Real Cooking

Will you do me a favor? This week, if you see my kids, don’t mention anything to them about the tornado that struck Hoisington, OK?

You see, I’ve got my children almost convinced that:

A. Tornadoes are always tracked and reported by smart, capable people;

B. If a storm is spotted, the sirens will sound in adequate time to seek shelter;

C. Tornadoes usually don’t occur after their prescribed bedtime of 9 o’clock.

I know. I’m a native, born and raised on the plains of Kansas. I understand the rules about tornadoes-that is, that there are no rules. The storm in Hoisington over the weekend proved just that.

But if we could keep that between us, I would appreciate it. It’s so much easier for them to get to sleep at night if they think all is right in their world. You do understand-don’t you?-that tornadoes and bedtime just don’t mix. So, at our house, tornadoes don’t happen late at night without warning.

They’ll learn the truth soon enough. I’m just sorry the kids in Hoisington had to learn that truth in the hardest, most terrifying way.

Growing up in Kansas, one learns that summer brings fields of golden wheat, with autumn comes-I hate to even mention this-K-State football, and winter heralds cheering on the Rock Chalk KU Jayhawks in basketball.

And springtime means tornado season. It’s a fact of life here in tornado alley. Most of us who have been alive for any length of time can recount our existences by the storms we have lived through.

I can recall being in the third grade and hiding in the cellar with my family, listening to a transistor radio reporting three tornadoes circling my hometown of Newton. I remember how my dad stood on the front porch watching the sickening green sky and how my mother kept shouting, “Harold, come down here now!”

He finally gave in to his family’s pleas and it was a good thing he did. Over the next hour, a tornado swept across our neighborhood at tree-top level, taking with it portions of our roof. It seemed an eternity before the all-clear siren finally sounded.

When we emerged from our hiding place, the streets were flooded and littered with debris. Trees had been topped and uprooted, massive limbs were lying everywhere. Neighbors were standing in their yards waving flashlights and shouting to one another, happy everyone was all right, glad that the damage was so minimal. Everyone knew things could have been much, much worse.

My school picnic was the next day. My class sat on the trunk of an uprooted tree in the school playground to eat our lunch. I had a peanut butter sandwich and a can of Coca Cola. The day was hot and sunny and we were watching crews trying to restore electricity to the building.

Funny. It’s such a clear memory.

I think it was about a year later that I actually saw my first tornado. I was at a Girl Scout meeting that was quickly disbanded when one of the parents came to report an approaching storm.

My mom and I had just left the building when the sirens started to wail. To the south, we saw the twister heading toward west across an open field. That’s a clear memory, too.

Since that day, I’ve looked to the sky countless times. And countless times I’ve headed for the basement laden with my purse, a flashlight, my cat and now…my kids.

Meg and Alex can’t remember the first time they hid in the basement because of a tornado, but I do. They were about 10 months old when a massive twister hit Hesston and then headed toward Hillsboro.

I was home alone with the kids; it was choring time. You’ve heard of the phrase, “The show must go on.” Well, so must milking. Even in a tornado. Anyway, as I recall, I was trying not to panic while the wind was howling and the hail started pounding at the windows-and the twins were trying to crawl away from the “safe” place I’d made for them behind the couch in the basement.

The TV weatherman was warning everyone this was one of the most dangerous storms he had ever encountered and the news from Hesston was devastating.

At that moment, the phone rang.

“What ya doin’?” said a familiar voice. It was a family friend calling from Iowa.

“Oh, nothing much-just hiding from a tornado.”

She thought I was kidding. I told her I’d call back later. If I could.

Soon after, Keith showed up to check on us. He was-I kid you not-wearing an overturned stainless steel bowl on his head.

To protect himself from the hail, he said. Comic relief, I said.

I was glad to see him. He was glad to be home. We were glad to still have a home-and each other.

* * *

Let me direct your attention to the Hillsboro Community Medical Center’s new cookbook Pleasures From The Good Earth. The book contains a lot of good recipes, so I’m sure you’ll want to pick up a copy soon.

I’ve had the pleasure of sampling this delicious cake, the recipe for which is included in the cookbook. Donna Diener submitted the recipe.

Chocolate Earthquake Cake

1 cup chopped nuts

1 (3.5 oz.) can coconut

1 box German chocolate cake mix, prepared according to box

1/2 cup margarine

8 oz. cream cheese

1 lb. powdered sugar

Cover the bottom of a 9×12 pan with nuts and coconut. Pour the cake batter on top. Melt the margarine and add the cream cheese and powdered sugar; stir to blend. Spoon over batter and bake at 350 degrees for 40-42 minutes. You cannot test for doneness, because the cake will appear sticky. The cheese mixture forms a ribbon inside the cake.

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