A day of good hard work

Archived | September 26, 2012 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It was pure joy, let me tell you, to settle down in my chair by the window with the radio on and a mug of hot chocolate in my hands. Hot chocolate with little marshmallows packed in there. Feet up. Autumn had arrived, and I met it with arms wide open. Spent the day putting a second coat of stain on the deck. Put the first coat on with my dad’s help, and my mom happened to be passing through on her way from the cabin, and we got ‘er done. Finished cleaning out the kitchen cupboards that day, too, and it felt good. Seemed a bit ironic to hear Mr. Keillor sing one of my very favorites, “Heavenly Day.”
Everyone gets a thrill out of something, and one of my things is a day of good hard work. Partly because of how it feels to work hard, and partly because of the feeling that follows. Especially when you’ve got yourself a finished product: a deck stained chestnut brown. It’s about accomplishment, for sure, hard work is. But there’s more: it’s with whom you do the work, what you think about while you’re working, and how you have proof once again that you may be growing older but your parts still work. And then there’s the meaningfulness of it, the meeting of a small need in a very large world. I believe it was Gandhi who said, “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
I find a thrill in baking, too. “Do you just bake, all the time?” my younger daughter asks. Well, no. I do a lot of things. Insignificant things I happen to find thrilling. Like sweeping. Like paying bills and folding clothes and visiting people I love. Like jumping on my trampoline. And I agree with Gandhi: it’s important that I do them. Why is it important? I don’t know. But I think it has something to do with survival. Somehow doing certain things makes me feel alive. And I like being alive. For sure.
Here’s a recipe I shared a few years back, and, like a good vow or an old love song, it’s worth repeating. This one is good for breakfast, or dessert after a bowl of chili.
Apple Pie Cake
Cream ½ cup butter and 2 cups sugar.
Add 2 eggs and 1 t. vanilla. Beat.
Add 2 cups flour, 1 t. cinnamon, and ½ t. salt.
Mix 1 heaping t. soda and 4 T hot water.
Add and stir. Fold in 4 cups chopped apples
And ½ cup chopped walnuts. (Nuts are generally optional)
Pour into a lightly greased and floured 9×13 cake pan.
Bake at 350 degrees about 45 minutes.
Serve warm with Cool Whip or ice cream or plain.

New friends vs. old friends

Archived | September 18, 2012 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Jearlyn and Jevetta’s “Let the Good Times Roll” was playing when my friend Frank leaned over the Scrabble board and whispered, “Y’all speak Chinese?” in a Southern accent. He’s done this before, mostly over the phone. I don’t really get it but it always makes me laugh. And so does Frank.
Whatever they say about new friends vs. old friends, disregard it. They’re both good, for different reasons. What’s nice about an old friend is that they’ve witnessed you over time, and can remind you of a bad decision you made way back , or how your hair looked in 1977, or how you really did make it through rehab or therapy or the Twelve Steps. Or graduate school. They remind you of who you are, over and over, by reminding you of who you were, and by showing up now and then for coffee, for dinner, for a short stay as autumn approaches.
I’ve known Frank for more than a decade, and this was his first real visit. We met at a writing camp in Vermont and have kept in touch all this time. Seems he’s needed some down time lately, and chose Minnesota as his place of retreat. It was wonderful to see him, and we spent a good part of the weekend walking and talking and interrupting each other and arguing about proper pronunciations and what are the capitols of what states. Mr. Sundberg enjoyed him, too, and I was able to get a few chores done here and there while the two of them talked about when they were young and why red wine is better and how to properly chop down a tree.
Frank hasn’t changed much. He’s a bit gray, a handsome man, and talkative and kind and full of ideas. He stays away from bread and sugar now (we had to visit the store several times as my kitchen is full up with bread and sugar) and he sleeps a bit more. But he is still Frank, my writer friend from New York, who taught me the word “gurgurgish.” When I asked him what it meant, he replied, “Whatever whomever uses it wants it to mean.” I think a lot of words are like that. Like “friend.” And “See you soon.”
Perfect for the turn toward autumn, these bars are piled up with coconut and nuts and chips. Try them with a mug of hot chocolate, or a cup of cider.
Seven­-layer Bars
1/2 c. butter
1 1/2 c. graham crackers, crushed
1 (6 oz.) pkg. semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 (6 oz.) pkg. butterscotch morsels
1 (3 1/2 oz.) can flaked coconut
1/2 c. chopped almonds
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In saucepan melt butter; stir in graham crackers. Pat mixture evenly into bottom of 13x9x2 inch ungreased pan. Layer in order chocolate pieces, butterscotch pieces, coconut and pecans.
Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over all.
Bake in 350 oven for 30 minutes or until done. Cut into bars. Makes 36.

There will be joy like this again in my life

Archived | September 11, 2012 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was something of a mess after a long long week: three kids out the door — one until sometime in October — and my birthday and a parade and 7 girls on their way to spend the night. Not to mention the bee stings. Four. I was gathering up willow branches that had fallen in the wind, and some kind of nasty bee flew right into my shirt and that was that. I will say no more except that pain from a bee sting is underrated.
So when the migraine rose up sometime later that evening, I wasn’t surprised, and was it a humdinger. I got through Sunday morning after the 7 girls left. I don’t recall much of Sunday afternoon, and that evening is something of a mystery. Got through Monday, too. Woke up Tuesday feeling human once more and didn’t waste a moment. Had a physical exam, lunch with my friend Angela, and cut down the cottonwood tree that’s been threatening to take over the back yard.
While cutting down that tree, I remembered visiting Baltimore once and racing up a down escalator after a meal of crab cakes and cheese cake. And I remembered how, on that same trip, I spent an afternoon outdoors in a crowd listening to the “Ode to Joy” movement from Beethoven’s 9th. Parents were bouncing their babies, and children were straining to see, and old men sat with their eyes closed, swaying a bit. The sun was bright, and the wind was blowing, and I remember thinking, “There will be joy like this again in my life.” And there has been. Over and over. Most recently, today. As I worked outside, cutting down a tree in the bright sunlight as the wind blew hard and the neighbors watched from their windows until the tree fell, just right, along the white fence, and I hollered, “Whoo hoo!”
The last of the summer berries is what you’ll need for this cake. That, and a friend with whom to share it. Or a bunch of hungry kids. Depends how much you want left over.
Three-Berry Refrigerator Cake
3/4 cup cold milk
1 pkg. (3 oz) vanilla flavor instant pudding mix & pie filling
2 c whipped heavy cream or thawed Cool Whip, divided
2 c mixed raspberries/sliced strawberries
1/4 c blackberries (optional)
1 pkg. (10.75 oz.) frozen pound cake (or fresh pound cake)
1/4 c orange juice
Beat milk & dry pudding mix 2 minutes or until well blended. Stir in 1 cup of whipped cream/Cool Whip.
Combine berries.
Cut cake into 3 layers; brush with orange juice.
Reserve 1/2 c of berries. Stack cake layers on serving plate, filling each layer with half each of pudding mixture and remaining berries.
Top with remaining whipped cream or Cool Whip and the reserve berries.
Cover loosely with foil.
Refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.
Makes 6-8 servings; store leftovers in refrigerator.

A lonesome place to spend some time

Archived | September 4, 2012 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was alone for a while, having helped my daughter pack up her things to go away to college on Sunday, and the house was quiet except for Mr. Keillor’s voice singing a sweet song about a mandolin player while I baked some cookies for my daughter. And then, two days later, alone for more than a while after the other two climbed on the bus which pulled away with a lurch at 7:12 a.m. And there I was in a house filled with echoes.
The first definition of “lonesome” listed in the dictionary includes the word “dejected” – a result of a lack of companionship. I was not dejected, but I did feel solitary, which is part of definition number four. Lone. Solitary. Yes. I got to thinking about that word last week when my mother called to tell me of a PBS special about a man who canoed to a remote part of Alaska and lived alone there for more than thirty years. He was looking for a lonesome place to spend some time, do some fishing. Or just be. My mother was so taken with the idea of a lonesome place as something one might seek out, and called to ask where mine might be.
There are trees in my Lonesome, trees along a meadow, and a lake nearby. The wind always blows there, and the leaves shimmer silver in that wind, and the sun is warm. When it storms in my Lonesome, the skies are Old Testament and the rain falls hard. I walk there. I can cry if I want to, or sing something or just walk. Now and then I lay myself down in the golden meadow grass and make an “X” with my body and close my eyes and think about nothing at all for a good twenty minutes. It works for me. Lonesome smells like fresh grass and oak leaves, and there’s nothing there to fear. Don’t think I’ll spend thirty years there, but I’ll visit now and then. It’s familiar to me, like the sound of pots and pans and alarm clocks, and the taste of fresh bread, and the way a hot bath feels after a good long day.
I’m making halibut for my birthday this week, and this is by far the best batter recipe I’ve made. Got the recipe from my father, who fishes and cooks and knows quite a lot. He taught me a good deal of it. Like how being a hard worker is important. Almost as important as kindness.
Batter for Deep Fried Halibut
1/2 can stale beer
1/3 cup Bisquick or other pancake flour
1/3 cup flour
2 eggs
Whisk into a thin batter. Add salt and pepper, couple dashes each.
Roll 1″ – 1 1/2 inch square halibut chunks in batter and fry in oil
at a temperature of 375. (a drop of water should “pop” in the oil)
Fish chunks will float and be golden brown when done.