Monday, April 27, 2009

All in God's Time


We finally invited my mother down to see the progress we've made on our house. She hasn't been down to our place in nearly two years, since we got married and bought this project. For three days I sorted, organized, purged, cleaned, wiped, shined, and swept to make it as presentable as possible, in relative terms. If it could be helped, I helped it, and if it couldn't, well, what can you do? As concerned as I was about the state of the house, I was even more worried about the dogs.

While Buddy wants to be every one's friend, Scrappy is more concerned with protecting us from strangers. That is, Who SHE perceives to be a stranger. She will bark and bark and blaffe until she gets tired, and meanwhile it is all terribly disruptive. But my mother was very reassuring. "I'll just pet them and explain who I am and give them each treats and tell them to be good. And I will tell them there better not be any barking or growling, and they will listen." This all sounded very optimistic. Not to mention, unrealistic. But when Mom made her appearance amidst a couple of barking dogs, how she explained it would all play out is exactly how it unfolded. She brought treats, calmly communicated with the dogs, and they were eating out of her hands both literally and figuratively. How did she know?

And after taking a walk at the park, we drove over to the nursery and picked out some plants for our gardens and she lent her advice and expertise on an endless array of flowers, from how many times that perennial really will come back, to what was a good price and what was a bit high. And I wondered in awe of her collective knowledge. How does she know?

As if the day couldn't get any better I received a call from my Aunt in Georgia, whom I have not seen in five years. Even better, she was leaving in the morning to drive north and wanted our house to be her first stop. She estimated that she'd get to our house about 6:30 or so Sunday evening. What could I say?
"I'll be on the front step waiting!"
This was terribly exciting. My Aunt was unable to make it to my wedding two years ago. It was a case of bad timing. It really smarted, as no one, and I mean no one, wanted to see me get married more than this one Aunt. Now the time had come.

More than one friend has commented on the uncanny timing of my Aunt arriving on the heels the big house-clean up for my Mom's visit. It was an unusual case of perfect timing, and a massive relief. Cleaning up a construction site is no task for the weak, and it took us days to get ready. I'm grateful that if we had to get a visitor on short notice, it would be the very next day. God's timing is always perfect. Only He knows.

In the Kitchen:
Well, my menu plan is not refined yet, and once company comes to town, all meal plans go out the window, anyway. But this morning I baked a peach crumb pie using the last of my home-canned peach pie filling, and we will get by just fine on leftovers. Meanwhile, I'm keeping an eye out for rhubarb and making great plans for strawberry-rhubarb jam when the time comes.

In the Garden:
In the past few days we've gotten a surge of summertime temperatures which have given great convenience to hardening off those seedlings. I just hope the lettuce in the garden doesn't bolt, along with the dill. Oh, and I bought some lovely white flox for my front flower garden. Now if I can get some more hostas in it will look like a really perennial garden.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pilgrims at the Drive-thru

I'm always a little self conscious about not being exactly "like everyone else." This is partially a cultural thing, as it is highly prized to look/think/act like everyone in a given community, but a part of it is also a point of pride (gasp! she's prideful!) that I am maybe just a little unique. We are, after all, the couple that came back from their cross-country honeymoon with a stray puppy in the backseat. And on the 3, 143 mile drive home I kept thinking "What will people think?" as we drove across the country with a stray dog. Yet on our journey I was falling in love with our dog Buddy, so a big part of me also didn't care what anyone else thought.

Plus, there is the house we are reconstructing which is such a mess with its lack of siding and exposed regions that you practically have to be someone who doesn't care what others think in order to pull this off. Like the time I was outside helping The Mister pull wire from some small hole at the base of the roof, and it was so hard to pull that my feet were pressed against the side of the house for leverage, making it appear that I was climbing up the side of the house. Just then, a familiar van drove by and an acquaintance waved, and it did not feel like my finest moment as I hung from a wire on the side of the house.

Here's something else that makes us a little weird. My husband and I don't eat fast food. We don't have anything against it, it's just that neither of us have a taste for it. With the exception of an occasional trek to Pizza Hut, we abstain. I don't know why we have no taste for it, and if I knew I would gladly package the secret and sell it to eager mothers who wish their children did not have those cravings either. For us, it is actually an inconvenience. It means that long road trips require some planning. The Mister is usually satisfied with a bag of some whole-grain chip snack until we get to our destination, but I'm a bit choosier. Faced with rest area options that include a multiplex of fast food selections, I can still wander around complaining that there is nothing to eat.
"There's nothing here," I sigh, while standing in the full blown light of half a dozen neon signs.
The Mister starts rubbing his head. "How about that sandwich place over there?"
"The bread didn't look fresh."
"Maybe you could get something at the LongJohnChickenTacoFryFiesta."

I'm picky, and powerless to do anything about it. Once, on the return trip of a quick run to Ohio, I suggested that we stop at a select burger place (one with an expansive menu that I thought might be able to accommodate us) to get something to nibble on for the long ride home. We pulled up to the drive-thru menu and made our selections. The Mister leaned out the window and shouted our order. We heard a muffled reply and then looked at each other.
"We'd like a fish sandwich and a chicken wrap and a large Coke! That is all!" he shouted again.

Nothing happened.

Then I looked ahead and saw that we weren't placing our order at all, but shouting at the menu sign. The muffled reply we heard was coming from a speaker twelve feet ahead where another car, a drive-thru driver of practiced level, was placing an order.
In the end, The Mister ate his chicken wrap which he found to be very unimpressive for the price of five dollars.

And we were reminded once again that as pilgrims, we are just passing through.

On the Table: Sausage Spaghetti Spirals, salad, and bread sticks. I wish I had known how chilly and rainy it was going to be, as soup would have been in order.

In the Garden: Oh please raspberry canes, please produce more leaves! Also, why do hostas have to be so expensive?

Around the Home: It has come to my attention that in six weeks the living room will be completely gutted, floors and all. This will be problematic, as it has been a place to store things, eat our meals, and basically live. Oh, and there is a wood stove in it. So all those things have to find some place to go while the livingroom is reconstructed. What I wouldn't give for this not to be my problem.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Whoopie 101

The long awaited whoopie pie tutorial is here.

I'm going to try to make it as easy as possible. Thankfully, whoopie pies are a pretty standard recipe, and although there are a lot of variations on the theme (red velvet whoopies, mint whoopies, pumpkin, peanut butter, etc.) the basic ingredients for your chocolate cream-filled whoopie is pretty much the same.

You will need:
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup shortening or butter* (Shortening is much easier, but I prefer butter at room temperature.)
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup cocoa
1 cup cold water
1 cup thick sour milk or 1 cup buttermilk (Don't have any sour milk? Use 1 Tablespoon vinegar and enough milk to make 1 cup. Let it stand a moment to thicken.)
1 cup water

Sift together the flour, baking soda, and cocoa.

Use your mixer to cream together the sugar, salt, shortening or butter, vanilla and eggs. The goal in creaming it together is to get the dry ingredients to make little air pockets in the shortening or butter, so it is light and fluffy.

After you have creamed it, alternately add the sifted mixture, water, and sour milk to the mixing bowl. If needed, add a little flour to the milk to help thicken.
Then, make sure it's fully blended into a batter. I use a spoon or spatula for that.

Drop the batter by the spoonful onto a greased cookie sheet (I use parchment paper).

Bake at 400 until done (10-15 minutes) and then cool on racks.

1 egg white
2 cups confectioner sugar
1 T vanilla
2 T flour
2 T milk
3/4 cup shortening
marshmallow creme (optional)

Beat the egg white first, then add mix in the rest of the ingredients. Beat the mixture well.

Not up to the task of making filling? Stop here and just buy whipped vanilla icing. Don't say I never gave you any short cuts! Spread the filling between the flat sides of two cooled cookies, and you will end up with this:

As always, I offer full support and would be happy to answer any questions.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

A busy week means that unusual thing happened in the supper department last week, and so there is a repeat on the menu of the sweet and sour meatball meal which did not get eaten last week. There was a death on my husband's side of the family, and so we were fed after the funeral. Later in the day when we were discussing the meal after the service, I mentioned that I thought the food had been "just okay." The Mister said that he thought it was very good! I rolled my eyes and told him that he probably can't appreciate how good my cooking is since he thinks that everything tastes very good!

Right now there is a pot roast simmering in the crock pot, and this weekend and I started gathering tender young dandelion greens for salad.

Monday: Round Roast with carrots and red potatoes
Tuesday: leftovers
Wednesday: Sweet and Sour Meatballs (see last week's MPM for recipe)
Thursday: Blackened catfish and fried green tomatoes (which we have sliced up in the freezer from the final harvest.)
Friday: leftovers
Saturday: Eggplant and Mozzarella Melt with Dandelion Green salad*

*Pick your dandelion greens. Wash them. Toss with sliced green onion and bacon crumbles. Top with sliced hard boiled egg. Use a vinaigrette dressing. Let me know how it turns out.

Friday, April 10, 2009

This Busy Week in Pictures

This was the sky at dusk earlier in the week, right as a storm was rolling in. It bypassed us though, and we just heard some thunder.

Amy had asked to see the table runner I machine quilted as a gift for my Mom. Here it is:

The center blocks are pink roses on a cream background that go well with the olive green border. Like I said, I'm not anxious to machine quilt again. But a completed project is always a relief.

One dress completed:

...still too cold to where this yet.

In the Garden: All of our tomato seedlings were replanted into larger pots this week, and I managed to squeeze in some Lilly of the valley bulbs in a couple shady spots. Three tulips made a return this year...

In the Kitchen: Many of you had questions about the homemade root beer, so I'll try to answer them the best I can. The taste is much more potent that what you would get at the store, and there is less fizz. The dark color is from the extract which is dark, gooey, and as dense as tar. It's potent stuff. If you want more fizz, I've seen quickie recipes that call for using seltzer water instead of yeast. Also, after filling the bottle, some people do set it in the sun for a few hours and then immediately chill it. That's a fast and fine method that I hear works well, too.

Wishing you all a Happy Easter as we rejoice in a risen Savior!

Monday, April 6, 2009

In and Around the Home This Week & Root Beer

On the Table: Whoopie pies! Some time ago someone asked for a whoopie pie tutorial. The good news is I was able to document the last batch I made, though I don't think it was the best batch. The cookies spread in the oven more than they ever had, and so they were very large and a little flatter than I like. The kitchen was very hot that night, I ended up opening a window. Perhaps the combination of the hot kitchen and the butter I used made the cookies spread. Since I don't make these often, I made a large batch. They freeze so nicely and last a long time. Well, they last until they are found, I should say. So I'll have the tutorial up soon.

Around the Home: What a relief to finish the quilted table runner, which was a gift for my mother. It was entirely machine quilted, which is still something I am new at and not very good! I can machine piece okay, but the quilting part was a bit of a challenge. I'm not eager to do it again anytime soon. It also didn't help that I made the runner up out of my head with no pattern. Anyway, now I can focus on getting spring/summer clothing in order. I already have a dress mostly sewn.

In the Garden: Lots of tidying up the flower beds, filling in soil, and planting summer bulbs. The front flower bed which I had intended as a perennial garden was mostly filled with annuals last year. As you can guess, it's a big blank slate again. But I really am filling it with perennials this year- day lilies, hostas, lavender, and viola.

In the Kitchen: We had some root beer extract laying around for some time, and I finally got around to making a gallon. It's so easy with the extract, you just need to add water, sugar, and yeast. This is the "quick" method, which will still take a few days. Here is how it went:

First I dissolved 1/4 tsp. yeast in a cup of warm water. Wait about five minutes for it to dissolve. In a separate container, mix a Tablespoon of extract with 2 cups of sugar in enough warm water to dissolve the sugar. Then, pour everything into a sterilized bottle. If you don't have a large gallon jug you can use a couple of large soda bottles with their caps.

Once your ingredients are in the bottle, fill the rest up with tap water leaving about 1-2 inch headway. Seal with the cap.

Keep in a warm place (70-75 degrees) for 3 days, up to ten days if it is winter and your house is cool. Then, place in the refrigerator to chill before opening. Pour carefully as homemade root beer leaves a yeast deposit on the very bottom of the bottle. Enjoy!


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