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Archive for November, 2014

Embracing the Grape

The New York Times recently published an article on regional Thanksgiving favorites in which the author apparently “scoured” the nation and got a recipe from a Minnesota-born heiress for grape salad. This salad is a simple concoction of grapes, sour cream, and brown sugar, sometimes topped with nuts and broiled, sometimes not. From what I have been reading, Minnesota is in an uproar over this supposed tradition, so much so that blogs all across America are making mention of it. It is easy enough to explain, though. Whoever wrote the article has no idea about Minnesota traditions. He may not even realize that here in the northern part of the state, which the USDA calls Zone 3, we can grow only three types of grapes out of approximately 3000 different varieties. No, I didn’t do any scientific research to come up with these numbers, any more than he did any research on the favorite food traditions of Minnesota. I have never actually harvested any grapes, but I do get plenty of vines and leaves. I add the leaves to my pickles to make them crispy, and these homemade pickles grace our table each holiday. I dare anyone to find a Minnesota Thanksgiving table without at least one type of pickle. We even pickle our fish! If he came to dinner at any number of homes, and after passing the pickles, looked to the left and looked to the right, he would see no heiresses. I don’t think anyone in Minnesota even uses the word “heiress”. We are simple folks who eat like we are wealthy even when we’re not. Many cooks serve good wholesome vegetables “put up” from summer gardens. Since we are one of the nation’s largest producers of turkey (turkey recipes were given to several other states), we might enjoy that, venison, beef, or pork as a main dish. Along side would be a wild rice hotdish (wild rice was given to our neighbor, The Dairy State and no, I don’t make this stuff up) jello salad (perhaps with a few grapes but more likely, cranberries, canned fruit, or shredded carrots), mashed potatoes, gravy, and pie of any sort. Minnesotans love pie. Our beloved lefse was given to North Dakota, and their recipe calls for canola oil instead of melted butter. My Scandinavian immigrant ancestors are probably rolling in their graves as I write this. “What ‘da HECK iss canoola oil?” they would probably ask as they slathered even more butter and sprinkled sugar on their lefse. Trying to explain a GMO would probably be beyond their understanding, as I know it is beyond mine. I do have to make a confession to make: I HAVE had the grape salad on a couple of Thanksgivings. My daughter found the recipe and made it for holiday meals in the days before most of the family gave up sugar. It was delicious, too, but not my favorite way to have grapes. So, while the rest of Minnesota is complaining about them, I will embrace the grape and have a little of it MY way….fermented and poured into a lovely crystal glass that I bought a garage sale. Perhaps it was a cast-off from a real heiress. Red or white, crystal or paper cup, it doesn’t matter, because I am thankful for it. Happy Thanksgiving from Zone 3 in northern Minnesota!

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Talking Turkey

For as long as I can remember, my mother would eat the turkey neck every Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law did, too. Both claimed it was their favorite piece of the bird. I always found it to be a little stringy, but never wasted that turkey neck, choosing instead to simmer it with the giblets, then chop it very finely and add it to the gravy. This year, for the first time, I raised turkeys on our little farm. Getting advice from real farmers, I purchased six babies last spring. Six because everyone told me I would probably lose a few to predators, weather, or just plain stupidity on my part…or theirs. Despite these dire warnings, I ended up with all six, but they didn’t stay babies for long. I learned that turkeys grow rapidly and eat a lot, and by a lot, I mean A LOT. I tried to free-range them as much as I could, hoping they would fill up on grass, worms, and bugs. Around here, in the land of coyotes and foxes and bears (oh, my), animals must be protected. In addition to the free ranging, they lived a happy life in the coop and the run with the chickens. (I can’t vouch for the happiness of the chickens, however.) I didn’t name the turkeys, knowing that they would eventually be dinner. Although I didn’t harden my heart against them, I didn’t treat them as pets, either. They were really fun to watch, and contrary to what I had heard, were certainly not lacking in intelligence. As the days started getting shorter, I knew “the deed” had to be done sooner than later. I had already arranged with my son-in-law to take care of that duty, and my best friend since the first grade, who is always up for anything, agreed to help. We managed to get them cleaned, although I must admit, it was a lot of work with a little bit of sadness thrown in. I’m really not sure I’d want do it again. After sending each of my assistants home with a turkey-and-a-half, one is in the freezer and the others were sent to the local butcher to be made into breast fillets and turkey sausage. I saved the bones and simmered them yesterday with bay leaves, lots of garlic, and a touch of apple cider vinegar to make several quarts of broth which will be good for what ails us in the coming winter months. As I picked the meat off those turkey necks to make soup, I thought about the fast food throw-away world we live in now. Raising your own meat and vegetables is about as slow as food can get. The thought of wasting any part of those turkeys after taking care of them personally would be almost sinful. It took me a while, but I finally understand why our ancestors saved everything and wasted nothing. My life is filled with blessings. I have helpful friends, a warm home, healthy food, and a loving family to share it with. For all these things, and especially for turkeys, I give my heartfelt thanks.

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You’ve got mail

Somewhere around here I have a box of letters. There are a few that my great-grandmother wrote to the folks back home, filled with news about the relatives and her health. There are eloquently written letters from my father to my mother. There is even a packet of love letters, all written on yellow stationary that I got from HIM during our engagement. They are short but very sweet, and I saved every single one of them. I used to be a good letter writer. Since I moved about a thousand miles from home after we married, I kept in touch with friends and family through letters, and I was happy to get them in return. We didn’t have a lot of money, long-distance telephone rates were expensive, and postage stamps were cheap. Gradually, it became more affordable to call, and I started sending a hand written letter only at Christmas. Most of my friends did the same. Then came email, which was a wonderful way to keep in touch with friends and family at the touch of a keyboard. Long letters were no longer necessary, as brief notes and funny jokes became a weekly or even daily occurrence. I looked forward to checking my email daily, even several times a day. Gradually, despite internet filters, “spam” email would find its way into my inbox. That, along with the same tired old jokes that circulated over and over, made email not such a thrill any more. Along came Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Now we can chat and send pictures instantly to everyone we know. We can have running conversations with each other by text messages on our phones. Husbands and wives are communicating with each other again, everywhere except at our house. The man who once wrote those sweet letters refuses to text and the only love notes he writes are left on the counter asking me to pick up peanut butter at the grocery store. Most people, including me, don’t bother to send Christmas cards any more, preferring instead to send greetings via social networking. These days, I still check my email every day, but have to weed through the spam and scammers to get to the important stuff. Cruise lines and mortgage companies want my business. Citizens from Libya are telling me I can share in their inheritance if I just give them my bank account number. Strangely enough, I even get information about adult diapers and choosing my own nursing home. Today, long-distance rates are cheap and postage stamps are expensive. I miss getting those good long newsy letters. I miss the anticipation of checking the mailbox every day and of sorting through the mail, saving the letters for last and reading them a second or even a third time. I love technology, but sometimes miss the way things used to be. We don’t save texts and emails. The next generation won’t find an old shoebox filled with love letters and faded photographs that were put away long ago by someone who wondered how the years went by so quickly. Maybe it is time for me to write a letter. It will be long, handwritten, and filled with news. Hopefully, I will even get one in return.

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Buried Treasures

When I was growing up, I wanted to be an archeologist. On any given summer day, I could be found sifting through the sand surrounding our burn barrel in the back yard, finding assorted treasures such as chipped marbles, buttons, and singed animal bones. As an adult, I once borrowed a metal detector and was happily digging up nickels in a Florida state park when the rangers stopped me and threatened to confiscate them. Apparently, searching for buried treasure on state land in a historic county is against the law. Oops. I am always watching roadshows and picker shows on television and hear the stories of those who move to old farms and find things in their attics and barn rafters worth thousands of dollars. Well, we moved to an old farm, and we haven’t found anything except broken glass and rusty metal. I spend my summers picking up this junk, only to find more every year once the snow is gone. This fall, I have spent a few days moving my garden storage area from one shed to another. Ordinarily, at this time of the year, I am sitting in front of the fire with a good book, but the unusual balmy fall weather has extended my outdoor activity. When you are a homeowner, another word for outdoor activity is WORK. First, I hauled three wheelbarrow loads of wood scraps and old leftover pieces of lumber to the burn pile. It’s funny, but I thought it might make a good woodshed just before I realized it used to be a woodshed. Next, I moved the pile of old pieces of metal that I have picked up over the years from the corner of the shed to the trailer. Hopefully, HE will get the hint and make a trip to the recycle center before the snow flies. I raked the dirt floor from corner to corner, loosening up more wood chips and (no surprise here) lots of broken glass. I carefully dumped and sorted through a bucket of rusty nails, hoping to find a treasure beneath them, but there was nothing there but rusty nails. I found a few small toy trucks buried among the dirt and the glass. I found some old and some not so old rusty tools. I found a mouse nest made with lots of chicken feathers and straw. I found plenty of spider webs. Luckily, I didn’t find any spiders, but I know they were watching me. Emptied from top to bottom and from end to end, the little shed will be ready for its new/old role as a woodshed. It is not quite empty, though. Hidden in one of the corners is a collection of small toy trucks, an animal bone of some sort, and an old rusty chisel of unknown vintage. In a few years, my grandson will be old enough to do some exploring on his own, and if he’s anything like his grandma, he’ll be looking for a treasure. I hope he finds one.

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