The Mantra Kicks In

Archived | January 30, 2014 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I spent the afternoon alternating between shoveling small portions of the driveway and coming in to warm up by the fire and going out again to shovel a bit more. The polar vortex was due to return Sunday evening, and return it did, and that numbing cold stayed through Tuesday. So we did as we do, and got ready for it by shoveling, and loading up on groceries — enough for some meaty soups and a roast and some good dense bread.
And then the winds came on Sunday, and I’m a big fan of wind, but gosh it was cold. And cold wind is not like the winds of August, lovin’ your skin and lifting you up off the ground. No, this wind moved through you, outlining your internal organs on the way and leaving bite marks on your face and hands and feet. And it didn’t blow through leaves Sunday night making a sound like the ocean; it cut and wailed its way through town like some kind of mythological creature who presence is a portent and who left mercy behind somewhere to the west.
It’s not the weather so much as the solitude it brings. I call it “solitude” because if I don’t, “isolation” comes to mind and that could send a person into a downward spiral. Times like this, the mantra kicks in. Not only for weather-related frustrations like too much to shovel and frozen pipes, but for the challenges along the way that can render a person speechless, sitting by the window in a daze, or railing against the source with a series of expletives.
Long ago I realized I needed something galvanizing, some rallying words, something to whisper to myself in those moments when nothing else makes much sense and I need realignment. Something with which to meet fear and discomfort instead of walking around it. Something solid and true, like water or bread or country air. Didn’t need to be fancy, didn’t need to be hip. I just listened to my gut’s message to myself in moments when I wanted to turn and run, and this is what I heard: I can do this. Simple.
Sometimes saying a thing out loud is a way to get your arms around it. Some people say “I’m not going there.” But avoiding a thing doesn’t give a person much power. So go into the bathroom or in front of a mirror. Let the worst case scenario story play out in your head. Maybe it is cancer, or Alzheimers. Maybe it is a child who is going off the deep end. Maybe growing old is just not your thing. Maybe if you stay in the house one more day without human contact you will lose your mind. Maybe you won’t have enough to cover all the bills this month, and perhaps your marriage really is in trouble.
Then square your shoulders and look yourself in the eye and say out loud (whispering is okay) whatever words are there in your gut to meet the awful thing. Say it, and say it again, and believe it. Because nothing is bigger than you are. Nothing at all.
Here’s a good one for the football game. Might seem a big futzy, but the payoff is back and you’ll be asked to host the party again next year, sure enough. Just be prepared for that.
Baked Brie Bites
3 oz Brie Cheese, skin removed and cut into (15) ½ inch cubes
4 T dried cranberries
4 T chopped walnuts or pecans
2 T honey or fruit preserves (peach-mango preserves work well)
15 frozen mini Phyllo dough shells
Preheat oven to 325. In a small bowl, combine dried cranberries, chopped nuts and honey (or preserves) and mix well.
Arrange mini shells on a baking sheet. Fill them with one Brie cube each. Top with sticky dried cranberry/nut mixture and bake 5-7 minutes, or until the cheese melts. Serve immediately. Serves about 6-8.

Gravity is Like That

Archived | January 23, 2014 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Cold weather’s been hanging on, and we’ve lost a day of school this week to that cold. -17 tonight and can’t complain. Have had the fire going all day and it’s warm inside. Kids are pretty happy, and Mr. Sundberg is out in Arizona, sending photos of cacti and lovely landscapes and little cafes where he goes for breakfast and to work on his latest talk, “Patience and Perseverance.”
I miss having him near when he’s not. One of the nice things about having a partner, or a best friend, is that they help you keep your bearings. They let you know when something about you is askew, and give you a frame of reference when your thoughts or actions tilt a bit. Would have been nice to have him around on Sunday when I did something I think most people never do: I, in a hurry to get out of the cold, tossed a bag of oranges into the family car, which was warming up for the kids to drive to play practice. (The oranges were our donation for snack time.) In my rushing about, I quite literally slammed my head in the door. Shut it so fast, I caught the door full force on my left cheek and jaw, and the right side of my head banged up against the car.
Embarrassing, yes. But more painful than embarrassing. I managed to tone my holler to a whisper of an expletive, and after I made sure my face was intact, went into the house. No one was there to see right off, and when the kids came running out to get their coats and go, one of them said, “You’re bleeding, Mom.” Sigh. Yes. Small cut, nothing big, but I hadn’t noticed as my face was quite numb. Even now, days later, no bruising. Just a sore place on my jaw, and a memory of a moment of inattention.
If someone were to organize a Clumsy Convention, I would surely be on the planning committee. Not that I’m proud of being prone to injury because I leave cupboards open and skip steps as I hurry downstairs and tend to walk into doors and windows now and then, and mostly when I’m alone. When Mr. S is home, I’m not so clumsy. He’s my spotter, my point man, my flag waver and my safety net. Sometimes my GPS, and often my guide. He tells me often if I’m ever in trouble to call him and he will come rescue me. Hasn’t happened yet, but I imagine it will one day.
Gravity is like that. Always at the ready, quiet, keeping us from flying off into orbit while we’re making our way through the day. And when it’s gone, even for a while, we lose our bearings and wish it back home.
Here’s a soft and spongy and colorful cookie perfect for a Valentine’s Day plate or as a light dessert after steak and lobster and potatoes.
Cream Cheese Delights
1⅓ cups flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
¾ cup rainbow sprinkles (or colored sugar)
cinnamon red hots (optional)
In a medium bowl sift together flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add sugar gradually and mix until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg and beat well. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Do not overmix. Chill batter 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Add ½ the sprinkles to a wide shallow bowl (add more as needed). Scoop up rounded tablespoons of dough and form into balls. They may not be perfect as the dough is sticky; try wetting your hands lightly. Drop into the sprinkles and coat all sides, and place on baking sheet 2 inches apart. Press a cinnamon red hot in the middle if desired.
Bake 10-12 minutes until lightly golden on the bottom. Cool on baking sheets 10 minutes or so.

You Need Your Wits About You

Archived | January 16, 2014 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It’s been an interesting stretch of weeks with the weather as it is — big sky dumps one week, polar chills the next — and I’m hanging in there where my wits are concerned, but it is a challenge some days. There are moments when I feel an insane impulse, and I know I’m not alone. Feel like hauling off and hollering, or running out into the snow and through the fields and just running and running to feel motion and aliveness, or quadrupling my lasagna recipe just for the heck of it. It’s rough on the human spirit to be cooped up, sheltered from the elements, and I am not ashamed to admit I get cabin fevery now and then.
But I don’t let it take me down. Nope. Because nothing lasts forever. The line at the grocery store, adolescence, the wait for the bus, Minnesota winters, life itself. Everything comes to an end. However, there’s the meantime, and when you’re in it, and waiting, it helps to have one thing, even if it’s small, to look forward to each day. Today I’m looking forward to the Novocain wearing off my face, as I had a crown prep this afternoon and I’m having a few drool issues at the moment. I’m looking forward to the kids having a day off from school tomorrow, and to the younger daughter’s play Saturday, and to driving the older daughter back to college on Sunday. Looking forward to hearing from the colleges our son is applying to, and to — sometime next week — a stretch of quiet hours when I’ll have some writing time and some time to try out a few recipes I’ve been saving.
I’m not suggesting you not live in the present. Not at all. The present is the place to be. But when you approach boredom, tedium, stir craziness or even fear, thinking about what awaits down the road can help you get your bearings. You need your wits about you. Someone has to pay the bills. Someone has to try to answer the questions all the kids have. Someone has to have the car serviced. Someone has to shovel the driveway, again, once this round of snow stops falling. And it will, because that is the nature of snow, along with everything else. Sure is.
Here’s a fine recipe from one of my aunts, who brought these rich and buttery and soft cookies to a family gathering over the holidays. Aunts are good for a good recipe now and then, and for long hugs, and for the kind of stories you don’t mind hearing over and over again.
Pecan Spritz
1 ½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp almond extract
3 cups flour
1 cup ground pecans
1 tsp baking pwd
12 oz white chocolate chips, optional
Cream sugar and butter together; mix in egg, vanilla, almond extract. Add flour, ground pecans, and baking powder. Stir well.
Chill awhile. Add a bit of flour to hands while hand-mixing dough. Fill cookie press, and shoot cookies out onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 5-7 minutes. When cool, dip half of cookie in melted white chips, if desired.

Comes with the Territory

Archived | January 10, 2014 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Had been working much of the day to do work I didn’t want to do in the blast of cold that settled in on Sunday — some shoveling, some grocery shopping, a few errands and visits around town. Not that I mind the cold really, but if I have a choice I’d rather stay in when things turn brutal and they pretty much did. It was nice to not have to go outside for a good two days, and when I did at last venture out on Wednesday morning, it was still a good measure below zero, but the sun was out and the few degrees less cold that it was certainly made a difference.
I’m aware that people out there marvel at the people of the Midwest and their hardiness when it comes to the cold. I do know a few people who offer up regular complaints, but by and large the majority of people I encounter have a “comes with the territory” attitude, and many find the cold a source of humor and a reason to smile. For some (myself included) it’s part of the charm of the place, one big reason I live here.
Thing is, wherever you are on the planet, in whatever climate, there’s something to complain about. Typhoons, droughts, floods, avalanches, volcanic activity, desert heat, and on and on. Then you throw in all the other variables — like population, pollution, cost of living, malaria, caves full of bats, shark threats, the belief systems of the people who inhabit a place — and really, what place is perfect?
Our son says the cold isn’t really a big deal because we’re used to it. Maybe that’s it. Maybe what other people contend with in other places is less than desirable simply because we aren’t familiar. Perhaps the idea, then, is not to rage against the dropping temps and the driving snow and the paralyzing wind chill, but to get yourself some good long underwear and find a way to be productive in spite of it all and, eventually, you’ll get used to it.
And when people far away call to see whether you’re surviving, you can assure them all is well, and — when they laugh and tell you how crazy you are — quietly remind yourself of all the reasons you’re glad you’re not where they are. You’re here, in Minnesota, and yes, it’s cold. Those of us who aren’t used to it yet will get there one day; those of us who are, well, we rather like the cold. Keeps us together, and that’s a fine way to be.
Here’s a light, tasty hors d’oeuvre for a January get-together. Add some stir-fried noodles and vegetables, and you’ve enough for a meal.
Baked Crab Rangoon
⅛ tsp garlic salt
⅛ tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 small green onion, chopped
3 oz cream cheese, softened
4 oz crab, or imitation crab
12-14 won ton wraps
Mix first four ingredients together; then gently stir in the crab. Spoon into won ton wraps, fold four corners together and twist, and place each little bundle into a lightly greased muffin tin. Bake at 425 °F for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.

A Word for Something Like Courage

Archived | January 2, 2014 | By

Listened to the show Saturday, and it was not bad. It was the middle of the stretch between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, a quiet evening at last, and I was deep in thought as I baked up another twelve dozen cookies to serve at church Sunday morning. It might seem a crazy time of year to volunteer to serve coffee and something to go with it to a church congregation, but the Sunday after Christmas is historically a “light” day as attendance goes, plus it has been frightfully cold out there, plus no one else signed up, so why not? You got a little extra in you, might as well put it toward the common good.
Easy to say that now, of course. Saturday night I was scrambling just a bit to get those cookies baked, and I whipped up an extra batch of dough just in case. Lucky for that, because Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny, and something in the air brought just about everyone and their Aunt Mabel to church. Once I saw the pews full of people, the kids and I got our back ends to the kitchen and started baking.
Three hours later, the tables were wiped down, the coffee pots rinsed and set up to dry, and the last crumbs swept away. Church kitchen: clean. People: on their way home to enjoy the day. The kids and I: a wee bit tired. But there were enough cookies to go ’round at least twice, and I had a feeling in me that felt something like I feel when I finish shoveling the driveway after a long snowfall. Feels productive. Feels good. Didn’t have to be done, but made sense to do it, and more people may have noticed had it not gotten done.
All of this leads to my word for this year, for 2014. “Resolve” worked just right this past year, and I needed a word similar, but with a bit less focus, a little more balance, and a few more layers. A word for moments when opportunity arises, and I’m tempted to say, “Well, I don’t know.” A word for days when I feel like crap and don’t want to get out of bed. A word for times when that anxious feeling creeps up in my chest and I’m given to thoughts of flight, of jumping so high on my trampoline that I catapult myself to the moon. A word for something like courage, but having to do with the people around me and with regard to my own life, pointing to and resting within the most vital part of things. I need to have more of something in my life that lifts up how I move through my life. Something with a little less pressure and a little more…attention to opportunity.
I didn’t come up with it; the word came up with me. A few days after serving up all those cookies to a bunch of holiday-worn churchgoers, I woke from a deep sleep with the word echoing in my head, as if someone had spoken it aloud just before I left the Land of Sleep. And I heard it. “Heart.” Plain as day. My word for this year. To contemplate and to carry with me for 365 days, until the next word appears. I like “heart.” I’ll take it. And I’ll keep ya posted, even on the crappy days.
Here’s a simple recipe to throw together on a cold winter evening for a family snack, or to bring to the neighbors for an evening of cards or conversation. Don’t bother with calories; rather, eat in moderation, and enjoy!
Spicy Cheddar and Bacon Chip Dip
½ cup Bacon Mayonnaise (regular mayo works, too)
8 slices bacon, chopped and crisped
8 oz softened cream cheese
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1½ cups shredded Cheddar cheese
3 scallions, chopped
2 tsp chopped jalapeños
½ cup smoked almonds (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Brown bacon in nonstick skillet over medium heat. Drain crisp bacon bits on paper towel. In a mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, mayo, Dijon mustard, cheddar, jalapeños, and scallions with cooked bacon.
Transfer to a shallow small casserole or baking dish and bake until golden brown and bubbly at edges (about 15 minutes.) Top with chopped smoked almonds if desired. Serve with your favorite chips, crackers or vegetables. Try serving in a small, hollowed-out sourdough round.