Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sacrifice, nostalgia, and a return to normalcy

We are sixteen days into Lent. Almost half-way through it! I'm using these forty days as a way to kick-start weight loss after four solid months of recipes testing (bread! pastry! sugar! cookies! more bread!). After decades of dabbling in diets and reaching for a healthy lifestyle, I know that the only way I can lose a few pounds is by eschewing the stuff I love most: bread, sugar, and simple carbs in general.

Living in this chaotic unpredictable world, the things I've been craving most (since the election and oh god, the inauguration) are these flavors I obsess over, so this particular round of dieting is more painful than it has been in the past. I am grateful that our local Starbuck's is open in the early mornings again, after weeks without them. I'll take a return to normalcy anywhere I can get it.

I've also been feeling rather nostalgic. If you are of a certain age and raised in Minnesota, especially the Twin Cities, you have a history with the department store known as Dayton's. For 100 years Dayton's reigned supreme, a beacon of good taste and amazing customer service. While the store changed hands (and names) a few times since 2001, those of us who grew up with it still refer to the stores that once were as Dayton's. The flagship store was in Minneapolis, and this month the building was sold and we said goodbye to what it represented for all these decades.

The Minnesota goodbye is a well known phenomenon. We start to leave a party about an hour before we actually go, standing at the door chatting, hugging, discussing the weather. Our collective Minnesota goodbye to Dayton's took sixteen years.

A friend of mine recently completed her novel "The Daytonians". Catherine Dehdashti generously allowed me to read her draft before it was sent to the publisher, and it was perfect timing. The plot is plump with characters who revolve around the Minneapolis Dayton's, and it reads like a love letter to our community, and to Minnesota values: friends, family, education, history, relevance, the weather, civil rights, important traditions that unite us, and popovers. (Look for "The Daytonians" in stores and online soon!)

The comfort of the familiar is exactly what I need, what we all need.

And at night I dream of pizzas, pastries, warm crusty bread dribbling with melty butter... a better world for us all.

Friday, March 3, 2017

In like a lion

It's been a heckuva year. Did I mention that already? Well, it bears repeating. And March? Heckuva month, and it's only the Third.

My Swedish-American Jul project is now with the editor and as I wait patiently to begin edits on this side of the book, I realize this little blog is far more neglected than she deserves.

I vow not to be so absent from now on. While I think of topics to thrill my two readers with, here is a small glance into the past few months....

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.