Thursday, March 19, 2009


Today, I give you an assignment.

Write a brief, concise and sincere thank-you to someone who means the world to you.
This may be someone who realizes this, or someone that you've not shared this with till now.
Say what they mean to you.

Email it, handwrite and mail it, or really, even txt it...

Life is short. While blessings are many, we often fail to express it to the people that mean the most.

Friday, March 13, 2009

English Muffins

English Muffins rank way up there among favorite breakfast foods with my 'boys'.
My youngest especially is quite self sufficient with his breakfast when we have them on hand.
I encourage self-sufficiency at all time. (very big grin)

Recently, the price of the store bought English Muffins has escalated. Even the store brands are in the price range of $2.50 for six muffins. A teenage boy, ONE teenage boy, can eat 6 muffins in a maximum of two days. Double the teenage boys, add a husband, eat one yourself... I'm sure you can see my point, both financially and from the standpoint of quality of what you serve your family.

Oh, I am so not inclined to pay these prices, especially for something that contains preservatives and has been sitting around refrigerated for weeks.

Recently, I've had a particularly good run with my sourdough starter. Unlike folks who can keep starters for years and years, I tend toward starting one up and keeping it going in the winter months and abandoning it entirely in the summer. But this particular one has been very flavorful, easy to maintain and good.

Now, I've made English Muffins from scratch before and have a good recipe for that, as well, but decided to try my hand at sourdough English muffins.

And the results (made them 3 times) were pretty darned good. AND, of significant importance to me is that for very little effort and time, I produced between 16 and 19 muffins each time for a total expenditure of less than $1 each time I made them.

Warm off the griddle, they're unsurpassed. Popped into a gallon ziploc, they've kept as long as they lasted. I froze two to see how they held up and they were very, very good, split, toasted and buttered of a morning.

So, this is what it looks like... recipe to follow.

They are a fairly fast 'mix'. I have left it a pretty soft dough, sometimes soft enough to make it a little difficult to cut into muffins.

You mix up the 'mother' and sit it to rise. It can rise overnight, or all day, or just 4 or 5 hours, whatever suits your schedule. It should about double in size and be a very spongy thing that looks a bit stringy and gooey when stirred. I cover my mother for these muffins, so I use a large red plastic bowl with a fitted lid. ( I will snag a photo of this the next time I make muffins)

Whenever it suits me, I mix up the muffins using the mother, cut them out and let them rise. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, this takes 3 to 5 hours. You're gonna need to check them every hour or so, to determine how the rise is going. More about that later.

As a cutter, I use the time honored 'tuna can'. It is the perfect English muffin cutter.
If you don't have a tuna can which has been cleverly repurposed as a muffin cutter, please feel free to make some tuna salad for lunch or give the cat a treat. Plain and simple, tuna can cutter is the way to go.

You also want to dust your work surface and your rise surface fairly generously with corn meal. I used white corn meal, it's what I had on hand. I used a sheet of wax paper during the rise phase. While it isn't necessary, it makes lifting the soft muffins easier. You get far less 'distortion' and weird shaped muffins, at least that first few times you try it.

There's a little trick to the 'rise time' on muffins. You want them to rise so that they are at their peak. Then you get all those nice little nooks and crannies that soak up whatever goodness you put on them. You want to 'maximize' the nook and cranny factor. There is a point at which they 'crash' or simply 'give it up' and they are done. If this happens, you're gonna need to start over. If you don't start over, and cook them anyway, just don't tell anyone that they were supposed to be English muffins. Pretend you have invented a new 'roll' recipe! The top of the muffin, as it approaches perfection should be slightly domed, as the ones in the photo.

When this phase is reached you're gonna 'bake' them on a skillet or covered pan of some sort. I use my tired old electric skillet for a couple of reasons. It works beautifully each and every time, and it fits on the counter, kind of out of the way, as I usually get the muffins to this phase while I'm also cooking dinner. (So, dinner may be at 7:30 instead of 6, depending on the rise of the muffins) A good dinner plan this evening is anything with a long baking time in the oven or a slow cooker selection.

In my experience, it is important to 'bake' each side for the two separate times. You always end up with far more beautiful muffins with a nice 'nook and cranny' quotient.

The recipe made around 18 for me, so it took two 'rounds' of this type to complete the batch. With minimal attendance by me, the time frame for two batches was an hour.

Timing is one of those things that keeps a lot of folks from trying such a thing. Again, this hour was spent in and about the kitchen, making dinner and occasionally flipping the muffins.

As they are done, you need to cool them. The original recipe that I started with made a huge deal about exact times for cooling. With two batches, folks, that's a pain! I simply laid the first batch out on the cookie sheet to cool, while I baked the second batch. By the time I had finished, there had been several 'walkby muffin snatchings" and I had far less muffins to deal with. When they were all relatively room temp, I popped them into a gallon ziploc. The moisture in the muffins will sort of evenly distribute overnight and they'll be perfect.

I have yet to need to figure out the perfect timing for storing them. They disappear that fast.

And if you simply don't need 18 muffins (not even stored in the freezer), pop some on a plate and trot them over to your neighbor's house. They'll love you even more.


Sourdough English Muffins

2 cups flour (I used a combination of bread flour and white wheat, sometimes I throw in a handful of whole wheat)

1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup of buttermilk

Mix these ingredients thoroughly. It makes a very wet sticky dough. This is the 'mother' or 'madre' or sponge. Cover this tightly to retain the moisture and wllo it to rise overngiht, or until it has coubled. When it's ready, it will be frothy and easily stirred.

To the mother you will add:

2 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons of melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
Flour - an additional 3/4 to 1 cup

Stir, then knead, using extra flour if needed, but you want to maintain a nice soft, almost wet dough.

Sprinkle your work surface with corn meal and put your dough on it. Flip flop the dough to get both sides covered with enough cornmeal so that it doesn't stick. Roll it about 1/2 inch thick.
Check the measurement the first time or two... 1/2 inch is about perfect.

Cut with the tuna can cutter. Transfer cut muffins to a place to rise. I use a sheet of wax or parchment paper on a cookie sheet (and when I ended up with more than I expected, the lid of the bowl that I used to mix them up in). You're gonna want to generously dust that rising surface with some more corn meal. Let them rise until doubled in thickness, a bit more than an inch tall. If the room is warm, it happens fairly quickly, a cooler room requires more rise time. If they 'over-rise' they'll 'fall' and your texture will be lost. Try to avoid that. You want to catch them just as they're a little over an inch tall and the top is still domed... If they start to sag at all, go ahead and cook them.

Bake them in a covered skillet at 325 degrees. If you're not using an electric skillet, you'll have to guess where this is, on your stovetop, in the grand scheme of low/medium/hot. Bake them on each side for exactly 10 minutes (20 minutes total) then flip them again, for another 5 minutes on each side (another 10 minutes total). Each side of the muffin will have baked for two sessions, but a total of 15 minutes. It works much better for texture and appropriate color to do the two different timed 'flips. I actually use a timer on this, as I am easily distracted during the 10 minute time frame.

Cool them at room temperature and place in a ziploc bag. If your muffins are dry at all, then the next time you bake them, remember to keep the dough 'almost sticky' soft and put them in the ziploc before they are cool, so that they 'steam' a bit in the bag.

Go ahead... give it a try. You'll save a lot of money and get a muffin that is so tasty and good that you will no longer want a store bought one...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yarn adventures!

Sometimes... no... pretty much all of the time, things are a bit crazy around here.

This is the story of the sock yarn.

My darling daughter has knit me several pair of lovely wool socks. Yes... I can knit my own socks and I have, but she gifts me these socks and I LOVE them. They feel and wear like no other socks in my lifetime and I adore the gift of time and effort and appreciate them more because I knit.

Ok, so last week, my happy and very busy daughter said "Mom, I need to wind some balls of yarn". Now folks, I have an amazing ball winder. Twas an extravagant gift from my husband. I offered to wind the yarn and return it to her. She demured at first, as the yarn was for socks for me. Her schedule leaves very little time for 'extra's and if I had not wound the yarn for her, this might have taken months. So, the fun yarn was revealed to me. This does not 'ruin' the surprise at all, only heightens the excitement!

So, I take the yarn home. I leave it on the hall stand in the entry hall. BIG mistake.
I have a cat who LOVES to 'knit' by taking any yarn (the more expensive it is the better he likes it) and unraveling it about the house. I have awakened to find yarn strung from 6 or 7 rooms, through every furniture leg, in and out of the stair stiles and even behind the fridge. I have LEARNED to avoid this by keeping my yarn under safe containment.

Not so the sock yarn.
So this is what I found the first morning:Oh, DEAR! OH NO! Horrors... What to do? What to do?

Darling daughter calls... "Can you bring me my yarn?"

"Oh, no dear... I haven't had time (especially since I have to detangle it)" "I'll get it to you early next week!"

Darling husband looks at it... He truly understands the knitting/sock think. He offers to help.

The boys both say the same thing. "Damn cat!" (It is entirely possible that the cat thinks that his name is Damn Cat, at least where the boys are concerned.)

So, here is what happened next:

PHEW! That went better than expected.

Then! Oh.... NO!!!!

Does he look guilty? Or is he perturbed that I have tidied up his 'cat knitting' project?

That is a rather accusatory expression!

Does he realize what trouble that I may be in!?

As of yet, Clancy, the cat, has not accomplished opening ziplock bags.
And just so as to not tempt the cat, the bag and the yarn were dispatched to the vehicle and promptly driven to the town where the yarn knitter resides.

As I write, it has been safely delivered, and until reading this post, the darling daughter knew nothing of the adventure.

Darling daughter,

I love the socks you knit for me... and will go to almost any lengths to assist you. In the future, I shall promise to protect any yarn entrusted to me from Clancy and his wiley ways.
Thank you for being an accomplished knitter, (makes me proud) and for sharing your talents (and your love) with me.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009


March 9, 1989

In the wee hours of the morning, as spring began to show itself, we welcomed a little one. Our second child, our first son.

At 9 pounds 1 ounce, 21 1/2 inches long, born at 3:55 am, he entered our lives easily and quickly.
He was a surprising shade of green (yes, green) and was very thin and long. He was post mature, or quite late for a baby (at a good bit more than 42 weeks gestation). His little right foot was the shape of a club and was very good at getting lodged behind his right ear, which sort of made him 'rollable' from the very start.

He was a BEAUTIFUL baby! His proud big sister (who was 3 years and 8 months old) was very pleased and delighted.

He was an 'easy' baby... you know the kind... slept all night, nursed easily and fast, smiled and laughed.... just easy. As he grew, he was a soft big baby, all cuddles and sweetness. He grew fast and tall and was quite curious... He was very physical, crawling and walking early and very affectionate.

He did the things that boys do... and he did them well. We called poison control for the first time. We spent a lot of time at emergency rooms. We found him in odd places and needed to stay very alert to stay ahead of him.

He loved his sis... and she loved him.

And when he was 4, he became a big brother. He is an amazing big brother!

He explored the world and grew strong. He was a quiet sort of smart... observant and interested in the underlying questions.

He grew to be charming and a bit of a flirt. Full of fun!
His 'sport' was swim. His height, being such a strong point, that though he never seemed 'aggressive" in the pursuit of his goal, he did well. Admittedly, he never really got the 'dive' during those years , though now, his dive is beautiful.
To have been his parents has been one of the world's most amazing gifts. To watch him grow to become a man of grace and gentle strength is to understand the power of prayers answered.
To watch young adulthood unfold for him, as he fully takes the reigns on his own life and gains footing for the future is to see the circle of life in action.
For every moment of his life, from that spring morning to this one, we are grateful.

Happy Birthday, Son!

Couple more photos, before the last snow melts!

Alas, the snow is melting and school is back in session!
A final few shots of the winter magic...

Isn't she just the cutest little thing? Always looking for approval, shy to the touch... I often wonder what happened to her in the life before 'the jumping off place'.
In a lot of years, and a few snowfalls, I've never seen this happen before. The several miles of electric wire fencing were coated with snow. An odd phenomenon to be sure it hung on long after you'd have thought it would have fallen. (Yes, we know that this is a poor excuse for an electric fence, but it has kept our horses mostly contained for the 22 years we've had them with only the power of suggestibility.)

Just perplexed!
The perfect natural Christmas tree! (and only 2+ months late!)~

Now. That is that. Enough already with winter! Onward and upward to all things spring!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Southern Snowstorm

yes,,, snow... in March... in South Carolina.

This is what the morning sun revealed.

Dogwood buds with a coating of snow

Nana's first powder snow. She and Bailey were frisky all morning.
Sad statement of fact... the crocus, the daffodils, the tulips... all too early for their own good.
Daisy, God bless her.... a wee bit slow on the draw.... her expression said "what?"