It’s tomato season, and I’m coming for you!

If you’re not hungry, you will be after listing to this week’s episode of the podcast. It’s all about soup season, comfort food and the different styles of cooking my husband and I grew up with. Listen at the link here or on Spotify of Apple Podcasts.


It’s official. When I’m in town and my friends, family and colleagues see me coming, they turn their eyes, put their heads down start walking for the nearest exit or crosswalk. And it may be because they know that if they make eye contact we could potentially find ourselves in an hour-long conversation about the weather and the meaning of life because I’ve lived as a Midwestern Lutheran Norwegian long enough that I’ve over-mastered the art of a good visit, but mostly I think it’s because of my tomatoes.

When I planted the tiny plants in my new raised bed this spring, along with the hope that was hanging in the air, apparently so was some magic, because I’ve never had a crop like this. And Lord help me, I can’t possibly process, puree, chop, stew or can one more. It’s not in my blood. I don’t have what it takes and also Chad will have to build me another pantry.

So I’m working on offloading and if you look like you could use a vegetable, I will hunt you down with a paper bag filled with produce. I will pop in your store with the offer. I will casually ask in a conversation that has nothing to do with vegetables. Need some tomatoes? Sure you do, I’ll be right back. And then I am right back with a promise of more tomorrow if you want, and I’ll throw in some cucumbers for good measure. If you leave your car unlocked, I will pull the old zucchini trick and leave you a surprise. Just this morning I left a grocery bag full of peppers on the desk of a coworker while she was out getting mail. “Peppers for Val,” I wrote on the Post-it note, and then I slunk away unnoticed, except I noticed the bag of cucumbers and tomatoes I dropped off yesterday still sitting in the corner untouched. If this was a sign to back off, I’m ignoring it.

Besides the dilemma of what to do with it all, I’m really in heaven over it. There’s nothing more satisfying than pulling a perfect carrot from the ground that was bare just a few months before. Each perfectly round tomato plucked from the stem in my backyard feels like a pretty little miracle and I’m so obnoxiously proud. Like, I’m not the only one who has ever grown a cute little red pepper for crying out loud, but it still feels so special, each one. Which is why I can’t bear to let any go to waste. I even save some semi-spoiled produce for my little sister’s chickens and make special trips to deliver it to the crazy birds myself. I consider it a little thank you for the eggs. And also, they seem to get as excited as I do about the whole thing, so that’s a bonus.

Anyway, in a few short weeks the frost will settle in and my garden will settle down, and I know that this growing and harvest season is so fleeting. Which is maybe the main reason it feels special, having a garden. It comes in its own good timing, which is such a holy thing to me. Am I getting dramatic? Maybe. Just this afternoon I started writing a song about tomatoes. Hit material…

Anyway…it’s been a few years since I shared the recipe my husband put together during the first fall we spent at the ranch using garden tomatoes and fresh carrots. It’s in my book, “Coming Home,” and some of you may have seen it before, but ‘tis the tomato-season. So here’s your reminder to try it out, try it your own way, and if you need tomatoes, there’s a bag for you in the corner of Visitor Center in Watford City. Or just send me an email me. I will deliver.

Cowboy’s Garden Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup water or chicken stock. Add more depending on how thick you like your soup
  • 3 cups fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup (about 3 medium carrots) diced
  • ¼ of a large purple onion, diced
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 12-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon dill weed
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • ½ teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon chopped chives
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 1½ cups heavy whipping cream (room temperature)

Directions

In a large soup pot add the diced tomatoes, carrots, onion and garlic to ¼ cup water and simmer on low for about 5 to 7 minutes or until the tomatoes start to gently boil. Stir in the tomato sauce, butter, seasonings and bouillon cubes and simmer the soup on low, allowing the onions and carrots to cook, about 30 minutes.

Once the vegetables are cooked through, slowly stir in the heavy whipping cream and say “M’m! M’m! Good!” while Campbell sobs silently to himself.

Heat (don’t boil) for a few minutes, serve it up and have yourself a happy and well-fed fall.

The yard light’s back on

This week on the podcast I catch up with my husband after he returns from leaving for a 75 day hunting trip (ok, maybe is was just 5 days). A small change in the barnyard makes me reflect on how wrong they all were about the future of our home, and Chad wonders if I would wish my kind of creative drive on my children, and then asks me to explain gravity. There’s lots to unpack here, figuratively and literally…listen here or on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

There hasn’t been a yard light in the barnyard of the homestead place for ten years. It went out when we took the old house down after a fire and we didn’t get around to rewiring it. When the house went, so did we, we left the barnyard and moved up over the hill to a new house and so no one lives there full time, we just work there now—we saddle up, feed horses, bring the bulls in, ride the ponies…

When I left home at seventeen, I had this vision of all of the yard lights in my rural community going out, one by one by one behind me as I drove away and kept driving. In my lifetime, at that time, I had only seen things getting quieter out here. I saw old neighbors packing up and moving to town. I saw schools close and businesses come and go and come and go. I saw star football players heading to college and not looking back. We were told not to look back, unless it was to reflect—on a simple upbringing in a less complicated time in a place where work ethic and sacrifice are badges of honor—because it makes you employable, you know, having come from a small place, heading off to the big places. But don’t come back here. Not when you’re young. Not when there’s more opportunity, more money to be made in places where the streetlights and stoplights replaced yard lights long ago.

Last week, in the dark, I pulled my car off the highway and followed my headlights down the big hill on the gravel road, past my parents’ place and across the cattle guard. It’s at this point in my drive, if the weather’s cooled down or warmed up, depending, that I like to roll my window down to catch the scent of that little valley with the cattails and the stock tank. It smells like cool summer nights riding home from moving cows, or long walks through the draws after a day that tried to break me. It smells like plum blossoms or cattle watering, fresh cut hay or the thaw or the cold coming in, you know, like the scent of snow.

It smells like home and I try to catch it when I can, when I think of it. When I need to be reminded who I am and why I’m here.

And then up another big hill to the mailboxes and grain bins I take a right turn into my drive and then look to my left at the sky past the buttes to see what the stars are doing and then down to the barnyard and then, well look at that, the light was on.

Dad got the light back on.

It caught me so off guard, that yard light once again illuminating the scoria drive, the barn a shadow behind it, the little guest cabin that replaced the old house, waiting, now under its watch, for someone to come slip through the gate and under the covers.

And I wasn’t expecting it, but I remembered then that my dad did tell me, that the electricians were coming, that some old wiring was going to be replaced. I didn’t connect the yard light to that information I guess. But what took me most aback was my reaction to it. It stopped me in my tracks, it bubbled a lump up in my throat. Memories of pulling into my grandma’s yard as a little kid sleeping shotgun in my dad’s pickup for a weekend trip and then as a ranch kid leaving the place after a family supper or after a long ride or a late day helping or running wild past our bedtime with the cousins when my grandparents were still alive and we were all young, all of us, and we paid no mind to how anything would ever change that.

Seeing that light on made me realize that I didn’t think of its absence at all really. Not the way I thought I would. When it went out it was just gone and life carried on. We put a new yard light in over the hill and felt lucky and maybe that’s why. I didn’t have to mourn it, because the story I was told as a kid about this place, it turns out that they got it all wrong.

Because look at me, I am 39 now and driving my children home in the dark and in front of me the yard lights glow like beacons of hope for the future.

What a cowgirl carries

What a Cowgirl Carries
Forum Communications

Listen to this week’s column and Jessie’s conversation with her little sister in this week’s Meanwhile Podcast.

There’s something about the view between a horse’s ears that makes a woman forget that she can’t stay up there forever. It’s the same way she feels watching a man catch a horse. It’s the quiet and gentle approach, the calm way he whispers and coaxes. It reminds her of the good ones.

And it’s how he wears his hat, how his shirt’s tucked in and the way he sits so sure up there next to her riding along.

The way the breeze moves through that horse’s mane before brushing her cheek and the sinking sunlight hitting him just right.

How the grass sparkles under the glow of it.

All of those things that make her happy to be alive out here are wrapped up in the way the air cools her skin in the low draws, and the creak of the leather on her saddle and the scent of the plum blossoms in the brush.

Ask her, she knows. No living thing is only softness, even though spring out here tries hard to convince us. There are thorns and snags among the fragile pieces of it all. There has to be or how would a thing like a raspberry or a rose survive here in the heat and the teeth and the pounding hooves and bending wind? You can be pretty and sharp. You can be strong and soft. You can be remarkable and fleeting.

You can be terrified and brave.

You wrap all of that up and you get a cowgirl. Some of them carry ropes. Some carry square bales and feed buckets and scoop shovels and fencing pliers. Some carry babies, on their hips or in their bellies, Earth-side or in heaven. In a quiet prayer.

And then some of them come carrying casserole dishes and plates of cookies and pies to feed you after the work is through and they wash up their hands and change their shirts because they were working right alongside you after the cooking was done. And some carry the weight of expectations wherever they go, but then some women dropped those in the crick years ago. Some carry burdens of past generations and some carry hope so high that it lights up their eyes and escapes with the loose hair flying out from under her hat.

And all carry with her the lessons learned from the buttes and the big sky. The cattle and the wild roses. The dirt and the river. The women who have cared for her. The men.

And the horses.

The horses. That’s where we started.

Up there, she feels stronger and as capable as anyone. A bit more free. The horse separates her from the rest of them, puts her shoulder to shoulder. He’s the great equalizer carrying her along, not only because she might have bought and paid for him, or maybe he was a gift, but always because she learned how to be up there properly as all of the things we know she is — confident and patient and soft and tough and kind and fierce and brave and humble and beautiful and practical and wild and collected….

And he carries her along because she made all this known, through mistakes and broken things and good days and ones that begged her to quit. And it’s not that she has something to prove, but the good ones, they prove that it can be done. It can all be done, but not without sacrifice. Not without strength. Not without fear. Not without knowing it might work out or it might not but if it’s worth being done, then it’s worth the try. It’s always worth a try.

And so she rides horses because sometimes she forgets who she really is at the bones of it all and that horse, he reminds her. And if you love her, if you’re a good one, she’ll make you happy to be alive out there in the cool low draws and the creak of the leather on her saddle and the scent of the plum blossoms in the brush next to her riding along.

The vows and working cows

The Vows and Working Cows
Forum Communications

Listen to this column and Jessie’s conversation with her husband on this week’s Meanwhile Podcast

Do you know what almost 16 years of marital bliss looks like? It looks like yelling at each other in the wind across the cow pasture because 1) you didn’t fully understand his plan 2) even if you did, the plan wouldn’t have worked and 3) you don’t and never will understand his hand-signaling for crying out loud and 4) turns out catching an orphan calf with you in the ATV and him on foot real quick before our daughter’s piano recital was not, in fact, going to be real quick.

My husband and I have known each other since we were kids. We have had so much fun together, lots of lovely moments, which really helps in the stupid idea times, like taking on a total house remodel in our 20s and not taking the time to go get a horse to get this calf in. And the hard times, like years of infertility, a sick parent and cancer. But working cows together? Well, it’s in a league of its own in the marriage department. There should be a line item in the vows about it. Like, “I vow to not hold anything you say or do against you when we are working cows if you promise to do the same for me. Amen.”

When it comes to starting a life together, no one really mentions stuff like that. I’m not just talking about the annoying and surprising things, but the things that come with sharing a house, and plans, and dinner and children and new businesses and careers and remodels and a herd of cattle and six bottle calves in the barn.

Because, if we’re lucky, there’s a lot of life in between those “I do’s” and the whole “death parting us” thing. Not even our own wedding day went off without hitches. (If I recall, there was a cattle incident that day as well. Guess that’s what you get when you get married in the middle of a cow pasture.)

Yes, marriage officially joins us together, our love, yes, but also our mistakes and small tragedies, goofiness and bad ideas, opinions and forgetfulness and big plans in the works. You’re in it together. You get a witness. You get a built-in dinner date that sometimes is really late to dinner and it now you’re annoyed.

And it isn’t our anniversary or anything, but, after we chased that tiny calf across the pasture and down the road and into the next pasture and then into my little sister’s backyard where my husband finally dove in and caught a leg as I slid down a muddy gumbo hill in my muck boots after him and we finally got that calf onto the floor of the side-by-side and drove her to the barn, made her a bottle and got her to drink and wiped the sweat off of our faces, I couldn’t help but think that maybe the reason this will last until death parts us is that we don’t hold grudges.

Because (and this doesn’t always happen) we were laughing at the end of it. About the yelling part. About the dumb idea part. About the part where he’s terrible with a rope and knows it. About the ridiculous predicaments raising kids and cattle put us in. How is it that it’s equal parts easier and harder to do these things together? What a balancing act for a life that’s never balanced.

Because it’s all so annoying sometimes, and sometimes it’s his fault. Sometimes it’s mine. But I tell you what’s also annoying, that pickle jar that I can never open myself or the flat tire he’s out there fixing on the side of the road in the middle of a winter blizzard, proving that regardless of our shortcomings, life is easier with him around.

Ugh, it just has to work out. That’s something, isn’t it? As if the whole working out thing happens on its own because love will make it so. Love helps, but it doesn’t make you agree on the arrangement of the furniture. Love will not make him throw away that ratty state wrestling T-shirt, but it will make you change out of those sweatpants he hates every once in a while, you know, on special nights. And initially, love will send him running when he hears you scream in the other room, but there will come a time when he will wait for a follow-up noise, because love has made the man mistake a stray spider for a bloody mangled limb too many times. And, really, love makes it so you don’t really blame him.

And, just for the record, sometimes love is not patient. Sometimes it needs to get to town and she’s trying on her third dress of the evening.

And sometimes love is not as kind as it should be. Because love is human.

And no human is perfect. Not individually and surely not together. And especially not when working cows.