and storms ahead, well, we’ve a pile of board games we haven’t played in a while, and there’s butter brickle ice cream in the fridge. Meet you in the living room when the storm hits. I’ll bring the candles.
Here’s one that’ll take you back to picnic days, and grandma’s kitchen counter. It’s sweet and tangy all at once, and enough to keep you going til dinner.
Lemon Blueberry Yogurt Loaf
1 1/2 cups + 1 T all-purpose flour, divided
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp grated lemon zest (approximately 2 lemons)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen, thawed and rinsed
For the Lemon Syrup:
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
For the Lemon Glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2-3 T fresh lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease bottom and sides of one 9 x 5-inch loaf pan; dust with flour. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar, eggs, lemon zest, vanilla and oil. Gently whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix the blueberries with the remaining tablespoon of flour, and fold them very gently into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 50 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing loaf to a wire rack on top of a baking sheet.
While the loaf is cooling, make the lemon syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir together the lemon juice and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Once dissolved, continue to cook for 3 more minutes. Remove from the heat; set aside. Use a toothpick to poke holes in the tops and sides of the warm loaf. Brush the top and sides of the loaf with the lemon syrup. Let the syrup soak into the cake and brush again. Let the cake cool.
To make the lemon glaze, in a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and 2-3 T of lemon juice. The mixture should be thick but pourable. Add up to another tablespoon of lemon juice if the mixture is too stiff. Pour the lemon glaze over the top of each loaf and let it drip down the sides. Let the lemon glaze harden, about 15 minutes, before serving.
This makes 1 9×5 loaf. This recipe also makes about 12 standard muffins or 36 miniature muffins, baking time adjusted. Could also be doubled and baked in a well-greased and floured bundt pan, baking time adjusted.

Marks I have made

Archived | April 23, 2012 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I’ve been enjoying the weather, the clouds and wind and all, but have held off on planting much in the yard. Not quite warm enough yet. Though don’t be misled: I’m no flower, garden, vegetable, lawn or green-thing-in-general expert. Flyin’ by the seat of my pants, but I’m interested. Haven’t always been, but there’s something about a flower in bloom you planted yourself.
Come to think of it, I’m really not an expert at any one thing. This isn’t a cause of stress for me, but I did hear comment in recent days, after the funeral of a man who died early in his 70s, “He really didn’t die with much to show for his life. I don’t know that he really made a difference.” Well, when I heard this, I thought, Hmm. It sounded a bit harsh, but truth is that way, and it is a bit sad to think of leaving the world one day without having been an expert in something, without having left a mark of some sort.
So I made a short list. An inventory of the meaningfulness of my life: what I’m an expert at, ways I have made a difference, marks I have made. It felt a little odd, almost arrogant, to do such a thing, but it brought me a nice calm feeling inside. And it put to rest my pity for that man who passed on, about whom a woman whispered things. Each person is an expert in his or her own living of life, and the world doesn’t have to know the details. He may not have been a millionaire or famous for his voice, or a published writer, or some kind of spiritual guru. He may not have known how to make cheese or have climbed a mountain to its summit. But he was a man. He was tall and lean, dressed like a cowboy, got up each morning til he lost his leg. And then he still got up. He loved a woman. He raised a son. He had a dog, and loved pancakes and a good steak and Hollandaise sauce. And on the day he died, he called that woman, said, “We did have some good times, didn’t we?” And she agreed.
Sure, I’m an expert. In what my kids will and won’t eat, and how it’s made. In procrastination. In describing the taste of a slice of pie, and how hot water feels on your skin when it’s been a while. I’m an expert at breathing deep, and getting cards in the mail just in time or a bit late, and wanting, desperately, to fly. At making a perfect stack of buttermilk pancakes. At being a daughter who misses her parents, at loving a man from a distance. Maybe I’ll publish a book one day, and that will make me, oh, maybe an authority on not giving up. Not an expert.
I was raised by parents who believe you understand a thing if you can explain it. Maybe the expert part comes when you’ve explained it ten thousand times. That’s about how many batches of cookies I’ve made, I’m guessing. Still screw up now and then. Go figure.
My oldest sent this recipe from school, with a note that read, “Can we make this when I visit?” We made it, and oh, my. Seems I’ve got her hooked. Nice.
Banana Fritters
3 ripe bananas
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 T baking powder
1/4-1/2 cup milk
Peel and mash the ripe bananas. Beat egg, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
Blend egg mixture well with mashed bananas, then sift flour and baking powder into the banana/egg mixture. Combine thoroughly. If the batter seems to be too thick add a little milk… up to 1/2 cup.
Add oil to a frying pan and place on medium high heat. Drop spoonsful of the batter into the pan. Flip when you see the edges starting to get brown and golden. Lastly, combine cinnamon and sugar together to create your cinnamon sugar. Sprinkle on top of the fritters once they are finished cooking and still hot.

I’d rather be unpredictable than predictable

Archived | April 16, 2012 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It was a strange weekend weather-wise, and I don’t anticipate things are going to even out for a while now. Monday was the first day of Tornado Awareness Week, nationwide, and I smile at this as I’ve been keenly aware of tornadoes much of my life. And though there is always more to learn and understand, just when we think we’ve got Mother Nature figured out, she has something new in mind.
Like that snow on Monday morning. Blowing snow. After a stretch of days up in the 80s and the most snowless winter I’ve ever seen. If Mother Nature has a tattoo, it likely reads, “Unpredictable.” And who’s to blame her? Mr. Sundberg once told me, “You’re so unpredictable, you’re predictable.” And that’s when I decided to paint the walls chocolate brown. “Predict this,” I muttered, and painted one red.
I’d rather be unpredictable than predictable, I guess, and I’m grateful for the mysteries of the world: why toilet water swirls in a different direction in Brazil; crop circles; what God looks like; adolescence; life after death. I don’t need to know why the tornadoes hit as they do; I just need to know if the people survived. And if they did, and need help, well, let who will help them not be a mystery. Let it be the one predictable thing. That, and water. Amen.
It may not be “smierkase kuchen”, but this is one humdinger of a cake, good enough for mid-morning tea, or for a picnic in the sun. Try it out. It has lemon, and nutmeg, and enough cheese to ensure seconds.
Cottage Cheese Brunch Cake
2 cups sifted flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 T sugar
1/4 lb. butter
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Sift dry ingredients together. Work in butter. To coarse crumbs, add beaten eggs and mix enough to hold together. Divide into two.
1 (16 oz.) carton small curd cottage cheese, creamed
1 egg
2 T lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Few drops of vanilla
Mix all ingredients together for one minute. Roll out pastry, place one part in bottom of 9 x 9 greased pan leaving about 1/2 inch up around sides. Pour in cottage cheese filling. Put second part of pastry on top and gently press down around edges with fork.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes. If desired, drizzle lemon glaze on top, when slightly cool (1/3 cup powdered sugar and one T lemon). Cut in squares and serve warm.

All of it together, all of us together

Archived | April 9, 2012 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I kept getting up from the couch to sneak a jellybean or two from the bowl on the table. I had eaten all the black ones already, and white were my next target, and I noticed my daughter watching as I popped one into my mouth. “I didn’t know you like jellybeans so much, Mom,” she said and I replied that it is more of a nostalgia thing for me to eat them. I buy them only once a year, the full-sized sugary ones and I suppose I eat most of them. The kids aren’t much interested. They have Peeps to eat, and chocolate rabbits, solid. They have mini candy bars and Tootsie pops and strange, colorful little things that fizz in your mouth.
One black jellybean is all I need to transport myself back to the basement fellowship hall of the Lutheran church of my girlhood, where on Easter Sunday there was a service at sunrise, followed by a breakfast of egg bake, sausage, cheesy hash browns, cinnamon rolls, coffee, and orange juice. And next to each plate in a little paper cup was a modest pile of jellybeans. My brothers and I ate them throughout the meal, and helped clean up after on the off-chance that we’d be given leftover jellybeans, which we often were.
It wasn’t the meal or the service or the array of lilies round the cross or the organ playing or the pastel dresses or hats or anything in particular that made those Easter Sundays memorable. It was all of it together. Getting up early, the hunt for candy, the fight for the bathroom mirror, the walk to church, my father dozing off during the sermon, the smell of my mother’s skin, the mystery of God. And then food, good food. All of it together, all of us together, the whole ball of wax. It felt comfortable and perfect and as if everything was as it should be.
Tough to recognize a moment you’ll long for one day when you’re in it. Sure is.
Here’s a repeat of a recipe, a favorite of mine, and a good place for all that leftover ham if you, as I did, went out and bought a ham a bit too large for the occasion.
Mrs. Sundberg’s Wild Rice Soup
1/2 cup uncooked wild rice
2 T. butter or margarine
1 medium onion, minced or chopped as you wish
1 quart milk (this would be 4 cups)
2 cans cream of potato soup
1 lb Velveeta cheese
Optional: 10 strips crisp bacon, crumbled, or 1 cup cooked, shredded turkey or ham.
Mmm, this is going to be good.
Prepare wild rice in separate saucepan according to package directions. Set aside.
In large 4 qt saucepan or soup pot, saute the onion in the butter until tender. If you’re adding meat, this is a good time to do so. Add milk and potato soup, adjust heat to medium. When hot, add cheese in chunks, and once the cheese melts, add the wild rice.
Simmer and serve.
Bacon can be used as a garnish.
For variations, saute mushrooms or green pepper with the onions.

Friends and laughter and grass stains

Archived | April 2, 2012 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Was hoping for a thunderstorm over the weekend, a big riproarin’ storm, but it didn’t happen. There was some rain in the night on Monday, and that was lovely with the window open and the sound of water falling and the fresh smell of wet grass.
The rain didn’t keep me awake. I was worried a bit about the kids, and how they come home every day after school and work on homework the rest of the day. They do take breaks for the bathroom and for dinner, of course, but it’s almost painful to watch them spend so much time working. Some days it feels as if they’re competing with China itself. I’m all about work, about discipline, and having goals and such, but I’m struggling a bit here.
When I was a kid, we might have walked a few miles to school each day, sometimes in weather one might call inclement, and we may have had to get up godawful early on Saturday morning to do chores, and there were no computers or fancy erasers and such, but I don’t recall spending most of my waking hours doing schoolwork. I do remember how it felt to finish it just before dinner, and having time in the evening to relax and watch tv or play outside or read in the oak tree.
You won’t hear much complaining from my corner, but I just want to say if I could give my kids one thing, it would be some time to enjoy their childhoods while they’re still in ’em. Learning is important, Lord knows, and I’m all for it. But there’s something to be said for play. Real play. Friends and laughter and grass stains included.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to make one good ham this year and it’ll be served up on Easter Sunday. Here are two glaze recipes good enough to eat with a spoon. Take your pick, or do both and really throw ’em for a loop.
Pineapple Honey Glazed Ham
1 16 oz can pineapple slices
2/3 cup Minnesota Grown honey
2 T ground mustard
A few dashes ground cloves
Drain pineapple; reserve liquid. Combine reserve liquid, honey, mustard and clove; mix well. Score top of ham, if desired, and arrange pineapple slices on top. Generously brush honey mixture over entire surface, and baste every 10 minutes until ham is done. Note: Honey should not be fed to infants under one year of age.
Caribbean Glaze
16 oz can pineapple chunks, juice pack
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 T cornstarch
1/4 tsp ground cloves or nutmeg
2/3 cup orange juice or 1/2 cup orange juice plus 4 T rum
1 cup light raisins, optional
Drain pineapple chunks, reserving juice. Add water to juice if necessary to make 2/3 cup. In a small saucepan, combine brown sugar, cornstarch and cloves. Stir in pineapple and orange juices (and rum if that’s the case.) Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly, then a few minutes more. Add pineapple. Spoon over cooked ham while baking or serve on the side as a condiment. Serves 12.