Grilled asparagus spears an easy meal during difficult time

By : 
Iris Clark Neumann
Bluff Country Reader

Although winter seemed forever, spring arrived in a rush. Because spring came late, locally grown asparagus is also late.

However, with the thaw and anticipating the soon coming farmers market season, I thought about my favorite way of having fresh asparagus — grilled. Today, I picked up fresh asparagus from the grocery store.

We sat outdoors, in our sweatshirts and had our first outdoor meal of grilled brats and asparagus with baked potatoes. It's been awhile since cooking a real meal for the two of us.            

During the last two weeks, the weather, cooking, and eating were unimportant. My younger brother Leon died.

Several days were spent in the hospital with Leon's children and two of my other siblings. The next week was spent preparing my house for overnight guests. I struggled to focus on tasks, only completing them by dividing them into smaller goals, interspersed with working on outdoors projects for a break.

Finally, I could uncover potted herbs and perennials lying under a protective cover of leaves. It was warm enough outdoors to melt the snow, yet under the leaves, I still found ice. Finally, chive spears and tulip leaves started emerging in my raised planter.

The funeral came a week later.

Funerals are strange because one sees so many relatives and people all at once, it is overwhelming. As I stood at the funeral home visitation next to my brother, Dean, I heard him tell stories about Leon I never knew before.

In our family of five boys and two girls, I was number two and Leon was sixth, almost 10 years younger than me. So I don't remember him as a playmate, like my sister did.

The pain of losing Leon is doubled because his wife, Deb, died only a year ago.

Because we were the two of the seven who still lived their lives in Minnesota, I got to know Leon more as an adult. When my sister and I were asked to speak at the funeral, I thought of him in terms of the qualities I remembered in him.

Humility and resourcefulness were high on the list.

His resourcefulness started young, while he found ways to earn money when my father switched his business from earth moving to car crushing. Money earned from copper he rescued at 12 led to him driving a corvette when he was 16.

The story goes that Dean, nearly six years older than Leon, had two corvettes. Leon made a down payment for one of them with the check he got from a pickup he'd fixed up and sold before he turned 16. Dean said Leon picked the better of the two corvettes.

Recycling became a career for him, when he grew up. Last Thanksgiving, when both of us stayed overnight at the same hotel in Iowa, he explained over breakfast the process of extracting raw materials from junk through a milling process.

For many years, Leon created his business using the same buildings my father once had for his businesses. Eventually, he built one large facility that replaced the old shop and separate office.

His children have also worked for their dad. During the last year the youngest, recently turning 25, took over many responsibilities while his dad, although ill, kept going to work each day.

Leon did not want to discuss his cancer; instead he made it clear that his focus was on living. Twice, during the last year he flew to California to spend time vacationing there with his kids, and his three brothers who lived there. Shortly after learning of his cancer diagnosis, he flew with his four children to visit graves of their relatives (his wife Deb had grown up in California), and three different beaches —just for fun.

During the past year his children became partners in his health care, while mourning the loss of their mother. Leon was a wonderful grandpa to nine grandchildren. During his final days at the hospital the grandkids all came for hugs and “I love you(s).”

When cousins were contacted after his death some said, why didn't we know? He didn't want them or anyone else to know. Even during the first days of his last week of life, he asked for no visitors, telling his kids he was grouchy. His kids kept each of us in touch with what was happening, but eventually gave the OK for us to come. So those who could come, came.

My youngest brother was in Japan on a vacation, and instead of coming, talked to him on the phone.

Although my heart aches for my loss, I also ache for his children, still young, and his grandkids, all very young, and the one not yet born.

Death has a quiet way of coming, even when family sits waiting, but not really knowing when and still wishing for a miracle. I remember the last hours of my first husband's life and wondered why, when it happened, had I not realized it was coming. If so, I might have stayed up all night waiting, instead of sleeping.

On the trip home to West Concord for the visitation at the funeral home, I noticed equipment near the fence inside the recycling yard, that's not usually noticeable. Later, I discovered his sons and employees had lined it up for Leon's final trip through the yard, following his funeral.

Like Deb's funeral a year before, we drove in a line from the church in Rochester back to West Concord. Following the hearse, our cars drove into the yard, went over the weight scale and through the fence gates to view the heavy equipment and trucks used for his recycling business.

Our cars got dusty, but that was part of the experience as we drove from along the edge of the recycling yard through the back driveway to Leon's home, through the trees. I grew up there, so it is a familiar and yet, in some ways new, scene to me.

Later, at a gathering after the burial in Concord, someone mentioned how the giant American flag at a neighboring business was at half-mast. On our drive home, we saw it lit up and fluttering in the wind. It was an honor from one local business to another, across the highway. 

I am still struggling with my feelings. I'm not sure I want to be up north at the cabin. I don't feel motivated to do much of anything.

If it wasn't for having a column to write, I might not have cooked a meal.

I am grateful for my friend, Julie, stopping by with a big plastic container of croissants and a tub of spinach and artichoke filling, which I served to guests. Also, for others who prepared meals for us.

Tonight, it was nice to watch the sun going down as we ate. There's still ice on the lake, but there's water along the edges.

It was an easy meal to prepare. I had baked potatoes wrapped in foil an hour at 350 degrees. Both the precooked brats and asparagus were cooked on the grill at the same time, with the brats getting a head start. The foil-wrapped potatoes stayed warm on the upper grill rack.

Tomorrow, it will probably be sandwiches or self-served snacks instead.


Grilled Asparagus Spears

1 pound bundle fresh asparagus spears

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

Wash the asparagus, then remove the tough end of the asparagus by bending and snapping it off. Discard the tough end. Brush the spears with the olive oil, rolling the spears back and forth on a flat container to distribute the oil. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Heat grill to medium high. Carefully arrange asparagus spears crosswise on the grill. Allow to cook for about a minute, then using a large tongs, roll spears to cook on both sides. Total cooking time is three to five minutes. They should be lightly browned. Carefully lift spears with tongs, a few at a time, taking care not to let them slip through the grill.