Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Learned a thing or two about great horned owls, and I like that. Learning new things. There’s not enough time in my life to just take in information the way I’d like and that’s a bit of a frustration. I had the real pleasure of paging through a Smithsonian Magazine at the orthodontist’s office yesterday, and read about Darwin and venomous animals (I’m happy to never in my life encounter a black mamba) and Komodo dragons. Some people devote good chunks of their lives to the study of one thing, and I admire that. My brother was an expert on martens for a while, and my father on sewage treatment plants and my mother on geriatric care, and my other brother on biochemistry. Mr. Sundberg knows a good amount about motivating people, and all of that knowledge around me is something to behold.
“What is it you DO, Mom?” my son asked the other day and I was pretty much speechless. I’m not an expert on anything in particular, and I don’t have the kind of job where I leave at a certain time and return at another time each day. I’m a writer, I said. “But what do you DO?” Well, I pay attention to the world, and I write about what I see. I guess. I felt a bit odd, as if I had to explain myself, maybe defend myself, but that’s more about me than him. He was asking a simple question.
What do I do, son? Well. Today I will finish doing taxes, and clean the house (the quick version) and visit the post office and the bank. I will fill the tires on the car with more air, and fill out your ACT test registration which I am told will take an hour or more but I will finish it faster than that, and I will clip some coupons for a weekend grocery trip. I will fold four loads of laundry, pick up some milk and buns for tonight’s sloppy joe dinner, and I will schedule one hair appoint, two eye exams, and a visit to a college. I will help you with your homework if you’d like, too. At some point your dad and I will talk as he’s away for the week, and I will do some writing along the way, and read something interesting just before I fall asleep, sometime around midnight. As for tomorrow, well, that’s another day. I’m sure there will be something. And I’m happy to do it. All of it. Every day, for as long as I’m around.
The Irish girl in me is hungry for soup and sausage and a Reuben piled high. For now, here’s a recipe simple enough to make between now and dinner, hearty and creamy and just the recipe for chilly gray days.
Irish Potato Soup
3 cups diced, raw potatoes
2 ribs celery, chopped fine
1 small sweet onion, chopped fine
1 cup water
1 chicken bouillon cube
3 T flour
2 cups milk
3 T butter
Place potatoes, celery, onions, water and bouillon in saucepan, and cook until vegetables are tender. Combine flour and milk until smooth, and add to vegetable mixture. Stir in butter. Bring it all to a gentle boil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot with some good dense bread.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. We’d just gotten in from a day out and about, and it was nice to sit awhile with some hot chocolate and a plate of cheese and crackers. I’m not a big fan of shopping but it is enjoyable every now and then, depending on what you’re seeking and with whom. This time around it was my son and me, and we were on a mission: items for the school drive to help out Haiti. Shoes, soap, baby wipes, Ziploc bags, latex gloves. Not a problem.
What I was surprised by, really, was his earnestness about the shopping trip itself. He set aside his schoolwork, video games, cell phone, movies — all of it — for a stretch of time with me looking for things for children far away. It was his thoughtfulness that put a lump in my throat. We were at a consignment shop, and he looked over all the shoes, holding up each pair and turning it over, checking for tears or stains, before he carefully chose six pair and put them into the basket. “I feel bad,” he said. “Why?” I asked. “Because we could be taking these away from someone here who could use them.” I explained that there will always be people who need and always people who can give. “Yeah,” he said. “But still.”
He wants to save the world. I did once. I still do. It’s a challenge to walk the rope bridge over the canyon between the change you wish to make and the change you can. Imagine if every person on the planet sent six pair of shoes. Imagine if we each sent one. Imagine if I could harness the warmth I felt as I watched my son examine every kind of soap in the soap aisle, and at last choose one, and ask, “Can we get 20 bars? Please?” My gosh. Of course. Not enough for the world, but for a tiny piece of it, to be sure.
More snow is on its way. Get out the board games, and consider this for the evening meal. Comfort is as comfort does, and cross your fingers for a snow day.
Four Cheese Macaroni Bake
1 lb. elbow macaroni, cooked
½ cup macaroni water, reserved
2 oz. Mozzarella cheese
2 oz. sharp cheddar cheese
2 oz. Swiss cheese
4 T grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
4 oz. melted butter
Put cooked macaroni into buttered square baking dish. Cut cheddar and Swiss cheeses into small slivers; mix together. Add to macaroni; toss lightly. Mix butter and hot water together; pour over macaroni. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Bake at 400 degrees about 15 minutes. Makes 4-6 servings.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. There was a lovely woman who sang “500 Crows” on the show and she has this soulful voice, and the most charming laugh I’ve heard in a while, the kind of laugh that kind of lifts a person skyward, and all of it together made me want to get up and dance. “I am part heartache / I am part joyful child” she sang, and I’m right with her. “To tell you the truth / I’m still searchin’, to find that bigger light…” It gave me goosebumps. “I’m looking for a melody that will break my heart open…”
This time of year, mid-February, when love becomes topic of conversation, when we go searching for the right words, the perfect gift, the amazing evening out, it’s in music that I feel it all most. There’s a song for every feeling, it seems, and thank goodness. I can stop trying to explain myself, and say, “Listen to that. THAT’s how I feel.” I remember the scene in Children of a Lesser God when a deaf Marlee Matlin asks speech teacher William Hurt to SHOW her the music, and he tries, with his arms, his eyes closed and face turned up. And Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, toward the end, when the music takes over his body, and he — a man near death — stands and, watching him, you know what he is feeling. Such moments.
And that’s why we dance, I think. To express something where words just don’t cut it. I dance pretty often in the kitchen, often when I am alone, because I can’t help it and because it feels good. Now, Mr. Sundberg is not a dancing man by nature, but he has become more so in our time together. He’ll polka with me at weddings, and waltz me around the kitchen at the end of a good day, but what I’m hoping for this Valentine’s Day — you can’t plan these things — is that we’ll find ourselves in the kitchen, and the perfect song will play on the radio, and we’ll have a slow dance, just the two of us, for the loving.
I had the privilege of attending my grandmother’s funeral a while back, and those blessed Methodist women at her church served an amazing meal for all of us as part of the celebration. Casserole never tasted so good, and one of the women slipped me the recipe upon request, and here it is. Take my word for it — this is one fine casserole. Add some rolls, maybe some roasted asparagus on the side. Divine.
Chicken Almond Casserole
5 cups diced, cooked chicken
2 cups diced celery
3 cups cooked rice
1 8 ounce can sliced water chestnuts
2 10¾ ounce cans cream of chicken soup
½ cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
2 T chopped onion
2 T lemon juice
1 tsp salt
½ tsp garlic powder
¾ tsp pepper
1 cup sliced almonds
Mix together and pour into a 9×13 baking dish.
½ cup sliced almonds
3 cups crushed corn flakes
⅔ cup butter, melted
Mix together and sprinkle over casserole.
Bake 35 to 45 minutes at 350.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Things have finally slowed down after the big holiday rush, and it was good to have a day with not much at all to do. There was housecleaning, of course, which I did and got done in good time (though I’ll be darned if I’ll ever get all the dust), and I made some bars and soup and spent a good part of the day just doing what I felt inclined to do, which ended in me making a double batch of buttermilk pancakes for the 3rd time since the New Year began.
I’d like to take a moment to give a nod to Pancakes. I love pancakes. I love how warm they are, and soft, and how you can put just about anything on them. Apples sautéed in butter and cinnamon, berries, whipped cream, cottage cheese, peaches, or just plain butter and syrup — blueberry, boysenberry, maple or strawberry. You can wrap them around sausage, layer them with bacon, or surround them with side pork.
There have been Pancakes during significant times of my life — childhood camping trips when Dad made blueberry pancakes on the griddle over a campfire; the strawberry-topped pancakes I shared with my Grandmother at the café; buckwheat pancakes on visits home after I moved away; the pancakes Mr. Sundberg and I shared at the grocery store diner when we were first married — they were big as platters and layered with sliced apples and only .99 each. There were the large, fluffy pancakes I made for the kids after they spent long days out sledding, and the pancakes I make for them now — rubbery buttermilk pancakes thin enough to pile up a dozen, with blueberry or real maple syrup.
Pancakes are good for breakfast, and better as breakfast-for-dinner, after a long, gray winter day of cold and wind, when everyone has chapped skin and rumbling bellies and a hankering for maple and sausage. A bonus is that you can make pancakes in shapes, and I do: hearts, flowers, letters, and smiley faces. Tuesday of this week is National Pancake Day. I plan to celebrate all week. I may not MAKE pancakes every day, but I am going to do some looking around for a few new recipes, try a syrup I haven’t tried, and contemplate a topping I’ve not before used. And yes, I will make some, maybe one evening toward the end of the week. After an afternoon of shoveling snow, perhaps. Sure. Good to have something to look forward to.
Here’s the recipe I love best. Buttermilk pancakes. Good with blueberries, and easy to double. Seems the batter is a little better after a day or two in the fridge. Good luck having any left over. These are good with some cheesy hash browns and sausage, and just as good on their own.
2 t sugar
2 cups buttermilk
2 T melted butter
2 t baking powder
½ t salt
2 cups flour
Separate eggs into two medium-sized bowls, whites in one, yolks in the other. Beat whites until stiff; set aside. Beat yolks. Add buttermilk and melted butter. Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder; add to buttermilk mixture. Blend well. Fold in whites.
And for those of you seeking further comfort, here’s a Beer Cheese Soup recipe that will round off just about any winter meal.
Beer Cheese Soup
4 chicken bouillon cubes
3 cups water
1 can beer
1 sweet Vidalia (or any sweet onion), diced
2 ½ cups potatoes, raw and cubed
1 lb Velveeta cheese, cubed
2 cans cream of chicken soup
In a large saucepan, combine bouillon, water, beer, onion (I like to brown mine a bit first), and potatoes. Simmer 20 minutes, and then add cheese and soup. Simmer 30 minutes. Serve with popcorn on top.