I promised myself that I would not write about the weather or the cold temperatures this week. What I will do is offer you a spicy soup recipe that is sure to warm you right down to your toenails. It’s also fairly inexpensive to make, so that should help you when it comes time to pay your propane or electric bill. Since I can’t be outside in the garden, I often spend Sunday afternoons experimenting with recipes using what I have on hand. HE prefers plain country cooking and eats neither rice, beans, nor kale, so I’m sure he was relieved when I told him this soup was just for me…and for you.
Spicy Black Bean and Rice Soup
1/2 pound dry black beans 2 cups water
1/2 lb. dry-type sausage in casing, diced (andouille, chorizo, smoked, or polish will work, but the spicier the better) 1 medium green pepper, diced 1 medium onion, diced 1 carrot, diced 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 10 oz. can Rotel diced tomatoes (may substitute a 14.5 oz. can regular diced tomatoes if you prefer it less spicy) 5 cups water 2 t. Cuban seasoning (or 1 t. dried oregano and 1 t. dried cilantro)
2 t. cumin 2 cups chopped fresh kale or spinach 1 cup cooked brown rice (leftover rice is fine)
salt and pepper to taste
Rinse beans and cover with 2 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil. Once beans come to a boil, turn off the heat and leave covered for about 20 minutes. Drain.
In a soup pan, saute diced sausage until lightly browned. Add green pepper, onion, and carrot; cook for 5 minutes. Add crushed garlic cloves, drained beans, tomatoes, water, and seasonings. Simmer on low heat until the beans are soft but not mushy, approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Add kale and cooked rice the last 15 minutes of cooking time. This may be assembled and put in the slow cooker for about 6-8 hours, but don’t add the kale and rice until 30 minutes before serving. Serves six.
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Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again expecting the same results. ~Albert Einstein
Albert, if you don’t stop leaving your test tubes and beakers in the kitchen sink for me to wash, I’ll show you a theory of relativity that you won’t soon forget! ~Mrs. Einstein
When I was a little kid, I used to beg to help with the dishes. Standing on a chair in front of a sink filled with soapy water was a lot of fun. As a teenager, I never minded washing the dishes as long as it was at someone else’s house. Now, at the upper limits of middle age and teetering at the edge of senior-citizenship, I’m done. I cannot find any pleasure in washing dishes whatsoever. Even worse than washing them is having to put them away, only to pull them out again when dinner is ready. Over and over, day after day, and they just get dirty all over again. We just have a small kitchen at our house, and when we put in a new sink and countertops a few years ago, decided to save cupboard space and not put in a dishwasher. HE hates dishwashers. His mother hated dishwashers. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that his grandmother hated them, too. I love dishwashers, but at the time of that regrettable decision had a husband who was retired and did all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, dusting, and dishes and I was too blissfully happy and relaxed to even think about it. I probably shouldn’t even mention this, but don’t think I didn’t notice that for a few wonderful months, I had a “wife” and not a “husband”. Unfortunately, the economy tanked, gas prices went up, and he needed to go back to work. With his job and the manly duties of snow removal, splitting and hauling wood, mowing a large lawn, golfing and fishing, he no longer had the time do wash the dishes every day. It didn’t take long to notice. Two plates, a couple of glasses and a fork on the counter can make a tiny kitchen look cluttered in no time. Somebody had to wash them, and since I don’t have an upstairs maid, that somebody would have to be me. It made me remember that the reason I loved dishwashers so much was not so much about the dishwasher itself as much as it was about the hiding of the dishes in the dishwasher. Toss them in, close the door, and a quick swipe of the counter makes everything look neat and tidy. We met in the middle and share the dishwashing duties now. On his nights, HE washes, dries, and puts them away immediately. On mine, I wash them and leave them in the drainer. The upstairs maid should get to them sooner or later.
With Grandma, circa 1960
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Fill your house with lots of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks. ~Dr. Seuss
Our bookshelves are full, both at the cabin and at home. Books are also now stacked on the windowsill in my bedroom and stuffed into the closet. I think there is a box or two in the basement, tucked in somewhere behind the stairs. My friends, perhaps recognizing a sucker when they see one, often give me their used books, and I never turn them down. I used to wonder why my house seemed so cluttered in comparison to theirs. I should have noticed that their homes didn’t have a pile of books leaning precariously on the coffee table and on top of the mantle. I can’t blame HIM for this one. Although he saves every tee-shirt that he has owned since 1973, he prefers newspapers and TV to books. What put me over the edge? The hospital volunteers’ book sale. They enabled my addiction by having a “fill a bag for a buck” on the last day of their sale. I fell for their clever ploy of making sure someone else had to store the leftover books until next summer’s sale. I bought three. Three bags, not three books. As much and perhaps more than I love a good book, I love a good bargain. A few years ago, I purchased an electronic book, thinking this would be a way to store a lot of books for not a lot of room. I love my e-reader, and have about 500 books downloaded. It is truly like having a library at my fingertips, but the popularity of e-readers only decreased the garage sale price of regular books, which starts the good bargain/hoarding cycle all over again. It also creates another problem: What to read. Mystery? Romance? Gardening? Do I want to learn how to raise goats? I find myself perusing the titles, trying to make a decision until I almost drive myself crazy. Many of you would argue that I reached that destination some time ago. At least I am fulfilling a childhood dream. I really do live in a Dr. Seuss book, right up to my nooks and almost to my crannies.
So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads. ~Dr.Seuss
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In 1919, the world was probably a little bit happier than it had been the year before. The war was over, the flu pandemic was ending, and my grandfather was in love. Grandpa lived in Forbes, Minnesota, and my grandmother lived on a farm a few miles down the road, somewhere between Cherry and Iron. My cousin Deb and I, both writers and the family genealogists, travelled back and forth along the road, visiting cemeteries, telling family stories, and getting my uncle’s memories down on tape for future generations. Unfortunately, we can only guess about the budding romance between my grandparents back in those days, because they died long before we became interested in family history. We don’t even know how they met. It is kind of hard to imagine carrying on a kind of long-distance romance without our modern methods of both transportation and communication, but none of us would be here today if each generation hadn’t figured it out in one way or another. Grandpa had his own method of courtship. Every night, after work was done and his chores were completed, he stole the hand car from the railroad depot and pumped iron all the way to Iron. Certainly, if I said “borrowed” it would make Grandpa sound a little less delinquent, but family lore has it that he often didn’t return home until dawn. Perhaps being the son of a founding father, business owner, and justice of the peace had some perks, or perhaps he just never got caught. He and my grandmother got married that year and moved away from their small farming villages, as did so many other young people in those days. Bigger towns and cities were exciting places to live, and the world was changing. If they were alive today, I think they would be really surprised at just how much it did change. They enjoyed modern city life with electricity, indoor plumbing, and no cows to milk. They loved to go out dancing, and managed to do so quite often while raising five sons. They visited their respective family farms fairly often, but never moved back. These days, the bustling little main street of my grandfather’s youth is no longer there. The abandoned Forbes railroad depot, which was so longed for just a generation before, still stands, but it may or may or may not be the original building. Cousin Deb spent many hours sorting though and scanning old family photographs, many of which are unidentified. We peer at them closely, trying to find familiar faces. There, in the midst of faded photographs and someone else’s memories, is a picture of a railroad hand car, surrounded by young people. There couldn’t possibly be two of them in this rural farming area, so it has to be the same one. My grandmother is the second one on the right. Looking at the sheer size of the car and the width of the tracks makes me realize just how hard it must have been for my grandfather to pump it by himself, night after night. Of course, looking at her beautiful young face, it maybe wasn’t so hard after all. I’m very glad he thought she was worth the trip.
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The real Minnesota Farm Woman was my great-grandmother, Christine, who was born in 1873. She and her husband Andrew were among the first settlers in Forbes, Minnesota, first in 1893 and again in 1894 with their three small children. In 1893, she was twenty and he was twenty-four. It is hard to imagine carving a life and a town out of the Minnesota forest, but they did that and more. They hunted and farmed for most of their food, but still needed to purchase things like coffee, sugar, nails, and ammunition. For these things, Andrew had to travel to the city of Duluth, 60 miles away, and to get there in the early days, he had to walk. Perhaps he had a pack-horse, or perhaps he didn’t. As she told the stories to her grandson, who grew up to be my dad, she never mentioned one. Travel would have been nearly impossible in the winter, so most had to be done in the summer. Crops and animals had to be cared for so Christine, like many pioneer women, stayed at home with her babies. I can only wonder how long the journey was…perhaps two weeks, give or take a day or two. He walked. She waited. He walked. She rocked her babies in the creaky rocking chair. There were no telephones, and no electricity, the only light at night coming from an oil lamp. Waiting must have seemed like an eternity. One night, Christine heard a noise in the bedroom. She did what any pioneer Farm Woman would have done and grabbed the rifle. I’m almost certain it was right there, fully loaded at all times. There, halfway through a window, was a man. He had taken off his boots and had put them inside the window, on the floor, and had one leg over the windowsill, ready to climb in. Whatever he was up to, it was no good. Christine pointed the rifle at his head and hollered, “You get on out of here!” I don’t know if it was the tone of her voice or the rifle pointed between his eyes, but he listened. I doubt that Christine slept much that night. I think about her sitting in that creaky rocking chair, holding the gun across her lap while her babies slept, the lamplight flickering in the dark. As she told the story in the days to come, people didn’t believe her, but Christine had proof. The would-be intruder left so quickly that he forgot his boots on the floor, right under the bedroom window. Not much later, Andrew and Christine opened a mercantile store. The railroad came, and the trains brought supplies every week. My dad spent a lot of time at his grandmother’s farm, and she told him the stories. She gave him a few things before she died. Perhaps it is because he kept her woodpile stacked high with split wood, but I like to think he got them because he named his firstborn after her. The creaky rocker no longer creaks, but it has a place of honor in my living room. The oil lamp sits on my mantle, and every once in a while I turn the lights off, light the wick, and imagine what things were like back then. I prefer electricity, but there is nothing like the warm feeling I get inside whenever that old lamp is lit.
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Many folks who live in warmer climates probably wonder just how we Minnesotans survive the winters, especially winters as cold as this one has been. We do know how to kick into survival mode, that’s for sure. We are preppers to the extreme. We split and stack wood. We fill our propane tanks to the brim, which will soon cost as much as purchasing a small country. At the end of every fall, I prep my car for winter. Unless I happen to be wearing them because of an early snowstorm, I pack my warmest boots in the back seat of my car, along with a heavy duty winter jacket, scarf, hat, and extra gloves. There is also a blanket and lots of those little hand warmer thingies, which I buy every year, but thankfully, have never had to use. I keep buying them, just in case the older ones won’t work. Since I rarely clean out my car, there are probably 27 of them in there right now. I also heard somewhere that one should keep energy-producing food such as chocolate or nuts in the glove compartment in case you are ever stranded. That sounds to me like the perfect excuse to buy a couple of Snickers bars. My drive to work is a fairly long 16 mile trip every day, and since the car is warm, I prefer to wear a lighter coat and keep the warmer one nearby, just in case. Although my friends and family down south think life in northern Minnesota is akin to living in the desolate wilderness and/or frozen tundra, it is far from that. (Except for the frozen part, of course.) The roads are plowed. There are houses along the way. For at least two or three years, there has actually been cell phone reception for the entire drive. On occasions of slippery roads or whiteout conditions, we often see or hear of someone ending up in the ditch. Sometimes cars just give up the ghost in below zero temperatures and end up stalled on the side of the road. This is where the snow angels come in. Snow angels are those people who stop to help, offering assistance or at least a warm place to wait until the tow truck arrives. Some angels may change a tire, winch your car out themselves, or even drive you home if you need a ride. I know someone who recently had a close call and ended up in the ditch. Thankfully, she was not hurt, but just as important, she was warm and had a tow truck on the way. Since it was too cold to wait outside, she sat in her car. People stopped and checked on her again and again. One snow angel, when finding out she was fine and just waiting for a tow, said, “Well then, I will just wait with you until the truck comes. Just in case.” There he was, sitting in his car at the side of the road on a windy afternoon with the wind chill well below zero. I’m sure he had places to be, like in his own living room in front of a warm fire, but instead, he waited it out beside a stranger, just in case. Knock on wood, I’ve never been stuck or in the ditch, but I’m well prepared in case it ever happens. If there are any snow angels around, they won’t have any trouble finding me. I will probably have opened every one of those handwarmer thingies, generating enough heat to cause a gigantic puddle in the snow-drifted ditch and causing a huge plume of steam to arise from the middle of the frozen tundra which is close to the edge of the desolate wilderness. In other words, just down the road a bit from the Bowstring Store. I’ll be the one eating the Snickers bars from the glove compartment before they melt. It would be a shame to let good chocolate go to waste. Thank you to all the snow angels out there. With people like you around, Minnesota is a warmer place indeed.
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Many years ago, my mother took a photography class. On the day the class was studying portraits, the instructor passed out pieces of paper and asked everyone to put their names in a hat and he would choose that day’s model. Since Mom hated to have her picture taken, she wrote her name and crumpled up the paper, hoping it would fall to the bottom. The instructor then tossed the names out of the hat, and since hers went the farthest, she was chosen. We heard the story when we cleaned out our parents’ house after my father died. There were many copies of that picture, all on slides, and none too flattering. We threw away most of them at Mom’s direction. As my sister and I were cleaning out the attic that week, we found an oil painting of that same photograph. My father, who was somewhat artistic in a Grandma Moses type of way but most definitely not a portrait artist, had used that photograph to paint a portrait of his wife. My sister and I looked at each other. You know how it is. Sometimes families disagree or perhaps even argue about who should get what. “You take it,” she said, handing it to me. “No. Really. You can have it,” I said, pushing it back. This went back and forth for a several minutes. Neither of us wanted it, but how could we throw away a portrait of my beautiful mother, painted with all the love and devotion my father had to offer? We put it in an old frame and wrapped it up for Mom’s birthday present. She didn’t want it, either. In fact, I think she said something like “Is that horrible thing still around? Get rid of it!” We hid it under the bed in her niece’s home, hoping she would find this wonderful family heirloom and hang it in a place of honor. Mom was her favorite aunt, after all. Instead, she wrapped it in fancy paper and regifted it back to me, so we hung it in my dining room as a joke, right in Mom’s line of vision, and we all had a good laugh. It stayed there until the next Christmas, when my nephew was very surprised to find it wrapped under the tree with his name on it. Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough room in his suitcase, so in my dining room she stayed, presiding over many family meals and board games. A few years later, my brother-in-law discovered another painting, this one hidden in a dark and dusty corner of our cabin. My father, being totally in love with his first-born (and at the time, only) child, did a portrait in oils of his bald-as-a-bowling-ball blue-eyed baby girl. I really was a cute baby, but my father painted me to look something like a cross between the spawn of Satan and a Conehead. Of course the portrait was framed and hung in the dining room, right in my line of vision. Ver-r-y funny, those relatives of mine. Just yesterday, as I was cleaning out and making room for things following my mother’s death, I thought about putting Mom and her baby Conehead in the attic for future generations to discover, but I changed my mind. Family dinners would just not be the same without them. Someday, perhaps they will hang in my daughter’s dining room and she can tell the stories, but more likely, she’ll wrap them in brightly colored paper and pass them on to some unsuspecting relative who will feel too guilty to throw them away. Families are like that. They love you even if you look like a Conehead and they miss you when you are gone.
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