Wishing you a delicious, Dutch oven 2013

I write this on the evening of Christmas. The company’s gone, the gifts are unwrapped, Hunka Burnin’ Hubby is chatting on the phone, and the dishwasher is churning off the remnants of some pretty enchanting food. We just came back from snowshoeing with the Schlueterville setters, complete with a glimpse of sundogs dancing in the December sky. It’s a quiet, spectacularly ordinary, wind-up-the-holiday night.

In the corner of my kitchen stands my new cast iron, camp-style Dutch oven of the type Lewis and Clark might have hauled throughout the Louisiana Purchase. It has a flat, flanged lid and three no-nonsense legs that allow you to load it up and under with hot coals. The lid can even be flipped over and used as a griddle. All I need is a canoe, buckskin moccasins, and a coonskin cap, and I’m set for adventure.

I’ve cooked with cast iron before, but it became a genuine interest in 2012. There’s something wild and earnest about cooking with hot coal and open flames — a sense of reawakening a pioneer spirit and appreciating the hypnotic power of nature and fire upon wholesome, rib-sticking food. I envision standing in my backyard and hollering, “Home, home on the range!” in over-exaggerated splendor while my new Dutch oven makes its first culinary feast.

If the neighbors don’t launch shoes over the fence, I might invite them over to sample beef stew, or barbecue ribs, or steaming hot apple cobbler. Maybe we’ll sit around the fire with plates on our laps, and trade stories of camping triumphs and fiascos. I’ll tell them about the time Hunka and I pitched our tent in a dark campground during our honeymoon, and woke the next morning to discover we’d slept a couple feet from the RV dump station.

“We learned in a big, smelly hurry never to pitch a tent in the middle of the night,” I’ll say, and we’ll all snort-laugh until we cry.

As 2012 draws to a close, I reflect upon a year spent discovering new obsessions, testing personal limits, celebrating milestones, and accepting goodbyes. I learned that I’m tougher than I ever thought possible while training for my first half marathon in May, my first full marathon in October, and numerous 5Ks in between — all accomplished without legs snapping off and pin wheeling into the gutter.

It was the year I watched my eldest son graduate with his master’s degree, pack up his stuff and move to Oklahoma. I saw my youngest son excel in his role as student athletic trainer during Husker football games. And I agreed with their dad when he asked, “How is this possible? Didn’t we just bring them home from the hospital yesterday?”

It was the year I prayed like a woman possessed for a friend who was diagnosed with cancer in the spring, and cried my eyes out when she went home to farm with the Lord in the fall. It was also the year I arm wrestled God, and made peace with the fact that the world turns according to His plan and not mine.

It was the year I disconnected the landline, cut out cable, avoided doom-spewing news and pop culture like the plague, and renewed my love of books and the imagination they inspire.

All this talk of a year winding down brings me back to my Dutch oven waiting patiently in my kitchen corner. Like 2013, it has yet to be tested. But as the months roll by, it’ll be filled with challenges and opportunities — delectable achievements and fetid failures — just like the woman standing over it, caterwauling in ear-splitting splendor, “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day!”

Happy 2013, everyone!

Tamera Schlueter

Tam Schlueter adopts a "strike-fast-and-keep-them-laughing" approach to writing. Her column appears every Thursday in the Hastings Tribune, and showcases the wonder of family, dogs, muscle cars, and folks with blue collars and no-nonsense attitudes.

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