Figuring Out Who We Are

Archived | October 29, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It had been a day, to be sure. The Day of the Lumpy Space Princess. A character I’d not yet heard of until early last week, when the younger daughter announced she wished to dress as Lumpy Space Princess for Halloween. I got online, googled, and there it was: a perfect, lovely purple cloud-like figure with a star on her forehead. It would take some work. “I can do this,” I said out loud.
Went shopping and found a clearance-priced purple knit dress with straps and a cinched waist, and loaded up on 20 yards of purple tulle and some safety pins (thinking we might pin it all and she could wear the dress again). Saturday morning I went to work pinning poofs of tulle to the skirt of the dress. Not an easy thing to work with, tulle. I soon realized I would need more, and went out to pick up another 20 yards, but forgot more safety pins. Sigh. I switched to a needle and thread, and got back to work and she walked in and I was kind of glowing. I’d put four hours in and was so excited that she would just love it. She didn’t, though. Something wasn’t right. “I hope you’re going to cover the top. And fill in all those spaces.” The dress was about 2/3 covered, and I’d figured if I skipped the portion above the waist, one more roll would be enough. Third trip to the store.
Nearly three hours later, it was done. Not perfectly, but done. We pulled it gently over her head and down, tied off a portion of the shoulder straps so it would stay in place, and fashioned a small yellow star of construction paper which she taped to her forehead. She looked in the mirror. Glory be. She was the essence of the Lumpy Space Princess, for sure. She smiled, and now she was the glowing one. “Thank you so much, Mom,” she said.
Why was it that her brother, a year older, wanted only silver glitter for his costume, and didn’t really need help? “I’ve got it taken care of,” he said. There was a concert at the school on Sunday to which they had to wear their costumes, and he came out of his bedroom ready to go. Hair done kind of gelled up and wild, a darkening around his eyes, and a light film of silver glitter over his hair and face and black hoodie. Edward Cullen the Vampire, from the Twilight stories. My goodness. Spittin’ image. And they stood together for a moment, the Vampire and the Lumpy Space Princess, and I got kind of choked up.
Are costumes about mystery? Wishes? Maybe it’s about figuring out who we are. Or aren’t. Or maybe it’s as simple as fun.
Perhaps I will wear a costume this year. Rosie the Riveter, maybe. Or a Flag Semaphore person. Or the color magenta. Or a Peep. Long as there’s no tulle involved.
I often make this one on New Year’s Eve, but it’s really a dessert for all occasions. Serve it with a topping that fits the season — caramel and nuts, chocolate syrup, berries, or just plain. Simple and sweet and a little bit decadent.
Cheesecake, New York Style
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup plus 2T melted butter
1½ cup sour cream
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 lb cream cheese, broken into small pieces
Blend crumbs, ¼ cup sugar, and ¼ cup melted butter. Press into bottom
of 8 or 9-inch spring form pan.
Blend sour cream, ½ cup sugar, eggs, and vanilla in blender, about a minute. Add cream cheese, and blend ’til smooth, and add 2T melted butter and blend a bit more. Pour on top of crust. Bake in lower 3rd of oven at 325, about 45 minutes. Remove. Turn oven to broil, and put cake back in ’til attractive brown spots appear. Remove, let cool a bit, and refrigerate 4 hours, or overnight. Serve with cherry or blueberry topping. Serves 8-12.

Wonder and Possibility and What If

Archived | October 24, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Spent last week running the kids to and from play practice and debate meets and once they got home for a short stretch of hours, we set about carving pumpkins and sweeping leaves off the walks (not enough have fallen for raking) and relaxing with popcorn and hot chocolate in the cool of the evening. It was a lovely day, lovely weekend. Haven’t seen much of the kids since Monday, and won’t again for a while, but they’re enjoying being young and that’s pretty great.
I enjoyed being young. I think what I liked so much about it I wasn’t able to see then. But I can see it now. I had innocence. I took risks. I didn’t have to pay taxes. I could eat just about anything I wanted. I could stay up all night and not suffer much the next day. I said things like, “Hey we should make the biggest snowman in town” and then we did it. I made Christmas gifts for my parents, and I thought $17 was a large amount of cash. I danced in my bedroom almost every evening for a year to “Put the Lime in the Coconut”, and I tried out for plays and went on bike rides with my mom and wrote notes to my teachers telling them how wonderful they were. I jumped off the bridge into the river on County Road D, and I climbed trees.
Mostly it was about risks, small and large. The kind of risks that are about wonder and possibility and what if. Whimsy, maybe. Seems something happens as we get older, and we don’t do that so much anymore. After years of paying bills and insurance issues and cleaning up messes and car trouble, it’s difficult to say, “Why not rake up all the leaves and jump in them?”
It’s important to remember, no matter how busy the life, the young person we each once were, and have a little fun now and then. Fun. Like staying up too late. Or having a chocolate malt for dinner. Throwing a surprise party for no reason, or climbing the water tower and waving to the world. Well, you know what I’m sayin’.
Here’s one easy peasy lemon squeezy recipe anyone can make and it’s dang good this time of year. Appetizer, after school snack, main dish — you decide.
Grape Jelly Meatballs
1 jar chili sauce
1 cup grape jam (most recipes call for jelly, but jam holds its own a bit better)
1 package frozen meatballs (I use Simek’s), or make your own
Mix first two ingredients.
Place meatballs in a 2½ qt saucepan and pour sauce over.
Simmer ’til the people show up.
Recipe doubles easily.

Some Things Work and Some Don’t

Archived | October 17, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Was a good day Saturday, with a solid six hours of cutting and hauling and splitting and stacking wood for the winter. Perfect autumn day, really, and there is nothing in the world like the feeling of kicking back after a long day of hard work. Especially when you’ve got something to show for it, and we sure did: an enormous pile, two tons I’d say, of clean-smelling dry wood.
Mr. Sundberg showered and set about making one of his specialty pizzas. The Thai one this time, complete with red peppers sliced thin and some savory peanut sauce. The kids were all out galavanting, and I figured it was prime time for a long hot bath. I filled the tub deep, and dissolved in the water the purple bath ball Mr. Sundberg gave me for my birthday a while back. The water turned purple, with a kind of bright pink oily foam, and it smelled lovely. Like lavender and maybe a touch of pine. I climbed in and soaked long enough to doze off. Slept nearly half an hour, and woke to a tub of cool water, and Mr. Sundberg hollering, “Pizza in fifteen!” I got out and dried off, and let the water out. The water drained, but the purple didn’t. I mixed up some bleach water and set about scrubbing. Took me a while but I got most of the purple out. I dried off and dressed and hurried downstairs for some of the best pizza ever.
“What’s that on your arms?” Mr. S asked as we ate. I looked. My forearms looked funny. They were an odd color, a kind of purply color, and I took a clean paper towel and ran it over my elbow. Purple. Oh, gosh. I got up and went upstairs and took off my clothes. All of me that had been immersed for that bathtub nap was a light purple color. Oh for god’s sake. My ankles, knees, butt — all purple. I jumped into the shower and stood there under hot water for a good ten minutes, and scrubbed, but purple I remained. “I am a pickled beet,” I said to the mirror as I dried off again. The pizza was still warm when I got back down. “Where did you buy those bath balls you gave me?” I asked Mr. S. “Saw ’em at Menards on my way out. Big display, all colors and they smelled alright. Thought of you.” “You’re very sweet, ” I said.
There was a blue one and a green one left, and, after dinner, into the garbage they went. Some things work, and some don’t. I’m all for variety in life, and trying new things, but being purple isn’t one of them. My skin is pink, always has been, and I like it alright. Same way I like my blue eyes, and the curls in my hair, and the unusual arch of my feet. It’s what I got. Along with enough wood to heat the house for a couple months, kids who generally get home on time, and a man who really likes to make pizza and share it with me before he dozes off on the living room floor listening to classical music.
Doesn’t take much to make a life feel complete. Especially after a day of hard work.
Perfect time of year for roast beef or pork chops, thick ones, and this recipe will round it off nicely, with some steamed asparagus, and rolls too.
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
2 pounds red potatoes, quartered or baby red potatoes, halved red potatoes, quartered or halved baby reds
½ cup grated parmesan cheesegrated parmesan cheese
¼ tsp steak seasoning
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped and lightly browned in olive oil (or use 1/4 tsp garlic powder)
1 cup milk
½ cup sour cream
2 T butter
Parsley or rosemary, optional
In a medium saucepan, cover potatoes with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook 10 to 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Drain and return potatoes to saucepan on low heat. Sprinkle with Parmesan, steak seasoning and garlic. Mash potatoes, gradually adding milk, sour cream and butter, and a bit of parsley or rosemary if you wish. Mix until potatoes are fluffy. Serve, or spoon into lightly buttered 1½-quart baking dish and cover. Keep warm in oven up to an hour and serve.

The Flour Hit the Fan

Archived | October 8, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Not bad at all. What was a little bad was the number of cravings I had over the weekend, and the degree to which I decimated the kitchen to satisfy them. My gosh. I depleted the “stocking up” I’ve done in the pantry, and certainly the freezer would benefit from a meat run. I ran out of ginger and vinegar and brown sugar before long, and am left with two sticks of butter when on Friday night I had sixteen.
“Craving” is defined by Webster’s as “an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing. Might be a bit strong. Maybe the word “hankering” is what I want to say. For nutmeg, and pumpkin, and beef and pancakes and Italian meatballs. Comfort food, it appears, and it started on Saturday morning with a batch of blueberry muffins. Innocent enough. Then I made barbecued chicken wraps for lunch, sweet and sour pork and eggrolls for dinner, and apple crisp for dessert. Not so bad.
But on Sunday morning, the flour hit the fan and I got down to business, apron and all. A big roast went into the crock pot with beer and ketchup and onions for some hot beefs, and a double batch of buttermilk pancakes followed. I made a pumpkin cake, too, with thick cream cheese frosting; a pan of 7 layer bars, complete with orange colored chips mixed in that Nestle must have thought would get people all hepped up about October baking. It worked. I made some peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, too, and some whole wheat bread, and rounded it off with homemade meatballs and pasta and a loaf of what we call “garlic bubble bread.” YUM.
Sometime around 9 pm on Sunday evening, I hit the baking wall. A sore neck muscle and aching feet, but my belly was full and I was smiling, and I still am. “Whatcha gonna make today?” the kids asked at breakfast this morning, as they ate Mr. Sundberg’s leftover apple pie with a bit of ice cream. (I know, I know — pie and ice cream at breakfast is not a common thing, but why not?) I smiled at them. I’m going to make meatloaf, I replied. With cheesy potatoes. And an acorn squash and some chili. But not til Saturday. We’ve got leftovers up the wazoo, and I’m nearly out of butter. Imagine that.
Bacon is one of those miracle foods. Goes with just about anything, and it tastes so darn good. Mix it with some green beans, garlic, brown sugar and soy, and you’ve got dinner. Though pork chops on the side might be a nice touch.
Green Beans with Bacon
1 can green beans, your favorite
1-2 slices bacon, cooked to a crisp
⅓ cup brown sugar
1 clove garlic, chopped and lightly browned
1 tsp soy
2½ T melted butter
Cook bacon and shred into small pieces, and mix with green beans and juice. (Reserve 1/4 cup or so of the juice in case you need it later.) Mix brown sugar, garlic, soy and melted butter, and pour over beans and bacon. Refrigerate overnight. Bake in a small casserole at 350 for 20 minutes or so, adding reserved juice if beans appear dry. Recipe may be easily tripled for a crowd.

Check Out the Flip Side

Archived | October 4, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday, and it was not bad. Spent the day crossing things off the list — trimming bushes, fertilizing, cleaning out cupboards, clearing cobwebs from the windows in the garage. The Farmer’s Almanac is warning a rather brutal winter. It seems the animals’ coats are coming in thicker this year, and there’s something to be said for paying attention to nature. The ripening came late, and the leaves’ turning, too. Almost as if the seasons are holding on for dear life before whatever it is that is coming comes.
What I know is that the good Lord is mindful of balance. Always, though it’s tough to see sometimes. One daughter had strep this past week and felt pretty awful, but we got to spend 3 days together. The other is struggling a bit with the challenge of rent and groceries and just plain ol’ time to get things done, but she’s learning how to cook, and how much strength and resourcefulness she’s got in her. And she sure has it. Our son had to let go of his part-time job, which he loved, but he now has a good deal less stress when it comes to getting his schoolwork done. And Mr. Sundberg, well, he’s got a lot on his plate with his speaking schedule and being on the road so much of the time, but that man enjoys every blessed minute of a day off.
I’ve noticed it, pretty much everywhere. The Balance. Whenever I might have envied someone for something — wealth that allows them to travel anywhere, perfectly beautiful hair, the ability to solve any math problem — there’s always been something to balance it out. Many of the wealthy people I’ve known have had miseries as great as their wealth with which to contend. In fact, the richest woman I’ve ever met was also the most crabby and dissatisfied with her life. And my neighbor with the hair I wish I had has an awful rash on her foot that just won’t go away. It won’t. And the guy who does my taxes lickety split (takes me a whole day) doesn’t know how to cook a meal to save his life. I point it out, regularly, when the kids say, “I wish I had a car” or “How come he gets to go to Europe twice in one year?” or “I wish I looked like her.” Always a balance. Seems if you’re blessed in one way, you’ve got a challenge in another, and it’s like that for everyone.
Same with the weather. Brutal winter? Well. Means more fires in the fireplace, more cozy nights, more exercise shoveling, more dinner parties that end with wonderful conversation in the living room with pie and ice cream, and more reason to find just new snowmobile suits for everyone.
Things on your path not what you had in mind? Check out the flip side. It’s bright there, and there’s hot chocolate for everyone, and that’s where you’ll find me.
Here’s a recipe my mother shared with me recently, and I’ve made it two or three times since. Perfectly light and spicy, these cookies are just the thing for an autumn afternoon snack. They keep longer than they last, so a double batch is not a bad idea.
1 egg
1 cup sugar
¾ cup butter
¼ cup molasses
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
2 cups flour
2½ tsp soda
Cream sugar and shortening. Add egg and molasses and mix well, then add dry ingredients. Form into balls the size of a walnut. Dip into sugar, place on ungreased cookie sheet, and bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes.