Category Archives: small town life

Rites of Summer: Mother-in-Law’s Rhubarb Crunch

My Mother-in-Law's Recipe Box and Rhubarb Crunch Recipe

“What’s this?” I asked our friend Joan as I pointed down at the ground. It was our first spring in the house and Joan, the real estate agent’s wife, was kindly helping us get the mess of a yard into shape. (And helping two city guys avoid a freakout over the amount of work they had just taken on with this new house!)

“Oh that’s rhubarb!” Joan said, and then furrowed her brow. “That’s a strange place to put it.”

We were standing in the front yard, pulling plants out of a bed that the previous owners had installed.

“It’s grows like a weed,” Joan said. “We used to just mow over it!”

I dug up the fledgling little plant and plopped it in a corner of the garden. Joan was right. Rhubarb is an easy plant that will thrive anywhere you put it. By the end of that summer I was able to get a few mature stalks off the plant. And we’ve had rhubarb ever since.

Mother-in-law’s rhubarb recipe

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I may not have been able to recognize rhubarb in the wild, but I had bought enough of the red stalks at farmers markets over the years to know that it was one of The Mister’s favorites. Having a plant in the garden has been a wonderful addition to our lives … and waistlines. And since it’s an early plant, springing to life and offering mature stalks that are ready to cut by the end of May, when we’re just planting the rest of the garden, it’s a nice way to kick off the growing season.

And so every Memorial Day weekend I pull out my mother-in-law’s recipe box and make The Mister his favorite dessert, rhubarb crunch.

Welcome to summer, folks! (And here’s Louise’s recipe.)

3 C rhubarb, diced
1 C sugar
2 eggs
4 T flour
sprinkle cinnamon

Mix above in a large bowl and then pour into a greased dish. (Lately, I’ve been making the crunch in smaller dishes or ramekins. That means that everyone gets some of the extra crunchy edges – arguably the best part!)

1 C oatmeal
1/2 C butter
1 C brown sugar
1/2 C flour

Mix the above ingredients and then spread atop the rhubarb mixture.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes.

A Brief History of the Owners of the Delbert Meier House

Our American System Built home, named the Delbert Meier house after the first owner, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017. One of the advantages of owning an architecturally significant house in a small town is that we’ve been able to meet every owner or descendent in the house’s 100-year history. Here’s a brief history of the ownership of our the Delbert Meier house (with some names removed to respect privacy). Continue reading

Winter Reflections on Corner Windows

You know how I was saying that I love the windows in our house? Well this is why.

Frank Lloyd Wright really knew what he was doing when he placed corner windows in his homes. Each of the three bedrooms in our American System Built Home have corner windows like this and the effect is huge. Pushing the windows to the corners of the rooms brings in some of the most amazing light. And when you first walk into a room your eyes are drawn to the corner, to outdoors, to treetops and light.

One day last week I caught this sunset just as it was shining its brilliance through the windows in the front bedroom. I paused for a moment to think about all the previous owners who have probably had moments of reflection inspired by the house’s design.

I think back to the house’s first winter in 1918. I wonder whether Mr. and Mrs. Meier admired the sunlight streaming through the windows. I wonder whether they watched the snow fall and the windows frost and thought about how happy they were to have finally moved into their American System Built Home.

I think about the kids who have probably looked impatiently out the windows in hopes that it’ll be a snow day. I imagine them pushing one of the casement windows open and reaching out to catch a few flakes as they drifted toward earth. “See, Mom,” they might have said. “It’s really coming down out there! It’ll be a snow day for sure tomorrow.”

I imagine the teachers who inhabited the house for 30 years who might have had the same feeling about snow days. Perhaps they counted on snowstorms to deliver unplanned days off that would allow them to hole up in the warmth of the house. And maybe they would see the sun setting through the windows and, refreshed by a day of rest, would feel revived for the new day ahead.

This is our fourth winter in the house and I still find myself being inspired by its beauty. I hope whoever owns the Delbert Meier house one hundred years from now knows that it has been filled with love.

All We Owe We Owe Ioway

We didn’t make it to the 2017 Iowa State Fair, alas, so we missed our chance to see the famous butter cow (literally, a cow sculpted out of butter) and her companion this year, a butter likeness of Laura Ingalls Wilder, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Little House on the Prairie author’s birth. Given that this year also marks what would have been Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th birthday, and that like Wilder he also has an Iowa connection, we wonder if he was also under consideration for this honor. After all, other buttery boys have served as milkmaids in previous years at the Fair, including a simply creamy Elvis Presley, John Wayne, and Garth Brooks.

But let us not be bitter over butter, or churn up any controversy here. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a fine and fitting choice, especially given the dairy-themed nickname her Pa famously gave her, “Half Pint.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder Butter Sculpture via USA TODAY

via USA TODAY: Sarah Pratt standing by the Laura Ingalls Wilder butter sculpture

The Iowa State Fair also brings to mind that wonderful old movie, State Fair (the 1945 version, that is), with music by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Especially this delightful little ditty in which they really spread it on thick – the butter, AND the good ol’ Iowa “corn”.

Given the house and half acre of Iowa we’re paying a mortgage on, we might slightly adjust the song’s title to read, “All We Owe, We Owe in Ioway.” But putting aside that IOU we owe IOWA, we do also owe Ioway our thanks for its brand of good wholesome fun, which of course is not just limited to state fairs and butter sculptures. After all, Iowa is home to several Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings, if not a Butter Frank – not yet anyway. We’ll do our best to butter up the selection committee for next year’s State Fair sculpture.

To Guard or To Suck: How to Fix Our Clogged Gutters?

After complaining about the window box and its persistent flooding flaw, we’ve had few dry weeks during which we’ve been able to enjoy the box and its bounty. I plopped these sunflowers in the box earlier this summer knowing that if it flooded, they’d be goners. Fortunately, we haven’t seen a return of the blustery storms we had at the beginning of the season. And so these sunflowers have been peeking at us through the window. But of course we know this dry box is only going to last so long. And the frustrating thing is that we’ve figured out reason for the flooding – and have even fixed it –  but we’re not able to get to it as often as we need to.

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