February 12, 2011
Gunderson, class of 1963
latest revision February
The imminent arrival of
Valentine’s Day gets some people thinking of the color red,
yummy-but-not-so-healthy desserts, heart-shaped boxes of
chocolates, candlelight dinners, cupids on Hallmark cards, and romance between two people of the opposite
This past week, not thinking of V-Day at the time, I cooked my
first batch of beet borscht for 2011. It’s a great winter menu
item–warm and hearty with a jewel red color. So why not think
of it as a V-Day treat. BTW, for all you folks who turn up your
noses at the thought of vegetables, especially the likes of
beets, the borscht actually tastes great. Maybe some day, I will
write the story of how I learned to like beets in the 1970s.
Prior to some friends farming the garden in my back yard in
Fargo and giving me fresh beets to try, I turned my nose up at
All that a cook needs for my kind of borscht is water,
vegetable stock, or chicken stock; onion, garlic, beets and beet
greens, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, perhaps green peppers and
carrots, a little lemon juice and brown sugar or honey, salt and pepper.
Of course, there are plenty of other recipes for borscht. Wheatsfield Coop in Ames has two or three pots of soup made in
its kitchen every day as part of its hot food and salad bar.
I love their borscht, but it seems mainly to be cabbage, beef,
and broth with seasonings but with little clue that there are
beets in it.
I learned to make borscht from the 1986 edition of Laurel’s
Kitchen Cookbook. It contains only vegetarian recipes, but I can
use them as intended or adapt them. Sometimes, I use chicken
stock for the borscht, and often, I use more kinds of vegetables
than the recipe calls for. But it's still a very basic soup that
is not doctored with a lot of commercial or unhealthy additives. Also, I use tricks to avoid the kitchen getting
splattered with red beet juice and use as much
locally-sourced produce as possible. BTW, there are plenty of
good reasons to use locally-grown food, not the least of which
is to help our state’s economy and enhance the health of our
communities. And there is a bi-partisan bill at the state legislature for Iowa to be
more proactive in promoting the use of local foods.
Last summer, I grew beets. They are not the most prolific
vegetables that I grow but were picture-perfect. At harvest, I
cook beets and their greens for fresh eating, but I also think
ahead to winter. Immediately upon picking the ones that I plan to “put by,” I cut off, blanch, and freeze the greens.
Then I simmer the roots, put them in cool water, and peel them.
In previous years, I would then freeze them whole in Ziploc
bags. That meant I had a beet juice mess in the kitchen at
preservation time and again in the winter when I thawed, sliced, and
put the beets into the soup mix. The worst mess happened one
Sunday morning when I was under time pressure to get to the Unitarian Fellowship but first wanted
to finish preparing a pot of
borscht for a soup lunch I was in charge of there. And it
seemed important to puree some of the soup. To make a long story
short, it is never fun to return home to a messy kitchen,
especially one with red liquid splattered on the walls.
So armed with a new strategy, after I peeled the beets
last summer, I added a
minimal amount of water and pureed them in the blender,
then froze the puree in plastic containers. That meant that when I made borscht
this week, the mess of beet juice was behind me.
So here’s what I did to make the borscht. I got a quart
of homemade stock I had made months ago from a chicken from
Audubon County Family Farms out of the freezer, put it in a stock pot
and brought it to a boil.
I added other ingredients in an order based on how long
they would need to simmer. First, I scrubbed and sliced unpeeled
fingerling potatoes from the Huber Family Farm and put them in
the pot. Then I chopped and added green cabbage from Wheatsfield.
Unfortunately, I did not think ahead last summer like I
had in previous years when I either grew cabbage or got some
from the farmer’s market. Cabbage is easy to blanch and have in
the freezer ready to go into a soup.
Then I got out a bag of frozen Anaheim peppers. I had picked
them from my garden last summer, washed, cut them in half,
seeded them, then spread them on cookie sheets in the freezer,
but when solid, I transferred them to Ziploc bags for long-term
While the initial ingredients were simmering and
softening, I put a skillet on the stove, then added olive oil
and garlic. It wasn’t your common image of the two ingredients.
Last summer, I also harvested garlic, peeled off the
paper-like skin, then pureed the cloves with olive oil and
poured the mixture into ice cube trays. When the cubes were solid, I
also put them into freezer
bags and back into freezer for long-term storage.
I have never
had the sense to chop and freeze onions from my garden or local
|During the harvest season, I have a
notion that I can store onions well enough that
they will last through winter, but that has never proven to be
successful. So I grabbed the only onion I could find (a store
bought one), chopped, and added it to the skillet.
Then there was the waiting time for those ingredients to
cook and soften. Eventually, I added more items to the stock
pot: the sautéed garlic and onions; chopped beet greens; a quart
of crushed tomatoes that I had grown and canned last summer; a
couple of cups of frozen, pureed beets; two teaspoons of bottled
lemon juice; two teaspoons of brown sugar (I have been known to
use honey from the Coon Rapids area); salt and pepper.
Sometimes, I have swirled a dollop of sour cream
into a bowl
of borscht, giving the soup an intriguing design. But I had none on hand this week. Plus I have sensitivities to too much dairy.
The soup was great all by itself with an awesomely, beautiful,
jewel-like color. The taste and texture were just as great. My
heart was warmed many times over: by growing and finding
locally-sourced products; putting food by; preparing the soup;
savoring not only the taste but also the beauty; being nourished
in body and soul; and being warmed in body and heart. And of
course, I have leftovers to eat by myself or share with friends.
What a better way to honor Valentine’s Day. And yes, as I set my
table to photograph a bowl of soup this afternoon, Micah, one of my two
cats, decided to explore, and now she sits by me as I write at my
V-Day has not always been an easy one for me, especially
considering that I am a single person, and the falderal
surrounding the day and emphasis on couples in romantic
relationships reminds me of being a minority in a couple’s
world. From my humble perspective, society puts too much emphasis on certain kinds of
romantic love, and V-Day is something like Christmas in that
many people feel bummed during the holiday season because they
have idealistic expectations that are unmet.
Also, a sense of well-being and feeling loved and at home in the
universe is not dependent on Hollywood standards of romantic
relationships. I value friendship, and sometimes friendship as well as
the beauty of solitude seem under-rated.
I think of the term “Sacred Heart” as in the "Sacred Heart High
School" or sung in hymns. My spiritual disciplines include, but
are not limited to, journal-writing in a spiral-bound notebook
or with my laptop computer as well as drawing rudimentary art with colored Crayola markers in
a 14x17-inch sketchpad
I am reminded of a drawing from last week. Admittedly,
with this kind of artwork, some one other than me who viewed it
would not see in it what I interpreted from it nor understand
what I experienced while creating it. However, from my
perspective, what emerged was a large, radiant red heart and a
person–the heart much larger than the person, yet the person being
supported by the heart, one with it, and celebrating it. Not a couple,
but one person. The heart represented a love not restricted to what people believe
theologically, but a love that is at the core of world
religions, faith systems, and philosophies. The love cannot be
boxed by dogma. It is not fully fathomable but is numinous,
mysterious, part of the universe, greater than and yet within each of us.
People can learn about themselves
and grow through relationships. People can also learn to love from
relationships–beginning with what they learn from parents and
grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighborhood mentors, teachers,
brothers and sisters, school mates, friends, partners, and
others. But as wonderful as relationships can
be, a deep-seeded love of self is at the core of being a healthy
human being. Such an attitude of well-being can enhance
relationships. It can also help people
see the best in other others and be just to them, even when they
I mentioned earlier that the Iowa legislature has (or at least had) a
bill to increase support of locally-grown food. The House also
has partisan, majority support for a resolution to amend the state
constitution, declaring: “Marriage between one man and one woman
shall be the only legal union valid or recognized in this
state.” There has been much heated discourse about the
resolution on the floor of the legislature, including a hearing,
and in the media. I have read several articles in the Des Moines
Register. I have also read many on-line comments. I understand
that people can have radically different perspectives, but I
certainly don’t like the vitriol. It is hard to understand how
proponents of the bill, who claim a Christian basis for
supporting it, can spew more of what seems like hate (or at
least major insensitivity) rather than the kind of love that
Jesus teaches in the Bible.
Since I have both the privilege and responsibility of being the
editor of this Web site, and there are probably readers who
strongly support the amendment and others who strongly oppose it–with a
range of perspectives between those ends of the spectrum–I need
to be fair and cautious in adding my own two cents even though I
have strong feelings.
There is a time, though, to speak up for justice even in platforms
such as an alumni Web site that pretty much is apolitical.
I am reminded of Rolfe High School alumnus, Stuart Webb, of
the class of 1949. He was the third generation of the Webb
family who ran Webb's Drug Store on Main Street. It sold
everything from prescription and over-the-counter drugs to
wallpaper and paints to cameras and film to mixed roasted nuts
and boxed chocolates to school supplies and more.
|The store also had a comic book room and soda fountain where
people liked to hang out and the Webb family and workers were
fair and hospitable. I liked sitting on one of
the tall stools at the soda fountain, ordering a lemon-lime
phosphate or cherry Coke and feeling like the person behind the
counter truly cared about who I was.
Left: Rose and Harold Calligan.
Stuart and his mother Jane Webb took over the management of
the store in the mid-1950s after Stuart's father, Morris, died.
However, Stuart soon discerned that he did not feel called to be
a pharmacist even though he was certified to be one. So he and
his wife and children moved to Iowa City, and he earned a law degree
from the University of Iowa. Then
they settled in
Minneapolis, where decades later, he and a colleague began the collaborative law
Getting to the point–the Rolfe schools
invited Stuart to give the commencement address one year in the late 1960s.
(For the record, I graduated in 1963.) Usually, such events are apolitical–a
little fluff, wisdom, good will, a way to send the new graduates
into the world and honor one of Rolfe's own alumni who had been
popular and was perceived to be successful in his career. But
Stuart talked about racial issues. The air in the gymnasium
was more somber than usual. I got the sense that people were uncomfortable or
embarrassed that a speaker would use a high school commencement platform
to talk about a difficult and sensitive topic. There was an
awkward silence in the car when I rode home with my parents
after the ceremonies.
Stuart's sense of ethics, vision of how the world was changing,
and courage to speak truth. His remarks could easily have risked
the community's fondness for him. Fortunately, he was wise and
gentle–not in anyone's face, which would have done no good in
terms of getting across his message.
I certainly don't want to be in
anyone's face about same sex marriage in the context of this Web
site, but I do encourage readers to tap into
their deep sense of being loved and at home in the universe when
considering the merits or lack of merits of the proposed
resolution. That kind of spiritual awareness is far
more important than dogma. For those who are Christian, a good
question would be “What would Jesus say or do?” in relation to
the proposed amendment. What would he say to or how would he
act toward those couples who love
each other but are of the same sex, and therefore, different than the traditional definition of
marriage? My hope is that Iowans will let the state's tradition
of fairness and an attitude of "live and let live" predominate.
My best to you for Valentine’s Day whether you
are on your own, with a partner, good friend/s, family member/s,
or beloved pet/s. May your heart be warm and nourished.