Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Gingersnaps for Mom December 23, 2020

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Gingersnaps

CINNAMON, GINGER AND CLOVES scent my kitchen on the first afternoon of winter as sun streams bright through the southern window.

Christmas music plays on KTIS.

And I stand at the peninsula, rounding dough into walnut-sized balls before rolling the orbs in granulated sugar.

Each holiday season I bake gingersnaps. For my mom. They are a favorite of hers. But this year, although I am still baking the cookies, Mom won’t enjoy them.

She lives 120 miles away in a southwestern Minnesota nursing home, where she is in hospice. Her appetite is minimal. Even last year when I dropped off homemade gingersnaps around Christmas time, she didn’t eat them. Upon a return visit, I took the stale cookies back home with me and tossed them. Mom never was one to throw away food.

Now, as I shape and bake dough and pull crinkled gingersnaps from the oven, thoughts of Mom distract me. Earlier I’d forgotten to add molasses to the mix as my mind wandered away from the kitchen.

I wasn’t baking these cookies for Mom. Yet I was. I baked them to honor her, to celebrate her, to remind myself how blessed I’ve been to have such a caring, loving and kind mother. I told her that recently, thanking her in a loving goodbye letter. Phoning her is not an option. Nor is visiting due to COVID-19 visitor restrictions. I’m sort of OK with that, recognizing from an intellectual perspective the need to keep care center residents as safe as possible.

This has proven a difficult year for our seniors living in long-term care centers with too many dying from COVID. And the separation from loved ones has taken a toll. I miss Mom. But this is not about me. This is about her. That’s what I try to remember when my focus shifts, when the scent of old-fashioned gingersnaps fills the house and tears edge my eyes.

TO YOU, MY DEAR READERS:

If you are feeling alone this Christmas, experiencing the recent loss of a loved one, enduring separation from those you love or struggling, you are not alone. I hope you can reach a place of peace, perhaps in the cinnamon and ginger scent of cookies or a tradition or memory that links you to the one (s) you love and miss.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sweet love June 24, 2018

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HE TOLD ME TO EXPECT a package. Next week. But the priority mail box arrived from Massachusetts on Saturday. I was almost certain the techie son had shipped a one-handed keyboard, even though I told him I didn’t need one. I don’t as I can manage with one-handed typing until I recover from my broken left arm.

 

 

But I was wrong. Inside I found a surprise so sweet that I cried. I cried at the thoughtfulness of Caleb and his girlfriend, who had baked chocolate chunk cookies for me. Thick cookies with dark chocolate, my favorite chocolate. The best chocolate (chip) cookies I have ever eaten.

Turns out Caleb messaged his oldest sister earlier in the week for my cookie recipe. She didn’t have it and sent another recipe instead. I love these cookies.

Even more, I love that Caleb and Sunny thought of me and took the time to bake this gift. It was perfect. Such love and care cannot be bought, only given in an act of love.

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TO MY MANY FAITHFUL READERS (friends), thank you for your prayers, encouragement and well wishes as I deal with this injury and pending surgery. Your words are a gift. I am grateful.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Angels we have seen on high December 15, 2017

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YEARS HAVE PASSED since I thought about this observation: The angels are baking cookies.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

But when a family member recently noticed the gold and pink tinge of the evening sky, she suggested the cherubs were busy baking Christmas cookies.

Unless you’re a Helbling family member, you’ve likely never heard this comparison of the sunset, or sunrise, to angelic bakers. It’s an interpretation attributed to my late mother-in-law, passed on to her children and then to her grandchildren.

Many times while they were growing up, my three kids directed me to look outside, to see the fiery sky, to see the angels baking cookies. It is a sweet part of family lore passed from one generation to the next.

This time of year, traditions and stories seem more important than ever. What are some of your family stories and/or traditions? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The best roll-out cookie recipe ever February 16, 2014

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I’VE ALWAYS ENJOYED BAKING.

Tempting sweets...

Tempting sweets…

But now that the kids are grown and gone, I seldom bake. I don’t need sweets in the kitchen to tempt me.

This past week, though, I baked three days in a row as I’d been asked to bring treats for fellowship hour at church this morning.

I pulled out my vintage heart shaped cookie cutter.

I used my vintage heart-shaped cookie cutter.

I decided heart-shaped cookies would be perfect given the date. And so I pulled out my favorite roll-out cookie recipe, the one my mom used when I was growing up. It’s my go-to “sugar cookie” recipe.

This dough, though, far surpasses the bland taste of most sugar cookies.

Cream cheese is the secret savory ingredient.

Ready to put in the oven.

Ready to put in the oven.

I prefer to roll the dough nearly paper thin and to sprinkle with colored sugar before baking. I don’t want icing to mask the flavor.

Stacked on a pretty vintage plate.

Stacked on a pretty vintage plate.

I’ve never tasted a better roll-out sugar cookie.

A perfect Valentine's Day weekend treat.

A perfect Valentine’s Day weekend treat.

Cream Cheese Cookies

½ cup butter, softened
½ cup shortening
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 egg yolk
½ tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. salt
2 ½ cups flour

Cream butter, shortening, cream cheese and sugar. Add egg yolk and vanilla and beat. Add dry ingredients and mix. Chill covered or wrapped dough for several hours or overnight. Roll out on lightly-floured board and cut with cookie cutters. Bake 6 – 10 minutes, depending on dough thickness, at 350 degrees.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

These Minnesota Girl Scouts are tough cookies March 6, 2011

I’VE HAD GIRL SCOUTS knock on my door to sell Girl Scout cookies.

I’ve had Girl Scouts approach me at church to sell cookies.

I’ve seen Girl Scouts selling cookies at the grocery store and at the mall.

But…, until this weekend I’d never seen Girl Scouts bundled in caps, coats, snowpants, mittens and boots selling Girl Scout cookies outside a Minnesota gas station as temperatures hovered around 30 degrees. And that’s without the windchill.

I wasn't sure what the group was selling until we got right up to the gas station. I was ready with my camera.

As my family drove through the small southern Minnesota town of Courtland around noon today, these Nicollet Girl Scouts and their moms were peddling cookies at the Shell station along U.S. Highway 14. FYI, Courtland lies west of Nicollet, which lies west of Mankato.

I have to give these girls and their moms credit for their devotion to the cause. I doubt I would have stood out there in brisk March winds selling sweet treats. These Girl Scouts are some tough cookies.

And, no, I’m ashamed to say that we did not stop. I snapped these images as we passed by. But, clearly, the Girl Scout in the second photo wanted me to stop.

Girls and their moms peddled Girl Scout cookies in Courtland.

After I uploaded the photos into my computer, I noticed the smaller sign on the box on the back of the pickup truck: “Buy cookies and donate them to our military troops!! We do the shipping for you!!” That would have been one more good reason to stop.

To the Nicollet Girl Scouts, I admire your patriotism and your determination. Clearly you’re not going to let a Minnesota winter keep you from reaching your goals.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling