The Kid Who Wiped With Poison Ivy

Made some soup on Saturday, and it was not bad. What I like about soup is you don’t really need utensils. You can simply cup a bowl in your hands and drink it, or take it to go in a Styrofoam cup. Or do like my cousin Earl did when we were kids. He’d pour it into a Ziploc bag and poke a hole in it and drink the soup that way. It was funny for a while, but then it became what Earl did and it wasn’t so entertaining. Thing about Earl is that he was most interesting when he was least aware. When he wasn’t at all tryin’ to be cute or make us laugh.

I remember comin’ around the corner of a barn at a family picnic and there was Earl, barefoot and squatting, carefully gathering lilies of the valley into a small bouquet. I watched him tiptoe over to my Aunt Margaret’s lawn chair, and place the flowers there for his mother to find when she got back from using the portable toilet shed Uncle Tom had rented. “Be darned if I’m poopin’ in the woods,” Tom said when he heard where we’re going to have the picnic. See, Tom was the one who, in 3rd grade, did just that and wiped his butt with leaves and the leaves turned out to be poison ivy and he was in pain for days. A hospital visit even. And of course everyone tried not to laugh but how could you not, and the story stuck and Tom was for the longest time “the kid who wiped with poison ivy.”

Earl became “the kid who picks flowers for his mom,” despite all his naughty ways. With his friends, he played jokes on the neighbor (a flaming bag of cow poop left on the porch which Mr. Jungerberg promptly stomped on and earned Earl a conversation with a police officer), he instigated small rebellions at school (“Everyone drop your pencil at exactly 10:30,” he would whisper, and the class would do it, and so much for focus the rest of the hour), and he generally made us all laugh and laugh with booger jokes and pulling kids’ pants down on the playground. But when he was alone? Earl liked to swing and sing and throw a ball against the stairs and catch it. Over and over again, gentle soul that he was.

Humans are complicated. We hide things about ourselves, and rob others of knowing us at what might be our best. But, if we’re lucky, we get comfortable one day and just be who we are and what a world of good comes of it. Earl is still out there entertaining people. He’s a musician, and writes beautiful songs about prairies and waltzing and the midnight sky. His mother is gone now, but he still picks lilies of the valley, and he gives them to his wife. He built a swingset out back for his kids years ago, and now that they’re gone I imagine he goes out there now and then, and has a go, pushing his feet up into the sky and humming songs from way back, when he was just a wee lad and things were a bit simpler. As they should be, now and forever.

Time o’ year for soup, and here’s one for greeting November. Serve it with fresh baked bread and a scoop of cobbler. But start up the fire first. Nothing like a good fire when the wind blows raw.

Good Tomato Soup

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, smashed with knife and peeled
2- 28 oz. cans whole tomatoes in juice
1 cup water
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp oregano
1 T sugar

In a large pot melt butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and saute 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, water, cream, and all remaining ingredients. Increase heat to high, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook 15 minutes. Remove from heat & puree in a blender. Return to pot and warm to serve.


The Balance of All Things

The View from Mrs. Sundberg’s Window

Made some apple crisp Saturday and it was not bad. I had spent the day out and about, giving a baking talk at a local orchard and – being an introvert – I was a bit wrung out. It’s just that way. I talk with people all day and I feel as if my nerves are exposed. Nothing I feel badly about; it’s simply how I am wired. Being an introvert isn’t about being shy or quiet. No, Siree. It’s all about where you get your energy. I get mine from the quiet hours. Not that I have to be alone. In fact, I get energy at parties and gatherings just like extroverts do. Thing is, I like to be on the edge. The fringe. The periphery. Where I can sit and sip a drink and look out the window and talk in the candlelight and lean back against the wall.

Spent a good part of my life talking, in fact. Mr. S is always teasing me because sometimes it takes half an hour to mail a letter since my good friend Colleen started working at the post office. And I’ve been known, when the kids were around, to spend a good three hours shopping for groceries on a Saturday morning. I have cut down on my phone time for sure, but even a stranger knocks on the door and I welcome a good conversation. Everyone has a story, and I’ve met a very few people who didn’t have something interesting or important to say.

At the orchard Saturday I talked about pie and cobbler and crisp and Brown Betty, bars and pork chops and fritters and pancakes. All the things you can make with apples. And I listened, too, to all kinds of stories about so-and-so’s mother’s apple pie, and the best road trips for color this fall and how one couple were on their honeymoon and that one sweet little girl said her first word that day. (It was “pie,” and once she said it, she didn’t stop. For over an hour.) I listened to a couple argue about which apple is best for pie, and to a silver haired man playing guitar under a tree. Come to think of it, I didn’t talk much at all on Saturday; I mostly listened.

Maybe that’s part of the whole introvert thing. Maybe we are the listeners in a room full of talkers. Makes sense, you know. The Balance of All Things. For every thunderstorm, a sunny day. For every passing, a birth. Lovemaking, sleep. Fear, comfort. Dinner, dessert. Storyteller, Listener. It’s the way of it, I think. Always something to keep us level and sane. Think of it.

I’m a big fan of the crisp. Apple, blueberry, cherry, peach. But apple, my friends, is first in line. Try this recipe over a weekend. Makes a nice snack while raking leaves, after the hike, just before a nap in the hammock.
Caramel apple crisp

½ cup caramel topping
½ tsp ground cinnamon
6 large baking apples (about 2 3/4 lb), peeled, cut into 1/2-inch slices (about 6 cups)
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup quick-cooking oats

In large bowl, stir together caramel topping and the cinnamon until blended. Add apples; toss until evenly coated. Spread in ungreased 8-inch square (2-quart) glass baking dish.

In same bowl, mix 2/3 cup flour and the brown sugar. Cut in butter, using pastry blender (or pulling 2 table knives through mixture in opposite directions), until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Stir in oats. Crumble mixture over apples in baking dish.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes at 375 or until apples are tender and topping is golden brown. Serve with home-whipped cream and some more caramel topping.