So Much to Look Forward To

Archived | March 26, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday, and it was not bad. I’ve been doing an admirable job, I think, of keeping up my spirits despite the slow drag of winter’s end, but there have been moments when it all gets to me and I feel a bit down. Not sad, but there’s a kind of grasping feeling that takes over and it feels as if I’m reaching for hope. Which seems a little silly because I know inside that spring really is just around the corner. And it’s not spring itself that I love so much, but what comes with it — grass and flowers and warm breezes and new scents; fruit spilling out of the bowl on the counter, the kids giggling, the doorbell sounding more often, the broom’s sweep replacing the shovel’s grate, and walks. Long walks with Mr. Sundberg along the edge of the forest, walks down dirt roads, walks around lakes.
What I like about walking is that it feels like what we are supposed to do. I’ve never been a good runner. Tried, but I feel from head to toe a kind of agony I see on the faces of other people running. I admire the endeavor, for sure, but it’s not for me. This body doesn’t need any more jarring than it gets on the domestic level. I’ll take a good walk over almost any outdoor activity. Except maybe swimming, but that’s a whole other adventure.
Walks with Mr. Sundberg are my favorite. Few and far between with our busy days and his long absences, but when we do get out, especially rounding the curves of the lake, the whole world feels right. And we talk. About the kids, about summer, about his latest idea for a motivational talk. We talk about our dreams — what our dream house will look like, skylights and huge porch and pizza oven on the patio included — and we talk about places we’d like to go together, places neither of us have been, and what we would do there. His place is England and Scotland, I think, where we would wander the countryside, mostly, and see some plays, and just be together. My place has changed over the years, and lately I’m thinking New Zealand is where I’d like to go, for the distance and the majestic scenery and we would have a picnic there, out in all of that beauty. We hold hands sometimes, on our walks, and now and then we pause, and hug each other, and kiss. Just for a moment. Feels like a centering kind of thing, a reminder that we’re each here, and together, and he gets that twinkly smile going, and I feel like blushing but I’m not sure whether I am, and we walk on.
They happen all year round, those pauses. But something about spring makes us linger a bit. The birds are singing, and there are flowers, and there’s so much to look forward to. There really is.
One of the best things about Easter is The Ham. The question is, what sauce? This year it’s something new and a bit off the beaten path: rhubarb sauce. When you think about it, it makes total sense. I’d go with fresh rhubarb if you can, and try a pinch of clove if you’re so inclined.
Ham with Rhubarb Sauce
4 lb ham, boneless and fully cooked
3 cups rhubarb, fresh (or 16-oz frozen cut rhubarb)
1¼ cup sugar
⅓ cup orange juice
2 tsp grated orange peel
¾ tsp dry mustard
1 cinnamon stick
Do not preheat oven. Place ham, straight from the refrigerator, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan and add 1/2 cup water. Insert an ovenproof meat thermometer into the thickest part of the ham. Cover the pan tightly with foil, leaving the thermometer dial exposed. Roast at 325 until ham registers 135 degrees, about 19-23 minutes per pound.
While the ham is cooking, combine rhubarb, sugar, orange juice, orange peel, dry mustard and cinnamon stick in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cinnamon stick.
Remove aluminum foil from ham and spoon a bit of sauce over the ham 15 minutes before end of cooking time. When thermometer hits 135 degrees, pull it out of the over, and allow ham to stand, covered, about 10 minutes, or until the thermometer registers 140. Serve remaining sauce with ham. Makes 2¼ cups sauce.

Anything Worthwhile Deserves Patience

Archived | March 19, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. After the truly harrowing drive to pick up my daughter on Friday, I will admit once and only once that I must be aging because my body was a mess on Saturday. Muscle tension will do that to you. To tense up every muscle in one’s body for a series of hours without a break results, at my age, in a kind of post-muscle-tension-fatigue that will bring on a series of naps and cravings for salt and water and odd fruit I’ve never eaten. Starfruit, plaintains, durian, poi. Never had ’em. Craved ’em all on Saturday. Go figure.
On Sunday I craved corned beef, and I ate it. A good half pound, if I am right. And a mess of sauerkraut, and when I was finished felt more like I’d visited a German buffet than eaten a plate of Irish food. The day kind of slid into night, and the snow returned, and I got to thinking how I love the inbetween times, but this one is dragging out a bit. You know, the shift from winter to spring. Hard to choose between a heavy jacket and a parka, and you never know what shoes are going to work right. Patience is called for, and luckily we mark our days so we have something on which to hang our hopes, and Wednesday, this week, the 20th of March, is the First Day of Spring. Bring on the cravings.
They’re different from winter’s, these cravings of spring. Lemons and berries, fluffy things, light. Bare feet, lawn chairs, open windows and tea. Less cheese, more yogurt. Bananas, apples, rhubarb, peas; orchids, tulips and lilies. Jellybeans, and egg dishes, and the feeling you having singing the good old hymns at the sunrise service on Easter morn. Craving the scent of grass, scent of earth, scent of anything on the wind but snow, whose scent is fresh enough but tired now, and give me a breeze and a book and the sound of water dripping. Bring on the melt. The river opening, the great yawn of the lake as the ice draws away and fish ripple the surface waves. Bring on the tinkling of chimes, the lawn ornaments, the mowers and the sun. I can be patient. Anything worthwhile deserves patience. For raspberries, I can wait. And I will.
Couldn’t decide, so here are two recipes worth your time. The first, light enough to follow a ham dinner, with your choice of flavors; and the second, something I’ve always wanted to try, rice pie, and did, and you’ll enjoy serving it up with, perhaps, some fresh pineapple, or what berries you might find.
Layered Pudding Dessert
Crust: 1½ cups flour, ½ cup crushed nuts (or oatmeal), 1½ sticks softened butter. Cut with fork until evenly mixed/crumbly. Press into 9 X 13 cake pan. Bake 10 minutes at 350.
Layer 1: mix 8 oz. plus 3 oz. cream cheese with 1 c. white sugar. Add 1 cup Cool Whip. Mix. Spread over cooled crust.
Layer 2: mix 2 small packages instant lemon pudding (pistachio works great for a St. Patrick’s Day dessert, or chocolate is great, too). Use about ½ the milk required on package (for greater thickness). Spread over cream cheese layer.
Spread Cool Whip over pudding, as much as you’d like. You’ll probably use a 16 oz container for the entire dessert. Sprinkle with nuts if you like.
Easter Rice Pie
8 eggs
1½ cups rice, cooked and cooled
3 lbs ricotta cheese
1¾ cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 (9-inch) unbaked pie shells
Preheat oven to 350. Beat eggs in a large bowl, and add the rice, ricotta, sugar, and vanilla and stir it up well. Pour into pie shells and sprinkle with cinnamon (I like to add a dash of nutmeg). Bake for an hour.

Go With Whatcha Got

Archived | March 11, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. The weather was, though. Sleeting, bone chilling, drizzling gray day. Not my first choice, but we don’t have much of a say in things weatherly, and it can always be worse. So I made the best of it, and paid bills and made some chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese filling and relaxed awhile with the kids, and visited the grocery store for a few things for the week ahead.
St. Patrick’s Day is not long off, and I picked up some corned beef for reubens, and had a hard time finding Irish bacon for colcannon so I settled for Canadian which will work just fine. I’m not Irish enough to be particular, but Irish enough to love my Irishness, and making a traditional Irish meal is something I do now and then. People make jokes that all you do is add some whiskey, and — poof — it’s Irish! There may be a bit of truth to that, but some of the best Irish food has nothing to do with whiskey, and more to do with simple and just plain good food.
I’ll confess, when it comes to food of a country or culture or ethnic bent, I wouldn’t put Irish cuisine at the top of my list. I’m German, and Danish, and French-Canadian too, and, frankly, I know more about Danish coffeecake and pasta carbonara and sweet and sour pork than I do about brown bread or cabbage or leeks or champ.
Thing is, everyone comes from somewhere and every somewhere has its spice, and, like the weather, you don’t have a choice so you go with whatcha got. Poland, Armenia, South Africa, Alaska, Nepal, Siberia, Egypt, Guam, Appalachia, Sumatra, India, France, Ireland. Feels good to be a part of a tradition, to know where you come from, and what that place is about. Celebrate it, I say, and pass the soda bread.
Here’s this St. Patrick’s Day menu: there will be reubens of course, with extra kraut for the Germans in the room, and colcannon and soda bread and cake for dessert. May the horns of your cattle always touch heather. May the hinges of our friendship never grow rusty.
Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!
3 cups cooked and mashed potatoes
2 cups chopped, boiled cabbage
4-6 slices Irish or Canadian bacon
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1 large onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped
4 T butter
1 cup bread crumbs, scant
Combine potatoes and cabbage together in large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sauté bacon in large skillet until crisp. Remove bacon to drain on clean paper towels; sauté onion, garlic and leek in same skillet. Add half of the butter to the skillet and stir in potato and cabbage mixture. Crumble/chop bacon and add half of it to the mixture. Mix and heat through. Transfer to a buttered casserole. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and dot with remaining butter. Place in 425°F oven and bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle top with remaining bacon.
Serves 4.
Irish Whiskey Cake
1 (18½ oz) pkg spice cake mix
1 large pkg instant vanilla pudding
¾ cup milk
½ cup oil
¾ cup Irish whiskey
4 large eggs
⅓ cup chopped walnuts
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp water
2 tsp whiskey
Blend cake mix and pudding mix in large bowl. In a separate bowl, blend milk, oil and whiskey, then add to dry ingredients. Mix for two minutes by hand, and make sure to scrape sides of bowl. Pour into a lightly greased tube pan. Sprinkle with walnuts. Bake approximately 1½ hours at 300 until lightly browned on top. Remove from oven and let cool in pan.
Melt butter in a saucepan, and add sugar, water and whiskey; stir. Boil gently for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and cool for 3 minutes. Pour over cake while it is still in the pan. Let cool for 1 hour, then remove cake from tube pan right side up, and place on cake plate. Leave it overnight and it’s even better.

This Land of Seasons I Love

Archived | March 5, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I spent a good part of the evening as I listened cooking up some white chicken chili and sloppy Joes and some gooey chocolate caramel bars for Mr. Sundberg and the kids to take along to the family cabin on Sunday. The kids are on spring break and had hoped for an adventure and Mr. Sundberg had the energy for it this time around. I have a need to catch up on paperwork and bills and such, so off they went for three days in the northland.
And what do you know? The snow I’ve been secretly wishing for started coming down on Monday, and kept coming down for a good 18 hours. I say “secretly” because just about everyone around is commenting on how “spring is just around the corner” and updating neighbors on the progress of the lilies and the daffodils and irises — all bulbed and sprouting and reaching toward sunny, butterflied days we can’t see. Still around the corner.
When it comes to seasons, spring is the quiet sister. You’ve got summer with its hazy stretch of laze and sun and hammocks and books, dozing on the dock, mowing lawns and diving into rivers. I love the burning colors, the wood smoke scents, the gathering tables and orchards of autumn, and the reason I live here when you add the fury and wildness of winter, snow piled high and blowing, the sharpened definition of “cozy”, the sense of impending survival mode. And spring, to me, is a restorative walk in the park, the planting, baskets of eggs, and the great prep time for the rest of it. Spring is a cool shower, the scent of rain, mud holes and the ascent of spiders on the windowpanes. Spring is WormFest, hazy green fields, berries and fluffy salads with pineapple and coconut and lime.
So much freshness and clarity and green. Which is why I keep secret, most years, my late-winter wish for just one more storm. Bring it on, dark skies, and cover the house with snow. Blanket the drive so I can’t get out, and release Time awhile so I might bake, and pay a few bills, and dust the shelves that have gathered a layer, and putter and putz. Let me run across a documentary by chance, something on the suffragettes or black mambas or the giant squid no one ever sees. Or a love story I watched when I was younger and less wise, or the biography of Dolly Madison, or Roosevelt, or Rosa Parks or Rasputin. Give me a small stretch of time for a nap late in the day, and please let there be syrup in the fridge. French toast would be good as the day sifts into night. Yes, some French toast, and lit candles, and a text or two, or a call even, from the children, out romping in the twilit snow on a frozen lake somewhere out there, to the north, in this land of seasons I love.
Important things often come full circle, to a familiar place, and it’s that way with baking. I try all kinds of new things here and there, but return, inevitably, to a good pan of bars. It’s a sure, simple thing. Much like rain, and summer vacation, and being touched on the cheek by someone you love. These bars are easy, and won’t last long, but that’s fine. You can always make more.
Oatmeal Bars
4 cups quick oats
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter
Mix quick oats, butter and sugars together and press flat in 9 x 13 cake pan, lightly greased. Bake at 350-375 degrees for 12 minutes, give or take a minute. Heat chocolate chips and peanut butter together. Spread evenly over crust, and refrigerate bars until the chocolate is solid and you can’t wait any longer.