Tag Archives: Food

Classic Post: Dandelion Treasure

This post first appeared on March 16, 2016.

As I walk past our nearby elementary school, I search for the first fuzzy yellow dandelions. Although I want them out of my yard, deep in my grown-up heart, I still like them.

As a six-year-old, I heard God sprinkled dandelions on lawns like manna. Sometimes, He turned them to gold during the night. The financial possibilities made it worth a try.

The gold coin story did not pan out, but I still welcomed dandelions. Softer than my baby brother’s hair, they dotted the gray-brown Indiana landscape, reminding me better than any catechism that God loves color.

I showered my mother with bouquets. She never turned them down.

One evening Mama surprised my siblings and me. We would pick dandelions for supper! I did not realize they were good to eat. Or that our old refrigerator was empty. Mama acted as if we were going on a picnic.

“These look good.” She bent and nipped off leaves.

Grown-ups rarely made sense. “Aren’t we going to eat the flowers?”

“No. Some people make wine with them, but we’re eating just the greens.”

“Can’t we make wine?”

Mama’s eyebrows rose. “Probably not a good idea.”

My pastor father’s congregation might not take kindly to a bootleg wine-making operation in the church basement.

My seven-year-old brother grabbed the big greens first.

“Thank you.” Mama shook dirt from our offerings. “But little ones are best.”

Ha! My spindly greens topped his!

I asked, “What do cooked dandelions taste like?”

“Spinach.”

I’d never eaten spinach. But on TV, Popeye’s spinach helped him clobber the bad guys!

Maybe dandelions possessed the same magic. I insisted on a big bowl for supper. Muscles would pop out on my skinny arms. I would teach Kevin, the mouthy kid across the alley, some manners!

I took my first bite.

Maybe we should have made wine.

Though I gulped several spoonfuls, I didn’t hear Popeye’s happy music. My arms still looked like plucked chicken wings. Maybe if the dandelions had come from a can instead of the churchyard, the spell might have worked.

Decades later, dandelion greens, no longer a dubious alternative to going hungry, are chopped, pickled and curried in hundreds of international recipes.

I take home the fresh, green pile I’ve gathered. When I find the right recipe, I’ll dine on four-star fare for lunch. My personal skeptic insists I’ll be eating weeds. Ignoring her, I search the Internet for recipes.

Who knows? Chopped in my repent-after-the-holidays salad, dandelions might make me as skinny as Olive Oyl.

Fat chance.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you have a favorite dandelion recipe?

A Good Breakfast

Medical experts preach, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

I’m glad to comply. Unlike those who inexplicably avoid food all morning, I awake, ready to raid the kitchen. However, nutritionists and I cross forks here. Their idea of a good breakfast and mine don’t even try to get along.

During winter, who wants to leave a cozy bed to face a slimy bowl of vitamin-fortified, fiber-rich wood chips?

In the “good old days,” Sugar Blasters or Corn Syrupies were considered positive sources of energy. Question: Who ever gave birth to children who didn’t possess enough energy? We parents and grandparents are the people who should pack in energy-generating foods. Cheese Danish or chocolate-cream-filled doughnuts present a sufficient alternative.

My mother fixed hot breakfasts during winter: eggs; breakfast meat, when we could afford it; and unlimited toast dripping warm butter and jelly. Pancakes, stacked like records above a turntable. French toast, swimming in Mom’s homemade sugar syrup. “Fill ’em up’” comprised the key concept. She did, deliciously.

When we traveled, Dad decreed inexpensive breakfast as our main meal. Breakfast buffets had not yet made an appearance during the ’60s — which explains that period’s prosperity. Had they existed, my younger brother alone would have struck fear into the hearts of restaurant owners.

We did impact one corner of the international market. Upon seeing his citrus groves stripped, our Mexican mission caretaker referred to us tree-climbing missionary kids as “la plaga norteamericana” (North American plague).

I also savored tortillas baked over a community fire, spread with wild honey. Killjoy Mom worried that the cooks washed their hands maybe once a decade. I worried because the Mexican women, concerned about my skinny frame, attempted to make me eat raw egg.

Since then, I’ve encountered other global ideas of a “good breakfast.” Morning menus in England included: fried kidneys; baked beans on toast; and black pudding, consisting of oatmeal, pork, fried onions and pork blood. Russian immigrants my parents harbored preferred beet borscht and dill pickles.

Breakfasts Dad concocted when Mom was sick — watery canned soup and last-of-the-loaf butter sandwiches — almost seem delectable.

Decades later, when Mom suffered from dementia, Dad’s culinary skills improved. When I visited, I wolfed breakfasts of sausage, eggs, biscuits, and coffee strong enough to serve itself. My doctor would have run screaming, dragging me with her, at the sight. After days of these feasts — plus Dad’s dumping extra on my plate with the command, “Finish up! It’ll just go to waste!”— I almost craved my usual wood chips.

Not. Remembering such wonderful food and my parents’ I-love-you bickering — they now keep each other company in heaven — I loved that good breakfast.

One of the best.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite breakfast?

Weird Things for Which I Am Thankful 2020

Anyone here like Christmas better than Thanksgiving?

With God’s incredible gift of His Son, family celebrations, music, decorations and food, it doesn’t get any better than that.

But families also express gratitude for each other at Thanksgiving, for freedom, health and — last, but not least — hope through Christ. Along with the food, it doesn’t get any better than that.

I’m forced to enjoy a draw, nixing healthy eating until a January Judgment Day.

I also want to express gratitude for little blessings — even weird ones — that seldom receive a nod or notice:

Fuzzy bathroom rugs. These don’t rank up there with world peace or an Indianapolis Colts victory, but on chilly mornings, they mean everything to wet, freezing toes.

Combines blocking the road. Already late, I forget these are a blessing. Other drivers’ gestures indicate they forget, too. But these bulky, balky monsters and hardworking farmers ensure food on our tables.

Bananas. With this nutritious, easy-open, eco-friendly fruit — no refrigeration necessary — our children thrived. True, bananas’ squishability, the babies’ sticky reaches and my long hair proved problematic. Still, they blessed lunch boxes and trips. When emergencies interrupted my skinny physician husband’s meals, I sent bananas with him to eat on the way.

Today, neither of us worry about weight loss. Still, we’re glad bananas will be around for our future, with or without teeth.

The color purple. What would we do without purple violets and irises, plums and eggplants? Without royal velvets and wild purple storm clouds — and essentials like Grape Slushies and Super Bubble Gum?

My 2010 car. New models map routes, parallel park and warm butts. Some drivers, though, given a Starship Enterprise dashboard, threaten the universe. Even driving my old Ford, I’ve occasionally popped the hood when I meant to open the trunk. If I tried to warm my posterior while driving 70 miles per hour, I’d hit the parallel parking mechanism.

I’m thankful for my simple, old car. You should be, too.

Ranch dressing, available only since the 1980s. How did we as a civilization survive without it?

Free parking lots. Metropolitan drivers spend hundreds to park in scary garages. I revel in nearly unlimited free parking, saving my neck, my bucks and my sanity.

Bankers without firearms. I’ve entered Honduran banks where guards accessorized with ammunition belts and machine guns. I’m thankful my bankers are armed only with smiles.

Gardeners who plant prairie grass. They validate those of us who grow it unintentionally.

Finally, I’m thankful I never played the turkey in a school production.

Still debating whether you like Thanksgiving or Christmas most? It’s a draw, right?

A draw for the turkey, too.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Can you list weird things for which you’re thankful?

Should We Bless This Food?

My mother taught me the “God-is-great-God-is-good-and-we-thank-Him-for-our-food” prayer early, so saying grace comes naturally. But as a child, I wondered about blessing food containing onions. Onions were poison. Yet, Mom persisted. Fearing death, I changed my prayer accordingly: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. …”

I picked out the onions, hid them in a napkin and sat on them, plotting secret disposal.

A prominent U.S. Senate chaplain dealt with similar issues. Reverend Peter Marshall’s wife Catherine, who later would write Christy, a best seller, tried to disguise leftover holiday turkey as hash. Reverend Marshall declared that God knew he hated turkey hash; therefore, he would not give thanks.

Lucky Reverend Marshall. He didn’t sit on a napkin full of hash.

Unblessable vegetables have cropped up in my poll. My husband offers theological treatises on why God never meant humans to ingest lima beans.

He also dislikes fried chicken, a lifelong passion of mine — and my mother’s. When I was dating age, she warned me about men like him. Mom never stopped frying chicken, but for 65 years, she cooked alternative pork chops for chicken-hating Dad.

Other poll participants have experienced similar disagreements, describing black-eyed peas, liver, mincemeat pie, marshmallows, sushi and tapioca pudding in vivid, unmentionable terms.

Some struggle to bless food in restaurants, especially at today’s prices. Others, like me, rate lukewarm soup as an abomination before the Lord.

However, I’m not always sensitive to others’ dietary abominations. When I went to college, my mom, who had German background, sent me a special treat: pickled pigs’ feet. Upon seeing the bones in our trash can, my Jewish roommate concluded I was a closet cannibal.

Image by Aline Ponce from Pixabay.

Missionaries struggle with related scenarios. A prominent Ecuadorian town official offered missionary friends roasted guinea pig. My sister-in-law in Honduras informed me that armadillo does not taste like chicken. Once a guest in a South American jungle home, I forced myself to munch mooshy strips of spoiled bacon. Later, I discovered they were baked bananas.

I have learned to eat onions — though they remember my early rejection and exact revenge.

Before leaving the subject of unblessable foods, we should address the elephant in the room. Not eat it, though some Asians and Africans consider elephant meat a delicacy.

I refer to elephant-sized appetites, including mine. Should we bless thousand-calorie-a-bite cheesecake?

God is great and God is good. He blesses us with cheesecake — also with bathroom scales, fitting room mirrors, high school reunions, and mean doctors/dieticians/trainers.

With tons of green salad, too … topped with a slice of onion.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What foods do you consider unblessable?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: October and Liver

O my God, thank You for October, with its colorful leaves and pumpkin-spice everything. But some of Your humans have declared it National Liver Awareness Month. OMG, do You think we should spend 30 days thinking about liver? After half a century, I’m still trying to forget my mother made me taste it.

End-of-Summer Reflections

Do you like that word, “reflections”? When young, I identified it with the forced reading of smarmy poetry, staring at my navel, and/or listening to some windbag.

I will never inflict such harm on my readers. I keep my lousy poetry to myself. I never coerce anyone into studying her belly button. As for my being a windbag — perish the thought!

Having dispelled these unfortunate associations, let us return to my profound end-of-summer reflections:

  • Regardless of propaganda touting it as the ingredient for pizza, smoothies and cheesecakes, nobody likes kale.
  • My husband’s “short” bike rides require a passport.
  • Grandbabies’ discriminating palates prefer four summer food groups: sand, mud, gravel and sticks.
  • My palate also dictates four summer food groups: butter pecan, salted caramel fudge, chocolate almond, and Moose Tracks.
  • A related reflection: Skinny, beautiful people on TV drool over yogurt, but they never, ever will convince us it can replace ice cream.
  • I sleep with only a sheet, but still need a quilt on my feet.
  • If we water gardens to induce rain, the clouds know.
  • Also, the probability of rain is in direct proportion to the amount we spent on Cubs tickets.
  • If not for relatives’ summer visits, would the carpet get swept from June through September?
  • Nobody really likes an ecologically diverse yard. Or wants me to preserve the prairie.
  • Morning glories I plant always shrivel as if my trellis were radioactive. Yet a thousand healthy, nasty lovelies strangle my cucumbers.
  • Deer who scavenge neighborhoods never eat crabgrass.
  • Scratching sounds in an attic mean raccoons have started a summer obstetric ward there — or mosquitoes have grown bigger than I expected.
  • While rainy days ruin human vacations, my fern, Carolyn, considers steamy conditions a five-star experience.
  • If you live by a lake, visit kin who live by a different lake. Hurry, because it’s almost fall, and that’s the only way you’ll get a free vacation, too.
  • I and other Stain Queens should be forbidden by law to wear white pants.
  • People who grill only vegetables are not to be trusted.
  • If a certain age, never shop the weekend before school starts. You will park in a different zip code. You also will return home with 143 15-cent notebooks.
  • Ferris wheels at county fairs still fill me with six-year-old wow.
  • After a lifetime of watching people voluntarily buying cotton candy, I still haven’t figured out why.
  • Finally, when police know campers next to your site on a first-name basis, pitch a tent in your backyard instead.

Yes, summer will fade, but never fear. I soon will supply my readers with a whole new set of reflections — autumn reflections.

Not that I’m a windbag, or anything. …

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What end-of-summer musings fill your mind?

Festival Magic

If you’re a normal Midwesterner, you have attended or will have attended a festival this summer.

If abnormal, you saved lots of money. And added years to your life.

Still, we who joyously hand over cash and longevity wouldn’t miss these hometown Mardi Gras for anything.

Not long ago, I helped staff a booth at the Blueberry Festival in Plymouth, Indiana, my former hometown. Not a novelty. When we resided in Plymouth, I sold soft drinks to fund my children’s activities. I also joined most of the town’s population (10,000) in parking cars that annually brought 350,000 people to the party.

This time, however, I signed books I’d written, including The Return of Miss Blueberry, set during this festival.

Yay! I didn’t sink into melting asphalt. Nor did I, like dozens of stand owners, hover over sizzling stoves. Instead, I perched inside the souvenir/information booth, yakking with old friends. I even met Miss Blueberry, whose golf cart graced the park.

My privileged position, however, brought new challenges.

If you stand behind book stacks, people think you know something.

Thankfully, after 28 years of Blueberry Festivals, I could answer the Number One Question: “Where are the bathrooms?”

When 350,000 people need to go, they mean business.

“Paid restrooms across the covered bridge,” I recited. “Free portable johns near Jefferson School.”

By the 177th inquiry, a tiny inner voice whispered, “For this you achieved an English degree?”

I quashed it (See, the degree didn’t go to waste!), glad I could, um, serve humanity.

Question Number Two: “Where are the blueberry doughnuts?” The seekers’ eyes mirrored the restroom hunters’ urgency.

Yes, people came to scream themselves into spasms on carnival rides, to applaud bands, crow in rooster contests, paint faces, reenact battles, cheer Little League, rassle pigs, and test testosterone with sledge hammers and souped-up tractors. They scoured craft tents for quilts, stained glass, handmade furniture, John Deere china and marshmallow shooters.

But whether attendees wear polyester shorts, Amish attire or tattoos with little else, food sends them to festivals. All year, everyone dreams of favorites:

  • Corn popped in an enormous black kettle.
  • Thanksgiving-platter-sized tenderloin sandwiches.
  • Deep-fried elephant ears, butter, Pop-Tarts® and Kool-Aid.
  • Plus, all things blueberry: doughnuts, pies, sundaes.

“If you buy here, neither of us starves!” read one stand’s caption. Watching the line at his window, I doubted any danger of either.

Back to booth duties. I was not only expected to know all, but to locate all: lost eyeglasses, car keys, phones and preschoolers.

I also was to ensure good weather for the hot-air balloon launch.

I had no idea that booth would grant me such cosmic power. But that’s what festival magic will do for you.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What is your favorite festival and why?

The Great Broccoli Debate

Soon after our wedding, Hubby and I discovered crucial differences. A key divisive subject: broccoli.

I softened its presence in a casserole. Nevertheless, he turned up his nose. His extra-sensitive taste buds perceived broccoli as impossibly bitter.

I had grown up eating broccoli, pretending to munch trees like a powerful giant. I liked the taste. Broccoli was good for me and filling — important in a household with four siblings. What wasn’t to like about broccoli?

In Hubby’s family, no one competed for food or imagined eating trees. His father and brother also loathed broccoli. Drowning it in cheese sauce, his mother insisted they eat it occasionally.

However, my new husband formulated his own broccoli policy, namely, nada.

I adopted his mother’s.

The debate continued for decades.

Unfortunately, the elder President George Bush undermined me with his broccoli policy. “I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!’”

If my mother-in-law had cooked the President’s meals, he would have tried three bites or been sent to his room.

Like Steve, President Bush probably believed his DNA rejected broccoli. My husband even insisted God never created broccoli for human consumption.

Dragging God into a debate is risky, not unlike asking my mother to settle a sibling argument. Historically, both debaters ended up listening to a lecture and doing extra chores.

I’d never encountered Scriptures regarding broccoli, with or without cheese sauce. However, several commanded him to give thanks for what was set before him.

Hubby replied with Scriptures that discouraged quarrels.

One day as I typed, deep in Novel Land, Hubby leaped from the hallway, hands thrown open like a spotlight performer. “Ta-da!”

Not his usual morning routine.

He announced, “I’ve found scientific evidence that taste depends on a person’s DNA—”

“You interrupted my best writing time to diss broccoli?”

“Look.” He offered his laptop.

“I don’t have to look. That writer’s scientific expertise probably consists of blowing up science fair projects with his kid.”

Finally, I read the article. It stated a person’s DNA profoundly affects taste. The author, a bona fide scientist, didn’t sell snake oil or exploding science projects on the side.

I. Was. Wrong.

Daily I become more aware of Steve’s forbearance and generosity … because he reminds me.

Still, the more I pondered his broccoli triumph, the more I questioned: Should our DNA enslave us?

I take bitter-tasting medicines because they’re good for me. Hubby wants his patients to do the same.

Yet he can refuse broccoli, despite its nutritional value, because it doesn’t taste good?

The great broccoli debate rages on ….

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What food inspires debate at your house?

Mom’s Potato Salad

When the first sleepy daffodils awakened, my mom made potato salad. In her eyes, spring was as good as here.

She taught me her dab-of-this-and-that recipe. Chopping onions wrung a million tears from my eyes, and my weepy attempts couldn’t begin to match her blue-ribbon results. At potlucks, I learned to avoid other cooks’ mushy, bland concoctions sprinkled with scary green things. Thus, I took part in the Great Potato Salad Controversy, far more extensive than I could have imagined at that tender age.

That reality truly hit home when, at 16, I waited on a restaurant customer who ordered German potato salad.

Retrieving the food, I called to the cook, “You forgot the potato salad.”

“You’re crazy. It’s right there.”

The manager corroborated the cook’s absurd claim: the sliced potatoes in gooey stuff with bacon was indeed German potato salad.

When, as a young married woman, I explored recipes, even American potato salad presented controversies. Some cooks insisted on real mayo, as if Miracle Whip were pushed by criminals out to ruin the purity of American cuisine.

Then yogurt and low-calorie radicals intensified the debate.

Add mustard versus no-mustard schools of flavoring, dill versus sweet-pickle/relish, mystical devotion paid to fresh herbs, and religion-sized chasms separated various sects.

Rewind to Mom’s potato salad. I wish she — and I — had conceived the lucrative potential of our culinary endeavors.

According to the New York Daily News, Zack “Danger” Brown challenged viewers of a fundraising website to finance his first attempt at making potato salad.

Expecting $10, he raised $55,000.

Thankfully, Brown was no potato head. He made a huge contribution to his hometown food pantry.

Click to enlarge.

Mom also fought hunger with her potato salad. She regularly filled up a large, voracious family. She shared it with lonely parishioners, troubled teens, ex-prisoners, domestic violence victims, and itinerant preachers. Occasionally feeding 30-40 people at one meal, she made tons of potato salad throughout the decades.

Today, chopping onions and staunching teary eyes, I remember a woman who gave not only cups of water in Jesus’ name, but bowls and bowls of the world’s best potato salad.

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What comprises your perfect recipe?