Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Potato chips and roe

My favorite snack is the marriage of perfection. The snap and salt of a crisped potato meets creamy sweet sour cream (or creme fraiche) and the salty pop of inexpensive roe. OK, more of a threesome than a coupling, but such a happy merger. Add a snip of dill and chives, and live happily ever after.

I ate a half dozen of these little guys for dinner last night, and I regret nothing. That's how good relationships are.

Happy Valetine's Day!

Potato Chips and Roe
Makes about 15 - 20 bites

1 Yukon gold potato, peeled and sliced thin with a mandoline (or a bag of kettle-cooked potato chips)
Non-stick cooking spray
5 tablespoons sour cream or creme fraiche
1/4 cup Tobiko (flying fish roe)
Fresh dill and chives

Lightly coat the potato slices with cooking spray and lay them in single layers on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 375-degrees until they begin to brown on the edges, about 10 minutes. Flip and continue baking until crisped through, about 5 additional minutes. If some of the chips brown before others, remove them from the oven. Place cooked chips on a paper towel and salt.

Set cooled chips on serving platter. Dot each with a teaspoon of sour cream and a little less than a teaspoon of the roe. Garnish with herbs. Serve immediately.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Reaching for the familiar

  Image: Carrying mannequin legs dressed in jeans

You can see a lot during a drive along Lake Street in Minneapolis, especially after dark. It is comforting that some things don't change, regardless of how crazy the world gets.

Every morning the alarm wakes us up to the news. I shake off confused dreams to face a new barrage of "this cannot possibly be happening." Then I gently remind myself that peace begins at home and from within, and repeat my new mantra, "There is comfort and strength in the familiar."

Every breath, every bite, every kiss, every touch: I relish these things.These intimate and simple acts sustain us.

When I need to smile, I'll drive along Lake Street and wave at the man carrying mannequins in from the cold.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

You're gonna make it after all

Television shaped my generation. It certainly shaped the person I wanted to be when I grew up. When other kids were asked what they wanted to be, they usually answered "nurse," or "doctor," or "teacher." Those goals were tangible, attainable. I always danced to the beat of a unique drummer, and when I was asked what I wanted to do when I grew up my answers waffled between a cowgirl, a nun, and a newsperson at the imaginary Minneapolis newsroom WJM-TV.

All those Saturday nights plunked in front of the Mary Tyler Moore show demonstrated to me that women belonged in the world outside of cleaning houses and raising children (not that there's anything wrong with that). It never occurred to me that women were doomed to spend our lives in the secretarial pool. It never occurred to me that we didn't own a legitimate place at the boardroom table. Why? Because of Mary. I didn't see work roles defined by sex. That's why I didn't want to be Mary when I grew up. I wanted to be Lou Grant.

Actually making my way in the world wasn't as easy as Mary made it look. It has been a long road. Sometimes it takes more than spunk and determination. A good dose of luck helps us stay afloat during lean times. I wonder if the whole idea of success is about as abstract as becoming a rancher-nun-news producer. Do we ever feel that we've attained success, or is the goal of life to keep reaching? I'm probably never going to carry any of those titles I gravitated toward when I was a kid, but I am determined to keep reaching for the characteristics that attracted me to those positions in the first place: adventure, helping people, telling stories.

So many women my age looked to Mary as a role model. She was the link between stay-at-home moms and women running for president. I keep an image of her tam-tossing statue pinned to my cubicle wall as a reminder of what it is I am supposed to become when I, eventually, grow up.

A few years ago while I was in grad school, I felt like I was finally on a path toward cowgirl-nun-newsperson. I was on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, sitting at the base of the MTM statue, filled with hope. I looked down at my boots, my tights, my coat and realized I was dressed exactly like Mary (minus the tam). As hokey as it was, I remember singing to myself the words from that famous song, "You're gonna make it after all."

Thanks, Mary.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Born with appetite

I was born with appetite: a hunger for life, food, drink, love, and laughter that has yet to be satisfied.

On the night of my birth, Grandpa ordered pizza for my sisters (peeza as he called it) because my mom wasn't feeling well. As my mom tells the story, Dad had to race through stop signs and red lights to get her to the hospital where a nurse delivered me as soon as my parents arrived. I believe I was eager to share a slice of peeza with my grandpa and sisters. I've never had patience when it comes to desire.

So this week of birthday celebrating finds me craving the comfort foods of youth. While I am enjoying all manner of amazing cultivated and sublime repast, I also delve into the deliciously lowbrow. All of the regular suspects are present: donuts, Cheetos, pepperoni pizza, and a macaroni and cheese donut fried up perfectly by the lovely folks at Glam Doll.

Before I tried the Belly Buster, I heard a lot of talk and hype. I was skeptical. How could any delight honor my high expectations? But the donut is as amazing as everyone is saying, maybe more so. It isn't actually a donut, more of a macaroni and cheese concoction that is shaped like a donut. My to-go baggy came with a bed of potato chips that were handy to munch on while my donut cooled enough for me to tackle. The interior was everything we look for in a good mac and cheese: gooey, cheesy, and hot. The exterior was reminiscent of cripsy crunchy breadcrumb topping. Perfection.

Another year, another feast. I reach for the next best bite.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A hodgepodge life of tomte and trolls

As REO Speedwagon once sang, "My life has been such a whirlwind since I saw you." So true for us all these days as we are too busy to slow down and reconnect. My excuse for neglecting this little two-readers blog is that I am in the panic and crush of a book deadline: busy rolling out dough, tasting new flavors (Dopp i gryta! Eight different meatball mixes! Lard laden cookies!), and searching for lutfisk lovers. It's a dazzling time and tomte has been my constant companion. In fact, he was my date at a recent speaking gig (that's him above, admiring a Christmas tree).

Last week I met some Jolly Trolls. They live in Carole Jean Anderson's storage room in Minneapolis.(Carole Jean is the Jolly Troll heiress. Her parents founded the popular restaurant that housed the trolls.) It felt like my whole life led up to the moment when Carole Jean unlocked the storage, turned on the light, and introduced me to a dozen little men (and one woman) who continue working on the same chores I remember them doing forty-five years ago. There are little men slicing rye, stirring stew pots, and sawing tree limbs. The Jolly Trolls live in a time forgotten by so many of us; a time when families rarely went out to eat, but when we did it was an experience.

In Swedish lore, tomte hangs out in our homes and barns; sometimes a protector, sometimes a mischievous trickster. Feed him enough delicious rice pudding on Christmas Eve and he'll gladly help out until the next bowl of porridge. We've never needed their service more than we do now. I'm knee deep in rice pudding recipe testing, and all the while imagining fate unlocking the doors to many rooms full of tomtar (plural) and trolls, eager to accomplish their tasks and help out humanity.

The event of the past few months remind me to appreciate the good that I see, whether large or small. We will combat the gross and depraved among us by becoming warriors of truth and justice. A majority of the people I talk to are already embracing this moment. Together we are stronger. And it doesn't hurt to leave a little rice pudding out.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Gen X says goodbye

2016 was a hell of a year.

The losses of 2016 never ceased, and for Gen Xers these losses meant saying goodbye to many of our childhood icons. As we go screeching forward toward god knows what, many of us are scrambling to figure out how to face the unknown without the comfort of those icons.

Gen Xers are defined as the group of Americans born between 1965 and 1981. The term and definition came from marketers so they could target us for advertisements, but we embraced the definition and characteristics probably because we were so excited that someone - anyone - was paying attention to us. An appropriate response considering our most significant babysitter was the television.

Gen Xers are known for our independence, resilience, and adaptability (we are also known for our skepticism and slacker-tendencies). We earned those characteristics in part because our childhood was all about upheaval: energy crisis, Watergate, the crack and AIDS epidemics, lots of divorce, and moms who went to work. Don't even start me on the entire Reagan era (Gen Xers remember he was not a saint, and in fact many of us regard him as a criminal). We consoled ourselves with the aforementioned TV (from Pong to cable channels and music videos), 80's pop and 90's grunge music, and computers.

Entertainment was our escape, then and now.

Plunked down in the front of the boob tube (as Dad used to call it) on weekend nights, many of us gravitated toward "The Brady Bunch" and the effervescent Florence Henderson. Mrs. Brady was almost as beautiful as my own mom, so hip in her mod clothing and endless cups of (pre-Starbucks) coffee.

The show "One Day at a Time" prepared many of us for the experience of life with a single mom and apartment dwelling. We learned that apartment life came with a super like Schneider, played by Pat Harrington, who meddled in plumbing and the private lives of the residents. We took comfort in that.

"Growing Pains" was more like a fantasy, with a happy family made up of successful parents and lovable kids. Alan Thicke played an understanding dad you could talk to about anything.

Ask us about the music of our youth and we'll tell you about the importance of David Bowie, Prince, and George Michael. They are the soundtrack of our adolescence. Ask any Gen X male who his first crush was, and 9 times out of 10 he'll answer "Princess Leia." (Some of my Gen X guy friends might answer "Han Solo," which demonstrates another Gen X characteristic - we were the first generation to collectively embrace sexual, gender, racial, and religious diversity, possibly because we saw those differences on TV and in our music, and we understood that diversity makes us stronger.).

In the late 80's we flocked to the theater to cheer Arnold Schwarzenegger's attempt to escape public execution via a reality show ("The Running Man"), then scratched our heads when in reality he married a Kennedy and became governor of California. Later Arnold cheated on the Kennedy with their maid and had a secret child, and yet he managed to escape public humiliation and now he's replacing America's so-called president-elect as host of a reality show. And so the world spins.

In the early 90's we viewed television's first reality show "Real World," entranced during the initial seasons only to discover the people who gravitated toward such a life eventually generated reality into a scripted sham.

In school we were assigned to read "1984" and learned about Newspeak, never dreaming that the danger of a totalitarian state would be ushered in by none other than a failed business mogul and reality television star with terrible hair and tiny hands. Rest assured, his reality show is in manly hands now with Arnold. There is no longer room in our culture for girlie-men, right?

The icons of Gen X's youth have died. They've been replaced with the ridiculous and the terrifying. Modern Newspeak has the nation investing in reality programming, the normalizing of alarming events and people, and a new presidential cabinet filled with antagonistic oxymorons,

Gen X no longer has our icons for escapism. We must figure out a way to rise without them, but we can still look to the examples they set to fight the wrongs.

This is not America, (sha la la la la)
A little piece of you
The little peace in me
Will die (This is not a miracle)
For this is not America
Blossom fails to bloom this season
Promise not to stare
Too long (This is not America)
For this is not the miracle
There was a time
A storm that blew so pure
For this could be the biggest sky
And I could have the faintest idea
For this is not America
(Sha la la la la, sha la la la la, sha la la la la)
This is not America, no
This is not, (sha la la la la)
Snowman melting from the inside
Falcon spirals to the ground
(This could be the biggest sky)
So bloody red, tomorrow's clouds
A little piece of you
The little peace in me
Will die (This could be a miracle)
For this is not America

- David Bowie

Monday, December 26, 2016

Sourdough starter is the new black

My friend M is a bread master. I've tasted a few of her loaves and each one sends me reeling with lust for another bite. Her stuff is absolute perfection. M says her bread is amazing because of her twelve year old starter which she received from a baker up north. 

While preparing to test a Christmas bread recipe that provided instructions for making a starter from scratch, I asked M for advice. The recipe is an old one and calls for a baker to combine water and flour and let the stuff alone for a few weeks, after which you sniff the starter to decide whether is is bread-worthy or destined for the garbage.

M generously offered to give me a part of her starter so I could test the recipe in style. I agreed, with trepidation. A starter is a lot of responsibility, like caring for another living being without understanding what it needs, when it needs it, and why. Would I be able to keep the baby alive long enough to test the recipe over the long holiday weekend? The whole experience reminded me of the Amish Friendship Bread starter a well meaning neighbor gifted us when we moved into our home. It took a few days before I finally, without guilt, tossed the thing and never looked back. But this time my starter was planned for, a wanted child.

Meanwhile, M sent me an article published in the NYT last March. Sam Sifton wrote about the popularity of starters and equipping those of us interested (and terrified) of the bubbly concoction living on our counters or refrigerators with an owner's manual synopsis. Starters are, apparently, the Pet Rocks of our time. I was relieved to learn I am not the first to name my starter. (My starter is named Baby.) 

To keep starter alive, you must nurture it: feed it, water it, give it air, and watch it closely to make sure you are doing it right. I am told that the care of a starter gets easier once you learn to read its cues. Apparently, as your relationship with the starter develops, you know instinctively what to feed it and when. For now, you may want to say a prayer for the yeasty Baby living in my kitchen.