It All Rolls Together Somehow

Made some wild rice casserole today and I plan to serve it up on Sunday, alongside a corn casserole, green bean hotdish, a basket of fresh rolls, cheesy potatoes and, of course, the ham.
For dessert, some lemon bars and vanilla ice cream with lemon zest. Simple. Just plain simple.
The way it should be. Because Jesus is Risen, not hatched, and the main thing isn’t what we’re eating on Sunday, but that we are together with people we love celebrating something of a glorious mystery. We eat to live, not live to eat, my friends. Though I’ll confess I am planning a candy and egg hunt, and I’m taking a break from frosting a hundred or so cutout sugar cookies.

I thought holidays would be a bit more calm now that the kids have gone, but I was wrong. They aren’t necessarily more stressful; the type of stress is a bit different. Trying to get everyone and his/her partner at the table is a major challenge, along with the grandbaby’s nap schedule, work schedules, church events and cooking time. Plus we have three other families to keep in mind with two married children and one in a close relationship, along with our parents and our own siblings. But it all rolls together somehow near the big day, though sometimes our time together is the day before or after when everyone else on the planet seems to be celebrating. Doesn’t matter much to me, and our policy is and has always been if you can make it, great; if you can’t, no worries. No guilt.

Holiday guilt is something I have simply done away with. I no longer experience it, and I make a point to not to elicit it from the kids. Guilt in general feels like a waste of energy to me, except for those things we do or don’t do that are simply WRONG, if you get my gist. You know. Stealing, lying, causing harm with intent, prejudice, and so one. Guilt has its purpose, but feeling guilty or making someone feel so because they can’t make it on Thanksgiving Day or Easter Sunday? Bah. Might as well flush your good life energy right on down the toilet. Rather, give that energy to something good. We need to feel good, not crappy. You might Skype with someone who couldn’t make it. Or send photos. Or make a phone call. Or write a group letter.

I have some cookies to frost and decorate with sprinkles and jellybeans. One of my favorite things to do. No guilt attached for this cowgirl. Giddyup.

Here’s one to serve up alongside a nice spiral sliced ham, glaze and all. YUM.

Wild Rice Casserole

1 cup wild rice
3 cups hot chicken broth
1/2 stick butter
½ onion, chopped
4 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup chopped cashews, optional

Heat butter in a frying pan over low heat. Saute onions and mushrooms. Add the wild rice and blend all together. Transfer to a greased casserole dish and add chicken broth.

Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.
Garnish with chopped cashews.

Kitchen Dancing

Made some lentil salad yesterday and it was not bad. Was listening to the radio while I cooked and heard the word “bouquiniste” which caught my attention. Lovely on the ear, and I was pleased to learn when I looked it up that a bouquiniste is a dealer in old and used books. I love that such a person has a title, and when I think about it, I am one myself. A bouquiniste. I love books and giving books and receiving books. I exchange books and lend and share. One of the things of joy in my life.

This life holds all manner of things of joy. Candles are another. I love that light can flicker and spark and waver through the day when someone passes by. I love how candles smell, and how they make their reaching presence known. And then there are wooden spoons that bring me joy, and flour sack towels, and underwear that fits just right. Peanut butter M&Ms are a joy and so is Spam sliced thin and fried. In butter. Cotton is a joy, and blankets, and the smell of the grass growing outside this very moment. And dancing is a sure joy, especially kitchen dancing, which I do often and sometimes with Mr. S, if he’s in a mood.

Kitchen dancing has made an appearance in every generation of my family, all the way back far as I can recall. The stories go back even further than my own memory, which is a long way. Safe to say, kitchen dancing is in my bones and I never give a jig a second thought. Nor a waltz. Nor a loose two-step keepin’ time. Sometimes when a pie is baking, I do a whole routine. My own show, in the private spotlight beaming down from above the chopping block. Sometimes I pretend a tango, and now and then I roust up a good polka. It’s all true, and yes, Mr. S will join me from time to time, mostly on the slow tunes and the ones without words so I can’t nudge him into song. He’s a quiet man that way. Not much for song and dance unless he has a reason, and I respect that. But when he does cut loose a bit, well, laughter isn’t far behind. Belly laughter, the kind that gets you down on the ground rollin’ about. Laughter that almost hurts, then leaves you gasping, and sighing, then smiling and thinking, a few days after, “OH, how we danced!” Such joy in the kitchen these spring days. Oh, yes.

Here’s a healthful side dish for your Easter table. A little something different, with a good amount of garlic and the cooling surprise of mint.

Lentil Salad with Olives, Mint, and Feta

1cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
Salt and pepper
6cups water
2cups chicken broth
5garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled
1bay leaf
5 T extra-virgin olive oil
3 T white wine vinegar
1/2cup coarsely chopped pitted kalamata olives
1/2cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1large shallot, minced
1ounce feta cheese, crumbled (1/4 cup)

Place lentils and 1 tsp salt in bowl. Cover with 4 cups warm water (about 110 degrees) and soak for 1 hour. Drain well. (Drained lentils can be refrigerated for up to 2 days before cooking.)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Place drained lentils, 2 cups water, broth, garlic, bay leaf, and ½ teaspoon salt in medium saucepan. Cover and bake until lentils are tender but remain intact, 40 to 60 minutes. Mean-while, whisk oil and vinegar together in large bowl.
Drain lentils well; remove and discard garlic and bay leaf. Add drained lentils, olives, mint, and shallot to dressing and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to serving dish, sprinkle with feta, and serve warm or at room temperature.

“Bring It and I’ll Fix It!”

Made some Hawaiian Pineapple Dessert the other night and it was not bad. Pineapple is right up there with lemons in the springtime for me. Not sure why but it may have something to do with its color. Yellow is fresh and new as any shade of green, and the sweetness of pineapple is a nice counter to the tart of lemons. Mr. S is partial to lemons — I think pineapple doesn’t necessarily agree with him, if you know what I’m sayin’ — so I took the dessert to my book group and they ate it up. While I was out, Mr. S set about replacing the toilet in the guest bathroom. It wasn’t broken, but it was old and leaking a bit and the wax ring had gotten all messed up and the toilet seemed about to give up the ghost, and that’s when Mr. S got out his tools.

I used to kind of tease him about his tools. He has so many of them in the garage and his work room downstairs. Thing is, even with two storage places, he seems to leave tools in every room of the house, whether repairs are being made or not. This once seemed somehow counterintuitive to me, but he did point out my affinity for kitchen utensils and how I decorate with bowls and spoons and how there is always something sitting out on the counter, and he is right. It isn’t fair that I can scatter my favorite things about without him being able to do the same.

So the toilet installation has been a three day event, and throughout all of it he came out to report progress in a language I don’t quite understand. But I try. “Well, that didn’t work,” he said yesterday. “I got a 5/8 instead of a ½ but I made the old one fit just fine. That wax seal was really messed up but I got ‘er. I sure got ‘er. I am gonna turn off the water for a while and we’ll see about getting it all in place.” Which he did. And, bless his heart, he invited me to be the first to use the toilet. I politely declined. “The honor ought to be yours,” I told him. He asked if we had any champagne, and we didn’t, so – there in the bathroom – we raised glasses of wine and toasted the new toilet. And he informed me late last evening that the new toilet does, indeed, work, and that he feels really good about it. I told him I was glad and I thanked him.

Today, when I was putting together a grocery list of things to pick up before the impending snow storm, I hollered out his name and there was no answer. I went lookin’, and sure enough, there he was admiring the new toilet, polishing it with a brand new flour sack towel. “Ain’t it a beauty,” he said. “Now I’m thinkin’ that tile needs some attention,” as he gestured toward the tub. “How ‘bout I rip that out and we put in something nice and new?” I smiled. New tile would be nice. Might even be worth a couple weeks of tools scattered about. Then he kissed my forehead. “I feel like a MAN!” he exclaimed. “Bring it and I’ll FIX IT!” Well, that right there is about the most hepped up Mr. S gets, and I confess I rather like it. It’s good to feel good about domestic accomplishments. It’s good to feel productive. And so our springtime goes, and one more winter storm to go and I’m thinkin’ we’re over the hump.

Here’s a sure thing for a spring time day. Pineapple, cream cheese, pudding and whipped cream, and a bit of toasted coconut to top it off.

Hawaiian Pineapple Dessert

1 yellow cake mix (regular size)
3 packages (3.4 ounces each) instant vanilla pudding mix
4 cups cold milk
1-1/2 tsp coconut extract
1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1 20 oz can crushed pineapple, well drained
2 cups heavy whipping cream, whipped and sweetened
2+ cups flaked coconut, toasted

Mix cake batter according to package directions. Pour into two
greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pans. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes
or until the cakes test done. Cool.

In a large bowl, combine pudding mixes, milk and coconut extract;
beat for 2 minutes. Add the cream cheese and beat well. Stir in
pineapple. Spread over the cooled cakes. Top with whipped cream; sprinkle with
coconut. Chill for at least 2 hours.

This recipe makes 24 servings, and can be frozen.


A Thing for Lemons

The View from Mrs. Sundberg’s Window
Made a loaf of lemon bread Saturday and it was not bad. Seems when spring rolls around I get a thing for lemons. They’re fresh and tangy. They’re bright and they splash. And they bring to mind lemonade, picnics, groves of trees and life.

Lemons bring to mind Easter, too, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was all those lemon cakes and breads and desserts my mother made around Easter time when I was young. We looked forward to all of it, and we were never disappointed. The rituals of that holiday run deep in me and the food I make is its greatest manifestation.

This year’s menu will include a ham, of course. A lovely spiraled ham with a spicy glaze. And cheesy potatoes for sure, and green bean hotdish, some corn casserole and a pan of fresh rolls. I think, too, cranberries. I’ve some left in the freezer and why not? For dessert I am thinking of a lemon cheesecake, complete with lemon curd all over the top. And of course some frosted sugar cookies and a pan of crème de menthe bars. Just for variety.

There will, inevitably, be a bowl of jellybeans on the counter. I have always liked ‘em, and have gone through two bags already since they appeared on the store shelves. Because they taste like spring, and Easter, and my childhood, and they remind me you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy a treat now and then. No, you don’t, and remember that. Life offers us all kinds of ways to be a kid again, just for a while. Which reminds me I still need to dig the Easter baskets out and fill ‘em up. And pick up a few coloring books even though my granddaughter isn’t quite there yet. Who knows? I’ve a mind to do some coloring myself. It makes the world feel simpler, if only for a while. And we all need that, and rituals, and whatever it is Easter brings home.

This recipe is quite similar to the lemon loaf you’ll find at Starbucks. Don’t ask me how I know, I just do. And it’s pretty dang good.

Lemon Bread

1 ½ cups flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 T butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon extract
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup oil

Lemon Icing
1 cup plus 1 T powdered sugar
2 T whole milk
1/2 tsp lemon juice (or lemon extract)

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in one bowl, and blend together the eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, lemon extract and lemon juice in another medium bowl. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and blend until smooth. Add oil and mix well. Pour batter into a well greased 9×5-inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until a toothpick stuck into center of the cake comes out clean.

Make the lemon icing by combining all the icing ingredients in a small bowl.
When the loaf is cool, remove it from the pan and drizzle with icing.



Made a Mexican hotdish last night and it was not bad. I get hankerings, and yesterday it was for something salty, something with cheese, and I happened to have a new recipe. So we got out some homemade salsa from a friend, filled a bowl with tortilla chips, Mr. S made his specialty margaritas and we had ourselves a feast.
Hankerings aren’t always for the most healthful things. Mostly they aren’t. Mine anyway. I sometimes feel a genuine longing for a plate of garlic smashed potatoes or a pile of deep fried cheese curds. Deep dish pizza, pad Thai with shrimp, a steak smothered with fried mushrooms, a bowl of noodles with butter and salt. Peanut butter wrapped in chocolate, or a bowl of Malt-O-Meal with butter and brown sugar. Often, it’s a raspberry Bismarck I crave, and that one tops the list today.

Since I was a wee lass, I’ve loved myself a Bismarck. Frankly, any baked roll or doughnut or pastry was the thing for me. Glazed croissants, buttermilk donuts, maple-frosted rolls, cinnamon rolls, you name it. Oh, my father made the best thing he called “Breads.” He would thaw a loaf of frozen bread dough, deep fry wads of it until they were golden brown, then serve ‘em up split open and drizzled with bacon fat and maple syrup. Just the thought of it makes me hungry. Oh my.

So now I’m off to the grocery store. Tonight the plan was chicken cashew, but I’m thinkin’ I’ll pick up some frozen bread dough and a pound of bacon. Another hankering, you see. And who know. Perhaps I’ll pull out the deep fryer and travel back in time to that kitchen with the chicken motif and the chopping block in the middle, full up with the smell of deep fried bread.

Here it is, and easy as pie. And I would dare say more healthful than not. Unless you do double on the cheese, which is never a bad idea.
Mexican Hotdish

1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn kernels, frozen, canned or roasted
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles, drained
2 T chopped fresh cilantro leaves
4 (8-inch) whole wheat tortillas, chopped
1 (16-ounce) can fat free refried beans, warmed
1 (10-ounce) can mild enchilada sauce
1 1/2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly coat a 9×13 baking dish with nonstick spray.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, and add garlic, onion and bell peppers. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in black beans, corn, chili powder and cumin until heated through, about 1-2 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Stir in green chiles and cilantro; set aside.

Place tortillas evenly on the bottom of the baking dish. Spread refried beans evenly over the tortillas, followed by the onion mixture and enchilada sauce. Sprinkle with cheese.
Place into oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until bubbly.

Serve garnished with cilantro, if desired.