Grandma Josie’s Tapioca Fruit Salad

The cook needs to start this salad the day before the holiday meal...which may be why it's made at our house only once a year.Our extended family is celebrating both Thanksgiving and Christmas this weekend. That means I’m making Grandma Josie’s tapioca fruit salad. We only make this versatile dish–it works as a side dish, dessert, or breakfast food–for Christmas and eat it as greedily as hobbits eat mushrooms. Here’s the recipe.

Holiday Tapioca Fruit Salad

1 box (8 ounces) large pearl tapioca
4 cups water, divided into two equal parts
1/2 cup sugar
1 20 ounce can pineapple tidbits
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1-2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups seedless red grapes, halved
1 cups chopped walnuts
2 apples, cored and diced
2 bananas, sliced
2 oranges, diced

The night before the meal, put tapioca in a medium bowl. Add 2 cups of water to the tapioca, cover, and let soak overnight.

Several hours before serving, place soaked tapioca in heavy saucepan. Add 2 cups water and the sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until most of the tapioca is translucent and the mixture is very thick. Pour into a large bowl and immediately add pineapple (juice and all) into the thick tapioca. Stir thoroughly. Put in the refrigerator or on the porch to cool.

An hour before serving whip the cream. Add sugar and vanilla. In a large bowl mix the tapioca, fruit, (except the bananas), and whipped cream together. Immediately before the meal, slice the bananas and stir them in, along with the nuts.

Top Ten Thanksgiving Traditions

What Thanksgiving traditions are you anticipating this week? Here are my top 10.Thanksgiving is all about tradition…at least at our house. Here are ten of our top traditions in the order in which they occur.

10. All the dog owners bring their dogs to keep the kitchen floor clean.

9.  Generations (4 this year) mingle together creating new links in the chain that stretch into the past we can’t remember and toward the future we can not see.

8.  Everybody brings appointed dishes for the meal…enough to feed a small army.

7.  Once people begin arriving with their appointed dishes, it is imparetive for everyone to talk at the same time. All day long.

6.  Except when chowing down handfuls of Fabulous Franklin Chex Mix to keep up our strength until the meal begins.

5.  Everyone worries there won’t be enough food because we all plan to eat too much.

4.  Certain members of the family guzzle Grandma Josie’s tapioca fruit salad. They are secretly pleased that some people don’t like it so the leftovers can be eaten for Christmas.

3.  After the meal, we play games and games and games and games…

2.  …after the chef pops the turkey carcass into a stock pot and sets it to simmer on the stove…

1.  …and until we’ve digested long enough to make room for pie. With real whipping cream on top.

What are your family Thanksgiving traditions? Leave a comment.

On the Street Where I Lived

A recent visit to my childhood home awakened memories that grow more precious each passing year.A week ago today I visited the home where my family lived from 1961 through 1965. The molding above the front door where my sister and I posed in our Christmas best was still there, more lovely than I remembered.

A recent visit to my childhood home awakened memories that grow more precious each passing year.The corner where a Westmar college student snapped a photo of us in front of the best snowman ever is framed in bushes, but the memory of that day remains.

A recent visit to my childhood home awakened memories that grow more precious each passing year.The side yard where Grandpa supervised my sister, brother and me while we swam in our inflatable pool…

A recent visit to my childhood home awakened memories that grow more precious each passing year.…the same yard where my one and only birthday party was held, looked smaller than I remembered.

A recent visit to my childhood home awakened memories that grow more precious each passing year.The house looked smaller too, much smaller, when we went inside. When my cousins and I were very young, we never noticed how completely we filled the space between the door to the upstairs and the kitchen table. Now in our fifties, my cousin and I both commented on how small that space was. I marveled that Dad had been able to right angle his wheelchair around two corners to get to the bathroom from either the living room or his bedroom.

A recent visit to my childhood home awakened memories that grow more precious each passing year.Scanning the living room, I wondered how we crammed the upright piano, the TV with rabbit ears, the fold out couch, grandma’s walnut desk, and an upholstered chair with a large footstool, and found room for company.

A recent visit to my childhood home awakened memories that grow more precious each passing year.I thanked the present owner for welcoming into her home and allowing me to take pictures to show Mom and my siblings. Leaving with my cousin, I realized that our family of five–and Grandpa Stratton for a few months–filled the house to overflowing and then some.

Ever since, my thoughts have overflowed with memories of the years on the street where I once lived.

  • Dad sailing down the hill by our house in his wheel chair with one of us in his lap.
  • Doing dishes with my little brother in the kitchen…until Uncle Jim came in and said, “John, that’s women’s work,” and Little Brother went on strike.
  • Learning how to make snickerdoodles with Mom.
  • Her pride in the new Singer sewing machine in the dining room corner.

Small memories of a small child over a handful of years. Indescribably precious. Forever held dear. They live inside me and warm my heart.

A Little Shellacking on this Fantastic Friday

This Fantastic Friday looks back at times when President Obama and I played fast and loose with shellac and paid the consequences.Today’s the last day I’m in my home town. I walked by the house where I grew up and where Dad encouraged me to play fast and loose with shellack. This Fantastic Friday post revisits that memory and one of my few bonding moments with President Obama.

shellacking: present participle of shel·lac (Verb)
1.   Varnish (something) with shellac.
2.   Defeat or beat (someone) decisively: “they were shellacked in the election”.

First, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. Now he’s reviving dead language. Our president is proving to be quite the leader, at least in areas he hadn’t planned to pursue.

After his famous admission that the “Democrats took a shellacking” in the midterm elections, media groupies have used the word with the fervor of young adolescents imitating the most popular kid in middle school. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “It was Obama’s use of the word ‘shellacking’ that had the blogosphere talking.”

All I know is that every time I turn on the radio, broadcasters and talk show hosts work the word into their copy. They use it with eagerness and obvious pride, their intonation hinting at their delight and pride in using the same word the coolest guy ever in the White House uses. Pretty cool, huh? Huh?

They’re loving keeping up with the big guy, but I’ve had about had my fill of shellacking. In fact, I haven’t been this fed up with the stuff since the summer of sixth grade. Mom was gone for a week or two, taking graduate classes for her masters degree. In her absence, Dad worried that I wouldn’t have my 4-H project – refinishing an old end table – done for the county fair. So he roped our elderly neighbor into helping me glue and clamp the pieces together. Then Dad wheeled out to the garage to direct the staining, sanding, and varnishing stages.

He had me load the brush a little too heavily, coat after coat, so the shellac formed unsightly runs and ridges. My half-hearted sanding efforts between coats didn’t improve matters. The end result was less than stellar, and project only earned a red ribbon at the county fair. A real shellacking in my blue ribbon family.

To this day, every time I walk by that little end table in our upstairs hall, my shellacking debaucle comes to mind. Makes me wonder if Obama regrets his overloaded word choice as much as I regret overloading the paint brush years ago. Anyway, I think it’s pretty cool that the same word taught me and the big guy the same lesson – albeit through alternate meanings.

A little shellacking goes a long way. And don’t we both know it?

Three Thoughts for Thursday

Safety Check for Paris, Mom's answer to "I love you," and lovely lunches in this week's 3 thoughts.

  1. Thankful for the Safety Check for Paris Facebook feature that showed a friend who lives in Paris is alive and well. Heartsick and praying for those who didn’t receive such good news.
  2. Mom’s answer to my “I love you, Mom” at the end of our last visit? “Thank you. Good to know.” Gotta love her!
  3. Coffee and lunch in my home town with a friend from high school. Lovely!

What’s been lovely about your week? Leave a comment.

That Fabulous Franklin Chex Mix

Getting ready for Thanksgiving with the recipe for Mom's famous Chex Mix. There's plenty of time to shop for groceries and render the secret ingredient, too.Just in time for the big Thanksgiving grocery shopping trip, here’s the recipe for the Fabulous Franklin Chex Mix. The recipe traces its roots back to Zoe Hemmingson, one of Mom’s fellow teachers at Franklin School in Le Mars, Iowa.

It’s been a family favorite at Thanksgiving and Christmas since the late 1960s Mom used to make a batch in November and another in December. She’s abandoned the shopping and cooking duties, though she still pays for the ingredients, but sends one her kids to shop. These days she enjoys watching her children or grandchildren do the measuring, mixing, and cooking…and performing her quality control, taste-testing duties. Rock on, Mom!

Franklin Teachers’ Chex Mix

Mix together in a large bowl:
1 box Crispex (17 ounce)
5 cups Cheerios
4 – 5 cups pretzels and mixed nuts (proportion as you like)

Mix together in a small bowl:
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
1/2 cup melted bacon grease*
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Divide mixed, dry ingredients amongst three or four large cake pans. Pour wet ingredients over cereal mix and stir well. Bake at 200 degrees for 2 hours. Stir and turn off the oven. Leave mix in oven until the oven cools. Cool Chex Mix. Store in airtight containers.

*This secret ingredient is essential for the mix’s unique taste. Please ignore recent research that shows the secret ingredient may cause cancer.

Home Again at 1410 KLEM

Thanks to the magic of radio, you can go home reality and in memory, too.One of my earliest memories is of sitting with my big sister on our bed, the kitchen radio between us, waiting for Dad to read the market report for our hometown radio station. Our bedroom door was tightly shut to avoid feedback from the dining room, which was HQ for Dad’s broadcast.

The glamour of hearing Ole Oleson announce–”And here’s Harlan Stratton with the morning market report for K-L-E-M, 1410 KLEM.”–sent shivers of delight down my spine. Listening to Dad’s voice come through the radio was magical.

Dad’s radio career was cut short by the progression of his multiple sclerosis, which soon left him unable to read. But KLEM’s magical aura lingered clear through numerous high school treks to the station to promote the theater productions that were my lifeblood in those days.

This week I’m in my hometown again to speak at 4 northwest Iowa libraries, the Le Mars Public Library included, about caregiving. Monday morning, at 11:45, I’ll join the city librarian at K-L-E-M KLEM to talk up the Le Mars event. Thanks to the magic of the internet, you can listen to 1410 KLEM live from wherever you may be–in the next room or in the next continent.

Dad’s been gone 17 years now, and his last radio broadcast was 50+ years ago. But if his name comes up during the broadcast and my voice wavers, you will know that the magic of hearing Dad’s voice still lingers. No longer on the radio for the morning market report, but forever in my heart.

The Fly Over Life on This Fantastic Friday

When I wrote this post I was grateful for fly over country. 5 years later, I'm still grateful and a little bit more so.

For those of you who don’t live in fly over country, this Fantastic Friday post explains what you are missing.

You know how jet setters dismiss the land between the east and west coasts as fly-over country? They scoff at what they consider a wasteland of cornfields, a vast expanse where nothing worthwhile happens, nothing of consequence is produced, no one of importance lives. Well, I love living in fly-over country, no matter what the jet setters think of it. But, the past week exposed an unexpected truth.

We live a fly-over life.

A midweek visit to my son and new daughter was void of the hoopla that characterized much of the last two years: no illness, thus no dramatic health cures; no happy announcements, thus no need to plan big celebrations; no crises, thus no anxiety-racked discussions. Instead, in our time together we talked about jobs, exchanged recipes, played with the dog, and went to bed by 9:00 PM.

Pleasant, but boring.

A perusal of our weekend activities confirms life’s fly-over status. I made cookies for upcoming church events and cleaned some drawers in the kitchen – without burning a single cookie or pinching myself with kitchen utensils. Hiram reinstalled the sink in the upstairs bathroom without cracking the porcelain or ruining the newly laid tile. We comparison shopped for a new refrigerator, washer, and dryer – and found what we needed for less than expected.

Appreciated, but boring.

A phone call to our daughter and new son was uneventful. She’s keeping up in school and making progress with her online, custom sewing business; no need for me to swoop in and chair a planning pow wow. He likes his job; no need for encouraging words to buck him up. They’re looking ahead to next year, hunting online for an apartment near the campus they’ve move to next August; no need for parental reminders to think about the future.

Reassuring, but boring.

I live a beyond-the-excitement, happily-ever-after, fly-over existence made possible by the exciting lives of others:
American revolutionaries
hardy pioneers
abolitionists and Civil War soldiers
WWI doughboys
survivors of the Great Depression
Tom Brokaw’s greatest generation
war veterans
my Alaskan homesteader in-laws years
my courageous and determined parents

Because of them, Hiram I will spend a quiet, fly-over Thanksgiving with our daughter and new son in their tiny, college apartment. We’ll talk about work, exchange recipes, do a few odd jobs, and be in bed by 9:00 PM.

I am exceeding grateful for those who made possible this boring, fly-over life. You?

Three Thoughts for Thursday

Walking coatless in November, an analogy involving pie and grandchildren, and Thanksgiving baking in this week's 3 thoughts.

  1. Yes, global warming is a reality to be confronted. But an early morning walk in November without a coat is a present grace to be savored.
  2. A house without grandchildren is like pie without ice cream: comfortable and satisfying, but missing a sweet little something.
  3. Speaking of pie, I’ll be baking apple, cherry, and mince for Thanksgiving. You?

Chicken with Raspberry Chipotle Sauce

This easy and delicious recipe is low-sugar, gluten-fee, and dairy free. Plus it will set your taste buds dancing.This post is the culmination of a three part series that began with DIY adobo seasoning, which was an ingredient in the raspberry chipotle sauce used in today’s delicious chicken recipe. I first tasted this dish at a church potluck and made it for my daughter and her family a few weeks later. We all loved it, and I’m looking forward to making it again soon, and the Man of Steel is looking forward to eating it.

Chicken with Raspberry Chipotle Sauce

2 grilled chicken breasts sliced into thin strips
1 batch low sugar raspberry chipotle sauce
1 red, yellow, or orange sweet bell pepper cut into thin strips
1 large onion, sliced into thick strips

Place grilled chicken strips in the bottom of a crock pot. Place peppers and onions on top of the chicken. Pour the raspberry chipotle sauce over all. Put lid on crock pot and cook on low for 4 hours.

Serve in tortillas or over rice. Feeds 4.