The day after Thanksgiving, when many people have shopping in mind, I enjoy a relaxing day of holiday baking. I sleep in that morning. As I sip my first mug of hot, dark coffee, I chuckle about the silly people who wake up before the crack of dawn to be sure to get in on all the bargains of the day as they wait in long lines and fight their way through crowds. I gather ingredients, mixing bowls and my favorite wooden spoon for stirring up cookie dough. I turn on the Christmas music.
When I was growing up in a suburban neighborhood of St. Paul, Minn., we had neighbors who didn't eat meat. The couple had a black-haired little girl with dark brown eyes and glowing pink cheeks. She didn't eat meat, either. This stirred up much curiosity among the people who lived along our street. My parents just couldn't understand it. What in the world did these people eat? How did they stay healthy? Their questions were answered when the couple invited us to their house for dinner. Mysterious aroma greeted us at the door of their home as it wafted from their modest kitchen.
One sunshiny day last summer during a car ride with a few of my grandchildren, we all got a little silly. We'd just made a stop at the local chocolate shop for some candy treats. Giggles escalated to hardy belly-laughs as we sang nursery rhymes opera-style with brief pauses for licks of Sugar Daddy caramel lollipops (the grandchildren) and bites of a thick dark chocolate-dipped apricot (me). Our wacky fun turned livelier when 10-year-old Emily referred to her sweet treat as a shoogie dadder. She was as surprised as the rest of us when those funny words came out of her mouth.
The sweet smells of fresh-pressed apple cider and warm cinnamon-spiced apple doughnuts are fall pleasures that I must experience every year. My favorite season of the year would not be complete without a traditional trip to an apple orchard. This year's orchard experience came near the end of apple-picking time. As my husband and I headed northwest on the toll road from Chicago toward Minnesota, my fingers flew furiously over the touchpad keys on my phone as I tried to Google apple orchards in Wisconsin.
Fall is slowly settling in. As I write, the sky is charcoal gray with ribbons of white bleeding into the darkness. The sun poked through a break in the clouds for a few minutes, trees bare of leaves casting shadows on the dormant grass. The outdoor thermometer reads 38 degrees. I can see the last blooms of my perennial flowers outside, adding contrasting color of deep yellow beside the lavender-colored mums flowering right beside them. Brown pine needles and dry leaves are scattered over the grass.
Every time I pull my slow cooker out of the hall closet, I lament my decision to give up my old crock pot. When I got married, the Rival Crockpot, introduced to the purchasing public in 1971, was changing the way women cooked. Every home cook wanted the new small electric kitchen appliance that "cooks all day while the cook's away" as advertised.
Hard-skinned winter squash is at its best right now. I enjoy browsing through the farmers markets and picking my way through bins at the grocery stores, admiring the unique shapes and various colors. The hard, thick-skinned squash is a nice change from the summer squash I've enjoyed the last couple of months. Cool evenings get me geared up for butternut squash soup. Kabocha and sweet dumplings are a couple of my favorite winter squash to bake and eat like mashed sweet potatoes.
Kelly Larson of Bagley, Minn., calls herself a fanatic forager of fungal fruits. She's not kidding. When we met at the third annual Fall Mushroom Camp recently put on by White Earth Tribal & Community College (WETCC ) Extension Service, Larson was shocked. "What are you doing here?" she asked. "I thought you didn't eat mushrooms." Again, the wild mushroom wizard was not kidding. Although we'd never met in person, Larson clearly remembered a column I wrote several years ago about morel mushrooms, confessing I'd never developed an appreciation for edible treats from the forest floor.
Just as the green tomatoes on the plant I'd been pampering all summer began to show a slight tinge of orange, the air turned nippy. An overnight frost was predicted. Two nights in a row, I wrapped the plant in old beach towels, hoping the ripening fruit would survive the quick blast of freezing temperatures. The leaves look a little droopy, but the plant survived. Since then, I bring in two or three racquetball-size, almost-red tomatoes every day. The single tomato plant is dotted with a few more orbs that show promise of getting into a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.
A beekeeper friend of mine invited me to watch as he introduced a wooden box of at least 30,000 bees and one queen to their new home - a hive positioned on a grassy space near basswood trees across the road from his house. Wearing a baggy white jumpsuit and a headpiece with a screen covering my face for protection, I cautiously looked on as the beekeeper expertly went through the annual spring process of getting a buzzing batch of bees into the hive.