Category Archives: Uncategorized

Throwback Thursday: One of the best things about autumn is the soup

Nothing like recycling a good recipe for Throwback Thursday, so today we’re praising soup. And kale.

I’m obsessed with kale lately. It’s so good for you! And sneaking some into your soup is a painless way to consume lots of it.

Which brings me to this recipe I first published Aug. 9, 2014. That was a tough month in Minnesota Wonderer’s life (I’m still not ready to tell the story of the Very Bad Thing), but the soup is a keeper, especially as fall approaches. Enjoy.

Lentil barley soup as comfort food

For some people, mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food. For others, spaghetti. My Beloved leans toward macaroni-and-cheese.

Honestly, forget food — what beats a glass (or two) of wine?

A Very Bad Thing happened a week ago. The story of the Very Bad Thing isn’t ready to be told yet. Or maybe I’m just not ready to tell it. But I finally had (took) a few minutes to myself today, and I decided to make something to comfort me.

It was a big pot of lentil barley soup.

Probably not the first choice of comfort food for, well, anyone else. When I told my Beloved about it, he was less than impressed.

Soup in general might be considered a comfort food, though probably not in August. Chicken noodle soup, though, ranks on the Food Network’s list of Top 10 comfort foods.

I, however, am not a big fan of noodles. And I don’t care if it’s August.

I ran across a big pot of lentil barley soup at Au Bon Pain the other day, and I thought, ahh, I could make that. And I could make it even better with a few mushrooms and some kale. Because mushrooms are comforting. And kale is good for you.

So I cleaned out the crisper drawer of my fridge, and I made a big pot of soup today. And it was delicious. And only 180 calories per serving, which is pretty darn good for comfort food. And it made me feel better.

lentil barley soup

Lentil Barley Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3/4 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  •  4 ounces mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 15-ounce can fire roasted tomatoes (I added a half of a leftover fresh tomato, too, chopped)
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons chicken base (I used Better Than Boullion brand)
  • 1 cup red lentils (they really must be the red ones, which break down better than green ones)
  • 1/2 cup barley (not the quick-cooking kind; the kind that take 50 minutes to cook)
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup kale, ribs removed and chopped

Directions:

  1. Warm the olive oil in a big pot; add chopped vegetables and cook a few minutes.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients except kale. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer an hour until lentils are essentially mush, thickening the sauce, and barley is tender.
  3. Fifteen minutes before the hour is up, add the kale.
  4. Remove bay leaves. Serve with a dollop of sour cream. Makes 6 servings.
Advertisements

Throwback Thursday: What baling hay teaches

Going back to school reminds Minnesota Wonderer of her uncle who’s worked in education for the better part of his career. September reminds me of harvest time, too (I no longer have a garden but I drive by those fields of bounty). So today’s Throwback Thursday post, first published Aug. 9, 2012, pays homage to both my uncle and a harvest. It’s one of my favorites. Enjoy.

What a perfect haystack means

Symbols remind us of what’s important. A wedding ring symbolizes a commitment. A lushly green, well-watered lawn symbolizes suburban perfection. A signed baseball symbolizes a brush with fame.

For my uncle, a perfect haystack symbolizes a summer’s work.

stacked hay final

A meaningful stack of North Dakota hay, circa 1965.

I recently found a black-and-white picture of the haystack in my uncle’s collection of personal photos.

“You’ve had this photo for 40-some years,” I said. “There must be a reason you kept it so long.”

“That hay stack represented a finished job,” Uncle Lee said. “I don’t get many ‘finished jobs’ in my line of work now.”

Nowadays, making hay is highly mechanized. Round bales, created by a machine, dot the rural landscape around the little town where I live on the outskirts of Chicago.

But a century ago, hay was cut with scythes and moved with pitchforks, and haystacks shaped like little houses were fixtures of the Midwestern landscape. Square balers mechanized the process in the 1940s. As the farming industry moved to a more corporate operation in recent years, large round bales have become more common.

The biggest advantage of small square bales like those handled by my uncle is that they can be moved by one person without a lot of machinery.

Square hay bales must be stacked in such a way as to shed moisture and prevent rotting. My uncle estimates his haystack probably had 2,000 square bales in it.

“I probably handled those bales six times each,” he said. “That’s why I was in such great shape! The knees wore out of my blue jeans from hiking up those bales. I could throw them like you couldn’t believe.”

As the saying goes, you make hay while the sun shines. One has to cut it, rake it and bale it first. “Dad [my grandfather] had a brand new baler at the time,” Uncle Lee remembers. “Then I’d go out and put ’em in six packs — that’s the first time I handled ’em. Then I’d pick ’em up and throw ’em on the hay wagon (that’s two), then stack ’em again on the wagon (three), bring ’em home, throw ’em down (there’s four, right?), then stack them like you see here in the picture.”

The stack in that picture symbolized a whole summer of work.

“Wait, that’s five times, I think,” I said.

“Then in the winter time, you have to feed the cattle – I had to throw the bales on the ground for the cows.”

Six.

“I like everything about cattle,” said Uncle Lee, who grew up and made hay in the western plains of North Dakota. “I enjoyed that part of farming. I didn’t like seeding or combining, but one of my favorite times of year was when we moved the cattle to summer pasture. All winter, they were cooped up in the barnyards, but in spring we moved them to the open fields. They were like little kids! They’d kick up their heels and hit their heads together, they were so happy.

“I still like cattle.”

Early on, Uncle Lee left farming because there was no money in it and embarked on a career in education. He started out as a social studies teacher. He worked his way into school administrationthe top of the stack, so to speak—favoring smaller school districts.

“That’s probably why I prefer rural districts,” Uncle Lee said. “North Dakota built my foundation. It was a hard place to make a living: It’s got a short growing season. It’s colder than hell. Sometimes it doesn’t rain. It can be a very lonely, lonely place.”

But he learned what hard work can accomplish.

And the picture of his haystack symbolizes it.

Throwback Thursday: When praying for the dog seems reasonable

It’s Throwback Thursday at Minnesota Wonderer, and today we’re grateful for an 8-pound miniature schnauzer.

Ten-year-old Chloe contracted pneumonia recently, and her very life hung in the balance for a few days. The vet recommended an overnight stay in an oxygen tent (to the tune of $1,000+), but we settled on a round of antibiotics and lots of pampering. She barely ate anything for a week (her weight dipping to a boney 6.8 pounds), and she started experiencing seizures again.

Her epilepsy, which was diagnosed a few years ago, had been under control with medication, but something about the pneumonia (breathing problems? stress of a visit to the vet? lack of sleep? antibiotics?) was causing breakthrough seizures.

Oh, God, not this again.

That was two weeks ago, and the good news is, she’s on the mend, but the whole experience reminded me of when she first started having seizures, which I recount in this post from Feb. 9, 2014.

A story about canines (both species and the teeth), Rimadyl and patience

Caregiving is stressful.

By telling the story below, I don’t mean to minimize caregivers of human patients who I realize most certainly are far more invested in their patients and the stakes are far higher. I can’t even imagine the stress of a someone whose wife has dementia or whose child is battling cancer.

The past 48 hours around here were tough in a much smaller, 8.4-pound way.

My dog (yes, this is a pet story — if you don’t like domestic animals, you’re hereby excused) had her teeth cleaned Friday.

Apparently, dogs bite when strangers stick their hands in their mouths (who knew?), so veterinarians anesthetize dogs in order to clean their teeth.

(Seriously? Dogs require dental care? Yes, I was incredulous, too. My miniature schnauzer had bad breath for years — literally years — and I came to love her stinky mouth. Yellow teeth? Who cares? She’s a dog, right? That’s what I thought until one of her teeth literally fell out of her mouth in my Beloved’s gentle fingers. It was so decayed, it was rotten. Rotten teeth, as it turns out, not only cause bad breath, they cause gum disease which can lead to terrible things like organ failure and death. It was clear my lame tooth-brushing routine was doing no good, and my sweet dog’s teeth required professional intervention. And so, D-Day, that is, Dental Day, came on Friday.)

She remained at the veterinary clinic all day. Anesthesia is serious business, you know. As this was the first time my dear Chloe was undergoing such a procedure, you can imagine the mess the technician found. Five teeth were so rotten they had to be extracted.

“How will she eat?” I lamented. Even toothless dogs figure out how to consume hard dog food pellets, I was told. Survival instinct, I guess. These creatures sometimes eat rabbit turds and lap up muddy puddles, so they’re not too discerning, I guess.

She was ready for pick-up at 5 p.m. and though she was generally listless, she looked OK. And her teeth were sparkling. I’m not kidding. They’re whiter than my teeth now.

I carefully listened to the after-care instructions, which included doses of pain killer and antibiotics and took her home. She sat on the couch with my Beloved and though she acted weird once, gacking strangely, we simply took her to bed as usual.

Then the horror began.

She started experiencing a seizure every two hours all night long. After the first one, I took her off the bed and put her in her kennel next to the bed, but I woke up every time her little legs violently pummeled the kennel from the inside.

You can’t stop a seizure. You can only speak softly and gently hold the victim (or, if they’re bigger than my little dog, get out of the way) while you wait for the gagging and the foaming and wide eyes and open mouth and kicking to subside. Forty seconds feels like 5 minutes. In the moments after the seizure, the victim still isn’t really there, looking spacy and stumbling around in a haze. I could only hold her sweaty body, feeling her racing heartbeat.

I’ve never had babies, so I don’t know what it’s like caring for a sick child through the night. But I can tell you caring for a sick pet is no walk in the park. Every moment waiting for another seizure was torture.

We stupidly followed the dosing instructions the following morning, giving her 25 mg of the antibiotic Clindamycin and 6.25 mg of Rimadyl, a pain reliever. The seizures occurred less frequently but did not abate.

I finally got in touch with the vet who assured me neither the anesthesia nor the medications could be causing seizures. She wanted to examine her and do more blood work (which they did only 24 hours previously before surgery), and she suggested maybe injecting an anti-seizure medication.

Great. I’d already paid $461 for the tooth cleaning surgery and $343 for the extractions. For that, my sweet little dog with bad breath had turned into a convulsing mess with sparkling teeth.

I should mention my dog continued to eat, drink, pee and poop as usual, so her systems seemed to operating normally except for the occasional brain reboot in the form of an ugly seizure. Seizures are caused by many real ailments and should not be left untreated (I am not a vet and I don’t play one on TV), but they also occur for unknown reasons, and it seemed clear the vet knew no more than I did. Like a lot of doctors, she wanted to do more tests and administer more drugs. Ugh.

Like all modern patients, we resorted to internet diagnosis, and we didn’t like what found online about Rimadyl. Correlation does not imply causation, but what’s the variable here? Chloe was perfectly healthy and seizure-free before surgery.

So we stopped the meds.

And Chloe slept peacefully through the night.

chloe in new bedThis morning, we gave her half the antibiotic and no pain medication. She was back to her frisky self, galloping around the house, bounding down the stairs and barking her obnoxious-but-joyful-to-hear bark.

She clearly was not in pain.

I share this story both as a warning (beware of Rimadyl) and as a lesson.

As I waited those long moments through Chloe’s convulsions, I reminded myself of the body’s power to heal, that time heals all wounds, that patience is a virtue. There was no other balm for this chaos and stress but to accept it and embrace it and move through it. My prayers were answered (yes, I wasted God’s time with the health of a dog — what’s time to an eternal being?). And I’m so grateful.

Travel Tuesday: Drink like a local

A health nut might say “you are what you eat,” but a well-seasoned traveler’s credo might be “eat where you are.”

Why eat a burger on the coast when you can enjoy fresh seafood? Why seek out McDonald’s in Tokyo? Why not try sausage in Bavaria?

Having visited some of these places, I will say definitively that travel has opened my eyes to great foods I might never have experienced without the long drive or a flight.

But eating where you are is also true of drinking, and it’s true when you’re close to home, too. When in Minnesota or Wisconsin, drink as the Minnesotans or Wisconsinites do.

skal crawl

Earlier this summer I enjoyed the Skål Crawl in Central Minnesota. “Skål” rhymes with crawl, and it’s Norse for “toast,” that is, the kind of toast that involves raising glasses, not burning bread.

The Skål Crawl, the first Minnesota wine, liquor and beer trail, offers a T-shirt and cool drinking glasses for those who visit Carlos Creek Winery, Panther Distillery and Copper Trail Brewery, all located in and around Alexandria, Minnesota. It was a fun way for a couple of couples to spend a day while quenching our thirst. And I’m a sucker for a “free” T-shirt (the crawl costs $15 and entitles crawlers to souvenir tasting glasses, the T-shirt and discounted tastings).

fawn creek

And, having spent a bit of time in the Wisconsin Dells recently, I discovered Fawn Creek Winery, one of nearly 80 wineries in Wisconsin. Breweries, I knew about (among other, I have actually visited and enjoyed New Glarus, a well-known craft brewery in southern Wisconsin), but wine? Who knew?

The tastings at Fawn Creek are free, but even better is the atmosphere. Tucked among the pines, the winery is a pretty place to spend some time, especially when one can enjoy wine, beer, too, and pretzels that are 15 inches across. Oh, and live music on the weekends.

What else is Wisconsin known for? No, not the Packers. Well, maybe sorta, if Packers make you think of cheeseheads. It’s the cheese! The brochure from the Wisconsin Winery Association suggests a cheese and wine pairing for every month of the year. Because wine and cheese are delightful when consumed together. September’s suggestion? Mead with cheddar and provolone. October? Try hard cider with cheddar and colby. Just makes you want to plan a themed trip, right?

Killing Monica doesn’t exactly kill it but it hits the mark

Would I have liked the book better if the title had been Amazing Monica instead of Killing Monica?

killing monicaNope.

The Monica in Candace Bushnell’s story is a fictional character (to be clear, she’s a fictional character in a book of fiction), so whether she lives or dies is of no consequence to my enjoyment of a book with my first name in the title.

Killing Monica was my trashy novel for the summer, and in a word, it was good.

About a third of the way into this book, I hated it. It read like a modern-day fairy tale only instead of a poor girl oppressed by her stepmother and forced to clean the fireplace while her Prince Charming roams the kingdom with her glass slipper, the protagonist was a victim of success, her cheating soon-to-be ex-husband and her very expensive shoes. In fact, I started dog-earring pages of Bushnell’s entirely implausible phrases and scenes. Like who pours themselves a “nice tall glass of white wine.” A “nice full glass of wine,” maybe, or maybe a character pours white wine into a milk glass, but wine glasses are not “tall.”

But I reconsidered when I read the book flap–I thought maybe Bushnell was writing something more semi-autobiographical (she created Carrie in Sex in the City), and I thought maybe she was trying to say something about feminism, pop culture and celebrity. I think she more or less accomplishes this, but I still wasn’t loving it (whatever Bushnell’s “trademark humor” is, I didn’t get it, but them maybe I’m too literal about tall glasses, too).

I hung in there until the bitter end and wow! Mind blown. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I found the ending to come out of left field and be very satisfying at the same time (even though Bushnell leaves loose ends all over the place).

For a trashy novel, it was definitely worth the summer reading time.

Throwback Thursday: An ode to the roof

Regular subscribers have noticed, I imagine, that Minnesota Wonderer hasn’t been posting very often. Hey, it’s busy around Wonderer’s house. But it’s probably busy around your house, too, so we can do without all the excuses.

As I peruse my Facebook Newsfeed every morning (everybody’s got time for that), it’s replete with “memories on this day” that remind me, among other things, of all the blog posts I logged over the years. It occurred to me that I have hundreds of entries in the back list that I could resurrect in a Throwback Thursday sort of way. Sometimes those old posts pop up, and even I’m surprised by my depth of thought.

So, with 1,982 entries from which to choose (this post makes 1,983—you betcha we’ll be celebrating 2,000 in a big way!), I’m going to share some oldies by goodies in this space on Thursdays.

Today, as the sun finally shines in Houston after days of drenching rain, I’m offering this ode to a roof, first published June 25, 2015. Because it beats living without one over one’s head.

The sky’s the limit if you have a roof over your head

Of all life’s blessings, the roof over my head is one for which I rarely give thanks.

Roofs, after all, are so commonplace they are to be expected. And they’re dull. Very dull. Usually gray or brown, maybe black. Made with shingles — the ultimately hum-drum material, or maybe cedar or tile. Installed by competent, height-defying, tight-lipped pros who appear like flies and disappear a week later, leaving a few stray nails in the yard.

But mundane or no, without a roof, every day is a bad-hair day. Or a bad day in general.

I woke at 3 a.m. last night, thankful, so thankful for the roof over my head.

It was pouring down rain. Literally pouring, like God had a bucket he couldn’t wait to empty. Lightning. Thunder. A storm for the ages. But unlike many nighttime storms observed from the comfort of the bed in my sturdy house, this storm came to the campground where I slept in a sturdy, yes, but relatively insubstantial camper.

One never goes camping but it rains. Or at least that’s how it is with me. Most camping rainstorms are day-long drizzly affairs that make everything damp and never stop until everything is packed up and you’re headed home.

This storm, however, was more hard-nosed, like a pissed off cop with a gun at a pool party (kidding! all right, already! I know all cops are not angry and overbearing! It’s a joke!).

In any case, this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill storm. And we were camping next to a river.

My Beloved’s cell phone awakened us before the drenching rain did. It warned of flash flooding.

All I could think about was a flash flood filling the valley, and us, bobbing down the river in the camper until we were splintered against a bridge pier (thank you, Voice of Doom, but our flash flooding came in the form of big mud puddles, not a jökulhlaup).

That’s when the roof started leaking. Drip, drip, drip. A persistent sort of leak. Drip, drip, drip. Reconnaissance revealed the drops were coming from a light fixture (uh-oh). Drip, drip, drip.

Sounds restful, huh?

But actually, I said a little prayer of thanks for the roof.

Because 30 yards away, a family went to bed last night.

In a tent.

I didn’t care how fiberglassy our roof was. It wasn’t canvas!

* * *

The Percussionist's WifeBefore Minnesota Wonderer was Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant for that matter), she was The Percussionist’s Wife. I tell the whole story–every sordid detail–in my memoir, which I published five years ago this week. To celebrate the milestone, the Kindle version of the The Percussionist’s Wife: A Memoir of Sex, Crime & Betrayal is free this week and tomorrow’s the last day to snag a copy. Fans of memoir and true crime might agree with reviewers who’ve called it “remarkable,” “candid” and “compelling”; a friend downloaded it this week and read it one day! So “it reads like a thriller!” isn’t an exaggeration. See for yourself. If you like Minnesota Wonderer, this is her origin story. Download it here for free until midnight tomorrow.

Travel Tuesday: Water, water everywhere (and a freebie, too!)

Whatever it is about waterfalls, they demand attention. Maybe it’s the racket, as noisy as they are. Maybe it’s the danger (nothing like a sheer rock face to put a little scare into one’s soul). But it’s probably the beauty. Waterfalls can be so pretty.

I’ve had the opportunity to see quite a number of lovely waterfalls in my travels around the country this year, and I thought I’d share a few today.

Yosemite valley

This is a long shot (because the view is that beautiful), but in the center of the photo you can see Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite National Park.

washington falls

We found this strange place hidden among miles and miles of grassy bluffs. Palouse Falls is the only major year-round waterfall remaining from the Ice Age floods that carved the landscape of southeastern Washington state thousands of years ago. The falls plunge nearly 200 feet over layers of exposed basalt that make up the Palouse River Canyon. Check out that eerie rock formation behind and to the left of the falls.

yellowstone falls

In a place like Yellowstone National Park, the falls are probably among the least interesting sights to see, but I caught a rainbow in the mist at the falls of the Yellowstone River.

Cascade Falls

The St. Croix River cutting between Wisconsin and Minnesota north of Stillwater is really quite beautiful. Cascade Falls in Osceola is breathtaking. I got to see these during a lingering Saturday afternoon drive earlier this summer. The hike to the bottom is worth it (and the steps back to the top are worth it, too, with a little ice cream at the top).

fountain.jpg

This is more of a fountain than a waterfall, but you take what you can get when you’re visiting central Wisconsin. I snapped this picture last weekend while I was was Fawn Creek Winery near the Wisconsin Dells. The fish in the pool at the bottom liked the liquid libations as much as I did.

* * *

The Percussionist's WifeBefore Minnesota Wonderer was Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant for that matter), she was The Percussionist’s Wife. I tell the whole story–every sordid detail–in my memoir, which I published five years ago this week. To celebrate the milestone, the Kindle version of the book is free this week. Fans of memoir and true crime might agree with reviewers who’ve called it “remarkable,” “candid” and “compelling,” and more than one “couldn’t put it down”; “it reads like a thriller!” See for yourself. If you like Minnesota Wonderer, this is her origin story. Download it here for free until midnight Friday.