Sweet Goodness

Source: Sweet Goodness


Sweet Goodness

Several years ago a wonderful friend, Jill Bruns, shared what turned out to be an incredible recipe for a tomato sauce. We were working together at the time for an exchange student organization matching host families with teenagers from around the world and monitoring those sometimes tenuous, often-time beautiful relationships. For us, August and September were quite stressful times, and Jill’s recipe was nearly as hands-off as it was delicious.

Her recipe was one of the cherished items packed on our move to Listening Stones Farm more than four years ago. Along the way it has been altered somewhat depending on the year and creative muse. For a couple of years back when I was married we started smoking my ex’s beautiful eggplant to include in the simmer. In no way can I garden as well as she could, so last year after making the first batch “naked” … without the smoke … I made a second batch where the offset smoker was once again put in play. This time to smoke the skin-on tomatoes.

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Heirloom tomatoes are used, smoked on the offset using apple wood. When moisture rises into the opened core, they’re ready to add to the roaster.

This created a sweet and lovely aroma that seemed to encompass not just the kitchen, but the entire house, creating such a sweet goodness.

Our method then was to let it simmer overnight in the roaster, which allowed the sauce to thicken quite well. Since I have begun to can the sauce the same day because it seems to hold the flavors better. The delicate flavors are captured for winter joys rather than lost in the overcooking.

Last week I made my first batch of Jill’s Sweet Goodness. In my recipe I continued to use garlic and onions.


From my first batch, with the basil leaves on top. 

As is typical, my garden has more tomato plants than should have been planted, and more fruit is coming off the vine daily. I have more than enough for my own needs, and a really good salsa has since been canned. One that is decidedly less vinegary than the one I made last year … which tasted just fine before being canned but was much too vinegary come winter. This one has more lime and much less vinegar, and is just what I like in a salsa.

Yet, I love Jill’s Sweet Goodness and have eyed making another batch, this time with two people in mind. My sister, Ann Roeder, and a dear friend, Mo Stores. Both suffer from an onion and garlic allergy. While it seems almost sacrilegious to make a tomato sauce without either ingredient I was curious if it was doable and if the flavor would hold.

So once again I smoked the tomatoes. All the various ingredients from the recipe were added along with about three quarters of a cup of chopped herbs. Included was a healthy sprig of rosemary, and about half and half of fresh basil and sage. A knife was used to chop the herbs finely before being added to the roaster. I had used fresh basil and rosemary in my original batch, though not the sage. My idea came from Ann, who sometimes uses sage as a substitute in her cooking. Indeed, this may be the best batch of the bunch!


After the vegetables have been pureed, add three 12 oz. cans of tomato paste, and use the emulsifier again.

This is truly a simple sauce to make. My only change is that I peel the carrots and cut up the celery. Those tomatoes are cored before going onto the smoker. An emulsifier is used to puree the sauce, and to blend in the paste afterwards. Two of my friends wouldn’t can this without a pressure cooker, and two others, including Jill who is a county health nurse, stick with hot baths. I prefer the hot bath method and did it this way for years with no problems whatsoever.

The sauce is excellent for spaghetti and pizzas, and sometimes I add some pesto that I have frozen. All the vegetables are organic, including those I grow here on the farm. Here is Jill’s recipe, so please, enjoy!

Jill’s Spaghetti Sauce

(Makes 8-12 quarts)

50 tomatoes (enough to fill a large electric roaster. I smoke in an offset smoker with apple wood.)

1 batch celery — chopped

8 green peppers

8 onions

8 cloves of garlic

8 carrots

1/2 c salt

1 c sugar

1/4 t cloves

1/2 t allspice

1/2 t paprika

1/2 t oregano

1/4 t pepper

1 bay leaf

Several sweet basil leaves

3 12 oz cans tomato paste

Put cut up vegetables into roaster. Add all ingredients except tomato paste. Simmer for 4 hours at 225 F degrees or so, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. You can simmer overnight to puree in the morning, or all through the day. Use a blender or emulsifier to puree. Add paste and simmer for at least two hours. Put in jars and hot bath for 40 minutes. Rebecca used a pressure cooker at #10 for 40 minutes. Great for spaghetti, chili, lasagna and most anything using a tomato sauce. I use pint jars for more convenience of single living.


I’m not an “organized” canner, using a variety of jar types and sizes. It’s what is inside that counts! 

Art … It’s What We Do

Random thoughts are a malady, and one came charging through this summer while judging 4-H projects for a nearby county fair. All through the building youngsters were carrying boxes full of projects for us to judge, and from the look on many of their young, eager faces you could almost identify those who had crammed to complete those projects into the wee hours of the night before.

My random thought? Are there artists on the Meander Upper Minnesota River Art Crawl like those 4-Her’s cramming the night before the Meander? Highly doubtful, although there are certainly some last minute coursing as you prepare your studios and work in anticipation of the hordes of folks about to come through. That said, most of us work with our art throughout the year. Not only are we creating new and different works, and hopefully growing individually as artists, but we’re also involved with our work in other instances and venues.

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Potter Richard Handeen works the wheel at Moonstone Farms near Montevideo.

For example, many of us have individual showings around the area. Speaking of myself, my work was involved in three one-person exhibits in two states, two juried shows (including the Horizontal Grandeur) plus showings at two arts festivals. Many Meander artists do this and more … all while creating new works. So I’m not alone.

Since the last Meander I can think of at least three artists who have exhibited at the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council’s (SMAC) gallery in Marshall … Liz Rackl and Edie Barrett, both of Ortonville, and Malena Handeen, of Milan. Handeen also created a mural for a craft beer brewery in Montevideo and was a principal artist creating a four-sided mural on a barn on commission for an organic dairy cooperative in Wisconsin.

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Malena Handeen discusses one of her paintings at her opening at the SMAC Gallery in Marshall earlier this year.

Odessa photographer Rob Rakow and I were both in the Horizontal Grandeur, an annual prairie arts juried show sponsored by the Stevens County Historical Society that is based on an essay by the late prairie writer, Bill Holm.

Silversmith Jean Menden and bent wood artists, Dale and Jo Pederson, of Granite Falls, are mainstays at the Brookings Art Festival in July. Pity those who would attempt to keep up with all the pop-up festivals Granite’s Bradley Hall displays at each year.


Classes like this one taught by Melanie Gabbert-Gatchell are part of many artists’ year.

Then there is Meander artist Deb Connolly, of Danvers, who provides a brief overview of her work as an artist: “Red River Watercolor Society’s National Watermedia Exhibition is one of the shows I do and it is based out of Moorhead, MN.  I have earned “Signature Status” at that exhibition which means I can put the letters RRWS on my watercolor paintings near my own signature.  All of that means that I am a paid member of the Red River Water Society and I have been accepted into the national exhibition three times over a 10 year period. ‘Arts in Harmony’ is an Annual International Show that I enter most years.  It is a multi-media show based out of Elk River. Almost every year I enter the Minnesota State Fair Fine art show, and I had a piece selected by the jury process. The piece that was chosen ‘Lilacs and Oranges’ had been previously accepted into the ‘RRWS National Watermedia’ exhibition and the ‘Arts in Harmony’ show. Besides shows I enter, I hang my art in local galleries. I display my art each year at the Art of the Lakes Gallery in Battle Lake. It is a cooperative gallery where I volunteer my time to hang the gallery and work four shifts per year. I also do the three-day Art of the Lakes Studio Tour each July that they organize – which means I haul my art to a host studio closer to the cluster of artists who display. This small town gallery draws good numbers of lake country locals and visitors and I find it invigorating to display my work along with many great artists and get a chance to work meet and work with them.  I also display at Prairie Renaissance Cultural Alliance (PRCA) in Morris and other galleries that have come and gone over the years.”

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Deb Connolly works on a painting in her Danvers’ studio.

This summer Ortonville’s Kathleen Marihart opened her own “The Smallest Art Gallery” on the town’s main street where she and other artists offer a number of classes. Granite Falls’ photographer/artist Melanie Gabbert-Gatchell teaches many classes in the alcohol ink on tile technique, along with other member artists of the Granite Area Arts Council.

Gene and Lucy Tokheim hosts open houses and maintain their rural Dawson area studio throughout the year, creating Norwegian-inspired pottery and paintings. Gene is among the artists who teaches various courses at the Milan Village Arts School.

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A summer afternoon of work awaiting the kiln.

This is just a sprinkling of activities involving the 39 artists on this year’s Meander. Yes, we are working artists who are intent on creating new and interesting work be it pottery, paintings, jewelry, photographic images or interesting wood arts. For those touring the Meander, rest assured that very little of what you see was produced by cramming through the night before. For us it just doesn’t work that way! For us, our work isn’t a “project” … art is our way of life. Art is what we do.

New Meander Poster for Collectors

(Second of three Meander Blogs … )

This year John George Larson took his turn as the featured artist on the annual Meander Upper Minnesota River Art Crawl poster. Chalk one up as another in a growing line for the collector’s of these interesting if not unique posters.

Just in case you’re wondering, yes, I’m one of the collectors. Mine are framed and line the stairwell of my rural Ortonville home.


Some of my Meander poster collection.

Not only is the art on each of the posters personalized, but each of the artists must go through a process before a poster is finalized by the printer, Andy Kahmann.

Apparently past artists are the ones who decide who will be upcoming featured artist, and that artist then works closely with Kahmann to create a design that will work well with the plate engraving process as well as lending itself well to the annual Meander brochure. A third of the poster image typically appears on the brochure cover. That poster design is a well guarded secret between Kahmann and the artist until an all-artist meeting held in the late spring when the revealing is often met with a chorus of cheers and applause of approval.

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John George Larson listens as Andy Kahmann explains the printing process as Franz Richter listens.

As one of the participating artists in the Meander, I was quite curious back in May when it was announced that Larson was the featured artist since he is quite well known as a potter. Being a potter, and he is an excellent clay artist, those of us who knew of him only as a potter quickly learned that Larson has talents that exceed well beyond the wheel. In this case he “shared the wealth” with the other artists from the 2016 event, creating his piece from the chosen images of those on that version of the Meander. Imagine my surprise to see my Prairie Clothesline image as part of his poster, which might be as close as I come to being the featured artist!

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Doug Pederson designed the 2016 poster.

So I’m now in the process of piecing together a frame for Larson’s poster, which will be added to the collection on the stairwell wall. Which makes me wonder just how many others are poster collectors are out there? How many have the entire collection? Interestingly, some posters are quite rare, including the 2008 poster by Franz Albert Richter. Richter did a wonderful trio of bison, and Kahmann claims he has two of Richter’s posters hidden away, and that as far as he knows, those are the last of the bunch. “That one was quite popular,” said Kahmann.


John George Larson’s artwork graces the 2017 Meander poster.

For those who wonder, Bradley Hall was the initial featured artist the first year of the Meander in 2004, followed by Malena Handeen. Katia Andreeva was next in 2006. Milan’s internationally known rosemahler, Karen Jenson, followed Katia. The list continues as the “who’s who” of noted prairie artists: Deb Connolly, Lucy Tokheim, Kerry Kolke-Bonk, Audrey Arner, Don Sherman, Kristi Link Fernholz, Tamara Isfeld, Doug Pederson and finally, Larson.

Personally I have nine of the 14 posters framed and hanging. It would be cool to have all 14, although it’s doubtful that will happen. Especially if Richter’s bison are extremely rare.

Only a Number …

Well, my goodness. I’ve been flipped! And, I’m not alone.

After a few years of being “Number One” in the annual Meander Upper Minnesota River Art Crawl, I’m now “Number Thirty-nine!” Good news, though … I’m still the same old “me.” “It was time for flip the tour,” said Kristi Link Fernholz, who oversees Meander “business” for the Upper Minnesota Regional Development Commission. “It’s all in fairness.”

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There … the proof is in the pudding! 


Here’s the hard part: This was the first time ever that I can recall being Number One! Although this had nothing to do with talent, age nor artistic offerings. The designation was based solely on my Listening Stones Farm on-farm gallery being at the very top of the Meander tour. And, now the “bottom,” if you will. This September 29-30 and October 1, my studio/gallery is listed at the very bottom of the brochure. Old friend and carver supreme, Curt Soine, and his darling and hilarious wife, Paula, heads the numerical listing this year down at the other end of the Meander in Granite Falls.

And there is the real flip. Ortonville/Clinton to Appleton area has been listed at the top of the annual brochure for the past few years while Granite Falls and Montevideo, at the other end of the upper Minnesota River valley, was listed at the bottom.

It’s all fun and fair, yet there is a certain fear. Will meanderers see us up here as being “too far out?”

Interestingly, the Meander is often seen in three parts: The upper, the middle and the lower. Those many artists between Danvers and Dawson are seen by many as being the middle. Or, as one mid-tour artist told me recently while giving me a tease, “We’re always stuck in the middle. That doesn’t make us mediocre.”


Curt Soine’s beautifully carved swan. 

That “middle” has some incredible artists. People such as Gene and Lucy Tokheim, Jean Menden, Woody Peet, Tom and Delite Ludvigson, with Martha Alvarado, J Berndt and K. Lohse at the vineyard, all near Dawson. Milan is also a who’s who with Malena Handeen, Kristi Link Fernholz, Katia Andreeva, Diane Trew, Patrice Geyen, Pamela Gubrud and John George Larson. Deb Connelly shores up the eastern end in Danvers.

The “south” ­— or the top of the 2017 brochure — starts in Granite Falls and includes the Soines, Melanie Gabbert-Gatchell, Gene Stukel, Bradley Hall, Claire Swanson, Dale and Jo Pederson, and returning artist, Dale Streblow. Monte has A to Z Letterpress, Flying Goose Quilters, Doug and Brock Pederson, and Moonstone Farm with Richard Handeen and Audrey Arner. That, too, is a load of talent exhibiting some beautiful and creative art.


An artist’s display at the Red Barn from the past.

Not to be outdone, my place and the Red Barn are just a bend in a country intersection apart, or a distance of only three miles. Seven artists will hole up in Stattelman’s iconic red barn — Liz Rackl, Kris Ninneman, Anne Dietz, Pam Stueve, Beverly Schultz, Carol Knutson and Neva Foster. Edie Barrett and Kathleen Marihart will be almost next door in downtown Ortonville. Odessa, just down the highway, will feature hosts Valerie Berg and Rob Rakow. Appleton, considered the “window” of the upper Meander, lists three more artists — Kerry Kolke-Bonk, Deborah Moorse and Nancy Bergmann. In all, 13 artists! Meander brochures contain a map of the various studios and artist locations, along with highway routes meandering through the prairie.


My studio/gallery at Listening Stones Farm isn’t quite ready for the Meander, even at Number 39!

Regardless of our numerical listing, those who meander through the annual Western Minnesota arts crawl will have an excellent selection of medium to view and hopefully purchase. Just don’t forget that far out, old Number Thirty-nine! Ol’ 39 is just pleased to be among those juried as being worthy of being included as a Meander artist! Being Number One doesn’t mean I’m Number One no more than being Number Thirty-nine means I’m Number Thirty-nine.

Or as someone my age often hears, “It’s only a number.”

Robbie’s Wren

One couldn’t miss Robbie’s wren. From the moment we sat to sip a chilled white wine on her wooded deck in the late afternoon until we were enveloped by darkness while she worked a comforting bonfire, the little wren hopped from perch to perch and did so with constant chatter. From a Kon Tiki-like lantern to the crook of a shepherd’s hook, from the apex of the little wren house where his mate perhaps hid from his verbal onslaught, to a tall sunflower nearby, the little brown wren hopped from place to place, filling the silence.

Said Robbie’s husband, Harland, “That’s the male. He never shuts up. The lady of the house never says much of anything. He, on the other hand, sings from the first light of morning until darkness.” Conversations. Earlier on that Friday I had erected my pop-up for the annual Cannon Falls Arts and Wine Festival. It was five years since I’ve seen Harland and Robbie, and even more since I had been in the Cannon River valley. This would be like “old home week” once the festival began the following morning. So we sat, catching up and enjoying an evening of remembrance while being serenaded with songs from Robbie’s wren.

“Last year their first hatch yielded three birds. When grown, two left the next. Both within an hour of one another,” Harland explained over the constant wren chatter. “The third would come out onto the perch waiting to be fed. This happened for a few days. The female would scrounge for food and come back to feed the last of the batch, who by that time was the same size as she was. Then one morning the male started fending off the female from feeding the full grown chick. He sat there on the perch, face to face, scolding that full grown chick, really letting him have it. Finally, after about a day of not being fed, the chick finally flew away.”

“Did that stop the noise?” I asked.

Harland laughed. “Not in the least. But the old man had made his point.”

Many times a day Robbie and Harland pause to watch their active bird feeders.

Conversations, random or otherwise:

* He was middle aged, and from the chumminess and familiarity with the fellow with him, they may have been “partners” or husbands. As he eyed the canvases and framed prints, he said, “I never saw this beauty when I was growing up in Wheaton. Apparently there was a native prairie next to our family farm. I just saw it as grass. Nothing like what you see here. I didn’t see the beauty in it until recently, not the way you and other artists have portrayed the prairie.”

“Probably a restored prairie.”

“No,” he countered. “I’m told it was never plowed. I should have said virgin prairie. That’s what it was. Virgin prairie. Right next to the farm where I was raised.”

• “What’s interesting,” said the near retirement-aged farmer and long time friend, “is that my neighbor is putting in a 10,000 head dairy, which means we will now have 40,000 head of cows in CAFO dairies within a 10 mile radius of my farm. I’ve known my neighbor since he was a kid. The only animal he has ever had was a dog. What’s he going to do with 10,000 head of cows?”

Praire enthusiasts seemed to enjoy images of prairie flowers.

• Over the years I’ve wondered what athletes and various celebrities got out of hospital visits. Oh, there is that thought that of the viscousness those over the hill second string, junior high tackles who have since become more knowledgeable about football in middle age than Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, visiting terminally ill children in a hospital perhaps offered a nice relief. But, a reward? Then I went to visit Mariah, Robbie’s daughter, who is in the latter stages of MS. Named for “the prairie wind,” she can no longer walk. After the show closed on Saturday I dropped by her condo on the way back out to Harland and Robbie’s. When I walked in I was taken aback. Here was the lively and beautiful teenager who was seemingly always on the move now stretched out prone on her back, barely able to move.

“You probably don’t remember me,” I said, telling her my name as I bent to give her a hug.

“Oh my God! I can’t believe it!” she said, breaking into the most incredibly and beautiful smile I have ever seen, one that radiated across the room. A smile I’ll never forget. Genuinely pure and so rich. Now I think I know what the professional athletes mean when they talk about how special they feel when making hospital rounds. It’s those smiles.

• She was the artist in the adjoining pop-up, a young mother with impressionistic and intimate paintings of prairie flowers. She is quite multi-talented, for when a musician strolled through with his cart of instruments, she played a nice piece of a concerto on his violin as he joined in. Their playing was so welcomed on a hot afternoon after visiting with seemingly hundreds of would-be buyers. She sold a number of tee-shirts decorated with a collage of prairie flowers representing different areas of the state. “I’m now concentrating on pollinators,” she said. “My mother-in-law has a beautiful prairie where I get my inspiration. The more I’m there the more I see. You just can’t glance at a prairie and see the infinite and intimate details. I can sense that in that way we’re soul mates.”

I smiled. Much like the musician smiled as they played the concerto.

Exhibiting multi-talented artist Heather Friedli played a short concerto with a strolling musician.

• Driving back to Robbie’s farm late Sunday afternoon after packing up to return their borrowed chair and to pick up my belongings before the drive home, I passed Mariah’s little condo and remembered my late friend, Foster Hall. Foster, also an artist, often spoke of finding and marrying his “dream” of an “exotic” woman. Eventually he met and married a sweet, dark-complected Jewish girl from New Jersey with wild and frizzy hair who possessed a flair for adventure. She was indeed “exotic” to Foster, an only child of an older Sante Fe couple. Not long after their wedding he was diagnosed with ALS, and his decline was rapid and sure. We were visiting about six months after he’d lost he ability to walk, and several weeks before his death. No, you never really know what to say, or to talk about, so to fill the awkward spaces of silence I asked Foster about his dreams. “Running,” he said with drawn out effort, his words slurred by the disease. “All I ever dream about is running.” I wondered about Mariah’s dreams.

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Robbie’s little wren on the apex of the Shepherd’s crook.

• Robbie and Harland were sitting on their deck when I arrived late in the afternoon. “He’s still at it,” Harland said as I carried the chair up the hill and joined them for a few moments before starting for home. Sure enough, there on the Kon Tiki lantern was Robbie’s wren, tail angled at a sharp 45 degrees, as he tilted back with a song deep in his heart. Seconds later he flitted up to the apex of the Shepherd’s crook, his highest point of the many perches he preferred, looking this way and that, singing his song of the ages. I wondered why. I wondered how could he keep this up without seemingly ever stopping, day after day, all summer long. Was he singing a warning? Re-establishing on a constant basis that this beautiful deck surrounded by wood was indeed his marked territory? Or, perhaps, was he simply uncomfortable with silence?