Sweet Promises and Sauerkraut

June 18, 2012 at 4:23 pm Leave a comment

I’m working on a major writing project about caring for elderly parents, so I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately.  It’s been a depressing experience. 

It’s not that these accounts don’t hold touching examples of tender human exchanges; of forgiveness and grace; of healing and renewed relationships.  Where aging is their focus, well-chosen anecdotes often reveal the unpredictable, tragi-comic nature of physical and mental decline. And some of the authors’ insightful verbal snapshots are sheer rhetorical genius. 

What troubles this former apostate is the prevailing agnostic viewpoint that seeps into the texts, extinguishing any flicker of hopeful expectation that eternity offers a glorious, new future to step into as earthly life subsides.  It’s a faith-void that ultimately sucks all the meaning out of human existence.  

“What could I say?” writes Meg Federico in Welcome to the Departure Lounge, wondering how one is supposed to live when an end is in sight.  “Nobody tells you this stuff,” she laments.  “But shouldn’t a lifetime of church on Sunday offer some comfort, especially now?”  Indeed it should.  But I guess it depends on which pew you’ve been warming and your reasons for plopping into it once a week.  Somebody sure told me “this stuff,” once I was willing to sit still and listen. 

“What about God?” the author asks her troubled mother.  “God isn’t working anymore,” comes the addled response. 

God isn’t working anymore.  I had a magic talisman that was wonderfully reassuring to tote around with me when I was fit and able, eager to dress in my finest and meet with friends for coffee after the 10:00 o’clock service.  It was all glittery and shiny, just like youth, but no matter how hard I shake the darned thing, it has quit working now that life’s cherry bowl has gone sour on me. 

“Mom wouldn’t buy dumb platitudes,” daughter Meg concludes, drawing a moral equivalence between Holy Scripture and Kahlil Gibran.  Nobody with a true need ever does buy dumb platitudes.  That’s why there is a True God with a True Message who offers True Comfort when we most desperately need it.  Of course, we have to meet Him half-way.  He can’t guide us through the rough patches if we’re walking away from Him. 

It’s been claimed that every foxhole is populated with instant converts.  Not so every nursing home sick bed, it seems.  Depressing.  And inexpressibly sad. 

Because they are research, I read these books through to the end, but I do feel a need to push the “refresh” button on my mental computer screen when I’ve finished.  I might revisit an uplifting email from a fellow writer, compose a note to a granddaughter who is facing unusually tough challenges, or whip up a batch of Caramel Crispy Chex Mix for my in-residence mother-in-law. 

Then it’s out the door to steep in the scent and color of resplendent apple blossoms, wonders of Creation waiting just around the bend in the path to the park; to meditate my way through a power-walk and reconnect with the Source of my own hope and assurance.  Even as the child of God in me prays for those who face illness and recovery, and especially for those who walk in darkness, the perpetual foodie in me drifts to thoughts of a knee-slapping menu:  a comfort food meal to beat all, on a coolish day in June.  

That’s what works for me.  Stretching to the heights and then grounding my thoughts in the practical.  A crock pot of Pork Ribs Braised in Beer with Sauerkraut and Cabbage; some simple, light and fluffy Mashed Swidaho Potato Pancakes; and a batch of Brown-Bread Muffins takes me back to childhood, and turns out to be one of the most succulent meals I’ve offered at the family dinner table in months.  Truly comforting, it fortified this diner enough to go back and take up another volume in her current research assignment.  For basic directions, see below.  And I’ve thrown in my Customized Chex Mix recipe for good measure – and guilty pleasure.  A mixed fruit compote would work for the highly conscientious. 

For the crock pot pork and kraut, I had a large family-style package of bone-in pork ribs on hand, from which I pared a majority of the visible fat.  I also had a bit of leftover sauerkraut in the freezer and a half-head of cabbage and some apple cider in the refrigerator – a happy confluence of leftovers which mellowed to mouth-melting goodness in the depths of my crock pot for about seven hours.  

4# bone-in country-style pork ribs                  ½ head cabbage         

1 cup sauerkraut, w juice                                      12 oz beer

1 C water                                                                       ½ C apple cider

pepper to taste 

Trim ribs of excess fat and set aside.  Slice then chop cabbage into slaw-size pieces and place in a large crock pot along with sauerkraut, beer, water, cider, and pepper.  Lay ribs on top, then press them down until covered by liquid.  Set cooker on high and cook for at least five and up to seven hours, spooning kraut/cabbage mixture over top of ribs every few hours if possible.  Reduce heat to low or warm setting when meat is falling-off-the-bone tender.

This mixture tames down the piquancy of the kraut, and imbues every morsel of meat with a succulence I get a little emotional trying to describe, so onward to… 

Swidaho potato pancakes make good use of those few russets and yams you have lolling around in the pantry, begging to be used up.  This is so simple, it’s hardly a recipe: 

2 large white potatoes                         2 large sweet potatoes

salt and pepper to taste                       ¼ tsp nutmeg or allspice                                

butter and oil                                           chive sour cream garnish (optional) 

Peel, cube, and boil the potatoes and yams together in the same pot until knife-poking tender.   Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and spice, then rice or mash potatoes by hand just until they are blended and a nice pale-orange color.  Cool.  Heat a few teaspoons of butter along with a few teaspoons of canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Form mashed potatoes into 1/3 C balls and set in hot skillet, then use a spatula to press immediately into a patty shape about ½” thick.  Cook until browned and flip – about four minutes per side should do it.  Add more butter and oil as needed.  Keep cooked patties warm on a cookie sheet in the oven, along side… 

What I am calling Boston brown bread muffins might better be described as multi-grain Minneapolis tan muffins, or perhaps “Miami tan” muffins, since we North Star Staters don’t often get  much past khaki on the shade scale.  These are quite good at room temperature, with a smear of peanut butter, I discovered at 10:45 p.m. on the day in question.  I have also used fat-free sour cream and skipped the raisins and sunflower seeds, with good results. 

¾ C flour                                             ¾ C whole wheat flour

¼ C rye flour                                     ½ C corn meal

1 tsp baking soda                             1 TB baking powder

½ tsp salt                                            2 TB brown sugar

1 large egg                                           1/3 C canola oil

1/3 C molasses                                  ¾ C sour cream

1/2 C apple juice                               1/3 C raisins

¼ C sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 375° and coat a muffin pan with cooking spray.  Combine flours, corn meal, soda, powder, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk until well combined.  In a large bowl, thoroughly combine brown sugar, egg, oil, molasses, sour cream, and juice – beating with a large fork to remove lumps.  Stir dry ingredients into wet, just until blended.  Stir in seeds and raisins, if using.  Fill muffin cups with batter and bake for 20 minutes, shifting oven position once during baking period.  Cool in pans.  

And now for something completely different, and completely decadent, my version of a chocolaty, crunchy, nutty, toffee-flavored Chex mix, which comprised, to the recipient’s delight, an entire Mother’s Day gift this year – along with a coupon book for ten refill batches. 

4 C Rice Chex®                                  4 C Corn Chex®

1-1/2 C broken pecans                    1 C packed brown sugar

½ C butter                                           ¼ C light corn syrup

¼ tsp baking soda                             1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips 

Combine cereals and pecans in a large microwavable bowl.  Place brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup in a two-cup microwavable measuring cup and microwave on high microwavable for one minute; stir and microwave on high one additional minute, until melted.  Stir in baking soda and pour mixture over cereal blend, stirring to distribute as evenly as possible.  

Microwave this mixture on high for five-to-six minutes, stirring and scraping bowl every 60 seconds or so.  Stir in chocolate chips until melted and spread the resulting gooey mess onto the shiny side of freezer paper or a sheet of waxed paper.  Cover lightly with a second sheet and allow to cool until firm.  You may have to refrigerate it if it’s 90° where you are, like it is for the Texas side of our clan today.  

Well, there you have it.  Some heavy-duty food for thought and some heavy-duty food for comfort.  Here’s hoping it will all balance out just right.

Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

An Ode to J.R. Good Medicine, Bad Medicine

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