I recently discovered this old photo of my dad and me and I treasure it. The date on the back says December 15, 1952. I was one month shy of turning two-years-old. That’s my mom on the couch beside us wearing her bobby socks and Keds. Dad is dressed in his work clothes, so he had probably just come home from work. He was a sawyer and nearly always smelled of wind and sun and freshly sawn timber.

Sitting on my dad’s lap while being read to was my absolute favorite thing as a little girl. I remember staring hard at the words—which he always pointed out to me one by one–and wishing I could make those magic letters talk to me so I wouldn’t have to wait for a big person to interpret them. I marveled at the fact that people could make those squiggles tell stories.

I hungered so much for stories that I started making them up–sometimes in strange circumstances. I learned to count by attributing a personality and character trait to match each of the first ten numbers.( I remember the number six being a rascal and constantly in trouble. Five was a sweet little girl who was always obedient.) When my mother taught me how to set a table, I learned by creating a private story that I still rely on. The fork on the left is in love with the spoon and the spoon is in love with the fork, but the knife is an evil guard keeping them apart.

When I found this photo, I got out a magnifying glass to see the book title. Dad’s choice of reading material for a two-year-old made me laugh. It was General Douglas MacArthur’s “Revitalizing A Nation.” So typical of him. Even with only an eighth grade education, Lyle Bonzo was not into light reading.

If you notice, there is a desk right beside of us. We lived in a tiny house that had once been a railroad shanty for workers when the railroad was being built through Scioto County. There wasn’t a lot of furniture because there wasn’t much room. We didn’t have television, so on rainy days, that desk became a great source of childhood entertainment. I was allowed to store crayons and paste and scissors and other treasures in its drawers and spent hours playing there.

Peering into this long-lost frozen moment of my childhood, it occurs to me for the first time the reason behind the fact that there is not one room in my house—including bedrooms—that does not have at least one small desk in it. My family has long teased me about my fascination with little drawers to store things in—I can’t seem to have enough of them—and this is probably why.

A lot of people ask me why I became a writer. I never know how to answer that, but I suspect some of that desire began right here—on my daddy’s lap—as I leaned against the rumble of his chest as he read to me, surrounded by the scent of fresh sawdust, and knowing that I was safe within the strongest, most protective arms, in the world.

When I was a child, the only thing I knew to do with dandelions was blow on the little puffballs and watch the seeds float off into the wind. As an adult, I heard rumors that some people ate dandelion greens, but I didn’t know anyone who did.

A few years ago I went to lunch with one of my editors who lives in Sugarcreek. The “special” for the day—handwritten on a sign outside the restaurant–was Dandelion Gravy and that’s what my editor ordered.

“You’ve GOT to be kidding,” I said. “What IS that stuff!”

“It’s a seasonal Amish dish around here,” she said. “They only serve it for a couple weeks in the spring when the dandelion leaves are tender. People either really love it or really hate it.”

dandelionsI decided to give this weird-sounding dish a whirl. For me, it turned out to be love at first bite. The combination of spring greens in a mild sweet and sour bacon gravy was delicious. Since then, after a long winter, I find myself craving it and I begin eying dandelions voraciously as soon as their little yellow heads begin to appear.

 

Our backwoods yard is carpeted with young dandelions right now, so I fixed a double batch of dandelion gravy last night. My husband inhaled two heaping platefuls and said it was the most delicious thing I’d fixed since Christmas. I agreed and savored every mouthful. My son said that it was okay, but not his favorite.

When I researched the nutrition value of dandelions, I was surprised to learn that they are not native to our country. Europeans brought the seeds with them and cultivated them in their gardens, much like we grow lettuce. Their seeds quickly began to spread across America. The leaves are packed with all sorts of good things.

Here’s the recipe I used if you want to try it.

Dandelion Gravy

(Serves Four)

1)      Gather 4 tightly packed cups of dandelion leaves early in the spring when the leaves are tender.  (Make sure the yard or property you gather them from hasn’t been sprayed with any sort of weed killer. It’s also best not to gather plants from road sides.) Wash, shake dry, and chop into bite size pieces.

2)      Boil 2 eggs

3)      Make enough mashed potatoes for about 4 people (unless you are doubling the recipe.)

4)      Fry about 4 strips of bacon. Drain. Reserve grease.

5)      Chop 1 onion—toss into skillet of hot grease.

6)      Stir in 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour (We’re gluten free so I used rice flour)

7)      Stir in 2 tablespoons water until thick

8)      Stir in 1 cup of milk. (Or more. Whatever it takes to make a gravy-like consistency.)

9)      Salt and Pepper to taste.

So far, you’ve just made mashed potatoes with bacon gravy. Now here’s where things get interesting.

10)   Add 1 tablespoon of sugar

11)   Add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar

12)   Stir in all the young dandelion greens and cook until they wilt

13)   Chop up the two eggs and add to mixture.

14)   Serve by ladling the gravy over the mashed potatoes and sprinkling bits of bacon on top.

 

 

DandelionGravy1Ta-Da!!

 You have just made authentic Amish country dandelion gravy
Here’s a picture of what we fixed last night. No, it isn’t pretty. But it IS delicious. Unless you are one of those people who really hate it. If you are, don’t blame me. Just eat the mashed potatoes and bacon and be happy. At least you got some exercise gathering dandelion greens.

 

Serena B. Miller and Big Mike inside Finders Keepers

It is my favorite time of year again. September! The Swiss Festival in Sugarcreek, Ohio is happening this weekend (September 26-27) and I intend to be there on Saturday from 6 to 8 pm, signing books at the Gospel Shop at 112 Main Street.  At 8 p.m. if the weather holds, there will be a showing of the movie right in the middle of downtown Sugarcreek.

For those who watched Love Finds You In Sugarcreek, Ohio, you’ll recognize the Swiss Festival from the scenes shot in the midst of it last year. For the most part, those were not actors you saw in the background, but real people enjoying themselves at the festival as the crew shot around them.

People frequently ask me to recommend places to go see while in the area. Here’s one place I always stop by. Finders Keepers, 100 E. Main Street which is just a few doors down from the  Gospel Shop.

Serena B. Miller in front of Finders Keepers on Main Street in Sugarcreek, Ohio
Serena in front of Finders Keepers on Main Street in Sugarcreek, Ohio
Serena B. Miller and Big Mike inside Finders Keepers
Serena and Big Mike inside Finders Keepers

It’s owned by “Big Mike” Schario and his business partner, Mitch Joseph from Canton. If you’ve seen the Love Finds You in Sugarcreek movie, you’ve already met Mike. He’s one of the actors (big guy, red shirt) who threw the stone in the Steintossen “competition” they filmed. What most people don’t know is that Mike lifted all 138 pounds of the real rock (instead of the lighter, pretend one) while nursing several broken ribs he’d sustained just a few days before in a car wreck.

Mike and Mitch run a store that makes me want to just stand and stare. It’s always changing, and it is always filled with things that bring back good memories. Old-fashioned candy I haven’t seen since I was a kid, old board games I played with my cousins on rainy afternoons, bikes I wish I’d had, and some memorabilia they simply won’t part with–like a microphone once used at the Grand Ole Opry.

Inside Finders KeepersInside Finders Keepers, Candy Isle

It’s an old-fashioned business in more ways than just the merchandise they carry. They also use an old non-electric cash register and take cash only. Last I checked, they didn’t bother with Facebook or Twitter. You’ve gotta be careful when you go, though. They’re usually only open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The rest of the time they’re scouring the countryside rescuing old items to display in their store.

I love seeing people make a living doing what they love–and if you ever get a chance to meet Mike or Mitch–you’ll meet two guys who are doing exactly that.