Odd Eats…

I assumed everyone ate like my family when I was a kid. (I don’t mean manners, scripture, prayers and table setting. This is about actual food). I didn’t think a favorite, familiar dish of mom’s was unusual. Or odd even. I grew up in a small town in northwest Iowa (predominantly Dutch) and thought every woman in town used the same brands, bought the same meats and cooked exactly like my mom.

Mona, mom holding me and Larry, 1952…

My first inkling that not all foods were served (or even offered) the same in Rock Valley was discovered when I was in junior high. One of my close friends came from a much larger family. Her mom was a good cook (mine was too) but Char’s mom definitely cooked different than mine. Their clan was basically a 2 family home. Char’s mom and dad had several kids, waited a decade, then had another 4 girls, bam-bam-bam-bam. The second bam of the second batch was my bestie Char. Her house/family life was the complete opposite of mine.

Char, a girl from Canton who lived by Mona and me, 1962…

By then, we had lost Larry, Mona was married, thus making me like an only child. Char’s household (the older kids were long gone with families of their own) had one in high school, Char in junior high and 2 younger sisters in elementary. A couple of the first group moved away but one older sister lived within a few miles. She and her family (she had a couple kids by then) came over to her parents every Sunday night for supper. Nearly every week I weaseled my way in for a supper invite too. Really how much work is it to feed one extra kid? There was so much activity at their house, they barely noticed me. My house was very quiet in comparison.

I’m holding my nephew Brian in 1962. Junior high-awkward…

We were all headed for the evening church/youth group services so everyone was expected to pitch in to get the table cleared and kitchen cleaned up (even me, who did absolutely nothing to help in the kitchen at my own house). Char’s mom always cooked great meals on Sunday nights. Most times there were 11 or 12 of us. One of her best meals was roast beef and mashed potatoes. I know there was a vegetable and always dessert but it was the mashed potatoes I remember. She mashed potatoes in her mixer! What? With milk and butter (duh, a given) but those spuds were as smooth as pudding. My mom would never get her stand mixer out and mess it up for mashed potatoes. Ever. Our mashed potatoes were thicker and had a few lumps, (but they were good). It’s the way I’ve eaten them my whole life. But I will never forget watching Char’s mom dump a huge, hot pot of potatoes into her mixer and whip those suckers smooth as a baby’s butt. (Maybe not the best way to describe her mashed potatoes). She also made twice baked potatoes to die for, using the same method. Dug out the potato insides, keeping the potato peel intact and whipping the spuds in her mixer. Then plopping a good sized dollop back in the peel and baked ’em a second time. Dang she was a good cook. I’m eternally grateful for joining their family as often as they let me.

This is where we went every Sunday night after a great supper…

This old memory popped up from a comment on my last story about my poor Mom who got lost frequently because she wasn’t good with directions (try hopeless). The comments were about us shopping at a fabulous department store in Sioux City. First Ray asked if Mom and I ever ate at the restaurant in Younkers? About 99% of the time we went to a fabulous place called Bishop’s Cafeteria. I remember Younkers candy counter but the actual restaurant in the store, no. Then Glenda commented she’s been trying to duplicate Younkers Mac & Cheese recipe for 50 years, without much success.

Mom never made macaroni and cheese…

That’s when it hit me. We never had Mac & cheese when I was a kid. Ever. It was not on Mom’s food repertoire. Seems like it should have been. Some kind of melted cheeses over elbow macaroni because Mom loved all kinds of casseroles. America cheese was the only kind in our fridge though. Served on Hillbilly Bread with butter or as a grilled cheese sandwich, just flipped the buttered side on the outside.

Dagwood Bumstead would have starved at our house. There were no messy, mayo, lettuce, mustard, pickles, ham, pastrami, provolone sandwiches served in our kitchen (or eaten over the sink). We really didn’t do sandwiches, maybe a BLT or Reuben occasionally. The Gerritson idea of a sandwich was an opened can of Red Sockeye salmon with all those nasty bones and slithery silver skin removed. On buttered bread and a nice leaf of iceberg lettuce. Ta-da! (First time I served it for supper as a newlywed, Hubs gaped at me like I had grown a third eye, and refused to eat it. What’s even worse, he eats the same exact salmon, plus the bones and slimy skin parts on soda crackers. Now really, who’s the freak here)?

The Gerritson refrigerator never held:

“my bologna has a first name, it’s Oscar,

my bologna has a second name, it’s Mayer.

Ohhhhhhhhhh, I love to eat it everyday,

if you ask me why I’ll say–

cause Oscar Mayer has a way with–B O L O G N A.”

(Sorry couldn’t help myself. Loved the commercial, the kid and song)

This package never made it inside the Gerritson house…

So I’m at a loss when once a week I see a picture of curled up fried bologna on Facebook with someone asking, who ate their bologna like this? Not this girl.

The Gerritson (or Van Berkum) cupboards have never held a can of Spam. I’ve never tasted it. Ditto for Campbell’s Tomato Soup. I did eat Campbell’s Vegetable Beef, Chicken Noodle and Bean with Bacon. And if Mom was making a casserole which called for a cream soup, 75% of the time she used Cream of Celery, the rest of the time Cream of Chicken. Never Cream of Mushroom, she said it was too strong. (I don’t have to tell you I lean the same way as Mom, right? On occasion when I use Cream of Mushroom, stroganoff comes to mind. But when I make stroganoff for Hubs I rarely eat it. I’ve managed 68 years without consuming Brussel sprouts, zucchini, squash, egg plant or the one I get razzed about most often, biscuits and gravy, none of which hold any appeal.

What is this anyway?

I was at least 30 before I tried Chinese food. It was offered on vacation once when I was a kid, as was Mom, but since she turned her nose up and would only drink the tea, well there you have my initial reaction. I was older than 30 before I ever tried broccoli, cauliflower or get this-SHRIMP. No, I’m not kidding. Pretty much, the only sea food we ate came from cans, Starkist Tuna (Sorry Charlie) and Deming’s Red Sockeye Salmon.

Look what I missed during the first 3 decades of life…

We never had Kool-aid or Tang in the house when I was a kid, although I was always allowed to have pop with my lunch everyday (RC Cola, 7-Up or Pepsi). I didn’t realize how fond of broccoli, or cauliflower I was until I’d been married for years. (My kids however grew up on Kool-aid and Kraft Macaroni & cheese, not as a meal but an after school snack).

Simplistic but one of my favorites. Bread, butter, fresh tomatoes and sugar…

So what did we consume at the Gerritson abode? Tuna salad, fresh tomatoes on bread topped with sugar all summer long. Any leftovers from supper the night before. I’d warm up a dish of casserole in the oven. And soups. Soups (always homemade) were a mainstay at our house. Chicken and rice, Navy Bean and Ham, whole Pea with pork hocks or ham, Chile and Vegetable beef.

Typical supper when I was a kid…

If I was craving something sweet and Mom had not baked anything lately, a slice of buttered Hillbilly bread covered with a half inch of light brown sugar did the trick. I still eat one every once in a while. My kids grew up eating them as a treat. I know when I actually write it, I find it kinda weird too. Excuse me while I run to the kitchen for a minute. Sorry ’bout the drool…

A sweet favorite, brown sugar sandwich. Don’t judge…

Wait, which way is west?

I sometimes forget how smart Mom was. She had an unbelievable thirst for knowledge. A voracious reader, she always preferred non-fiction. She loved biographies, exact opposite of my reading preferences. I’ve always felt I have enough reality in my life. I read novels to escape.

Mom and I, early 1970’s. I think we were in Yankton SD. (She bought my coat).

Mom bought the finest, most expensive set of World Book Encyclopedias when I was in junior high to help with my homework assignments. As if. But her interest (and constant use) far outweighed the times I was forced to look something up for school in one of our many green and cream leather volumes. Every year thereafter she’d send for the new yearbook. World Book’s way of updating us on everything important from the previous year. She just couldn’t get enough of what those pages had to offer. She wanted to know everything.

Only picture I could find with our set of World Books in the background in the bookcase…

She was a great bookkeeper. Mom kept track how of much interest each CD was paying, how Dad’s IPERS account (Iowa Public Employee Retirement System) was doing from year to year. She was frugal in many ways, yet extravagant with her money in others. They never financed a car that I know of but wanted nothing more on a car besides tires and a steering wheel. (Neither of them ever drove an automatic). Yet she thought nothing of buying Shannon a wool plaid winter coat which she would only wear to church when she was 3 years old and wouldn’t fit her the following winter. I bought Mom a new paring knife after the one she’d used for 40 years had lost its edge. She just couldn’t part with the $2.99 for something she deemed unnecessary.

Mom bought the year books for a long time…

Mom kept a small tattered box in the cupboard above her spotless refrigerator. That box was filled with several standard sized plain white envelopes. Each envelope was marked, IPS, Bell telephone, First Reformed Church (tithing), spending money for both of them, groceries, De Boer’s (fuel oil for the furnace and gas for Mom’s car, Ver Berg Gas Station for Dad’s gas and maintenance on his car). Never did figure out why they used separate businesses (2 blocks apart) for each of their cars, she simply preferred one, Dad the other. They were funny that way. When it was payday, Mom (don’t think direct deposit was an option back then) would trudge to the bank (after forging dad’s name) to cash the check-literally. She’d leave a small portion in their checking account but for most things both of them used cash (thus all the envelopes).

I knit this but needed Mom’s help with more complicated projects…

When she got home from the bank, she’d reach up and snag the envelope box. Take them all out and divvy up the amount that each envelope required. Patiently wait for each bill to arrive, grab the money from the appropriate envelope, head downtown to pay the bill. She did have a credit card for Sears and Penney’s but paid each in full every month there was a charge on the card. Not to minimize her savings ability, next to tithing, savings held a high priority for both of them.

Mom loved the color orange. She knit me a mini skirt in 1967…

I don’t think Mom was ever stumped with a knitting or crocheting pattern. She would tackle the most complicated projects. I was amazed at her talent and ability. She tried to teach me but I could only add stitches, tackle collars, armholes, sleeves, necklines, or anything harder than the stockinette stitch (the easiest of them all) if I was sitting by her side. So I never really learned how to read patterns like she did. She’d just show me how to do something and it would magically get done, but I didn’t retain what I’d learned.

Mom really did beautiful work knitting sweaters for me…

So this woman kept her house spotless, saved money even when it was in short supply, read an entire set of encyclopedias, who frequently wrote politicians scathing letters during the 70’s & 80’s on what irked her on world matters in her beautiful cursive prose. When shopping (she was a clothes horse) Mom could (and did) easily rattle off 20%, 25% or one third off to other customers frowning nearby when trying to figure out how much the jacket cost because it was on sale. (She’d mumble to me later, “how can these people not know that 25% off of 30 dollars is $7.50? Then they have trouble subtracting $7.50 from 30 bucks.” This really frustrated her). She worked hard, cooked every night but Saturday and could turn the toughest knitting patterns into works of art.

Mom did have a couple weaknesses. When forced, she could replace a button on one of Dad’s dress shirts. But had to be coerced to do it and hated every minute. (I inherited her sewing gene). And the poor woman didn’t know which way was west. Or north. Or south. Nope, not east either. She had the worst sense of direction known to womankind.

This was not much of an issue when I was a kid. She knew how to get to our shopping spots in Sheldon, Le Mars, Sioux Falls and Sioux City whenever we left the safe confines of Rock Valley. There were specific locations she was very familiar with. She knew how to get to downtown Younkers in Sioux City, Shrivers in Sioux Falls, but we never veered far off the beaten path either. Her lack of knowing where she was headed flew out the window once I got married. Things would have been so different for Mom if she’d had a cell phone with Siri to help her navigate those confusing directions.

A favorite spot, Younkers in Sioux City. They made Annaclaires, a scrumptious candy…

We were living in Sioux City, 1973. Our precocious toddler, Shannon was 3. She and Mom (Mimi) were headed (by themselves-oh Lort) to Bellas Hess in Morningside. Right on highway 75 at Glenn Ave, probably 5 miles from our house on 23rd Street. Once Mimi managed to find Highway 75, (a half mile from our house), it was a straight shot. No turns. Absolutely. No. Turns. Just follow Highway 75 due south.

Shannon 2-1/2. She knew her way around Sioux City…

The good news, they found Bellas Hess. I’m sure Shannon zhanicked (begged and whined in Dutch slang) until Mimi bought her something outrageously expensive. Leaving Bellas Hess proved to be more difficult for Mom though. Out of the parking lot onto Glenn Ave., to the stop light at Highway 75, Mom however turned south instead of north. And drove. Then drove some more. Shannon finally said, “this isn’t the right way Mimi. Our house isn’t this way.” Indeed little one. Mimi and Shannon were close to Omaha-about 80 miles from Sioux City. They finally stopped at a truck stop seeking help/advice and got turned around. They were gone almost the whole day. And we had no clue what had happened to them.

Bellas Hess in Sioux City…

As long as we lived in Iowa Mom did fairly well. Eastern Iowa got a little hairy the first time, we lived in several nearby towns around Dubuque. The second time, we moved to Davenport, we lived a couple miles off of I-80. She knew if she crossed the mighty Mississippi, she had gone too far. But Michigan was another matter. Part of the problem was Mom and Dad refused to come visit us together. Another strange quirk of theirs. They treated each visit like a competition between them. Each one would trot back to Iowa and brag how cute/darling the kids had been. Actually making each other jealous.

One of them would come for several days, a couple months later the other, so I got to worry about their long travel time (750 miles) alone twice as often. Mom had 2 close calls. A couple of years after moving to Jackson she was on her way to our house. Chicago’s not the easiest city to get around, but it’s I-80 east until you reach I-94. Mom didn’t wait to hit 94, she turned north on 294 and drove to Milwaukee. Oh my word. Since her little jog cost several hours both ways, Mom ended up spending a night in a hotel as soon as she crossed the state line into Michigan. (At least she was in the right state now).

Mona, Larry, Mom and me, 1957, a year before Larry died…

The last disaster could have been just that-disastrous. Mom was on her way back to Iowa from our house when she realized, after several hours of driving, she didn’t have her seat belt on. She stopped on the shoulder of I-80 west, snapped herself in, signaled with her blinker (yay Mom), engaged the clutch, and shifted to first gear in her 4 cylinder Ford. Instead of getting some speed on the shoulder, she felt her blinker was sufficient and pulled into the lane of traffic, all of whom were clipping along at 70 mph or better. She got rear ended by a semi and THOUGHT IT WAS HIS FAULT. She was not hurt thankfully, and she was furious when she got a ticket. Oh Mom. She didn’t drive to Michigan often after that which was fine with me. I just went to their house more often. How I wish I could go back and visit them one more time. I should have been more attentive and written things down. I still have so many questions…

Back in the Big House…

I wrote a story in January, 2015 called Plaid Pants. Filled with disdain, (not the pants, but the feelings which were well deserved) about pretty much anything to do with U of M. How I acquired these feelings of disgust and scorn though started much earlier in 1987. The year we moved to Michigan and pritnear lived in the shadow of the Big House.

Mighty big M…

When we moved to Michigan I was filled with hope. Yes, it was a jaunt from our Iowa home turf but the climate was similar, we were still in Big 10 country and now living about 30 miles south of Michigan State and 35 miles west of the University of Michigan. When I was growing up, I concocted these fantasy images about Ann Arbor. Not only a neat name but sounded like the perfect college town. These fantasies were about to receive a brutal reality check. Live and learn.

This place is like a good sized city on game days with rowdy inhabitants…

Rest assured, I’ll not repeat the Plaid Pants story (it is pretty cute though). Suffice it to say I feel like I’ve known Jim Harbaugh all of his life although I’ve never been with 500 feet of the man (damn Restraining Order-I’m kidding-lighten up). Jim grew up in Ann Arbor and went to Pioneer High School until his family moved to California. He then got a football scholarship and was starting quarterback for University of Michigan in the mid-80’s. I watched my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes beat Jim and his cohorts 12-10 in one of the best college football games ever played at Kinnick Stadium in 1985, never realizing in less than 2 years we’d be living 30 miles from the Big House instead of 50 miles from Iowa City. Life is messy. Things change.

Our first year in Michigan we got tickets to watch the Hawks play the Wolverines at the Big House. I was so excited to visit another football stadium. What a disaster! We lost big time, the fans were nasty and some old dudes in maize and blue plaid pants accosted us verbally during the long walk back to our car. I vowed that day never to step foot on that football stadium again. Any feelings I had for U of M, the city of Ann Arbor-poof-vanished that day-never to return. It’s now been 30 years with very little change in my attitude for anything Wolverine-ish. Really I should get some kind of reward for grudge holding. I’m damn near perfect at it. (You can message me for my winning tips).

With everyone standing throughout the game, this is where I watched the plays…

I did have mild interest when U of M hired Harbaugh in 2015. Jim’s appearance back in the state was hard to ignore with the influx of articles and interviews as a daily reminder how important Michigan football is to their rabid fans (at least in their own minds). He’s done well too, now in his 5th season as head coach. Brought in a ton of money for the University with everything from clothing to season ticket sales (which I think hovers around 90,000) this year. Unbelievable. Ninety thousand season ticket holders. Wow. Don’t kid yourself though, Jim goes through the bucks too, recruiting, taking his team to Italy one year, South Africa another year. He’s is the second highest paid coach in the country-Nick Sabin rules). He’s very popular. Whatever.

About the most intense coach I’ve seen so this smile is not the norm…

My son-in-law Tracey is principal at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, which happens to be right across the street from the Big House (just shoot me now. What are the odds)? Pioneer’s massive parking lot morphs into a second city on U of M home game weekends. Parking in Pioneer’s lot costs a freaking fortune and is literally filled with hundreds of recreational vehicles who arrive to tailgate for the weekend. Before school started Hubs asked Tracey to look for tickets for the Iowa-Michigan game. I assumed Josh, Adam or Graham would be going with him. It wasn’t gong to be me.

Pioneer High School, kitty corner across the street from the Big House..l

I’ve never understood the reasoning behind “going” to the game as opposed to “watching” the game at home. Everything about the game is better on TV than in person. You don’t have to worry about the weather, parking, the humongous expense of tickets. You can watch all the replays, don’t have to stand in line for 10 minutes to pee. (One thing I noticed in the 30 year gap between attending games. The ‘official’s time out’ are more frequent and very, very long. It’s quite possible to forget what sporting event you’re attending). My snacks are better and I don’t have to pay 5 dollars for bottled water. It’s gotta be the atmosphere and camaraderie, but just how appealing is being scrunched in with 110,000 strangers, most of whom stand through most of the game? Nil. Absolutely zero appeal for me.

A month ago Shannon, Tracey and Peyton took us out for supper for our anniversary. A place we’d not tried before called The Black Rock. Unique joint, your steak comes to the table partially cooked on a 750 degree black rock (thus the catchy name). Your server tells you approximately how much longer to cook that puppy (steak really, there were no puppies on the menu) once you flip the meat for how rare you prefer). We got a fancy dessert afterwards and had a really nice time.

Peyton, Hubs and I (Shannon & Tracey) at the Black Rock in September…

I opened our cards at the table and out slips 2 football tickets for Iowa-Michigan on October 5th. Oh. Well it has been 32 years. However, it didn’t feel like there had been sufficient time to let my grudge go. I’m still in the rookie phase. But the thoughtful gesture was unmistakable. Shannon had attended an event for a former high school classmate who had recently passed away. Her class was establishing a scholarship fund in his name. The U of M tickets were part of the silent auction that night (meaning probably one of the 90,000 season ticket holders donated their tickets for this event). Nice. Shannon kept bidding until they were hers. I mean ours.

The great tickets..

The game was 2 weeks away, giving me only 14 days to stew about it. (Got the tickets on the same day I fell on my replacement knee so you can see why I had some misgivings). How was I gonna use a cane with thousands of people milling about? Our seats were section 2, right behind the Hawkeyes bench in row 51. Could not imagine walking up or down 40 steps with the masses. How crowded are the seats, how close is the row in front of me? Would I ever be able to stretch out my leg instead of leaving it bent for 3 hours?

Hawkeyes warm ups. (It didn’t help)…

The forecast called for cloudy skies, high around 60. Game time was noon, we left about 9:30. Tracey gave us his parking pass, saving us 50 bucks. (Thanks T). We turned into Pioneer’s lot and the first Michigan tailgater yells, “welcome to Michigan, Iowa fans!” (Who are these people? Hubs was wearing an Iowa hat which was easy to spot). We know this parking lot well, our grandson Landon just graduated from Pioneer and Peyton’s a sophomore. But many of the rows are cordoned off, giving the RV tailgating people more like small neighborhood squares. I ended backing up because several rows didn’t go through. Finally found a decent spot, got out and start lumbering towards the Big House. Most people are careful when they notice my cane. We have to cross one street with literally hundreds of fans, but no one is careless or going lickety-split. We walk around (the place is MASSIVE) quite a ways until we see gate 2. I buy some kettle corn and use the restroom, hoping I won’t have to leave again during the game. We walk through the tunnel and notice we’re farther up than I realized. I’m dreading how far away row 51 is when one of the ushers looks at my ticket and says, “This is your row, down one step, left and in about 6 spaces.” Our row had a cement back. Couldn’t have asked for better seats.

Right behind the Hawks in section 2…

We did see a couple thousand Hawkeye fans, several right behind us. The game was not the best. I think it was much more important to the Wolverines than it was for the Hawks. Harbaugh and his team were soundly spanked at Wisconsin (good times) the week before and Jim’s job longevity might have been a bit shakey. (Even though Harbaugh’s averaging 9 or 10 wins a year, he’s kinda struggling because he can’t seem to win the games that mean the most to the Michigan masses, namely MSU, Big 10 Conference winner, the final 4 of the National Championship and the biggest doozy of them all, beating Ohio State). So he really needed to win the Iowa game. And our offense forgot to show up so there’s that. All my worrying was for naught. The weather was great, the seats were good, no one swore or threw anything at us, which was a nice change. I might go back in another 30 years.

Condoleeza Rice on the field being introduced…

The road in front of Pioneer runs north for 2 lanes and south for 2 lanes, with a turn lane in the middle. At the end of the game the police make everyone leaving the parking lot turn south. To make this more efficient, they make all 5 lanes head south. Which is the direction that leads us back to 94, so we’re good. It takes us about a half hour to get out of the lot. Most tailgaters have no intention of leaving just yet. They simply fire up the grill, grab a beer, pull out some chairs and keep right on partying.

Those Wolverine fans are a classy bunch..,

As my Jeep nears an opening leading to the road, I spot a blue porta-potty in the parking lot. (Somebody actually brought this along to the game? Be serious! Yes, they did). Since I’m only moving about a foot a minute, I snag my phone to snap a shot of this hilarious scene. That’s it right there in a nutshell. A small sign screwed into the side of the porta-potty which reads-Private shitter-keep out. Can you stand it? Giving a whole new meaning (and totally appropriate) to U of M’s catch phrase, GO BLUE…

Proof the Hawks took the field, but stumbled through the whole game. Damn…

Zuurkoolstamppot…

I’ll be the first to admit I’m naive. Nothing new, pretty sure I’ve always been. Although I have an abundance of cynicism/skepticism/sarcasm (alright, enough about my finer ‘ism’ features) brewing within, I remain clueless on many fronts.

Mom was profoundly proud of her Dutch heritage and spoke of it often with love and respect throughout her life. Both sets of her grandparents immigrated from the Netherlands during the late 1800’s. Dad didn’t talk as much about his ancestors but was pretty proficient in keeping his end of a conversation flowing (in Dutch) with Mom when they didn’t want me to know what (or more likely who) they were talking about.

Maternal grandmother Effie Berghuis with Mom and her twin brother Floyd in 1927…

Since I was raised in a house with a strong Dutch influence I assumed everyone around me was Dutch. It didn’t matter that your dad wore a kilt marching in a parade through downtown Rock Valley while playing the bagpipes. Or that your mother spoke with a quaint Irish lilt which was indecipherable to the other 1,800 Dutchmen in town. You were simply Dutch. Just like me. Besides naive I might have been rather narrow minded. Now’s a great time to realize that. Mind blown.

My great-grandma Wanningen’s orange wooden shoe…

I know now there were people in my hometown who knew nothing of the unique Dutch phrases my family used everyday to describe things at home. Really, who doesn’t know what a ‘ploujes’ (plue-she) is? You’re just yanking my chain now aren’t you? Well for the 2 un-informed, a ploujes is a piece of lint on your clothing or carpet. It would be years before my misconceptions were realized. There was diversity in my town. Once in a while I still forget. Soon after I’ve written a story, Marlys, a classmate of mine will gently remind me, “hey Neese, Rock Valley had some German families too.” (Sorry Mar).

Saucijzebroodjes- (pigs in the blankets), I make 5 dozen at a time and freeze them…

There were various church affiliations in town but it never occurred to me their Sunday morning services weren’t filled with Dutch folks just like the First Reformed where the Gerritson’s worshipped. How could I be so dumb? The first inkling to topple my world as I knew it occurred when I was in my mid-teens. Our church youth group attended a Jewish worship service in Sioux Falls. It finally dawned on me-not everyone in the world was Dutch. Huh.

So Mom spoke Dutch sometimes, had doilies all over the house, displayed her grandma’s wooden shoes (Mom painted them orange which is very Dutch) and had some nice Blue Delft pieces here and there. I’m not sure if I realized some of the food Mom made were handed down recipes from the Netherlands. Saucijzebroodjes (pigs in the blanket) certainly, pea and bean soup, stroop waffles, oliebollen.

Oliebollen, traditionally made for New Years…

I’ve just started learning something about traditional Dutch food. My FB buddy (Dick the car guy) invited me to join a couple of Dutch groups. They post pictures, recipes and reminisce about the Netherlands or their recent visits. I’m not normally a joiner but I’m enjoying these groups. Especially the different foods. I never heard of croquettes before. (I know-just re-read the first sentence of this post). They look like a dark Twinkie covered with toasty brown crumbs. The insides could be minced veggies, very fine chopped meats, even potatoes and rice mushed up, then deep fried. They’re one of the more popular foods in the Netherlands, with 350 million (kroketten in Dutch) eaten every year! The folks commenting were raving about croquettes on a hamburger bun doused with mustard, although they look like they would fit better on a hotdog bun. I wish my Mom had made them when I was a kid.

Saucijzebroodjes baked and ready to eat. Lekker (good in Dutch)…

Through most of our married life the Hubs and I talk about the foods our mom’s served for supper when we were kids. Salmon patties with fried potatoes, tater tot casserole (not my favorite) Taverns (they’re sloppy Joe’s, except in northwest Iowa), bread-milk pop, (never heard of that but John ate it as a kid), hamburger hot dish and this weird red colored ring bologna. Every couple of years I’d buy a different brand of bologna at the grocery store, but nothing came close in looking or tasting like the red ring bologna we grew up eating.

A northwest Iowa tradition though it may not be Dutch. The Tavern…

Then a few years ago (ok we were married 40 years before this old fashioned delicacy was rediscovered) we were in Orange City (about 30 miles from our hometown) and stumbled upon Woudstra’s Meat Market. Not a new meat market, it’s been there for years, but we were not inclined to shop Orange City for anything but Blue Delft. I think we were buying dried beef after the Locker Plant closed in Rock Valley. Hubs noticed a ring bologna in the meat case. Wow that bologna certainly had a familiar ring to it. We bought a couple, froze them and the dried beef at Les and Mary Jane’s house before the long trip back to Michigan.

Woudstra’s Meat Market’s old fashioned ring bologna…

You know the feeling you get when something from your past (way-way-back) hits you like a ton of bricks? Cooking ring bologna brought back so many memories-even before my first bite. The smell, the water in the pot turning a bit pink. But neither of us could remember what we were supposed to eat with it. I thought it should be mashed potatoes and sauerkraut, but John doesn’t think his family ate sauerkraut with bologna, so I fixed him some spinach (like Popeye the sailor man). For the last 10 years we’ve been unsure if we’re doing red ring bologna justice. Until I joined this nostalgic Dutch group and found Zuurkoolstamppot. My life is now complete.

My great grandma Berghuis’ fudge recipe. Never poured in a pan, always on a plate…

Someone posted a recipe for Zuurkoolstamppot, (I honestly couldn’t pronounce this to save my soul. And if the recipe’s written in Dutch I’m lost and just move on). They said it should be served with sausage or bologna. The light bulb in my head lit up like the sun. My search is over. This is what I’ve been looking for my whole life! Well at least since we re-discovered Woudstra’s ring bologna.

Zuurkoolstamppot is what’s good and right in the world. What’s not to love? It’s got most of my favorites in one dish! (Ok, no cotton candy, circus peanuts, soft pretzels or popcorn, but do not be dismayed). I cut the recipe in half because it makes a lot, enough for a family, and John’s not crazy about mashed potatoes. Yeah, he has a lot of issues but that’s a story for another day.

Zuurkoolstamppot! Sorry not a very appealing picture, but it’s delicious!

I cut a half pound of bacon in small pieces and fried it crisp, then put it on paper towels to drain. Peeled a couple of potatoes and cooked them until they were 5 minutes from being done. Drained a half can of sauerkraut really well, tossed that in the potato pan to cook for the last 5 minutes. Drained the water, then mashed the kraut and potatoes with milk and butter. Folded in the bacon bits and added a titch of salt and pepper. Holy Hanna, who needed the bologna? Now I f a half dozen folks tell me they’ve been eating and enjoying Zuurkoolstamppot forever I’m gonna be devastated. This is a dish I should have known about and would have been eating my entire life. Had I introduced this as normal supper fare when my kids were small, another mostly Dutch generation would be passing Zuurkoolstamppot on to their kids. Seriously doubt if any of them would even try it…

Highlights at 11…

I’ve made some adjustments during the past year, most were forced. Guess it’s to be expected as I age. I remember feeling kind of resentful at times when this happened with my parents. Seemed like it was one thing after another. I’d adjust to their new ‘norm’ then something else would cuff me up side the head that required another adjustment. Now some of those same annoying inconveniences are happening to me and I resent it. I’m not ready to make those changes in my life. Enough already!

Mom and Dad, 1957 before heartache and health issues…

I fell 2 weeks ago. Just great. Shannon invited me to go along to a flea market at the Chelsea Fairgrounds. She went last year and stressed the grounds were very uneven. “That’s ok, I’ll use my cane.” Actually I’ve been doing great-5 months post surgery with knee replacement. For 2 weeks I’d been walking 30 minutes every day, amounting to a good half mile, not burning up the pavement or setting any land speed records yet, but it’s a start, and I felt good. Listening to my tunes, feeling back to normal. Almost.

I was doing great at the flea market. Watching the ground, inclines, declines, cement cracks/potholes (deep enough to lose a foot/small child), kids, strollers, pets, yakkers not paying attention. Most of the vendors offered shabby chic items for the home, some had clothing, others foodstuffs. One dude was giving out free samples of his canned goods. A large picture of him and his granny, circa 1950 was prominently displayed. He made a point of telling me many of his products were made using granny’s recipes. I’m game and ask for a taste of Bread & Butter Pickles. He grabs a plastic fork, plunges it into the newly opened pint jar and snags an 8 inch shoestring thick rope of pickles. I daintily shove the half jar in my mouth and struggle to chew and swallow. Nothing sweet about these puppies, they taste like dead cucumbers. I compliment him on granny’s great recipe and quickly move away lest I’m tempted to try something else he’s concocted. Um, no thanks. My big purchase for the day was a bag of kettle corn, just what I don’t need but I love the stuff.

Shannon bought some wall art for her office at home. Hubs and I had a big breakfast but Shannon hadn’t eaten so I sit-guard our purchases on a picnic table while she peruses carnival fare. She’s thoughtful and hands me an ice cold Diet Pepsi because it’s really hot. We’re done and heading back to the parking lot. The path/driveway is part grass, part gravel. Honest we aren’t 200 feet from the car when my left ankle encounters a rock on the side of my foot and I go down. Hard. I land on my left hand and replacement knee and instantly roll to my back. The sky is spinning and I think I’m gonna be sick. Can’t leave my head flat on the ground so I lace my fingers together and pull my head up. The spinning slows and finally stops. My knee burns like it’s on fire. Shannon asks how I am? Knee hurts, hand hurts (from the colorful bruise on my hand, I think the curved part of my cane was under my hand when I hit the ground). I can move all my parts but just laid there for a couple minutes. I know I can’t roll over, get on my knees and stand up and I need more than one eager person (Shannon) to help with that. I spot a women’s foursome heading our way and ask if they can help stand me up? (I hate this. Really. Hate. This). I’m finally up, full of dust and heartsick about the setback.

After 2 reprimands I’ll not forget my cane or walking stick again M…

Good thing I was wearing capris. There’s a couple of scratches/dings on my hands and knee but not bad. I limp to a nearby fence, Shannon jogs to the car to swing by and pick me up. I need ice and Motrin. I have much to be grateful for. I didn’t break anything and I think my new knee is pretty much indestructible. Actually most of the pain is in the back of my leg. Feels like I maybe hyperextended it. Two weeks later and there’s still 2 lumps/bumps on my knee. Hope they eventually disappear.

For the following week I do the bare minimum in the housework/cooking/stairs departments (not a big stretch for this lazy slug) around the house. I called Dr. Carpenter’s office for reassurance there’s not much chance I really hurt my new joint, right? I can walk but going up and down stairs like a normal person is impossible (again) and bending my leg is still very limited. But I am moving. A tad better.

There are 3 issues I must address/accept about my leg (s).

1. I am sorely lacking strength and stamina in both legs.

2. I am fairly certain my balance problems have hindered my progress. This issue is not new. I was diagnosed with Meniere’s 15 years ago, but it sure seems much more pronounced since my bad fall last summer. This scares and worries me a lot.

3. This might seem like a prideful matter, but I view it as more of a crutch/dependency issue. (Weird choice of words). If I simply look back since surgery I can only think of one instance where I thought, damn, wish I would have left my cane in the car. (More on this bizarre shopping trip in a minute). Every other single time I’ve been running errands, walking on uneven pavement or very tired from getting in and out of the car numerous times I’ve thought, why didn’t I bring my cane? I would feel better if I had my cane.

So a week ago Monday I had an appointment. Decided to make one extra stop while I was out because I had done absolutely nothing the previous week. The Sunday paper ad for Aldi had humongous bags of Halloween candy on sale. (We get between 450 and 600 trick or treaters at our house). I used my cane when I got out of the car, then realized I had no change to retrieve one of their shopping carts. No matter, I’m only gonna buy a couple bags of candy. I walked right to the candy aisle (yes I’m familiar where the sweets are-don’t judge) and was searching for the bags of 250 pieces for $19.47 when I spot a seriously jacked up bag-400 pieces (about the size of a twin mattress, only harder to handle) for $23.97. See the problem is both Hubs and I are incapable of throwing one itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny candy bar the size of my thumbnail into a trick or treater’s pillowcase (which is usually larger than the kid). It just seems cheap and pitifully tight-assy. So we toss in 2, sometimes 3.

This is how my Monday felt…

Still, if we stick to 2 bars each, this supplies 400 kids for 50 bucks, not bad. Might have to buy a couple extra bags just in case. (We’ve run out every year and had to turn our light off early, but 2 years ago we made a terribly embarrassing mistake). We were running low on candy and I remembered a good dozen plus full-size Hershey’s candy bars (for s’mores. Yeah that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). I run to the cupboard, rip open the packages and start handing out big candy bars. Word gets out-spreads like the plague. Soon the line to our front steps is 50 deep with kids and parents and we’re out of everything except Idaho potatoes, 3 stalks of celery and a half dozen eggs. I yell an apology to the masses, close the door, lock it in case they try to storm the joint and turn off the light. (We were pleasantly surprised the next morning that our house remained egg and toilet paper free).

Back to my woeful tale at Aldi’s. So I’ve got my cane, my purse, no cart and 2 bags of candy that are measured by the metric ton. I hobble to the checkout with my cane under my arm (it does a lot of good there doesn’t it), the 2 round hay bale size bags ripping out my fingernails with every uneven/unsteady step. Ahead of me in line is a very pregnant mom with 2 small girls who are both gaping at the size of my load. Mom says, “you only got those 2 big things? Go ahead of me.” “God love ‘ya woman, thanks!”

I pay, then awkwardly move my two Hummer size bags to the extra counter where everyone bags their own stuff. I slide/push/pull/yank them along until I’m at the exit. I feel like a total fraud (because I can’t use my cane unless I get rid of one of the smart car sized candy bags). I feel like everyone is watching/recording/ me. My cane is under my arm, one 55 gallon drum bag of candy held like a baby in my left arm. My purse is hung over my head, hitting me in the gut with every wobbly step. My right hand is clinging (minus 3 fingernails, hey who needs that extra weight anyway?) to the other bag which is now skimming the ground. Hefty, hefty, hefty (me and my 2 bags). This should be titled, The Longest Walk. My Jeep looks like a tiny dot on the horizon. Actually it was the third car (no I don’t have a handicap sticker) in the row just to the left of where I was standing. (And cursing my decision to make that one extra stop or try and buy those damn kids any stinking candy).

After moving the candy with a dolly to get a picture 2 of the legs on my chair broke. Oh vey…

Please God let me make it to my car, please God let me make it to my car (sung to the tune of, Shall we gather at the river)? I can’t remember ever being so happy to heave my heavy burden in the Jeep. If you see a YouTube video gone viral (just my luck) of a good sized granny with enough candy to feed a third world country for a week, limping along without her cane, which is going un-used but not un-noticed, please show some empathy and compassion. She’s trying valiantly but not getting very far…