Rolfe High School Alumni Web Site: Graphic by Wendy Bennett

December 2001
Bulletin Board

Food for Thought about Simplifying the Holidays

by Helen D. Gunderson, editor
December 12, 2001

'Tis the Season, but it's hard to realize the Holidays are at hand when I look out my window and see green grass, gray skies, a thermometer that indicates a 45-degree temperature, and a moist street from last night's slow drizzle of rain. 

My parents, some siblings and their spouses were here for Thanksgiving. We had a fine time, and my cuisine was well-received, even by the guests with picky appetites. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Denise, who is a farmer in the the Atlantic area, delivered a freshly-butchered, 30-pound turkey. "Yikes," you might say. "That's a BIG bird for a single person who is entertaining only six guests." Fortunately, at my request, Denise had her butcher cut the turkey into sections, and I immediately put half the bird in the freezer then simmered the rest, de-boned it, and put the pieces in a 
casserole with a layer of herbal gravy so the meat would not dry out when I reheated it for the Thanksgiving meal. Fortunately, sister Clara (class of 1961) was here and kept me on focused so that all the menu items would be ready to serve at the same time and before the other guests got too restless. 

Recently, I wrote a thank you note to friends that said, "It's so neat to be able to put a name to the food on the table. For instance, 'the turkey is from Denise, the pumpkin from Judy, the eggs from Mark, Connie, and Johnny, and the kale and carrots from Matt and Laura.'" 

I first met Matt, a specialist in sustainable agriculture, a few years ago when he was new in Iowa, having just moved here from Maine for a position at Iowa State. I rode with him and a rural sociologist to a field day hosted by the Practical Farmers of Iowa where I was to do photography. Our conversation was fascinating, and I discovered that Matt not only researches and teaches sustainable issues, but he practices a simple and sustainable lifestyle. Among other things, he has a terrific garden in his backyard in the Old Town section of Ames — a place where a person speeding along Grand Avenue a half block away would never suspect such a sumptuous plot. 

I have often run into Matt since that trip to photograph the PFI meeting, and he has always quietly and graciously invited me to come see his garden. Well, my intentions have been good ones, and that's what I told him when I ran into him at 8:30 p.m. the night before Thanksgiving when I was at Wheatsfield Grocery (a co-op) to get honey (I had run out of it at home) for making pumpkin pie (with the pumpkin from Judy that I had processed and the eggs from Mark, Connie, and Johnny). 

I had the jar of honey in my hand and was browsing at the store not so much because I needed anything else, but because I enjoy the company at Wheatsfield. I did pick up a head of broccoli, thinking I needed some green produce at home but decided to pass on the kale and get it another day. Only seconds later, I saw Matt and pleaded my case about having good intentions to visit his garden. He said I could come over that night. I said fine but that I couldn't linger long since Clara and her husband, Hal, would be arriving from Omaha between 9 and 10:30. 

Like I said, Matt's home is in the Old Town part of Ames, but there under the yard light in the backyard were two large patches of kale, and sent he me home with a garbage bag full of it and some carrots, beets, garlic and onion. He also had me taste the arugula. I spat out the bitter green and declined to take any of it home even though I know there are people who adore arugula. 

I did not prepare kale for my family for Thanksgiving, knowing that few of my kin would eat it even though I have a great way of sautéing then steaming kale with garlic, onion, and other vegetables. However, after family left, over the course of a couple weeks, I finished off the kale and earlier this week, stopped by Matt's home where his partner, Laura, led me to the backyard and we picked two grocery bags full of kale for me to take home. 

I admit, I did not grow up being a vegetable eater, and I don't often do as well as I should in terms of consuming the number of "green leafy" vegetables that a person should have in her diet. BUT, I love kale, and Matt and Laura's is the best I've ever had. If this weather continues to hold with temperatures in the 40's and 50's, I may have a source of locally grown kale for several more weeks.

Usually in October of each year, Mother asks me what I want on my Christmas list. This year, I could not think of anything. I had been thinking about getting a serger (it's a machine used in sewing) but when I priced them, the cost was much more than I wanted to spend and more than Mother would want to invest in a gift. 

I didn't grow up with a strong interest in sewing, and it has been many years since my disasters as a seamstress in Miss Huston's home economics class (I won't labor you with the details), but in recent years, I have gotten into sewing. When I found out that a person didn't have to be a purist and sew quilt blocks by hand, I suspected I might enjoy quilting and started on a friend's machine at her home, making simple pillow covers. Eventually, I asked Mother if she had a sewing machine, and she said she did and that she was wondering if any of us kids would like to have it. I jumped at the chance. With five siblings, a person never knows whether someone else will claim such a gift and the opportunity to obtain it will be lost forever. I also knew how precious Mother's machine was. It's a Singer Featherlite portable machine that she got the family around 1957 so we could do 4-H projects. I've taken it to some quilting classes have been the envy of many people there for having such a simple, solid, efficient, quiet, and smooth-running machine.

Well, I'm rambling. So back to the point about the serger. It seemed ludicrous for me to spend big money for a serger when all I wanted it for was to finish seams in denim, drawstring pants or to make calico napkins. But I wrote in my journal one day that I really did want a serger and specified a price I would be willing to pay. But I knew there would be a compromise. If I could purchase a used one, I could be frugal, but would miss out on getting a free class to learn how to use what seemed to be a very complex machine. As it turned out, Jeanne, the owner of the Quilting Connection in Ames, whose previous career was that of custom sewing, wanted to sell her used serger and a bag of thread for an amount that was $10 under the price I had jotted down in my journal as a price I would be willing to pay. And to top that, her store is really into educating people, so she gave me a couple lessons then I brought the baby (I mean the serger) home and got right into using it. There was some chaos for awhile as I experimented and scraps of fabric ended up strewn across the floor. That's because that same night, I set up my Singer machine in another room and finished three quilted pillow covers for Christmas gifts. Somehow, my place goes from chaos to order then back to chaos, but I guess the chaos means I am engaged in creative projects. 

The first serged project that I completed was a set of four calico napkins. Within a couple days, while cleaning clutter out of a cupboard (something I do often) I decided to take Matt and Laura  a small photo/quilt wall-hanging with a still-life scene in the center that I had taken of carrots, mottled white and red string beans, and onions. The calico fabric in the napkins was also used in the wall-hanging, so I decided to give their family a set  — the four napkins and the photo/quilt. I reached in a cupboard and pulled out a slightly used Christmas box from last year and wrote a note that among other things thanked Matt and Laura for the kale and other vegetables, for their simple friendship, and for being part of the 'slow food' movement. ("Slow food" is a term I heard for the first time in recent weeks.) So I guess my holiday gift-giving has begun. The next step may be to find a use for the freezer full of pumpkin puree that I made from the six large pumpkins that Judy from the Berry Patch Farm near Nevada gave me. Anyone want a pumpkin pie left on his or her doorstep?

What prompted me to sit down and write about this food and sewing episode was an e-mail I had received earlier today from a close friend named Joy. It included links to some web sites that provide some good thought and suggestions for simplifying the holidays. I include the links here as well as a link to my business web site where I am offering a 15 percent discount on notecards through to January 11. I don't often put ads on this web site for my personal business, but this is one of those plugs.

Have a good Holiday season, and thanks for visiting this web site.

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