Archive for the ‘Generations’ Category

Food Legends

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Family food legends have a way of nourishing body and soul. 2011 marked the Minnesota State Fair’s inaugural Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance’s Heirloom Recipe Contest. I  joined in the judging to honor slices of cherished Minnesota family history. Eighteen women and men, aged 24 to 70, each displayed a story and a prepared recipe. The judges tasted potato soup, chocolate cake, ginger cookies, butterflake rolls , and perfectly cooked spare ribs with homemade sauerkraut.

Four stories and recipes broke out of the pack as the winners.

1st Place: Roberta Casey, St. Paul, MN. We laughed out loud at Roberta Casey’s story of her grandmother’s Pretzel Cookies and the lengths to which Roberta and her cousins went to get more than their fair share. Casey’s display was accurate right down to the layers of plastic wrap she described as being essential to her grandmother’s storage method. Hilma Cherney Rivan passed away at age 97. The family served Pretzel Cookies at her funeral reception.

2nd Place: Gwendolyn Swenson, North Branch, MN. Swenson used peaches for this version of Fruit Upside-Down Cake, presented on a Depression glass plate on a vintage doily. The crumb and flavor of the cake were excellent. Swenson noted: “I have been making the recipe for nearly 50 years. Mom is nearly 84 years old. So between the two of us, we been making this recipe for over 70 years.”

3rd Place:  Natalie Tangen, West St. Paul, MN.  Tangen told her grandparent’s touching love story and described the hard-working life Louise and Fred Paez shared. Members of the family still make Louise’s Spanish Rice and eat it rolled up in homemade tortillas. “Her rice with tortillas was simple fare, but lovingly made by her beautiful hands.”

4th Place: Josette Repke, Plymouth, MN, Wash-Day Supper. Josette remembers this  surprising delicious Wiener Hot Dish with Boiled Potatoes (or, if you prefer, Hot Dog Casserole) from Mondays of her childhood, the day the wash was always done.

Read the winner’s essays and try their recipes and read about previous contests.

The Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance, based in Chicago, debuted the competition in 2009 in Illinois and has since expanded to Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, and this year to Minnesota and Missouri, with plans to take the contest to more state fairs next year. FeedstuffsFoodLink.com–From Farm to Fork co-sponsors the event. Watch GMFA for information about 2012 participating fairs and information about how to enter.

Nothing like a True Friend

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

A dear friend passed away a few weeks ago. I wrote about Martha in early May (See May 6, 2010). By coincidence, kismet, or simply how things have a way of working out, about the time of Martha’s passing, my octogenarian mom lent me the book, A Walk by the Sea, written by Joan Anderson, known hereafter as ‘the author.’  Mom had received the book from a friend of hers to whom Mom has been a mentor. They are true friends.

The author is a 51-year old woman at a crossroads in her life when she meets Joan Erikson, who with her huband, the psychologist, Erik Erikson, formulated elegant theories of human development. The author met Joan as they each walked on the beach near their homes. Joan, then 91, became a beacon to the author toward how to live the rest of her life.  Joan Erikson’s friendship along with her vibrant outlook and zest for life, helped the author to make bold new choices  and move into a productive, creative tension between action and contemplation. It’s a sweet spot of balance to live into, never to hold.

Martha and I became friends when I was just beginning my professional career as a writer.  She was into her second act as an interior designer. The corporate position she left behind had brought recognition and creative satisfaction. As a prelude to her independent design business, Matha traveled around the world absorbing color, texture, and light.  For the next 37 years, she gave back the color, texture, and light to her clients and to her friends.

Martha was a beacon to me, though as in all friendships, at times, I resisted her wisdom. Long will I draw upon her wisdom and belief in the ‘right idea. as well as knowing when to wait and when to act. But, always, move toward action.

Part of the celebration of a friendship across the generations lies in that the elder can openly receive the younger, not only as a mentee, but as a true friend. The author illuminates this with joy. I am thankful for Martha’s friendship and the lessons of being a friend to her.

Garden-in-Progress-1

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

My sixth garden is underway. The first two yielded not much, each lasting a season. By the third, I had years to make a garden that satisfied me and pleased visitors. The first year of Garden #3, I gardened with a friend who had big dreams for a vegetable garden. For the next seven years, I planted and tended mostly flowers, both perennials and annuals, and had a few tomato and pepper plants. I hauled barrels full of free processed cattle manure from the nearby ag university to my very dense, clay soil. I left that enriched, created garden reluctantly. For the fourth garden, I was confined to a small townhouse plot,

my request to expand voted down by the townhouse committee, many of whom voted for more rock landscaping at every opportunity and a minimum of green plants. This I remedied by moving to a small house with gorgeous chocolate-cake-like soil about five blocks from the Missouri River.

After another seven seasons I left this well-developed garden, again reluctantly. Too bad such things are impossible to transport, even if you take a few cuttings along with the move.

I think of the current garden, Garden #6 in a longer time frame. My gardens mark not quite all the major moves of my adult life. I’d like to stay put now, relieved that my footloose ways are calmed and my hummingbird heart has found a perch.

My mom’s good friend from childhood gardens this year, knowing that she’ll have hip-replacement surgery in the fall. In her early 80s, she doesn’t want to miss a summer of gardening. I understand. Neither do I!

“Whew!”

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

One of my goals with this blog is to examine how we age and how we might age better. My life is a useful laboratory for this pursuit. I’ve begun to notice most of my peers have graying hair, as well as aches and pains. My mom has a birthday this week, her 83rd. She lives near me in her own comfortable apartment in a senior complex. She’s moved from her home, from her community, had to stop driving, and has several non-life threatening but limiting health concerns. It takes some adjustment for this independent, strong-minded, creative woman to adjust to life on a different scale.

She comes to stay at my house a couple times a month for a day or two. On Sunday evening, we returned to her complex about 8:30 pm, after celebrating Easter. There was a steady stream of cars to both entrances at the complex. I commented, almost to myself, “Everybody is bringing Grandma home after Easter.”

Mom riffed without missing a beat and sighed, “Whew!” We laughed together, I ruefully. I often leave her feeling both relieved and wary of what comes next. She remembers her own leave-taking of her aging father, her great aunts, and elder friends.

I pulled up in front of her building, moving ahead a little because a minivan was closing in behind me. An impatient voice called out from the vehicle for me to move ahead. I asked her to wait just a minute while I got the walker and Mom got out of the car and in the clear. Pulling ahead would have taken me to the curb and made Mom’s steps with the walker more difficult.

After I parked the car, the minivan family was unloading their elder.  Mom turned around and waved at the elder woman, a friend of hers who is confined to a wheel chair. May have been a challenging day for that family.

Sometimes we laugh.  Sometimes we snap.

Overheard at Barnes and Noble

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

The first thing I noticed at my local Barnes and Noble on Friday evening was the large booth advertising the BN digital book. As I made my way around the display–truly it almost blocked the way to the escalators that lead to the fiction section–I had the recurring conversation in my head as the to future of the book. Will there be stores stocked with such an abundance of books of all kinds in ten years or even five years?

Once downstairs and leafing through a table of the current crop of fiction, I heard a young woman, 20-something, remark to her friend, “When I’m old and tired, I’m going to come and buy a book to read, every other day.”

I loved that she loves to read.  And, I heard her joy of the experience of simply being around all these printed books. If the digital book does become the future standard of reading, I hope libraries and bookstores survive for readers to jostle together, simply reveling in books.

A Moment in Time

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

I’m fascinated by the clues found in historical records. Sure, the outcome is often known, but the details can change the modern reader’s perspective. I love to imagine a moment in the past, when in command of some facts and moved by imagination, I recreate a moment to better understand its significance.

A picture on a calendar from 1929 gave me such a moment.  It’s a beautifully mounted photograph of a sunny child with two German Shepards.

The 1920’s were kind to small farm towns in the Midwest. The post-world war years were times of plentiful rains and good crops. Irene, South Dakota had a lively main street and thriving businesses, including Johnson Bros. & Iverson General Merchandise. Down the street, my grandfather operated C.H. Gunderson & Son, the son being my dad who was born in 1923. Grandfather sold tractors and cattle.

We know that in late October of 1929, a different era began. Within a few years, the rains stopped, the dust blew, and prosperity was a memory.

The current financial crisis has often reminded me of the stories I’ve read and heard from my parents about their childhood years in a lean time. This image from the calendar is both optimistic and bittersweet. It reminds me of the waves and rolls of time: what we keep, what we must relinquish, and what is sometimes gone against our wishes.

Alchemy: Christmas Cookies

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

The recipe is both precise and vague.  My Grandmother Mae wrote it in her hand and noted it was from P.V. Hansen, which P.V. Hansen’s wife, grandmother of my classmate, Alice.  There’s a teaspoon each of ginger and cinnamon. The leavening is “4 teaspoons of vinegar in which put 3 teaspoons of soda.”  Flour:  ‘Plenty of’ she wrote.

Grandmother—she was quite formal and demanded to be called ‘Grandmother,’ never Grandma or Gramma—was known for her wonderful pies and crust and her ginger cookies.

Grandmother Mae's Ginger Cookies

Grandmother used one round cookie cutter with scalloped edges for her entire batch. Her cookies were thin and crisp, and in my memory, never jagged or tough.

My Mom, Grandmother’s  daughter-in-law, taught me to make them. We branched out into many, many shapes with Mom’s family cookie cutters including lions, sheep, fish, and birds.  I’ve added buffalo, tiny bears, and angels.

Mary Gunderson' 2009 Ginger Cookies for Christmas

The number of cookies depends on the size of the cookie cutters, the eating habits of the cookie makers, and how many times to re-roll the dough. My best cookie rolling secret is this:  mix equal parts sugar and all-purpose flour for the rolling medium.  The mixture lessens the chance of adding too much flour, which will make the cookies tough.

My 5th grade neighbor rolled cookies with me this year. She especially liked to knead the cookie dough and found it easier to roll that way.  The trade-off is that the cookies will be less tender.

Grandmother Mae’s Ginger Cookies

Adapted from the original

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup butter, softened

2 eggs

1 cup molasses

About 6 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

4 teaspoons vinegar

3 teaspoons soda

In mixer, cream sugar and butter.  Beat in eggs and molasses.  In separate bowl, combine flour, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Stir flour into molasses mixture.  Mix vinegar and soda and add immediately.  Stir just until combined.

Chill dough about 1 hour.

Remove dough and with a small section at a time, roll in half flour/half sugar mixture to desired thickness.  Shape cookies with cutters.  Transfer to parchment-paper lined cookie sheets.  Bake in 350° F oven for about 10 minutes or until set.

Continue with all cookies.  Cool on wire racks and store in air-tight container.

Makes 80 to 100 cookies, depending on cookie cutter size.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, 2009

Playing for Keeps in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Greg Mortenson seems more like an avatar, the embodiment of a principle, than a real live, flesh-and-blood human. He is a hero to me and I got to see and hear him in person December 18, 2009 in Bloomington, Minnesota, where I was one of a thousand people who came to be inspired and left energized.

Greg travels with friends, including his chihuahua.

For anyone who dreams of world peace and has a secret desire to save the world from poverty, violence, and ignorance, Greg seems too good to be true. He lacks sarcasm and breathless self-promotion.

Greg Mortenson greets students in Korphe, Pakistan, the village where the Central Asia Institute built its first school with the support of Haji Ali, Mortenson's mentor and inspiration.
Greg Mortenson greets students in Korphe, Pakistan, the village where the Central Asia Institute built its first school with the support of Haji Ali, at left, Mortenson’s mentor and inspiration.

How ya gonna get your brand out there without those?

He does it and has been for 17 years. Humble, earnest, tenacious, and possessing a gentle sense of humor, Greg builds relationships and schools and more in isolated tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since 1993, he has spent 75 months, more than six years, in the two countries. His first book, Three Cups of Tea, is required reading for top military advisors, including Secretary of Defense Gates, and all US Special Forces troops serving in Afghanistan. Greg’s work to promote peace through education, especially for girls, has brought him to the short list of people who deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.

Under the flag of the Central Asia Institute, based in Bozeman, Montana, he raises money to build schools in the same areas where the Taliban, Afghanis, and troops from the US, Britain, and many other countries vie for hearts and minds. The thing is, Greg credits his success to tribal elders. It’s left to the rest of us to credit this remarkable man for showing how one person can and is making a difference in the face of what seems impossible.

Tribal leaders try out the playground swings at Afghanistan's new girl's high school, built by the community and Greg Mortenson's Central Asia Institute.

A recent example:  His organization set a goal to build the first high school for girls for five provinces in Afghanistan, the same area that’s home to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The CAI gave themselves 20 years to make it happen.  It took just one year and includes a playground. Elders from another area expressed an interest in building their own girls’ high school and were invited to meet at the new school. Before the meeting began, the men insisted on seeing the playground and in minutes, they were swinging. Old men who have lived through 30 years of war and strife were playing, joyfully. They quickly approved a school in their area; the playground to be built first.

Follow Greg Mortenson on Twitter.

Generation Connect

Friday, December 11th, 2009

About half way through my freshman year of college, I was starved, starved to see and talk to people who weren’t aged 18 to 21. I have a vivid memory of being invited to dinner by a young couple with a baby and feeling a sense of relief, even though the parents were just a few years older than I. It was a relief to step back into the wider world, beyond the homogenous pond of my fellow students in the dorm, the dining room, the nerve-wracking chemistry lab, and the giant biology lecture hall.

Students at the University of Minnesota (UM) Medical School and St. Paul’s Luther Seminary have a lifestyle opportunity to step out of the age-narrow ghetto of higher education and gain skills in working with elders in their chosen professions. The residents of Augustana Apartments, a downtown Minneapolis senior housing complex, have invited people from these two programs to be their neighbors. Co-housing across Generations The arrangement is the brainchild of Dr. Edward Ratner, UM associate professor of internal medicine and medical director of Heartland Home Health Care in Roseville, Minn.  The initiative began Fall 2009 with two medical students and three seminary students moving to vacant apartments at the complex.

The idea is mutual support. Dr. Ratner wants his students to better understand the needs of elders; each student completes training as a home health aide as a condition of residence. Students have a place to live, eat, and socialize with people who aren’t in a hurry. For the elders, it’s a way to combat loneliness and to have the chance to pass along age-tested knowledge. In addition, such things as changing a light bulb or greasing a squeaky wheel in a walker can seem almost insurmountable to someone who can’t climb a ladder or easily squat down, while a younger person does such chores without hesitation.

Dr. Ratner’s plan is low-tech/high-touch. It’s almost laughably simply and blindingly obvious, yet it’s innovative. The population over age 65 is growing fast.  Fewer people than ever choose geriatrics as a medical specialty. Not only is it in the bottom of the pay-scale for physicians, many ailments of aging don’t respond to quick fixes.  Depression is common and undertreated among elders and isolation boosts the tendency to depression. Fewer kids grow up being around elders. As those kids become adults, elders can seem foreign. Younger people, even those pushing middle age, live hurry-up lives dominated by technology. An elder may offer a kind of listening and attention that seems novel to the fast pace of mainstream 21st Century life.

The co-housing initiative at Augustana Homes seeks to address these issues. I’m going to be checking with them in a few months for an update. In the meantime, I am scheduling time both with my mom and other elder friends, and with the “youngers” in my life.