Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Tears on a Tuesday April 17, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:20 AM
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BETWEEN FORKSFUL of the ultimate comfort food, homemade mac and cheese, I am crying. Not just tears, but great sobs that heave my shoulders, force me to remove my eyeglasses, cause me to place my head between my hands, elbows resting upon the table.

Issues of the day—anger and disappointment, worry and concerns—have welled up within me to this bursting point of emotions.

My husband sits in silence, forking mac and cheese into his mouth while the torrent of words and tears releases. I wonder what he is thinking. Perhaps that his wife has momentarily lost it.

Sometimes, though, it is good to cry, to let it all out, to be true to yourself and how you are feeling.

I tell him, too, that I feel, in this moment, as grey as the day in this longest of Minnesota winters. I want to run away from the snow and the cold and the gloom, all of it. And I think then of my mother who occasionally uttered similar despair, her desire to just run away, away from the pressing responsibilities of raising six children. Her issues are not mine. And the concerns I feel on this day are not all that major, but too much for me on this Tuesday.

So, after supper, after the left-over comfort food has been scooped into a container and tucked into the refrigerator, after I’ve washed the dishes, I suggest a walk at the local nature center. I grab my camera, slip into my Sorels, pull a stocking cap onto my head, zip my sweatshirt.

Entering River Bend Nature Center, I eye the next-door prison with seemingly infinite scrolls of razor wire unfolding before me. The site is disconcerting. I am always troubled by the prison’s presence right next to the nature center.

But as our car follows the road that dips and curves past the pond and the woods and then zooms down the hill to the center’s parking lot, I can feel the easing of tension in my shoulders.

Deer cluster in the woods at Riverbend Nature Center, Faribault.

Deer cluster in the woods at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault.

Then my husband spots the deer clustered in and on the edge of the woods and I slip from the car, leaving the door ajar so I can photograph them.

For the next hour there are no tears, no hurried worried words or thoughts, in this place of serenity.

These corn-fed deer show little fear.

These corn-fed deer show little fear.

Curious brown-eyed deer. Heads turned toward me, radar ears on alert.

Leaping across a path near the nature center parking lot.

Leaping across a path near the nature center parking lot.

Graceful leap of legs. The click of the shutter.

Last year's nest...

Last year’s nest…

Along the muddied trails, reflections of bare trees in puddles and promises of spring in green moss on dead logs. Last season’s nests bared by bare branches.

Geese on the prairie pond.

Geese on the prairie pond.

The trill of birds and the bark of geese in the swampland pond. Ripples in water. Golden sun setting. The swatch of red on a blackbird’s wings.

And in the prairie a weaving tunnel trail in the brown earth and the memories of this place waving in summer-time wildflowers and tall grass.

Day fades into evening at the nature center.

Day fades into evening at the nature center.

Here I find promise and hope in my evening of despair.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


I finally learn to cook with Minnesota wild rice January 9, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:32 AM
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TO CONFESS THAT I am a native Minnesotan who’s never cooked with wild rice may equate a sin. I’m not sure. If anything, such a confession is akin to a Norwegian admitting he/she has never tasted lutefisk.

Minnesota blogger Sue Ready, when she learned that I’d never cooked with wild rice, remedied that. She gifted me with a pound of 100 percent wild rice from Quality Rice Products, Inc., Garrison. How kind was that? I’ve never met Sue, who blogs at Ever Ready. But she encompasses what I’ve come to expect in the bloggers I follow—a deep-rooted goodness.

If you check out Sue’s blog (click here), you will soon discover an abundance of recipes woven into her posts. She clearly enjoys time in the kitchen. I do not.

But I was up to the challenge Sue presented in that bag of wild rice. I chose one of her recipes, Artichoke Turkey Casserole, which includes 1 ½ cups of wild rice, for my debut attempt at cooking with northern Minnesota’s beloved grain.

Measuring the uncooked Minnesota wild rice before rinsing.

Measuring the uncooked Minnesota wild rice before rinsing.

The first problem: How do I even make wild rice?

I found instructions tucked inside the bag, but then faced my first obstacle. How do you rinse and drain wild rice without the kernels filtering through the colander? Do not use a colander apparently.

Next, after cooking the rice for the specified 45 minutes, the grain still crunched beneath my teeth. So I added another seven minutes to the simmer time and called it good, not really knowing whether I’d cooked the rice long enough or too long.

I just want to note here that the nutty aroma of the wild rice intrigues me. It smells of earth, although not precisely of earth. Perhaps rather the scent combines earth, water, fire, sky, even the history and traditions of the Ojibwe, early harvesters of this manoomin, the “good berry.”

Sauteeing diced carrots, onion and red pepper.

Sauteeing diced carrots, onion and red pepper.

Because I’d cooked the rice earlier in the day, I resumed making the hotdish with the dicing of vegetables—carrots, onion and red pepper—and the boiling of noodles. I already had the two cups of chicken (substituted for the turkey) which my husband grilled the previous evening.

About 45 minutes later, I had the dish pulled together with the assistance of the husband who sliced artichokes, stirred together cream of chicken soup and milk, and measured cheese while I chopped and sauteed the veggies and tended the noodles. Typically I can multi-task in the kitchen, but preparing this hotdish took way more time than I anticipated and I was getting hungry. And, as everyone in my family knows, I get crabby when I can’t eat at my usual time.

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in this hotdish.

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in this hotdish.

When I eventually pulled the hotdish from the oven, I couldn’t wait to dig my fork into this truly Minnesotan dish. I suppose an explanation is due here to those of you unfamiliar with Minnesota’s version of casseroles, known in our state as hotdish. Most hotdishes include a cream soup and noodles, this one no exception.

I wondered, though, about that combination of noodles and wild rice. But it works. The crunchy texture of the rice kernels pairs well with the creamy consistency of the noodle mixture.

Even though this hotdish includes a teaspoon of dried thyme and a tablespoon of parsley flakes, I found the flavor a bit too bland for my taste.

Yet, with a sprinkling of salt and fresh ground pepper added,  it’s a tasty and filling comfort food for a cold Minnesota winter evening.

Now that I’ve assured myself I can cook with wild rice—a food which always intimidated me—I’m ready to try preparing wild rice soup. After all, a cup of raw rice equals five cups of cooked rice, meaning I have plenty of manoomin for additional dishes.

Thanks, Sue, for expanding my cooking skills via your gift of Minnesota wild rice.

HAVE YOU COOKED with wild rice and, if so, what’s your favorite dish to prepare?

FYI: To try Sue’s Artichoke Turkey Casserole, an adaptation of a Better Homes and Gardens Comfort Foods recipe, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Craving comfort foods January 18, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:40 AM
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WITH THE START of a new year, I’ve tried to focus on eating healthier foods. Salads. More fruits and vegetables. Less bread. Less cheese.

The strategy worked for awhile. But then my body demanded more. Grilled cheese and tomato soup. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Macaroni and cheese.

So I caved in to my cravings. I couldn’t help myself. This time of year, in Minnesota, we tend to burrow into our homes, tuck ourselves under fleece throws while snuggled on the couch and wait for spring.

To ward off the winter blues that result from too much snow, cold and darkness, we often opt for hearty comfort foods with a lot of substance.

That said, the other night, instead of opening a boxed macaroni and cheese product, I opted for homemade. Years ago I always made maci and cheese from scratch using Velveeta. That’s how my mom made it, so that’s how I prepared it. But I wanted to try a different version.

I found a yummy recipe for Traditional Macaroni and Cheese on allrecipes.com. I loved the rich cheddar taste. The guys in the household rated it as much better than the boxed mac made with powdered cheese. (What’s in that stuff anyway?) But my husband says he prefers Velveeta to cheddar. Go figure. I’m sticking with the cheddar.


The mac and cheese I made from scratch and seasoned with extra pepper.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough comfort food for one meal, I made bread pudding for dessert with a recipe I also pulled off allrecipes.com. I adapted the Bread Pudding II recipe by substituting dried cranberries for the raisins, cutting the cinnamon to ½ a teaspoon and using only ½ a cup of sugar. I loved it and ate the bread pudding for dessert that evening and for breakfast the next day.

SO TELL ME, what comfort foods do you crave in the deep, dark depths of winter?


Bread pudding laced with dried cranberries because I prefer those to raisins.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling