Weather or not

At the moment, I am in love with autumn.
That’s because it’s been a mostly sun-drenched, mild-temperature kind of autumn. I enjoy walking through the piles of leaves, which sound like cornflakes crunching under my feet. The view out the front window of my house, looking out at the brilliant leaves in the park across the street, makes me sigh at the wonder of it all. And I get a chuckle out of watching the squirrels scurry from tree to tree, amassing their stores for the winter.
I’m hoping that this gorgeous weather continues through Halloween and well into November (could I hope for December?). While an earlier frost did nip some gardens, I’ve heard there are still a few gardens that are producing. If anyone out there still has zucchini, here are a couple recipes from the files of Karen Doeden. If not, squirrel these away for use next year.
“From the time I got this recipe, they have made the Stovetop dressing boxes smaller,” advises Karen. “I now use a package on top and one on the bottom. My sister uses the box of Stovetop and mixes it with the rest of the ingredients and then tops it with cornflake topping.”

Zucchini Casserole

|Combine 1 package Stovetop dressing with 1 stick margarine or butter, melted. Put half of this mixture in the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch pan; reserve the rest.
In a small amount of water, cook 6 cups cubed zucchini and 2 cups grated carrots until tender; drain.
Mix together 1 cup sour cream, 1 can cream of chicken soup and 1 cup grated American cheese. Add the cooked vegetables and spoon into pan. Top with remaining stuffing-butter mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes.

Zucchini Coffee Cake

Cream ¾ cup shortening, ½ cup brown sugar, ½ cup white sugar, 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add ½ teaspoon salt, 1¾ cups flour, 1½ teaspoons baking powder, ¾ cup coconut, ¾ cup chopped dates, ¾ cup raisins and 2 cups grated zucchini.
Bake at 350 degrees in a 9- by 13-inch pan for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool. For frosting, combine 2/3 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup melted shortening, 2 tablespoons milk or cream and ½ cup coconut. Spread over top of cake and put under broiler for 3 minutes.

For me, the shorter days and cooler temperatures of autumn trigger an urge spend more time in the kitchen. To ease back into baking mode, I tried this recipe emailed by Sandy Cregeen of Jackson, which she came upon at a benefit bake sale.
“… I picked up these bars, thinking they were the ones with the gooey caramel center, but I was wrong. They turned out to be easier and tasted just as good or better.”

Salted Caramel Crispy Treats

Spray an 8-inch square cake pan with nonstick spray.
Add 6 cups crispy rice cereal (about half a 12-ounce box) to a large heatproof bowl and set aside.
Melt 1 stick unsalted butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in ½ cup dark brown sugar, ¼ cup heavy whipping cream and 1 tablespoon light corn syrup. Cook until thick and syrupy, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt.
Turn off the heat and stir in one 10-ounce bag mini marshmallows. Keep stirring until all the marshmallows are smooth and melted. Quickly pour the caramel-marshmallow sauce over the cereal and stir all together. Pat mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle lightly with flaky sea salt.

In the market for a hearing aid or muscle car? Me neither!

Anyone taking a glance into the mailbox at our home might get a wrong impression of me.

Based on the mail I’ve been receiving lately, I am a hard-of-hearing aficionado of muscle cars.

I’m not sure what mailing list I got on, but it has resulted in some regular mailings that aren’t exactly applicable to my needs, lifestyle or interests.

About six months ago, I began receiving regular — oftentimes one or two a week — solicitations for hearing aids. Now, I realize that I have exceeded the ripe old age of 50, but have so far experienced no difficulties with my hearing. And frankly, I don’t anticipate that happening in the near future, as hearing loss is not an affliction that has been experienced much in my family. I went online and tried to contact the entities (there are several) that are sending me this literature, informing them that I have no need for their services at this time, but the mailings still arrive.

I’m not sure why I received the solicitation for a muscle car magazine — I do subscribe to several publications, but none of them automobile related — but I realize now that I should have immediately thrown it out. Instead I left it sitting on the counter, where it caught the eye of Hubby Bryan. Unbeknownst to me, he sent in payment, and a few weeks later, Muscle Machines arrived in our mailbox, with my name on the mailing label.

Bryan, of course, thought it was a hoot. Even though I appreciate a nicely restored Mustang, GTO or Charger, I have no interest in reading detailed articles about such vehicles.

Now, of course, since I’m subscribed to one-such magazine, I have begun to get solicitations for others, which gives Bryan even more reason to laugh. I will have to be diligent about not just throwing such mailings away, but shredding them first, for fear of him signing me up for another one.

At least the NRA mailings haven’t started to come to me — those are still in Bryan’s name. If I begin to receive hunting and gun information, I will not be amused.

However, I do wish my work mail would yield up some more recipes. What’s your favorite apple dessert? What are you looking forward to making as summer weather gives way to the fall season? I would love to hear from readers about some of their seasonal specialties.  You can email me at brickers@dglobe.com; or via regular mail at the Daily Globe, Box 639, Worthington 56187.

The good and the bad of being overwhelmed

Overwhelmed.
It’s a word that has both positive and negative connotations. You can be overwhelmed with gratitude — a good thing. But you can also be overwhelmed by what you need to accomplish — not so good.
It’s a word that I’ve found myself using a lot in recent days as Hubby Bryan and I have coped with the death of his father, Bob. We have been overwhelmed by so many emotions, as well as the outpouring of expressions of love and sympathy we have received. We so appreciate the many kind words, calls, cards, etc. It truly is overwhelming to live in the midst of such a caring community — most definitely a positive thing.
And now, in the aftermath, we find ourselves overwhelmed by what needs to be dealt with in the wake of a person’s death. The mind boggles with all the paperwork that must be completed, a task that falls mainly to my mother-in-law and husband.
But I had my own overwhelming tasks to face upon my return to work this week. My email mailbox was full (I appreciate the patience of all who were awaiting a reply), and my desk was running over with a week’s accumulation of mail and announcements that had been dropped off. It took me a couple of hours to wade through it all and determine which had been taken care of and which had not.
I’m sure it will take me a couple more days to get fully in the groove, and there may likely be some things that fall through the cracks. That’s what happens when one is overwhelmed in a not-so-good way.
At the bottom of one pile on my desk, however, was an envelope that quickly put a smile on my face. Since it was addressed to Lagniappe — the title of this forum (which means “a little something extra,” for those who may be confused by the strange word) — I was pretty sure it contained some recipes. I was right. It was from Lucille King of Rushmore, and it offered a prescription for what can be another source of overwhelming — garden harvest season. It’s that time of year when gardeners are scrambling to “put up” as much as they can for future use or make use of their garden’s bounty before frost claims it all.
“They are neat ways to use up late tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.,” writes Lucille about her recipe offerings. “So if your cukes are still producing more than you planned on or don’t have time to can, try several containers of the frozen ones. They stay nice and crispy and easy to make.”

Frozen Cucumber Pickles

Combine 2 quarts sliced, unpeeled cucumbers, 2 medium onions (more or less to your liking), sliced, and 1 tablespoon salt. Let mixture soak for 3 hours.
In a saucepan, warm 1 cup vinegar and 1¼ cups sugar. Add a bit of mustard seed and/or celery seed (optional). Drain the cukes and add to vinegar mixture.
Ladle into containers and freeze. When ready to eat, just defrost and serve chilled. Add a little more vinegar if necessary.

“This makes you think of mincemeat,” said Lucille about this second recipe.

Green Tomato Pie

Chop green tomatoes to yield 2 cups. Cover with water and boil a few minutes; drain.
Add 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1 cup brown sugar, ½ cup chopped raisins, 2 tablespoons vinegar, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon cloves and ¼ teaspoon nutmeg. Pour mixture into a double pie shell and bake at 350 degrees until brown.

End-of-Season Veggie Mix

Lucille uses an ice cream bucket nearly full of the smaller, end-of-season tomatoes. Scald, peel, remove any blemishes and chop into a large cooking pan.
Grind up some carrots, onions, celery, green and/or red peppers. Add several jalapeños or other leftover produce if you like, as well as a couple teaspoons of minced garlic. Sprinkle with salt.
Cook until the vegetables are done. Cool and put into one-pound containers and freeze.
Add to homemade vegetable soup, chili, spaghetti, goulash or any hotdish that also calls for regular tomatoes.

Reader submissions are appreciated. Share your recipes by emailing brickers@dglobe.com; or send to Lagniappe, Daily Globe, Box 639, Worthington 56187.

Thanks-giving comes a bit early

For the past several days, I’ve given serious contemplation to some of the people, places and things that have impacted my life.
That introspection is due to yet another challenge issued via social media. This time, however, it doesn’t involve a dousing in icy water.
The idea is this: For seven days you post three things for which you are grateful. Each of those days, you are also supposed to nominate three people to do the same, so the wave of gratefulness continues to spread, filling your Facebook feed with a sea of positive thinking.
Of course, there is a sameness to many of the posts, as people express their appreciation for their spouses, families, abodes, jobs, etc. One would hate to leave out such important aspects of our lives — and yet they are also what we most often take for granted.
While it isn’t a requirement, I challenged myself to each day list a person (or persons), place and thing for which I am grateful. I’ve found that people are easy, as so many impact our lives on a daily basis; places and things take a bit more thought. I’ve begun to compile some mental lists as I look ahead to several more days of this. Here’s a smattering of what has been on my list so far or:
People:

* I am, of course, most thankful for my husband Bryan, who among his many other wonderful qualities remembers to put out an extra roll of toilet paper even when I don’t.
*  I am thankful for my siblings, Margaret and Marty, who, although they devised various means of torture for their little sister when we were growing up, managed not to scar me for life and actually turned out to be pretty nice people. We are not just related, we are friends, and that doesn’t happen in all families.
Places:
* I am thankful for Chautauqua Park, which is the amazing view that I get to look at each and every day out my front window. I appreciate its history, its serenity and the source of entertainment it provides.
*  I am grateful for the home at 406 Galena Street where I grew up. It was a place filled with love, and such beautiful memories were made there.
Things:
* I am grateful for the love of food and cooking that was instilled in the kitchen of that home. (Although it’s why I find it difficult to stick to a diet for any length of time.) I use those skills daily, both at home and at work.
*  I am grateful for aluminum foil. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t use aluminum foil in some capacity. Most recently, I discovered if you wrap a head of celery in foil (take it out of the plastic) it stays crisp much longer. No more limp celery. (Seriously, give it a try. You, too, will be astounded.)

Yet to be listed, but soon to come on my People list, will be you Daily Globe readers —  specifically those who have graciously shared recipes to give me fodder for this forum. For this writer, there is nothing better than having a plethora of material at my disposal when it’s time to write this column.
At the moment, however, that isn’t the case. I’m still hoping for some readers to share their favorite recipes for preparing September’s bounty of seasonal produce. My gratefulness would runneth over if I’d get a few recipes emailed to brickers@dglobe.com; or sent to Lagniappe, Box 639, Worthington 56187.
In the meantime, I’ll do my own bit of sharing, for which I hope you will be grateful. At our house, we have added a twist to sweet corn preparation, utilizing this savory topping when we are grilling supper:
For each ear of corn, combine 2 teaspoons mayonnaise (not salad dressing!), 2 teaspoons butter and 1 teaspoon Parmesan cheese. Add any seasonings you may like — at our house it’s chopped fresh basil and a bit of hot pepper flake.
Then I follow the microwave method of cooking the corn: Leave husks on, but trim off the excess husks and ends, loosening the husks that are left on the cob. Run the corn under cold water until thoroughly soaked. Then partially cook the corn, about 1-2 minutes per ear, depending on size, in the microwave, letting rest for several minutes afterward.
Husk the corn (you will note that the silks come off much easier than husking before cooking). Place the corn in a disposable foil pan and spread with the mayo-butter mixture. Cook on the grill for 5-10 minutes more, until corn is heated through and butter-mayo mixture is bubbling.

The refrigerator doth runneth over

I don’t know how people with big families do it. At our house, it’s just Hubby Bryan and me, and there never seems to be any room in our refrigerator. I guess when there are more hungry mouths to feed the contents of the fridge go down pretty quickly.
At this time of the year, I am always making more room in the refrigerator for fresh produce. There is no more space in the designated produce drawers, and the lowest shelf also overflows.

And not all the produce goes into cold storage. There is always a pile of tomatoes on the counter, along with a ripening avocado. Inside the cupboard there are a few onions and a small bag of new potatoes.

But the storage issue is a good problem to have. I love that there’s a multitude of veggies to choose from for our meals, and we often find ourselves making a meal just out of the fresh produce.

Monday night was a good example. It’s been designated as Salad Night at our house, and I generally just heap two large serving bowls with fresh romaine and top it with assorted vegetables and other accouterments. This time around, that included garden-fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced onions, sugar snap peas, mushrooms, toasted chow mein noodles and sliced chicken breast. Drizzled lightly over top was this dressing: in a jar or container with lid, combine ¼ cup sugar, ¼ cup salad oil, ¼ cup red wine, vinegar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 1 tablespoon peanut butter. Shake well to combine. (I find that heating the peanut butter in the microwave for a few seconds helps it combine better.)

Even though I always come home with a bag full of stuff from the Farmers Market — the reason for the burgeoning refrigerator —it seems like there is always something else I want to try. I’d love to hear from some readers about their favorite Farmers Market picks and how they prepare those veggies and fruits.

In the meantime, here’s a fritter recipe that was a side item at last week’s Salad Night, and a couple of recipes from local Farmers Market vendors Paul and Leona Marco of Bigelow.

Zucchini Fritters

Grate 1½ pounds zucchini; place in colander over sink. Add 1 teaspoon salt and toss gently to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes. Using a clean dish towel or cheese cloth, wring out the zucchini to get out as much moisture as possible.

Combine drained zucchini with ¼ cup all-purpose flour, ¼ cup grated Parmesan, 2 tablespoons finely minced onion, 1 small clove garlic, finely minced, and 1 large egg, beaten. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Scoop tablespoons of batter into the pan, flatten with spatula, and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side until golden brown. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt on top.

Grilled Onion Blossom

Heat grill to medium-high heat.

Peel 1 large sweet onion and partially cut into six wedges, being careful not to cut all the way through. Place onion on a large sheet of foil and gently pull onion wedges apart.

Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons steak sauce.

Wrap tightly with foil. Grill 40 minutes or until onion is tender and lightly browned.

Quick Cucumber & Red Onion Salad

Cut 1 large red onion into thin slices. Peel 2 large cucumbers and cut into quarter-inch slices. Place in bowl and sprinkle with coarse salt, freshly ground pepper and 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar. Toss thoroughly and chill in the refrigerator for half an hour.

Prior to serving, sprinkle with ¼ cup loosely packed fresh dill and toss again.

Share your recipes by sending them to Lagniappe, Daily Globe, Box 639, Worthington 56187; or email brickers@dglobe.com.

Making the most of what we have left

Where has this summer gone?

That’s the question I keep asking myself over and over again. The reality that school starts in less than two weeks is hard to face, even though I don’t have children to send off. Bryan and I only have one long weekend Jeep excursion still on the horizon. Worthington’s King Turkey Day celebration – which to me always seems to usher in the fall season – is just five weeks away.

And the thought that the cold weather months aren’t that far away sends shivers down my spine.

Simply stated, I want more summer.

But I know there is nothing I can do to slow the march of time, so instead I’ve resolved to make the most of the warm weather we have ahead and appreciate summer’s many attributes.

As it relates to this forum, that means making more meals on the grill and utilizing the bounty of fresh veggies and fruits available at the local farmers markets. A helpful resource in this pursuit is a new book that came across my desk, “Minnesota Farmers Market Cookbook: A Guide to Selecting and Preparing the Best Local Produce with Seasonal Recipes from Local Chefs and Farmers,” by Tricia Cornell (Voyageur Press). The book covers the wide range of produce alphabetically, from apples to zucchini. Cornell has this advice about that end-of-the-alphabet item, now so prolific in area gardens, followed by a recipe for zucchini soup:

“There’s no need to peel zucchini for cooking. When zucchini are young and small, smaller than an inch or an inch and a half in diameter, you can use the whole thing. With bigger zucchini, you’ll want to cut out the pulpy mass around the seeds, which gets watery and slimy when cooked. The easiest way to do this is to quarter the zucchini lengthwise and then slice off the seeds on the diagonal. You can also slice it in half lengthwise and then scoop the seeds out with a spoon or grapefruit spoon.”

Basil Zucchini Soup

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add 2 shallots and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat until soft. Add ½ cup fresh basil, packed, 3 pounds zucchini, chopped with the peel still on; and 6 cups mild, unsalted chicken or vegetable broth or water. Simmer, covered, about 30 minutes.

Puree mixture until very, very smooth in a standing blender.

Meanwhile, puree 1 cup Mexican crema or sour cream thinned with a little water with another ½ cup fresh basil. Drizzle cream mixture over soup to serve.

 

From Colorado, my sister, Margaret Hinchey, sends a couple of recipes featuring seasonal fruits that she has served for recent gatherings.

Grilled Pears

Cut 4 pears in two lengthwise and take out core and seeds.  Clean grill rack and spray with Pam.  Place the pears flesh side down on the grill for 10-15 minutes.  This will soften the pears and give “grill marks.”  Mix together ½ cup balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons brown sugar.  Place pears flesh-side-up on a disposable foil pan with an edge (½ inch or more.)  Spoon the vinegar sugar mixture over the pear halves and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until liquid is absorbed.  Serve as a dessert or as a garnish for grilled meat and vegetables.

Mojito Salad 

 Rinse and mix together ½ pint blueberries, ½ pint raspberries, 1 cup red grapes and 1 cup fresh pineapple cut into chunks.  Stir together ½ cup lime juice and 2 tablespoons powdered sugar as a dressing.  Pour over fresh fruit gently.  Garnish with fresh mint leaves.  (I used lemon mint.)  Makes six ½-cup servings.

 

 

Backyard basil, bugs and berries

Before we left on vacation earlier this month, I twice picked down my burgeoning basil plants, freezing the flavorful leaves in cigar-like rolls to use later. In the middle of winter, I can slice off some to throw in a pot of marinara sauce or even make fresh pesto.

But since then, I have noticed that some pest has been eating holes in the leaves, devouring not only the basil, but also the clematis and a few other flowers in our yard. Darn earwigs!

Yes, I have determined that those nasty little bugs are likely to blame for the damage. So I dug out the info for trapping the buggers that has previously been printed in the Globe during an earlier earwig infestation, and I figured others out there might have the same problem.

I recently read that one way to get rid of earwigs involves recycling an issue of the Daily Globe: Lightly roll up a some wet newspaper and secure it with a rubber band. Place the rolled up newspaper near where the earwigs have been spotted. Since they like damp, dark places, they will climb inside the newspaper, and the next morning you can just throw it out, earwigs and all. I haven’t tried that yet, but managed to get quite a number of the critters (there must have been close to 100 in one of the larger containers!) with this setup: Use a recycled plastic container (margarine, yogurt, cottage cheese) with a removable lid. Inside the container, pour a layer of corn syrup followed by a layer of oil and then a few dashes of soy sauce. Cut or poke several small holes in the lid of the container and seal it up. Dig a shallow hole so that the container is just about flush with the ground. (I pile landscaping mulch up around it.) Attracted by the smell of the soy sauce, the earwigs crawl inside, but can’t get out once coated with the syrup and oil.

That’s my preferred “recipe” for dealing with earwigs. Now on to a recipe of the more delectable kind.

One of my good friends, Kris “Tooje” Tutje, recently discovered that she has a mulberry tree in her backyard. She enlisted the help of two other friends — Paula Stock to pick the berries and Myra Palmer to turn them into something delicious. So Myra made up a batch of jam, using what she touts as the easiest jam recipe ever.

Luckily, I was involved only in the jam-sampling part of this endeavor. I had never tasted mulberry jam before (or a mulberry, for that matter), but can report that it was delicious. The original recipe calls for blueberries, so if you don’t have access to a mulberry tree, blueberries will suffice.

Mulberry Jam

4 cups fresh mulberries (or blueberries)

2 cups sugar

One 3-ounce package lemon gelatin

In a large saucepan, slightly crush 2 cups mulberries. Add remaining berries and sugar and mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat; stir in gelatin until dissolved.

Pour hot jam into sterilized jars or containers. Cover and cool. Refrigerate. Makes 4 half-pints.

Bugging out

As part of our weekday morning routine, Hubby Bryan and I have devised a new form of workout. We call it the Walk and Swat.

Our year-round ritual — on days when it isn’t snowing, below zero temps or raining heavily — is to go for a quick walk every morning. We don’t go far, probably about a mile, just enough to get the body moving and muscles stretched out.

On Monday, as we headed down the street, we suddenly realized we were under sneak attack. Swarms of mosquitoes were lurking just around the corner from our house, and as we passed their headquarters they surreptitiously began their blood-sucking quest. Pretty soon, Bryan was swatting bugs off my back, and I was returning the favor.

We must have been quite the sight to behold as we progressed down the street, alternately doing body scans and smacking the tiny tiny pests as we spotted them. But it was certainly more of a workout than just walking.

I have to admit to a bit of paranoia where mosquitoes are concerned. In the past, I’ve had the misfortune of several bad reactions to bug bites that have turned into serious infections. Over the last two very dry years, mosquitoes haven’t been much of a worry, but this year I am resigned to covering myself with bug spray. I just didn’t think to do it before our morning walk.

With the way the mosquito population is booming this year and inability to treat our yard with a hose-end sprayer repellant due to the continued watering ban, I don’t think I’ll be able to venture out to get the mail out of the mailbox without the proper head-to-toe precautions.

Another thing that is booming this year due to our recent rains is my herb garden. I love to pick the big leaves of basil and scatter them over roasted vegetables or in salads.

Monday is salad day at our house, so each week I’ve been experimenting with different toppings and homemade dressing choices. So far, this lemon dressing is one of my favorites. Since I was out of honey, I used 1 teaspoon agave nectar in its place. Besides on a lettuce salad, it would be good drizzled over roasted broccoli, cauliflower or asparagus.

Creamy Lemon Vinaigrette

Whisk together 3 tablespoons Greek yogurt, ¼ teaspoon grated lemon zest, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion, 2 teaspoons honey, ⅛ teaspoon black pepper and ⅛ teaspoon salt.

I hear from my gardening friends that there is also a bumper crop of radishes, so a recent email from Laura Gjerde of Wilmont is particularly timely.

“Don’t know if I’m the Johnny Come Lately to the roasted radish party, but if you’ve never tried them, you should — a great way to use an early garden abundance,” writes Laura. “Simply cut them in half (quarter the big ones). Toss in extra virgin olive oil to coat. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and dried thyme leaves; Roast at 450 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. They get very sweet and are really good — who knew?”

Thanks for the tip, Laura. I didn’t know about roasting radishes and will have to give it a try.

If you’ve got a recipe or method for seasonal produce, be sure to share it by emailing me at brickers@dglobe.com.

Gremlins in the garden and the recipe file

I imagine that a few rhubarb patches are under water after our recent drenchings from Mother Nature, and if not, they likely took a beating in Monday’s gale-force winds.
Unfortunately, one of the rhubarb recipes I printed on Monday also ran afoul when a couple of key words were omitted. Avid cooks likely lifted a brow of doubt when they spotted that Myra Palmer’s bar recipe called for more than a cup of cornstarch. Yes, that was a typo that got past my recipe proofreader. A correction was printed in the next day’s paper, but once again, here is the recipe in its entirety.I have personally double-checked all the ingredients this time around!

Rhubarb Oatmeal Bars

For crust, combine ½ cup chopped pecans, 1½ cups rolled oats, 1 cup brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt, 1½ cups flour, 1 cup softened butter and ¼ teaspoon baking soda; mix until crumbly. Pat half of the mixture into a 9- by 13-inch pan.
For filling, in a medium saucepan combine 4 cups chopped rhubarb, 1¼ cups sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch and ¼ cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is clear. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Pour filling over crust. Sprinkle with remaining crumb mixture.
Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Allow to cool before slicing into serving-sized bars.

When Myra came toting that pan of bars to our house, she also contributed another dish featuring another seasonal favorite — asparagus, picked fresh from her own patch, no doubt.

Asparagus Casserole

Place 1 pound fresh or frozen asparagus, cut into pieces, or 2 10-ounce cans sliced asparagus in a lightly buttered casserole dish.
Combine one 10-ounce can cream of celery soup and 2 cups grated cheddar cheese. Top asparagus with 4 hard-cooked eggs, thinly sliced, soup mixture, then ¾ cup coarsely crushed saltine or Ritz crackers. Dot with 1 teaspoon butter.
Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

I’m always on the lookout for new versions of the classic egg bake, and this one is a good choice for those who have an active asparagus patch or who hunt up spears in area ditches.

Ham & Asparagus Bake

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9- by 13-inch glass baking dish with cooking spray.
Unroll one can refrigerated crescent dinner rolls and press dough into bottom of dish and ½ inch up the sides. Sprinkle 1 cup chopped asparagus and 1 cup chopped ham evenly over dough.
In a medium bowl, combine 4 eggs, ½ cup milk and ½ teaspoon ground mustard and whisk until well-combined. Pour mixture over top of ham and asparagus. Sprinkle 2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar, colby-Monterey Jack blend or whatever you prefer) evenly over top.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes before serving.

Some things run in the family

For a few days recently, it felt like I was in a scene from a science fiction movie. It appeared as if some alien creature was trying to fight its way out of my neck.

It all started with some slight swelling in the general neck region. As one who has previously experienced several nasty reactions to bug bites, I assumed that was the case once again, and when the swelling got worse, headed into urgent care. Looking at my neck, the doc agreed with my assessment, and since the vessels in the neck lead directly to the heart he prescribed a strong regimen of antibiotics. Per previous experience, I figured it would clear up in a couple of days.

In the next few days, I noticed that the swelling had gotten bumpier, but couldn’t get a good look at my neck in the mirror. I also experienced some strange pangs in the general region, but didn’t give those much thought.

Until I happened to show my affliction to a co-worker.

“That looks like shingles,” she said.

Bingo!

I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before. Shingles — a painful, blistering skin rash caused by the chickenpox virus that stays dormant in the body until reactivated — tend to run in my family. My grandfather Harry is the first I remember having them. My dad was plagued by them — he had them on his head and suffered from post-herpetic neuralgia, a lingering pain that results from shingles — for the last few years of his life. My uncle has had them. My cousin has had them. My sister has had them.

Yep. While shingles aren’t a hereditary condition, there seems to be a predisposition for them in the Rickers clan.(Side note: I didn’t have the chicken pox until I was 26 years old. I always thought I had some sort of natural immunity to them, until I came to work at the Daily Globe and after doing a series on preschools and day cares woke up one morning with scratchy red pumps on my stomach.)

So back to the doctor I went, and this time it was obvious that the “alien” wasn’t caused by a bug bite but was indeed shingles.

The blisters and swelling have now subsided, and every once in a while I still feel an odd prickly feeling on my neck, but I think my case was relatively mild. I don’t think post-herpetic neuralgia will be a long-term complication for me. But I now have greater sympathy for the pain my father experienced. He always said it was like bugs crawling around in his head, and that’s a good description of one of the shingles sensations.


Onto a more pleasant topic — getting a recipe from one of my non-shingled relatives. Niece Gretchen, who lives in Baxter, has become a superb photographer, carrying on the Rickers family tradition of operating a photo studio. She takes beautiful photographs, specializing in newborn and senior portraits.

But Gretchen’s not the most adventurous eater, which might account for a general lack of interest in culinary endeavors. She does, however, have a few recipes in her repertoire that have become specialties. She dutifully sent me one such recipe, proudly noting, “I even make the sauce from scratch!”

Chicken Alfredo Roll-Ups

In a medium saucepan, melt ½ cup butter over medium heat. Add ½ teaspoon minced garlic and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add 2 ounces cream cheese and whisk until melted and smooth. Whisk in 2 cups heavy cream or half and half.
Season with 2 teaspoons (or less, to personal taste) garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and whisk frequently until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Stir in 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, and when melted, remove from heat.

Spray an 8- by 8-inch pan with non-stick spray and pour in ½ cup of the alfredo sauce to cover the bottom of the pan.

Cook 9 lasagna noodles until al-dente; drain and rinse with cold water to prevent sticking. Lay noodles out individually and blot dry with paper towel.

Spread about 2 tablespoons alfredo sauce over each noodle and sprinkle with oregano and garlic salt. Using 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken, divide it evenly among the noodles. Sprinkle each with shredded mozzarella cheese. To roll, start at one end and roll the noodle over the toppings. (You will need to lift the noodle a little to prevent squishing out the inside ingredients.)

Place the roll-ups in the pan, seam-side down. Pour the remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle with additional cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted.