I’m on a diet again….or perhaps I should say “still”. It seems like I’ve spent much of my adult life on one diet or another, but this time I should get a medal for bravery because I started it before instead of after the holiday season, just to shake things up a bit. Speaking of shake, there are plenty of diets to choose from, including drinking shakes instead of meals. If you like to chew your food, you can take an around the world dieting cruise, so to speak. There’s the LA, the Scarsdale, the Beverly Hills, the Park Avenue, or the Martha’s Vineyard diets to choose from. You could even become a world traveler by following the African Mango, the Mediterranean, the Okinawa, or even the Shangra-La diet. You could make a total lifestyle change, or follow the 3-Day, 4-Day, the 17-Day, or if you are in a hurry, the 3-Hour diet. If you like certain foods, you could try the Cabbage Soup, Fast Food, Slow Food, Raw Food, Lemonade, Banana, Cookie, Rice, or even the Fruit Flush Diet. I think I would like to try a 3-Hour combo and have some slow-cooked cabbage soup with rice, a banana cookie and a glass of lemonade, please. If I tire of those, I could follow a Macrobiotic, Probiotic, Apple Cider Vinegar, Olive Oil, or Coconut Oil diet. Meat eaters would probably like a high protein Cave Man diet. Too much meat? How about Vegan, Vegetarian, Flexitarian, Pescetarian, or Kangatarian? Yes, I fear the Kangatarian diet is exactly as it sounds. It probably tastes like chicken. If following doctor’s orders is more up your alley, you could check out the diets of Doctors Adkins, Hay, Weil, Scarsdale, Phil, or Oz. Although cutie-pie type diets aren’t really my cup of tea, perhaps the P.I.N.K. diet may work for you, if you can get past the “K” standing for “Kardio”. Too kute for words. I would more likely get into the Cheaters Diet, the Cinch Diet, or even the Hallelujah Diet, but have been on so many, I could perhaps develop one of my own. I think The Minnesota Farm Woman’s Freeze Your Buns Off diet could become wildly successful. You can eat absolutely anything you want whenever you want, as long as it is consumed standing on the front porch in a bikini. You would lose lots of weight and perhaps a few neighbors, too. Eat, drink, and be merry this holiday season, and I’ll see the rest of my fellow dieters on New Year’s Day.
This is the time of year that social media is abuzz with everyone posting their daily “I am thankful for my incredibly awesome and intelligent children and scrumpdillyicious hubby who always bring sunshine to my day….” I added a few of my own, but suddenly and surprisingly was at a loss for words. It seemed that I was just writing by rote and repeating the same stuff that I was thankful for last year, for which I am, of course, thankful for again. I decided to give this year’s thankfulness list a little thought. I am thankful for my husband, who would NOT want to be called scrumpdillyicious but is really good at gathering wood and keeping the home fires going without complaint. I don’t know if he has just given up on me or knows that if I start the fire, he will have to restart it anyway. I am thankful for our military, past and present, who not only keep us safe, but protect the innocent in countries that are not as peaceful as ours. The same thankfulness goes to the hospital, ambulance, police and fire personnel who will be working overtime during the holiday season. I have done my share of holiday shifts in the hospital, and although we always tried to make the best of it, most would have rather been somewhere else. A special thanks goes out to those of you who volunteer for the holiday shifts so others can be with their families. I am thankful for my mom, who at age 88 doesn’t cook much anymore, but can still supervise the peeling of the celery or the mashing of the potatoes from her chair. She manages to keep her great sense of humor despite all the rotten tomatoes that old age throws at her. I am thankful for my sister, who without complaint washes piles of dishes in my kitchen sink every holiday, and although I know she wishes we would get a dishwasher, never says it aloud. I am thankful for my church. I used to be one of those people who thought she could be religious without attending services, and I still think you can, but to worship, sing, and pray with a group of people brings it to another level and gives me a sense of serenity and contentment that I never had before. I am thankful for my incredibly awesome and intelligent daughter and son-in-law, who gave us a beautiful grandson. Grandparenthood is everything I thought it would be and more. Baby Max really is scrumpdillyicious! I am thankful to Becky at the Western Itasca Review who agreed to print a few stories from a wannabe whose New Year’s resolution a few years ago was to write more. Having a deadline to meet makes me take the time to think and to get the words down. For some magical reason, the haphazard first draft of random thoughts somehow turns into a story. I am so thankful for all of you who read The Minnesota Farm Woman every week. I appreciate your kind comments and the stories you have shared with me. It keeps an old Farm Woman writing, which in turn, keeps me from the drudgery of household chores. For that gift, I am scrumpdilliciously and eternally thankful.
Fall and winter in Minnesota is a time for crafting, and I have been to a few craft shows in the past couple of weeks. Not only do they give me ideas for projects that I know I will never do, they give me the opportunity to support local small businesses. I have seen many examples of what the skilled craftspeople in our neck of the woods do in their spare time, and believe me, it can put a somewhat lazy and definitely UNcrafty Farm Woman to shame. Unlike these local artisans, I can’t sew, knit, woodwork, quilt, or embroider. I can’t make cute little pine cone reindeer or edible snowmen out of marshmallows and cinnamon candies. And really, who would have ever thought that you could cut sticks and branches from the woods, casually tie them with a cheerful ribbon and sell them? I struggle to find the time to can my own garden bounty, and looked in awe at the rows of sparkling jams, jellies, pickles, and salsas that were artfully arranged on more than a few tables. I used to be able to crochet in my backward, left-handed way, but how many misshapen potholders do my relatives want for Christmas gifts? I once made the entire family their own berry-picking containers out of coffee cans and bandana handkerchiefs, and although they were cute, I managed to spell “raspberries” wrong, and in oil-based paint, no less. My mom thought they were perfect, as mothers always do with their children’s art projects, but unfortunately, I was thirty-five and not ten when they were made. When the colorful leaves of the fall trees turn brown and the darkness comes early, I have a few projects of my own. I play computer games. I make soup. I write bestselling novels in my head. I put on my pajamas at 6 pm, turn on the electric blanket, watch Hallmark Channel Christmas movies in bed, hoping that HE will make a batch of popcorn before I fall asleep. I plan next year’s garden. If I am feeling really energetic, I fill the whirlpool tub with hot water and bubbles and read until my skin starts to get all wrinkly. Come to think of it, there probably wouldn’t be any craft fairs if it weren’t for people like me. There are people who are born to create. There are people who are born to shop. Then there are people like me who are born to take bubble baths and write about them. That, my friends, is about as creative as I will ever get.
We have almost always had a dog in the family, and those dogs have always been big, lovable drooling animals who knew their place in the house, which was usually NOT in the house. When we moved to Minnesota, we were dogless, lonely empty-nesters. Knowing that we wanted to do a little weekend travelling, we wanted something in a size small that we could easily take with us, so along came Barney the Chihuahua, also known as The Minnesota Farm Dog. He was a shivering and timid bug-eyed little puppy, and we named him after one of our favorite shivering and timid bug-eyed TV characters, Barney Fife. The first night he stayed with us, he burrowed his way under the covers and made himself at home, entwined in my legs. We figured we would let him sleep under the covers since it was February and the house got chilly at night, and Chihuahuas like to be warm and cozy. A habit was formed, and now, six years later, it would be easier if Deputy Fife himself was sharing our bed. Whoever came up with the old adage “let sleeping dogs lie” must have never shared his bed with a dog. If my legs aren’t just right, Barney scratches me gently with his paw until I move them just the way he wants them. If the frogs croak, the coyotes howl, the owls hoot, or the wind blows, he crawls from beneath the covers, using my body as a guide, to growl and bark at the offending noise. If HE is gone overnight, Barney sits at attention at the edge of the bed most of the night, ready to fight any battles I might need him to. As small as he is, Barney manages to push me to the very edge of the bed every night, taking up my warm spot and making it his own. He snores. He buries his treats in our bed, and knows exactly how many there are, because we have more than once had to turn on the lights to find it or put up with him scratching and sniffing all over the bed half the night. The other morning, after a strange but realistic dream about barbecued ribs and coleslaw, I woke up face-to-face with a chewie, half of a smoked pig ear, and a Milk Bone dog biscuit. Barney had lined them up on my pillow, trusting that I would protect his treasures just as he protects me. (Don’t think I haven’t wondered who ate the first half of that smoked pig ear!) Dogs are like that. Uncomplicated. Loyal. Loving. Although I don’t particularly like to have my feet licked every night before I go to sleep, I do know that my bed and my life would be pretty cold without him.
Bittersweet is a vine that grows in Minnesota which every fall bursts into bright orange glorious berries, which are beautiful but poisonous. Some species of the plant are considered noxious weeds which overpower even the largest pine. Bittersweet also means taking the good along with the bad, or the happy along with the sad, and is exactly how I feel at the end of every fall when I am cleaning out my garden. By the first part of August, I usually run out of both time and energy, and the weeds have pretty much taken over everything. By mid-October, sporadic frost has usually killed off most of the plants, and my beautiful green garden, which just a month ago was punctuated by the bright orange of pumpkins and the red and yellow of the last of the tomatoes, has become a Halloween graveyard of sorts. For those of you who live south of here, and that is just about everybody, this time of year might mean you are still enjoying fall. Here in the north, it could become winter at any moment, and we don’t want to be caught with our pants down or our tomato cages up. As I pulled up dead plants and seemingly endless handfuls of weeds, I was surprised to find a few garden goodies which made for some good eating. Those of you who keep a weed-free pristine garden will probably never be surprised by a handful of hardy yellow pear tomatoes that were safely cocooned within a tent of falling-down corn stalks. Those of you who have the time and the inclination to pull up and toss your broccoli plants at the first signs of frost have never enjoyed their bright yellow flowers or tasted the tender new growth that the nip of frost only sweetens. The cabbages that were too tiny to bother with a month ago had a growth spurt and I can add them to the stockpile. (Garden journal note to self: If you plan to make lots of sauerkraut and plant 25 cabbage plants, FOLLOW THROUGH with said plan, or your fridge and everyone else’s will smell like cabbage.) I left the Brussels sprouts for the squirrels and mice, as they didn’t have the same growth spurt as their larger cousins. Despite my friend’s suggestion of cutting the tiny little things off the stalks and serving them like peas, I thought that God’s little woodland creatures would relish them more than HIM, who would rather eat a bowl of steamed and seasoned golf balls than Brussels sprouts. Not that I ever get them to grow that big. Most surprising to find were two large second-growth celery bunches, their leaves so large and bright green that I am surprised that I didn’t trip over them as I pulled up the last tomato cage. They will play a starring role in tonight’s apple and cabbage salad. The last of the heirloom pole beans that I left on the vine to dry will be saved and replanted next spring, after a long winter of sitting by the fire, eating cabbage soup, stuffed cabbage, and coleslaw, and of course, planning next year’s garden. I guess this Farm Woman life is more sweet than bittersweet after all.
One of my prized possessions is a stereoscope, which is a picture and/or photograph viewer which was once owned by my great-great grandmother. Although I never knew her, I can kind of imagine how she felt all those years ago, leaving her home country of Norway, leaving behind her parents, siblings, and friends. She came to a new country that perhaps wasn’t so strange to her, being of similar climate and topography, but she spoke no English when she moved to the melting pot of many cultures and languages that Minnesota became all those years ago. My great-great grandfather probably made the wooden case that holds the stereoscope and two dozen cards that go with it. I wondered if she sat quietly at her kitchen table as she looked at the same pictures over and over, although with ten children, cows to milk and bread to bake, there were probably not many quiet moments in her life. I often wonder if generations of children were allowed to touch the precious photographs of Norway, which come two to a card and when inserted into the viewer, give somewhat of a three-dimensional view through the stereoscope. I wonder if she told them stories of her homeland and her ancestors and if she taught them her native language, or if she was like her grandson, who grew up to be my grandfather, and wanted nothing to do with the “old ways”, wanting his own children to work hard, be proud Americans and speak English without an accent. I wonder if she felt homesick as she told the stories of her homeland, and if she filled in the gaps with those pictures and colorful descriptions of places or people they would probably never see. Those of us who have televisions, the internet, and Skype would certainly find it hard to imagine having a handful of stereoscope cards to view and a long wait for the mail to come with word from the home folks. Although she lived to a ripe old age, neither her son nor her grandson did, and my father knew little more than that she existed. I got to know a little of my great-great grandmother through genealogical research. I found more of her descendants and got to visit the farm where she raised her children. When the farm and its contents, which were still in the family, went up for auction, I lived many states away, but contacted someone who went to the auction in my behalf. I didn’t really care what they bid on, because whatever it was, it would be a little piece of her. For some strange reason, I felt like there was something missing, and having one of her possessions helped me fill the gap. So, on behalf of The Minnesota Farm Woman, the daughter of Gilbert Alfred Quaal who was the son of Alfred Olaf Quaal who was the son of Andrew Peder Quaal who was the son of Anne Olsdatter Bye Quaal, I would like to give a little advice: 1) Cherish your family and friends as if they were moving across the ocean tomorrow. 2) Be a proud and hard-working citizen of your country. 3) Tell the stories of your parents and grandparents, so they might be passed on for generations to come. 4) Make sure the stereoscope doesn’t get sold for $5.00 in the estate sale when you are gone. 5) Fill in the gaps the best way you know how.
#4 is for my daughter, who doesn’t like old things and “old ways”. I wonder where she got that from?
Call them griddlecakes, flapjacks, or silver dollars, the pancake is a food item found in most cultures around the world. My mom’s parents immigrated from Finland, but they were of Swedish descent and spoke Swedish. I often wondered aloud why people who lived in Finland for many generations just didn’t call themselves Finns, but nobody ever answered me to my satisfaction, so I still wonder all these years later. Mom always made the best pancakes, and the ones she made most often were a nod to her Swedish heritage. These thin, light-as-air circles of love were made many Sunday mornings and wherever we had company. She sometimes had two pans going on the stove, but each pancake was made and served one at a time, and that’s how we ate them, everyone’s plate getting an equal turn. I preferred a stack of them, and for that luxury, I had to either get up early, stay at the table after every one else was done, or make them myself. Although the pan was greased with a little butter, we always added more on top, plus a generous pouring of real maple syrup or canned wild blueberries. If anyone was in a hurry, one could be spread with butter, jam, and then rolled up for a portable breakfast. Sometimes we would have Kropsua, or Finnish oven pancakes. She didn’t make these quite as often, and I really don’t know why, as they are much less time-consuming and were also a family favorite. Kropsua can be buttered and covered with syrup or strawberry jam, but are also delicious with warm fruit poured over the top. At this time of year, apples cooked with cinnamon and nutmeg come to mind.
1 cup buttermilk 1 egg (beaten) 1/2 tsp. baking soda 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder 1 Tbs. sugar 3/4 to 1 cup flour
Mix the soda into the buttermilk. (It will bubble up, and this will give the pancakes their light texture.) Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the beaten egg and buttermilk mixture. Don’t overmix the batter. Grease a hot pan with butter and pour on about 1/2 cup batter per pancake. Flip when bubbles form on top. This recipe doubles easily, and sometimes I substitute whole wheat flour for part of the flour, but they won’t be quite as light.
Finnish Kropsua (Oven Pancake)
3 eggs 2 cups milk 1/2 cup sugar 1 1/4 cup flour 1 tsp. salt
4 Tbs. butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt 4 Tbs. butter in a 13 x 9 pan in the oven, then swirl it around to coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Beat the rest of the ingredients together and pour slowly into the pan. Bake for 30 minutes.