Dear Winter: I am SO over you

When I close my eyes, I can see the white sandy beach being softly lapped by azure blue waters, surrounded by palm trees. I can feel the warmth of the sun and the soft breeze on my face.

Then I open my eyes and see the white piles of snow being shaped by wind-driven waves of more snow, with snow-covered trees in the background. I can feel the gusty wind buffeting the house as I look out the window, and the cold even seems to permeate the well-insulated glass.

From the euphoria of paradise to the reality of the frozen landscape in the blink of an eye.

I no longer enjoy winter, and as I have said many times in recent months, I enjoy it even less with each year that passes. There was a time — back when my bones were less brittle — that I may have looked forward to it. I was a downhill skier back then, and I surely anticipated days spent on the slopes, or maybe an excursion to go sledding out on Pfeil’s Hill.

But those days are long past. The skis still sit in the corner of our basement, but will likely never again be used, as I have no desire to brave broken bones and frost-bitten feet for the thrill of speeding downhill on a snow-covered slope. I have no interest in pulling on long johns (I once even owned a red union suit!), wool socks and all the other layers necessary to spend extended periods of time in the wintery great outdoors.

My idea of braving the weather is sprinting between the house and the car, complaining under my breath along the way.

Still, if there is a bit of joy to be found in the midst of blizzards, polar vortexes, cold snaps and whiteouts, it is in the foods we dish up to warm us from the inside out. Soup is still on the menu at our house at least one day a week, and weekends usually find some sort of “comfort” concoction simmering away in the slow cooker. So I am always glad when new options for both soups and slow cooker meals are brought to my attention.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared the recipe for lasagna soup, sampled by my sister on her way to warmer climes down south. That prompted Amy Moritz to email her recipe for a similar concoction that Amy said she enjoys — “especially on a cold winter day.”

Souper Spaghetti

1 pound lean ground beef

1 medium onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 medium carrot, chopped

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Two 14 ½-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained

2 ½ cups water

One 13- to 15-ounce jar spaghetti sauce

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 ounces spaghetti, broken into 2-inch pieces

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, cook meat, onion, celery, carrot and garlic over medium heat until vegetables are tender and meat is no longer pink, stirring frequently. Drain excess fat.

Add undrained tomatoes, water, spaghetti sauce and seasonings. Bring mixture to a boil. Add broken spaghetti, return to boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, for 12-15 minutes, until spaghetti is tender. Serve immediately.


Now it’s on to the slower cooker. Here’s another meal idea, shared by my niece, Gretchen Rickers Ennis, who said the meatballs can also be used as an appetizer. In fact, the friend from whom she got the recipe, Diane Kopsas, brought them to a Super Bowl party.

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs

Mozzarella cheese, cut into cubes

1 pound ground beef

1 pound hot Italian sausage

½ teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup bread crumbs

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

2 eggs

½ cup whole milk

½ cup chopped parsley

Spaghetti sauce or tomato sauce

Combine beef, sausage, seasonings, bread crumbs, Parmesan, eggs, milk and parsley. Roll mixture into golf ball-sized meatballs, pressing a cube of cheese into the center of each one. Arrange meatballs in the slow cooker. Cover with spaghetti sauce or tomato sauce. Cook on high for 2 to 2½ hours. Serve over favorite pasta or as meatball sandwiches on buns.

It’s all about who you know

A common piece of advice for writers is “write what you know.” The wisdom of that advice — often attributed to Ernest Hemingway — is debated in literary circles, but I won’t get into that discussion today. The truth is, having been at the Daily Globe for 27 years now and spending the majority of my life in Worthington, I am often called upon to “write what I know,” or maybe more importantly, “write WHO I know.”

At the moment, I am taking a break from writing one such piece — a tribute to Mary Beth Blegen, who died Monday after a short battle with cancer — that should be found on the front page of today’s issue of the Daily Globe. This is the second such piece I’ve had to write in the last six weeks dealing with people I know relatively well, and in both cases, people who were role models and mentors to me. In fact, they were both people who I don’t ever remember not knowing.

The first was Ray Crippen, longtime editor of the Daily Globe, who died in December. Our association would have begun with church — St. Matthew Lutheran. Ray taught Sunday school for many years, and I also recall he was a church elder when I was going through the confirmation program. At the time, confirmands were required to go — alone — before an elder and make some sort of recitation. I can remember being relieved to find that Ray was my designated elder. I knew he was a good guy and would not fault me if I stumbled.
But then I also knew Ray through the Daily Globe, long before I came to work here. My mom wrote a column for the Globe and was one of its proofreaders when I was growing up. I was also a “paper girl” during my early teen years, so I had many reasons to stop in the Daily Globe office, where I would inevitably run into Ray.

As an adult, when I ended up back in my hometown to temporarily regroup, Ray offered me a job, even though my journalism training was negligible. And I took it, never intending to spend more than a year here before I decided what I really wanted to do. But Ray had faith in me. He shaped my skills. He turned me into a reasonable facsimile of a journalist.
More than 25 years later — almost six weeks ago now — I found myself writing his journalistic eulogy. I was honored to do so, and many of the words were written through the tears welling up in my eyes. I didn’t realize how much Ray meant to me until I began to write his story.

And now there is Mary Beth — a longtime Worthington teacher whose claim to fame was being named the 1996 National Teacher of the Year. But she was a rock star educator to her students long before that honor.

Here’s my disclaimer: I never had her as a teacher. Not sure why — she may have been dealing with health issues or her young family at the time—  so I didn’t have the opportunity to experience her in the classroom. But I did know Mary Beth well, first through associations with my older siblings, and then through my own very memorable high school experiences.

Back then, she was married to choir teacher Dave Blegen, and between our junior and senior years the choir embarked on a trip to sister city Crailsheim, Germany — the first large-scale exchange attempted. That meant lots of fundraisers, lots of practices, and lots of time spent with both Mr. and Mrs. Blegen. We even built a float for King Turkey Day in their driveway.

Even though she wasn’t my teacher, Mary Beth was a strong female role model, and most importantly, she listened and made every student feel acknowledged and relevant.
When I came to work at the Daily Globe, Mary Beth wrote a weekly column that fell under my jurisdiction, so I interacted with her regularly. She wrote of her own foibles, but also about her students and what she learned from them. When our paths happened to cross in more recent years, I was always greeted with a warm embrace, an intent gaze and a bevy of questions that showed her genuine interest.

So again, I find myself writing about a mentor and a friend, the computer screen occasionally blurred by tears as I read the tributes to her that abound on social media and hope that I can do her spirit justice.

Writing about WHO you know isn’t always easy. It can be much easier to write about people you don’t know, as you aren’t laden with the baggage of your own relationship and perceptions. It’s difficult to keep your own voice out of the telling, to tell what they meant to you.

But I can do that here. So thank you, Ray. Thank you, Mary Beth. You were both big influences in my life, and I thank you for all that you taught me.

In the mood for Italian

Lately, I’ve been craving lasagna. My tastebuds begin to water at the thought of noodles layered with spicy meat sauce and creamy cheese. Yum.
But when I make lasagna, it’s a multi-hour endeavor, as I figure if I’m going to go to all that work, I might as well make several pans to stash in the freezer. By the time I’m done, the kitchen is a mess, and the sink is piled full of all sorts of pots and pans. In a household that doesn’t have a dishwasher  (yes, we sacrificed getting a dishwasher for more cupboard space) — well, I just don’t have that much energy at the moment.
I’ve also clipped a few recipes for lasagna and lasagna-like concoctions that can be made in the slow cooker. But upon closer perusal, they don’t seem like that much less work than making it the traditional way.
But my lasagna obsession may just be satisfied in a bowl of soup. A while ago, my sister, Margaret Hinchey, emailed me this recipe for Lasagna Soup. I found it at the bottom of my email inbox when I was clearing it out this week.
Margaret and brother-in-law Don are currently spending some time in sunny Ft. Myers, Fla., where Don, a retired pastor, is helping out at a Lutheran church there that swells with an influx of snowbirds each winter. En route to Florida from their Denver home, the Hincheys stopped to visit friends in the St. Louis area, and were served this soup at the home of Mike and Sarah Gundermann McCarthy. Sarah has many relatives in the Fulda area.
The recipe is originally from Taste of Home magazine.

Lasagna Soup

1 pound lean ground beef
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Two 14 ½-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained
Two 14 ½-ounce cans reduced-sodium beef broth
One 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup frozen corn
¼ cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon pepper
2½ cups uncooked spiral pasta
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
In a large saucepan, cook beef, green pepper and onion over medium heat 6-8 minutes or until meat is no longer pink, breaking up beef into crumbles. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Drain.
Stir in tomatoes, broth, tomato sauce, corn, tomato paste, Italian seasoning and pepper. Bring to a boil. Stir in pasta. Return to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, 10 to 12 minutes or until pasta is tender. Sprinkle with cheese. Yield: 8 servings (2¾ quarts).

Low and slow

If I had to name one kitchen appliance that I could put to better use more often, it would have to be the slow cooker.
Sure, Hubby Bryan and I use it for cooking up a roast on a Sunday afternoon, and Bryan’s slow cooker beef stew is one of our favorites during the cold weather months. But we often aren’t foresighted enough to use it for much else.
So when I spotted a social media post featuring 10 “amazing” slow cooker recipes recently, I quickly perused it, saw a couple possibilities and saved it to my own Facebook page.
Now, I do this often with online recipes — and usually never get around to trying them before they disappear into social media oblivion. So this time, I resolved (it is early January, after all) to give one of them a try. Bryan volunteered to run to the store to get a few key ingredients; I chopped and diced it all up and threw it into the pot while I was home for lunch; and we had this Southwestern Chicken Soup for Monday supper.
I can’t help fiddling with recipes — changing a few things here or there to better suit our tastes or what I have in the cupboard — and this recipe is no exception. I blended up the diced tomatoes a bit, just to get rid of the big chunks and add some body to the broth. I left out the cilantro altogether, because we think it tastes like soap. And while the original recipe called for also adding two or three fresh tomatoes, cut into chunks,  I added the fresh tomato at the end as a garnish instead. Oh, and I also dumped in a (well-drained) can of corn, although frozen kernels would also work well, upped the amount of chipotle pepper and added a bit of cornstarch to thicken the broth further.
Having tried several other southwestern-type soups in the past, Bryan and I agreed that this is our favorite method for making a chicken tortilla-type soup. Here is the recipe per how I made it — feel free to make it your own. For those who like them, a can of black beans (drained) would be a good addition.

Slow Cooker Southwestern Chicken Soup

5 cups chicken broth
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, blended brieflysouthwesternsouprgb
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
¼ cup chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 garlic cloves minced
½ onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
2 anaheim chilies diced
3 cups cooked chicken (I used a rotisserie chicken)
1 15.25-ounce can whole kernel corn
¼ cup cornstarch mixed with ¼ cup water
diced tomato
diced avocado
crushed tortilla chips
sour cream
lime wedges
Chopped fresh cilantro
Place everything (except the toppings and cornstarch mixture) into the slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 5 to 6 hours. Whisk in cornstarch-water mixture and stir until soup has thickened slightly.
To serve, ladle into bowls and add preferred toppings. We used fresh tomato, diced avocado, tortilla chips and a squeeze of lime juice.

Put cookie baking on the calendar

When my late mother, Dorthy Rickers, was the food columnist for the Daily Globe, each year in her Mixing & Musing column she wrote an annual Christmas letter to her granddaughters, Gretchen, Ingrid and Alexis. I continue the tradition with the next generation, Gretchen’s children, Mason and Millie.

Dear Mason & Millie,
Oh my, how time does fly! I know you can’t exactly understand how fast it goes at your young ages. For you two, now 9 and 6, the next few days until Christmas will seem like forever; while to those of us of much more advanced age, it will be here in far less than a blink of the eye. Take it from GAB (Great Aunt Beth), the older you get, the faster it goes.
And that fast passing of time is my excuse for not getting around to baking cookies with you this holiday season. In past years, I always lamented that such an endeavor was downright impossible, as you lived more than 300 miles away in Baxter.

But 2015 was the Year of the Big Move for your family, when Dad Steve accepted a job at a bank in Sioux Falls, S.D., and after the school year was done in Baxter, the two of you and Mom Gretchen joined him in a temporary townhouse in nearby Brandon. At the moment, your new home is under construction, your mom is rebuilding her photography business at a new location in downtown Sioux Falls, and the two of you have been extra busy getting settled into your new school and making friends.

The best part of that relocation is that you now live much closer to Grandma Pam and Boompah (Grandpa Marty), as well as your Hokeness great-grandparents and, of course, me and GUB (Great-Uncle Bryan).So this year, having a cookie baking session — carrying on the tradition that Great-Grandma Dot began with your mom and aunt and cousin (oh, how she and GG Don would have loved having you so close by!) — was a much more possible possibility.

I have such fond memories of those afternoons in DotMom’s kitchen — particularly the year when I ended up with clumps of royal icing in my hair — and I can only imagine that such hilarity would also ensue with you two.

But we didn’t get the job done this year. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas just seemed to evaporate. That will be at the top of my resolution list for 2016: Schedule a cookie-baking session with Mason and Millie.

In the meantime, many other memory-making opportunities still lie ahead this Christmas season, and I look forward to experiencing a few of them through your wonder-filled eyes.

Back when I was your age, my very favorite Christmas dessert was this one served by GG Dot. My job was to crush up the candy canes, using a plastic bag and hammer. This endeavor didn’t always end well, as I remember flying bits of peppermint candy all over the kitchen.

Candy Cane Dessert

36 chocolate wafer cookies, finely crushed
½ cup butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar
Chocolate sauce:
1 cup semi-sweet baking chips
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup powdered sugar
Two eight-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1½ cups heavy whipping cream, whipped
2/3 cup coarsely crushed hard peppermint candies or candy canes (plus a few extra small candy canes for garnish)
Heat oven to 325 degrees
Combine crust ingredients in bowl. Press into bottom of ungreased 13- by 9-inch baking pan. Bake 10 minutes. Cool completely.
In a 1-quart saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate chips with 2/3 cup whipping cream, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Spread evenly over crust. Place in freezer for at least 10 minutes while making filling.
Combine powdered sugar, cream cheese and peppermint extract. Beat on low speed, scraping bowl often, until smooth and creamy. Gently stir in whipped cream and crushed candies. Spread evenly over chocolate layer. Sprinkle with additional crushed candy, if desired. Cover; freeze 4 hours or overnight.
Serve frozen or refrigerated. Cut into squares. Top each serving with a small candy cane.

Dear Readers: I hope that you, too, have a wondrous Christmas, filled with love, laughter, family and friends as we celebrate the reason for the season — the miracle of Jesus’ birth.

Souped up

I love soup.

If there’s a choice between soup and salad as a starter, I will often choose soup — depending on the variety, of course.

While I could slurp up a bowl of soup year-round, we limit soup suppers to the cold weather months at our house. As I’ve shared previously, once a week we have soup night.

Most recently, it was this squash variety.

Butternut Squash Soup

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup onion, chopped

1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped into ½-inch pieces

1 clove garlic, minced

3 to 4 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ¾-inch pieces (about 7 cups)

6 cups low-sodium chicken stock

1 teaspoon dried sage

In a large cooking pot, add the butter and oil and melt together over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the squash and the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil and add the sage. Continue to boil until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat. Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture until smooth and thick. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Keep the soup warm over low heat.

When I put out the call for soup recipes a couple weeks ago, I heard from Maxine Gaul of Slayton.

“Here is a delicious potato soup recipe that I received from Pam Johnson of Slayton,” said Maxine in an email. “This soup is filling and easy to make. It lives up to its name.”

Best-Ever Potato Soup

6 strips of bacon, diced

4 cups cubed peeled potatoes

4 cups chicken broth

2 carrots, grated

1 rib of celery, chopped fine

½ cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes

½ teaspoon each of celery seed, salt, and pepper

4 tablespoons flour

4 cups milk

8 ounces American cheese, cubed

In a large saucepan, cook bacon until crisp; drain. Add potatoes, broth, carrots, onion, parsley, celery seed, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Combine flour and milk until smooth; add to soup. Bring to a boil and stir for 2 minutes. Add cheese; stir until cheese is melted and the soup is heated through.

Maxine also included a bonus recipe:

“I am also including a Chow Mein recipe, another good comfort food. This recipe is very versatile as it can be made with cooked or canned chicken or you can use browned hamburger for something different.”

Crock Pot Chow Mein

2 cups cooked chicken, diced (or one large can of Swanson’s white meat chicken, or one pound of hamburger browned and drained)

1 can bean sprouts, drained

1 large can chow mein vegetables or chop suey vegetables, drained

1 can water chestnuts, drained

Celery — use as much as you like — ½ to all of a bunch, chopped

1 roughly chopped onion

1 can cream of celery or cream of mushroom soup, undiluted

Sliced mushrooms, either fresh or canned

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Combine all ingredients in crock pot and mix well.

Cover and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours or on high 2 to 3 hours.

Serve with rice or chow mein noodles.

A couple of notes from Maxine:
* If you make this with chicken, you can top with cashews.
* For something different I have added one of the following rice mixes to the chicken chow mein about a half hour before serving: a box of Uncle Ben’s wild rice, or one box of yellow rice from Rice a Roni or Zatteran’s (whatever I have on hand).

The heat is on


Thanksgiving is just 10 days away. How can that possibly be?

With her relatively mild fall, Mother Nature has lulled us into a false sense of security. If the petunias are still blooming in front of my house (and they still were as of late last week), the Holiday of the Big Feast can’t possibly be that close, right?

Not right. 10 days. That’s all we have left to figure out the logistics — the when, where and how — of the Thanksgiving eats.

Those of you who have followed this forum for a while should know by now what’s coming. Yep, it’s my annual campaign to convince all cooks out there to try my favorite Thanksgiving recipe — Slow Cooker Stuffing. In past years, I have convinced a number of you to give it a try, and I’ve heard from many of its devotees. For those of you who are not yet convinced (yes, I know Great Aunt Opal’s recipe is a family tradition, but isn’t it a lot of work?), I must once again extol the virtues of cooking the stuffing in the slow cooker.
First of all, it can be made in advance. I always make it the day before, put it in the crock and refrigerate; then the next morning, it just needs to be pulled out, set to cook on low, and stirred occasionally. (That task usually falls to Hubby Bryan first thing on Thanksgiving morning, while I am still abed.)

Secondly, it’s a lot safer than stuffing the turkey. Food safety experts have been warning about this practice for years, saying the stuffing may not reach the temperature necessary to kill any lurking bacteria.

And if you cook the stuffing/dressing in a casserole in the oven, it tends to dry out. Not the case in the slow cooker.

Lastly, it’s delicious. Enough said.

As long as I am once again sharing the stuffing recipe, I will also include my other all-time favorite time saver for a big gathering. Refrigerator Mashed Potatoes can also be made ahead and reheated up to almost two weeks in your refrigerator.

With such make-ahead mainstays on your menu — and a bit of delegation for the rest of the meal — preparing a delicious feast can be relatively hassle-free.

Crockpot Stuffing

In 1 cup butter, saute 1 cup chopped onion and 2 cups chopped celery. Remove mixture from stove and stir in 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning and 2 teaspoons sage.
In a large bowl, combine 12 cups dried bread pieces with the butter-vegetable mixture.

Beat 2 eggs and combine with 3 to 4 cups chicken broth; pour over bread and stir well to combine.

Place mixture in slow cooker and cook on low for 4 hours. (I turn it up to high for about 1 hour in order to get the crispy stuff around the edges.)

Refrigerator Mashed Potatoes

Peel 5 pounds (10 large) potatoes and cook in boiling salted water until tender; drain. Mash until smooth (no lumps).

Add 6 ounces cream cheese (or lower fat Neufchatel), 1 cup dairy sour cream (I prefer the light version or Greek yogurt), 2 teaspoons onion salt, 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Beat until light and fluffy. Cool. Cover and place in refrigerator.

May be used anytime within 10 days. Place desired amount in a greased casserole, dot with butter and bake in 350 degree oven until heated through, 30 to 60 minutes, depending on size of dish.

Soup’s on

As the temps get cooler and the days grow shorter, there is a menu shift at our house. During the spring and summer months, most evenings the focus is on the grill — grilled chicken, grilled burgers, grilled sausages, grilled pork chops … you get the picture. And once a week, we have a salad supper — usually a big bowl of lettuce greens topped with vegetables and some lean protein.

But as winter gets closer, we begin to crave comfort foods — meatloaf, stews, pot roast with roasted vegetables, hotdishes …. And instead of salads on one night a week, we do soup instead. Most often, that means I take whatever veggies I can find in the refrigerator, add some chicken stock (preferably homemade) and simmer it into something edible and warming. (Occasionally I get lazy and open up a box of roasted red pepper-tomato soup.)

Even though we’ve had some unseasonably warm days lately, the soup phase of the year is already under way at our abode and has been for a few weeks. A big bowl of salad just isn’t cutting it anymore.

So I’ve been keeping an eye out for possible soup contenders for those rare occasions when time allows me to do more than just throw something together from refrigerator remnants. Thus, I was intrigued by a press release from the Minnesota Cultivated Wild Rice Council, which runs an annual recipe contest called “Get Wild with Wild Rice.” The grand prize winner, determined by a panel of judges headed up by Minnesota Chef Ken Goff, is — not surprisingly —  a take on what has to be the most popular wild rice dish of all time, wild rice soup,. Roxanne Chen of Albany, Calif., submitted the winning dish, Wild Rice Chicken Chowder. Since it makes use of ground chicken and both frozen and canned ingredients, it shouldn’t take too long to whip up for a soup supper sometime soon.

Wild Rice Chicken Chowder

One 16-ounce package ground chicken

2 tablespoons canola oil

½ cup chopped onion

¼ cup each chopped celery and red pepper

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups chicken broth

One 14.75-ounce can cream-style sweet corn

One 9-ounce box frozen niblets corn

1½ cups half and half

2 cups cooked wild rice

One 9-ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove moisture

1 teaspoon lemon zest

½ teaspoon each ground pepper and salt

⅓ cup shredded cheddar cheese (divided)

In large saucepan, brown chicken in oil. Add onion, celery, red pepper and poultry seasoning; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add flour, stirring until bubbly; gradually add in broth. Stir in cream-style corn, niblets corn and half and half; cover and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in wild rice, spinach, zest, pepper and salt; heat through. Adjust seasonings if necessary.

Spoon into bowls, top with cheese. Makes 4 servings.

If you have a favorite soup recipe, please feel free to share it with me and Daily Globe readers. And with the holiday season fast approaching, I’d love to start a forum of holiday specialties, too. Please email; or send to Lagniappe, Daily Globe, Box 639, Worthington 56187.


Revisiting Sundays with Eleanor

While I was out of the office a couple of weeks ago, Ruth Nystrom left a lovely surprise on my desk. She graciously loaned me her autographed copy of “Always on Sunday Revisited,” by Eleanor Ostman. Ostman had a weekly column called Tested Recipes that ran for 30 years in the Sunday St. Paul Pioneer Press, and Ruth attended an event at which Ostman was a presenter.

It is an updated version of Ostman’s cookbook, originally published in 2007.

“I decided ‘Always on Sunday’ would be revived with a revisit,” explains Ostman in the forward about her decision to republish the book. “It would be what I always wish I was — slimmed down. After all those years of cookbook readers telling me which recipes were their stand-bys and which stories charmed them most, revisions were made to showcase the best of the best from the 30-year career of cooking and writing.”

I can so relate to Ostman’s dilemma, as I am often asked why my siblings and I don’t do a reprint of the “Mixing & Musing Cookbook,” published by my late mother Dorthy Rickers, based on her long-standing column in the Daily Globe. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t get a call from someone inquiring about purchasing a copy of Mom’s cookbook, and I must reluctantly tell them it is long out of print. And at this point in time, we simply don’t have the time and money to invest in a revision and reprinting. (Long before she died, DotMom lamented that it was in need of an update, so I wouldn’t dare proceed without doing so.)
So I greatly admire Ostman’s desire to update her own book while still keeping in those time-tested recipes from the past. It still begins with her first column from July 21, 1968, in which she explains the column’s premise:

On a homemaker-to-homemaker basis, today we inaugurate a new column that will feature one tested recipe each week. The writer will try each dish, chosen as most appealing (or as Minnesotans say, most “different”) from among the dozens of recipes that arrive at the Pioneer Press-Dispatch offices each week. Each will be tested, not from the viewpoint of a scientific experiment, but to see if it tastes as good as it reads. We will include comments on preparation and mention any small disasters so you can learn from them. And as a homemaker, I will let you know how my husband and any guests liked the finished results.

As cookies have been on my mind lately, thinking that I need to test out my new mixer by whipping up a batch, I was intrigued by Ostman’s mention that she “baked thousands upon thousands of Everyday Cookies” to entice prospective buyers of her book at events promoting it. Ostman first shared the recipe in her column in 1979 as a memorial shortly after the death of her friend and neighbor Martha Peters.

“A wonderful cook, Martha made the most delectable cookies I’ve ever tasted,” writes Ostman. “She called them Everyday Cookies and took no credit for originating the recipe, which was soon circulating among my relatives and friends.

“I suggested that Martha should enter Everyday Cookies in the State Fair. She was suffering from cancer, but she accepted the challenge, taking some from the freezer to the Fairgrounds. They won third place. If she’d baked a fresh batch, they would have taken a purple ribbon, I bet.”

Everyday Cookies

1 cup butter (or half margarine)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup corn oil (Mazola)
2 medium eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3½ cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup Rice Krispies
1 cup quick oatmeal
1 cup coconut
½ cup chopped pecans
To make cookies: In mixing bowl, cream together butter, sugars and oil. Add eggs. Beat well so oil won’t separate. Add vanilla. In another bowl, combine flour, soda, salt and cream of tartar. Add to egg mixture. Stir in Rice Krispies, oatmeal, coconut and nuts.
To bake cookies: Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten slightly. Bake on lower shelf of 350-degree oven for 5 to 6 minutes. Move pan to shelf at middle of oven. Bake for 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool.
Note: Martha Peters suggested having another sheet of cookies ready to bake so when the first pan is moved to the middle shelf, the second pan can go on the bottom shelf to speed up baking. She admonished to “watch carefully” so the delicate and crisp cookies don’t overbrown.

One person’s opinion on the change of seasons

It’s that time of year again, when the temps get noticeably cooler, the days are shorter, the teeny-weeny gnats bite a little harder … and the squirrels begin to try my patience.

While others expound about the glories of autumn, I find little to commend the season. I’d much rather have a sun-drenched warm and humid summer day instead — please?

Of course, as I’ve noted before, my main objection to fall is that winter follows swiftly on its heels. As I’ve grown older, winter has become a season that I truly detest.

But back to autumn. Yes, it can be a beautiful time of the year. I do enjoy the turning of the leaves with their vibrant glowing colors, but eventually those leaves fall from their branches and end up all piled on our lawn (even though we have not a single tree in our own yard). When the wind blows from the south, all the leaves from across the street in the city park end up blanketing our property.

Right along with the falling leaves come the bugs. Those nasty gnats that we call “no-see-ums” are now out in full force, and my body seems to have a particularly contrary reaction to whatever it is they leave when they bite. The welts that ensue are worse than a mosquito bite and seem to itch twice as badly, particularly at night when I’m trying to fall asleep.

And I can’t forget about the squirrels. No flower pot in my garden has been left untouched by the bushy-tailed rodents that inhabit our neighborhood. In a couple cases, they have dug all the way down to the roots of my still blooming petunias.

But that’s just a small matter of replacing the dirt that the pests have so ungraciously displaced. What really irritates me is when they dig in the pot in which I’ve recently sowed some Swiss chard seeds. It’s the perfect time of year to plant a late-season crop of such greens, but it’s hard to get them to grow when their bed is routinely plowed up by tiny paws. I’ve tried scattering cayenne pepper to dissuade the darn critters, but nothing seems to deter their urge to bury whatever nuts and pods they can forage.

I realize it’s a seasonal urge they just can’t fight, just as I can’t tamp down my irritation with what seems like autumn’s all-too-swift arrival.

Yes, I realize that I sound like a cantankerous old woman — but I’ve given you a few chuckles along the way, haven’t I?

And there is one aspect of autumn that I do thoroughly enjoy — the apple harvest. I was hoping to have received at least an apple recipe or two from you readers by the time my turn on the column rotation rolled around, but alas my mailbox has remained empty. So once again I turn to my cookbook collection, selecting this pie from Pillsbury’s “The Big Book of Pies & Tarts.”

Apple Cheesecake Pie

1 box refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box

Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened

½ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 eggs

8 cups thinly sliced peeled apples

1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

4 teaspoons cornstarch

1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

For topping:

1 egg white

1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Make pie crusts as directed on box for two-crust pie using 9-inch glass pie plate.

In large bowl, beat cream cheese, ½ cup granulated sugar, vanilla and almond extracts with electric mixer on high speed until smooth. Beat in eggs, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into crust-lined plate. In another large bowl, toss apples and lemon juice to coat; stir in brown sugar, cornstarch and 1½ teaspoons cinnamon. Spoon apple mixture over cream cheese layer.

Unroll second crust on lightly floured work surface. With a 2- to 2 ½-inch apple-shaped (or star, flower or leaf) cookie cutter, cut out shapes. Reroll scraps and cut out additional shapes. Using pancake turner, gently arrange shapes on top of pie to cover most of filling.

In small bowl, beat egg white and water until blended. Brush over shapes. In another small bowl, mix 1 teaspoon granulated sugar and ½ teaspoon cinnamon; sprinkle over egg wash.

Line cookie sheet with foil. Cover pie with sheet of foil to prevent excessive browning; place pie on cookie sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Remove foil; bake 20 to 25 minutes longer or until crust is golden brown. Cool 1 hour on cooling rack. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight. Serve cold. Store in refrigerator.