Tag Archives: Minnesota

RECIPES: An Angel of a Gluten-Free Strawberry Cream Pie!

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Fresh Minnesota strawberries have always been a favorite of mine.  As a child on the farm, I spent many hours, nose down, elbows up, with pink stained berry juiced lips, fingertips, and knees in our berry patch helping to fill bowls and my belly with fresh strawberries.

In addition to the threat of ravishment by predators such as hungry children, our berry patch was constantly under surveillance and in immediate peril from the farm’s chickens. I have often wondered why no one ever put a chicken wire fence around the berry patch to keep the chickens out, and have concluded that it was either because of the patch’s large size, it seemed like a lot of work to haul the small roll of chicken wire from the shed all the way across the lawn and find enough sticks to hold it up, it would be an eye sore, or that we all believed that grandma enjoyed chasing chickens with her broom and it was a good source of exercise for her.

Grandma’s broom protected, from friend and fowl alike, a berry patch that produced oodles of strawberries.  Many large mixing bowls and gallon ice cream buckets were filled everyday during the height of the season.  Berries that were not consumed fresh or used in a dessert became jam or were preserved by canning or freezing.

In addition to our farm producing lots of berries, we also seemed to have a never ending supply of heavy cream and eggs.  This recipe for Strawberry Angel Cream Pie calls for only five ingredients, eggs, sugar, cream of tartar, cream and strawberries….which makes it gluten-free.

Strawberry Angel Cream Pie

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

Crust: 
4 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup of sugar

In a large stainless steel or glass mixing bowl, beat four egg whites and cream of tartar until frothy.  Gradually beat in, a little at a time, one cup of sugar.  Continue to beat until very stiff peaks form and meringue is glossy looking.   Spread meringue into the bottom and sides of a nine-inch pie pan.

Bake for 60 minutes.  Do not remove from oven.  Turn the oven off and leave the pie crust in the oven until completely cooled.

Filling: 

2 cups of heavy cream
1/4 cup of powdered sugar
1 cup of mashed fresh strawberries, sweetened to taste

In a medium-sized mixing bowl add two cups whipping cream.  With an electric mixer, beat until stiff. Add powdered sugar and mix to combine. Fold mashed fresh strawberries into the whipped cream.  Fold gently until the berries and cream are combined.  Pour into meringue pie shell and cool in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Garnish:

Fresh strawberries and/ or an additional cup of sweetened whipped cream.

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Additional strawberry recipes on this blog:

Praise the Lord, Leukemia and Pass the Strawberries

Honey, I Miss You and Jamming with the Queen Bee

Father’s Day Breakfast “WOW!”: Strawberry Cheesecake French Toast

Impressive Father’s Day Dessert: Chocolate Strawberry Cream Puffs

Sweet Heat: Strawberry Jalapeno Jam

Something Old, Something New: Microwave and Crockpot Strawberry Jam Recipes

Taming the Wild Strawberry: Mary Lincoln’s Strawberry Jam Recipe

Picking Berries and Fresh Strawberry Dessert

Great Aunt Ida’s Fresh Strawberry Pie

 

The memory of picking ripe strawberries and eating them as God intended, right out of the patch and warmed by the sun, was such a pleasant one that I wanted to pass it on to my children.  So, every June, when the berries became ripe, we made our annual pilgrimage to one of our local growers to pick fresh strawberries.

Good memories and traditions rarely happen by accident.  Someone, at sometime, made a conscious decision to make an effort.  Always choose to make that effort for the children in your life.  Sharing your time with children is the most important thing that you can give them, in addition to your love.  

And, don’t forget to support our local growers! 

 

 

Recipe: Stuck in the Mud Fudge Bars

My Uncle Myrwin passed away this past December and is greatly missed.

This post reminded me of spring in the fields, standing behind my Uncle Myrwin, holding on for dear life to the drivers seat of a tractor, hearing him holler with gusto over the loud tractor engine noise to,”Hang on tight, I think we can make er.” Then, sneaking a peek around him to see us heading right into some type of body of water.

Yes, on a day like today he’d have been out in the field working hard to get those seeds in the ground to help feed the world, and he’d have been very appreciative of having these fudge bars with a cup of hot coffee for his mid-morning coffee break.

God bless all of our nation’s farmers! Your hard work is greatly appreciated.

The Swedish Farmer's Daughter

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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…

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RECIPES: Easy Rhubarb Pudding Cake and Rhubarb Recipes Galore

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I have been reading the diaries of two sisters who were born in Michigan, during the 1880’s.  These two young women were filled with spunk and high jink.  Their work, school and social calendars are exhausting to just read about.

There are so many similarities between their childhood experiences and my memories of growing up on a farm in pre-television Minnesota.  Work came first.  Chores had to be done.  Cows don’t milk themselves, chickens don’t pick eggs, pigs never clean their own pens and rocks cannot migrate themselves out of a field.

School began bright and early by today’s standards.  By the time we were off to school, the morning chores had already been completed, breakfast made, eaten and cleaned up after.  Heck, the day was practically half over by the time classes began. No one would have ever thought to start school times later to accommodate a student’s personal sleep requirements. Such an idea would have been considered utter nonsense resulting in sloth, general laziness, eventually abject poverty and probably beer.  “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a person happy, healthy, wealthy and wise,” that was our motto.

Then, there was attending a one-room school house. Except for pictures of presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, the school house walls were lined with large black chalk boards. Memory work was required, lessons were recited in front of the entire student body, older boys teased younger students unmercifully, everybody had a pocket knife and playground gopher holes were routinely flooded.  The bathrooms were outside and well ventilated….especially in the winter.

Our lunches were packed at home and were filled with processed meat, red meat, white meat, Miracle Whip and meat, cheese, butter, jelly, peanut butter, white bread and as many homemade baked sugary treats as a brown paper sack or small lunchbox could hold. Only the rich kids got potato chips. They were a luxury item.  Fruit was included when in season, which meant apples.  In those days apples were regarded as a danger to both man and beast. An apple, good aim and a strong pitching arm could be used as a defensive or offensive weapon.  When carved into chunks with your pocket knife, an apple was great bait to lure unsuspecting gophers out of their holes.  Many an apple ended up on the teacher’s desk.

Sunday school was more important than regular school and rightly so. School lessons were only meant to last a lifetime, Sunday school lessons were to last for an eternity.

In addition to chores and school experiences being similar, so, too, was the entertainment.  No televisions, computers or access to any social media. Your entire social circle consisted of relatives, neighbors, school and Sunday school classmates.  And, if you wanted to take a trip without ever leaving the farm, and your family was no longer growing hemp to support the war effort, you read a book and used your imagination.

This was a time when relationships were personal and more important than hypnotically staring at electronic gadgets. Communications were face to face or handwritten. What you said or did mattered.  There was no refuge behind a detached tweet or email for the communication coward.  If your words hurt someone, you saw the hurt, and it affected you. Unless of course you suffered from total lack of empathy or were actually soulless and very quick at ducking.

In many ways those were indeed the good old days.  For there was a different type of self. It was a time of selflessness, self-control, self-responsibility, self-discipline, self-determination, self-motivation and self-reflection.  Selfishness and self-esteem had not yet run amok.

It was quaint time where going to pick pie-plant (rhubarb) was cause for organizing a social outing that the local paper reported, “as a doing enjoyed by all!”

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This recipe for Easy Rhubarb Pudding Cake comes from the kitchen of my mother-in-law Lois Turgeon.  It is simple to make and so very, very good. Enjoy!

Rhubarb Pudding Cake

1 (2 layer) yellow cake mix
4 cups of chopped rhubarb
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 pint unwhipped heavy cream

Mix cake as directed on the package.  Pour into a lightly greased 9 X 13 cake pan. Spread evenly. Mix rhubarb with sugar and spoon over the cake batter.  Pour unwhipped cream over the unbaked cake batter and rhubarb.

Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Refrigerate leftovers

Other rhubarb recipes on this blog:

Recipe: Good Neighbors, Great Rhubarb Cheesecake
Recipe: Grandmother Esther’s Rhubarb Torte and Poison Ivy Cure
Recipe: Two for a Penny Candy and a Dime a Dozen Rhubarb
Recipe: Playhouse in the Lilacs and Pies: Mud and Rhubarb
Recipe: Country School, Hot Potato Fridays and Rhubarb Bread
Recipe: Cure for Spring Fever: Songbirds, Sunshine and Rhubarb Crunch
Recipe: Slow Down and Break for Rhubarb

Children’s Rhubarb Story: Thor’s Stories: The Midnight Dinosaur Rhubarb Rampage. 

 

What Is On My Mind Today: A Capitol Trip by A Lucky Duck

I have always believed that a promise given is a promise kept. Yesterday was all about memories and keeping a promise to myself.

When I was incapacitated from the fractures in every thoracic and lumbar vertebra in my spine caused by the cancer Multiple Myeloma, I found it heartbreaking that in only six short months I had gone from Assistant Communication Director/Press Secretary/Blue Book maker for Secretary Mark Ritchie to lying in a hospital bed in the Capitolview rehab center at Region’ hospital looking at our beautiful Capitol out of a window. At that time, I was very convinced that I was never going to get to go in it again, let alone climb any of the beautiful marble steps that I had raced up and down for so many years.

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Where I spent almost two years.

One day the social worker came to visit me. She picked up a notebook that I had been using as a journal.  My body at that time was broken and there was nothing that I could do to make it heal, so I focused on preventing my mind from slipping into depression.  After losing a baby, years before, I experienced a severe postpartum suicidal depression.  During the weeks that I had be hospitalized at Sister Kenny Institute’s Young Adult Depression Unit, I had been taught coping skills.  Boy, did that training pay off!

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Getting new stem cells

In my journal the therapist found I had written, “I will have better days!.”  Over and over again. She commented how amazed she was to find an affirmative statement under the circumstances.  Right then and there, I promised myself that some day I was going to again climb the stairs to the Minnesota Senate Chambers at our State Capitol. It may have taken almost four years, but yesterday, was the day!

The day began with a trip to see my oncologist.  I had already seen my labs so I knew it was going to be a good appointment.  He said that I should remain healthy indefinitely.  That’s just what I wanted to hear from that guy!  Then, we chatted about how far my physical recovery has come.  He recalled the first time we met in the emergency room at Regions and how very fragile I was.  My young Irish doctor noted that I was basically a conscious vegetable, completely incapacitated.   When we had finished our reminisce, I gave him the cookies that I had baked for him and his staff.  They all had worked so very hard to save my life and help me regain good health and mobility.  I felt they deserved a treat.

My next stop was the infusion room.  If you have never been in a cancer clinic’s infusion room, it can be quite overwhelming.  These rooms are lined with many, many reclining chairs filled with people of all ages, genders and ethnicity just like you getting chemo. Cancer does not discriminate.

Sitting next to each patient’s chair is their IV stand hung with a multitude of bags filled with blood products, liquids and drugs.  Some of us are bald and some of us are not.  I have been both. Scattered about the room are baskets filled with donated stocking hats of every color imaginable free for the taking. Chatting the patients up are the worried and tired looking family members and friends that accompanied them.

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World War II Buddy El Ewert and I enjoying our bald heads

My infusion was just for a bone hardening drug. For some reason, yesterday my oncology nurses all came by to remind me of the “fragile state”I was in the first time they met me.   Maybe I got their attention when I asked one of my favorite nurses where her bright green hair was today.  During St. Patrick Day’s past her green wig was a big hit.

The nurse got a hold of physical therapy. The therapist came to assess my movement and help with some trouble spots in my neck and back.  I still cannot completely lift either arm and have lost considerable motion in my neck .  Whenever I move my head from side to side or tip it back, I get pain in my spine, right between the shoulder blades.  Not being able to turn my head is what prevents me from driving and was going to prevent me from seeing the top of the rotunda at the Capitol.

She knew exactly what the problem was and went to work.  I had a muscle that was looped and a lot fascia that was being very stubborn. Then,she exclaimed, “Pat, you have adhesions sticking your muscles to your skull!”  Which explained my incredibly unpleasant under the chin Charlie horses. She went to work. Finally she said, “There it goes!”  At that moment, for the first time in years I could turn my head from shoulder to shoulder and backwards.  Bully!

With my doctor appointment, infusion and physical therapy behind me, my husband dropped me off at the side door of the State Office Building.  Fondly known to those of us who have called it home…the SOB.   That door is the one I used for many years when I worked in that building.

As I stood in front of that door I noticed two things.  Time had just been rolled back and it had been refinished.  Loaded down with a bag filled with my friends’ favorite cookies, I headed for the Secretary of State’s Office.  I barely got through the door when I was greeted by one of the two Brads.  I asked for Bert.

Bert came and he took me on a complete tour of the office.  It was wonderful to see all of the changes and meet new staff.  So many of my friends were still there and they all looked so good.

Then, Bert and I  had a good visit in his office, just like we used too. Bert used to keep me out of mischief when we worked together.  It was a necessary role and he hasn’t changed at bit. He felt that it was alright for me to climb the Senate stairs, but all other stairs were strictly off limits and elevators to be used.  When we worked together, he knew that I could rarely be found in an elevator if I could get some exercise taking the stairs.  I promised him, I would follow his advice, and that if I got too tired I would be back to sit with him in his office until my husband could pick me up.

My next cookie stop was House Supply.  I don’t think I will ever forget the look on Bill’s face when he saw me standing there.  I didn’t get to see Jess, but found Steve later.  I was introduced to Danny’s son, he looks like his dad, and was assured that one of the over a dozen gingersnaps I had made for Danny would be saved for him.  I bet he does only get one.

Next, I headed out for the Capitol and those senate stairs.  Bill was concerned that the incline to the Capitol would be too steep for me, but it wasn’t at all.  Heeding Bert’s advice, I took the elevator up to those stairs.

Stepping back into the Capitol after an absence of almost five years affected me a bit. Then, I headed for the Senate stairs.

Capitol steps by Pat
I took this picture myself from the top of the stairs. 

Stairs never looked so beautiful. There they were, just as I remembered them.  I had thought of them so very many times.  They were before me when I sat in a chair with a therapist helping me to lift one leg then the other.  They stood tall when I tried and tried to go up those four little steps in the physical therapy room.  I dreamed of those stairs when day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year were spent in a body cast trapped in a hospital bed in my living room.  Those stairs taunted me when I wanted to give up.  Those stairs helped me conquer my cancer and it was finally time for me to conquer them.

As I stood before my nemesis, I took a deep breath, said a prayer of thanksgiving to a merciful God, held on to the railing and up I went.  It wasn’t even hard!  When I got to the top, I took a picture.  Then, I found one of those big old oak Capitol benches and just sat for a bit to savor the moment.

It will surprise no one that, that did not last long. Soon,  I was back on the trail to find my senate friends. Many of whom had no idea where I had disappeared too so long ago.

After a great visit with John in the information office.  I went into both the House and Senate chambers.  I had worked in both.  It was then time to just take in all of the Capitol renovations, especially the artwork.  I walked into the rotunda, tipped my head way back and took in the whole dome.  Magnificent! The colors of the murals in the Supreme Court chambers were particularly glorious.  I did not go into the governor’s office, on purpose, because it leaves me a reason to return.

Next, I decided that I needed to explore the new Senate Office Building and see where Senator Mary Kiffmeyer had hung my painting of U.S. Grant. That building is so light and roomy and marvelous.  I was impressed!  As I headed out to find friends, they just seemed to find me.  David found me in the hall, then Ward showed up and Troy.  We had a good chat.

As I turned to continue on there was Glen.  He showed me where to find the other Sergeants at Arms.  Those guys have always been some of my favorite people.  Not all of them were there, but I got to see Herb and Bob.  Bob and I were always good friends, and he escorted me up to see my painting.  When I was standing next to it, as he took my picture, I noticed that I had painted it in 1997.  It was twenty years old!

Capitol painting

Bob and I continued our tour ending up in the Senate offices.  I saw Steve, Sven, Marilyn and of course Nick Thompson.  Since, they did not know what had happened to me, they were surprised to learn of my challenges. We shared memories and laughs.  Then, Nick gave me one of the best compliments ever.

After working in both the Senate and House for Republicans, I think many people were surprised when I went to work for Secretary of State Mark Ritchie a Democrat. Nick said that it had surprised him.  However, after he thought about it a while he came to the conclusion that the decision to hire me was probably one of the best decisions Secretary of Ritchie ever made.  I, sure, hope the Secretary felt the same way.

By this time I must have looked tired.  The infusion I had received that morning always causes fatigue and I had been wandering around the Capitol for hours by this time.  I told the folks that I was going to head back towards Bert.  Nick asked me several times if I needed help.  I am sure that he would have had the wheelchair out in a shot if he thought for one second that I did.

On the way back to the SOB, I needed to find the new press pool.  I had been in the old one many times and wanted to see if those hardworking folks had finally gotten better digs.  I could not find it!  Just then, I spotted Bill Werner, a reporter.  He pointed me in the right direction.

Several of the reporters that I used to work with were there.  It was so nice to see them again.  One of them, sadly told me that she’d had just lost another friend to cancer the day before.  We agreed that cancer sucks.  I did miss seeing my friend John from KARE 11, down there, but he was on vacation.

When I got back to the SOB.  I headed upstairs to see my House friends.  Rebecca and I had a great chat.  Seeing as how I am no longer an employee of that place, I feel there is no need for me to be politically correct. Making Rebecca laugh has always been one of my favorite pursuits. Success was mine!   I stopped by to see Mark’s office and where Alayne and I used to work.

Then, I went downstairs to get something to drink and ran into one of my favorite people Sean.  Sean, Michelle and Valerie have worked at the SOB cleaning up after all of us since my Senate days.  Sean looked great.  His little girl, that I used to help tutor, is now 17 years old and will graduate next year.  He has two more children.  He caught me up on the news of Michelle and Valerie.

By the time I got back to the Secretary of State’s Office, I was locked out.  It was almost five p.m. and I had been walking and chatting for over four hours. So, I sat down on a bench to wait for my husband.

Who should show up? Travis Reese.  Travis had worked with me in the Secretary of State’s Office doing outreach.  He reminded me of all the fun, he, I and Sara had working together at the State Fair.  He then reminded me about my being Minnesota State Fair Reserve Grand Champion in Animal Calling in the Ag Olympics two years in a row. Both years I was beaten by a team of folks from the Department of Ag doing musical animal theater.

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My state fair ribbons for animal calling. 

You might think that I lost because I was out numbered, but I cannot ever remember being outnumbered.  Far be it from me to cast stones, but scripted group animal calling was clearly a violation of Ag Olympic rules.

Interestingly enough, one of the years I competed, one of the other contestants was a former preschool student of mine who was then Princess Kay of the Milky.  I had both her and her sister as students and they both became Princess Kay’s. Yes, she recognized, “Mrs. Detergent.”

Then, too, only I would work for Mark Ritchie at the state fair, and be on Republican Lt. Governor Carol Molnau’s team for the Ag Olympics at the same time. I had forgotten that I used to practice my cow mooing and chicken crowing in front of Sara and Travis. Travis hadn’t forgotten at all!

Bert came out into the hall right about then.  He told me Becky was back  and we went back into the Secretary of State’s Office to say hello.

Bert gave me a hug and then Doug was there.

My magical day didn’t end there though.  When I got home, I went to the mail box and there was a letter from my cousin Chris.  Uncle Myrwin’s daughter.  In that envelope was the most perfect picture of my dad and Uncle Myrwin.  The two brothers are sitting side by side.  I will get a frame for it.

Travis’s comments reminded of my State Fair Ribbons.  I went to look for them, so that I could put a picture of them in this blog.  When I pulled open the drawer, there he was, right on top….my lucky Duck.

lucky duck

When I worked for the Minnesota Department of Veteran’s Affairs it was my honor and privilege to be the project manager for our state’s World War II Memorial Dedication.  It was a neat day and we had over 25,000 people attend.  One of the events that day was a flyover by World War II bombers and fighter planes.

About a week after the event, I received a package in the mail.  The package was from one of my pilots. In it was a stuffed toy duck with a note telling me this was a lucky duck, because he got to fly in the cockpit of a World War II bomber on the day of our dedication.

As long as I am sharing memories maybe this is the time to report that the morning of the World War II Dedication Memorial I was informed that one of the pilots flying over our large crowd of men, women and children would be a World War II pilot flying his own plane.  I paused.  Asked if he had passed his flight physical, then informed the lads that he could fly as long as he did not fly over the crowd.  That is why one plane was slightly out of formation.

You know, I think I am probably still the only Capitol employee that ever had to get gun permits from the City of St. Paul for a tank, muskets and machine guns.   Or who, had Civil War cannon placed in the Rotunda.  We never scratched that beautiful historic floor even a bit!

Yes, there definitely are lucky ducks, I own one and am one.

Moral of story: The view is definitely best after the hardest climb. 

 

 

 

 

Just Saying…Cancer, Capitol and Grizzly Bear!

A view

My cancer battle against multiple myeloma was a very long and painful one.  It began in earnest during the Christmas holiday’s in 2012 when I first broke my spine taking the turkey out of the refrigerator.  Over the next four years, I would have many new unpleasant experiences.  Such as being in a body cast for 18 months, confined to a hospital bed in my living room for years, months of chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, baldness, drug withdrawal and other physical, emotional and mental challenges.

Having cancer is just plain tough.  I have now done it twice. Thyroid and multiple myeloma. No matter what your age, a cancer diagnoses is terrifying.

Cancer patients suffer.  They become quick friends with much of the worst that life has to offer. Their new companions include the fear of death and dying; pain; nausea; anxiety; depression; isolation; loneliness; and job and financial loss.

Cancer patients lose.  They lose body parts, hair, appetite, mobility and independence. While most of those things can often be compensated for or regained, there are permanent losses.  Relationships change. Friends and relatives drift away, because they are either too busy to be bothered, your situation is bringing them down or they just cannot stand to watch the suffering.  Some of those relationships will never be made whole again.

In addition to physical, mental, emotional and financial loss, cancer patients often miss out on everyday things that most people take for granted.  Like being there for the special children in your life as they grow up. Then, too, due to circumstances beyond control special events cannot always be attended. When I was in chemo and still in a body cast due to my broken spine, I missed my only daughter’s wedding.

Cancer patients surmount.  This morning when my latest round of cancer tests indicated that I am still cancer-free, I told my husband that it is time for me to experience the things that for so many years were beyond reach and only dreams.

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Stairs to the Senate Chamber at Minnesota State Capitol

When I was hospitalized for weeks for physical rehab to relearn standing, walking and stair climbing. I vowed to myself that not only was I going to conquer those five steps in the rehab room, but that someday I would, again, climb the steps to the Senate Chamber at our state Capitol.  After four years, God willing, next Friday, March 17,  after my oncology appointment and infusion at Regions, I am going to return to the Capitol.  I am going to visit friends, deliver some cookies and check out all of the changes. And, I am, again, going to climb all of those beautiful marble steps.

Later this spring,  I will need to complete a short test run of a trip. So, my husband plans to take me to see where my daughter was married two years ago.  Then, I am going to return to the land of Lincoln to visit my daughter and her husband and finally see their apartment.

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Our last trip to Illinois before my cancer struck. 

If my back can survive a car trip to Illinois, then, later this summer I am going to Montana. I am going to visit my dear Aunt Margaret in Great Falls, Montana, who spent so many hours in prayer on my behalf. When I was totally bed bound, with not much light at the end of my tunnel, Aunt Margie called me every week, for months on end, to lead me in bible study.  I need to give her a hug.

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Great Falls, Montana

Then, I am going Glacier Park.  I am, again, going to stand outside of the cafe at Swift Current, look up at those God made granite cathedrals and hear the Lord whisper in the winds that race around those cliffs.

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Glacier Park, Swift Current Lake. 

After, I get my fill of the view,  I am going to take on a few trails with just as much determination as I did my cancer while trying my best to avoid a  bear.
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Although, after all I have been through, the bears would be wise to watch out for me.

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….just saying.

 

 

Being a Press Secretary is a tough job…just saying

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Patricia Turgeon…Press Secretary and Assistant Communications Director

I have been watching the relationship between Sean Spicer and the press with interest.  As a former press secretary to a high profile elected official, who was a polarizing political figure, I can clearly state that being a press secretary is a tough job.

I rarely talk about anything that I did while employed by either Republicans or Democrats at the Minnesota State Capitol. While watching Sean Spicer’s press briefing regarding the false report of the removal of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King bust from the oval office and the dispute regarding inauguration crowd numbers, I caught myself literally shaking my head. Boy, did that bring back memories.

I worked in communication for the Minnesota Office of the Secretary of State during the Coleman-Franken and Emmer-Dayton recounts.  I was there for the marriage amendments and several election cycles.  I was the lone republican on the communication’s team in a democrat office.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (Democrat) best described my role and gave me one of the nicest compliments of my life all at the same time.  He and I are both avid readers of history–especially  Civil War history.  One day he heard about a Civil War tour of the Capitol and enthusiastically invited me to go with him.  Through the tunnels we raced.

The tour guide explained that during the Civil War a person had to be a certain height to enter military service. Sadly, I bemoaned that I couldn’t have served, because I was too short. Secretary Ritchie’s eyes just danced as he smiled at me from ear to ear and exclaimed, “Oh, Pat, they’d have taken you…you’re a fighter!”

I definitely presented my view on a variety of issues while working in that office.  When asked for input, I can only remember losing an argument regarding press relations once. That incident did not involve the Secretary.

A reporter had called me to ask for information.  He had been following an issue and it was his story.  I told him that the information he was seeking was not yet available.  At that second, it was a truthful answer.  No sooner had I hung up the phone, than my supervisor walked into my office with a press announcement she had drafted regarding that very decision.  I vehemently argued that the reporter should be given a call before the press announcement was released.  He deserved that and it would be the right thing to do.  I was over-ruled and with the supervisor standing over me, I sent out the press release.

Within minutes my phone rang with an very angry reporter yelling at me.  His comments were unkind, personal and very terse.  During his tirade,  I told him several times that he had every right to be upset, but he was too hot to listen. I was trying to tell him, while the supervisor was staring at me, that I agreed with him. The whole time I was being dressed down by the report, the supervisor stood in my office smirking at me.  When the phone call ended, the person said that was to bad that I got told off.

When you work for other people, are not in charge and you need that job to put your child through college, sometimes you do what you are told knowing that it is not what you would do. Nobody likes to have their personal ethics compromised to keep a job. When that happens to a press secretary, it can be in front of the whole world.

My work as a press secretary taught me several things:

1. Grow a very thick skin. Let criticism run off of your back like rainwater.  Learn to recognize the difference between the war and a fight. Take the long view to win the war and learn to just let somethings go.

2. Stay out front. Remain focused on your strategy and message.  Do not get distracted by your opponents darts and arrows.  In war and politics victory belongs to those with the best offense. Even the best defense can only end in a siege.  .

3.  Be smarter than the dog. If a dog bites you once its the dog’s fault, if the dog bites you a second time it is your fault for not being smarter than the dog.  Do not do your adversary’s work for them.  An example of this would be saying that there are different facts.  No, facts are facts. The discussion is about the accurate presentation of fact and the difference between spin (opinion) and fact.

4.  If you are going bear hunting don’t bring bird shot, come loaded for bear.  When you are going to correct anyone have the quantifiable data with you and present it in a concise, easy to understand, impossible to dispute manner.

5. Keep it positive.  I have written well over a hundred press releases and any message can be delivered using positive or negative words.  Use positive.

6. Words matter–connotation and denotation.

7.  Reporters have a job to do.  By its very nature the relationship between a press secretary and the press is going to be adversarial.  Create good working relationships, be accessible and whenever possible help them.

8. Excellence is its own reward.  It is hard to make an argument against excellence.

I have never spoken to that reporter about his call. Nor to anyone else about it. I let it go.  I did and still do wish that he would have calmed down that day and heard what I was saying to  him.  That, I fought for you, I lost, you had every right to be angry and I am sorry that you were treated that way.  That person was and still is a great reporter…just saying.

Recipe: Betting on the Orange and Tamale Hotdish

tamale

I make no secret of the fact that Mexican cuisine is a favorite of mine. Whether it was the seven cent bean burritos purchased every day for lunch in junior and senior high school or the wonderful tostadas, tacos and chimichangas consumed regularly at the locally famous Karichimaka Mexican restaurant located almost right below our Tucson, Arizona mountain home, I ate my share.

This recipe for Tamale Hot Dish is excellent and reminds me of my first tamale experience. I don’t think a girl ever forgets her first tamale. Mine was at a wedding on the Papago Indian reservation.  My sister and I were invited to attend the wedding by family friends. Bill was a full member of the Papago tribe and a decorated World War II Veteran. His wife was a German war bride.

As we drove out onto the reservation, Bill would see relatives or his friends pass us on the highway. It was almost like back home in Minnesota where you knew everyone and no one passed by without a friendly robotic wave.  Only these folks were made out of much more social stuff than stoic swedes. Here the cars would come to a screeching halt and pull over to the side of the road.  Adult male occupants of the cars would quickly exit, someone, other that us, would produce a cooler.  A beer and quick visit would ensue. Then, it was back into the car and down the road we’d go until the next opportunity for social engagement presented itself.

Bill’s family ties were strong and extensive and our forward progress towards the wedding location was measured. I was informed that time was not invented by the Papago, but by the white man. On the reservation commencement of wedding festivities was based on relative arrival not a clock.

Being out on the reservation always felt magical and this occasion was no exception. It was a big wedding and we were packed into that unairconditioned, unventilated church like sardines. Even so, and after their long drives to reach the church everyone was obviously in a great mood.

The ceremony was beautiful filled with Catholic pomp and tradition. The bride wore a bright pastel pink gown and veil and the priest was resplendent in white robes. She looked lovely as her father escorted her down the aisle and placed her hand to the hand of her good-looking groom.

As the priest joined together this handsome young couple in the sacrament of marriage, their impish feisty little ring bearer, decided to get down on his hands and knees and amuse the congregation by lifting the priest’s robe and taking a peak underneath.  After accomplishing his goal and being satisfied with the result of his quest the darling pint-sized toddler parked himself right between the couple and the priest to view the remainder of the marriage ceremony and fell asleep.

By the time the service concluded everyone was looking forward to congratulating the happy couple, getting something cold to drink and enjoying the wedding supper. The traditional southwestern entrees looked fantastic. Whoever furnished the food for the meal had put a lot of time and effort into its preparation, especially the tamales.  Making the hundreds of tamales that were served to the guests must have taken days.  It was an experienced hand that had made the fillings, wrapped and tied all of those bundles of deliciousness in corn husks.

Unwrapping a tamale is like unwrapping a present. It is delightful and these tamales did not disappoint. After my first bite into the homemade tamale, I knew that I would never again experience another one quite like it.  I delicately removed the lead shot BBs from my mouth as I silently wondered what type of meat I was eating. Then, I finished the tamale with gusto!

Our return trip to Tucson proceeded slowly as it was a mirror image of our trip to the reservation.  The only difference being my little sister fell asleep.  Sound asleep she was balancing an orange on the top of her fist. The other occupants of the car placed bets on how long it would be before the orange landed on the floor. It stayed on my sister’s hand the whole way home.  I was so proud of her even though she was oblivious to her accomplishment.

This recipe for Tamale Hotdish can be made with shredded beef, ground beef, shredded chicken or…your choice of wild game.  The original recipe called for it to be made in a large skillet of unspecified-size.  I don’t own one of those. So, I adapted the recipe to bake in a 9 X 13 pan. It will serve a large crowd such as those gathered together for wedding, hunting or Superbowl parties.

Tamale HotDish
Recipe adapted from Delish website. 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray 9 X 13 pan with cooking spray.

Cornbread Crust:
2 boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup sweet corn kernels (drained)
2 large eggs (lightly beaten)

In a medium-sized bowl mix together muffin mix, sour cream, sweet corn and beaten eggs until evenly combined.  Pour into prepared 9 X 13 pan. Spread evenly.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.  A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Cool slightly. Polk holes all over the cornbread with the back end of a wooden spoon. Set aside

Filling:
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons of Taco Seasoning.
Salt to taste
4 cups of cooked ground or shredded meat. (Three boneless skinless chicken breasts)
1-1/2 cups enchilada sauce (divided)

In a large skillet over medium heat brown the chopped onions in the olive oil. Cook onions until tender. Add minced garlic and cook for another minute. Add taco seasoning and salt. Add cooked meat and 3/4 cup of enchilada sauce. Stir until combined.

Pour 3/4 cup of enchilada sauce over the holes in the cornbread crust. Evenly spread filling over the cornbread crust.

Topping:
1 cup of shredded Cheddar cheese
1 cup Shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
Fresh cilantro, chopped

Mix cheese together and sprinkle on top.  Bake for 30 minutes. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro and serve.

Serves 8.