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Mrs. Sundberg's Recipe Collection - 12 tried-and-true--one for each month of the year--featuring an introduction and tips from Mrs. Sundberg herself

Heap coals of kindness

January 22, 2007

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was in a mood, let me tell you, but once I heard Mr. Keillor and that lovely woman sing "Children of the Heavenly Father" the nasty thoughts had all but vanished. Those few minutes of sweetness were all I needed to bring me back to earth from the orbit I'd been sent into by the words of one Helen McPherson.

I won't make a habit of it, mind you, but may I vent? For a moment? Went to the circle meeting last week, on Wednesday, at Eva Stromberg's house, because I haven't gone in a while and Eva kindly invited me to stop by, for a cup of coffee, at least, and I said sure thing, and offered to bring a cake, and she said that would be dandy. So on Wednesday morning I whipped up a rhubarb custard cake with some rhubarb I'd frozen late last summer, and put on the blue sweater I'd bought on sale at the store formerly known as Dayton's, and off I went.

Things went fine until it was time for coffee and dessert, which Eva brought out on a silver tray. Eva had made some butter cookies to go with the cake, and everyone agreed rhubarb custard cake is in the top five comfort foods of the decade. Everyone except Helen. I can count on my fingers the number of times I've heard the woman speak an even remotely kind word, and she's cast a shadow over many a cup of coffee with her harsh words and relentless critique. She poked at the cake with her fork as if she were looking for parasites. "Where did you find rhubarb this time of year?" she asked, and took a small bite, and said, "Interesting." She poked some more and set it down and said, "I can stomach only fresh fruit and vegetables. Anything old or thawed out tends to disagree with me."

As we ate and discussed the Valentine's Day Dinner to be held at the church, Helen sat there, silent, looking bored. "May I pour you more coffee, Helen?" Eva asked. "No," Helen replied. "But you can tell me what kind of candles you're burning so I don't make the mistake of buying them. I can't imagine falling asleep with that dreadfully sweet smell in my nose." Poor Eva. Poor Us. What do you do with someone whose prime directive is to gripe until the cows come home?

I was tempted to target her with my piece of rhubarb custard cake, but what would be the point? It was then I heard my mother's voice from way back in eighth grade, when Johanna the Bully tormented me in 3rd hour study hall: Heap coals of kindness, darling, upon the heads of your enemies. Well, now. How's that for a challenge. When you want to clock someone, be kind to them instead. Something I thought about all week. So after the show on Saturday, I ran on over the grocery store for a dozen fresh pie apples. It took only an hour to make and bake and box the pie. I got into the car and drove over to Helen's house, where the kitchen light was on and piano music was playing. I set the pie on her porch swing, along with a little note: From someone who wishes you good things, and a lovely year ahead. I rang her doorbell and took off at what felt like a gallop toward my car, parked a block away. As I drove on by, I could see Helen at her dining room table reading my note. She was smiling. I took the long way home with my window down, singing "Children of the Heavenly Father" and thinking how I'll make a pie or two for the next circle meeting, should I be invited to stop on by for a cup of coffee, if nothing else.

Take care to cut this one and serve it up on a plate. If you go at the whole thing with a fork, you won't be able to stop yourself until it's far too late and then you'll have to explain where half the cake went.

Rhubarb Custard Cake

1 box yellow cake mix
4 c. diced rhubarb
1 cup sugar (I use 3/4 cup)
1 pint whipping cream

Mix cake according to the directions on the box.
Pour into a greased 9 X 13 pan.
Cover the batter with the rhubarb.
Sprinkle the sugar over.
Pour the whipping cream over the top.

Bake 55 to 60 minutes at 350 degrees.

Serve warm.


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