for sale

As spring unfurls and gardens spring to life, the blossoming in neighbors’ yards is unmistakable – particularly when it takes the form of furniture and old clothes. Something about the first gusts of spring in Minnesota draws out the inner workings of people’s houses and, inexplicably, sets them for sale. It’s uncanny – the first nice day and suddenly everywhere you look there are yard sales in full glory, replete with Little Tykes playsets, records, suitcases, and dining sets. And I am not exaggerating… I counted five on a quick drive to the supermarket on Friday afternoon.

In the corner of Southern California I grew up in, garage sales are limited to Saturday mornings and are highly specialized. A certain type of person notes in the papers when garage sales are taking place and heads out with a route in mind. Around 6:30 am. They haggle over the jewelry and clothes and relentlessly swoop from one to the next. And the sales are over by noon, absolute latest. Honestly, I recall coming across very few in my lifetime – until I moved here. My theory on this is that after months stuck indoors with their things, Minnesotans are so sick of seeing them that they’re absolutely desperate for something – anything – new. Which is why they immediately head to another yard sale to buy someone else’s castoffs.

You can find anything at all at a Minnesota yard sale. At the Festival of Garage Sales this weekend – which I confess to attending – I saw bras hanging on trees, taxidermied animal heads, half-used boxes of assorted sundries. There were full bedroom, living and dining sets, dating from the 20s to the present. Velvet posters (including Elvis). Cars for sale. Plants. Broken bikes. Golf clubs. Dog clothes.

I write this post from an Ethan Allen rocking chair that I bought for 5 dollars, which has suprisingly turned out to be the perfect office chair we’ve been searching for (Jeffery can lean back and put his feet up on the desk with perfect ease). It needs a teensy bit of work, but for $5…? My other find was a brand-new Tupperware sheet for rolling out cookies and pie crusts. I had gotten one at the Tupperware party Jeff and I threw the first year we were married (boy, does that make us sound nerdy. Doesn’t it?) that somehow got placed on a recently-used stove burner… In any case, this new one was supposed to be part of a basket of Tupperware items that someone else had already purchased, but they left it behind… and I scooped it up for $4. Hooray for the upcoming strawberry rhubarb pies!

Which is to say, I think I’m embracing the yard sale mentality. I’ve always gotten the heebie-jeebies from used things – you’ll never catch me at a Goodwill store or buying clothes from Buffalo Exchange – there’s something of the oft-uttered parent phrase “you don’t know where that’s been” that niggles for me. But I’m liking that these cotton, wood and plastic flowers shoot up in neighbors’ yards alongside the daffodils, and I can happen upon them. And maybe – just maybe – I’ll find a bouquet to take home.


berry berry nice

I think I remember that line from a Strawberry Shortcake cartoon of my youth, but regardless of where it came from it ran through my head incessantly Saturday afternoon.

He was so warm, and so generous. “We actually don’t open until tomorrow, but let’s see if we can set you up, anyway.” Three buckets later we had our fill of lovely pesticide-free organic strawberries, for which Paul charged us only the fee for 1 1/2. Perhaps this is because many [most] of Olive’s berries were still green… but trust me, she had eaten plenty of ripe ones, too.

Olive, Violet and I had headed to Natura Farms in Forest lake to go strawberry picking – a now annual event that started last year. It’s the most marvelous place – on a lake (though what isn’t out here?), veggies, herbs and berries in glorious rows. I am in utter heaven when we’re there, and Olive simply couldn’t get enough. She would pick one and say to herself, “Oooh, good berry, Olive!”

But beyond the heaven of fresh food and warm earth was Paul Otten. He welcomed us heartily and spoiled us rotten with horrendous discounts – we came home with freshly picked lettuce, tomato plants, potted basil and oregano, a flat of zinnias and our two boxes of strawberries (which, unfortunately, I decided to wait until the next day to slice up and freeze – and since they haven’t been genetically engineered to keep well for cross-country travel, many of them grew mold. I still have enough for jamming, though, thank heavens, and we’d already eaten our fill). All this for a mere pittance.

AND he gave gardening and composting advice and hooked me up with someone who could help me get my garden plot soil in tip-top shape! I’m in love!

So, out of the vast generosity and spoil of the weekend, I continue the giving spirit by sharing with you the world-famous recipe we make each year with our freshly picked strawberries….

Ladyfinger Cheesecake
Recipe type: Dessert
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1 8oz brick cream cheese
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 packages ladyfingers, from the bakery section
  • fresh fruit - strawberries, peaches, blueberries, whatever sounds good to you.
  1. Whip heavy whipping cream till stiff peaks form.
  2. Beat together cream cheese and sugar.
  3. Beat together the whipped cream and cream cheese mixture.
  4. Crack out a springform pan and line the edges with ladyfingers.
  5. Put a small bit of the cream mixture down on the bottom of the pan, then use half the remaining ladyfingers to layer across the bottom of the pan.
  6. Spread half the cream mixture over the top, then layer the rest of the ladyfingers and the rest of the cream mixture.
  7. Top it off with fresh fruit.


My hands, arms are exhausted right now from a good jaunt of kneading; with a beloved bread maker at the ready I seldom put in this effort but today’s pitas went the old-fashioned way and I loved every moment of it – though I think I shall pay for the next few days. I wonder if I ought to be this sore – maybe I’m not kneading correctly (is there a right way? I never even thought to ask). It will be worth it, though. Yummy pitas and baba ganouj, homemade, working my muscles both aerobically and digestively. Thank the Divine for Moosewood.

I pondered my bus driver this afternoon as we took home the kiddoes from school. She has the skin and teeth of a lifetime smoker, talks of happy hour at the bar quite readily, listens to classic rock, wears a leather jacket with fringe hanging down, smokes like a chimney, exercises her horn a minimum of five times per journey, slams on the brakes, curses other drivers, mutters to herself throughout the whole ride. I wonder – does she use the horn so readily and the brakes so recklessly behind the wheel of her own car, or does the safety of the bright orange make her feel freedoms she wouldn’t otherwise? Is this who she is in her off hours?

And as I sit here, typing, smelling rising bread and roasting eggplant, I wonder if my co-workers know me. Do they know the one who writes furiously in little notebooks, composes in her head ceaselessly? The one who sings lustily, who gardens and recycles and composts, who bakes her own bread and makes her own jam and cheese and cans for the winter? The one who cooks with reckless abandon, owning her Italian heritage with every ounce of her being? The one who cries over the heartbreak of others when they call to tell her of their failing marriages, their lost jobs, their ill children? The one who delights in her daughter and laughs from the bottoms of her toes with her?

If so, how?

If not, why not?

And should they?



To the bugs who have infested my garden:

You win. The tomatillo plant is yours. I don’t know what the heck you do with a tomatillo, anyway… I’ve heard of them in salsa, but otherwise, I don’t know – and I make a mean salsa without them.

I’m bitter, though. First of all, that you somehow managed to persevere through three different organic insecticides (all of which were quite expensive, I assure you). Second of all, that you continue to taunt me by going at it on all the half-eaten leaves of my plant whenever I come outside. I mean, can you get a room? Or at LEAST just wait till I go back inside? Seriously, judging from all the eggs ALL OVER my plant, you’re getting enough action. It’s almost embarrassing.

And I know – you’re still harboring a grudge over the kidnapping of one of your family. But I only took him to Bachman’s. It’s a happy buggy place, and I had to know what on earth you all were – so I could ward you off, of course. But not kill you, I promise! I swore I would garden organically, so I meant you no harm.

But you win. It’s over. After months of no tomatillos, anyway, I’m done. You can have it.

For the rest of the day, anyway. And then I chop it down and throw it in the compost bin.

Ha ha ha ha ha.



>the greatest pickin’ adventure ever


Out at Natura Farms, a fabulous organic berry farm…

Berries were picked. Sweat dripped. Not so ripe strawberries went down the hatch. Bugs flew. Buckets filled. Diapers filled. Air conditioning was relished. Aunt Nancy’s ladyfinger cheesecake was made… and eaten for dinner.

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