A Fulfilled Life

Archived | June 27, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I’d just finished an article about Nietzsche, who said that “art is the great stimulant to life” and I’m with him. It’s one reason I turn the radio on every Saturday, to listen to Mr. Keillor tell stories and to Mr. Dworsky’s lovely piano playing, and Tim and Sue’s acting, and Fred’s voices and sounds, and the Shoe Band. Art, all of it. And listening to it a stimulant as well as the performing of it all must be. I’m thinking everybody practices — or can practice — some form of art, not only the painters and sculptors and dancers and musicians and writers. I mean, if we proceed with mindfulness and care and a certain eye toward a level of something, aren’t baking or mowing the lawn or even conversations forms of art?
That same article mentions Nietzsche’s idea of a “fulfilled life”, and that with such a life comes a measure of suffering along the way. It’s kind of ironic, in a way. We struggle and have pain, and express it with art, and sometimes the expressing causes a new pain. Writing a cookbook feels like art to me, but there are certainly pain-in-the-ass stretches of time. This is not a complaint; making a book is simply a challenge. I’ve had to draw some major boundaries with the kids where time and space are concerned, and I’ve spent hours some nights in a weird culinary agony about which dessert works better — rhubarb pie or apple crisp, or should I abandon dessert and go for ham balls as another appetizer — for a particular section. I’ve shut myself away on occasion, and I’m preoccupied, and I’ve canceled a number of social activities in the pursuit of what feels like art to me. Sometimes I talk to myself, and sometimes I get up to find a recipe and forget what the recipe was. Sometimes I have phone conversations with Mr. Sundberg and then we hang up and I can’t recall a thing we talked about.
I’ve always ascribed to the notion that anything worthwhile is going to involve some hard work and a bit of pain. It’s true. Raising kids, finding the right job, being in a healthy relationship, owning your own home, having a garden, or living with a dog. Just BEING can be painful and hard sometimes, but it’s worthwhile, in my mind. The trick is to make it fulfilling. So my charge to you and the summer nears its halfway point, is find yourself some art to practice, and if you’re not interested in sculpting, look at something you already do and simply kick it up a notch. Make a gourmet meal and invite people you don’t know so well over for dinner. Start a book group and read something people will argue about. Stain your deck like no other deck has ever been stained. Write a musical about your life. Write a love poem, and send it, or write it in the driveway with sidewalk chalk. Invent a dance, and teach it to your neighbors. Try making cheese. Seriously.
Or cook up a batch of these wings. They’re something else, and good year round. Consider another dipping sauce, something you concoct all on your own. With grape jam, perhaps, and sesame seeds. Never do know.
Grandpa’s Wings
Start with a 5 lb bag frozen wings.
Whole chicken wings come in three parts: the drumette (thickest and meatiest), the wingette or “flat”, and the wing tip. To prepare, hold wing down firmly on chopping block and cut at each of the two joints from the inside out -try to get between the bones. Discard wing tips or use for soup stock.
Deep fry at 375, 10 minutes for drummies, 8 for flats. When they float, they’re done. Wings can also be grilled or baked, as you wish. Dredge in 2 sticks’ worth of melted butter, combined with 1-4 T Tobasco sauce. Serve with blue cheese sauce and celery sticks.
Super Buffalo Blue Cheese Sauce
1-2 tsp white wine vinegar
2 T milk
1 T finely chopped onion
1 small clove garlic, crushed
2 T minced parsley, fresh if avail
½ cup real mayo
2-4 T crumbled blue cheese (get the good stuff)
1 T lemon juice
⅛ tsp salt
¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne
Mix and serve with wings and celery sticks.
Good for 2 dozen whole wings (48 pieces).

Consider Patience

Archived | June 20, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was in the kitchen where I usually am on Saturdays, cooking some pasta for salad and contemplating sunshine and doing a few stretches. The kids and I signed up for a yoga class this summer, only once a week, a core strength yoga class, and I have to say I have discovered a muscle or two I had not realized existed. To admit I’m sore from yoga feels a little embarrassing, but it’s true. I am sore. I got a bit carried away with some of the poses. Warriors especially. And I think I established a variation on the downward-facing-dog pose that may be worthy of a photograph, enlarged and framed. Or not.
I signed up for the class mainly to do something with the kids, and to find another way of calming myself. Truth is, I have a touch of anxiety now and then, mostly a morning event, a genetic thing, I’m guessing, as I see it in members of my family, and the kids, too. Anxiety is not a fun thing. It feels like gravity has become tentative for a while, and at any given moment you might go floating off into the cosmos. You’re not sure what to be sure of, and there’s a sense of needing to hold onto something awhile. It can, on occasion, go haywire. I’ve had only one or two bona fide panic attacks in my life, and I’d rather not again, thank you. Trying to catch one’s breath and even oneself out sounds simple, but can be a frightening thing when you throw panic in there. I know people who have panic attacks pretty frequently, and it’s not something to make a joke about.
Somewhere I read about how patience is a good antidote for anxiety. Makes sense to me, since impatience can get a person all worked up. I chose “patience” as a word one year in place of a resolution, and I learned it. I really did. I’m patient as all getout now, and can wait in line for an hour without losing much of anything but time, and time is never lost if you make some use of it, so I look at people and read through recipes at the checkout and think about the next thing, and it’s fine. But a yoga class can’t hurt, except to make a person a bit sore, and the good thing about pain is that it’s a message you’re alive, and you can feel, and it helps you want to stay that way.
If you’re feeling anxious, then, my thought is to consider patience, with the world and your work and your family and yourself. Even if it means using your time for something other than the most efficient thing. Because, ultimately, patience may lengthen your life, and that, my friends, would be a blessing to us all. And remember, along with all those beautiful warrior and thunderbolt and hero and mountain poses, there is the child and the lotus, and the bridge. And the corpse pose, too, which feels more like a floating angel, but that’s beside the point.
Now is the time of year when the best thing for lunch has less to do with beef and more to do with berries. Here’s a light, lovely salad ring of berries and cream, and I’m guessing it’ll be a favorite before too long.
Raspberry Dessert
You’ll need a ring mold for this recipe.
Bottom filling:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
8 oz Cool Whip
1 c sugar
Blend and pour into mold.
Next layer:
2 10 oz pkg frozen raspberries
2 3 oz pkg raspberry Jell-O
2 cups hot water
Dissolve Jell-O in water and add to frozen berries. The cold berries will start to jell right away. When it sets a bit, pour over top of cream mixture, and refrigerate. Unmold over lettuce. Serve with Cool Whip as topping.

Life is Meaningful Because it Stops

Archived | June 12, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was preparing for this week’s garage sale while Mr. Sundberg spent the evening out in the garage with a number of his friends. They get together every month or so in someone’s basement or garage and grill out and have a few beers or cocktails and tell jokes and stories. The weather wasn’t so great, but there were seven men out there around the fire pit, and I heard a lot of laughter and they kept it going til after ten. Later, as we lay in bed, he told me about it. How they talked not about sports but about recent events in the news and books they have read and the people who have influenced them of late. It’s his version of a Bible study, I think. Our church has one for men, but Mr. Sundberg is often out of town on Tuesday mornings early, and everyone needs a time and place to talk about the Big Thoughts.
What I found most interesting was what he said about mortality. One of his favorite writers is Tolkien, who wrote about The Gift of Men, which is mortality. “See, the Ring was the thing for the hobbits,” he said. “They’re mortal. Which makes them able to resist the power of the ring, and overcome it. If they lived forever, there wouldn’t be anything at stake. Because they can and will die, they have to make choices.” Now, Mr. S is no Einstein, but he is well-read and up on what’s going on in the world, and he’s a thinker. Now and then he brings up something that gets my thoughts going. It didn’t keep me up all night, but I remembered reading a good while back that Kafka said something similar, that life is meaningful because it stops.
And that’s what I thought about all day Sunday while going through closets and drawers and the garage itself in preparation for the garage sale I’m putting on later this week. I do this every few years, mostly for the conversation and good work time for the kids (they receive the bulk of the profits for school trips next year if they help out) and for the feeling of lightening the load of things we carry with us. If we lived forever, would we have garage sales? Would we go to yoga, or meet in garages to talk about life? Would we take such care making a cinnamon coffeecake for a visit with a neighbor in grief?
I think I’m glad we don’t live forever. That it all ends, at least here, anyway, makes washing clothes and baking a pie and getting together with each other and watching a sunset all kind of beautiful. Because everything ends. A gift, indeed, if you think about it.
Mr. Sundberg just about tipped when I suggested a rhubarb marinade for the ribs he made for his friends Saturday night. But he tried it, and the boys ate it all up, along with the dip, which didn’t “match” seasoning-wise, but tasted pretty dang good.
Rhubarbecued Ribs
4 lb lean, meaty beef short ribs
½ cup water
½ tsp seasoned salt
1 cup sliced rhubarb
1 envelope onion soup mix (1½ oz.)
⅓ cup honey
⅓ cup chili sauce
¾ cup rose wine
⅓ cup water
½ tsp basil
⅛ tsp pepper
Place ribs in 9×13 pan. Add ½ cup water and sprinkle with seasoned salt. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for two hours. Combine remaining ingredients in a sauce pan and simmer about half an hour. Pour over ribs and bake another half an hour, uncovered. Baste several times and place on serving platter. Garnish with greens. Serves 6.
Hot ‘n Spicy Tortilla Dip
1 lb ground beef
1 lb Velveeta cheese, cut into chunks
1 (16 oz.) can diced tomatoes with chilies
2 tsp chili powder
1 T Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp beef bouillon
Brown ground beef and drain fat. Add all ingredients and stir until cheese melts.
Serve in a crock pot with deli chips or corn chips.

The Celebration of a Life

Archived | June 5, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Was workin’ on a special request as I listened, a rainbow birthday cake. Our youngest turned sixteen on Saturday and a rainbow cake makes perfect sense. She’s has always lamented the notion of “growing up”, and she’s all about wild animals and peace signs and seeing the world. She’s still on a fruit bat kick, and tends to combine the sparkle of rhinestones with camouflage pants. I made a similar cake for her last year, with five layers of solid bright color, and after reading through a number of recipes, I combined them all and made a new recipe for a two layer cake, with three cups of colored batter poured into each. There wasn’t enough red food color for the frosting she wanted, so we made do with bright pink butter/cream cheese frosting. What resulted was not as rainbowesque as it was psychedelic. All the better, as far as she was concerned.
Our oldest has a birthday this coming weekend, and has put in an order for a “pink lemonade cake,” complete with lemon zest and pink lemonade concentrate. Pink. Works for me. There is a bit of futziness involved with this one, but that’s what birthdays are about. Your wish? My command. Our son, whose birthday was three months back, isn’t a cake fan. He wanted pie. Homemade, French silk, mile-high pie with whipped topping. Now, Mr. Sundberg is pretty much a no-frills guy. He has an affinity for vanilla cake, or something called “Lazy Dazy Cake” — a homemade cake in an 8×8 pan with a brown sugar, coconut and butter frosting.
I love birthday cake. Any birthday cake. Ice cream cake, homemade chocolate fudge cake, grocery store cake, bakery cake, gas station cake, leftover cake. Nothin’ wrong with a cake you pick up on the way, though it’s tough to beat a good homemade layer cake with butter cream frosting. When it comes to a birthday, really anything goes. Fillings are good, layers good, cupcakes or cakes with flowers or confetti or little plastic people or plain cakes — all good. What I love most is the idea of a whole cake for one person, glowing with lit candles, and a song to go along. The celebration of a life. We’re glad you were born, and your life holds purpose and meaning, and we think you’re really something, and you get the first piece, after you make a wish. Keep it to yourself, and you just never know.
I’ve been a fan of rhubarb since I was a kid. It was rhubarb cake first, then a dessert or two, then pie. My rhubarb craving of late is for sauce. The kind my grandmother made and poured on everything and sometimes drank with a straw.
Basic Rhubarb Sauce
2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
Simmer rhubarb, water and sugar in a small saucepan for 15 minutes or until rhubarb softens and sauce thickens. Makes 2 cups. For thicker sauce, use a bit less water. Serve on ice cream, pancakes, just about anything a bit of sweetness.
Try this one for a bit of tangy zest.
Rhubarb Sauce
3 cups rhubarb, fresh (or 16-oz frozen cut rhubarb)
1 ¼ cup sugar
⅓ cup orange juice
2 tsp grated orange peel
1 cinnamon stick
Combine rhubarb, sugar, orange juice, orange peel and cinnamon stick in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cinnamon stick.