Monday, December 27, 2010

A funny...

So, this evening, after a dinner of homemade chicken noodle soup, we all kind of settled in to our various pursuits.

This was when I discovered that my cable needle was missing.

Now for those of you who do not knit, a cable needle is an odd shaped little needle that is used for making those lovely 'twists'  or the intricacies in the Celtic knot type knitted patterns.  I'm presently working on a cap which dome is overtaken by an entwined Celtic knot.

Anyway,,,  the needle is missing.

This is something that's been happening for the last two days as I have knit.
"Where'd the orange needle go?"
" You mean the pink needle"  asks my husband.
"Orange, pink... whatever,,,  the little needle that's bent to look like a seagull.  Have you seen it?"

"I saw it earlier on the coffee maker, you must have put it down in there"

Ok, so I'm absent minded when it comes to the cable needle...

Anyway, he decided that the cat might have knocked it under the couch...

a likely assumption...

"Hand me that little flashlight"  he says.
With flashlight in hand, my substantially built husband goes sleuthing under the couch, until...

"Wait a minute!"  he says... "I'm hooked on something".

"What?"

"You know, hooked on something, something's got the back of my overalls!"

And I looked and he was correct.  The back of his overalls were, indeed, snared by the knob on the drawer in the coffee table and he was stuck, rather immobile and unable to do anything about it.

tehehe... I recall why I so loved to put my toddlers in Osh Kosh overalls... such a convenient handle.

Ahh... a husband catching device.... wonderful idea!

After going to his aid, and after he determined that the only things under the couch were several items of the teenagers clothing and a flip flop, I recalled where the cable needle might be.

See, sometimes, when knitting, I place the cable needle safely in my bosom...

yeah... I found it!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

with heavy hearts...

It is with a heavy heart and a considerable loss of faith in the common decency of mankind that I write this.

This afternoon, as my boys prepared to go fishing (yes, in the snow)
a large truck which had been racing up and down our little road all day
ran over our little pup... Booger.

Without so much as a word, they stopped, then drove away.

It's been a really rough last month.  Two days before Thanksgiving, Nana went missing.

Now, Nana was known to go to the river, but stayed close to home and never missed a meal.
For more than a week, we searched... and searched and searched.
120+ pound dogs do not vanish into thin air.
If there is a carcass, you will know it... this is the country after all, and we're obviously not unfamiliar with animals dying.  There was no body.

One one other occasion, some 10 years ago, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we lost two purebred dogs when they were let out to potty.  In less than 15 minutes, they were picked up and gone.
On that occasion, seven other people in the area, who had all gotten pups from the same litter, suffered the same loss.

We still are mourning the loss of Nana, our big girl.

So, as the sun goes down this evening, we have buried the pup, that was so unceremoniously dropped off here about 6 weeks ago.  She'd been spayed and had all her shots about two weeks ago.  She and I walked in the snow and made pictures this morning.  As I photographed the cedars in the pasture, she sat in front of me, facing me... just learning to sit and stay...

I cannot do this again, just now.

Snow in the sunny south!


The weather forecasters have been warning us, but even late yesterday, it didn't seem right....
the skies were not the right kind of gray, nor was the air that sort of cold that said it came off of ice.

Then we went to bed, and awoke this morning to that hushed winter wonderland of a fresh snow blanket.
Nothing heavy or dangerous or hard to live with.
Nothing requiring the 4 alarm run to the grocers ...

In anticipation of this wintery white stuff, we made a few non-traditional sugar cookies...




Perfect for a snowy day after Christmas in South Carolina!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Biegnets on Christmas morning.




I don't recall when we started this tradition.
But for many years, we've started Christmas morning with an early, early call to open presents and then I make some biegnets. Biegnets are little pillows of dough, fried and powdered with confectioner's sugar and eaten, still quite hot from the oil, with liberal amounts of piping hot cafe au lait.  The coffee gets started by the first person who's feet hit the floor.

Ironically, this week, as we've been preparing for Christmas, each boy has asked if we had the ingredients for the biegnets.  My husband asked as well,,, twice.  No one here is willing to skip the biegnets!

Biegnets are not terribly difficult to prepare at home. Given that we're southern, we, conversetly, really don't fry much food at all and so the fried biegnets are a once a year treat.  They take the place of doughnuts at our house. The yeast dough must be prepared in advance and refrigerated overnight.  It seems that the larger quantity of this recipe works better than trying to cut the recipe in half.  This recipe makes about 5 dozen  2 to 2 1/2 inch square biegnets.  The dough keeps very well under refrigeration for about a week and makes an excellent quick snack if visitors pop in later in the day.

I'm make up the biegnet dough today and keep it in an airtight container in the fridge until I use it on Christmas morning.

I'm sharing my recipe so that if you want to try them, or start a new tradition in your family, you can.


Biegnets

2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water (110 to 115 degrees F)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup evaporated milk
7 cups of plain flour
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 cup of shortening (I use Crisco)
vegetable oil for deep frying
confectioner's sugar for dusting (rolling in, depending on taste)

Put the warm water into a large bowl, then sprinkle in the yeast and a couple of teaspoons of the sugar and stir until thoroughly dissolved. Let proof for 10 minutes.  Add the rest of the sugar, salt, eggs and evaporated milk. Gradually stir in 4 cups of the flour and the nutmeg and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and thoroughly blended.  Beat in the shortening, then add the remaining flour, about 1/3 cup at a time, beating it with a spoon until it becomes too stiff to stir, then working in the rest with our hands.  Place in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap or bowl lid and refrigerate overnight.

Roll the dough out onto a floured board to a thickness of 1/8 inch, then cut it into rectangles about 2 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches with a sharp knife.  Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 360 degree F.  Fry the biegnets about 3 or 4 minutes per bath.  Turn them over in the oil with tongs once of twice to get them evenly brown, since the rise to the surface of the oil as soon as they begin to puff out.  Drain each batch, place on a platter lined with several layers of paper towels, and keep warm in a 200 degree oven until they're all done.

Actually, that business of them waiting on a platter in the oven doesn't happen here.  They come out of the saucepan (which functions as my deep fryer), onto the platter with the paper towels to drain briefly and get tossed into a bowl full of confectioner's sugar.   They're eaten in small batches as they're done by hovering family members, still half asleep, clad in their Christmas pajamas and robes and toting big cups of coffee.  And yes, since they were small, most of them drank coffee!

None of them died, none of them had stunted growth and only one of them does the 'spin around the light fixture because I've had too much caffeine' thing.

Here's your link to a printable version of the recipe:
Biegnet recipe

Here's to a sweet and happy Christmas morning treat!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pimiento cheese recipe

A friend requested my pimiento cheese recipe.  While I do actually have several pimiento cheese recipes, they're a little fussier and include things like cream cheese and one of the recipes needs to be cooked.  This is the way pimiento cheese is made here on a regular basis.  It's served as a sandwich filling, and is awesome with homemade breads, or with crackers as a snack or a light lunch.

It's not so much a recipe as instructions. And it varies wildly, I tell you.

~I use block cheese as the pre grated kind is drier and takes up the mayonnaise too well.
So, I use two 8 ounce blocks of cheese, of two different kinds...
most commonly, I use a medium cheddar and a colby jack.
Sometimes, I use a sharp cheddar and a mild cheddar,
or pepperjack and mozzarella...
you get the idea.

~Usually, instead of pimentos, I go over to the pickle aisle and get a jar of roasted red peppers. They're about 100 times cheaper (per ounce) and at least that much better.... they come in big jars so I can make pimiento cheese whenever I've a mind to. Keeps in the fridge and is wonderful in things like potato salad, especially in the winter, when there are no fresh peppers in the garden (and when I refuse to pay $2 for a red bell pepper!)

Sometimes in the summer, I use whatever pepper is in the garden... sweet peppers mostly, chopped fine.
We actually grow pimiento peppers for this purpose... but find we love them in so many other things as well.
Though I've intended to can some each year, I never do.  They'll keep weeks in the fridge and I do freeze some, finely chopped for use in the pimiento cheese too.

~Onion, grate a cut onion over the grater after you grate the cheese, about three passes... a good teaspoon full. You don't want to see or crunch down on onion, but you want the mildest of onion flavor in the background.

~You're gonna need some Texas Pete hot sauce. I sometimes use store brand hot sauce... you want the cheap, mildly spicy, very vinegary flavor... not the kind that sets fire to your inards.

~Mayonnaise - just use Dukes brand... ; ) Once, when I was on vacation, I couldn't find Dukes and used Hellman's. We did not die but I hyperventilated a little bit when I mixed it up.  Sometimes, I use half mayo and half plain Greek yogurt, if there's yogurt in the fridge.

***So, into a big bowl, put 1 pound of grated cheese, a good three tablespoons or more (to your taste) of chopped peppers, pimientos, or whatever floats your boat, a teaspoon of finely grated onion, a half to one teaspoon of hot sauce and a good half cup of mayo. Stir it up good, look at it and decide if it needs more mayo to be the right texture for spreading. You want to stir it good enough so as to break up the grated cheese a bit. If I enjoyed washing dishes, I might be tempted to put it into the mixer for a while, but I don't.
Some cheeses are dry and will soak up the mayo in the fridge, you'll need to add more when you use it next. I throw in a half teaspoon, at least, of coursely ground black pepper.

It's so good almost anyway you want to serve it. On bread for a sandwich, on a cracker, tossed into a bread bowl and baked for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Keeps well in the fridge.

I recently perfected a recipe that I'd been twiddling with for a while for a cornbread cracker (a knock off of the Keebler cornbread cracker that is now approaching $4 a box for something like 20 crackers) and they're so easy and so good that folks think you're a genius. I'll have to go look it up and type it up too... it's worth the little extra fuss. For a Sunday evening ball game treat, the cornbread crackers and the spiced up pimento cheese can't be beat!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent and other things...


For all the years since we were married, this is what sits on the hall stand, just as you enter the door.
With anticipation, we await the lighting of the Christ candle on Christmas day.

Shortly after the birth of our first child, we realized that we very quickly had to take matters in hand, if we wanted our children to learn to observe the real meaning of Christmas.
Our holidays are simple... so simple in fact, many wonder.

We decorate simply and close to Christmas, except for the Advent wreath.
The wreath contains five candles, three purple ones and one pink one and in the center a white candle.
The light from the candles represent the light of Christ come to the world.
Each week, in the four weeks leading up to Christmas day, we light another candle, and increase the light, bringing us closer to Christmas day.
Three of the candles are purple, representing repentance as we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ again in our hearts and home.  One candle is pink and represents joy.
Lighting the first candle signals our expectation.
Lighting the second candle is hope.
The third candle, when lit, represents joy.
The fourth candle represents purity.
The white candle is lit on Christmas day.

Late, by comparison to many, we cut a tree from the woods. Our trees have always been part of the hilarity of our holidays as they are always challenged in some special way.  Put up often within the week of Christmas, we decorate our tree with ornaments which are like so many families, that the children have made and that we've accumulated over time.  Falling trees, cats climbing trees and discovering 'hitchhikers' on the trees are common.  Most memorable among the hitchhikers were thousands of small praying mantis which hatched from their egg case.

We give modest gifts, by any comparison and have always stressed giving to others.
We give to symbolize the gifts that were given the Christ child.
We've encouraged our children to give of themselves, not just at Christmas time, but year round as a gift not only to others but to grace their own lives with the abundance that comes from doing for and sharing with others.

We share holiday meals and traditions.  Every year, while we decorate the tree, we make homemade chocolate pudding.  We joke about how my husband's brother can tell that we're making this pudding and magically appear just as it's ready.

We love to sit and read with the lights on the tree and  a roaring fire.

Most importantly, we attend services on Christmas Eve and receive Holy Communion in a reverent service with our church family.

When our children were small, Santa came on Christmas morning.  Like all families, we got up way too early (one child is a real morning person!) and took photos and looked at the things that Santa left.
After that first couple of years of being parents, we truly took the Santa routine down to size by letting the children ask for three things.  By the time we added gifts from grandparents and others, there was always more than enough to keep them very busy.

As we've been bustling about this December, I've been more than a little contemplative about the holidays.
I've been busy knitting gifts and baking goodies.

I sat a while yesterday with my mother in law and thought about all the years that I've known her.
Her presence of mind did not realize that there was a holiday at hand and my heart was quite heavy when I hugged her and left. I pray for her and all who, like her, struggle against mental illness and age related dementia. I pray for those who care for her constant needs and who also love her.

I talked with my daughter, who will work round the clock on Christmas day.   I will pray with her and for her that she may bring comfort to those parents and children who are hospitalized.  I recall a Christmas season that I spent in a pediatric unit with my own little boy, apart from my young daughter and I recall the feelings to this day.
I am grateful that there are health care providers who work their assigned duties on holidays to care for and watch over those who suffer.

I am critically aware that next year, when Advent season begins, even the youngest will be in college.
I'll be needing to change a few of my Advent traditions.
As my children grow up and go out into the world, for their own holidays, I pray that they find meaningful traditions and will always continue to focus on the true meaning of the season and hold it close in their hearts.
The true spirit of Christmas, the Grace of God come to earth in the form of a child, for each of us, is something that resides within, that no other person can take from you, or give to you.
I wish for you, my family and  friends, the spirit of Christmas, a calm and gentleness abiding in your heart for this holiday and beyond.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas concert


Sorry, I can't help what comes next...

What's any Christmas celebration without a little drummer boy?

Actually, my little drummer boy is all grown up.

And that's a good thing.

Thursday evening, we were treated to a beautiful evening of festive music, songs and a choreographed flag/dance number by the combined music departments at our local highschool.


Words can't adequately express how much work goes on behind the scenes, against the odds of restrictive budget times, moving to a new facility,  scheduling dilemna's, busy teens and coordination to use facilities.
When it all comes together, what impresses is the calm composure of young musicians in front of an auditorium full of appreciative folks.  In a community where little is done to give fine arts to all children, these children have sought out their particular muse and persevered to stand before an audience in celebration.
In a new facility, for the first time, we were able to have a concert at 'home', instead of packing the entirety of the concert up and moving to a local college.  What a joy to be at 'home'!


Before a very responsive crowd, they played their hearts out.


What a beautiful, talented group!
What an amazing Christmas gift ~!


My undying gratitude goes to the two teachers of the music department, who's constant devotion to music education, to the students and their development against all odds continue to persevere.



Thank you for guidance of my boy, for attention to his needs, for structure in an unstructured world, for a happy place to exist in the world of being a teenager.  Thank you for music instruction, for a thoughtful ear and for pushing him when he needs it.  Bless you for holding high expectations for all of them, not just mine and for steadfast enthusiasm and positivity in what can be a crazy world.


 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Knitting and other stuff...

So, we're settled in for a really cold streak.

And nothing suits a really cold streak better than a little knitting.

Back in October, I treated myself to some hand dyed yarn and a pattern.
This is a shot of the beautiful yarn on my magnificent ball-winder.



And I've enjoyed the resulting knitting more than anything that I have knit in a long, long time.
I'll post about the project  in full at a later date, today is actually when I expect to get around to blocking.

I'm also in the process of a fun knitting project that I simply can't post about yet.  The recipients of my most recent knitting spree read this blog.  But there's been a flurry of small fun projects and a short deadline.
Each evening, after dinner, I settle into my chair, which is flanked on both sides by the necessities of knitting life.  If I have companions for the evening, I enjoy the conversation and if I am alone, I turn on the television and knit my way through miles of wool.

I'm certain that my Aunt Jo, who taught me to knit on the day I turned 8, had no idea what pleasure it would bring me over my lifetime.  Her specialty was a little ribbed cap that she made in cashmere and as little girls in the family, we all had one.  I know that she knitted a sweater or two, but other than that, I believe she only knitted the little caps and a single pattern of house slippers.

Her gift to me, on that birthday, 42 years ago, was a pair of vintage needles of the nylon variety.  They were size 6 circulars.  I also got a skein of peach colored pure wool.  In retrospect, it was a lovely way to start.  She sat me down and taught me to knit and purl, cast on and bind off, and then had me write down the pattern for the little slippers.  I recall a few frustrated restarts, but by the end of the second day, I had a wearable pair of slippers... and I've enjoyed quite a lot of knitting since that time.

Fast forwarding a bit to my wedding... I had another 'aunt' whose name was Josephine.  Josephine was a true inspiration, in that she married during the depression and moved away to Florida, far from the safety net of her family and with her husband, built her own home from scratch.  She was an amazing woman who never failed to inspire.  For my wedding, she brought me a 'dishcloth' made with kitchen string and a 3 by 5 card that had the handwritten pattern on it.  It's the standard old cloth pattern knit from corner to corner with the yarn over holes along the sides.  Her admonition to me was for me not to lose the pattern and to learn it and commit it to memory and then I would always have a way to make a dishcloth, which was one of life's most essential tools.
While I've never knit a dishcloth from actual string, I've made hundreds of them in cotton and use this pattern as a learning tool in all of the knitting classes that I've taught and for gifts and for personal use in my own home.





I will say that knitting brings me great joy in several ways.

I enjoy knitting for others, especially those that I love.  While I knit for those I love, it is quite normal for me to offer up prayer on their behalf.  I did this long, long before the advent of the prayer shawl ministries, so I understand and support that effort.  I love that the work of my hands, completed can be used to keep someone warm... sort of like love wrapped around them, on days that I can't be there in person.
To ask for Divine blessings for the recipient is quite natural.

With caps, especially, I love trying out a new pattern, choosing something to fit the person's personality and yarn in colors that I think will suit.

I've knit for those that I do not know... I've sent a lot of caps and booties to ships at sea for our armed services.  There is no better way to stash bust when the yarn overflows your storage (also known as your hiding places).  I've  hoped and prayed that those who wear my caps safely do their mission and head home to their loved ones.

I've taught a lot of people to knit... the folks you'd expect me to teach, like my daughter...  but also many others...classes full of ladies who have taken my Knitting 101 class... students at school while I have substituted and sat at after school functions.  I once taught an awesome football player to knit well enough that he made his mother a purse for Christmas!  I've accommodated knitting instructions for left handers and for a student with a birth anomaly that affected her hands.

What I love most is the soothing, calming rhythm of knitting...
like rocking a baby in a rocking chair, or swaying to sooth a little one...
like the gentle rise and fall of waves on an incoming tide...
or the very rhythm of your heart...
to share that is a blessing.

Monday, December 6, 2010

"how do you get the kid to look comfortable in a suit?"

In light of the fact that this question has been asked of me at least 10 times in the last month, I've decided, in the middle of the night, while I was pondering exactly how this came to pass, that I'd share my thoughts on the matter.


So, in light of parenting advice (which means you take what makes sense to you and make it work for your situation) here goes.

First and foremost... a LONG time ago, when this child was yet a baby, then as a toddler, he had no choice but to attend functions, related to his older siblings being talented, busy folks.

I've decided that the first step to 'comfort in dress clothes' is that he was always 'along for the ride' and always dressed appropriately.  In other words, from way before he can remember, he didn't know there was any other choice.  Frankly, with me as his mom, there wasn't any other choice...  We simply dressed him, like you'd dress any little southern boy for dressy occasions and tossed him into the car seat and carried him along.

His siblings before him were also appropriately dressed and carried to many 'adult functions' where they too, had no choice in the matter.

We had neither the option to leave them with a sitter, nor the desire.  Not only does this produce kids that willingly wear dress clothes, but also produces kids who grow to appreciate many of the fine arts and grow to tolerate many of the things that we as adults must attend.

Had I not carted the kids along, during those critical 'small children' years, then I'd have had to stay home and miss way too much.  So, for my need for intellectual stimulation and my belief that they learned much that they needed for later, they got to do what I wanted to do.

So, from a young age, the little man wore his dress clothes and sat through hundreds, if not thousands, of church functions, concerts, ballet performances, recitals and family functions in general.

Now, I am mindful of the fact that he sat through roughly three times as much as say, his oldest sibling.

I think that plays a part.

Part two involved the clothing itself.  You simply have to get it right.  It's not negotiable that it be a proper fit, adequate for the weather/event, that it be in good repair and  here comes the biggie...

... that the kid like it.  This means that you have to spring for GOOD clothing.  A good brand will fit and feel 'better', often,  and it will wear better and longer and the kid will simply be far more inclined to wear it because people say things like, "My goodness, don't you look handsome tonight!"  This means that you cannot wait until the last minute to throw together a dress outfit.  This means that you need, in the closet, two choices, ready to go.  In the case of boys, this means a navy sports jacket/khaki pants combination and by the time they're teens, a good fitting suit.  You need solidly 4 dress shirts, including two white ones and a selection of ties.  NOT dad's ties... not grandpa's ties... not kiddie clip on ties... nice quality ties.  Dress shoes are also necessary...

While I do believe in doing things yourself, and I know how to do it, this is where I part ways with frugal beliefs and I take the dress clothing to the cleaners.  Crisply starched shirts and khakis can't be substituted for 'let me see if I can get this ironed well enough for a concert?"  sort of wear.

Yes, boys grow... fiercely at times... so this means that by the time I got to the second boy, he wore some of his brother's former dress clothes and I've needed to purchase some just for him. Luckily for the budget, the boys have similar tall, slender frames.

Anyway, before any dressy event, you have to try the dress clothes on for fit.
And making sure that the garments are good quality and stylish is important if you want the kid to LIKE to do this.

Third... as a parent, you must NEVER say things like "Don't do that... you'll get dirty!"  "Be careful... you'll scuff your shoes"... You must actively encourage them to behave normally in their dress clothing.  This means that when they're small, you're gonna have to go back into the closet for the 'back up' dress clothes sometimes.  This means that your heart will lurch when you see an expensive dress up near the top of a tree or you come out of the house and see a little dressy pair of starched khakis in mid-flight over a mud puddle.
You just tell yourself to calm down... it's clothing, after all, nothing more.
I'm convinced that half of the battle at least is this.  If they're allowed to be 'normal' children in their dress clothes, then they will not mind wearing them. They will learn to 'look comfortable' in the moment, regardless of the clothes.

And finally, you yourself, must make it a priority.   You have to dress and go.  You have to do the 'sit and cheer' things, regardless of whether you want to each and every time or not.  As much or more than anything else, you must be their biggest fan.  For most of us parents, this is an easy thing to do.  But from looking around, it's getting harder and harder for parents to make it a priority. Yes, you have to alter your work schedule, yes, you have to plan ahead, but YOUR willingness to be present and accounted for makes that kid more comfortable in his or her own skin.  I promise.  The confidence and self assurance that any child has begins in knowing where they stand in their own family... that they come in high on the list of priorities... that they matter enough.

As I have said more than a few times here... the days are short that you'll need to do this... make sure that they know by your presence.  There's plenty of time to do the other stuff when they're gone.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sometimes, crazy things happen.

We live in an old, old house. 

Built without modern tools or equipment, by the hands of the man who would live there with his wife and children. 

I sometimes wonder if he ever imagined that a hundred years would pass and his offspring would be living here, keeping traditions in the home that he built from the timber that he cut on the place.

And many changes have happened to this house over the years.

Much living goes on here and has for more than a century.

Fairly recently , in the life of the house, a ceiling board in the living room 'popped' loose.

Possibly because a rowdy teenager lives overhead with much electronic equipment,,,

possibly because the rowdy teenager 'overcooled' his room with an improperly installed window unit last summer and condensation water ran down the wall and along the ceiling in the room below (that would be my living room).

But most likely, the board popped loose because it's a 'way over a hundred' year old house that still comforts and covers a living, breathing family... that we all come home to when we can...and that the board simply got exhausted during it's extended time of hanging out.

Anyway,,,

the board came loose and hung around a while, until the "man who fixes things here" got his hammer, his ladder and his other fix-it stuff the day before Thanksgiving and set about to put the board in it's proper place.

Before doing so, the man broke out the vacuum cleaner and sucked out a bit more than 100 years of accumulated dust and dirt...

and this...


It is a seed packet.... an onion seed packet.

Dated 1895 and Labeled Onions- Eight best varieties.

It contains 4 seed...

and you know what comes next...

a science/gardening experiment in the spring, to determine if seed that is over a hundred years old will germinate and grow...

Talk about heirloom seed!

We shall see.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!


I'm up early, in a very quiet house. 
There are a few things left to do.

But, first, like every morning, I am truly thankful to God, by whose grace I have life and health.

I am thankful for my family... for my husband and for my children, for a new son in law.
I am thankful for my extended family who bring much to my life.
And I'm thankful for my friends, who keep me in their care.

This year has been a challenging one, but one full of growth and experiences that have made my life richer.

Starting the day in meditative prayer balances everything that can possibly happen after that.

It centers my soul.

I wish for you all the blessings of family and friends and for a thanks giving in your heart and soul.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

So, the countdown begins...



... and true to what is very normal for us, this is a photo made in my dining room...


... seems that we've sprung a leak, in the bathroom, under the sink...

the ONE bathroom that is in this house. 

And I do believe that we have upwards of 20 people coming for lunch... so the new handwashing station is in the kitchen, unless Mr. Plumber guy gets the bathroom repaired.

You know, real people do live lives like you see on those crazy holiday movies...

and sometimes, we resemble that very, very much.

And as I pour up two pans of cornbread into skillets, the cat runs by, all stealthily.. like she doesn't want you to notice.... (very not normal for her)... so I go check and she has a lizard!  IN the house... and she's growling...  Now thinking forward just a wee bit, I can see that a lunch of lizard could cause upset stomach, so I wrestle the little cat for her prey.  I am only bleeding a small amount... not near enough for a transfusion.

The preparations go on. 

Many casseroles are made today, Wednesday, in advance of the frantic bake off in the morning. 
They're tagged with their content and cooking instructions and popped into fridge I or fridge II to spend the night. 


The cheesecake is ready and the aroma of baking cheesecake and toasty graham cracker crust fill the kitchen.


Now I do not make the dinner rolls until the morning of.  But this is what they'll look like.
Yesterday, the teenager brought home his buddies for a 'boys night in' of video games.
The college age son made his way home, weary of exams and the senior year rush.
The younger boys grabbed an entire pan of rolls and headed up the stairs with them when they came in.
Really... is there a nicer compliment to one's rolls~?
It did sound like the boys had  a good time.


I am not a fan of celery... I think I've told you that already.  But you have to put it in dressing, and it's on sale this time of year, so I buy a bunch or three and chop it for future use.  
I noticed that they're selling it pre-chopped this year.
An 8 ounce cup of chopped celery was $3.99.
I chopped up three stalks of celery that I paid 69 cents each for and netted 3 quarts for the freezer, in addition to what I'll use in the Thanksgiving meal.

 I'll admit it was beautiful... so pretty and crunchy and green.


This years sweet potatoes are huge!  And a gorgeous dark color... and so very sweet.

I used the hand blender stick for the task of creaming the sweet potato casseroles.


Two topped sweet potato casseroles, which will hang out in the fridge overnight!


Because I'm some weird mix of organized and obsessive compulsive, and because last year, I lost two old hand written recipes during the holiday rush to prepare, the usual stack of recipes on the end of the table has been put into a binder.  Several days or a week before, while I'm planning, I pull together the recipes.
This year, it was rather easy, as I used the printable ones that I'd been typing up for the blog.
Slid into plastic sleeves, they're also tagged with the labels that will go on the casseroles in the fridge.
It's a small thing, but it streamlines the morning and helps to organize the oven time.  I'll line things up by
temperature and time spent in the oven and proceed without much drama.
By backing up the lineup from the time I expect to serve dinner, I've determined that if everything is underway by 9 am, I'll be putting it all on the table at 12:15. 




So, that's about where I am.... turkeys are nearly thawed, casseroles are done, tables are waiting for tableclothes and there'll be one last crazy relocation of furniture to make everything fit.
Everyone's calling... " Do I need to pick up anything before I come?"  and the sweetest....

"I'll see you tomorrow",  "I'll be there as early as I can", and " I'll be so glad to be home."


So, no matter how long since they traveled the road to get here, and regardless of the craziness of broken plumbing and anything else that can go wrong, I'm so looking forward to seeing my folks, and feeding them and watching their twinkly eyes over the plates in the dining room.  I love to hear them talking and laughing and sharing with each other.  I love the hugs and the kisses.

I love the connection and the coming together for a holiday designed for thankfulness.

I am blessed another year with health and love and family.

For this, I am grateful.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pumpkin Pie - Sweet Potato Pie

You must have pie...

you must.

and though I have tried many variations of pumpkin pie, from complex to very old fashioned,
this one is my favorite, both in taste and texture and in ease of prep.

Some of us prefer sweet potato pie.... some of us love pumpkin pie.

This recipe works for both (another reason why I love the recipe!)

For either recipe, you may prepare the fruits or vegetables from scratch.  Baked pumpkin or sweet potato yields a nice texture for the pie.  Both items may be boiled as well, resulting in a soupier base.

The best case scenario is a homemade pie crust.  They take a bit of practice to get right and once you're good at it, you'll find it no trouble at all.  When time permits there will be a recipe and thoughts on pie crusts forthcoming.

A prepared crust will work.  When I need to use a purchased pie crust, I usually opt for the 'rolled' kind in the refrigerated section of the grocers, instead of the frozen kind, but either one will work.  When purchasing the frozen sort, I get the deep dish size... as I don't like pie fillings burning on the bottom of my oven.

Without further ado, you will find the printable recipe here:

Pumpkin - Sweet Potato Pie

Dinner Rolls

No Thanksgiving meal is complete with out soft, warm dinner rolls.



Because I love baking bread and because I love changing up things, I often use a tried, but relatively new recipe... whatever floats the boat at the moment.
I find that excellent rolls are often made from loaf recipes and some add more flavor than others.
A favorite to use for rolls was posted on a very early blog entry.
Try this recipe, if you have sourdough on hand, for an interesting complex flavor (will attempt to get it in printable form later today).

But, by far and away the 'fall back' plan for rolls, for me, begins with a recipe that has been a standard for years at the Fleishman yeast company.  I made a handwritten copy from a very old booklet which had been a freebie.  It's a much loved and much used recipe.

The reason that this is the fall back recipe is stated clearly in the title...
Sixty Minute rolls.
When the other ' I want to try this" recipe falls flat,,,
when the folks are gathering from everywhere
and small children are snitching food already from the table,,,
these can be relied upon to produce in sixty minutes.


From start to finish, you can put beautiful rolls on the table in an hour and the house will smell divine!

For most Thanksgiving meals, I will make two of these recipes (48 rolls) before lunch,
and while I'm cleaning up, I'll make a fresh batch for the snacks and 'leftover' meal that happens as the afternoon and evening progress.


Here's the printable version: 

Sixty Minute Dinner Rolls

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cornbread

So it comes to mind that for making the Thanksgiving dressing, you have to have a pan of cornbread.

I do apologize for the oversight, after receiving an email that inquired if it would work out well if one were to use storebought cornbread.

I am so, so sorry... I honestly did not realize that there was such a thing as store bought cornbread.

I genuinely had taken for granted the whole cornbread thing.

 It's like the biscuits... throw things into a bowl, then into the oven and voila... cornbread.

As I do understand that simply will not work, and lest folks have to use storebought cornbread, I took myself off to the kitchen to see if I could come up with a plan.

While I suspect that my homemade cornbread is slightly different every time, I did measure as I cooked, and the results were my 'usual' cornbread in taste and appearance, and that is the recipe that I'll share with you now.

Notes of importance for this southern cornbread:

~ Cornbread in these parts is NOT sweet... never, never, never does sugar or any sweetener go into cornbread.  If you want sweet cornbread, buy a jiffy mix and make it up, but for goodness sake, do not use sweet cornbread in cornbread dressing.

~ Again, much like my biscuits, I use self rising flour and corn meal.  And again, I'm rather picky.
I use the Southern Biscuit self rising flour (mainly because it's perfect for biscuits and I'm not gonna have several kinds sitting around).  And I use yellow self rising corn meal.... not cornmeal mix, not any kind of white meal... it bears repeating, .... yellow.... self rising corn meal.  I use Adluh brand, because it's made here in South Carolina.  For this holiday, I happen to have cornmeal ground at a stone mill... it's even better.

~ You're gonna bake this in an iron skillet.  An 8 inch skillet or a 9 inch skillet will work well.  A good, old fashioned, properly seasoned iron skillet. With any other pan, you'll not have the proper crust. Before mixing up the cornbread, you're gonna fire up the oven to 425 degrees and get that dry skillet nice and hot... and then, at the moment that you mix the buttermilk into the meal/flour mixture, you're gonna whip that skillet out of the hot oven, pour a good glug (couple or three tablespoons) of a good oil (olive, corn, vegetable) in and swirl it around to coat the pan.  Yes, it looks like a lot... you'll understand it, when the batter hits and sizzles.

~ I use full fat buttermilk... again, that's what I try to keep in the house.  I use, maybe, one half gallon a month.  The no fat version of buttermilk does not make for an excellent baking ingredient.  Nor does the low fat version.  The 'whole milk' buttermilk is very thick and rich and you need the richness for an excellent quality recipe.  This is not up for debate at my house.  If you choose to use the no fat version, you certainly still have cornbread, but it's fullness of flavor and texture are compromised.  This is not where I cut calories or fat.

~ Note that you can tinker with the proportions of meal to flour.  If I'm serving a very simple down to earth meal, I often opt to increase the cornmeal quotient and decrease the flour measure for a more tooth, crunchy, corny bread.  If served with a meal that I'd normally serve dinner rolls with and for whatever reason (likely that I did not start the yeast rolls raising in time) I decide to make corn bread, I up the flour portion and decrease the meal portion, for a more 'bread like' texture, with just a little of that nutty cornmeal crunch.

Last but not least, invest in learning to make the cornbread.  After a few go rounds, you'll not need the recipe... just pour and mix and toss it in the oven and then, for the rest of your life, you have the means to add comfort to soups and stews and simple vegetable plates in the form of cornbread perfection.

Printable version of the recipe:

Cornbread, plain and simple


(Ok, so it wasn't last... a note to my darling daughter... If I recall, I had to do the "measure as I make recipe" for you some time during your medical school days.  If I'm way off here in the proportions, please make a notation.  I'm hoping by now, you're just tossing things in bowls and skillets when you need cornbread.)
((oh, my... I've spoken with her and it seems that she's not making cornbread these days because her skillet made it's way 'home' with me at some juncture.  It makes me a very happy mama that she knows better than to make cornbread in anything else! ))

I'll be looking for that skillet now...

Roasted Turkey

I roasted my first "solo" turkey in 1982.  We were engaged to be married and were working to renovate the house.  We made our first traditional dinner and had the soon to be in-laws, my aunts and extended family for lunch.  At the time, there was not yet central heat, so we enjoyed the day in the cozy confines of the closed off living room, kitchen and dining room which was heated by the wood heater.

Never one to be intimidated by a recipe or a menu, I sought the advice of a great uncle, who was an excellent cook.  The vast majority of my turkey 'rules' today, are those that were dictated to me in 1982.
The resulting turkey has always been perfect and has never disappointed.

First and foremost, the choice of a bird is critical.  While a fresh bird and a home grown one is optimal there have been no years here where the turkey growing adventures have netted us a Thanksgiving bird.

I have decided that baby turkeys are, without doubt, the dumbest creatures.  They simply don't thrive for me.

The few that have survived the first few days after hatch, did themselves in, fairly shortly, in the most ridiculous of ways.
That's another story, for another day... or an extended post, should I ever decide to raise turkeys again.

Therefore, I join the crowd who purchases a turkey (or three) for Thanksgiving day feasts.

What is critical about the purchase of the bird is the size.
The ideal turkey, in my opinion, is between 11 and 12 pounds and a hen.
Turkey's that are huge must be cooked to a miserable degree of dryness to achieve a safe state of doneness!

I'll swear that I have eaten turkeys that were the consistency of sawdust, and equally as flavorless.
I've followed these rules and never served such as that on my table.

If you've not cooked a turkey before, successfully, don't question this... just purchase an 11 to 12 pound bird.
An 11 pound bird should feed about 8 people, maybe six if a  lot of these people are fine strapping lads.
If you are having a big crowd, buy two turkeys in this size range.
If you are having a really big crowd, get as many 11 pound turkeys as you need and convince someone to let you borrow oven time.

If you're using a frozen bird, it takes two to two and a half days in the fridge to thaw the bird.
This means for a Thursday table date, you must pop the turkey out of the freezer on Monday evening... about bed time, in my case.  Put it in a basin, in the fridge.  When you're thawing two or three turkeys, it helps to have at least one spare fridge.  (I highly recommend having a spare fridge!)

On the morning of the feast, get up early and put the birds on to cook.  Wash them thoroughly and rub the outside of the turkey with olive oil, then with a mixture of sage, salt and pepper.  I use kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.  I squeeze a lemon into the cavity of the bird and drop the entire lemon inside to bake.

Use an old fashioned roasting pan with a lid.
You are gonna bake the bird (birds) at 325 degrees for 2 1/2 hours.
At the end of the first hour, pour in a cup of water.
After two hours, take the lid off.  Turn the heat to 400 degrees, which will brown the turkey beautifully.  Watch it carefully.

Allow the roasted turkey to rest for at least 20 minutes., so that the juices settle into the meat.

Carve it up, serve it up and bat your eyelashes at the compliments!

Here's the printable version:


Roasted Turkey

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Baked Corn Casserole

This is a recipe that I use nearly every year.  It puts another veggie on the table in a form that goes into the oven alongside several other dishes and it's always gone after the lunch meal, which no doubt, means it's a crowd favorite.

You can use either fresh corn from the cob, or canned corn or corn that you've frozen.
The dish is creamy and good and easy to make ahead and pop in the fridge until time to bake.

Here's your link to a printable recipe:

Baked Corn Casserole

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pumpkin Roll with Cream Cheese Filling

Because I believe that all holiday traditions can be improved upon, and because I've never been a fan of pumpkin pie, a number of years ago, I decided to try the recipe for Pumpkin Roll that is often on the label of the Libby's brand pumpkin.  After one trial, this became a necessity, in addition to an old fashioned pumpkin pie, as my Father-in-law felt that it wasn't a proper holiday meal without it.

I must digress for a moment to tell you a bit about how I learned to make a jelly roll style cake.

Years ago, we attended a small country church that, like many churches, had frequent (very, very frequent) covered dish dinners.
Also attending this church was a wonderful woman named Millie...

Millie was a very outgoing, warm and friendly woman with a commanding presence...
and Millie was also the maker of the jelly rolls.  She made the most awesome jelly rolls and brought them to covered dish dinners.

I was fascinated.

Like many things in the world of food, I sought to accomplish this for myself...

And I failed,

miserably...

time after time....

after time.

And one day, after listening to my whining about how my 'rolls' always ended up with cracks and collapsed in a pile, if indeed they did not contain an actual dishtowel in the finished product, Millie knocked on my front door, with her arms laden with the necessities for baking jelly rolls and she walked right in.

I had a tiny infant at the time.

For round one, I nursed the baby and watched Millie perform her magic.

For round two, after ASSURING me that it was impossible to follow her directions and mess up, we made jelly rolls side by side.

If you're keeping count, we're up to three jelly rolls.

Then, she made me make a final jelly roll, unassisted, before she left me with the four jelly rolls and went home.

Today, and many days, I've recalled this afternoon as one spent laughing and being given quite the education about all manner of things that came in in the way of conversation.  And I've never forgotten the secret to making a roll style cake...

and here it is.... For starters find the simplest recipe... the easiest one with the fewest, most basic ingredients.
Where the recipe calls for beating the eggs and the sugar, you need to beat the eggs and sugar WAY past the time that seems reasonable...and when you do, the texture changes and THAT, dear folks, is what holds the cake roll together.

The whole business of rolling up the hot cake with the prepared (lots and lots and lots of powdered sugar) towel is so much easier when the cake, with properly beaten eggs does not fall to pieces.

So, for Thanksgiving, I'll spend the afternoon before making this pumpkin roll, and I'll sit down and have a cup of tea while it bakes and remember Millie.

If you have never made a rolled cake, I'd really encourage you to make a 'draft' a time or two (or even four) before attempting it for a holiday meal for guests.

But I'd really encourage you to make one...   life is too short, not to know how to make a jelly roll!

Pumpkin Roll with Cream Cheese Filling

Really Good Cheesecake

Most holidays and many special events and some ordinary days merit the addition of the Really Good Cheesecake.  It's been a part of my repertoire for more than 25 years.  It's as plain as can be, but oh, so good and really needs to be made a day or two in advance of your wanting to serve it!

Every kitchen needs more than one springform pan.  You need at least two, so that you can make one of these to take somewhere, while you also have one in the fridge for yourself.

This is one recipe where I do cut calories and fat. 
This cheesecake is still awesome when made with  Neufchatel cheese, which is 25% lighter and the lower fat sour cream.

I do find that this cheesecake is universally appreciated for all of those situations where you need to take food, illness and injury of friends and loved ones, covered dish dinners and funerals... simply put, everyone will think you're a wonderful cook, for very little effort!



Really!

This recipe is self explanatory...


Really Good Cheesecake

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sweet Potato Casserole

All this week, I'm posting recipes for traditional favorites for the holidays.  When I make these recipes next week, there'll be photos, if I can get to the food with the camera before the boys get to the food with forks!

My favorite memory with this casserole comes from when we were building the barn, twenty-ish years ago.
Our barn was built by the Mennonites, from a community about 30 miles away.
As we live way out here and their work ethic was such that they came and worked from sun up to sundown, I decided after the first day that I need to make their lunch.

So, I did... lots and lots of lunch and the three men very appreciatively ate it all!
It was awesome!

They were very surprised to find this dish in an 'English' home.

This is a standard on our table for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
It contains so much sugar that it's not something that I make for day to day eating.
Sweet potatoes are so naturally good that they're served here fairly regularly, but in far, far simpler forms.

For this recipe, I usually prebake, either in the microwave or the day before when the stove is on for other reasons, about three large sweet potatoes.  I usually go ahead and peel and mash them while they're still warm and pop them in a bowl in the fridge.  Often, for Thanksgiving, especially, I make this casserole in it's entirety the day before and cover and fridge the whole thing.

Very simply, you mix 3 cups (more or less, but usually more) mashed, cooked sweet potatoes, with 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, two beaten eggs, 1/3 stick of softened butter, 1/2 cup of milk and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.  You pour all of that into a well greased baking dish.

The topping consists of 1 cup of brown sugar, 1 cup of chopped pecans (Toasted pecans are so much tastier!) 1/3 cup of plain flour and another 1/3 of a stick of butter.  This mixture gets stirred together and sprinkled on top of the sweet potato mixture.

Popped into the oven, it bakes at 350 for about 40 minutes.  The top will be brown and bubbly and near candy like on the edges... nom~!

For a printable recipe, click the link!         

 Sweet Potato Casserole

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Simple Southern Cornbread Dressing

Boy, can you get people up in arms with a discussion of whether or not you should serve stuffing or dressing for Thanksgiving dinner?

For the 30 years that I've cooked Thanksgiving dinner, and on the tables of all of my extended and very southern family, the choice has been dressing.  This recipe is the one that I use without alteration.  I have tweaked it until I have what is, for us, the perfect dressing.  It is simple and easy, with pleasantly mild seasoning.  I prefer a dressing that doesn't taste like you're eating a sage bush and is consistent in texture... a smooth, almost pudding like texture.

Baked in a pan or casserole, dressing is a perfect accompaniment to the traditional turkey and gravy.

Leftover dressing is so essential at this house that in the last few years, I've had to make several pans of the dressing to accommodate.

Two weeks before Thanksgiving I start the process.  As the weather has turned cool, soup and corn bread are often the order of the day.  Leftover cornbread is stashed in a gallon ziploc bag in the freezer in happy anticipation of Thanksgiving dressing.  The two leftover biscuits from breakfast gets thrown into the bag and the three end pieces of a loaf of bread.  If I'm lucky, I have plenty to accommodate the recipe.  As it is, on the day before Thanksgiving, I check and see and if necessary, I bake a pan of cornbread and hide it so that I have a jump start on the morning.

Simple Cornbread Recipe  - I edited to add this cornbread recipe after it was brought to my attention that it was needed.

There is actually a written out 'oven schedule' for Thanksgiving morning here and there is no time allotted for making cornbread in advance of dressing.

If I'm on top of things, I've pre-chopped the onions and the celery.  If not, either I, or one of my excellently trained children, who all have mad knife skills, do the job first thing in the morning. The smell of celery and onion sauteing is an essential part of breakfast on Thanksgiving here.

I'm not a huge fan of celery... the only time I purchase it is at Thanksgiving.  As no store will sell you three stalks, I chop the remainder of then entire head of celery and freeze it in 3 stalk portions.  While not as textural as fresh celery, in my case, this works for those several other times over the winter that I'm going to make dressing.

Anyway, back to making dressing...

When the onion and celery is tender, set it aside to cool.

You get a big old bowl... HUGE bowl...  don't say I didn't warn you...
and into the bowl you throw the equivalent of a skillet of cornbread.
(If you've frozen the cornbread, please thaw it out first before trying to crumble it into the big bowl.)

You toss in the leftover biscuits from breakfast.
(You did make biscuits for breakfast, right?)

and several slices of day old bread.

You're after the equivalent of  about the same volume as the cornbread.

Put your hands in there, or the clean hands of any unsuspecting kid standing near by, and crumble and squish until you have a good even consistency of crumbs.  This is kinda fun in a weird squishy way.

Now, the veggies should be cool... so it's time to make the magic happen.

Into the big bowl with the crumbled breads, toss the veggies and the following:

2 1/2 to 3 cups of broth, preferably homemade turkey but chicken broth will work fine too.

You and I need to have a discussion on the merits of homemade broth over store bought, if , at this point, you need to open cans or boxes of the storebought stuff.

You can use it this time, if you must!

Add a cup of milk, 2 beaten eggs and the following list of seasonings.

Actually measure the seasonings... and don't go nuts in any direction the first time you make it... this makes a very, very pleasantly seasoned dressing.  Future adventures in cornbread dressing can be seasoned anyway you wish.

1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Now, the really seriously squishy fun begins.

Put your hands in there and squish the dressing ingredients all together.
You're after a consistent, runny pudding sort of texture.

Nom... runny pudding sort of texture... what a description.

When you've achieved this, pour the dressing into a 9 by 13 pan or an equivalent sized casserole dish and pop it in to bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.  I have had to cook it longer, on mornings when I had to keep opening the oven door.  Check it with a bamboo skewer, over in the middle of the dressing.  It should come out with only a few moist crumbs.

Now, if you've read all the way to here, you're seriously interested in making the dressing and a few, if not all, of my readers will be delighted to know that I've figured out how to share with you a printable recipe!

Try this:  Simple Southern Cornbread Dressing

Setting priorities...

Over the last two weeks, I've watched my high school senior juggle...

... not juggle in the circus clown way, but juggle a laundry list of responsibilities, under less than optimal conditions.  Following an accident, he's been without self powered transportation, which has meant that this has entered into my priority list as well.

He has finished up with marching band season, and begun concert and jazz band rehearsals for concerts as early as mid December.
He has made application to his choices of colleges and application to their scholarship programs.
He has maintained his high grades in his two high school classes and his two college level classes, taken at a local higher education center.
He continues to go to Boy Scouts to help with the younger scouts.
He has worked for many hours on his Senior Experience project, which has varying deadlines along the semester calendar.

And what brought me to this thought process, is that last night, I drove him to church for practice, as he plays for the contemporary worship service at our church.  I took my knitting, which developed a 'kink', but that's another story for a different time.  At a time when his calendar is so very full, he could easily call and beg off of this service.  I love the fact that he does not see it as an obligation, but as a service, a giving of his talent and his time to his church.  I am pleased that this has a place in his priorities.

Which brings me to my priorities. 

I think that we all have to work hard at setting our busy life schedules in priority order.
And I'll admit to both having a personal struggle with that since budget cuts took my job
and to weighting my priorities heavily in the direction of my duties to my family.

 Having done odd jobs around my family's needs for years, then discovering all kinds of things about myself
in the process of working again, I miss the structure... I miss the challenges... and I miss the social interface that the job provided. Facing a true internal need to find a replacement for that is a struggle.

I'm not sure why I'm struggling with it... but I am.

I suspect it's part of the plan for my life... and sometimes, we're not supposed to understand that.

Just ahead of me, I see a time when the entirety of my parenting duties are relegated to the 'support' function that is now in place with my older children.

I am not sad or sorry that these parenting days are numbered.  I made a choice years ago and I've enjoyed the days from then till now.  What dictates 'success' for me, in parenting, is that my children should, indeed, fledge and be successful on their own.  I'll admit to finding great joy in watching them make life choices and moving forward.  I do not regret the time I've given them... I see the results.

But it does bring me to a time of pondering re-prioritizing and figuring out for the first time in many years a more self centered focus.  As new adventures await me, I only hope that I can manage as well as my kid!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thanksgiving timetable

So, it's less than two weeks till Thanksgiving...

...which means two things here.



It is time to really scramble and pick up and clean the house that was abandoned during marching band season and sit down and make some serious inroad on the Thanksgiving day lists.

One delightful advantage to having inherited the family home is that you also inherit the family holiday traditions and with only a year or two exception, we have been the 'doors flung open, come to feast' family center for Thanksgiving.  People come early and stay late, or stay over and eat from early till late.

One of my sweetest memories of my father was that after our reconcilement he would always show up on Thanksgiving morning BEFORE I got out of bed... standing on the porch, where he'd spent so many Thanksgivings, with his hat in hand, the morning paper and a big old country cured ham nestled in his arm.  I was expected to make the coffee and the biscuits and from his corner chair in the kitchen he had the singular advantage of watching me prepare for a huge meal.  I wondered, as he watched me, what he was thinking... I know for a fact that those were contemplative days... Following his death, I needed not to cook that meal that year, in this kitchen, with his empty chair... so we packed up kith and kin and headed to the beach for a seaside Thanksgiving.  It was necessary for that year, but the following year, we needed to get back to tradition and so we have ever since.

Thanksgiving never fails to have a surprise or two,,, like the year the college football training team joined us that was also the year that we found Leo, the black kitten who was abandoned and nearly frozen.

Something that is never surprising is that we're always going to have food.  I make the traditional expected dishes and try to make a side or two that is different.  At least three desserts are necessary, something chocolate, something spicy and nutty and something cheesecake.  Folks who come sometimes pitch in a dish or two.  We need to set up additional tables and chairs and I need to plan in advance for things like extra glasses.  I know that you can use paper products... and a time or two in thirty years we have done so, but I LOVE to break out everything beautiful and use it, even if it means a two day dishwashing adventure to set things straight again.  I have a wealth of china and it's accompaniments and always have enough folks to need to break out several sets.

Another tradition here is that right after the noon meal, dinner here (as the evening meal is supper!), everyone that is able is tossed out to do a  'Weaver family walk'.  The walkers head off, amicable chatter flowing, to circumnavigate the hundred acres.  I think this started when the children were small, as it enabled me to clear the table and start the dishes, and frankly sit down for ten minutes, without everyone underfoot.  But, it is, ironically, something that I've never participated in.  I clean in peace and quiet, then sit down on the porch to await the return.  Happy folks of every age, pink cheeked and glowing, laughter you can hear from a quarter mile away... this is also when the boys take slingshots and gather some mistletoe in advance of the Christmas season.


Over the next week, the preparations simply must happen.  I need to gather in two turkeys and maybe a ham. This year we will have venison.  I've already gotten the sweet potatoes. I'll advance prepare things like cornbread and yeast breads to make the dressing from.   In advance of the day, I line up my recipes in a binder, so that I'm not frantically trying to remember which book contains the right recipe. I'll shop a solid week out for most things, leaving fresh veggies till the last minute. I'm adding to the vegetarian options as my vegetarian list is growing.

Two days before I'll make desserts, because frankly, cheesecake is better after sitting for two days in the fridge and some things will be measured and parceled out in advance.

This is as much of a delightful holiday here as is Christmas.  It's a gathering of family and friends, and friends who are like family for a time of being thankful for our blessings and thankful for each other.  Getting ready for the holiday makes my heart happy... I remember those who are not with us anymore and am grateful for the time that I had with them.  I see how my own children have grown and now begin families of their own.  I wish them happy traditions of their own and welcome them home with open arms when they are a part of ours.  I welcome those who maybe can't make it to their traditional home or simply need to be part of the rambunctiousness that is here for the day.
It is a labor of love and a season of joy abounding.
For this, I am grateful.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

5 am... contemplation

It is 5 am the week after the scheduled time change.  Last week, it would have been 6 am... the time when my morning starts with an alarm and some gentle stretching and the notion that someone has to make the coffee.

At this point, it's been a few days, but my body insists that it's time to get up.  Granted, getting up and writing is not a way to retrain your body, but starting the day by fuming that you are awake too early is not the best of plans either.

Body clocks are strange and awesome things... aren't they?

As I was lying in bed thinking, I realized that yesterday had been a very strange day.

So many things that sent my emotions all over the place.
I started the day with the off track body clock and due to reasons beyond my control, I left the house BEFORE acquiring my standard two cups of caffeine loaded coffee... that which assists in jumpstarting my day.

Early yesterday, I got a call from the dermatologist office with the results from two skin biopsies that were done more than two weeks ago.  As my heart raced, I got the good news that there is no skin cancer, but instead a chronic skin issue that is often related to having an excitable immune system. This is, indeed, good news in a person who lost a parent to skin cancer.  The whole excitable immune system... I have learned to live with.

Then, because there had been a car accident... a first among my offspring... I had to do some parking lot sitting at the local campus of a state college, where the highschool child is taking a couple of classes, so that I could get him to traffic court on time.   Now, sitting in a car isn't new to me... far from it... For the 25 years that I've been a parent, I dare say that I've spent several entire years actually waiting in parking lots and waiting rooms and venues for sports and band, and time has taught me to accommodate for this.  However, for more than a year, I've not had to do this except on rare occasions, and I've grown less than patient with the process. I mused on things like a local campus for higher education, which is a very good thing and as I was in a particularly punkish mood about such, I mused on the driving habits of teenagers.  I knitted on my project and contemplated that ALL of my reading glasses were in the car, which explains why there were no reading glasses by my favorite chair or in the kitchen when I needed to read a recipe. I contemplated calling and making an ophthalmic appointment to see if this time the advice would be 'you just need to get some reading glasses'.

Anyway...on the road to court, the kid worked on his senior project on a Macbook provided by the highschool... a very neat gadget... this computer.  And very handy that the seniors have this resource to make the task of the senior project so much easier.  I contemplated how projects have changed from my first child, who had a home computer from the time she started elementary school but whose projects were never turned in on flash drives.  I like the senior experience projects... I love that it gives  young adults incentive to explore an area of interest and find an expert to be their guide on a tour of self discovery.  With all my heart I wish that my senior's project had been next semester, when he has only a single class to take and it's not marching band season and college applications are not due.  I think the experience could have been so much more...

Then, we went to traffic court, where I realized that the 'kid' is no kid, but a young adult.  He has an excellent understanding of his rights and responsibilities.  He faced the experience quite calmly and with much maturity... he paid his fine and learned some important grown up lessons. 

... which brings us to college applications.  Last evening, the last one was transmitted electronically.
Again, another technological difference between even  the last two children.  In the last four year since we were sitting at this threshold of the door to education, several colleges have opted to use the common application, but all three of the applications that were made this time were done online.  His essays made me smile. Most of them were about himself... questions like "what experiences have you had that have given you leadership experience?" with an occasional one thrown in there about the difference between funding for science and the arts.  It's always so interesting to see where their minds go on these essays.  This time was no different.  But with the last application gone, the countdown to college begins in earnest... waiting for the emails (or I wonder if the acceptance is still sent by letter?) which hopefully give him a choice... one of the biggest choices on the road to true independence.

Then, lastly, when I finally got to my email last night, I had a surprise.  Early in the year, I'd entered a contest put on by our local electric cooperative. One of the prizes was an in-home power usage monitor and they'll be delivering it shortly!  It should be interesting and helpful in figuring out where the inefficiencies are in our home and helping to curb the ever increasing power bill.  As we face the last child leaving and our preparing a more than a century old house for our retirement years, this should be a helpful tool in the effort to reduce our footprint and live responsibly.

But now it's time to start the day...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Making Pizza at home.

This weekend, I took a friend on the guided tour of making pizza at home... in this case, it's an effort to expand the food repertoire.  But for my family, making pizza at home has several strong points in it's favor over restaurant pizza or, heaven help us, frozen pizza.

For starters, we live way out in the country, far, far from any pizza places and out of the range of any sort of delivery.   As a matter of fact, the notion that someone would deliver to us out here will cause giggling... I once had a sofa delivered and it took the guy 8 hours to find us... pizza... not so good after 8 hours~!

If you make your own pizza, you pick what goes on it... and the combinations are endless.  Endless and varied the sauces and toppings can be as individual as you are and change from pizza to pizza.  Healthy options abound and are under the direct control of the pizza makers.

Homemade pizza, frozen by the slice, is an awesome snack or quick meal, heated in the oven or toaster oven, it far surpasses the quality of the frozen product from the grocers.

And last, but very important in the scheme of things is the economy of it.  Even with excellent ingredients, two pizza's are only a few dollars.

Over the years, I've tinkered with recipes and have several that are favorites.  One of our children loves the thin crispy crusts and I've perfected a recipe for that.  The recipe that I'll share today is one that I've worked on for the last year or so.  When it's passed the muster of the boys here as being 'better than any restaurant pizza I've ever had', then it's time to call it a day, and stop tinkering.

The recipe makes two pizzas and makes a crust that is light and soft and falls between the pan style and the thin and crispy style.  By putting the entire recipe in a pan pizza pan and tossing on some rosemary, course salt and ground pepper, you also have a flat bread that is unsurpassed for soup or for slicing in half and making sandwiches.

The recipe is easy... so easy in fact, you'll be wondering why you've never tried this before.
It is listed in my book of handwritten recipes very unceremoniously as:

The Best Pizza Dough

2 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 2/3 cups of warm water

3 1/2 cups of flour * see flour notes -   plus plenty of extra for kneading and rolling.
2 teaspoons salt (I usually use sea salt, but never iodized)
3 teaspoons olive oil

~  I purchase yeast in bulk, mainly for economy.  I am able to purchase 2 pounds of yeast for about $5.  I keep it in a canning jar in the freezer where it keeps nicely until I've worked my way through the pound.  I share the second pound with my daughter, who is an excellent baker of fine breads.
* flour - I normally use divide the amount of flour and use about half plain flour and half bread flour.  I've made it using either type exclusively and it works, with an 'all bread flour' pizza being a little more chewy and holding up well under 'heavier' toppings such as those heavy in meat.

Place the warm water (I use warm tap water), the sugar and the yeast in a large mixing bowl.  Allow it to sit until it starts to ' work'.  The yeast should spring to life and become foamy and bubbly, rising to the top of the water.  The small amount of sugar feeds this action and helps in jump starting things.  This can take 10 to 15 minutes, or a little longer on a day when the kitchen is cold.

Into this mixture, you're going to dump (yes, just dump it all in) the remaining ingredients.  Take a spoon and give it a few stirs to incorporate the yeasty liquid and the dry ingredients and oil.  As it begins to pull together in a ball, flour your hands and go in for the fun part.

The dough should be relatively wet feeling so you'll have to keep flouring your hands to keep things from sticking, but several good turns should get it ready to knead.  If you don't understand how to knead, then you're going to need  (ahem) to practice kneading.

Pizza dough is a fine thing to practice kneading on!

Starting with your fingers, you grab the ball of dough that is further away from you and you 'roll it' toward you, folding it over on top of the portion of the dough that is nearest you.

Stick with me here!  ... but if you're sticking to the dough, you need to flour your hands!

Then, you take the ball of your hand, near your wrist and push down and forward on the folded ball of dough.

Repeat this process and suddenly, you'll began to feel the difference.  It is best, and often, described as 'elastic' but it should be a smooth, soft ball of dough.  I knead until it's very smooth, which takes my practiced hands 7 or 8 minutes,,, for beginners it may take about 10 minutes.

Set the dough aside to rest and rise.  To do this, I take a little olive oil and coat my hands, and then lightely coat the ball of dough.  I leave it in the bowl and cover the bowl with a dish towel.  The rise can take from 30 minutes to 2 hours, but regardless of how much time I give the rise, I've had great luck with this pizza dough.  Indeed, I've allowed it to rest only about 10 minutes in cases of impatient beginning pizza makers or running late on fixing dinner. You lose softness and some volume but still have a pizza crust that far surpasses store bought.

To prepare the pizza pan, I put a little olive oil on my hand and rub it on the center of the pan.  I don't oil the edges, for if I do, the pizza dough doesn't want to hang onto the edge of the pan.  The oil in the middle keeps the center dough from sticking and aids in getting nice slices that are easy to lift.

After the dough has risen, I divide it into two balls and transfer the balls to my pizza pans.  If you don't have good pizza pans, then you must buy some, but in the interim you can use a cookie sheet or a biscuit pan.
This is when I turn on the oven.  I have an electric oven, and I set it to 450 degrees.  It preheats while I finish the pizzas.

Normally, I use my hands to shape the dough...I sometimes stretch the dough over my closed fist before I lay it on the pan.  But I lay it on the pan and press outwards, making every effort to keep it even in thickness.
You can repair any little tears or holes that appear by squishing to dough back together.

It's bread dough, not rocket science... don't get too excited it if is a little odd shaped.

On rare occasions I use a rolling pin, but mostly I use that for the thinner crust recipe.

Let the dough rest on the pans again, for 20 minutes if you have the time as it significantly improves the 'loft' of the dough.  It will be much lighter and near pizza perfection if you give it this time.

If you can't wait,,, if the boys are baying and the dogs are demanding food now...

uhm....

if the dogs are baying and the boys are demanding food, you  can go ahead and skip that 20 minute rest.

Actually, this is when I like to cut up everything that goes on the pizza, which ironically can take about 20 minutes and can employ the aforementioned boys.

Feel free to think outside the box on the sauce issue.

We love pesto, or buffalo sauce (equal parts of hot sauce and butter) but you can use any red sauce.  Leftover pasta sauce is a great choice, indeed, when I make sauce, I try to keep out a half cup or so for the next round of pizza baking.  I almost always make at least one pizza with something other than a red sauce base.  A nice blend of roasted garlic and olive oil makes for a smashing sauce with certain toppings too.

Spread your sauce however you like it.  Thin, thick or medium all work.

Top your pizza with cheese, lots of cheese, the more variety the better. I like to put down about half the cheese, then add the veggies and other toppings and then the last half of the cheese.
I always try to have fresh mozzarella to slice and put on top.  One ball makes a generous topping for the two pizzas.  Go wild... go absolutely wild with your toppings.  The sky and your imagination are the only limits.

You will now have two pizzas.  Place the oven racks in the two slots nearest the middle of the oven.  One pizza goes on top and one below.  Set the timer for ten minutes.  At the ten minute mark, switch the pizza's... the one that started on top, goes to the bottom and the one on the bottom goes to the top.  Ten more minutes and you're done... so, soo, soooo done!

Enjoy.

All time favorites here are
~pesto sauce with fresh garden peppers, onions, spinach, halved little cherry tomatoes with both mozzarella and colby cheeses
~ buffalo sauce with a sauted or grilled chicken breast chopped, peppers and onions
~ marinara sauce with tomatoes, onions, peppers, artichokes and olives.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Blue

 This weekend was sort of a strange weekend. Strange in that it wasn't actually a weekend, but an improvised weekend made up of a Monday and a Tuesday.  School was out on Monday and Tuesday, due to furloughs and elections, so I piled some folks into the van for an assault on sand and sun and rest.

Sometimes, it's just necessary.

Some days, I simply need vast expanses of the blues and browns that are the coast.



Sometimes, I need to sit and watch the trawlers go by,


 ... and the bottlenose dolphin feed in the shallows...


or watch a crab crawl along...


or sit and knit.

It was as this point, after a couple of hours of sitting and knitting and breathing deeply that I realized that ironically, I had fit perfectly into my environment.  Sandy feet... faded, soft and worn old blue jeans and a heathered blue yarn, with a pleasantly challenging pattern on the needles ... it was perfectly unintentional but made me smile.


Not the blues of sadness, but the blues of calm and rest and realization of where you fit in the world.... your sitting in the vastness, while the tide comes in and out.

To breathe in and out, while the tide goes in and out.

A quick sidetrip to the 'next over' island, to show a friend the lighthouse, on a clear beautiful day was a bonus.







 Another awesome blessing is to be able to enjoy heading to the top of the lighthouse 12 weeks after major surgery.  Living proof that being tough is a good, good thing!