Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The kindness of a faith community July 20, 2018

 

CHOCOLATE MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER, right? Or at least it helps.

Chocolate lifted my mood recently following the death of my friend and pastor, the Rev. Dr. Michael Nirva. He died June 9 in Sweden from complications related to cancer. His unexpected death while traveling with family hit me, and our congregation at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault, hard.

 

 

From across town, First English Lutheran Church reached out, gifting Trinity with a basket of hugs and kisses. Of the Hershey’s chocolate variety. The congregation’s act of Christian love and sympathy touched me and many others. How thoughtful and kind and caring.

 

 

Likewise, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church sent a plant to honor Pastor Nirva at a celebration of life service last weekend. What a blessing to live in a town where such grace is extended to a faith family grieving the loss of its senior pastor.

Thank you, First English and Our Savior’s.

 

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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A healthier version of your typical Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, plus chocolate November 17, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:23 AM
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MY FRIEND MANDY is sweet and giving and super smart.

She is also a two-time cancer survivor, an avid gardener and a bit of a health food nut. Her enthusiasm for eating healthy is contagious, although contagious is not really the correct word to correlate with healthy.

Let’s just say she is convincing. And she does not simply talk the talk. This 36-year-old nurse practitioner by profession and parish nurse via volunteerism eats healthy and is leading healthy living workshops, offering food samples and recipes, striving to drive home her message.

She cans and freezes all that produce goodness grown on the rural acreage she shares with her husband, Jeff, east of Faribault.

And then she gives it away. Not everything. But plenty.

Just a few days ago, while attending bible study at Mandy and Jeff’s house, I left with two 16-ounce pouches of frozen pumpkin and another packet of green beans. Only two days earlier she had handed me two sealed pouches of still-warm-from-the-oven pumpkin.

My friend insisted that none of us should buy canned pumpkin and I had to confess that I had two cans in the cupboard. Mandy said she would forgive me this time.

And just to prove that healthy eating can be as tasty as she claims, Mandy served our bible study group two pies. Not until afterward, however, did she reveal that both include tofu. I knew, though, as Mandy had informed me ahead of time and I’ve actually made the chocolate pie several times.

So, if you are looking for a healthier alternative to the typical pies you may be baking for Thanksgiving, here are two recipes that will fool those tofu naysayers. I’m making these. But not until after my brother-in-law and a few other family members have finished off their slices of pie will I reveal the ingredients. Or, perhaps I should remain silent.

Pumpkin and other pies, not the healthy variety that includes tofu, at an event I attended last year.

Tofu Pumpkin Pie

1 can (16 ounces) 100% pumpkin puree
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 package (12 or 12 ½ ounces) soft tofu, processed in blender until smooth
9-inch unbaked, whole wheat pie shell (or you can use a regular unbaked crust in a deep dish pie pan, but this is not quite as healthy)

Preparation: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a mixing bowl, cream together pumpkin and sugar. Add salt, spices and tofu; mix thoroughly until smooth. Pour mixture into pie shell and bake 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 40 – 50 minutes. Chill and serve. Makes 8 servings.

Source: The Anti-Cancer Cookbook via Mandy

You could choose to make this calorie and fat-laden (but super delicous) chocolate cheesecake or try the healthier chocoloate pie recipe below. Cheesecake is my favorite dessert and I will never give it up, FYI.

Chocolate Cream Pie

10 -12 oz. soft silken tofu
10 oz. dark chocolate chips
1 – 2 teaspoons vanilla
9-inch graham cracker crust

Blend the soft silken tofu in a blender until smooth. Add vanilla. Blend again. Melt chocolate. Add chocolate to tofu in blender and blend until thoroughly mixed. Pour into pie crust. Refrigerate 1 – 2 hours. May top with sliced strawberries and chopped walnuts if desired.

Source: from Mandy and her source, unknown by me

I HAVE MADE the chocolate pie several times to rave reviews from guests and the husband and teenage son, who likely would not have tried this had they heard the word “tofu.” This pie is super simple to make and delicious.

Make certain you purchase soft silken tofu, not firm, if you make these recipes. I have not made the pumpkin pie, but can vouch that it tastes just like regular pumpkin pie and was especially delicious with pumpkin from Mandy’s garden.

Note that I shopped at two different grocery stores here in Faribault during the last several days for soft silken tofu without success. The one Faribault grocery store where I’ve purchased tofu in the past was out of the soft variety. The other store never carries it, nor do two other grocery stores in town. My point: Plan ahead.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If only I’d known the prize was chocolate… July 7, 2012

The words for “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” are projected onto a screen at the front of Bethel Ridge Lutheran Brethren Church.

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME you listened to a reading of the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence?

Or the last time you sang “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” or “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” or “God Bless America?”

When did you last place your hand across your heart and recite The Pledge of Allegiance?

Have you ever taken a patriotic quiz and realized how much you’ve forgotten about American history or perhaps never have known?

All four of the above, plus quotes from our nation’s founding fathers and leaders, were included in a Patriotic Program I attended on the Fourth of July at Bethel Ridge Lutheran Brethren Church in Faribault.

An audience overview at the July Fourth Patriotic Program.

Although the number in attendance was small—around 30—I’m quite certain those of us attending left inspired, uplifted and certainly more knowledgeable.

Let’s test your smarts. What’s the longest possible time a person could now serve as President of the United States? What was our nation’s first Constitution called? Who was our country’s first Vice President?

Had you correctly answered those three questions (10, The Articles of Confederation and John Adams) and six more at Bethel’s Patriotic Program, you would have won a Hershey’s milk chocolate candy bar. The winning team missed only one of 10 questions. I cried foul. My team, which included a history major, missed three. I contended to a program leader that, had I known chocolate was on the line, we all would have tried harder.

Performers in a skit recite The Pledge of Allegiance along with audience members. The skit was based on a supposedly true story of an American soldier who was captured by the North Vietnamese. As the story goes, he stitched an American flag inside a shirt using a bamboo needle and fabric from clothing and other items.

Before and after the competition we settled into our pews, listening to quotes by the likes of George Washington, James Madison, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and more.

“It is impossible,” said President George Washington, “to (rightly) govern the world without God and the bible.”

Said President Theodore Roosevelt: “A thorough knowledge of the bible is worth more than a college education.”

And apparently a thorough knowledge of American history is worth a chocolate candy bar.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A chocolate cake tradition of love June 22, 2011

Homemade chocolate Crazy Cake frosted with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.

THEY RAVED ABOUT the moistness of the cake. And three of them—all guys—forked up a second slice of the chocolate cake I’d made from scratch.

I almost said, “Ummm, guys, it’s the women who should have a second piece.” But I let them be, passing the cake pan around the table, plating more cake.

This is one moist, delicious chocolate cake.

Then, because I couldn’t help myself, I shared the story about this cake. They needed to hear it, to understand that they weren’t eating just any old cake but cake made from a special recipe.

This Crazy Cake, aka Wacky Cake, is the chocolate cake of my youth, the one my mom made every time she baked a birthday cake, I told my friends.

“We didn’t have much money, didn’t get birthday presents,” I explained as my friends savored each bite of chocolate cake. “So our birthday present was the cake, an animal cake my mom made.

She would pull out her cake book and let us pick the animal shape we wanted for our birthday cake—a lion, a horse, a duck, an elephant…”

“My mom had a book like that too,” my friend Jackie chimed in.

Mari, on the other end of the table, nodded her head. Likewise, her mother had a booklet that provided instructions for transforming round cakes and square cakes and oblong cakes into animal shapes.

By cutting the cake and decorating it with various candies and frosting, my mom transformed a plain chocolate cake in to a special animal-shaped birthday cake.

Those birthday cakes were magical. I never missed the birthday presents, never even knew I should receive gifts, because I had that cake, that special, special chocolate animal-shaped cake.

When I became a mother, I continued the tradition with my children. While I didn’t have an animal cake book, I had my imagination. I made a snowman, Garfield, Piglet, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, a horse (that looked more like a cow than an equine)…

Unlike me, my children got birthday presents, plenty of them. But I would like to think that the one they will remember is the annual gift of an animal-shaped birthday cake, a gift, really, passed down from their grandmother.

For in the passing down of that tradition, I’m honoring their grandma, my mom, who taught me that birthdays are not about prettily wrapped presents, but about love. And that love, for me, will always be symbolized by homemade chocolate Crazy Cake.

Chocolate Crazy Cake

3 cups flour

2 cups white sugar

½ cup cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

Mix the dry ingredients together and then stir in:

¾ cup salad (vegetable) oil

2 cups cold water

2 Tablespoons vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Pour into a 9 x 13-inch cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35 – 40 minutes.

When the cake is cool, whip up a bowl of this creamy Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.

When cool, frost with:

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

6 Tablespoons butter, softened

½ cup cocoa

2 2/3 cups powdered sugar

1/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter in a small mixing bowl. Then add the cocoa and powdered sugar alternately with the milk, beating to a spreading consistency. You may need to add an additional tablespoon of milk. Blend in vanilla. Spread on cake. Makes about two cups of frosting.

The recipe yields two cups of heavenly, finger-licking-good frosting.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Recipes from The Cook’s Special, 1973, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Vesta, Minnesota, and Hershey’s Easy-Does-It Recipe #10

 

As good as chocolate January 28, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:21 AM
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WHEN MY SECOND ELDEST daughter lived in Argentina, she discovered a sinfully delicious treat that ranks right up there with chocolate.

Really.

Yesterday I found a container of this creamy sweet treat tucked in the back of the cupboard. My daughter brought it home from Buenos Aires in October and left it behind when she recently moved to Wisconsin.

Lucky me, because I really, absolutely love…

 

Dulce de Leche from Argentina

I opened the lid, dipped my spoon into the dulce de leche and savored the thick creamy caramel.

 

Dulce de leche comes in several styles, including this colonial style. The more expensive artisan style is lighter in color and even thicker. There are many brands on the market.

Then I slathered more onto two scoops of ice cream.

 

A perfect ice cream topping.

I didn’t even need to add chocolate.

FYI: You can find dulce de leche in the ethnic food section of your local supermarket, although I have not found a brand as tasty as the one my daughter toted home from Argentina.

Or, you can create your own dulce de leche from sweetened condensed milk, which my second eldest learned to make while working in the Concordia Spanish Language Village kitchen near Bemidji. Go online and find a recipe.

Argentines eat dulce de leche on alfajor cookies, pancakes, toast, crackers, ice cream, crepes, tortillas (like biscuits, not “tortillas” as we think of them) and more.

Have you ever eaten dulce de leche? If yes, what do you think? As good as chocolate?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shoveling snow boulders December 22, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:09 PM
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I’VE JUST COME in from shoveling snow. Nearly 1 ½ hours of scrape and lift and throw. Or bend and scoop and carry and throw.

I could have waited for my husband to do this after work. But he works hard all day and tonight he will have about 45 minutes to eat and shower before leaving for a church meeting. Honestly, who schedules a meeting during Christmas week?

But that is another topic for another day. Today I am focusing on the snow which the city plow scraped from the street and deposited at the end of our driveway and sidewalk. This would be boulder-sized chunks of compacted snow seasoned with salt and sand.

As I labored to clear away the mounds of snow, I grunted and sighed. My back ached. My right hip hurt from the stooping and twisting.  When I stopped occasionally to lean against the scoop shovel handle, I breathed in deeply.

Then I forged onward, determined that this snow would not get the best of me. Soon I was sweating. Even my hands. I unbuttoned by wool pea coat.

I carried more shovels full of snow boulders up the slight incline of the driveway apron. I heaved the snow chunks onto the snow along the sides of the driveway because I could no longer toss it atop the roadside mountains. Finally, I finished…then realized I also needed to open the sidewalk.

When I saw that mountain of snow before me, I nearly gave up and walked away. But, instead, I dug in, determined. Scoop, carry, throw. Scoop, carry, throw. Scoop, carry, throw.

Soon I removed my coat and tossed it atop the snow. Still sweating, I also ditched my stocking cap.

While I worked, I tried to think of some clever sign to post in the yard, for all to see along my busy street. Here are some of my ideas:

FREE SNOW

ENOUGH ALREADY

AND THIS IS ONLY THE SECOND DAY OF WINTER?

WHY WAS SNOW SO MUCH MORE FUN WHEN I WAS A KID?

GET FIT. INQUIRE HERE.

Then, when I finished, I stashed the shovels in the garage, snapped some photos of the major ice dams and icicles hanging from our house (another job for another day) and tossed down three hands full of chocolate chips. After all that shoveling, I deserved some chocolate.

#

WHAT WOULD YOU WRITE on that snow sign I contemplated posting in my yard?

How do you reward yourself after shoveling snow? With chocolate, like me?

And, finally, my apologies to my brother-in-law Neil, who just returned from Iraq. He told me I was blogging (complaining) too much about the snow. He’s in Hawaii right now. Enough said.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poetry and cheesecake October 1, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:01 AM
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My daughter's homemade chocolate cheesecake, my birthday cake.

I FELT JUST LIKE a queen, waiting patiently at the dining room table to be served a slice of decadent chocolate cheesecake.

I must say, it’s a wonderful feeling to be on the receiving, rather than the giving, end. And that’s how it is now when I celebrate my birthday.

On Monday, a day after my birthday, my daughter drove down from Minneapolis for an appointment and later dinner out with me, her dad and her brother. But afterward, ah after that meal, I really enjoyed the celebration.

My first-born had baked a from-scratch, all-chocolate cheesecake. She clued us in that the recipe called for melted peanut butter chips mixed into the chocolate batter. But she scorched the peanut butter chips and had to substitute chocolate chips. That produced some gentle teasing about a many-years-earlier chocolate pudding cake disaster.

Clearly, she’s learned a thing or two about cooking and baking as the cheesecake was pure chocolate perfection.

As much as I enjoyed the rich creamy dessert, even more I appreciated that my daughter chose to make a cheesecake. She knows it’s my favorite dessert.

Then I opened my gift from her and appreciated even more that my eldest had chosen items perfectly suited for me. She didn’t buy just any old thing just to give me a present. Rather, she shopped at a south Minneapolis antique store—one with lots of antlers and a place she nearly walked out of due to all those antlers on the walls.

Inside the antique shop, she found a slim volume of poetry, Minnesota Skyline, published in 1953. The book wasn’t priced, she said, and clerks discussed, in front of her, the price she should pay.

Minnesota Skyline, a vintage poetry collection I think worthy of reprinting.

I flipped through the pages and knew I would enjoy this collection with poems like “Wind in the Corn,” “Pioneers of Southern Minnesota,” and “Spring on the Prairie.”

I haven’t had time yet to indulge in the anthology. But that evening, after I opened my daughter’s gift of poetry, I read aloud a verse from “Delano on Saturday Night” by Margaret Horsch Stevens of Montrose:

Men, bent, with toil, feel younger in the glare

Of lights, exchanging jokes and arguments;

And women brighten as they meet and talk

Of recent births, and brides, and home events.

We laughed as we pictured families gathered in downtown Delano on a Saturday night in the 1950s. How times have changed.

After that impromptu poetry reading, I pulled four slim yellow trays from my birthday gift bag. Once again, my daughter had selected an ideal present for me. I collect vintage metal trays and these were unlike any I have or any I’ve seen. For now I’ve propped two atop a shelf—art leaning against a wall.

My daughter gave me four vintage metal trays for my collection.

There’s something to be said for aging, when you can see your children as grown adults, who are caring and loving and giving and who know that you love poetry and cheesecake.

My husband also remembered my birthday with a colorful daisy bouquet.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The Lund Press, Inc., of Minneapolis published Minnesota Skyline.