Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. We finished one fine meal of homemade pizza which Mr. Sundberg and I made together, sharing a glass of white wine and dancin’ around a bit to good music from the heart of Texas. I’ve been to Texas only once in my life, with my grandmother and two aunts when I was young and one of my aunts was moving down there, and I have good memories of the place: broiled flounder, warm winds, putt-putt golf, picking up shells in the Gulf of Mexico, and swimming in a hotel pool each night during what would be the only road trip I’d ever take with my father’s mother.
Her name was Rosella, and she was a sign reader. We’d pass a sign; she’d read it out loud. And then she’d comment on it. “Harv’s Implement. Wonder if Harv’s in or he’s got his sons working for him like Donny does down at the mercantile. Hmm. Dottie’s Bakery. S’pose they got some Bismarck’s? Fiona Harke always wanted to have a bakery, but Herman wouldn’t have it. Said it was too much work and he needed Fiona at the farm. Worked that woman to her grave, I tell you. Look, Wichita, 93 miles. I thought we were closer than that. Railroad crossing. I don’t understand that. It’s a train crossing. I remember when the train started coming through town. I was a young girl and loved to go down to the mill and watch the train go by. And I did, often, til the train hit ol’ Otis and killed him there on the spot and my mother said no more. She was that way about parades, too. Wanted me to stand near her and I’d just as soon join the parade. I must have tried a few times or at least wandered off for my mother to worry herself like that.”
Could have been an annoying thing, I suppose, Grandma’s sign reading, but I was somehow charmed by it all. Whenever my brothers and I stayed with her, and rode along on short trips to the butcher or the grocer or her friend Ginny’s house or to the beach down at the river, Grandma read signs. It was, now that I think about it, one of the few circumstances which led to her talking about her life. Maybe reading those signs gave her a kind of permission to say a little more than she might have said otherwise.
Grandma got a speeding ticket on the way up north to home, while passing through Missouri. I can’t imagine she didn’t see the speed limit sign; she must have ignored it. Wisconsin is a long drive from Texas, and Grandma had things to do. She was one of the hardest working, most common-sense women I’ve known in my life. I guess you could say she died an outlaw. She never did settle that ticket (“Not gonna pay it,” she said), and has been a wanted woman in Missouri since. She’s been a wanted woman in these parts, too. Mostly ’cause we miss her, and the fattigmand she made each Christmas, and how she wore aprons, and waved her wooden spoon around when it was time to eat.
When spring comes around the bend, away with the heavy creams and gravies and cheese Casseroles. Bring on the fruit and the glaze and the fluff! Here’s a light one that will stand on its own at the potluck.
Cherry Pineapple Fluff
1 20 oz can crushed pineapple, drained
1 can sweetened condensed milk
12 oz Cool Whip
1 can cherry pie filling
Miniature marshmallows (to taste)
Chopped nuts, optional
Mix together and refrigerate.
Listened to the show sometime in the middle of the night Sunday because my laptop battery died at the Dublin airport, and it was not bad. It had been a long eleven days of travel, and I learned more and grew more in Ireland than I ever imagined I would. Visiting a new place will do that to a person. Bit uncomfortable at times, but not at all bad. Besides, anything worthwhile is going to take some effort.
There was the long flight, the language issues, the whole euro exchange and figuring that out, the moving around and having to keep track of everything, the inability to talk with people back at home (my cell was pretty much useless), the activity-induced aches and pains, the thin hotel walls at places here and there, jet lag and its ensuing fatigue on both ends, the frustration with not being able to find our way on occasion, a tumble I took in a slippery shower, not enough time to see everything we wanted to see, or see more of what we did see, the pile of bills waiting at home, the empty fridge, blah blah blah.
No, travel is not easy. But what you learn and experience is so much more that it cancels out anything I might consider inconvenient. My gosh. I learned so much about Ireland and its people, and I have a much stronger sense of one of the places my family comes from. I ate some food that was beyond-description delicious. I spent more time with my mother in one stretch than I have in a long time, and I got to see her climb to the very top of the Cliffs of Moher while I hung back a bit. I met old Irishmen who told me stories, and young Irishwomen who explained things for me. I drank a Guinness, I smelled the morning air in Dublin and breathed in the evening air in Killarney. I listened to accordion and fiddle music while I sat near a fire and ate apple crumble. I kissed the Blarney stone, and I saw a fairy tree.
I could go on for forty-five pages or more about what I learned. It’s what I remembered during those eleven days that is as important: I remembered how large the world is, and how small, and how much of it I have not seen; how patient I can be; how you can feel love for people you’ve never met before; how good it is to have the mother I have; how much I miss my kids and how independent they’re becoming; how much I count on Mr. S and how grateful I am for him; how it feels to say, “I am an American”; how good homemade pizza tastes; how precious it is to have one’s own home. I remembered I’m no spring chicken, and I remembered what it feels like to just be. I remembered Minnesota in the springtime, and purple lilacs, and how the birds seem to come out of nowhere and fill up the trees. And I remembered that we each get one life, and it is short, and beautiful, and this is mine. And then I ordered an Irish coffee. Because I was there, because I could. And it tasted quite delightful.
Here’s a recipe that comes close to the best scone I ate in Ireland. It’s quite simple, and it works with honey and butter, or jam, or simply on its own.
Maple Oatmeal Scones
2 cups flour
1½ cups oatmeal
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 stick butter
½ cup buttermilk*
½ cup maple syrup
3 T sugar
½ tsp maple extract
½ tsp vanilla
½ tsp cinnamon
⅛ tsp ginger
⅓ cup raisins
⅓ cup chopped pecans, optional
Combine dry ingredients (except raisins) in bowl and mix thoroughly. Cut in butter until walnut-sized chunks remain. Add buttermilk, maple syrup and egg, and stir briefly until dough comes together. Add raisins (and pecans if desired) and mix a bit more. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and pat evenly into a circle about ¾ inch thick. Cut into pie-shaped pieces. Bake on greased cookie sheet at 375° until light golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from sheet, glaze with confectioner’s icing (flavored with a bit of orange is nice) if desired or dot with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
*If you have no buttermilk, you can substitute yogurt or sour cream one to one, or ½ cup milk and ½ teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar.
Listened to the show Sunday, in Ireland, and it was not bad. Sunday night instead, time difference and all, and it made me a bit homesick, tell you the truth. Just a wee bit of heartache. Don’t get me wrong — Ireland is lovely, in most every way. The people, the food, the landscape. There’s a conversational way all around, with a bit of brooding now and then, and I think it must be the Life. People here work hard, very hard, always have. And though the weather is never to the extremes with heat or cold, it’s often rough weather, and it can change from season to season within the hour. The history here is something, too, arduous and sometimes terrible, which might account for the happy-go-luckiness of many a person. As Peter, our guide, says, “Life is short; have a good time while you’re here.”
And so we are. Today we drove around the Ring of Kerry. Breathtaking landscapes, really. Did a little shopping (which I prefer to a lot of shopping) and visited Skellig where there’s a great story of the monks of Skellig Michael. Again, hardship. What people have done to get closer to God… Had some Irish stew with lamb, and more brown bread, and visited Kate Kearney’s Cottage for dinner and entertainment.
A great blessing of a visit to another place — the greatest, perhaps — is looking back toward home and seeing what you really do have there. Missing things, people, places you didn’t imagine missing, and feeling a kind of loyalty and groundedness when you think of where you come from when you tell people, “I live in Minnesota, in the Midwest of the United States.” I love to say this to people I meet, and I smile when I say it, and I feel that small, very real ache.
Some people never get to have a far-away adventure with their mother, and I feel blessed, and I’m living in the moment, and gathering very fine memories. And, in the moments between, I think of the smell of the air at home; the sound of the woods at night; the neighbors’ lights on in the evening, their shadows on the walls; Mr. Sundberg calling my name from out on the porch; the hum of the kids as they do their thing; the feel of a wooden spoon in my hand as I mix another batch of cookie bars, the taste of homemade pizza, hot chocolate, and lemon bars.
I love to travel; I’ve been to many places. Fact is, dear ones, the USA, Midwest, Minnesota — that’s where my heart is, wherever I may be.
I’m told by many bakers in Ireland that every person has his or her own recipe for brown bread. Here’s one as close to the best brown bread I’ve had. Try it, and change it a bit to suit your liking. Some use no eggs; some add raisins. Most use buttermilk, and many vary the type(s) of flour. Honey isn’t common, either, but I’ve a thing for sweetness.
Irish Brown Bread
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 T wheat germ
2 T honey
1 T butter
2¼ cups buttermilk (approx)
Mix together all dry ingredients. Rub in butter. Form a well in center and pour in honey and buttermilk; mix well. Turn out on floured board and knead lightly. Form into a round and cut across the top to prevent cracking. Put into greased and floured 8 or 9 inch cake pan and bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. The one time of the day I felt relaxed. Made a turkey for dinner, and some green bean hotdish and mashed potatoes and cranberries and rolls and stuffing. For dessert, strawberry shortcake. Why turkey when the ham was on its way Sunday? Well, the turkey was small — 13 lbs — a back up meal from Christmas vacation that never got made. So I threw it in on Saturday, and was that ever wonderful. Kind of a last hurrah for winter, and comfort food, and gravy.
Of course, I’m trying to clean up the house, too, for spring, that kind of rush where you want to use up what you have, clean out the shelves and cupboards and drawers, and start packing away the winter things. Plus, I’m taking off Thursday morning for Ireland, ten days of travel, and I’ve been busy baking up a storm for Mr. S and the kids. Not that they can’t take care of themselves. But, for some odd reason, it will feel much better getting on that plane knowing the fridge is full of good things, and the garage has been swept, the laundry caught up, the Easter bunnies and baskets put away. And so on. Type A, maybe. But it works for me.
My favorite thing about traveling to another place is the journey of it all. Not the “there” but the getting there and being there and leaving there to visit the next place. And, while you are there, taking in the landscape — the scents, the people, the sounds, the food, how it all feels. So, Ireland, yes — and getting there, and finding our way from Dublin to the Cliffs of Moher, and what to order from the menu, and where to wander, and the feeling of leaving, and then remembering. And feeling, somehow, changed. Hard to place a finger on it, but I think it’s like that. You visit a place far away, or a place you have never been and, somehow, the journey changes you. Just a bit. I like that. It’s like a scenic overlook on the road of your life. You pull over and pause to really see and feel a place, and that’s a trip in itself. Sure is.
I’ve made this recipe twice in the last week, using cinnamon bread and a dash of nutmeg, and it was eaten both hot and cold, plain and with syrup. Good rainy weather food, I say, from my dear friend Laurel, who is in her 80s and knows how to bake like all getout.
Sweet Laurel’s Quick Bread Pudding
2 cups bread cubes
2 eggs, slightly beaten
⅓ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
⅛ tsp. salt
2 cups milk, scalded
Place bread cubes in lightly greased 1 qt casserole. Combine eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt. Gradually add scalded milk. Pour over bread cubes in casserole, sprinkle with cinnamon. Place in pan of hot water in oven. Bake at 325 for approx 1 hour, or until silver knife comes out clean. Add raisins if desired.