Friday, January 30, 2009

Some gardening, some reading, some laughter

Strawberry

Well, I did it. I put in an order for some black raspberry bushes and some ever-bearing strawberry plants that are of the variety that will start producing right away this summer. Of course, they only sell strawberry plants in packages of 25 for some reason. I really did not want that many plants, as 25 plants spaced about 18 inches apart will take up quite a bit of space in our garden. Also, I can't stand picking strawberries. Although I love all the benefits of fresh strawberries, picking them was never my favorite sport. I would rather sit on the back step and shell peas for a hundred years than crawl around in the hot sun looking for ripe fruit. Of course, it's better than not having fruit and after the first jam making session or baked strawberry pie, my enthusiasm will probably run so high that I'll have delusions of starting a U-pick operation.

In the Kitchen: Waffles and fruit for supper. Peanut butter pie for dessert. A mouse that broke into our popcorn stash meeting a timely end. (Our special delicious popcorn that we brought back from the midwest. Of course it wanted nothing to do with our microwave popcorn.)

Just Finished Reading: Emma: A Widow Among the Amish by Ervin Stutzman. The sequel to Tobias, this fictionalized account based on actual events follows Emma through her life as a widow as she continues to raise her family. It is written by Emma's youngest son who researched his parent's lives by conducting interviews with those who knew them. The writing style is simple, but rich in detail. At some points, it is frustrating to see the choices Emma makes or coerces her children into making due to her widow status and their need of financial support. Yet, it was also inspiring to see her unwavering faith and the faith of her children.

At the Library: A woman called the other day and wanted to know where she could recycle her old computer. I gave her the information that our County gives us for their computer recycling program, but she declined the information saying she had spoke already to them and that they don't truly recycle the gadgetry.
"They just take anything toxic out of them and throw them away- filling up our landfills!"
"Actually, I think they send them to China and---" She cut me off.
"CHINA! Oh great, so they send them to a THIRD WORLD COUNTRY."
I got a kick out of her idea that China is a third world country, since, you know, probably most of the things in her house were made there.

Oh, but anyway. I found an interesting book which I have not read but thought some of my readers might like. It's a novel called The Outsider by Ann H. Gabhart. It takes place in a Shaker community in 1807 where a young Shaker woman falls for a man (the ominous and presumably good looking "outsider") and is faced with the choice of either stay or leaving her community. Since the Shakers are a chaste church, she can't just have him convert and then marry him as marriage, children, families did not exist with Shakers. So that is an interesting twist. While the book is somewhat of an attempt to cash in on the amish-fiction-romance craze of recent years (not to mention the tired storyline where "an outsider" disrupts a strict religious community), the author is billed as being knowledgeable about Shaker life. If anyone has read it, please feel free to post your thoughts and give us a quick review.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Conclusion of the Black Walnut Harvest

I am skipping out on Menu Plan Monday this week for fear of boring you all to death. Really, about the first half of this week consists of leftovers and things stored away in the freezer to be eaten until my shopping trip midweek. I always try to stockpile a few emergency meals in the freezer for times when our schedules are at odds and my husband needs something to quick heat up before work. It's one of my more successful strategies.

This was a productive weekend, what with yet again being banned from the kitchen while the Mister rebuilt some walls around it. It enabled me to get a few things done around here that normally would not be at the top of the list. I even threw a few stitches in my "eternity quilt" (so-called because I've been working on it for an eternity) and was still able to pull together some corn bread to bring to my church pot luck.

Some of my longtime readers may remember back when I started the dirty task of gathering black walnuts as shown here. Finally, we got out the black walnut cracker and crunched open those nuts I have had curing in net bags on a wall in a back room. We had around a hundred nuts, some filled with delicious ripe meat, others duds. The Mister cracked while I picked out the meat, and the process made a big mess. All of our work netted us about 2 and a half cups of delicious black walnut meat. For now, it is carefully stored until I decide what to make with it. With the black walnut process being such an undertaking, the big question is, will we do it again next year? Honestly, the cracking part was nothing compared to gathering up those nuts in their husked form and running them over with my car repeatedly. THAT was the work. My husband commented that the black walnut cracker made short work of those nuts and it was the fastest he had ever seen one cracked open.

On the Nightstand: Churched by Matthew Paul Turner. When the author was five, his family made a big change when his parents joined a fundamentalist Baptist church. It's hard to pull off the type of memoir where your parents do something drastic and you live with the consequences without demeaning your parents, but this author does it well. He has a lot of respect for his parents, and had a solid Christian upbringing. He also has a lot of funny anecdotes from his years growing up in the church, many laugh aloud moments.

In the Kitchen:


Almond Squares

1 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup almond paste
1 tsp. almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

In your mixing bowl, cream butter; gradually add the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk (reserve egg white), almond paste, and extract. It helps to cut up the almond paste, or break it up with your fingers. Beat until well blended. Stir in the flour.

Spread mixture in a 13x9 baking pan. The mixture is crumbly, so press it in flat. Also, I lined my pan with parchment paper, for easy removal later. Beat egg white until foamy, and then brush over entire surface of dough. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake for about 35 minutes. Cool thoroughly, and then cut into squares. Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Winter Tedium and My First Job



Our temperatures here in the east are considerably milder than the rest of the country. A few days we got down to twelve degrees, but mostly it is in the twenties. One day our bathroom faucets froze (even though I had cracked them the night before) and my husband had to come home from work and crawl under the house with a heat gun to defrost the pipes.



Later that same day, I went to the store to exchange something and saw that they had put out their garden seeds. I was glad because I wanted to buy the only seed that we really need to purchase, which is for our cherry tomatoes. As some of my long time readers may recall, we were positively swimming in cherry tomatoes last summer, and they were the sweetest, tastiest cherry tomatoes that I had ever eaten. All the lucky recipients we gave them to thought so, also. So wouldn’t it be a treat to have them again this year? But since they are a hybrid, you have to buy the seed. Well, it appeared that the store was not carrying that specific variety this year, and when I looked online to order them, the seed company wants to charge me $6.95 shipping for one packet of seeds. Sigh.



Speaking of gardening, I've been thinking of ways to sneak in some exercise and get into better shape before the season starts. The winter time activities of keeping warm by the fire and holiday baking do not prepare one to toil in the field. I feel terribly unfit. It's quite a challenge to find ways to move outside of the usual housework/chore routine, especially since I am often bound to a desk at the library. I don't know how to remedy this.



The other day as I was getting my "work out" cleaning the bathroom, I entertained myself by recalling my first ever for-pay job. We must have been around eleven years of age when a friend and I were approached by a neighbor lady to clean her apartment. She and her husband had just had their first baby and I guess she was feeling a little overwhelmed. She wanted us to really clean out every dusty corner possible and help prepare her home for visitors. With dollar signs in our eyes, we accepted this one-time opportunity. We knew this lady casually, she was very nice, and we felt good about the chance to be useful and make our own money. It was a summer day, and when we arrived, she gave us choices about which rooms and chores we wanted to take on. All I can recall about dividing the work was that I felt cleaning the bathroom was a relatively good deal compared to my friend Darlene Weaver's selection of having to scrub baseboards. I don't remember what else we did, but I do know it was a full day's work. Also, we were entertained by a picture hanging in the family's living room of dogs playing poker. I know it's cliche now, but trust me, at the time it was the most hilarious thing ever.



Anyway.



The lady turned out to be a screaming tyrant, who made us do things over and over to her satisfaction, which was fine except she was not particularly nice about it. I can still recall her pointing at the bathroom floor and yelling at me "DO YOU NEED GLASSES?" I can't imagine we were incompetent house cleaners, but perhaps we were. All I know is, we worked really hard, put up with her, collected our money, and she never asked again (not that we would have said yes.)



The next day, we walked to a store and spent our earnings on frivolous things.



I'm certain I did not buy seeds.





Monday, January 19, 2009

Menu Plan Monday


This week I included the previous Saturday, since the baked cod is such a fast and easy meal. It's great for days when I go to the store and have to come home and make something fast. It's also a great way to use a pint of home canned salsa- very tasty. Also, with the leftover chili from Sunday's meal, I may be able to squeeze in chili-cheese fries as a treat during the week. I normally wouldn't attempt a chicken pot pie in the middle of the week because it's a little time intensive for a working gal like me, but I already have the square pot pie noodles ready to go (you can pick them up pre-made at your local Amish market if you want to save time) and so it will be a nice treat for my husband and provide leftovers as well.

Saturday: Easy Baked cod with rice, and corn-cabbage salad

Sunday: Chili in the crockpot, with corn bread

Monday: Cheeseburger soup

Tuesday: leftovers

Wednesday:Chicken Pot Pie

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: Eggplant Parm

Saturday: Sausage Red Beans and Rice

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Consider the Lilies

(Photo taken September 2007, somewhere in Nevada, by me.)



Have you ever felt like the Sunday sermon was meant for you? That perhaps it was God’s surprising way of answering a prayer or a long held question? Last Sunday our minister delivered a wonderful sermon, the topic of which I have never heard preached on in any church before, any where, ever. On that premise alone, it is incredibly brave to take on this topic from a Biblical perspective. The topic was on God’s relationship between man and nature.



This was very exciting to me for several reasons. First, we are nature lovers who care very much about good stewardship and humane treatment of God’s creation. Second, I believe that Christians across the board have done a uniformly poor job of being good stewards of the land, indeed, to the point where Christians belittle it as a non-issue or do not even want to discuss it. Finally, I had recently asked God why his people have such hard hearts on this issue. It distresses me.



I was brought up to believe that a righteous man regardeth the beast, but it seems that many Christians prefer to lean on (and ultimately abuse) the Lord’s directive that man is to have dominion over all creation. And that’s that. It doesn’t matter what you do with it, man has dominion, period. Man expects to make poor decisions on this and have no accountability. And that is what is so frustrating- the Bible does not read like that to me at all. God’s word is rich in references to the natural world; still waters, green pastures, sparrows. In Psalm 50:10 all animals are God’s animals and God cares for them (1 John 4:16). And that is just two mentions of many, there is so much more to this story.



And yet, some people don’t get it. If you speak out on this issue, you are immediately silenced because you obviously have a left wing agenda (now, that will be the day) and you obviously don’t care about starving children, unborn babies, take your pick. Well, I care about those babies, born and unborn, and people suffering, and it is because I care about people that I care about compassion and creation. Taking care of all that God has trusted us with so that, Lord willing, it will be there for future generations. And to me, that is a true pro-life stance. Basically, I care about all forms of life, and yet, as a Christian, I am atypical for it. Did God create me with a tender heart for all His creation for no reason? Was it a fluke? As I encounter more Christians who feel the same, there is hope that people will ask “What matters to God?” about everything.



Monday, January 12, 2009

Menu Plan Monday


My office is a mess, the cabinets taken down
Pantry items are anywhere an empty space can be found.
The counter space is cluttered,
No space to prepare the chicken.
Did I mention that my office is actually the kitchen?

That's about as close to poetry that you will get out of me! It was a weekend of tolerance and patience as work has resumed on our kitchen, displacing me for hours at a time. This morning we had a real mess on our hands when a cabinet (loaded with dishes- the only cabinet that had not yet been emptied) came crashing down on the floor ruining both that cabinet and many of the dishes inside. Oh, and there was an enormous jug of salsa, left over from my husband's bachelor days of buying things in industrial sizes, that was on top of that particular cabinet. When the cabinet came down, the salsa jug exploded. The mess was indescribable. Not to mention the broken dishes.
"There wasn't anything of sentimental value in there, was there?" asked the Mister.
"I try not to attach sentimental value to dishes," I replied truthfully.
"So nothing from your Grandmom?"
"Well, uh, yes. A few things that survived the war but didn't survive us."

The Mister groaned.

The good news is that all of my glass and ceramic pie plates survived without a scratch, and much of the broken dinnerware were dollar store finds. Anyway, on with business:

Sunday: Roasted chicken with green beans and noodles
Monday: Cabbage and beef casserole with corn relish
Tuesday: leftovers
Wednesday: Crock pot tortellini soup, BLT's
Thursday: Spinach Fettucine with Artichokes
Friday: leftovers
Saturday: Ummm, baked fish, probably. Whatever is fresh at the store. Served with rice and string beans and something I pickled. Yes, that will do.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In and Around the Home This Week

It's one of those days that are so dark and dreary that you wonder whether it actually qualifies as night time. The rain is coming down so consistently that personal watercraft is the best way to get around. It is nothing short of a miracle that in a couple of months I will be barefoot in the dirt, planting seedlings or seed. Back in the autumn when it felt like the tomatoes would never stop coming and I thought the growing season would never end, I could have sworn off gardening forever, had you asked. But sure enough, the shortened days and chilly temperatures eventually get to me, and I long for the heat and exercise and dirt. "Playing around in the dirt" as my Grandmother would say. The first week of January, I start to get that look about me that makes people ask "So are you planning out your garden yet?" Really, am I that transparent?

The seed catalogs came early this year, before Christmas even. Most of my selections are already made for the planting season, a combination of both heirloom and hybrid varieties. Grandma Hershey's Sugar Peas will be my earliest planting. I'll be trying some new things this year too; pole lima beans, strawberries and black raspberries. Of course, I haven't worked out where anything will go yet. The strawberry patch may end up in the front garden. There will be less flower gardening this year, it is just too tedious to keep up both vegetables and flowers. That's not to say there won't be any, I'm too fond of sunflowers and violas, after all.

On the Table: Shepherd's pie, spinach with cherry tomatoes, warm bread, and a rhubarb pie that was so bitter (or "tart" as my husband keeps correcting me) I could barely choke it down with ice cream while he ate it plain with no problem. My mouth puckers at the thought.

In the Kitchen: Something not having to do with cooking. We are getting ready to move our large kitchen appliances into their rightful corners. For over a year now we have lived with the washer/dryer smack in the middle of the kitchen, positioned at an odd angle. The refrigerator has lived in the front entrance way. We are hoping to shove everything into position in the kitchen. It will be an adjustment, for certain. This does not mean our kitchen is "done" or anywhere near it, but we are hoping that once we have something that resembles a kitchen, we can offer more hospitality.

Around the Home: I was early for a lunch appointment recently (like, an hour early) and it was a complete mistake on my part. Almost unbelievably, like a mirage in the desert, there was a quilt shop in sight of where I parked! It was tiny, but stocked full of tantalizing fabrics and all manner of creative motivation. With my current quilting project years old, and behind on clothing projects as it is, I could not justify a purchase of much right now. But oh, it was a nice way to spend an hour. Well, back to stitching by the stove.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Quilting-In the New Year


No ball dropping or fireworks, my eve of 2009 was spent quietly in front of the wood stove, quilting.

This is an old lap quilt I have been working on for eons. It was pieced and basted together right before we announced our wedding plans, which pretty much put an end to any and all projects I had going at that time except for that of sewing my wedding dress. The pattern is called variable star. Unfortunately you can't really see the border in this picture. Recently, I thought about skipping the hand quilting and just knocking it out by machine quilting it, just to get it done and out of the way. Yes, I do get tired of seeing it hanging around! The thing is, hand quilting is fast becoming such a lost art that I kind of feel like if you can hand quilt, then you should. I know of talented life-long quilters who are well into their eighth decade of life and can no longer quilt because they have lost some vision and hand usage. Perhaps the last, generation of talented quilters are soon to be lost. For some reason, many of these lady's daughters and granddaughters have neglected to show interest in learning the art of quilting. The days of Mennonite women huddled around a quilting frame are fading fast.

Last year I visited a newly opened quilt shop and was shocked to discover that no one, not the owners nor customers, knew how to hand quilt. The entire shop was set up for machine quilters. One of the owners told me that there is still some hand quilting still going on "out in Lancaster." The person said it as if they had discovered a lost tribe worthy of a National Geographic documentary. I felt like telling him, "Not for much longer! You better get out there and see it while you still can!"

The mild temperatures I had become accustomed to the past month (sixty degrees on Christmas day!) have left us and the cold has settled in, snowflakes and all. We have been having problems with that ancient oil tank again, and are relying solely on our wood stove until the repairman comes. My husband fooled around with the furnace for a couple days before giving in and calling. The wood stove is nice, but only heats the front of the house adequately.

On the Table: We'll be keeping warm at supper with some french onion soup and veggie pizza with sausage.

Around the Home: The calender controversy. Each year I select a lovely wall calender to hang in a high-traffic area of our home for the purpose of being our "main calender" where we can write down due dates for bills, birthdays, etc. as well as work schedules. When my husband went to put up the calender we selected a couple months ago (containing lovely photographs of Switzerland) we discovered that the calender was made almost solely to focus on the photographs, with just a tiny, itty-bitty calender tucked in a corner of each page. It was not functional at all. Sigh. I can be a bit particular about wall calenders, and have maintained that if I have to look at it everyday, then I have to love it. But so soon after Christmas, calenders were practically sold out everywhere, not to mention expensive if there were any left. And so it came to pass that a free calender from "Butch's Gun Shop" will adorn our wall as the main calender for the next twelve months. At least it has nice paintings of wildlife, even though the intention is that the pictures are supposed to make you want to shoot at the ducks, deer, or whatever.

Happy New Year to all of my dear readers, and please know that I am thankful for each and every one of you who take the time to stop by my blog and have a visit. May God bless you all in 2009.

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