Cold Room

If you could add an unconventional room to your house, what type of room would you want? A wine cellar? Theater room? Indoor batting cage?

This is the time of year, as I finish canning produce harvested from my garden or purchased from farmers’ markets, I would give anything for a cold room. This is what my designated canning cupboard looks like …

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THIS is what my sister-in-law’s cold room looks like …

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… and that’s only a partial view of one side of the room!


A cold room, or “root cellar”, is an underground room (often found under a front porch) that is built to maintain a constant, cool temperature without allowing what’s inside to freeze. Jars of tomatoes, beans, salsa, sauerkraut, beets, pickles, jams and jellies, and fruit sauces, all ready and waiting. A cold room is also perfect for extending the life and freshness of things like squash, potatoes, onions, apples, and bananas. And did I mention baseballs? It is important to know that you can extend the life of baseballs by reducing their exposure to humidity.

This is my kind of pantry!

Concrete block walls, rock floor and deep wooden shelves on each side provide a home for garden bounty (and a stash of soda and beer). This room is located under the front “porch” and just off the large furnace room, fully equipped with a stove, refrigerator, deep sink, and large table for the canning process.

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These rooms now belong to my brother and sister-in-law. My mom and dad designed these rooms back in the 70’s when they built the house for our family. I spent many summer days in this room snapping green beans, cutting corn, pitting cherries, slicing apples and cucumbers, peeling tomatoes, podding peas and lima beans, measuring salt and vinegar and washing dishes.

I know I did more than my fair share of complaining in this room too. I hated pitting cherries. Why? Because I hated cherries. In the self-centered mind of a kid, I didn’t understand why I should have to be subject to cherry juice running down my arms and stains on my fingers just so my brothers could have cherry pie and cobbler. It made no sense! Until now. Now, that I am married to a man who LOVES cherries and seldom gets a cherry pie. Poor thing.

My favorite job of the canning season? Snapping green beans. This is where personality traits become obvious. I liked working with green beans because they were clean and neat. It was a methodical process. You took off just the very ends of the bean and then snapped it into evenly sized pieces and filled the jars. My mom always said she could pick out the jars I filled because all of the beans were exactly the same length.

What can I say, I’m a nerd.

My little photo session brought back lots of memories. Good ones, funny ones, and ones that make me want to apologize to my mom and grandmothers for my attitude (not my brothers though … they ate well). I think of the lessons they taught me in those rooms, the quality of the food that we enjoyed all year-long, and the strength, patience and knowledge those women displayed while telling stories and creating their own form of art. I am grateful.

And that is why I will keep a cold room at the top of my house-hunting wish list.

A theater room would be nice. I know my husband would love that.

The appeal of an indoor batting cage has diminished now that our boys have hung up their gloves.

A wine cellar?

Gee … why do you suppose I want a cold room so badly? 😉🍷

 


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The Relatives Came

This past weekend, two of my favorite summer events took place: the 4th of July and our Glienke Family Reunion. What’s a Glienke (pronounced glink-ee)? If you don’t live in NW Iowa, that is a reasonable question. My mom’s maiden name is Glienke, so my brothers and I are Glienke’s, along with 9 aunts and uncles, 39 of our first-cousins, their children, their children’s children, and, yep … it’s a big family! Of course, we consider all the spouses to be Glienke’s (they might not …).

Every year, we gather from near and far (mostly near but some travel from all over the country) for a potluck meal, laughter, games, hugs, stories, hymns and prayer. This event takes place in the basement of a country church which has been a home for our family since my grandfather immigrated from Germany.

Did I mention we eat?

You know those 8-foot tables? We have two for main dishes and sides and two for dessert.

I LOVE these people!

This year, my mom, sisters-in-law and I decided to supply the German food of our heritage: bratwurst and sauerkraut, sauerbraten, German potato salad, cucumbers and onions, beer bread, braunschweiger, beet pickles and apple cake with warm butter sauce. We marked them with little German flags.

A lot of memories are shared in a few short hours. We probably tell the same ones every year. Tables of old photographs and documents are on display. This year we played Glienke Jeopardy … a little competition is good for the soul. The food also pays tribute to our memories. My cousin makes the “potato puff” recipe our grandmother use to make, and my mom makes currant cream pies every year in my grandmother’s memory.

Potato Puffs
Currant Cream Pie

There were 81 of us gathered together in that church basement. Each year, we likely have new little babies and new spouses to meet. We are often missing some who passed away since our last gathering. But we know that is okay, too. They will have gone to join the eternal Glienke Reunion in heaven. I can only imagine how awesome that is.

I just hope there will be currant cream pie.

Entertaining Angels

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“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2

Runners. I don’t really get them. I admire them greatly. I sometimes wish I were one. They are fit, have cool t-shirts from all the 5K’s and 10K’s they’ve done, they can eat whatever they want. The only way I get one of those cool t-shirts is if my son decides to “donate” one and it mysteriously ends up in my drawer. Somehow I doubt that anyone believes that I managed to run a marathon though.

TWENTY-SIX-POINT-TWO MILES. That is not “running” … that is suffering.

Now imagine running 5 of those in one week … in the summer … in familiar and unfamiliar parts of the U.S. Ummmm … no thank you.

But that is just what this group of people sitting around my table are doing: running and managing a relay from Los Angeles (the city of angels you know) to New York to raise awareness and funds for Multiple Sclerosis research. One runner for each of 17 160-mile segments is accompanied by crew members who handle the driving of the RV and the crew car, buy groceries, make meals, administer first aid, monitor the route, take pictures, post to social media, and maybe most importantly run and walk segments with the runner to provide unlimited encouragement and support.

May I introduce you to this week’s MS Run the US runner and crew!

  • Rachel – previous multiple-time runner and crew member
  • Amy – Community Engagement Manager, previous multiple-time runner, and emergency crew member
  • Dave – Amy’s friend and devoted supporter
  • Cornelia – crew member, driver, dedicated photographer
  • Marty – my husband and host
  • Curt – first-time runner (Des Moines to Davenport) and record-setting fundraiser
  • Me – hostess
  • Nick – my son, not pictured/taking picture

How did they end up in my home? You can call it coincidence. I call it a blessing.

As with many blessings, it starts with some unexpected news. Last year, one of my best friends, Heidi, sent me a link to a fundraising page asking for financial support for a run she was doing. I went to the page and there found out that this friend was not only going to be running 150 miles across Utah in one week (in 2015) for MS but that she had been diagnosed with MS herself almost 10 years earlier. It was something she had chosen not to share with those outside her immediate circle. This race prompted her to share her story in hopes of creating hope. (You can read her inspiring story here.) Yep … she’s incredible.

So as I was reading about this relay on the website, I discovered the runners and crew would be coming right through Des Moines and they were always looking for donations of food/meals. As “coincidence” would have it, they stay at a campground one mile south of our house. I couldn’t be on the route to cheer for Heidi in Utah but I could feed her fellow runners and her crew. I cannot imagine what they put their bodies through or what they have sacrificed to be a part of this mission. I can, however, cook. I can give them my Iowa best. So, for the second year in a row, these incredible people took a seat at our table.

We ate family-style with plates of Balsamic-Garlic Crusted Pork Loin, a tray of fresh vegetables and hummus, and bowls of roasted potatoes and cantaloupe with blueberries. When feeding runners, give them protein and good carbs and follow it with a light dessert … strawberry cream puffs.

We ate and listened to their stories …some funny and some frightening. We learned of their connections to MS and why they do what they do. We made new friends. And we prayed for their success and safety. It’s a great cause, led by greater people. I highly recommend that you follow the links above to visit their site and learn more about the group. Who knows…maybe their route runs near you!


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The Hamburger Story

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You know how innocent stories can get embellished over time?

“Back in my day we had to walk to school uphill … both ways!

In honor of National Hamburger Day, I’m going to share one such story from my family’s history that has taken on a life of it’s own. It happened so long ago that no one remembers the honest truth. And that includes me … it pains me to admit that but I was only 5. Even that may not be the honest truth. My brothers say I was 10. THAT is a lie.

And so it begins …

As any good NW Iowa farm girl story should begin, this one starts on a hot, humid morning (probably July) in a bean field. My dad, mom, brothers and I were walking beans. For those of you who have never had the great pleasure (heavy sarcasm) of this task, it means literally walking down the rows of soybeans in the fields and removing, by hand or hoe, the weeds.

This is a lost art. I am not here to debate the use of herbicides and GMO’s in ag production. All I can say is, if you want to raise children to know phrases like “all in a day’s work” or “honest living” or “work ethic”, bean walking and detasseling corn will drive home your point quickly.

You can question the fact that a 5-year-old would be “working in the fields” but I was. I didn’t accomplish near the work of anyone else but I was out there because I could be and I could help.

Anyway, most of the time, my mom would prepare our lunch and we would eat it under a tree or in the bed of the truck. On a rare occasion, my dad would say, “Let’s grab lunch somewhere today.” This was one of those mornings. It made the work go a lot faster just knowing that we were going to be out of the heat a little early.

It was decided that we would go to a little diner, in a neighboring town, called “Elsie’s”. Instead of ordering off a menu, there was a full lunch buffet. And this was a made-from-scratch goodness from the hands of Elsie herself.

I think we all agree on this much of the story. Oh, and that the featured main dish on this buffet was Beef and Noodles.

But here is where the embellishments go crazy.

I was about 5. As I said my brothers say I was 10 but that would have put them at 18 and 19 which means they were college age and that simply doesn’t jive (now there’s a word from the 70’s). I will concede that I may have been 6 or 7 but that’s it.

We went through the buffet line and my mom noticed I wasn’t putting anything on my plate. She asked me what was wrong and I told her I didn’t like what was on the buffet. I was never a fan of things like beef and noodles or chicken rice casserole … I know, I know … these are American classics … I just didn’t like them. So she asked me what I did want and I said …

“I just want a hamburger.”

Is that such a big deal??? Really?

Apparently so. When Elsie herself came by our table to refill our water glasses, my mom asked her if it would be possible for me to get a hamburger. Elsie’s reaction was very much like the reaction one would expect if one were dining at a Michelin 3-Star restaurant and added salt to the main course before tasting it (or after for that matter). She was stunned … and offended. By a 5-year-old. Oh boy.

But, bless her heart, she made one for me. AND IT WAS AWESOME! I enjoyed every bite despite the side dish of repeated eye rolls from my brothers across the table.

As I said, this story has taken on a life of its own. I cannot begin to count the number of times I have heard the words “Can I just get a hamburger?” in a super-whiny voice or “I just wanted a hamburger!” in a demanding spoiled-brat voice. Forty-(cough cough)-years later, my nephews and my niece have adopted this story and these phrases as if they were eating at Elsie’s with us. Elsie’s wasn’t even around anymore when they were born. I will get random texts from them saying “We’re having hamburgers tonight … thinking of you!”

I guess it’s all worth it to know you are being thought of at random times and inspiring laughter. After all, isn’t that the best part of family folklore?

TRIBUTE TO ELSIE: I would just like to say a much belated “thank you” to Elsie … not just for showing compassion to a hot, dirty kid who “just wanted a hamburger” but for her years of hard work feeding the farmers and the community around Aurelia, Iowa. I didn’t expect to find anything on Google about Elsie but I underestimated its powers once again. What I did find is this tribute, and it will give many of you a trip down memory lane and others a wonderful glimpse of a place in history like Elsie’s.


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Spring Salad

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For lunch today I decided to utilize some of my unique finds from last weekend’s farmers’ market: the radish microgreens and the Peter Rabbit sea salt blend (flavors of radish and dill).  Along with my first picking of fresh spinach and some chives from my garden, I had a great start to a new salad combination.

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Or so I thought.

I put the salad together, drizzled it with avocado oil and lemon juice and sprinkled it with pepper. I took the first bite and thought, “Wow! I’m really on to something special.” And then it hit me.

Fresh greens, onion, radish … this is the salad of my childhood.

My mom and I would pick (see tip below) the most tender leaf lettuce from the long row in the garden and pull a few green onions and radishes before heading inside to make what my family has always considered a special treat. We would wash the vegetables, taking care to gently swish the lettuce in the water to make sure we didn’t break or tear the leaves, and thinly slice the radishes and onions. When the leaves were dry we would combine all three and just before serving, sprinkle it with salt and pepper and drizzle with the dressing.

This dressing was/is incredible. So simple, so delicious. And I don’t remember using it on anything else but this salad. I don’t know why. Maybe that’s part of what made this salad something we craved every spring. It is simply half-n-half (maybe 1/3 cup), sugar (1/2-1 teaspoon), and a small drizzle of vinegar (1/2-1 teaspoon). This dressing is thin enough that it will lightly coat the lettuce without weighing it down. It is just sweet enough to balance with the bite of the radishes. The vinegar provides the acid or the tang that rounds it all out.

Although I more than enjoyed my version of this salad, I think I can improve on it next time. A little half-n-half improves just about everything!

FOOD TIP: When I say “pick” what I mean is to gently pinch off each individual leaf of lettuce. Don’t pull the whole plant because the plant continues to produce after you pinch the bigger leaves. This is an art. You’d think I’d have developed more patience given the lessons I was taught, wouldn’t you?


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Field Work

Even though I have not lived on a farm for over 25 years, the sight of tractors, planters and farmers working the ground brings out the farm girl in me. A few days ago, I drove to my favorite place to walk and clear my head. All along the way I saw either work in progress or work completed. The tell-tale, perfectly straight lines in the soil extending from fenceline to horizon speak of a farmer who took a deep breath and said “One down.”

This is the time of year in Iowa when:

  • the soil is warm enough to receive the seed
  • farmers are praying over each other for God to send/not send rain
  • farmers are praying for just the right amount of (if any) rain
  • the machinery has been cleaned, checked, greased, and tested
  • someone waves the metaphorical checkered flag as hope and faith accompany the seed into the soil.

The technology of today is truly amazing. GPS systems guide planters down perfectly straight lines, control fertilizer application with pin-point accuracy and alert the driver to immediate problems. My dad was both hesitant and intrigued at these advances, but he didn’t fight them (much). I do miss the art and science of his style of farming. To see the straight rows that he planted simply by focusing on a point in the distance and following the marker line created by that first pass; to hear him “do the math” of field work (using the variables of acres, bags, bag sizes, input costs, days to maturity, row width, seeding rates, etc.); and to know that while planting each field he was looking for ways to make the field better and care for his land: these are my childhood lessons.

My nephew’s wife has been sharing pictures of him with their almost-one-year-old boy sitting on his lap in the tractor cab and I guess that he will be lulled to sleep by the hum of the engine before they have traveled one or two lengths of the field. That time is precious. During these seasons, for that little guy, time with Dad is limited but special. It is during that time that the love of the land becomes inherent. And no matter where he goes in life, he will take that love and appreciation with him.

He may even seek it out at times when he needs to clear his head.


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Passover Picnic

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This past week I participated in a truly remarkable picnic. No, it wasn’t outside. No, there wasn’t any potato salad. It was a Passover Meal.

Every other year, on Maundy Thursday, our Lutheran church hosts this meal as a remembrance of Jesus and his disciples honoring the tradition of the Passover in remembrance of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery.

This meal was prepared by a devoted group of members, eaten without plates or silverware, and accompanied by an explanation of the food and a message by our Pastor. The traditional foods at our meal were:

  • roasted lamb – to remind us of the lamb that was sacrificed by the Israelites before their deliverance from slavery as well as the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God, to deliver us from sin
  • horseradish or bitter herbs – to remind us of the bitter suffering of the Israelites as slaves and the suffering Jesus endured on the cross
  • unleavened bread – to remind us of the urgency in which the Israelites ate with no time to allow the bread to rise
  • egg – a symbol of new life
  • fruit, dates, nuts – a sweet mixture when made into a paste symbolizes the mortar the Israelites used to make bricks while in slavery
  • parsley/lettuce – symbolic of springtime, the traditional Passover season

The tradition of this meal served the purpose of teaching children about their history so they would never forget what God did to save their ancestors. We follow this tradition so that we, the children of God never forget what He did to save us.

It is a meal blessed by God, shared with those we love, consisting of simple and meaningful food, in a comfortable place.

It is a picnic.


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Life Lessons: Cherry Pie Soup

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Thanks for the illustration, Marcus!

Earlier this week, my posts focused on the fusion of the mathematic infinite constant Pi (3.1415…) celebrated on March 14 (3/14) with all things pie (for those of you non-food-nerds). The first post highlighted the “Never Fail Pie Crust“. Then we filled that flaky crust with an experiment-turned-new-favorite Apple Pie recipe.

Now I will throw myself under the food truck and share one of my family’s favorite “Mom’s Food Fails” stories. It happens. Not everything that is made with heart, with love, with effort, turns out well. The beauty of these failures is the story that lasts forever.

Learn to laugh at yourself.

Allow your family to laugh at you, but not at your expense.

Teach your kids that failure is a matter of perspective.

Mind you, I was not laughing when this happened. The laughter came later.

My husband’s favorite pie is cherry. I am not a big cherry fan (I’m getting there), so I do not cook or bake with them often. My neighbor had a wonderful cherry tree and she would allow me to pick cherries after she had picked what she could reach and use. I was going to make my husband proud and serve him a cherry pie!

It. Was. GORGEOUS!

He. Was. PROUD!

I. Was. SMILING!

And then we cut into it.

I wasn’t smiling anymore.

The inside of the pie was complete SOUP. Liquid with cherries floating in it.

I was crushed. My family was holding back laughter (kudos to them). I was ready to pour it down the drain (literally) when my husband (bless his heart … and his love for cherries) said: “How does it taste?”

I had focused so much on the way it was supposed to turn out that I didn’t even think about the possibility that it may still taste good. It did. So I asked him “How are you going to eat it?” and he said “With a straw!”

We all lost it. Laughing but intrigued, that is what we did. The pie plate went in the middle and everyone got a straw and a fork. It was a great moment.

I have remembered very few pies that have turned out perfectly the way I remember that pie. Memories are often made by what goes wrong or is unplanned. Cherish those times. Help others to laugh when they “fail” by grabbing a straw and digging in!


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Sweet Potato “Fries”

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According to the National Food Day calendar, today is National Sweet Potato Day. I love sweet potatoes in every form: casserole, soup, baked, risotto, pie. Seeing sweet potato fries on a menu makes me very happy.  My guys?  Not so much. But that just gives me ammunition …

Two years ago at Thanksgiving, I told my husband and two boys I was going to make one pumpkin pie and one sweet potato pie to see if they could even tell the difference. They were confident they were up to the challenge. So I made the pies. The boys even helped by peeling the sweet potatoes the day before. Those pies were beautiful and impossible to tell apart. After dinner, I cut the pies and gave each person a wedge of each pie. All three of my guys sniffed and studied and commented about the “differences” between the two. I have never seen pie eaten so slowly and carefully. They came to conclusions on which was which.

And that is when I revealed my pranking-prowess: both pies were pumpkin. The sweet potatoes they had peeled were in the sweet potato casserole that had been part of dinner. I think the worst part of the whole thing for them was that they didn’t figure it out at that point.

Sweet, sweet, sweet potato victory!

Making a big pan of casserole or other large recipes for myself usually means a lot of wasted food. When I am hungry for a sweet potato I most often make “fries”. Baked with a spicy-sweet blend, this recipe alleviates my craving … at least until Thanksgiving comes around again.

Sweet Potato “Fries”

Sweet Potato, washed and cut into 6-8 wedges
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1-2 teaspoons of seasoning blend

My favorite blend for sweet potatoes is the mixture from a previous blog called “Smoky Maple Salmon“. You can use any burger or steak blend, seasoned salt or just salt and pepper.

Coat wedges with olive oil, sprinkle with seasoning blend and place on baking sheet (I prefer stoneware because I like those slightly charred edges). Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.  Turn wedges over and bake for another 5-8 minutes. 

One sweet potato will serve only one or two people (depending on the size of the potato and whether or not it is my entire meal or just a side).  You can definitely bake more than one potato, just make sure you do not crowd the wedges on the pan while they bake. They need a little air between them to allow them to “crisp”.

I may never get my guys to enjoy sweet potatoes but I will always enjoy watching them cautiously approach every single pumpkin pie I ever make!


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