Archive for March, 2013

 I love gumbo. It is as much fun to make as it is to eat.  I think I am hearing a loud chorus of groans here,  from my southern friends who are saying, “There is NO WAY a Farm Woman from Minnesota can make a real gumbo!” as well as my northern Minnesota Scandinavian friends whining, “Okra? Ewwwwwww!” or by HIM, who will just say “Why can’t we just have hamburgers like everybody else?”  Y’all be quiet just a minute, because you might just get a little history here, too.  Gumbo is simply a country stew, made from the fresh local ingredients that many Louisiana Farm Women had at the time.  No sausage? Use bacon or ham.  No chicken? Use ‘gator.  It tastes like chicken, anyway. Did you know that the word ‘gumbo’ comes from African word for okra? I also learned while researching for this article that there are several types of gumbo, depending on the thickener, and that gumbo aficionados think that meat and seafood should not be mixed in a traditional gumbo. Well, I have always been a little bit of a rule breaker.  Just ask my mother.  My gumbo is good, despite breaking the rules. Here in Minnesota, it is hard to find fresh okra, so I often use frozen or canned, and it is just fine and not a bit slimy, all you groaners.  You can also grow okra in your garden, but it is one of those vegetables that needs a long hot summer, and we Zone 3 gardeners can’t always count on that.  I also use a Minnesota-grown sunflower oil (http://www.smudeoil.com/), which adds a nutty flavor to the dish. Before you try the recipe, you must know that although is isn’t hard, you must be a patient roux maker.  Gumbo is only as good as the roux, or foundation of the dish. 

Gumbo, Minnesota Farm Woman Style

1/2 cup sunflower oil     1/2 cup flour (approximately)

Heat the oil in the pan over low to medium-low heat in a heavy bottomed pot.  If your pot is big, add a splash more of each until the oil covers the bottom of the pot. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring frequently until mixture turns the color of peanut butter.  The mixture is not meant to be thick at this point.  This takes approximately 30 minutes. Watch carefully, as it scorches easily.

1 medium onion, chopped     1/2 cup green pepper, chopped     1/2 cup celery, chopped   1/2 cup carrot, chopped

6-8 cups hot water or chicken stock, or a mixture of both      1 can diced tomatoes (no need to drain)

2 tsp. Cajun or Creole seasoning     1 tsp. salt     1 tsp.  pepper     2 cloves garlic, crushed     hot sauce (to taste)     1 tbsp. dried parsley     1 tsp. dried thyme    2 tsp gumbo filet powder (optional)     1 large bay leaf (remove before serving)

Add the chopped vegetables to the roux and cook for 10 minutes. Add hot water/broth and tomatoes and stir. It will thicken quickly at this point.  Add spices and simmer for 1 hour. 

Stir in 2 cups canned, fresh, or frozen okra 

Add 2 cups smoked or andouille sausage,  sliced or coarsely diced and browned     or     2 cups diced boneless skinless chicken thighs, browned     or  2 cups Minnesota-grown gator tail, diced and browned.  Add them all if you want, because this is your dinner and not mine.  Simmer for an additional 1 hour.

Add 1/2 pound fresh or frozen shrimp (peeled and tails removed), during last 10 minutes of cooking.

This is best served with hot cooked rice (white, brown, or Minnesota wild rice).  Serve the rice on the side and let everybody add their own. Add more hot sauce if you dare, and garnish with chopped green onion.  Serves six.

If you want to know where to find the elusive Minnesota alligator, they can probably be found in the swamp behind my house.  I think I just found ‘gator tracks in the snow near the chicken coop.


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Cleaning Things Up

My mom used to tell me stories of the northern Michigan neighborhood where she grew up. Her small town had a heavy Finnish population, many of whom she referred to as “those clean Finnish ladies” who scrubbed their kitchen floors daily until they were clean enough to toss down a tablecloth and eat off the floor.  Not that they would, mind you, because anything dropped on the floor would be considered dirty no matter how clean it was or how often they scrubbed it.  Growing up, I visited my own clean Finnish relatives and had coffee at many clean Finnish ladies’ homes.  I, too, am a proud Finn, but think that I may have inherited a bad recessive hate-to-clean gene, likely from the Swede or Norwegian sides of the family, because my house most certainly wouldn’t pass muster. In fact, the generations of strong Finnish Farm Women before me are probably rolling in their graves.  My house isn’t necessarily dirty, but it isn’t necessarily clean, either.  At least by Finnish Farm Woman standards, anyway, and I come from a long line of them.   I often think of those ancestors, and wonder how they managed.  True, the women didn’t have to find the time to clean after their full-time jobs, nor did they need  to write a weekly newspaper column before they started scrubbing. They probably had to feed the chickens, milk the cow, wash the clothes by hand, stoke the fire, shovel the snow, knead the cardamom bread, nurse the children, and cook the lutefisk and boil the rutabagas.  Then, and only then, would they have the time to scrub their floors, and probably on their hands and knees.  It was likely the last thing they did before retiring for the night, looking at the spotlessness with pride before the morning’s manure was tracked in by their husbands and it started all over again.  Few of them lived to a ripe old age in a time when a ripe old age was 55.  I think they died that young because they just needed the rest. I have my own personal theory on the cleanliness of those Finnish homes, particularly the floors.  I think that as the lutefisk steamed and boiled over it had to be washed immediately from the floor or it would eat through to the subflooring. That stuff is treated with lye and will burn the hairs out of your nostrils if you dare lift the lid and take a whiff while it is cooking. Anyhow, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. My grandmother Ena, who was born in 1899, descended from Finnish Farm Women and grew up on a farm, but she prided herself in her modern ways, lived in town, and held a full-time job until she was over 70.  I never saw her scrub the floor on her hands and knees, but she did keep a mop on her back porch.  I don’t remember ever seeing her cook  lutefisk, but she sure could make an awesome batch of chop suey.  She liked to go out dancing, loved to laugh, and drank her coffee strong and black. She occasionally liked a “highball” before dinner and bought her bread from the store.  I’m a lot like her but after a lifetime of living in town, I now live on a farm.  I think that she and the Farm Women before her would be pleased with that. I have some pretty modern ideas myself, too, and I think my grandmother would be proud:  Anybody tracking stuff on my clean kitchen floor would find himself buried in the manure pile and spread in the garden for fertilizer come spring.

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The Password Game

I don’t know about you, but it seems that just about everything in my life involves a password. I have three computer passwords at work.  Yes, three.  It is a good thing they pay me by the hour, because I spend a heck of a lot of time remembering which password goes where!  I also have a password for my debit card, one to sign on to my computer, then three more for the different network sites I am on.  There’s one for my wireless internet router, which must be remembered in case I have company and they want to use their own computer, and another for my internet provider, just in case something goes wrong. There’s another one for Amazon.com, my favorite shopping web site. Paying off my credit  card is easy and only requires entering the 24 digit account number, plus the birthdate of my third grade teacher and the nickname of my first pet.  Everything would be just fine if I could use the same password for everything, but that is discouraged by the powers that be, whom I always refer to as The Great Computer Oz.  Choosing a password isn’t easy for anyone, and most certainly is not in our control.   For example, I’ll pick an easy to remember password.  “Pottymouth” seems like a good example.  If I type in in, though, big red letters will flash across the computer screen:  “YOU MUST HAVE A COMBINATION OF AT LEAST 12 LETTERS, NUMBERS, AND SYMBOLS, USING BOTH UPPER- AND LOWER-CASE”.  The Great Computer Oz has spoken.  All right, I’ll try “Pottymouth12”.  “WEAK PASSWORD, TRY AGAIN!”, which finally gets me to “PoTTymOUth #@$^!!” Yay! It is accepted!  Now to remember it.  I can write it down, but that is frowned upon by The Great Computer Oz as being easy for identity thieves to find and use.  Oh, Great Computer Oz,  don’t you understand that those of us over 50 must write things down or they will be forever lost in the dark recesses of our minds with other important information such as what time was that dentist appointment and what the HECK did I do with my reading glasses?  I have even forgotten where I hid the paper on which I had written the passwords.  Not funny, in case those of you under 50 are snickering. It will happen to you, too.   I don’t think any identity thief in his right mind would come to northern Minnesota anyway, looking for a scrap of paper that I can’t even find myself.  If they do come, I hope they bring their own shovel, because we’ve just had another eight inches of Minnesota Spring over the weekend.  If the thieves can hack into my computer through cyberspace and enter my bank account, they will be sadly disappointed.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if  were so sorry for me that they would maybe even make a charitable deposit.  I am eagerly anticipating the day when  computers will scan our fingerprints and there will be no more passwords.  In the meantime, The Great Computer Oz in my work computer is telling me “YOU HAVE THREE MORE SIGN-ONS BEFORE YOUR PASSWORD MUST BE CHANGED. DO YOU WANT TO CHANGE IT NOW?”  #@$^!!  No, Oh Great and Powerful One,  I don’t.

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If you don’t give a pregnant woman everything she craves, you will get a sty in your eye! Old Wives’ Tale

We all know that tale had to come from a really hungry pregnant woman who sent her beleaguered hubby to the grocery store at midnight for pickles and ice cream.  I suffered enough heartburn during my pregnancy that all the grannies in Kentucky guaranteed a baby with a  headful of hair but instead had the cutest little bald baby girl ever.   Old wives’ tales are simply superstitions about everyday living from pregnancy  to death and everything in between.  Did you know if you die on Good Friday you will go directly to heaven?  Do not pass “Go”, do not collect $200.00.  Here’s another one that could be of help to you in the upcoming weeks:  If you make a wish when you see the first robin of spring, your wish will come true unless the robin flies away before you’re done wishing.  Just in case there is even a smidgen of truth in this one, please wish very quickly for no more snow when you see that robin out your window.  Speaking of snow, I learned during my research that if a squirrel hides a lot of nuts it is going to be a long winter and if he hides them up in a high place there will be a lot of snow that year. Who would have guessed that the number of snowstorms in a winter is the same as the number of fogs in August?  I don’t know who thought of that one, but certainly not someone who lived in foggy boggy northern Minnesota, because if it were true, we would never dig out.  Since I am both old and a wife, I feel qualified to add a few tales of my own:  1) If your house spotlessly clean, nobody will ever see it.  If you leave your floors unmopped, have dirty dishes in the sink and are still wearing your sweat pants at noon, you will be sure to have company. 2) If you gather your eggs in your jacket pockets because you forgot your bucket, you will have more laundry than usual that day. 3) If you wish for the country life at every stop light in the city and make no illegal U turns for a year, you will end up in a place where the squirrels hide a lot of  nuts high in the treetops every single year.  Go ahead and try that one, because it worked for me. While you’re at it, give the pregnant woman whatever she wants. You don’t want to take any chances on that one.

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