This post comes a few months late. Blame it on the pregnancy hormones, but my motivation to do anything besides work, cook, clean and make time to sit in bed and watch Netflix is seriously diminished. I started writing this a loooong time ago- I can’t even remember when. Now, it is summer (EVEN HERE!) and my little boy will be making his appearance any time between now and July 27th. People keep saying, “Oh, how awful to be pregnant in the summer!” I couldn’t disagree more! No slipping on ice, shivering so bad you think you are literally going to shake the baby’s brains, being stuck inside all the time…summer is bliss! I have become an excellent mosquito hunter, it keeps raining every couple of days so the dust isn’t so bad (I just have to remember my rain boots, I’ve ruined a couple of pairs of shoes in the cement-like mud out here), and our trailer air conditioning is extremely efficient. I want to write an update on living here in the summer (it is CRAZY) but it just seems incorrect to leave out a whole experience that has been sitting in “Drafts” for a few months. So, here it is.
If my life out here were titled after a movie, it would definitely be “Frozen”. Not because I’ve reached new heights of personal actualization or had any life-empowering epiphanies; no, it would be “Frozen” because that sums most of my experience with the elements and sense of time here. A couple of months ago, Mother Nature played a few mean-spirited “It’s warming up!” tricks and muddied everything up for a few days, but we still had to have snow boots on standby. After a few weeks of mud, snow, mud, and more snow, I was over it. Really, really over it. On one of the rare days Sam and I had the same day off, we decided to get coffee and go for a drive. I wanted to take some pictures that “realistically” depicted the area; which meant I wanted to showcase the absolute dreary, ugly slushiness I saw all around.
“People should know what they are moving to!” I bitterly said to my husband as I climbed into the truck and kicked the slush off my snow boots. He laughed. Sam knows my grumpy-old-man moods are bettered either with coffee (brownies too) or by giving me a half hour to say all the ill-humored, sassy quips that come to mind. My grumpy-isms are usually so outrageous that we both start laughing at my silliness and the day cheerfully moves on. However, that day I was determined! North Dakota was ugly and miserable and it was my duty to show whoever might stumble across the blog what it really looked like.
Stopping for coffee at a trucker’s breakfast joint. The food is good, the vintage signs cover every inch of wall space, and if you are from a big city on the West Coast, you’ll sit there wondering how they haven’t been sued over a few extremely “politically incorrect” vintage ads.
I felt pretty justified the first few pictures I got. I usually enjoy the view crossing the bridge over the Missouri River, but even the river looked drab. We stopped in Williston for coffee and then continued on our way to the outlying areas. The sun was literally breaking through the cold, grey cloud cover and warming the landscape to gold. I took more and more pictures, but I wasn’t trying to evidence ugliness anymore- I was trying to capture the magnificent transformation happening in front of our windshield! (Which, by the way, is seriously cracked. If you ever do come out here, do NOT come out here with your dream car or truck. Just trust me on this. The grill of our truck has massive holes from rocks that violently cracked through, and the rest of the truck has plenty of other dings and dents to evidence the rough road conditions out here. Semi trucks will always own the highway. Doesn’t matter how far you drive behind them- it’s the oncoming ones that will beat you up nicely.) The rolling fields, the sun bursts, the lazy cows- these pictures don’t do them any justice. It’s probably due in part to my using an iPhone and not being a professional photographer, but I’m pretty sure you just have to be there to actually experience it.
So, my quest to show the world how awful my bit of North Dakota is turned into a full-blown project to show how incredible she can be. It is so, sooooo cliche, but life really is what you make it out here. I still constantly bemoan my dwelling here, but I’m working on finding the joy.
Something I have found special about living out here is the opportunity to spend time around my father-in-law and one of my five brother-in-laws. Not long after the excessive picture taking day, my husband called me to say he was working late, but asked if it would be alright if his dad and brother came over to make his dad’s specialty: Dutch Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Hmm, let me think about that. Yes!
My father-in-law is not a man of many words, so we don’t typically have long conversations. I talk AT him a great deal, which I’m pretty sure is exhausting for him, but he is always attentive. I have no idea what he thought when I hit him with, “Can I take pictures of you making the cake and put them on my blog?” but he kindly agreed and let me trail him around for the next half hour asking questions and snapping pictures. Of course, I made him pause so I could move dirty dishes out of view in the kitchen (not completely successful as you will see) and made my brother-in-law get in some shots too. They were so sweet.
Bakin’ in the Bakken
Dutch Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake made by a Bakken Oil-Hauler and a Gauger
When cooking outdoors in the windy wilderness, it is generally a good plan to have some kind of wind barrier. Sometimes your trailer is sufficient, other times you have to be a bit more resourceful. In this instance, my father-in-law angled his work van just so, pulled out some extra plywood Sam was storing under the trailer and constructed a wall of sorts. Oh, the things we do for cake!
The ingredients needed for the cake are pretty simple. A recipe is a winner in the Bakken if you can buy all of its components at a gas station.
Line your Dutch Oven with foil (so you can get the cake out!). Using a fork (because you are cooking in a trailer that has no running water-that’s another story- and you can’t wash your hands) line the bottom of the foil with pineapple slices. Then, (still with a fork) put a single maraschino cherry in the center of each.
Meanwhile, have your assistant (or son) mix up the cake mix following the directions on the box. No fancy substitutions here!
Pour brown sugar over the pineapple slices and cherries. Eyeball it. We don’t really do measuring cups out here. (OK, I totally do measuring cups, I’m too stressed I’ll ruin a recipe, but GUYS out here do NOT use measuring cups. They don’t own them.)
For all his hard work cake mixing, let your assistant do the fun part- breaking up the sugar and getting it to look nice and even over the top.
It should look like so. (I had an amazing sewing teacher as a kid who would always say, “[Task A, B, C] should look like so [as she showed her beautiful handiwork] when you have finished.” Mine never looked “like so”, but I really am obsessed with that phrase- it’s just so perfect as a pun- “like sew”! OK, officially laying off the ice cream before writing.)
Gently pour the batter over the brown sugar layer.
Put the lid on the oven and peel away the extra foil.
The coals should be nice and hot by now. Using a pair of tongs (or whatever manly tool you have handy), remove a few of the coals from the pile. These are going to be used on top of the oven.
Set the oven on the coal pile and try to strategically place the reserved coals on the lid for even heating.
The meat thermometer didn’t fit, but normally my father-in-law uses a meat thermometer to check the cake once it’s been cooking for about 40 minutes. It is supposed to reach about 160 degrees internally. This time, he had to lift the lid and look. That is not ideal because it lets out the heat and slows the cooking.
After all that work, this is yummy, man-card worthy desert is complete (you have to pull it out using the foil edges and flip it over onto a plate- thus, the “Upside Down” part of the name) and ready to be devoured by hungry oilfield workers.
My brother-in-law (standing) and father-in-law