Monday, October 17, 2011

Red and Orange Extravaganza

Apples and pumpkins are a potent combination. They have a pull at this time of year which leads us, as if by instinct or some ancient ancestral longing, in search of nature's bounty in the beauty of the countryside.

Offered together in one big October extravaganza they make it sheer joy to drive beyond the city limits as you look to reap your own harvest of happy times.

The recent breezy sunny weekend was perfect for indulging in the annual fall ramble. The parking lot of the apple orchard - an apple farm across town not visited for many years - was the first giveaway of the popularity of a stop like this in the weeks before Halloween.

Young families with wind-nipped rosy cheeked toddlers were in the majority. They were transporting some of the tots by wagon. The wagons, with space to accommodate purchases when the time came, trundled over the uneven ground in an approximation of a bumpy hayride.

The smell of fried apple treats followed us up the hill through the apple trees. Apple fritters we said. Our knees, like our resolve, buckled under the temptation. It turns out it was apple doughnuts that had its hook in us, as confirmed by comments of others who had surrendered to the olfactory invitation.

An old apple storage barn caught our attention. We learned that the rustic barn is now called the theater. It is used for the school field trips that bring hundreds of elementary students to the apple orchards every fall.

The vintage barn with its wooden seating lets the children soak up the atmosphere of apple farming and a taste of apple lore - as well as samples of apples, as we ourselves had afterwards.

A grocery store visit can be different for students after their trip to the orchards. Apples in the store have an association and a background thanks to the orchard experience. The youngsters can better grasp food in the context of its journey from tree or field to table.

The understanding may only lightly sink in at the time. Even taken as it is - time out of class in a different setting - is enough to spark new concepts best taught on location.

The pumpkin alley lay beyond the orchards as we went further along. Pumpkins in all sizes and shapes composed various groupings as far as we could see. It made the hunt for pumpkins interesting.

The golden globes, from tiny to huge, and great numbers of them, weren't stacked neatly by size or weight. They weren't put together so that all it took was a cursory glance to make a decision. This would have been the easy way. Changing things up a bit, making you look if you wanted to play the game that way, was a lot more fun.

The pumpkins, distributed in various groupings along a cleared strip of ground, stretched to an adjacent cornfield.

You could walk to the end if you preferred. You could hold off on a selection until you were practically in the next county. Or you could choose from pumpkins set closer to the smell of the donuts, which many chose to do.

Watching folks wrestle their pumpkins back to the start point was interesting. The weightier pumpkins were lifted and lugged with maximum effort. Those with wagons had a decided advantage. Their pumpkins rolled out almost regally under wheeled escort.

Down in the corn maze all was warm among the shocks of corn. As we breasted the hill between the rows of laden apple trees, retracing our route to the apple store, the wind was more raw than bracing.

We looked forward to getting inside. Apple stores, with their apple operations onsite, tend to be cool places. Our jackets felt as good in there as outside but at least we were out of the brunt of the wind.

Past bottles of apple cider, stacked cartons of cookies, the department with the ready-made pies, a conveyer with a bobbling parade of apples claimed our attention from the glass domes of apple slice samples.

A viewing platform had us mounting the steps, which stairs get you you do if you're curious and want to see more.

It doesn't take being mechanical to stand quietly before a working conveyer. There's something admirable in its brisk efficiency. It's natural response to be at least momentarily held fast. A business at work with all systems running and the product in view is worth a glance.

Employees stood at intervals sorting or grading apples or whatever their responsibility was. The apples skating along in front of them are this year's crop. The 2011 harvest will bring health and hearty touches to fall snacks, meals and desserts. It's as satisfying a thought to chew upon as the apple bread set out on tables all wrapped and ready for purchase.

A visit to the apple orchard lets you be seasonal baker whether through the fresh or frozen pie you bring home or the apple recipes you're inspired to try. Our trip to the apple farm reminds me of an apple cake introduced by my sister-in-law which has been a family favorite ever since.


Mix together 1/2 cup butter, softened, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 egg and 1 tsp. vanilla. Add 2 cups flour, 2 tsp. baking soda, 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. cloves, 1/4. tsp. nutmeg. Stir in 1 1/2 cups applesauce. Add 1 cup chopped walnuts and 1 cup raisins (optional). Pour into greased 13 x 9 inch pan.

Bake 35 minutes or until golden brown on top in preheated 350 degree oven. Cool. Ice with penuche frosting, below.


Melt 1/2 cup butter in saucepan. Add 1 cup brown sugar. Boil over low heat two minutes stirring constantly. Stir in 1/4 cup milk. Bring to a boil stirring constantly. Cool to lukewarm. Gradually add 1 3/4 to 2 cups powdered sugar. Beat until right consistency to spread.

Ro Giencke - October 17, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Hero and the Hoop

If you're not into earrings this story isn't for you. If accounts of resourceful endeavor are up your alley, however, you may want to hang on. We'll get to that part.

But first we start with earrings. I had my ears pierced after I became a mom. This puts me in the class of late starters as far as earrings are concerned.

I quickly made up for lost time. For years earrings were the most enjoyable part of shopping at the mall. My purchases also came from artisans at art fairs and venders in cruise ports. The silver dolphin earrings are from such a stop.

Mostly they were inexpensive pieces. Friends told of losing precious earrings - diamond or gold earrings which had been big occasion gifts. Besides the sentimental loss they were a cost to replace.

My tastes were more basic for the active life. When scrubbing toilets or washing dishes the sparkle you want to see is not the diamonds at your ears but the gleam of porcelain or the shine of dinnerware rinsed clean.

For a long time my earrings were sturdy and stayed on. They clicked into the post and were unshakable through all I put them. The first lost earring was a big deal. This kind of mishap was new to me.

It was an intricate filigree hoop. It was discovered missing with a glance in the mirror after returning from getting friends at the airport. Both earrings were on when I left the house. Where, I asked in dismay, could the earring have gone?

I retraced my steps through the house. I looked in the car. I dug into my purse. On hands and knees I felt under the hidden recesses of the bureau. There was the possibility the earring fell out right away and rolled out of sight.

No one commented that I was sporting one earring. In itself this isn't strange. We're often oblivious to details about each other. Preference in personal appearance is a subject largely left alone. This is a good thing until those times when it isn't. I'd have been wildly appreciative of someone pointing out the missing earring. The search would have started right there.

The lone earring was unfastened and dropped in a drawer. It was the first of now a number of earrings set aside in the slim chance their partners will be recovered.

Many of us have a place for our orphan earrings. They're the ones which resolutely stay attached while their mates go missing. Lost earrings are almost never found. In effect we build earring museums. Sometimes I come across the left-behinds. They remind me of the pleasure in wearing them when the earrings were a set.

For of course it's only favorite earrings that get lost. It's a rule of thumb among earring wearers to expect that the earrings which mean the most to you won't go the whole distance. Put on a so-so pair and you'll have them fifty years from now. They aren't going anywhere. But the earrings you love - ah! they're the ones that get away.

About a year ago I bought a pair of sparkly hoop earrings. They were modestly expensive. They were bling but I was ready for some bling. Diamonds ("diamond dust" the jewelry department salesperson told me) encircled the mid-size gold hoop. They had a beautiful gleam in the right light.

"Want to come with me?" Al asked one recent morning. The boating season is at its end and he wanted to try a nearby lake not visited before. Temperatures were mild. It made some lake time, while not planned, a great detour in the day. I threw on a denim jacket and joined him before the invite was out of his mouth.

The diamond earrings were surely shining as the sun beamed down on us. We circumnavigated the smallish lake in our rendition of a farewell tour.

A young woman in a canoe skimmed the waves near us. We exchanged greetings. The changing foliage as seen from the lake was pleasing on the eye. It was a relaxed last outing as we pulled into shore.

I stayed with the boat while Al went to get the truck. I crouched close to the metal post to which the boat was tied. Suddenly I heard ploof, a sound so small it sounded like a sigh. From the dock I looked down into the water. A bubble was rising to the surface on the water.

Some piece of grass must have fallen off the dock was my first thought, judging the tiny bubble that formed. Oh oh was the subsequent reaction. My hand went to my right ear. The earring was gone.

"My earring fell into the water!" were not words Al imagined he'd be hearing when he innocently came back to hook boat to boat trailer. The water, while not murky, was deep enough, and the water cool enough, that my impulse to look for it made no sense.

This pair of earrings had fast become a favorite. I put them on this morning not dreaming we would be boating. I'd never had an earring just fall out and sink into the water. It put a crimp on the boating excursion.

Earrings are earrings after all I said. I tried practicing a resigned shrug. But then it came to me. Al is inventive. Could we devise a scoop? With a scoop we could return to the lake. We could check the area where the earring fell in. The hoop was light. I reasoned it would have settled like a feather on the sandy bottom by the dock.

Al went to work making a screening gadget. After supper, and before it got dark, as storm clouds threatened in the west, we drove back to the lake. Our earring finder was in the back seat. It was a garden rake fixed up. A square section of wire mesh was wired to the teeth of the rake. The screen would sift the sand.

In the car trunk were the duck waders Al knew he would need. At the dock he pulled on the waders. Dressed in waders and wielding the rake he was a figure of curiosity for the occupants of the only other car in the parking lot.

He waded in, up to his chest in water by the time all was done. From the dock I gave suggestions for where my hero should try next. In his mesh screen he picked up small rocks of varying sizes and fragments of dark red glass. No lightweight circle of bling was found. After many attempts to locate the earring we gave up.

At some point in the day disappointment over the lost earring became the adventure of a plan to try to find it. Al was a good enough fellow to rig up a screening tool, don waders and take on the October waters because he knew the earring was important to me.

As we drove to the lake, not knowing whether the earring would stay lost or we'd get lucky, I was reminded of how easy it can be to give up on anything. Al's attitude of being agreeable to look for the earring, as long a shot as it was to find it, says something too.

His help with this told me there can be a changed net result, without the original thing changing an iota, when two work together on something.

Teamwork can be a definition of adventure. This kind of adventure comes when two or more decide to make something matter.

It wasn't the sparkly earrings that ultimately meant the most to me. It was the desire, and the effort put into it, to do our utmost to locate the earring. We worked from the oldest of principles. What is lost can be worth looking for.

Ro Giencke - October 14, 2011

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Flame and Fire

I crossed paths recently with a large gray squirrel. It was hightailing it across the street. The squirrel had nice bounds. Its form was good. But the series of springs over the pavement - paws set down and body arcing into the air for another leap - were as if filmed in slow motion.

"You've gotten heavy, pal" was my thought as it made the other side. We're noticing that squirrels are well padded this fall. They're packing noticeable poundage.

The squirrel was hobbled by more than weight issues. Its cheeks bulged. it was presumably in the middle of an acorn heist. It was hauling its booty to safety. All the way around it was being forced to clock a slower speed.

The litter of fallen leaves is in swirls and deep piles on the ground. In the dry weather the leaves seem to pulverize as they drop. Our yard still has an abundance of golden leaves mixed with green. The wider views, however, are opening up. Gracious distances, screened by summer's glory, stand revealed like a curtain pulled back on the months to come.

It's been several weeks of bright full sunshine and fall color. Some of the best color has been right around us. That doesn't stop us from checking out other places.

There are many pretty places of seasonal color at this time of year. It does good to go out and take in these larger areas. One can more appreciate nature for experiencing it in the fuller spectrum. The hills with their flame of color, and the color reflected in our blue lakes, can be viewed as our stored treasures towards winter just as the stash of acorns supplies the squirrel.

This is why we happened to be in Finlayson the other day. Finlayson is about a two-hour's drive north of the Cities. It wasn't where were were headed on this particular drive. I call it the serendipity of the road. Sometimes you wind up in places you're meant to be.

As signage started announcing Finlayson up ahead there was a flash of connection. Finlayson is where an elderly woman I visited, years ago and in another town, was born.

Let's call her Eva. Her real name was a pretty, old-fashioned name. I don't remember how we came to meet. There were regular visits over a period of about three years.

I often brought something homemade. It wasn't ever anything much - banana bread, a few cookies on a platter. She liked the slice of pumpkin pie I brought her. It pleased me that she enjoyed the simple gift so much.

On these visits Eva talked of her growing-up years. They sounded happy times. She put Finlayson on the map for me. I was not, otherwise, acquainted with that area of Minnesota.

She talked of the closeness of families. Relatives lived nearby, on farms I imagine, as it was a rural population. They got together frequently. Cousins grew up like best friends. She spoke of Christmastime and dances when she was older. She told of the Hinckley Fire, a to-this-day respected fire tornado which killed many area residents in 1894.

She was born after the awful fire. She referred to it as a child who hears the stories from her elders. She may have lost family members in the fire or neighbors or friends. Fire survivors, whom she would have known, with the memories of fear, flight and searing heat as the flames raced, provided an oral history for Hinckley and surrounding communities.

What is recalled specifically from these conversations with Eva has nothing to do with her girlhood. She innocently showed me something of herself which was an insight into human nature which was eye-opening to me.

She said she wasn't on good terms with another woman in the building. Perhaps, more forcibly, she said this person seemed to go out of the way to not be nice to her. Maybe the woman made a hurtful comment I remember thinking. Or it could be (trying to pinpoint the source of the apparently mutual ill will) that Eva felt snubbed in some manner.

"Wow," I breathed inwardly. "Ninety years old and you can still have your feelings hurt." Ninety was Eva's age. From our first meeting I was amazed at how active and engaged ninety can be based on Eva. That fact that relationships can fester among the elderly was a revelation to me.

I assumed that by ninety the slings of life would long be in the past. You've laid down the crutches and masks. You've put behind all the props and disguises for salvaging your pride or pressing your advantage. You've made peace with the obstacles strewn along the way, or by sheer will power have vanquished them. This ideal of ninety is easy to picture when ninety is far away.

Eva's perturbation at being at odds with this fellow high rise occupant brought home an important point. To some extent we forever wear our hearts on our sleeves.

Our feelings are major components of who we are. An intrusion into our equanimity can leave their scar, stain or mark however old we may be. Just as the Hinckley fire left lasting traces, our run-ins with other can have similar effect on us.

Eva didn't offer forgiveness or have a solution for making things better with this woman. In the honesty of her sharing she let me see the actuality of the hurt as felt by her. All this came to me as we entered Finlayson.

In this town which gave Eva her start my thought for her was the hope that peace eventually came between these two.

Ro Giencke - October 8, 2011