Happy to be There, Happy to Leave

Archived | September 25, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Mr. Sundberg and I went out to the orchard that morning and loaded up on baking apples — Wealthy and Cortland mostly, and a small bag of Honeycrisp, my favorite eating apple. We bought cider, too, and a sack of kettle corn, which we had no problem polishing off on the drive home, along with a small package of cheese curds. The weather is perfect these past few days, and I’ve let go of some time in the kitchen in favor of adventure, and car snacks are always good.
When we got home it was my intent to read awhile, catch up on world and local news and a chapter or two of the book I’m reading on being an introvert. I curled up in the window seat with the window open, and I don’t know if it was the breeze or the warm sun on my legs or the acoustic guitar music Mr. Sundberg was listening to in the kitchen, but I dozed off and found myself in a dream that looked like a Maxfield Parrish painting come to life. There were trees and a stream and a small pond with silvery fish in it, and golden light seemed to emanate from everything. It resembled the Andersens’ backyard about now, all insanely well-groomed and festooned with seasonal plants and flowers and vines and various gourds and the old wooden wagon filled with corn and the scarecrow they put together every year. But the dream was more heaven-like, and I was happy to be there, and happy to leave.
What woke me wasn’t a noise; it was a smell. Pie. Apple pie: one in the oven; one baked, on the counter. Mr. Sundberg had a hankering for pie, it seems, and he must have been on it the moment I opened my book. Pie with a lovely doughy thick crust the way I like it, a sprinkling of nutmeg over the orchard apples, and juices bubbling up through the leaves he’d fashioned with the extra dough. “For you,” he said, as he presented a hefty slice on a plate, complete with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. For me. My gosh. To be handed a slice of warm pie on a Saturday afternoon, just as the show starts? After walking through an orchard and reading in the sunlight? Well, guess I don’t need a nap to visit heaven.
I’m not sure why, but every year about this time I get a one last craving for potato salad. Seems transitional. It’s good for picnics or potlucks, and you can make it by the bucket if you’re so inclined. Goes just right with sloppy joes, or grilled chicken, or pork chops in the crock pot.
Potato Salad
Sprinkle 5 cups sliced or cubed cooked potatoes with 2 tsp each sugar and vinegar. Add ¾ to 1 cup chopped onion, 1½ cup mayonnaise, salt and celery seed to taste. Toss. Fold in 4 hard-cooked eggs, sliced. Chill. Serves 8ish.

The Real Comfort

Archived | September 20, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I puttered around the kitchen all evening, cleaning out cupboards and kind of taking stock of what I have and don’t have, wiping down the pantry shelves, filling a bag or two for the food shelf at church and making a note to vacuum behind the fridge one of these days. I made a grocery list for fall baking, and pulled out a few recipes for the week — gingersnaps and stroganoff and apple cranberry pie. Then, last of all, I put away all the dishes and wiped out the sink.
Most nights are like that. Especially when Mr. Sundberg is gone, I often stay up awhile after the kids hit the sack and I kind of center myself by putting things back in order. I can still sleep without doing so, mind you, but evening chores are a nice way to wind down. I remember when I was young, my mother tucking in me and my brothers, leaving the hall light on and heading downstairs.
That hall light had to stay on. If it didn’t, one of us hollered. And then another of us hollered. We kept hollering, “Turn the hall light on!” until she did. That light was less comfort than habit, I think. The real comfort was in the sounds coming up the heating vent from the kitchen: water running; glasses clinking; the quiet brush of the broom over the floor, my father’s voice wrapping itself around my mother’s as they discussed weekend plans, or laughed about Lord knows what. I could hear the screen door open and shut as my father let the family dog out to pee, and let ‘er back in again. I could hear the shove and click of doors being shut for the night, and the flip of switches, and the footsteps of my parents as they headed up to bed — father’s usually first, then mother’s. I listened as they brushed their teeth, talked about church on Sunday, and how the woodpile needs to be shored up, and it was to the sound of their quiet bed talk that I often faded into sleep.
I miss those night sounds of my parents. Now, when I lie in bed at night, I hear the train across town, and dogs barking. I hear creaks, and crickets, and the wind. The even, quiet breathing of the kids in their sleep. All good sounds, and sweet, for the falling.
This is an easy one, and better than just about anything when you’re craving chocolate and don’t have a whole lot of time. You can fancy up these cupcakes with frosting, or eat ’em plain.
Cream Cheese Filled Cupcakes
8 oz cream cheese
⅓ cup sugar
1 egg
6 oz chocolate chips
Dash salt
Cream cheese and sugar; mix in egg, then chips and salt.
Make your favorite chocolate cake mix according to directions. Fill muffin cups ½ full of batter, drop healthy teaspoonful of filling into center, add a bit more batter til cream cheese is covered and muffin cup is about ¾ full. Bake according to directions for cupcakes. No need for frosting for these cupcakes; you’ll find it in the middle.

Where “Home” Comes From

Archived | September 13, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Been enjoying the shift from hot weather to breezy days and calm, cool nights. Sunsets have been especially golden and lovely, and the cicadas were going nonstop there for a while, sounding like the air being let out of summer. They’ve settled down, and the kids have a routine going, and I’ve been kind of fighting the urge to bake everything in my recipe book.
It’s like that this time of year. The feeling of something ahead, of a time to put things in order and make sure the snow blower is in working order, and slowly put away the lawn ornaments and the chairs and clean out the birdfeeders. I have a deck project going. It somehow came undone after I stained it with colored stain last summer, and I had a shredded deck there for a while, but the power washing is done and sanding is under way. Thinking I can get to the staining early in the week. There is the annual window washing to do, too, and caulking in the bathrooms, and some painting around doors outside just to spruce things up.
Times like this I could feel a bit overwhelmed with the work it takes to maintain a house. But what I’m taken with is more a kind of humble feeling at how fortunate I am to have a house. Really. It’s such a great thing to have windows to wash so we can see the birds and the trees and the neighbors’ houses more clearly. I can take the sweetest naps on the living room rug, even sweeter after I vacuum up the pencil shavings and crumbs from the cookies the kids are supposed to eat in the kitchen. And moving around my kitchen after the counter has been wiped and the fridge cleaned out and the floor washed is such a feeling of having arrived, somehow. Or maybe it’s simply comfort.
I think that’s part of where “home” comes from. It’s about who lives in your house, yes, and all the laughter and memories and meals together and so on. But a house becomes a home when you attend to it, when you fix the broken pieces and paint the peeling ones and redo the parts that aren’t working so well anymore. It’s part of that feeling when you return from a long time away and see the house, and think, “There it is. We’re home.” It’s what makes winter less daunting: you have a house to prepare, and you get it all going, and when the snowstorm hits, you’re warm and the house is secure. The big work has been done, and you can rest awhile because the furnace filter has been changed, and the windows are sealed properly, and the repairs on the radiators were successful and they’re cranking out heat. You can sit while, in the evening by the fire whose chimney is soot free and good-to-go and look out the window at the snow falling and think how maybe next spring we’ll start up the garden and plant some sugar snap peas this time around, and maybe some pumpkins, too, to carve out next fall.
So yes, there’s work to be done. Good work. Work I feel blessed to have to do, in a house that has become a home.
There are days when there’s not much in the cupboard for after-school snacks, and recipes like this are the answer. They’re quick and reasonably healthful, and something that will make the kids say, “Yay!” when they get in off the bus. Or spouses, who have been at work and for whom dinner seems a long way off. Which it does, sometimes.
Spinach Dip
1 package vegetable dip/soup mix (I use Knorr)
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayo
3 small green onions, chopped
10 oz frozen, chopped spinach — thawed, rinsed, drained and squeezed
Combine above ingredients. Mix well. Chill 3 hours. Cut out center of an unsliced loaf of rye bread and fill with dip. Or simply cut bread into chunks, or shred as you eat. Substitute a small can of water chestnuts, drained and chopped, for the onions if you wish. Or throw ’em both in. Good with carrots, celery, crackers, too, as dippers.

The Adventure Never Ends

Archived | September 6, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Got caught up with end-of-summer chores much of the day, and the next day was the same. Sunday afternoon we were trying to shore up a rather steep incline with natural fill from a good day of yard work, and that’s when it happened. If you’re a person who feels compelled to assign blame I suppose you could say it was Mr. Sundberg’s fault for letting go of the terribly heavy bag of grass clippings as he tried to empty it, the bag promptly rolling down into the small ravine in the woods near the house. Others of you might say it was my fault for feeling compelled to retrieve the bag — sliding down through brambly growth in my Converse sneakers. Oh, gosh. Or you could say it was the bees’ fault. But bees are supposed to sting, especially when a woman comes out of nowhere and stomps on their home. I’ve moved that quickly only three or four times in my life, and if it weren’t for Mr. Sundberg reaching out for my hand and taking it and pulling me right on up, I could very well have woken up in a hospital Monday morning. Really, it was no one’s fault. It just happened.
Step on a beehive and you’re gonna get stung. I counted six stings, not so many: one on my left forearm; two on my right hand; three on my right calf. I’ve been stung before, but this time, for some odd reason, my body reacted. It puffed and swelled and itched like all getout. Mr. S got some ice and put it in a baggie and we sat here in the kitchen and talked and waited and watched as my arms expanded and my wrists and knuckles and veins disappeared. I took Benadryl, which made me so tired, but the swelling slowed and the baking soda paste helped and I went to bed early. Which is good because shopping last minute for composition notebooks and socks and bobby pins and a new cell phone just before dinner Monday night took a bit of composure and that’s what I managed to have, if only for a stretch of hours. Got the kids off to school Tuesday, and today I can see my knuckles and veins again, and mix up cookie dough without feeling as if my hands are balls of metwurst.
What I’ve learned with a bit of research is that this isn’t uncommon, for someone in the middle of the life-trip swelling up from a bee sting when in childhood there was no allergic reaction at all. Seems it can get worse as a person grows older, so “epi pen” is on my list, and so is a nice meal for Mr. Sundberg (I’ve not been able to cook up a storm), and a bottle of wine and some bakery cake for me because I turn a year older this week and it’s a good time to appreciate what I’ve got going, and that the adventure never ends. Just gets more interesting. Sure does.
Here’s what I’m makin’ for lunch sometime this weekend. The kind of meal you want to run inside for when you’re spending the day outside.
Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast
2 2 oz pkg sliced beef, cut up as you like
Cream sauce:
2 T butter
2 T flour
1½ cups milk
salt as desired
dash pepper
Melt butter in a small saucepan. Stir in flour, salt and pepper. Add milk all at once. Cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly, stirring all the while. Cook and stir one minute more. Serve over your favorite toasted bread.