Category Archives: Cookies and Bars

What Is On My Mind Today? Rock Picking Minnesota’s Farm Fields and Danish Puff Pastry

Well, it is cold enough today to make me…almost…yearn for rock picking weather. However, I must say that this delightful Danish Puff Pastry is exactly what is called for to go with coffee or tea on Minnesota winter days such as these.

I hope you will try to make Danish Puff Pastry….I recommend it highly.

I really cannot recommend rock picking as highly, although, it can be terrific cardio and muscle building exercise depending on the field.

The Swedish Farmer's Daughter

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For the first week in June, it is rather cool today.  When there is enough humidity in the air fog up my glasses, I will know that summer has finally arrived in Minnesota!

The effects of summer heat and humidity is something a farm kid learns to dread at a young age while doing field work, especially rock picking.  Getting rocks out of a field is a dirty, hot, sticky, exhausting and a very boring job.

rock picking 3

However, it is important to pick rocks out of the fields that are bigger than the size of an orange.  During harvest hitting a rock with the combine will cause the combine’s sickles to break. My Uncle Myrwin always called these small rocks, “sickle-breakers.” Fixing a broken combine sickle is expensive and brings the entire harvest to a standstill. You can easily lose half a day or more driving to town and back, finding and purchasing the right part, then installing the part…

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What Is On My Mind Today? Living With Cancer: Myeloma Relapse, Uncle Mrywin, Good News and Great Fudge Bars

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Errrrrrr!

I have had a busy, if not sedentary and solitary past six months.  In July, I suffered what my doctor told my parents was a “Horrific Setback.” Even though, all of my lab tests at that time still indicated that I was in remission, my multiple myeloma had silently returned. Its presence revealed one evening, when I arose from bed to make the very short trek to my bathroom.

As I stood up, I told my husband that my spine felt really weird and weak, just like it used too when it would break.  As I hung onto the wall, he assured me that after all of the years of bone-hardening drugs, that was not possible.  So, I lifted my foot to step over my huge white German Shepherd and my world and back exploded.

My legs became instantly useless and a pain like electrical liquid fire enveloped me. I fell right on top of my dog.  My dog never moved. He just laid perfectly still until Doug was able to lift me from on top of him.

It was obvious something had gone terribly wrong.

My husband half carried me down our steps, out of the house and got me into the car.  We drove to Regions hospital. There in the emergency room, a doctor asked me to wiggle my toes. I tried and the pain became extremely intense as a spasm coursed through my body so harshly that it arched my back in off of the bed about six inches, then froze me in that position until the spasm stopped.   Then, it would do it again and again….and again.  It was unpleasant.

I remember almost nothing of the next three weeks that I spent in the hospital.  I do remember being conscious for a moment inside and MRI, because I was waving at the technicians. I felt foolish. Then, I was put out again. I remember a nurse standing next to my bed describing to someone else a patient who was in so much pain she was levitating 6-inches on top of her bed.  I felt sorry for that poor soul. I remember staff both Christian and Muslim asking me if they could pray with me.  I experienced angels.

The cause of all of this trouble was due to Myeloma lesions having grown on the base of my spine. My bone marrow biopsy showed over 40% myeloma.  The great news was that no bones had actually broken. Too bad whatever was causing the paralyzing painful contractions could not have celebrated that fact and left me alone.

I am told I had ten rounds of radiation.  I remember only the last three.  I can recall that after my last one my parents were in my hospital room as I returned. When the bed I was on moved too fast, a spasm was triggered and as usual during the contraction my head would be arched completely back.  At that moment my dad was standing right there with the most awful look on his face.  I felt bad that I had scared him so.

When I was eventually released from the hospital, I left too weak to walk on my own and was again trapped in a walker.  And, I faced months and months of weekly, four and a half hour, chemo infusions.

During those months, my life as a cancer patient reminded me of my grandmother’s embroidered kitchen towels.  She would embroider them with the name of each day of the week.  Each day of the week was set aside for a different household task.  Monday for washing, Tuesday Ironing….etc…  My entire autumn schedule became much like those old dish towels of grandma’s.  Each day’s task the same as it had been the week before.

dish towels

It went like this….on a Friday, I received infusion. On a Saturday, I thought I was Hercules powerful and bursting with energy from the massive dose steroids given with the chemo.  On Sunday, the effects of the steroids, such as not sleeping for 48 hours, would begin to wear off.  Monday arrived accompanied by severe fatigue, body pain and nausea. Tuesday was an amplified copycat of Monday.  Wednesday was a slightly more productive day.  Thursday was the best.  Friday morning was outstanding… right up until you began swallowing the half cup of pre-med pills needed for your next chemo infusion signaling it was time to hop on the cancer chemo carousel and take another spin.

Whether it was a real or carousel horse, I have always been an excellent rider.  My dad still brags about how as a small child I would grab onto the ears of a a small pig, jump onto its back and away I’d go.  I only rode the pigs because the adults in charge felt I was too small to have my own horse. He still marvels that I never fell off.  Riding a pig is a lot like riding the cancer carousal. If you loose either your focus or grip the situation is going to become very stinky quickly.

Where there is breath there is hope.  With that in mind, regardless of how I felt, I kept busy. I completed several oil paintings, crocheted over two dozen hat and mitten sets for charity.  Still managed to visit my World War II buddy in the nursing home. And, when my back had recovered enough to lift a cookie sheet…I baked gingersnaps for him and to help relieve my neighbor’s nausea in his battle against brain cancer.

I had no interest in laying around and letting all of my hard won muscles turn to mush again. No pain, no gain. Besides, what doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger. By the end of August, I had graduated from physical therapy and nurse home visits, and  I had escaped the walker was again using only one cane. And, I was strong enough to enjoy a Saturday at Fort Snelling State Park with my family.  I wasn’t up to my usual miles of hiking, but I did walk from the car parking lot to the picnic grounds and sat up for hours.  I am not saying I did not pay for that outing later, but and it was so very worth it.

Just over a week ago, I had another bone marrow biopsy.  To be honest, my husband and I were both just hoping for single digits.  However, to our and my oncologist’s delight no abnormal cells were present….at all!  I am again cancer free!   What a great 60th birthday present!

Which brings me to this morning.

As I took lots of butter out of my refrigerator to soften for a robust Christmas cookie baking session, which will commence shortly, I thought of my Uncle Mrywin who passed away in early December a couple of years ago after a long a courageous battle with dementia.

Somehow, I always grin when I think of my Uncle Mrywin.  A fabulous earthly legacy!  In my mind, Uncle Mrywin was defined by three things.  His love for God, people and sweets.  So, I guess it is only natural that, whenever I begin baking my Christmas cookies I think of him.  Especially, since so many of the recipes I use are his mothers.

Several years ago, I wrote the following blog about my Uncle Mrywin, his stuck tractor and a recipe for Fudge Bars.  The story of the stuck tractor really does capture the essence of my uncle and the importance of good-naturedly attempting the seemingly impossible, attacking a task with determination, giving it your all, recognizing when you are just spinning your wheels and knowing when to seek help…earthly or divine.

Throughout my life and especially during my cancer battle the following bible verses are the ones get my wheels unstuck.  I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t have the words to these Bible passages pass through my mind.  I guess my confirmation pastor was right when he told me that memorizing these verses wasn’t a waste of time, and that knowing them by heart would pay off in the long run.  It certainly has.

Psalm 118:24 (Everyday is a gift)

“This is a day that the Lord has made, We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 121 (My help comes from God)

“I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand;  the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

Psalm 23 (I am never alone)

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

So, if ever you should find yourself stuck in the mud up past your axels, and it is easy to do especially this time of year, remember that a God of Love loves sent us something sweeter than Christmas cookies…a baby…his son our savior…Jesus Christ.  The Son of God who came to give hope to the hopeless.

I hope you enjoy this humorous farm story about my Uncle Myrwin and his stuck tractor.  A yearly spring ritual as I recall. I also would encourage you to try this recipe for Fudge Bars this Christmas Season…they are tasty and would have made my uncle smile.

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My dad and my Uncle Myrwin farmed together for most of their lives. The brothers and their families were all very close. In fact, when I was a child the phone would ring bright and early every morning and it would be my uncle calling to talk to dad about the day’s farm business and work. I cannot remember a day while growing up when I did not talk too or see my Uncle Myrwin.

About five years ago my Uncle Myrwin had to move from the farm into a nursing home, because he had developed memory issues. He has been there ever since and over the years his cognitive abilities have declined.

From the first week he entered that home, I decided that he was not going to ever be forgotten by his niece and so I began to write him a letter every week. I have continued this practice for the past five years except for a short time during my cancer fight when I was in a nursing home and too sick to write. I even got letters off during my stem cell transplant. I have never told him of my illness.

Yes, I know that my uncle would no longer recognize me. That does grieve me, but I know that he still enjoys getting my cards and having them read to him. I will continue to write to my uncle for as long as God allows either one of us to remain on this earth. You see it doesn’t matter one bit that he doesn’t remember me, because I remember him and that is what counts.

For the past year I have found pictures online and made my own “farming” cards for my uncle. This picture of a stuck tractor is this week’s card. I thought I would share this week’s story of my memories of farm life with him, dad and stuck tractors.

Dear Uncle Myrwin,

I hope this finds you having a good week and feeling good. It looks like spring is almost here and there are a lot of song birds again at my bird feeder. Their song sounds wonderful!

I really like this picture of a tractor stuck in the mud up to its axles. Boy, does that bring back memories of stuck tractors on our farms.

It seemed that the vast majority of stuck tractors occurred in the spring when we were in a big hurry to get into the fields and plant. I recall many a time riding on the back of a big red tractor, standing on the hitch behind the driver’s seat and holding on for dear life to the back of the driver’s seat and the wheel fender.

As we would drive into the fields to check field readiness, there would eventually be a dip or ditch that was extra moist looking. Sometimes there was even standing water in them. It was at this point the tractor’s driver would shout loudly above the roar of the engine, “Hang on, I think we can make it!”

The driver would then speed up and make a run at the wet spot. As we would hit the moist mud the tractor’s engine would moan in exasperation at being so rudely stressed while the tractors big back tires would slide first to one side, then back the other way as they cuddled into the rich slippery black dirt. Eventually, we would come to a complete halt with the rapidly spinning back tires furiously spitting mud chunks high into the air.

With mud raining down on us from the heavens, the driver would then start the process of rocking the tractor. First, forward,then in reverse. This was done to try to get out, but in my experience it only served to sink us deeper. Eventually when the big rear tires were sunk to the axles and the back hitch was level with the water and frogs, the driver would shut the tractor off.

As we climbed free of the stuck tractor the driver would then slowly walk around the entire scene with narrowed eyes and a set jaw. Then, he would walk up next to me, grab the bill of his green seed corn cap with his thumb and pointing finger, slide it to the back of his head while he scratched the top of his head with his other fingers. He would slowly replace his cap into the original position, breathe a deep sigh and with a proud smile declare, “Well, we almost made er.”

Sending lots of love and hugs,

Pat

There is one thing that Uncle Myrwin always appreciated as much as he did good farming and that was excellent baking. There was always great cakes, cookies and bars to be found in either family’s farm kitchens. Fudge Mud Bars are still a favorite treat served in my mother’s kitchen.

Fudge Mud Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease at 9 X 13 cake pan.

Crust:
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups of flour
2 cups quick cook rolled oats

In a large mixing bowl cream together butter and brown sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and salt. In a separate medium-sized mixing bowl combine and mix together the dry ingredients: flour, oats, and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture and mix well.

Firmly press about two-thirds of the dough into the bottom of your greased 9 X 13 pan.

Fudge Filling:
2 Tablespoons butter
One, 14-ounce can of sweetened and condensed milk
One, 12-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium-sized sauce pan, on top of the stove on a low-medium heat, add butter, chocolate chips and milk. Stir continuously until the chocolate chips have melted. Add vanilla and stir to combine.

Spread the fudge mixture over the dough. Drop teaspoons of the remaining dough evenly on top of the fudge mixture.

Bake for about 25 minutes or until the dough starts to brown.

Letter writing has become a lost art which is a shame, because the written note immortalizes the writer while bringing so much joy to the recipient. I would encourage all of you to take the time to send off a card or note to someone who is ill, lonely, a child, grandchild or anyone in your life who needs encouragement. I can assure you that it will make their day!

Recipes: An Old-Fashioned Halloween and The Great Pumpkin Bar

Best Pumpkin Bar Recipe Ever!!!

The Swedish Farmer's Daughter

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Halloween when I was young on the farm was so different than now…

First of all there were never any of those fancy haunted houses that people flock to today for an expensive scare. We did not need them, we lived in one. On a daily basis in our old farm house we had to deal with squeaky stairs, cobwebs, black cats, bats, lizards and the ghosts of ancestors who had died in the house from generations past.

Many a dare was made and accepted, just to see if you were brave enough to go upstairs alone in a old farm house. Going into an attic alone after dark was a feat accomplished by only a few of the most stout-hearted.  If memory serves me correctly, I believe success in this quest required a beard and that folk songs have been penned to herald such bravery. No one descended into the dark basement alone.  Not…

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Recipes: Uncle Ing, Aunt Doris, Orioles and the Treasure Box ….Grandma’s Salad, Zucchini Freezer Jam and Kathryn Hepburn’s Brownies

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My husband and I have lived in this home for over thirty years and for the first time I have Orioles at my bird feeder.  This morning I had both a male and female Oriole singing to me from my grape jelly feeder. Actually, I can still hear them singing.

Each time I see an Oriole, I always think of my Great Uncle Ing who was the first person to ever show me one of these gorgeous orange and black song birds.

Uncle Ing Kronbeck lived his whole life on the farm where he had grown up north west of Litchfield, MN.  He was the youngest in a family of six children. Esther the oldest was my grandmother, then there were Hilda, Anna, Ida, Victor and Ingvald.

Their childhood was one of hard work, poverty and a very sick mother.  My grandmother once told me that she was more of a mother to her brother Ing than her own mother.

This family worked together on their farm and survived World Wars, economic depression and contagion. Several of their family members contracted the flu during the deadly epidemic of 1918.   Aunt Ida told me she once spent an entire year lying in bed with an ice pack on her chest, due to an enlarged heart from an illness.  I do not remember anymore if it was the flu or Rheumatic fever.

Against all odds, all of the children survived to adulthood.  Not only that, but these strong people, while suffering through bouts of depression and sadness thrust upon them by the circumstances of life, always were steadfast in their faith in Jesus Christ and kept their sense of humor and wonderment of simple things.

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Uncle Ing holding his daughter Marion

Uncle Ing married Aunt Doris and they had two daughters Marion and Kathy.  What probably was more important to me at the time was that they had two amazing dogs Penny and Skippy.  Penny was the softest tri-color collie in the world and Skippy was a magnificent fetcher of a Springer Spaniel.

Penny                                                                Skippy

Not only were these dogs friendly….they were generous.  They had no problem with me climbing on on top of their dog house and pretending it was my pony.  At that age anything and everything became a pony.

Skippy’s favorite toy…a cow teat holder

In those days, Sunday’s were for church and visiting relatives.  For those of you that do not know what visiting is, it is actually taking time to be with the people you love.  You share stories, laughs and very good food.

Sometimes at Uncle Ing’s home, he’d play guitar and sing us songs in English and Swedish.

guitar Ing twelve string
      Uncle Ing played a twelve string guitar 

He would also let me sit at his “Seed Corn” sales desk and draw with his remarkable little pencils.  They came in a case that had bright colored advertisements on them.

pencils

To use the pencil and you had to pull the pencil out and insert its metal capped end into the back of the case.  They were dainty and delightful, and a perfect gift for a little girl who needed a pencil to fit into her tiny Sunday School penny offering purse.

purse

Visiting Uncle Ing and Aunt Doris was one of my favorite childhood stops.  It sure beat visiting the Aunties in town as every child in our family knew that their house was dark, scary and haunted.  However, had I known then that both of my great grandparent had died in Uncle Ing’s house, I probably would have been a bit more jumpy when the back door would open and close on its own.

Cow Ing

Everyone else had black and white milking cows, not Uncle Ing, he had the only weird brown cow in the whole community. 

What I remember most was that Uncle Ing and Aunt Doris’ home was filled with happiness and peace.

On one Sunday’s visit Uncle Ing walked us kids to a big tree in his front yard and showed us the nest of an Oriole.  It was a funny looking bird’s nest. It hung off of the branch of the tree just like a beard hanging off the chin of a Mennonite.  There, too, in the tree sat a male Oriole. It was the very first time I had ever seen an Oriole.  He was beautiful! We stood silently and listened to its beautiful song.

bird nest

Beautiful memories like beautiful days and people are the real treasures of this life.  That is why I have a treasure box.  I do not think even my daughter knows about my treasure box. It is a very stained and tattered little cardboard box where I keep all of the handwritten recipes given to me by the greatly loved women in my life who have found their eternal rest in heaven.  One of those was my Great Aunt Doris.

My first year in college, I lived with my Aunt Doris during the winter months.  I had a great time.  One day we sat down at the kitchen table and she had me go through her recipes and choose which ones I wanted.  Then, in her own hand, she copied them for me.  They are in my treasure box along with Grandmother Helen Vacinek, Grandmother Esther and Great Aunt Ida’s handwritten recipes.

I get a kick out of the great interest in DNA ancestry tests.  A DNA test can only tell you what you are. It is family tradition, lore and heirlooms that tell you who you are.

When I think about it, I have come to the conclusion that it really is a shame that email and text messaging were ever invented.  It saddens me to think that future generations will not be able to take out a treasure box filled with handwritten notes, letters and recipes from the people that loved them.  The expressions of love and wisdom from past familial generations that provide comfort and strength will surely elude children of the electronic age for their communications will be no more.

I hope you enjoy these recipes. I have shared them as written by my Great Aunt Doris.

grandma's salad

Grandma’s Salad

1/2 cup salad dressing (mayonnaise)
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice – blend these and add
1 cup crushed pineapple well drained, so it’ll be a firm salad

Add
2 cups cottage cheese
1 cup small marshmallows
1 cup grated carrots
Stir only to distribute evenly

zucchini-zucchini-jam

Zucchini Freezer Jam

6 cups grated zucchini, peel, add water to cook for six minutes. Drain well.

Add
6 cups of sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon or orange juice
6 ounce can crushed pineapple with juice

Boil six minutes, take off stove and add
2 3-ounce packages of apricot jello. (Or, one each of lemon or orange jello.)

Pour in jars

Keep in freezer.

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Kathryn Hepburn’s Brownies

This is just the way Hepburn did it

First melt two squares of unsweetened chocolate and 1/4 pound butter in a heavy saucepan. Stir in one cup sugar, add two eggs and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and beat like mad.

Stir in 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 cup of chopped walnuts. Not all mashed up you know, just chopped, good sized pieces, now mix all that.  

Butter an 8 X 8 inch pan and dump the whole thing quickly, stuff into 325 degree oven for 40 minutes. Cool awhile and cut into one and a half inch squares and dive right in.

Editors note, tested in the kitchen of Ladies Home Journal and is delicious because of the 1/4 cup flour they have a pudding like texture.  Pat, I’ve also made them. (No baking powder or soda) 

 

 

Recipe: Tornadoes, Naked Chickens and Angel Lemon-Coconut Bars

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After posting about my love of storms and tornado nightmares I was reminded of a real tornado story told to me by my Great Uncle Alec.

Great Uncle Alec was married to my Great-Aunt Ida whose recipes have graced this blog many a time.  She was a fabulous cook and baker. They had a family of seven children and lived on a farm in Amery, Wisconsin.

As a child I had visited their farm several times.  I remember that the house was quite a bit like the old farm house on our farm, and that they had a wonderfully big barn.

Of course, what sticks in my memory the most was the warnings not to wander down by the creek as there was lots of quick sand down there.  I have always wondered if there really was quick sand, or if the quick sand was like the skunks in the “skunk woods” back home and a very busy God always seeing everything I did…deterrents employed to protect inquisitive children from roaming physically or morally too far astray.

For the record, I still believe there was deadly quicksand by that creek, rabid skunks in those woods and that God never lets me out of his sight.

All of my great uncles were fabulous tellers of tales.  They had a gift of observation that could convert the ordinary into the hilarious.  Except for death, they could find something to laugh about in almost any situation….including storm destruction.

Uncle Alec’s story began by recounting the beauty of that summer day…the day that the tornado hit Amery and their farm.

He was outside working and hadn’t paid too much attention to the sky as thunderstorms were a common occurrence and a welcome one. They the cooled off man and beast while providing much needed rain for growing crops.  Thunderstorms were an exciting gift from God himself.

When lightening begin to flash and thunder rolled, Alec, like all farmers knew it was time to leave the field to work inside.  He had barn chores to do, so into the barn he went to ride out the storm.

As the storm approached it became louder and louder.  Alec looked out the barn door to see a large tornado barreling right towards his farm. There was no time for him to get to the house and the storm cellar so he hunkered down alongside the foundation of the barn.

The winds of the tornado were terrific as they attacked Uncle Alec, trees, house and barn….mostly the barn.  When the storm had finished leaving its mark on the farm, Alec sprung up to look about and see what the storm had taken and what it had left behind.

It had taken trees, parts of buildings and all of the feathers off of his chickens.  “Why, there were all my hens strutting around calmly clucking as if they did not have a care in the world…totally naked! There wasn’t a feather on them!  All I had was a bunch of naked chickens!!!!”

Angel Food Cakes like tornadoes seemed to always appear on our farm during the summer months.  Maybe that was because they are both funnel shaped? This recipe for Angel Lemon-Coconut Bars will give you the moist texture of Angel Food Cake along with the tang of lemon and the rich sweetness of coconut with none of the eternal egg white beating. This is the easiest Angel Food Cake or bar recipe you will ever make and probably the most delicious.  Enjoy!

Angel Lemon-Coconut Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1 Angel Food Cake Mix (one-step method)
1 can of Wilderness Lemon Pie Filling
2 cups of shredded coconut

In a large steel or glass mixing bowl stir together the Angel Food Cake mix and lemon pie filling.  The mixture will foam up as you stir it. (Children love helping with this part.  It feels just like a science experiment in a laboratory that may just explode.  It doesn’t, but sure is fun to watch.  Gee, I wonder why both of my children are chemists.) 

Add coconut and mix in thoroughly.

Spread batter evenly on an jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper.  Bake 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.  The bars will be lightly browned on top when done.

Frost the bars when they are completely cool.

Frosting

3-ounces of cream cheese, (softened)
1/3 cup of butter (softened)
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 Tablespoons milk
1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar

This frosting should be the texture of a spreadable cookie icing.

I have made and used this recipe when I did not have any cream cheese in the kitchen and the bars were still absolutely delicious.  Also, I have baked this in a 9 X 13 cake pan and served it as a dessert.

What Is On My Mind Today? Rock Picking Minnesota’s Farm Fields and Danish Puff Pastry

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For the first week in June, it is rather cool today.  When there is enough humidity in the air fog up my glasses, I will know that summer has finally arrived in Minnesota!

The effects of summer heat and humidity is something a farm kid learns to dread at a young age while doing field work, especially rock picking.  Getting rocks out of a field is a dirty, hot, sticky, exhausting and a very boring job.

rock picking 3

However, it is important to pick rocks out of the fields that are bigger than the size of an orange.  During harvest hitting a rock with the combine will cause the combine’s sickles to break. My Uncle Myrwin always called these small rocks, “sickle-breakers.” Fixing a broken combine sickle is expensive and brings the entire harvest to a standstill. You can easily lose half a day or more driving to town and back, finding and purchasing the right part, then installing the part to repair the machine. When you have hundreds of acres of grain to harvest before a Minnesota winter hits, you cannot afford to lose any time.

So, every year just after school let out for summer vacation, when all of the town kids took swimming lessons, visited libraries for story time and played, us country kids would find ourselves day after day from sun up to sun down in a hot grain field looking for grey rocks.

In reality rock picking season only lasted for several weeks from the time the plants were big enough to be visible in rows until the soybeans began to bloom or the corn became too tall to fit under the tractor’s axles. In my mind’s eye this character building torture lasted for almost the entire summer. There is nothing more endless looking to a young child sitting on a flatbed wagon than facing a couple hundred acre field full of rocks.

rock picking 2

In addition to boredom, one thing you could always count on during rock picking season was intense heat and humidity.  The crops loved it, but it sure wilted this kid.

On a family farm everyone has to pitch in and rock picking was no exception to this rule. We usually had two, but on occasion, when the plants were getting too big and we had fields left to do in a hurry, we used three rock-picking crews.

First, there was what I would like to call the slow crew with the little red H Farmall tractor pulling the wooden flatbed rock wagon. This crew prided themselves on accuracy. Many a time they were spotted in a virtual standstill seemingly sifting gravel on top of hills, to make sure no “sickle-breakers” got away.  It was the firm belief of their leader that small rocks would grow into big ones by the next year so there was just no point in not picking them all.

rock picking

This crew usually consisted of the very young, the old and the slow moving. A very prominent state-sanctioned slow moving vehicle sign was clearly displayed at all times on their tractor as a constant reminder of output expectations and of them being a field or road hazard.

It is important to note that this crew was made up of our most dedicated hardworking and thorough folks who were accustomed to long hot hours in a field.  No slackers here. They were the family traditionalists and came prepared to get the job done.  They strictly adhered to the farmer’s official dress code of a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves and long pants. They wore this uniform no matter how hot or humid the weather.

Should some misguided young wimp decide to challenge tradition and swap long pants for short, on a hundred degree day sitting in the blazing sun in a windless field of heat seeking black dirt while believing that the evaporation of their sweat is only serving to increase the humidity and misery index further, payback for violating the dress code was swift and merciless in the form of wooden slivers embedded in the back of soft tender thighs.

The sliver reprisal by the wagon was a two-for, as they hurt worse coming out, than going in. One of the traditionalists would get out their ever-ready tweezers that came with the jack knife kept in the middle pocket of their overalls and sadly shake their head while removing the sliver muttering, “Some people’s kids.”

The injured rebel, who had thought they had a cause, instantaneously learned that the wearing of the official farmer’s uniform of a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves and long pants was a generational homeopathic preventative for in the field unsanitary surgical procedures and major sunburns.

The second rock picking crew was built for speed…not accuracy.  It consisted of three members. One to drive and two to jump off and on the big red International tractor. The rocks they picked were deposited in a homemade skid that was mounted behind the driver just above the tractor’s wagon hitch.  This team’s quality control was inversely affected by the speed of the tractor and teenage attitude. The speed of the tractor usually increased the closer the rock picking season came to high school football training or date night.

Rock picking procedures established by this crew could be described as the original cross-fit exercise program–simultaneous weight lifting, throwing and running. It was part of their official bylaws that any”sickle-breaker” that was not in plain view would be disregarded. As they must concentrate on getting the best tan on their shirtless chests while finding, lifting, carrying and tossing the largest rocks in the field to build muscle, and improve the chances of the school football team winning the conference and them getting a girlfriend.

To increase aerobatic capacity rocks were picked on the run. The tractor must never slow down or stop. Should a member violate this rule, they had to eat dirt.

This rock picking crew could be seen racing up and down the fields at high speeds bare chests glistening in the sun, shirt tails flapping in the breeze as they occasionally picked rocks when not dodging lit firecrackers or dirt clogs.

It is important to note that an occasional female could be promoted to be on this team. However, no matter how concerned the fellows were for the girl wilting in the heat, only the boys could go shirtless in the field.  Regardless of how hot it got, any suggestion to the contrary would have killed off all of the old people in our entire community and most of the Mennonite neighbors, and in all likelihood would have gotten a robust Lutheran farm gal a one-way ticket to a place hotter than that field.  Yes, shirts for girls was the rule and like a horse in the old days that included being fully harnessed.

If you didn’t see this rock picking crew you could always hear them. Their work ethic necessitated the constant revving of the tractor’s diesel engine, a radio blasting rock and roll music, and shouts of general mockery to advertise their superior expertise and provide a motivational shaming to improve the progress of all the lesser rock picking crews.

The old folks prayed for that crew a lot.

Finally, there was a third tractor that was used for rock picking.  It was a very old John Deere with a front end loader.  My grandfather purchased this tractor on the black market, just after World War II. It is still on the farm today. This tractor was used sparingly for rock picking due to respect for its history and age. It had many other farm duties such as; digging ditches, cleaning out the cow manure pile, burying the farm’s garbage piles and in the winter clearing out the long snow covered driveway.

When used for rock picking this rusty old green tractor sported a driver and usually two pickers.  The pickers rode in front of the tractor in the loader.  This was most dangerous, as the loader’s controls worked in the opposite direction from what logic would dictate.

The safety protocol most commonly deployed to protect this crew was quickness. Quick thinking and moving.  When you did dump out your fellow pickers, for whatever reason, while the tractor was moving they had to quickly to roll away from the tractor tires.  Then, pop out behind the tractor, run, catch up and jump on again.  If you dumped out anyone more than once, you were no longer allowed to drive and could expect to get hit with multiple hard dirt clogs. No rock-pickers were ever squished.  Safety first was always our motto.

Rock pickers get hungry, no matter what crew they were on.  Dinners were our big meal and were usually brought to the fields and served picnic style. The food would arrive at noon and was always hot. Whether fried chicken, potatoes and gravy or a casserole (or a hotdish as we call casseroles here in Minnesota) nothing ever smelled or tasted so good.  As on most farms, salads were served for the cattle, hogs and chickens. Unless they contained whipped cream and jello, then they were people food.

Sometimes suppers were also delivered into the fields.  They could be leftovers or just sandwiches, chips and pop. No matter which meal was delivered it was always accompanied by plenty of home-baked, breads cookies, bars, cakes, pies and pastries to provide energy and help replace the many calories we had burned off working hard in the fields all day.

The family members that stayed behind in the kitchen also knew what heat and humidity really was….there was no air conditioning in any home back in those days and baking still had to be done. Only small electric fans and open windows were available to help cool down those cooks in those hot, hot kitchens.

I can still picture those loud little oscillating fans blowing the dead insect covered fly strips dangling from the kitchen ceiling light back and forth in the breeze.  My grandmother expertly ducking out its way to prevent the yellow ribbon of bug death from sticking to her hair or dropping flies into her cooking.  Oh, the horror of having a bug cemetery wrapped around your head!

bug death

Those hot cooks and kitchens never let the field workers down.  We were always fed and fed well.

Danish Puff Pastry would have been too fragile and sticky to be included on a field meal menu. It was made for special occasions as a treat or to impress guests. It is a wonderful light summer pastry that can kept simple when topped with just icing and nuts or dressed up with fruit pie filling or preserves and icing. Either way this pastry is a real gem.

Danish Puff Pastry 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Crust:
1 cup flour
1/2 butter
2 Tablespoons of cold water

In a small bowl mix ingredients together like a pie crust.First cut the butter into the flour, when that is combined, add the water and mix into a dough.

Put crust dough onto an ungreased  cookie sheet and pat into a 6 X 12 inch rectangle.

Puff Pastry Top:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1 teaspoon almond flavoring
1 cup flour
3 eggs

In a medium-sized sauce pan bring water and butter to a boil.  Remover from the heat; add the almond flavoring.  Then, quickly beat in flour.  When the batter is smooth, add the eggs, one at a time.  Beat well after each egg, until that egg is completely combined into the dough before adding the next egg.

Spread the batter over the crust to the edges.

Bake for about one hour.  The batter will shrink over the crust and be golden brown. Cool completely.

Top with icing and nuts, or with some fruit pie filling or preserves then drizzle with icing.

Powdered Sugar Icing

1 cup of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon of almond or vanilla extract
milk or cream

Put powdered sugar into small mixing bowl. Slowly stir in milk or cream one tablespoon at a time until the icing reaches the consistency you desire.  Icing is usually the consistency of syrup.

Add flavoring.  Stir until combined and drizzle over cooled puff pastry.

 

 

 

Recipe: When Too Hot to Bake Make No Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bars

These are the best when it’s hot. I make them, then just keep them in my freezer for a cool summer treat.

The Swedish Farmer's Daughter

cookie dough

This recipe for no bake chocolate chip cookie dough bars is a very tasty cool treat to break the summer heat.  It has no eggs in it so there is no danger of food poisoning from eating a dough made with raw eggs and is so easy to make the kids can do it.  Just some measuring and stirring.  The melting of the chocolate chips in the microwave for the frosting would require adult supervision in my world.

If you want to make a 9X13 sized pan of bars, double the recipe.  It’s good for kids to practice math in the summer.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bars (no bake)

Need:  8 X 8 inch cake pan (greased), electric mixer or a fast spoon.

Cookie Dough:
1/2 cup room temperature butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (14…

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