Friday, December 31, 2010

Last Pie of the Year: Schnitz Pie

If someone had told me a year ago all of the wonderful things that 2010 had in store for me, I would have approached the year with wonder and excitement. From helping to send blankets to a Russian orphanage, chasing down a loose pony, having the privilege of helping my friend adopt an orphaned child in need of a loving family, and finally getting to "meet" Saloma who I admired for years without her ever knowing it, 2010 held more unforeseen blessings than a sunny day.

However. If you had also told me that I would spend five days in the hospital and several weeks, months, recovering from a vicious staph infection in (of all places) my right hand, I would have boycotted 2010, and never left the house. It's a good thing I didn't know! So as the year ends, I approach the new one not with promises, resolutions, or carved-in-rock goals. As I'm fond of saying, we make plans and God laughs. In keeping in line with that thought, I choose to approach 2011 with a sense of wonder of what blessings and adventures God will have in store for me in the new year. Who else will I meet? Whom can I help? How will I contribute to God's kingdom?

I am constantly open to learning new things and expanding my skills, and make an effort to do so constantly. Working in an environment filled with educational opportunities, how could I not have a love of learning? No doubt there will be many opportunities this coming year to do just that.

I'm ending pie month with a very traditional pie, one you rarely see outside of Amish/Mennonite communities. Shnitz pie is made from dried apple slices, which are then soaked in water, boiled, strained, and spiced. Thanks to cousin Elizabeth who invested in a food dehydrator last summer, we have dried apple slices, green beans, and even chopped okra. It sure saves space! I'm willing to bet that generations ago many people preserved their apples by having an old fashioned apple schnitz (apple cutting bee) and drying them, and that is likely how this pie came about. And while I have quite a few recipes for this pie, they almost all yield more than one pie, so I developed this one which yields one old-school tasty and sweet but not too sweet Schnitz boi.

2 cups dried apples (half of a quart bag)

1/2 cup apple sauce

1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

a pinch each of: ground cloves, all spice, and salt. A "pinch" here is about 1/8 of a tsp.
Soak your apple slices in water over night. This will hydrate them slightly.

Dried apple slices in the bag, soaked schnitz in the pot.

Then, go ahead and boil the apples until they are soft. You will notice they are fully hydrated and can be sliced easily with your stirring utensil. It will look sort of apple-saucey, but with some visible apple slices. Drain this through a strainer, then return your apple filling to the pot. Add the apple sauce, brown sugar, and spices, and cook till everything is combined and slightly thickened. I achieve this by cooking it over high heat for just a couple minutes.

If you find that it's still too runny, then add a little pectin (clear jel) to thicken it up. Pour into your unbaked pie crust, and cover with a top crust. I did a lattice crust this time, but you can do a full top crust. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, and then reduce heat to 375 and bake for another 30 minutes.

This one had to be cooled fast, so we could have it tonight!

My one regret about pie month is that I did not get to make a crumb-topped fruit pie, which is my favorite and probably what we eat the most around here. If you're still in the mood for pie, don't forget my Shoo-fly tutorial and Chocolate Peanut Butter pie. But I think after a month of pie, I'm ready to move on.

Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

On Christmas


Last year, as I was driving down a busy highway after dark around this time of year, I looked over and could see through the trees what looked like the most beautiful homes all decorated with Christmas lights. You could tell that these weren't just your average bejeweled bungalows, the kind that dot every night landscape in December. These were full-on, all-out professionally done illuminated spectaculars, the kind that only exist in movies and the mythical land of everything Hallmark. I got off at the next exit and went to search for the houses, and I found them. A small neighborhood consisting of only three streets in which every single home was picture-perfectly decorated with miles of tastefully done lights, wreaths, and maybe a few other high-end decorations. And here I thought Thomas Kinkade just imagined this stuff. It was all right here in this little Christmas village and it was real.

"You won't believe this," I told the Mister, as I drove him there one night to share my object of awe. At 15 miles per hour we perused the immaculate winter wonderland, and while my husband thought it was nice enough, it did not grab him like it did me.

This year, when I saw those lights go up, I went back. It was just as picture perfect as it was the year before. It made me wonder if someone from Hollywood came out and decorated these homes just for the fun of it. I cruised the neighborhood and basked in the beauty of the season. It was a flashback to when I was a child and my family would drive through local streets looking at Christmas lights. For although our own decorations were simple and there were no strings of lights on our house, the children in our family certainly appreciated the brilliant displays of color that others created along roofs and around windows and doors. Oh yes, we loved to look at Christmas lights.

This Christmas, I experienced a longing for the ghost of Christmas past. And yet I know that the days of the Christmas that I knew so well, when my grandparent's house was packed with extended family, simple decorations, and reverence for the season are long gone as the times have changed. Maybe that is what I am really looking for as we drive through the brightly lit neighborhood that I will dub Hallmark Hollow. Perhaps I was searching in the windows not for a glimpse of an immaculately decked out tree, but for a memory of the child-like wonder that Christmas used to evoke in my heart in younger years.

I should have known it was just around the corner.


This was a Christmas full of little surprises. First, I won a subscription to the
Pinecraft Pauper. Christmas greetings came from a few people I had not heard from in years, while some tried and true regulars were no-shows. Christmas packages sent to family and friends either arrived slower than a snail's pace, or didn't arrive in time at all. Nothing, good nor bad, could be counted on. And then on Christmas day, as we set foot in my mother's house carrying my red skinned mashed potatoes and bag of gifts, I got my first glimpse of that comfortable Christmas feeling for which I had been longing. The music softly playing, the mistletoe-scented candle, the branches of fresh holly placed along the mantle, and the manger display all sent waves of familiarity through me. As we sat around talking and reading aloud letters we had received from family afar, I began to get the signal that said "You are home and this is Christmas." The reverent, warm feeling of togetherness and holiness washed over me, and it felt like that child-like wonder had never wandered away in the first place, it was all still right here. And then my grandmother turned to me and said:

"Christmas today is nothing like it was years ago when I was growing up. It was so holy then."


Well.


At least I'm not the only one who thinks so!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Guest Post: Mary Ann's Christmas Memory

I'm taking a break from pie-mania today in order to give my friend Mary Ann an opportunity to share a Christmas memory with my readers. Mary Ann was born and raised Old Order Amish, and many of you may already follow her blog in which she shares wonderfully crafted stories from her childhood and beyond. One thing I love about her stories is that no matter what kind of family you come from, almost everyone can identify with how she and her siblings viewed the world as children. So many times her stories make me want to yell out "Me too! That's what I would have thought!" In that way, she is crossing cultural divides and telling the stories that we all have lived and treasured.


This is Mary Ann from A Joyful Chaos Monica asked me if I would be willing to do a guest post for her and I was happy to consent.

The Christmas season seems to bring out the best in people. For a few weeks every year people are friendlier, a little more patient, there is a little more goodwill towards their fellow men.


With a woodworking shop, we used to be blessed with more fudge and fruitcakes than we could possibly eat, presented to us by happy customers. Most times we would sample everything and feed the rest to the chickens.
One year, we were once again overwhelmed with a flood of fruitcakes of every shape and size. After sampling all we cared to eat, my brothers asked our parents if they could have the rest. My parents were happy to give them permission and the fruitcakes disappeared.

On Christmas morning when we exchanged our gifts those fruitcakes appeared again, but were now transformed. They had taken them and let them set for a few days to dry out and then sprayed them with lacquer. They looked surprisingly pretty with their glossy finish. They could now serve as doorstops, bookends, and a footstool.
We got to enjoy those fruitcakes for a long time. So now when ever I see a fruitcake, I no longer groan. I have learned that you can transform almost everything in life to something good if you try hard enough. Even a fruitcake.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Banana Cream Pie from scratch, natch.

Forget your boxes of instant banana pudding and pre-made graham crusts, here is a Banana Cream Pie with bunches of flavor for just a little more labor. This recipe is one of my personal favorites. The filling tastes like the best banana pudding you can imagine, while the topping is your choice of meringue or whipped cream. I favor the whipped cream topping. Real whipped cream is what I grew up with, and it is the perfect combination of airy richness to smother over the banana filling.

As usual. Get your pie crust together, only this time you are going to blind bake it. That means you'll bake the pie crust empty so you have a completely baked pie shell ready to be filled. Don't forget to use a fork to prick holes in the bottom of the crust before baking. I baked the pie shell while I worked on the filling:

2/3 cup sugar
2 T cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine in a sauce pan. Slowly whisk in 3 cups of cold milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it come to a boil. This takes a little while to happen, maybe 10-15 minutes, so just keep stirring. Once it gets to the boiling point you will notice the mixture is much thicker. Allow it to boil for one minute while continuing to stir. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, beat 3 egg yolks. Gradually whisk half of the hot milk mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks, while stirring. Next, return the egg yolks and hot milk mixture to the sauce pan, and continue to whisk until completely combined. Return the pan to heat and boil for one minute. Keep stirring! Finally, after a minute, remove from heat and stir in 1 T butter and 2 tsp. vanilla. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.

The nice thing about making this in the winter is, you can set the saucepan on the porch and allow it to cool off quickly. This will speed things up if you need to do your topping right away.

Fill your pie shell with 2 large bananas, sliced. When your custard is cool, pour over the bananas using a spatula to spread evenly.
Now whip your cream: whip 1 cup whipping cream and 1/4 cup powdered sugar until stiff. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. Spread on top of your pie, making sure that the filling is completely cold. I like to refrigerate mine overnight and make the whipped topping the next day. Then, refrigerate until serving time.


If it was completely up to me, and my coconut-intolerant Mister was nowhere to be seen, I would toast coconut flakes and sprinkle them over the topping. Some toasted sliced almonds would work well, too.

Can you see the bird foot prints in the pie snow? ;-)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bumbleberry Pie

Bumbleberry, sometimes called mixed-berry, triple berry, or five-fruit pie is one delicious smelling pie. Right out of the oven, it's up there with apple and pumpkin. The wonderful thing about it is that it allows for some creativity. You can use almost any combination of fresh or frozen fruit in this pie, though most recipes call for at least one thinly sliced apple, at least three types of berries, and some rhubarb. You also have options as far as making a top crust. I made this recipe very user-friendly so you don't need to include rhubarb, as I don't think most people have it on hand. It's a perfect pie for the holidays, because you're going to rely on frozen fruit anyway since it's difficult to get the right combination of berries in season, all at once. Of course, it's great any time of year.

1 tart apple, peeled and thinly sliced (I used a granny smith)

Berry ideas:
1 cup blueberries
1 cup raspberries
1 cup strawberries
1 cup blackberries or rhubarb

or any combination thereof. You want 4 cups of fruit in addition to the apple, and the combination is up to you, though I advise sticking to berries. Another easy way to accomplish this is to buy a frozen 1 lb. bag of mixed berries from the freezer case, and then you will have a good selection of fruit that approximates 4 cups. Just make sure to defrost the fruit completely and drain the liquid before the next step.

In a large bowl, mix the fruit with:

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 T cornstarch
2 T quick cooking tapioca (granulated works well)

Now allow this to sit while you get your crust together. You want a regular 9-inch pie crust and enough dough for a double crust. Next, fill your pie with the fruit mixture.

You can make a full top crust, though I would suggest using a pie bird in the middle of the pie to protect your oven from a spillover. A lattice crust always looks nice on almost any fruit pie. Someone in the last post suggested cutting out fun shapes for the upper crust, so that's what I did here. Just dip your cookie cutters in flour and place your fun shapes on top of the pie. To make your top crust extra-sparkly for the holidays, brush it with some cream and sprinkle on some coarse sugar. Bake at 375 for 45-5- minutes.

Another idea for the upper crust is to give it a quick splash with cookie-decorating icing after it comes out of the oven and has cooled off some. The icing will make the pie a little sweeter, so adjust accordingly for your taste buds.

Monday, December 13, 2010

High Time for Pie

Recently, there was a news article about pie (slow news day) and whether it could possibly be the next happening dessert, perhaps even overtaking cupcakes as the new choice for the next generation of cookbooks, pie-centric bakeries, etc. The writer gave several reasons why this is not likely to happen. For instance, cupcakes are cute, portable, and a favorite for children's birthday parties. Let's face it, harried mothers who have to provide a dessert for lots of their child's friends want to grab a mix off the store shelves and throw on some icing and sprinkles for a quick worry-free dessert. And there is nothing wrong with that. But then the writer argued that children don't like pie. Huh? Well you could have fooled me because I've yet to see a child turn down a piece of pie, and although a slice of apple crumb is not nearly as colorful as a cupcake with dyed frosting and topped with candy confetti, I can't imagine a child turning up their nose at it. As a child, I was always fascinated by the fluffy layer of meringue on top of a bright lemon filling. Maybe I wasn't as sophisticated as today's children. We always had pie at family events, and meals where guests came over for dinner. I've mentioned a few times how my mother briefly had a pie-making business from home when I was a girl. Two of the things I most fondly remember from those times were helping to peel and slice apples, and actually being trusted to count the money! So yes, pies are a family tradition that I don't mind carrying on, and others know it. When I walked into the library one day carrying a laptop messenger bag on its side, a friend approached me and asked eagerly "Is there a pie in there?" (No, it was a cobbler in an unconventional casserole carrier.)

Another reason for pie's improbable popularity is the crust. So many people struggle with pie crust. That's why I always start my pie recipes with the instruction to just make a crust happen, anyway you prefer to do that.


You may be wondering why I'm talking about pie during cookie season. Yes, I make cookies during this time of year, too, but not as many as you might think. Thanks to my mother-in-law, The Mister's side of the family is well supplied with cookies well into February. And although I enjoy an occasional cookie, cookies generally don't make my list of all time dessert favorites. Lattice, crumb-topped, custard or
whoopie, I like pies. So I wanted to feature a couple of pies during the month of December, and I'm going to give you all an easy one to start with because it has no crust. In fact, it's debatable on whether it's really even a pie. A couple years ago I mentioned Pumpkin Whoopie Pies here, but never gave a recipe. Since then, as soon as pumpkin season starts, I get e-mails requesting the recipe. So it's high time I post it:

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 Tbs cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs ginger
  • 1 Tbs cloves
  • 2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups pumpkin
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Cream Cheese Filling
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets or one magnum sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, set aside.
In your mixing bowl, whisk the brown sugar and oil together until combined. Add the chilled pumpkin puree and whisk to combine thoroughly. Add the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour to the pumpkin mixture a little at a time until completely combined.
Using a large spoon, drop heaping tablespoons of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spaced evenly apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cookie comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool completely before adding the filling.
Cream Cheese Filling- (Lazy girl work-around: Buy some whipped cream cheese icing from the baking aisle to use for filling.)
Sift powdered sugar into a medium bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until it is completely smooth, with no visible lumps. Add the cream cheese and beat until combined.
Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. Do not over-beat the filling.
Spread filling between pumpkin cookies to make a sandwich and enjoy! This makes about two dozen pies, depending on how large you make them. These also freeze very well.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Picture

We weren't a big picture-taking family, and that was a lot more common when I was growing up, way back in the pre-digital era. We certainly had some photos, and a collage of family pictures on our wall, but very few posed or professional prints. And that didn't seem unusual as some of our friends and family had hardly any pictures on display in their homes. It was more common to see Biblical mottos and calenders than family pictures. In some Mennonite homes, this is still true, but definitely less common. But even now it seems there are very few pictures of me that have been taken since my wedding day. For one, I'm always the one behind the camera and more likely to be the photographer than the subject. But the other reason hides a crippling disability: I am extremely un-photgenic.

People who have taken my picture have marveled at how unlike myself I look in a picture, how there is a vast divide in the resemblance between me in person and me on glossy paper. Sometimes, I get lucky and the picture looks even better than I do in person! But more often the image is a sea of washed out fair skin and squinted eyes behind eye glasses reflecting a light glare, and abnormally blond hair that, even the Mister agrees, is much darker in real life than in a captured image.

Attempts to produce a decent picture of me under controlled conditions have been catastrophic. Once, a bee landed and stung me for no reason. The outdoors are a particularly difficult environment as the daylight seems to mutate my features and coloring in horrid ways. Our outdoor wedding pictures are of two camps: The Mister, looking dashing, composed, and photogenic in ever picture. Me, squinting at the sun with unnaturally yellow hair while the photographer yelled "Try not to squint!" and "Relax your face!" as he positioned my head to stare directly into the noon sun and my corneas burned.

I pity the photographer faced with capturing my image. But it was with eternal optimism that I herded us down to the park one autumn day for a photo session with a friend who does some professional photography as a side business, in hopes of capturing a nice picture to give out to our families around the holidays. One that will be more recent than our already three-year-old picture. She must have realized the difficulty of the assignment, because our friend charged us nothing. Yes, it's that bad. Then, things went wrong from the beginning. Our clothes were wrinkled from the waist down from sitting. I kept forgetting to take off my glasses. The Mister, who always has a pen in his shirt pocket, had a pen in his pocket. And then the wind came and blew loose strands of my hair to bits. Oh, and no pictures of my feet because my good shoes are tucked away in a box, under other boxes, under a tarp, to protect them from construction dust. This was not going well. When the pictures came back, it was just as I feared. More than half were unusable, and the rest were just slightly better. Sigh. Grudgingly, with some touch ups, there was one that resembled us if you squinted hard enough and viewed it through your peripheral vision rather than straight on. But in the end, it still wasn't Christmas card material. It was more in the category of passport photos and other horrid images you might have on a picture ID card.

So for now my favorite picture of the Mister and I will remain a slightly dated one taken in a spontaneous moment of root beer drinking and fair frolic, in which I look candid and informal, and the Mister resembles a llama. ;-)

Oh, and some of you may still receive a copy of the recent awful picture of us in your Christmas card. I'm SO sorry!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Coughing up some Gratitude

Gratitude does not come naturally to some of us, and indeed I've met precious few people to whom it does. If you think that you could be one of those people who are naturally thankful under all circumstances, then I can almost guarantee you that a challenge will arise that leaves you wondering whether such a thing could ever be true.

I spent the week of Thanksgiving inhaling decongestants, coughing into tissues, and in the final twist of irony, with little appetite. We ran out of juice, ate easy slow cooker meals, all while I lived in my housecoat. It was not an easy week, and it's not over yet. A lingering cough has been impossible to beat. At our Bible study group last night, I couldn't get more than a sentence out without falling into cough convulsions which sent every woman digging through purse and pockets to dispense more cough drops. It brought back a memory of the time I had a coughing fit to end all fits, right on some stranger's doorstep. I was about 19, and had been working continuously despite being being sick, probably due to financial issues. Anyway, it was an extremely cold winter and I was traveling back to Indiana to my aunt and uncle's home, when the sky became ominously gray. I called home to find out the forecast and was advised to stop traveling and to take cover at the home of distant family friends, The Martin's, who lived about twenty miles away from the I-80 exit I had called from in NW Pennsylvania. This sounded like a fine idea, though I was nervous about meeting this family and staying in their unfamiliar home. It would have been even worse had I known that the message of my pending arrival never reached Mr. & Mrs. Martin. They had no idea that a guest was on the way. It was around suppertime when I appeared on their doorstep, and Mr. Martin opened the door. As I opened my mouth to croak out an introduction, I launched into a coughing fit so intense and long, that it was about fifteen minutes and a glass of water later when, comfortably seated on their couch, I was finally able to surprise them by telling them who I was and relay the news to them that I was spending the night! It was terribly embarrassing when I realized they had no idea who I was or what I was doing there, but the Martin's were gracious and warm hosts, who welcomed me and nursed me back to health through a bitter winter storm. Years later, I can actually laugh about their confused faces when they opened the door to be confronted by a young woman with a suitcase whose only means of communicating was coughing and pointing!

When I woke up this morning with a small infection on the finger of my left hand, shock and paranoia mixed with a round of oh-no-not-again propelled me to the phone to finally make a doctor's appointment. As I perused written notes seemingly everywhere this past week expressing thankfulness for all the usual suspects (health, family, etc.) it left me seeking thankfulness in the less obvious places. That dark corners of the gratitude kingdom, if you will. I pushed away cobwebs to give thanks for the little things. A trouble-free car providing reliable transportation to the store for cough syrup, the friend who voices my thoughts exactly before I can say them ―the gift of not being lonely in your thoughts because others share and understand them. And of course, small moments of grace from strangers in the time of need. There is so much more to explore in the less obvious places when we seek to be thankful, I can barely do justice to them all.

These past few days I wanted something quick and warm to make for breakfast, that took little preparation but would make a big impact on my comfort level. Baked oatmeal worked perfectly. Once in a while, someone will ask me if I know how to make this, and relay a story of having it at a Lancaster buffet or bed and breakfast. I grew up thinking that everybody ate baked oatmeal, but am now learning that it is probably a regional dish. Enjoy!


Baked Oatmeal

1 1/2 quick cooking oats
1/2 cup sugar (you can cut this down to 1/4 cup and it doesn't hurt a thing)
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients; mix well. Spread evenly in a greased rectangular baking dish or pan. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Immediately spoon into bowls; add warm milk. Top with fruit and/or brown sugar. 6 servings.

I enjoy it with brown sugar and peaches.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Home Matters


There is a recurring dream that has been haunting me lately. In it, I'm traveling back to the small house that I lived in for about ten years during my childhood. For some unknown purpose, I am driving down familiar roads and looking to make the final few turns that will take me to the circular court where we used to live. It occurs to me that the house is likely to be empty, with no furniture, and no one I know will be living there, but there is a urgent sense of needing to return. This dream is particularly baffling to me since this home no longer resembles my childhood memories. Years ago I drove past and saw that the abandoned farm acreage that surrounded us is now an industrial park. The trees we climbed, the fields where we picked flowers, and the woods that all of us children felt we owned, are now gone. But in my dream, I can't get back to what it was like during my childhood fast enough. Another peculiarity is that this home was only one of many. We moved around a few times, always in some fringe outreach church or seeking more bang for our buck as my parent's economic status shifted. Even now, when people ask me the dreaded question
where are you from? I can either bore them with a list of places I've lived or simply tell them where I live right now, which is the town we reside in, but is not where I am from. Because I don't know where I am from, but I think it must have something to do with that house I'm desperately trying to get back to in my dream. That was home, and now it's gone, and the quest for home is still a journey that I am in the middle of. My whole life so far has been one long attempt to arrive home, wherever that may lead me.

Don't worry- this is not turning into a home-is-where-the-heart is post, because that would be a little too trite. But the dream incites my fascination with how we perceive time and place, and how we remember things to be a certain way, and how they change. For instance, when I went back to our old home as an adult, I was amazed how small everything looked. Small front steps, small shrubs under small windows, I remembered it all to be so much bigger. Oh how my childish perception made our small, simple home so grand!


My perception also did this to my grandmother's house, where all of our Thanksgiving meals took place. There were so many people arriving for the meal that it must have been a mansion in order to accommodate everyone. Wrong again. It's an average home, size wise. But what it lacked in square footage it more than made up for by being filled with love, warmth, and good memories. In order to hold them all, it was nothing short of a castle.


May you be giving thanks this year in a castle of your own, overflowing with gratitude, and moments that time will magnify with goodness.


My Favorite Granola
I've been experimenting with granola recipes for the past few years, looking for one that has more depth, taste, and nutrition than what you can find in stores. It also has to have ingredients that are accessible, and be enjoyed best in a cup with milk for a fast breakfast. This is the recipe that I keep coming back to, adapting it somewhat to ingredients that I have on hand. It's fun to make granola, and very easy. If you have found some of the recipes that I've posted before to be more of a challenge, try this one.

6 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

3 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup whole hazelnuts (optional)

1 cup dried cherries (or cranberries)

3 tsp. cinnamon

1 and 1/2 tsp. salt

3/4 cup honey or 3/4 cup maple syrup

1 cup whole almonds

1 cup raisins


Preheat oven to 325. In a large bowl, combine oats with cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl, stir together oil, honey/maple syrup, brown sugar, and vanilla. Whisk until combined. Pour the honey mixture over the oats and use your hands t o combine, gathering some oats in clumps. Repeat until all oats are coated with the mixture. Pour onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper, spreading evenly. Bake for ten minutes, then remove and flip granola over with a spatula. Sprinkle almonds over granola, and bake for five minutes. Remove, and flip granola again. Sprinkle hazelnuts over granola, and return to oven for ten minutes. Remove from oven, and cool completely. Sprinkle with raisins and cherries. Store in quart jars on the shelf. This makes 4-5 quarts.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Seasonal Sewing Project

One thing I love about this time of year is the return to sewing. I feel so guilty watching my fabric stash grow during the months when I'm busy weeding, growing, and preserving. Is it just me or does fabric expand like the universe? Anyway, it's my goal to make some headway, as usual.

When I was in a particular quilt shop in Ohio, I saw dozens upon dozens of these beautiful quilted table toppers that the shop was selling. They reminded me of large sunflowers or Dresden Plates, which is a somewhat demanding quilt pattern that I have not yet attempted to piece. The color combinations were beautiful, and all the fabrics were high quality. I toyed with the idea of actually buying one, and as my fingers sorted through the stacked piles of table toppers, a lady appeared at my elbow and asked me if I wanted to buy the pattern. You mean I could make these myself? Over and over again? Sure! (I was in quilt country and had pattern fever.) So I bought the pattern, and a few fat quarters from their fine selection of materials. These items have since sat in a sewing cabinet for the past fifteen months, which is an accurate depiction of what my sewing backlog is like, time-wise. But I still thought about the project, and during the year I sifted through the remnants bin at JoAnn's for unwanted and returned yardage in Christmas colors and pulled together a seasonal color scheme for very little money. Then, I went at it and gave myself plenty of time in advance to complete the table topper, and was delighted to find that it was ridiculously easy and mercifully quick to piece and quilt. From first cut to final press, I'd say about seven hours. And that includes a break for a leisurely lunch. Now that I've made it once, I would say that cutting that time in half would be a realistic scenario. Of course, I washed and pressed the fabric first, which isn't counted in the construction time.
This one is actually a gift, and I'm pleased with how it turned out. The recipient was pleased too, but she's biased because she's my mother. The lace trim around the circle made things a little tricky, but you can omit the lace. I could definitely see making more of these as gifts, so that pattern turned out to be real economy. With patterns as simple and accurate as this one, then I would highly recommend Gramma Fannie's Quilt Barn (formerly run by Gramma Lydi Anne, who has just retired, and is now run by daughter Rose). It's not every day that something in the sewing room works out this well, so it's worth mentioning when it does!

Another project I've been working on falls under sowing rather than sewing. I would like to spread the word about a blog my friend Hope Anne has set up to chronicle her family's journey to adopt a special needs child from overseas. For anyone who has ever been curious about adoption, or would like to help this family who has already helped so many orphaned children through their medical mission ministry, this blog is well worth your time. Our prayers are with their family, and with all the children who long for a forever-home.

Giveaway Winners

And the winners are...

For prize #1: the Pretty Pantry Gift set, congratulations to Stephanie!

Prize #2: The New Testament for Women, congratulations to Becka! *Becka, I don't have an e-mail for you. Please contact me at themennobrarian at gmail*

and prize #3: The Gooseberry Patch Coupon Keeper, congrats to Taylor!

Winners will be notified today, and thank you to all who entered. I wish I could give you all a prize because you are all prized by me!

New post up soon.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Blog Anniversary and Giveaway *CLOSED*

*This giveaway is now closed*

Can you believe that three years ago on November 13 I began blogging as The Mennobrarian? My first post was actually a brief essay on what it was like to be a Christian working in a public library setting, and it was written in response to a question posed to me by my friend's teen daughter, Katie. Just as Katie has grown up (uh.. I mean
Kate, because you know, she has grown up now), my blog has matured too. I've made so many wonderful friends through it, met so many people both online and off. What a blessing it has turned out to be! There's not a single one of you whom I wouldn't cross the street to meet. Some of you I've gotten to know so well, I wouldn't just stay for supper at your house. I'd stay for the week.

One thing that doesn't escape me is that I only started blogging, and then kept at it, as a way of keeping and improving what writing skills I had. When I graduated from college for the final time, my writing skills were so stiff and academic, I could hardly write a birthday card without including footnotes and a bibliography. Thankfully, once I was free to write about the quiet rhythms of my daily life, a more casual and sincere voice emerged. Now, three years later, I feel like I'm just chatting with old friends.

To celebrate this anniversary, I'm giving away three prizes to three lucky winners (one winner per prize). To enter, leave a comment below (with a way for me to get in touch with you if you do not have a blog) telling me which prize you would like to win. You can also say "any". For one additional entry, post a link on your blog and let me know in the comments section. I'll draw numbers from the random number generator on Friday, November 19.

For this giveaway, you must have a U.S. mailing address.

Prize #1

The Pretty Pantry Gifts Set



Everything you need to make embellished gifts in a jar, perfect for the upcoming holidays. There is a recipe booklet with 15 recipes for jams, sauces, and pickles, 24 sheets of stickers, 20 gift tags with elastic string, 10 fabric toppers, and 10 cellophane bags. Fun to use, or it would make a wonderful gift.

Prize #2

Finding God for Women, A New Testament with commentary (NIV)


I love this NT that speaks to so many of the issues that we as women struggle with. This version is filled with commentary that speaks directly to our hearts on issues such as comparing ourselves with others, the temptation to judge, and growing in our Christian lives. There is also an excellent Q&A section in the front on many questions about our faith. I like this so much that I after getting one for myself, I bought one for a friend, and she loved it, too.

Prize #3 Gooseberry Patch Coupon Keeper
16 pockets, including one for receipts, in a spiral bound book format. There is also a blank page in front for notes. This would also make a nice gift.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Book Review: Why I Left the Amish by Saloma Miller Furlong

Let me just start by saying that there is no mystery to why Saloma left the Amish. She simply was not committed to the Amish culture or belief system. She was born Amish, but just wasn't Amish, if you know what I mean. I can think of no better reason to leave than that. Just as someone's spiritual journey may lead them to an Amish church, her journey did not. But I don't mean to diminish the complexity of her decision to leave, because nothing about the plain and simple life, is ever really simple.

Two things struck me right away about this memoir. It is painfully, honestly written. Saloma leaves no stone unturned, and shows a commitment to maintaining the integrity of the definition of a memoir. Nothing is romanticized. There are no unanswered questions here, and Saloma does not hide details, nor her emotions, nor the memories that led to her painful decision to leave. She shares openly and freely. The other feeling that the book gave me is one of great care. Her story is retold so thoughtfully, with great tenderness.

I know I wasn't the easiest child to raise. I am also sorry for the guilt you and Mem have shouldered all these years for the choices that I, as your grown daughter, made in leaving the Amish. I made the best choice for me, and I don't feel you and Mem should feel guilty for that.
[excerpt from letter written to author's father]

The memoir is told in the alternating narratives that recount both her return to the community after her father's death, and her years growing up into adulthood with a mentally ill father and cruel brother, in a community indifferent to the needs of the neediest among them. Yet, her family's dysfunction and parent's shortcomings are overridden with a wave of love. In every descriptive nuance, I could feel Saloma's love and respect for her Mem and Daed in all their imperfection. If an Amish parent's wish would be to raise children filled with love and forgiveness, Saloma's parents would have succeeded. Sadly, the wish of many Amish parents is to raise Amish children who "join church", a goal that is often seen as more important than addressing the character struggles of their children. Yet, the story is not told in a way that conveys revenge or vindictiveness. The events are retold with a tone that is matter-of-fact. There is no agenda, only the author's own thoughts and feelings on the impact of past happenings. The writing style is clean and descriptive, and this may be the first ever professionally edited and published memoir on the topic of leaving the Amish. But with interest in the Amish riding high, it won't be the last.

Saloma notes that she would have needed an entirely different personality in order to fit in with the Amish culture, her home community. Indeed, her questioning nature and intellectual curiosity would never have served her well, attributes that her Mem recognized. Oh Saloma, you make it so hard on yourself by asking questions, she lamented.

In the last fifty pages of the book, the desperation intensifies as Saloma's home life becomes unbearable, her community continuously apathetic, and I keenly felt the suffocation of needing to leave a situation in which there is no easy way out. Gasping for breathe as she makes her exit, a satisfying ending finds Saloma finally fitting in. Arriving in a new community of academics, she finds peace and acceptance. There, the learning she so hungrily craved is finally satiated in a world of books, discussions, and ideas. At the end of the book, Saloma is finally home.

Note: Why I Left the Amish by Saloma Miller Furlong (Michigan State University Press) will be released on January 11, 2011. Visit Saloma's website for more information. Also, check out her recipe for oatmeal bread here, which is exceptional, and produced the closest thing to professional quality bread ever to come out of my oven. Her finely detailed and accurate recipe is easy to follow, and well worth the effort.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Open House at CAM

This past weekend we were able to make it to an open house for Christian Aid Ministries (CAM) for the first time ever. The CAM folks cleverly scheduled it on the night that the clocks fell back, so we could stay late and still come out an hour ahead after arriving home. For those who don't know or have never heard of CAM, it is a mostly volunteer-run non-profit relief effort which provides everything from food, clothes, building projects, and spiritual help throughout much of the world. It is run and supported by Amish, Mennonite, and conservative Anabaptist churches. I've long admired CAM's relief work in places like Haiti, Liberia, Eastern Europe, and here in the US among many other places. And I love that over 99% of their donations go directly towards aid work, making them one of the leanest charities around.

We arrived at the CAM warehouse in Ephrata, PA in time for the slide show presentation and heard first hand accounts of how CAM workers help people in dire need around the world. It was especially sobering to see pictures of people in Romania standing next to meager piles of firewood intended to warm their one-room homes, piles that will surely run out before the harsh winter ends. Something I often think about is, who am I to have so much? I was born into a loving family where we ate three meals a day and never had to worry about where we would sleep at night. I have done NOTHING to deserve this. It makes you acutely aware that to whom much is given, much is required. (Luke 12:48) Will I ever be able to meet all that is required of me in this lifetime?


The response to the event looked impressive. A glance at the guest books showed that visitors came from as far away as Canada, and there were many people from out of state. I wondered how we might get to where we wanted to go with hundreds of people milling about. If someone decided they wanted to stop moving and talk to someone nearby, the crowd would come to a standstill and you would have to devise a new route out of the masses. Thankfully most people were sensitive to this, and didn't have their reunions in the middle of the warehouse floor.

The slide show was informative, but I really looked forward to stretching my legs and touring the warehouse and cannery. The warehouse was packed with boxes filled with medicine, hygiene kits, food, and of course those famous comforters that so many church sewing circles lovingly create. No parts of the warehouse were "off limits" so you were allowed to look in every corner. And nobody had a problem with taking pictures. In fact, there was at least one official photographer taking lots of pictures.

Children enjoyed leaning over the enormous canners and peering down into their dark depths. The canners were a dark well of at least 10-15 feet deep so they can process a lot of beef and chicken parts at once. I can't imagine how hot that room must get when both the industrial canners are running at full capacity.


The most crowded section of the event was definitely the book selling tables. A wide selection of books were available, all at a discounted price. The lines of people that surrounded the book tables were four bodies deep! You definitely needed some patience to view the selection, but it was worth it. I showed restraint by buying only one book to add to my winter stock pile of reading material.

Speaking of books, MaryAnn at A Joyful Chaos is having a book giveaway. The book is called His Protecting Hand and you can find out how to enter by visiting her blog.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Autumn Moments

Jackson's Mill Bridge, Bart Twp., PA

“November is usually such a disagreeable month … as if the year had suddenly found out she was growing old and could do nothing but weep and fret over it. Anne of Avonlea

Although not a big fan of cold weather, I do love and value living seasonally. The change of pace that each new time of the year brings, the changes in routine that give our lives greater variety, and the traditions we celebrate at those certain times. What a blessing to be able to live in harmony with the seasons, just as generations before us did. Although people with agricultural roots never stopped living this way, so many more people who have lost that connection have been striving in recent years to regain that natural rhythm. Some of my favorite ways to enjoy this time of year include taking walks to enjoy the pretty colors (and I like to make the most of my time outside because soon I'll be banished to nights by the stove to keep warm!) and driving through the countryside to observe the changing landscape. All the corn stalks are gone, cut down to brown sticks, and a few fields of squash and pumpkins dot the roadsides. The fields behind our property are dotted with tiny blades of green winter wheat, giving off a false appearance of spring. All of my favorite roadside stands are down to potatoes, cauliflower, pumpkins and gourds. Fresh spinach and lettuce grows in the garden, and the smell of leaves permeates the air.

You can see the changes in the horse and buggy community in Lancaster, where we frequently visit and shop. The stores on a weekday afternoon are busy with both wives and husbands shopping together, as field work for many of the men comes to an end. The Amish taxis are lined up outside each store. Are last minute gifts still being sought for the current wedding season, now in full swing?

This weekend we put our garden to bed. As you may recall, we used a thick layer of straw mulch this year to help with the weed situation after I got sick last June. This not only helped to keep weeds manageable, but it helped with keeping in moisture. It was a tremendous help. But there were two downsides to the straw mulch:

1. It attracted pests. And while we are certainly no strangers to pests, being as we are surrounded by farm land and used to mice looking for shelter in the winter, we experienced a very early and intensive rodent attack. While taking out the garden, we could see it was full of holes where pests had burrowed under the straw.
2. Before the garden could be tilled so we could plant our cover crop, all of the straw had to be raked up, adding to the intensive labor of taking out the garden. Raking up a layer of wet, decomposing straw after tearing out the last fifty or so tomato plants was not easy.

So will we use straw mulch again? Yes, but differently. Next year I would like to add some just around the base of the plants to help seal in moisture, but I won't use it as an all-over weed control tactic.
You've heard of "first fruits". Can you spot the last fruits in the picture?

Of course, seasonal cooking ingredients are always a treat. Soups, casseroles, and pumpkin rolls...isn't it funny how our cravings for food change with the seasons?

Pumpkin roll is a lot like making a jelly roll, but filled with pumpkin spices and cream cheese filling, it deserves a mention of its own.

Pumpkin Roll
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin
1 tsp. lemon juice
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice or 2 tsp. cinnamon + 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt

Filling:
1 cup confectioner's sugar
4 tsp. butter
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Beat eggs well (3-5 minutes) and gradually add sugar. Add pumpkin and lemon juice. Stir together dry ingredients and fold into pumpkin mixture. Spread on to jelly roll pan lined with wax paper. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes. Promptly remove from oven and turn pan over on to a clean dish towel sprinkled with confectioner's sugar. Peel of wax paper, and roll up in towel from the long end. Allow to cool completely. Mix filling ingredients until smooth. When cake is cool, unroll and spread icing, and then roll without the towel. Let it chill in the refrigerator at least an hour before serving.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Favorite Muffin

The title of this post was the name of a local bakery and luncheonette that has long since gone out of business, much to the dismay of muffin aficionados in this neck of the woods. It was a bakery that not only specialized in muffins, but produced muffins with the most delicious and original combination of flavors, and in a startling array of varieties. Also, the muffins were the size of your head, so you always had leftovers.

Well, it was fun while it lasted.


Building on the guilty pleasure theme, I tend to view muffins as a rare breakfast treat and don't make them all that often. Last winter when we were snowed in I made a batch of lemon raspberry muffins, which were delicious. But it had been a while since I made my favorites. Since I think cooler weather is a nice time to bake and an even better time to experiment with the fall flavors that compliment these breakfast-cupcakes so well, here is one of my favorite easy-to-make muffins to share with you.

Lemon Cheesecake Muffins

cheese topping:

3 ounces cream cheese (room temp)

2 T sugar (divided)

1/2 tsp. vanilla abstract


muffins:

2 cups all purpose flour

2/3 cup sugar

2 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup milk

2 large egg whites
(lightly beaten) or 1 whole egg (lightly beaten)
2 T canola oil

1 and 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1 tsp. vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 400. Lightly coat 12 muffin cups with cooking spray.


Topping: In a small bowl, stir together cream cheese, 1 T of sugar, and vanilla until blended. Set aside.

Muffins: In a large bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl stir together milk, egg whites, oil, lemon peel, and vanilla. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients, and stir just to combine. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Top each muffin with a rounded teaspoon of cheese topping, divided evenly. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of sugar evenly over tops of muffins. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

muffins going in...

Remove muffin pans to wire rack and cool for five minutes before removing muffins from pan. Make it extra nice by eating it warm with pumpkin or apple butter. When the butter blends into the warm cream cheese topping, it's an extra treat!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Guilty Pleasures

We all have them. It took me a while to figure out what a guilty pleasure is, since it was hard for me to understand why you would keep doing something that made you feel guilty, and how in the world would you gain any pleasure from it? Wouldn't the pleasure be eclipsed by the guilt? Then, one day back in my college days, a friend spotted one of my guilty pleasures and innocently pulled it out of my open book bag. As I flushed in embarrassment and struggled for an excuse, I was finally able to figure out the paradox of the guilty pleasure. I couldn't say it wasn't mine, nor that it was a mistake. Yet, it wasn't exactly a classic work of literature either. I had borrowed it and was thoroughly enjoying...well, never mind. But here are a few guilty pleasures that I'm willing to share...

Tastykakes.
Chances are, if you did not grow up within a few hours of Philadelphia, you have no idea what these are. But for the rest of us, oh, is there a finer commercial baked good that elicits simultaneous memories of childhood and pangs of sweetness on your tongue? These are a rare treat for me. Maybe only two per year are eaten, the result of harried trips to the convenience store, but that's only because they make me feel so guilty. I imagine these may be a guilty pleasure shared by some of my readers. They certainly are for my friends and family who have moved away from the area. When I plan a trip to see family who have relocated far and wide, I know to bring along Tastykakes. My other, more accessible, guilty pleasure along these lines are Reese's Pieces. Again, a rare treat because they're so good they make me feel bad!

Shabby-anything. When I was a little girl, my neighbor friend's light and airy bedroom with painted white furniture and puffy floral bedding was the envy of my little girl eyes. Canopy beds and well-worn but timeless stripes and eyelet were a feminine decorating feast. Oh and did I mention the shaggy rugs so deep and plush you could wander through them like a meadow? Such a contrast to the dark, oppressive wood furnishing that my parents thought sensible and classic, the cold, hard wood floors. Someone save me! Fast forward thirty years and you can guess what still draws my eye. The lovely (and popular) array of light painted wood items, floral drapes, folded-quilts-in-every-corner sensibility that Rachel Ashwell so cleverly marketed. This brings me to my next guilty pleasure: fabric. Especially quilting fabric. This is only a guilty pleasure because I can never seem to use up my stash and new fabric seems to be acquired at an even rate as the old is used up. If i could just once use up all my fabric, it would be a pleasure and I wouldn't have to feel guilty standing in line with a bolt of fabric. Which I try to have a coupon for because my other guilty pleasure is...

Couponing and bargain-hunting. How can you feel guilty about something that saves you money? I find bargain hunting to be so much fun that I can't believe it's guiltless. While this is not a habit that is over the top (I won't get items that we don't use just because they are free) it does become an enjoyable game. My thrift genes run deep, and my desire to make do with less has turned the mundanenes of clipping coupons into a strategic mission as exciting as a spy thriller. Something this fun must be guilty.

The occasional trip to Whole Foods. If you don't live near a Whole Foods, then you don't know what you are missing. For the rest of us, the question of could we ever live without access to a Whole Foods is a dilemma to deal with whenever we consider relocating. For the one or two times out of the year that you require an obscure ingredient, health food item, or organic food option, WF is a reliable source. It's also expensive. Which is why you steer clear of it most of the time.

Finally, reading late into the night. This is an especially guilty pleasure when you need to be up in the morning. But it is incredibly satisfying.

Go ahead. I dare you to share a guilty pleasure! ;-)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pumpkin Project

I made a deal with myself that I was not going to get involved with any big pumpkin projects this year, and I fulfilled my end of the bargain by doing a small one instead. One of my favorite farm stands had a beautiful truck load of pie pumpkins (smoother skin, deeper orange color, a little sweeter than regular ones) so I bought two small pumpkins and donated a couple hours to them.


What I coveted most was the seeds. I love pumpkin seeds, especially sprinkled on salads or toasted with a little salt and seasoning. Last year when I went to buy some at the grocery store, I discovered that all of the pumpkin seeds were imported from China. This was the case at all of the stores I visited. What? You mean we don't produce any pumpkin seeds here? I'll never understand food politics. Anyway, pumpkin seeds are so good (and good for you) that it was worth the effort to harvest them.

After separating the seeds from the stringy pulp, I spread them on my favorite magnum cookie sheet lined with foil that I sprayed with non-stick oil. Then, with a little seasoning salt and garlic powder, the seeds were roasted in the oven at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes, turning them every ten minutes. Oh, did they smell good! Just how autumn should smell, like wood and smokey leaves, and apple goody in the oven.


These two small-ish pumpkins didn't give me a lot of seeds, but if you want to make it a family project and get many hand involved, you could harvest a decent amount.

Pumpkin seeds are versatile and can be done as a sweet as well as savory. About 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon for four cups of seeds, with a tiny bit of salt to accentuate the sweetness of the cinnamon, is all you need.

And don't worry about the rest of the pumpkin, it didn't go to waste! It's processed and in the freezer. We'll be eating some of it for "breakfast supper" when I make...

Pumpkin Pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vinegar

1. In a separate bowl, mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, oil and vinegar. Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and salt, stir into the pumpkin mixture just enough to combine.

2. Heat a lightly pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot with syrup or powdered sugar.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Random Acts of Seasonal Beauty

These violas are a testament to the truth that even in October, the garden center is still a dangerous place for me to be, even if only stopping to buy a couple bags of dirt. Who knew I would be confronted with flats full of one of my favorite little flowers?

As I've mentioned here previously, we live along a well-traveled and busy road. This makes for noise, some unusual encounters, and a whole lot of litter. Sometimes people break down and need our help, and once when I was not at home a man stopped in wanting to talk about our garden and how we got a certain flower to grow, and the poor soul was stuck talking to the Mister, who is the carpenter and not the gardener. I hoped the man would come back so I could have a nice garden chat, but he didn't.

Anyway, the other day I was taking my life in my hands by planting bulbs out by the roadside as an occasional car flew past exceeding not just the speed limit, but the speed of light. As I tossed an empty cigarette pack out of the way (
could someone enlighten me on how people come to the conclusion that it is acceptable to toss trash out of their car windows?) a rather pessimistic thought came to mind. That thought was, why bother? Even though I enjoy daffodils with a passion, is it really worth it to plant little clumps at the edge of our driveway where they will catch the fast food wrappers from unappreciative souls? Isn't there something more substantial I could be doing? But then I thought of how so many women possess this wonderful trait that God has given each of us which motivates us to create small acts of beauty. It's the reason why I will visit my single-lady cousin and find a delicate antique tea cup on her counter containing a pleasing flower arrangement, while my widowed uncle thinks a half-burnt candle and empty mug on top of a weathered hunting magazine is just fine to look at every day. When I drive down the road and see the lovely clumps of flowers around lamp posts and mail boxes, it's likely they were planted by another woman who appreciates small touches of prettiness. The quilt hanging on the wall in our church entrance way? Created and hung there by women, no doubt. Like tiny little violets persevering in the cooler months, our smallest moments of artistry are a tribute to the Master Artist, and give everyone who sees them a message that we care. Even about the seemingly small things.

This is not to say that men don't care about small acts of beauty, they just create them differently. Like when a man walking along our road saw the Mister bringing in the mail and asked him for a lighter. The Mister didn't have a lighter, but he did offer the unemployed man some work. A random act of beauty of a different variety.

Planting bulbs in the fall always helps instill me with a little hope for the future. Winter is but for a season, and new life will spring from these bulbs (catch the pun?) months from now when after a winter of stark gray I'll be itching for something colorful and fragrant.

Morning glories on the trellis

Monday, September 27, 2010

Of Projects and Peaches

It has been an uncertain entrance into fall with some of the 90 degree days we've had so far, but at least all of the rain we did not see all summer is arriving at once. As someone said recently, it will take a whole lot or rain just to get us up to zero and clear the backlog of dryness we have experienced. Let me say that I'm grateful for the rain nurturing the lettuce and cilantro seedlings in the garden. I'm also grateful to have a computer repairman who accepts hot peppers as payment for pc repairs, as mine went crazy after a brief power outage we experienced last week.

In other news, I finally completed the table runner that I had pieced a while ago, with that beautiful April Cornell for Moda charm pack I picked up as a treat.

The pattern is called "Country Charm" and like all patterns, had its quirks. But I really do love the design. This project was my first attempt at free-motion machine quilting with a darning foot that I purchased for my sewing machine. This method allows you to make beautiful curly-cues and circular stitches that would be impossible with your regular foot.

Let me just say this about free motion quilting: It is not for sissies. The combination of keeping the pressure even while sewing at an even speed to ensure uniform stitches is a daunting task. Maybe you get better at it with practice. When done correctly, I can imagine it is both a fast and lovely way to knock out some quilting projects.


What a way to start off the sewing season- with a completed project!

Do you still have peaches in your area? This time last year I was cooking them on the stove top with dumplings, a recipe I still recommend! But this year I found a new peach crumble dessert that we really enjoyed. It was rich and satisfying with just the right blend of delicious. What stuck out to me with this recipe is that it uses an egg in making the topping, instead of the usual oatmeal-sugar-butter crumble mixture.


Peach Crumble
  • 6 cups sliced peeled ripe peaches (the equivalent of canned peaches would work.)
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel (I don't know that this added anything to it, so feel free to omit)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • TOPPING:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
Place peaches in a greased shallow 2-1/2-qt. baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, lemon juice, peel and cinnamon; sprinkle over the peaches.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Stir in egg until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over the peaches. Pour butter evenly over topping. Bake at 375° for 35-40 minutes. Makes 10-12 servings.

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