Archive for September, 2011

The Pumpkin Patch

Fall is here and it ends a rather mediocre gardening season for me. Oh, I had plenty of broccoli and enough cabbage to make my first batch of sauerkraut. Despite the numerous zucchini plants that I wrote about during the summer, I had only a few to harvest.  There were  more raspberries and black currants than I knew what to do with, and enough cucumbers to feed a small army.  The tomato harvest was fair, but don’t even ask about green beans. I was really proud of my little pumpkin patch, though.  I planted heirloom pie pumpkins, warty pumpkins, and Connecticut Field pumpkins. Minnesota weather apparently does not agree with Connecticut Field pumpkins, because they curled up and died almost immediately. The others were started late and planted in black landscape fabric next to the cucumbers. Much to my surprise, they grew. They not only grew, they thrived.  If you are wondering why a Farm Woman would be surprised that her pumpkins grew, I must confess that my total pumpkin harvest for the last four summers here has been one pumpkin. Not one pumpkin per plant or even one pumpkin per year, but one pumpkin.  Perhaps with that information you’ll understand now why I noted their progress daily. I peeked under leaves and checked blossoms. I counted bees, hoping for good pollination. I crossed my fingers. I sent up a silent prayer.  As summer ended and fall approached, I could no longer step in that area of the garden for fear of crushing the vines. I could see that I had a few pumpkins growing and at least one warty pumpkin that managed in two days to grow up a tomato cage and take it over a Brandywine. But hey,  who needs another tomato plant when you can have a warty pumpkin?  Our frost of last week finally killed the vines. Picking through the garden, I found SIX pumpkins! I proudly carried them in and took a picture, planning to use them for fall decorating and holiday pies.  Today, my friend called and wanted to know if I wanted to go with her to pick up a pumpkin from a nearby farm.  I decided to go along to check out the fall color and it was a good excuse to put off cleaning out the chicken coop.  When we got there, I was totally amazed. This guy had a trailer loaded with pumpkins and squash of all shapes and sizes.  He still had a field full of them, too. We picked to our heart’s content, filling the back of my Escape until we couldn’t squeeze any more in. No charge if we picked them ourselves, he told me with a twinkle in his eye. He and his wife helped us and even threw in a couple of large bags of overripe corn for the chickens and a big bag of rutabegas. I wonder if growing pumpkins and squash is kind of like the story of  the loaves and the fishes; in other words, the more you share, the more you have.  I’m still proud of my six little pumpkins, but I sure do wish I could grow enough to give some away.

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The Family Choir

My cousin and my 91-year-old uncle make an annual trip from northern Michigan every fall for a visit. I won’t tell you my cousin’s age, because she may not like it and  besides, knows a few secrets about me such as just how cluttered my kitchen cupboards are.  She knows this little secret because she does the dishes when she comes to visit, with help from my sister.  I cook and they wash the dishes. We like it that way. When I can’t find certain dishes or utensils  for a few weeks, I don’t mind a bit.  They brought along some old family pictures from my late Auntie Olive’s cedar chest.  We enjoyed looking at the old pictures and having Mom identify the people for us. I remember how Mom and Auntie Olive used to sing together as they worked, one singing melody and one singing harmony, voices blending perfectly as sisters’ voices often do.  I confess that we sometimes skip church during these visits, as late nights of sipping wine and chatting do not necessarily lead to getting up early on Sunday mornings. This morning, we all decided to go together, visitors from two houses and in two cars, sliding into the row together, early rather than late, because that’s just the way we are.  Strangely enough, one of the hymns the pastor chose  was an old Swedish song that my mom and aunt often sang together, one that was sung at their mother’s funeral.  I remember them like it was yesterday, singing that favorite old hymn and then switching over to something with a little more pep, never seeming to forget the words or the tune. As the music started,  my cousin and I sang the harmony as my sister sang the melody, slipping into the music with voices that blended together well, just as our mothers did before us. The other strange thing was that on this of all days, our friend Barb Tornes decided to make cardamom bread for coffee after the church service.  Her cardamom bread is delicious and is a recipe that she got from Mom who got it from Auntie Olive many years ago.  You could consider that an old family recipe for sure.  Being a family is much more than singing in harmony. It can mean still singing along even when things are not so harmonious.  Being a family means cleaning your sister’s bathroom when company is coming and she has run out of time. Being a family means eating good meals together on a weekend and not counting the calories.  Being a family means sharing a slice of cardamom bread and a cup of good strong Lutheran coffee on a Sunday morning and smiling, because each time you are together, you are making new memories.

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Minding My Own Business

I learned a good lesson this week about minding my own business. I even learned a lesson on keeping my mouth shut, which in these days of computers means sitting on one’s hands. These are  lessons that I should have learned countless times before, but  this time I REALLY learned.  I have been watching with interest a very popular social networking/internet site and wondering just how it got to be so popular. There are secrets, espionage and hundreds of recipes containing  cream soup, cream cheese and sticks of butter.  Since there has been nothing good to watch on TV, I quickly became addicted to the drama of it all.  From this giant cesspool of both good and bad information there emerged a really interesting fact:  Many people don’t know how to cook any more. Young cooks are flocking to this site so they don’t have to get take-out for their families.  Some of them apparently think because it is homemade it is good healthy food.   From the looks of the comments I read, they are not making the occasional recipe from this site, they are doing it every day. The more sticks of butter and blocks of cream cheese,  the more comments:  “This was AWESOME!”  “Sounds  UBER-easy!”.  The latest atrocity was a recipe that contained a roast, a bottle of salad dressing and a 2-liter bottle of pop. The whole bottle of pop. You can drain the salad dressing off after marinating it overnight.  From the notes of others, I knew these gentle readers were about as gentle as a mama grizzly bear protecting her young,  so I added a couple of recipes under a fictitious  name. I thought I could sneak in a healthier tip  here and there, too. If Jamie  Oliver can do it, so can I, right?  I didn’t interact a lot, perhaps five notes in all.   I helped a young cook with a recipe for fresh mango salsa with tilapia.  I complimented two others on their recipes, which looked delicious.  I was nice. Really.  I couldn’t stand it, though when it came to the pop roast.  I posted a general comment that if people thought that cooking a roast in 2 liters of pop was a healthy dinner for their family, they were wrong.  Well, you would have thought I asked them to catch a live rattlesnake and boil it for dinner using only garlic salt and a can of cream of celery soup!  “How DARE you say that we’re poisoning our families?”  “You are a TROLL who joined only to say mean things to us!”.  “I read your comments and they are all negative, and against those who are trying to feed their families on a budget!”  Huh?  I like healthy meals, but love a good comfort food meal as much as the next person.  I want to be buried with a bowl of olive cream cheese dip in one hand and a bag of blue corn chips in the other.  I guess you could say I was voted off the island, and in a record time of just under four hours, too.  I’m minding my own beeswax now, but I couldn’t help but take a  peek last night and found something like this:  “Oh, my!  I made the YUMMIEST roast last night! I cooked it for 12 hours, added four potatoes, and cooked it for another six.”  Nope, I’m not writing a response. Not me. I do have one question, though. Can anyone use the word UBER in a sentence? How about UBER-cholesterol? UBER-obesity?  Oh, no!  I’m doing it again, aren’t I?

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Hotdishes and Husbands

I have always prided myself in being able to squeeze a dollar bill until it cries out for mercy. I use coupons when I shop and buy things at garage sales. We grow our own vegetables. We buy used cars.  You would think that all this penny-pinching behavior would mean that we have a load of money in the bank,  but we don’t.  We have a daughter with a paid-for college degree and wedding.  We like nice vacations, electronic gadgets and big TV’s. We buy poultry feed for  27 chickens who have names and give us an average four eggs a day, so I guess they would be considered pets rather than livestock.   Except for our house, we live practically debt-free. These are the reasons that we watch our everyday spending. One of the biggest ways to save money is to cook and eat at home. This means coming up with ideas for inexpensive meals when one is married to a husband who hates leftovers. He not only hates leftovers, he hates hot dishes. He especially hates hot dishes made with leftovers. I know you feel my pain. He is living in Minnesota, the hot dish capital of the world, and he hates hot dishes. Oh, I can occasionally get by with a tuna-noodle hot dish, or perhaps the one with those frozen potato bits on top. Occasionally.  Now mind you, he doesn’t complain. He wouldn’t be happily married for all these years if he did. He just won’t eat much of it, and that means leftovers. Leftovers of leftovers.  That, my friends, hurts a dollar-squeezing, penny-pinching Farm Woman who prides herself on being a good cook straight down to the core.  For this reason, I must skillfully prepare dishes that don’t seem like either leftovers or hot dishes. Chicken and dumplings, for example, one of his favorites, and not a hot dish because it is cooked in a pot and not baked in a covered dish in the oven. (Don’t laugh, this is not MY logic!) Roast beef hash is cooked in a skillet. Do you get my drift here? If I chopped it up, added a can of mushroom soup and put tin foil over the top it would be considered a hot dish, and would become more leftover leftovers. There is one exception to this, and that is wild rice hot dish. He loves it. Of course, that is a side dish so TECHNICALLY not a hot dish for that reason and I never make it with leftovers (*wink wink*).  Oh, and by the way, he is a Southerner and south of the Mason-Dixon Line they call them “casseroles” and not “hot dishes” or  the you-know-they’re-from-Minnesota single word “hotdish”. Happy anniversary to my Southern-born meat and potatoes quiet man from your sushi-eating chatty Yankee bride. Thanks for being a good sport for the last 34 years.

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