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".


"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.


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.