Archive for May, 2013

It was the fall of 1982 and my husband and I were visiting Aunt Vera and Uncle Joe at their home in Virginia, just outside Washington D.C..  Uncle Joe was a lawyer who sported a snow-white beard and was so full of the exuberance of life that he spoke loudly and tended to burst into song in a glorious tenor voice at any time. Visiting him was an adventure, and we loved it. Aunt Vera was a wonderful cook, but one night we all went out for dinner and a tour of the city in Uncle Joe’s baby blue Cadillac.  He told us they had just erected something called the Vietnam Veterans Memorial nearby, and thought we might be interested in taking a look.  I remember that it was a short walk through the park as twilight was turning into night, and there were a few stars to light our way along the path.  We were greeted by a group of Vietnam veterans, who handed us each a flashlight and apologized that the lights weren’t up yet. These veterans stood vigil every night for their fallen or captured comrades.  There was a lot of controversy during the planning and construction of the memorial.  Many people complained that is was ugly, unconventional, and unsightly.  We had open minds and full stomachs, but stopped our after-dinner chatter as we approached.  There was almost an aura about the whole area that invoked silence.  It felt like a sacred place, but unlike any church that I had ever been in.  The black stone sculpture, ten feet tall and about 500 feet long, was made with a special granite that reflects almost like a mirror.  During the daylight, you can see a reflection of yourself as the background for the 58,261 names that are etched into the stone.  It has been said that the image fuses the past with the present. That night, with just a flashlight’s single bulb, there was no reflection except for the light against the names.  Names as high and as wide as my flashlight’s beam could reach.  Fathers, sons, sisters, and brothers. Soldiers and nurses. Friends. I was surrounded by others and suddenly felt small and very alone. My flashlight moved slowly, back and forth, up and down, stopping occasionally on an individual name. I thought of the POW/MIA bracelet that I wore every day as a teenager, now buried and nearly forgotten at the bottom of my jewelry box. I found his name and slowly rubbed my fingers over the letters, tracing each one, saying both hello and goodbye to an old friend I never knew.  I searched for and found the names of hometown boys who never came home. My cheeks were wet, yet I don’t remember crying.  We thanked the veterans as we left that night, all of us forever changed by the experience.  58,261 Americans.  “Thank you” doesn’t begin to cover it.

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Music to my ears

I have often talked about how quiet it is in the country, but truthfully, it can be quite noisy at times. The Canada geese are back, and they have got to be among the noisiest of God’s creatures.   Some people think they are a nuisance, but I think geese are the first true sign of spring.  There is always a gaggle of geese who choose the banks of our little creek as their nesting spot every year.  Geese mate for life, I have heard, and although I’m not sure it is the same birds that return every year,  it would be kind of nice if they were.  Last spring, as I was working in the garden, I could hear but not see an argument between two couples trying to settle into the same spot.  Honking and splashing angrily at each other, the disagreement escalated until I imagined them to be a little like the Hatfields and McCoys before one couple moved on and all was quiet again.  This year, the geese arrived during our false spring.  That was the lovely couple of days of warm weather we were teased with before Mother Nature got a bee  in her bonnet and gave us two additional feet of snow.  I don’t know about you, but that snow certainly interfered tremendously with my plans for spring.  I had been out working in the yard when it started falling, and it fell fast and furiously, as spring snowstorms often do.  Through the whiteness, I heard a couple of geese communicating with each other, and they didn’t sound happy. In fact the more I listened, the more they began to sound like an old married couple.  Before you know it, I began to imagine their conversation.   (Although you might find it a little strange to be imagining a conversation between two geese, it was probably the sanest thing that I could have done under the circumstances.  MORE SNOW falling after a winter of SNOW and MORE SNOW and a spring that was finally here but cruelly snatched away is enough to  make anyone lose their marbles, for crying out loud!)  She:  “I TOLD you to ask for directions!  You obviously took a wrong turn and ended up somewhere in the Northwest Territory!”  He: “Directions? Who needs directions?  I could find my way just fine if you weren’t cackling at me all the time!”  She:  “Stop flapping your bill and start feathering our nest, because these eggs are coming whether you are ready or not…and while you’re at it, put the toilet seat down!”  Although not quite as entertaining as the geese,  there are also plenty of ducks quacking away and the pine trees are alive with the chirping of dozens of birds.  Now that the snow is gone again, the spring peepers and other croaking frogs are singing so loudly back in the swamp that if there were any arguing geese, the noise would surely be drowned out.   I can’t leave out my own hens, who are making happy clucking noises searching for worms and bugs while the roosters strut around and cock-a-doodle-doo a little more than they were before. Whether it be a symphony or a cacophony, the sounds of spring are music to my ears.

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Home on the range

My dad was born in Hibbing, Minnesota in 1921 and raised in Chisholm, when he wasn’t spending time on his grandmother’s farm in Forbes.  He was what is known as a true Ranger…..meaning the Minnesota Iron Range, that is. There are a few ethnic foods that are distinctly Iron Range foods, and one of them is the beloved Porketta. I learned while doing my research today that it is thought  that Porketta came from the traditional Italian pork roast called Porchetta.  The Italians (whom my Finnish grandmother always mispronounced as “Eyetalians”) immigrated to the area to work in the iron ore mines, and over the years the spelling and spices must have evolved a little to become gastronomic history.  I like to keep my recipes simple and easy, and this is no exception.  Many Porketta recipes call for a combination of fennel seed and fresh fennel, which I dearly love to eat raw, but the nearest bulb of fennel is a 60 mile round trip from my Little House Way Out in the Sticks, so it is not included in this recipe. Other recipes call for a deboned and butterflied pork roast (too much trouble) or a pork loin roast (too dry).  To my daughter-of-an-Iron-Ranger taste buds, the best cut is a Boston butt roast, and the next best is a bone-in pork sirloin roast, but whatever is on sale this week will be fine!

Minnesota Farm Woman Porketta

1 pork roast (approx. 4 to 5 pounds)         1 tbsp.  fennel seed, crushed           2 tsp. salt         2 tsp. black pepper                         

1 tbsp. dried parsley         4 cloves garlic, chopped

4 russet potatoes, peeled and cut in half          4 large carrots, peeled and cut into pieces

1 medium rutabega, peeled and cut into chunks

One or two days, or several hours before roasting, mix fennel, salt, pepper, parsley and chopped garlic together and rub into all sides of the meat, pushing the garlic into the nooks and crannies of the meat. Place in a zip-top bag or cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. This allows the spices to permeate the meat. Do not prep the vegetables yet. Remove from bag and place in a covered roasting pan at 325 degrees for 3 to 4 hours until meat is very tender and juices run clear. Add the vegetables to the juices in the roaster the last hour, and remove the cover the last 30 minutes. The meat  is very tender and hard to slice unless it is cold.  Skim the fat off the juices and drizzle a little over the meat and roasted vegetables.  Save the rest of the juices for the leftovers….

Alternative cooking method:  Cook the meat in the crock pot on low for approximately 9 hours.  Cut the vegetables a little smaller, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Shred the leftover porketta and warm up the next day, mixed with the juices. Serve in crusty rolls and top with  pepperoncini (mildly spicy pickled Italian peppers) for some great sandwiches!


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