Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Evening baseball at Target Field is cool. Ballpark temperatures last night were not. The sticky heat is actually a bonus, I thought, as I happily wandered the concourse with my husband prior to the game.

At the time we were on the prowl for food. Getting to the park early, shuttled there by one of the convenient Express buses, and having a bite to eat onsite before finding your seats, is part of the package deal for many of us.

"This is great," I thought. "It's real summer baseball." The light wrap brought along was obviously not going to be needed. There was no reason to reach for a sweater, which is often appreciated when temperatures drop with sundown this close to September.

The sun slid away, leaving shadow in the stands. A plane flew overhead. It diverted my attention from the game, going badly for the Twins. It was 4-0 in the first inning. The Baltimore Orioles were taking a decisive lead.

"This is the same as last time we were here," we groaned. We slumped back in numbed silence. We're having sheer bad luck in our choices of games to attend. Absence of victory when we go explains why it's been awhile since our last game.

Following the slim line of the plane out of sight I commented on how neat to be on that plane right now. It must be awesome to peer out your window and realize you're looking directly down into a night baseball game.

From your window seat the action is briefly all yours. It's ball under the night lights. You likely have the rush of one who gets in through the gates for free. The playing field is green and manicured for the precision moves which wins depend upon. In the stands there appears to be a sea of navy and red. Ah, the faithful fans!

Navy and red, the colors of the Twins team, are worn by many fans, generally as tee-shirts with player numbers on them. Little kids come with their Twins baseball caps. You look around and there's someone you recognize. Then it sinks in. It's the #7 or #33 or #41, numbers widely seen on fan jerseys, that gives a block party feel to the parade of humanity around you.

As the game went on there wasn't much to cheer about. Lester Oliveros, the new guy traded for Delmon Young, proved to have solid stuff in his pitching. There was a double play or two which we spontaneously applauded (needing no help from the electronic prompters). Closer Joe Nathan came in and competently closed down the 8th inning. That was about it.

Fortunately a losing effort at the ballpark can be recompensed to some degree by other things. The three-ring circus, once Barnum & Bailey's domain, has moved to the modern ball game. Fan favorites like Circle Me Bert perk up the crowd. We rally at the cheerful (and loud) promotional and advertising fill-ins. It makes me surmise that fans aren't so much fickle as starved for any feel-good emotion they can get.

The highlight of the game for me was having my picture taken with Tony Oliva. It'll take someone else to explain who he is. I'm unsure as to his position on the Twins staff. But if you're a Minnesota Twins fan he needs no introduction.

I'll call him a goodwill ambassador for our team. He's unbeatable in his courtesy, his integrity, his accessibility and for his undisputed place at the heart of the Twins franchise since its beginning years in Minnesota.

The Twins arrived here when I was a youngster. Neighborhood pals Jim and Bill were wild about the new team from Washington D.C. They were the Senators there. Here they were our Minnesota Twins. They took their name from the twin cities of St. Paul (state capital) and Minneapolis (largest city).

The two brothers talked a lot about the Twins. My siblings and I got acquainted with the new team through them. Foremost in their adulation, as I recall, was Harmon Killebrew. (The Hall of Famer died of esophageal cancer this past May.)

We came to know Jim Kaat, Earl Battey, Bob Allison, Camille Pascual. And then, later, there was this rookie by the name of Tony Oliva.

Tony O he was affectionately called. Whether the nickname was given him by the press, or this is how the neighbor boys referred to him, it's by this pleasing moniker that I think of him. They were all heroes of Metropolitan Stadium, the Twins field at Bloomington, the largest suburb.

It's possible these two brothers never attended a Twins game. We certainly didn't. My first game was at the Metrodome. This was well after it was built.

Folks didn't travel much out of their area then. Not even for a baseball game when you lived that far away.

Radio was best friend to fans from a distance. Announcers, describing every play vividly and in detail, and with consummate zest for the game, were about as important as the players to the legions of baseball radio listeners. Baseball was on TV but it wasn't the means by which those we knew kept track of the scores.

The Minnesota Twins bridged differences between the small town/rural experience and the metro region. It brought us all closer at a time when the interstate system had yet to be built. The baseball team helped form a new Upper Midwest alliance. This entity had less to do with geography than with pride through the power of sports.

I didn't think of any of this as Tony Oliva gamely posed with me, as he did with others, all basking in his greatness as we stood alongside him for that one quick shot. But it's there in my smile. And awareness of his part in establishing Twins Territory, I believe, is there in his kind eyes.

Ro Giencke - August 24, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

Serenading St. Louis

We got back from St. Louis to lovely late sunshine over the Twin Cities. The neighborhood was deep in restful shade by the time we pulled into our yard.

It was the end of a good road trip. We even managed to stay off interstates most of the time which is quite a feat considering the desire to get to places directly.

For this vacation we deliberately chose a slower pace. We opted for winding roads with colorful byway signage. We passed through towns held together by nothing more than quirky names. It made us speculate on how places come to be called.

There are towns we found a route to simply because, looking at the map, one of us liked the sound of the name. Blooming Prairie, Rose Creek, Coralville, Muscatine and Nauvoo are among the tracked down locations. This doesn’t get to Missouri where pert and peculiar names go with the wide-skied prairies and Ozark scenery. If there’s music in the name, and poetry in the image of the name, this is enough for us to seek off the main highway.

Vacationing in St. Louis felt both new and old. We visited several years ago. The present trip was an undertaking to properly finish what was missed the first time.

Specifically we wanted to visit historic St. Charles. American explorers Lewis and Clark began the arduous expedition to the West from this rivertown settlement in May 1804.

The St. Charles historic district has handsome brick buildings which house shops and restaurants. It's a reasonable comparison to call St. Charles the Williamsburg of the West.

Another idea prompting the trip was appetite for some serious St. Louis dining. We wanted to dine at more of the excellent restaurants we came upon the first time.

It also was a chance to revisit Forest Park and do it thoroughly.The 1904 World’s Fair site offers a host of recreational and cultural choices after the obligatory stop at the Jefferson Arch and St. Louis Riverfront.

The city and surrounding area have many other places of interest. Hotels have brochures and maps if your planning is as spontaneous as ours can be.

Numerous attractions make St. Louis quite removed from the Gateway to the West it was in early days. In the fur trade era, and succeeding decades of westward expansion, it was a starting point. Today it’s a magnet drawing people in. We come, many of us, over road systems which lie atop or approximate the routes of the original pioneer trails that once led out from St. Louis to the Missouri and Platte Rivers and beyond.

We packed expecting St. Louis to be hot. Missouri can sizzle in the summer. August can be the steamiest month of all.

As it turned out a cool front rode into town with us. A dew point of 60 is considered fall-like there. The weather was pleasant throughout our stay if not exactly autumnal by our standards.

Two outdoor evening concerts along the way were bonuses. This is so often how it is. What you don’t plan for, but stumble serendipitously into, emerge as favorites among things done and enjoyed.

The concerts, one night apart, coincided with full moon. The rising full moon made the settings – historic Nauvoo on the Mississippi River in Illinois, the second concert along the Missouri River in Missouri - quite remarkable. The rivers, each with their own lore and mystique, rippled nearby, with strong currents to them, in the silvery moonlight.

At Nauvoo we were entertained by Synthesis, a jazz ensemble from Brigham Young University. The energy of the young musicians is amazing. Electric is the best way to describe the performance. It was the vitality of students wrapping up their summer with perhaps the best presentation of the season. They were off for home at 6:30 the next morning.

We came home through Missouri wine country. The fruitful hills, on the Missouri River as you head west from St. Louis, support a series of vineyards and destination towns.

Defiance, Augusta, Washington, Marthasville and Hermann all have their charms as well as providing services for bikers and hikers on the adjacent Katy Trail. The trail, known as Katy Trail State Park, is the longest developed rail-to-trail corridor in the United States.

Along with signs for wine tasting, and Katy Trail trailheads, Highway 94 is lined with Lewis and Clark markers. The road keeps close to the course of the river traveled by the explorers setting out to investigate the great uncharted territory which lay to the West.

One roadside sign indicates how much the Missouri River has changed since Lewis and Clark embarked on these waters. Proximity of bluffs to the present channel, the presence of wooded islets, even the very width of the river, is profoundly different from when the exploring party navigated the river.

Missouri crickets definitely have a Southern voice. Their booming choruses were the synthesis as well as personal backdrop to the enjoyment of our St. Louis getaway.

Ro Giencke - August 19, 2011

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Eleventh of August

We've stepped aside from the heat of July. The change is considered providential by most. Morning shadows reach later into the day. Temperatures cool after supper as quickening dusk sets a pace leading to fall.

August reminds you to enjoy each summer day as it comes along. With that in mind Al went fishing today. Yesterday I took a long country drive with a friend. We enjoyed the farm fields and sparkling lakes and maybe most of all the clean blue skies overhead.

We came to the conclusion that small towns are made for August. They catch the restful gait of late summer in their leafy residential streets, kids biking down sidewalks and pretty flowers fronting well-tended yards.

These towns of modest populations have it figured out. They have an understanding that time is a commodity to use well. There's time in an August day to sit on the porch watching the cars go by, or to play ball in the park which is the pride of small towns and rightfully so. The compact little communities we went through caused us to propose that everyone stands to benefit from spending some August time in America's home towns.

The black-eyed susans at our mailbox look every bit as cheerful as the blooms noticed on the drive. The sunny patch is a friendly grouping transplanted from the back yard to a more showy presence at the curb. It's nice to think they may register as pleasantly on those who come along as on us when we were the passersby.

The letter carrier pulls up his truck to the flower bed every afternoon. His route must go past so many interesting lawns. He picks up impressions of our places as readily as he picks up mail put out for him and all becomes part of his day.

A piece of mail recently left for us was fun to open. Our former neighbor is getting married this fall. We've known this young man all his life. He was a baby brought home as the firstborn to the neighbors next door.

We watched him grow up. He trick or treated at our Halloween door, fiercely drove basketballs to the hoop in their driveway, went off to grade school, got his first job, driver's license, graduated and headed to college. We were, in a neighborly way, part of those formative years. We wish the young couple well.

The moon, full on Saturday, has been beautiful this week. It reflects in the pond behind us. There must be a gap in the thick foliage of the tall trees. The moon spills through this hole. The pond, with the moonshine upon it, strikes me as a skating rink lit up for night skaters to use.

We were at the Arboretum the other day. Late summer flowers boil with color. I have an affinity for the burning reds, oranges and yellows of the season. They're certainly August colors - Leo colors in terms of the zodiac.

At a distance from the seasonal flower beds, with their fiery colors like the August sun, a grouping of plants in shades of lavender and deep purple seemingly sinks the mercury by several degrees. This arrangement - a contrast to the salvias, coxcombs and zinnas - has a nuanced beauty which is captivating. Someday I'd like to have gardens like both of these.

The herb section at the Arboretum is never hurried through but savored as I bend to touch the scented leaves and feel the imprint of their essence.

The lemon thyme with its white flowers caught my eye. I was reminded of a recipe in my files for a cake made with thyme. I made the recipe one fall when the recipe was new to me. It was very good. It was commented on. I'm not sure why it wasn't made again. Maybe now I will.

Lemon Thyme Tea Cake

Mix together 1 3-ounce package cream cheese and 3 tablespoons butter, softened. Add 2/3 cup granulated sugar, 1 egg, 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 cup milk, 1 tablespoon snipped fresh lemon thyme and 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel.

Pour into a greased round cake pan. Bake 25 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven. While still warm drizzle with glaze: 1/2 cup powdered sugar and enough lemon juice or milk (about 1 teaspoon) to drizzle.

Ro Giencke - August 11, 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011

Blueberry Days

The first day back from seeing my folks was a continuation of the pleasant weather enjoyed with them. The visit had been relaxed days of time together and plenty of swimming and fishing for the kids and playing with their cousins who lived nearby.

When you return home after a period of being away, and there are children with hollow legs in the midst of growing spurts, the first thing is almost always a big run to the grocery store.

You're essentially out of staples - the items you use every day and sometimes often through the day. The refrigerator is allowed to go bare as you plan your time away. You come back to shelves without milk. Gaps in the cupboard indicate where favorite cereals should be. You've forgotten what an excellent job was done of using things up before you left.

This is how it was for me that August forenoon several years ago. A trip to the grocery store (possibly even before tackling the vacation laundry) was mandatory.

My two kids walked alongside the grocery cart, or took turns pushing it, as I worked off a lengthy list. There were only minor heel scrapes if I happened to get ahead of the cart as they trundled it generally beside me.

Our usual track led from the produce section to meat and dairy and so on, but the first stop was always a foray into the bright and healthy rainbow of colors of beautifully presented fruits and vegetables.

The Michigan blueberries in their section looked so good. The deep blue color was a refreshing sight after the hot walk across the store parking lot. You could feel the cool waters of Lake Michigan in these Midwest blueberries stacked within range of the carts trawling the berry displays.

As I put my selection of blueberries in our cart a light went on in me. Prior to vacation I clipped a recipe for blueberry pie. The name of the pie hooked me. Five minute blueberry pie - it sounded a miracle.

To make blueberry pie this speedily was a dream come true for this gal who seldom makes pies and doesn't touch the oven dial in the warm season at all.

The recipe was from some magazine. It didn't call for much more than blueberries, sugar and cinnamon. The pie is made in the microwave and takes exactly five minutes.

As we moved along, a slow procession past the grapes, peaches and bananas and lettuce, carrots and avocados, my mind was on the pie to come. It hardly gets better than August and blueberry pie.

We ran down a prepared graham cracker crust for the pie in the baking aisle. Plans for the pie made pleasant visual images as we pulled into our cul de sac with bags of groceries to unload.

Getting right down to business the blueberries went into the colander to rinse under running water. Water, meanwhile, was put on to boil. This was for the Kraft dinner which was going to be our lunch. It was getting to be that time.

The big mixing bowl came out of its Pyrex nest (I still have the set but the handy smaller bowl has been broken). The bowl, with its Spring Blossom Green pattern, was the workhorse of the kitchen. On top of its practical size, so good for making chocolate chip cookies and beating cake batter, it was microwave safe which doubled its usability.

I remembered to step to the stove and add the packaged elbow macaroni to the now-boiling water. Juggling a dozen things was so easy. I managed to turn out a pie and call the kids to the table almost simultaneously. It was my five minute scheduling masterpiece.

The blueberry pie has been made many times since then. It's almost always made in August as a sort of commemorating the month it got its start with us.

A wisp of recall is served up with each appearance of the family-famous blueberry pie. Windows are open to August breezes. Nicer even than that, two barefoot kids in shorts and t-shirts, treated to a taste of the cooled blueberry pie, flash me their blueberry grins.

The day and year are noted at the top of the pie recipe. I hardly have to consult the recipe anymore except for the friendly sense of reuniting with this earlier time. Dating something makes it somewhat a time capsule. It's fun to think how long we have some things.

Five Minute Blueberry Pie

In large bowl combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1/4 tsp. cinnamon and 1/2 cup water. Cook on HIGH 2 minutes or until mixture boils 1 minute. Mixture should be thick; stir.

Stir in 2 pints fresh rinsed blueberries. Cook on HIGH 3 minutes, stirring once. Pour into 9" prepared graham cracker crust.

Ro Giencke - August 1, 2011