Giving Thanks

We celebrate Thanksgiving this week. My refrigerator is packed with everything we need for a meal that showcases abundance, and I’m thrilled that all my kids will be home for the holiday. We have much to be thankful for.

I’ve got three bundles of collard greens ready to go. I have an enormous turkey ready for roasting. I’ve got bread dough, and carrots, and potatoes, and stuffing. I baked chocolate chip cookies over the weekend, and I have three pies in the freezer.

I think we’re set for food.

But what I look forward to the most is hanging out with the family. We have some games to play after dinner this year–the youngest girls are ready for Candyland and Chutes and Ladders–and since my son is in town, I think we’ll put up our Christmas tree, too.

Thanksgiving has always meant family to me. Up until my grandmother, Elsie, passed away in 2001, I spent every Thanksgiving in her kitchen, helping to produce the enormous feast we needed to feed the Mattson family. We used the community room in her apartment building, and we often had, at minimum, fifty people eating.

We’d go through two twenty-pound turkeys, cooked on Weber grills or in Grandma’s oven, along with numerous sides, including a sixteen-quart stockpot full of mashed potatoes. One of my earliest cooking memories, in fact, is peeling potatoes for that pot, alongside my cousin, Nicole.

(Leftover potatoes, if there were any, would become lefse. That’s another post, but we rarely had enough leftover potatoes to do a whole batch.)

As Elsie’s eyes deteriorated, she had to move to be closer to family, and the communal thanksgivings changed venues, some at my parents’ home. After she passed away, her sons’ families sort of passed it back and forth, but we’ve really outgrown one location for Thanksgiving.

Now, I host for my immediate family and their extended, local, biological family. We’ll FaceTime with my parents’ and the entire crew eating in Chippewa Falls. We all have so much family, that figuring out where everyone is going to eat, and when, and whether we’ll have time to visit others, is an ongoing debate.

But that’s something to be thankful for, too. We all have several places we could go to be loved, filled with thanks, and fed.

Peace to all of you this week.

Comfort Food for a Snowy Monday: Saucepan Brownies

I just got back from a great, but quick, trip to Tennessee to speak at the Symposium for the 19th Century Press about my mentor, Hazel Dicken-Garcia, who was an avid supporter of that annual event.

It was good to see old friends and reconnect. I came away with numerous ideas for upcoming research projects and more invitations for visits and trips and conferences.

I also came away a bit blue, so today, I’m posting my recipe for quick saucepan brownies.

This is another recipe that I no longer need to look up. When we want a quick, chocolate, treat, this can be whipped up in five minutes and in the oven. Within the hour, we can be savoring warm brownies, sometimes with frosting, sometimes not, but always delicious.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8 by 8 baking pan.

Melt together:

1/3 cup baking cocoa

1 stick real butter

Remove from heat; let cool briefly. Add:

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

Beat together with a big spoon until glossy, then stir in:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Until it’s mixed in well.

Pour into prepared baking ban and bake 30 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test.

We often top with chocolate chips when it comes out of the oven, letting them melt and spreading the warm chocolate over the top before we cut into it. We’ve also topped them with scoops of virtually any flavor ice cream you can imagine. I think my favorite is raspberry sorbet.

Enjoy when you need quick comfort food on a snowy Monday.

The Challenge of National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, started Nov. 1. The challenge? To write 50,000 words of original fiction over the course of November.

I accepted the challenge, and although my writing time is limited to an hour chunk here or there, my goal is to write 50,000 words this month.

It seems like a lot, but I like to break down what I write. One of my University of Minnesota Professors, Ron Faber, explained to us, his students, that he broke down his dissertation writing process into five, manageable, pages a day.

When I wrote my first book, and my dissertation, I did the same.

Breaking down the work into manageable chunks daily, rather than viewing the entire thing as a monstrous task, makes the work go faster. My daily writing goal is 1,500 words, which is roughly five to six double-spaced pages.

If I complete 1,500 words a day on the same project throughout the month of November? Well, I’ll have completed that 50,000 word goal.

But do I have the projects?


I’m cheating a little with the 50,000 word goal, as all of those words are supposed to be put to the same project. I actually have three projects I hope to complete this month, only one of which is the original fiction piece that may or may not ever see the light of day.

Of the other two, one is the preliminary work and secondary research for the community building and media project I plan to complete in England in the spring. The other is more exploratory essay on the impact of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her work on popular culture over time, something I hope to develop into an abstract for submission to the LauraPalooza conference next summer. That deadline for submission is Dec. 5, Rose Wilder Lane’s birthday.

So while I might not have 50,000 words on the same project completed by Dec. 1, I will certainly have 50,000 words written by then.

It’s good to have goals.

NaNoWriMo also has challenges in April and July, all designed to help writers develop their craft in supportive environments. I suggest, if you want to develop your work and you think an online writing group might help you, check out their website: NaNoWriMo.

(Psst — I’m already 10,000 words in on the fiction project. Woot!)