Friday, April 24, 2015

When the Best Part of the Trip is the Return Home

We took a brief overnight trip recently in order to run a few errands up north, and also price some new bedroom furniture. When we were married almost eight years ago, we started out with a card table, two chairs, and a bedroom set that was an old hand-me-down from The Mister's side of the family. Gradually, we accumulated more furniture, a few nice pieces from my grandparent's sale, and a sofa from my parent's house circa 1985. I like to joke that if you attended the family reunion we hosted during the Reagan administration, then you have already sat on my couch. That old thing needs replacing too, but first things first. 

Our trip out of town did not go as smoothly as we had hoped.

We got a later start than planned. When we did get moving, we drove fifteen minutes down the highway when I suddenly remembered that I left a scent warmer on in the kitchen. I knew that would happen the minute I turned the darn thing on. Much to my dismay, our only option was to turn around and head back home to unplug it. I got a head ache from being in the car. Finally, as the sun was beginning to set over the beautiful hills of eastern Pennsylvania, I reached for my camera bag and made a sour discovery: I left my camera battery in its charger, at home.

There was even more nonsense the next day. 

There were some positives, some shopping done, and we were thankful that we didn't have any major catastrophes. No foul weather, injuries, or that most dreaded of all travel nightmares, car trouble. We were even able to take The Little Mister to a restaurant without incident, something we have been unable to do since he was a newborn. A lengthy performance with a finger puppet helped a lot, and elicited many smiles.

When we arrived home, I exhaled so hard that a nearby tree was uprooted. 

We never did find any affordable bedroom furniture, either. I came home and dealt with the same tiny over-stuffed bureau drawers and miniature nightstands that I've been contending with for years. Furniture built for a different time, when people owned two dresses and one pair of shoes.

Two days later I went out to the garden to check on my small spring garden, and saw buds on all the berry bushes, new growth in the strawberries, and bunches of rhubarb poking through the winter weeds. It had all happened so suddenly. When I went to tear out the ornamental hydrangea that I killed last summer, I found it wasn't dead at all. 


Renewal is among the greatest gifts bestowed on us, whether we're worthy of it or not. I can't think of anything better than second chances, new beginnings, and a fresh sunrise each day. 

Perhaps some decent and affordable bedroom furniture could compete with that, but I guess it wasn't meant for right now. Today I'll settle for the reminder growing around me that everything is beautiful in its time. 

Crunchy Pepper Jack Salad with Smooth Avocado Dressing

We've been eating this salad all week, it is so delicious, healthy, and satisfying. I adapted it from several similar recipes to make a salad that is inexpensive but packs a lot of flavor. You can buy every ingredient at a discount grocery store. Just don't skimp on the tasty avocado dressing.

Salad:

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 diced red pepper
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
1 small head chopped lettuce- romaine or butter crunch works well
A sprinkling of crushed tortilla chips

Dressing:
1 small avocado, peeled and sliced
1 tsp. diced hot peppers
1/2 tsp. minced garlic or 1 garlic clove
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup salsa
1/4 cup milk
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
juice of one lime
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. smoked paprika (optional)

Blend all ingredients for dressing in a blender until smooth. This made enough dressing for two big bowls of salad, which was fine since two bowls lasted for four meals.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Iced Maple Walnut Cookies

A light rain falls outside as green emerges in the finest wisps on the fields and gardens.

Drip, drip, drip echoes outside the window, and somewhere, it echoes in a sap bucket by a tree.

I'm sure that  growing up, we never had real maple syrup. I hardly knew anything about syrup until I married The Mister, a part time tree farmer and forestry guy who would come home from trade shows in the winter carrying jugs of excitement. Real maple syrup, local or semi-local, sometimes accompanied by recipes in case you ran out of ideas for a half gallon and didn't resort to drinking it straight from the drum. Soon, we had so much good maple syrup that it had its own cabinet. I had to put a stop to new imports, especially after I found out the price. Oh, but I love it too, in all of its sweet goodness.

We finally ran out a couple months ago, around the time I found this handy recipe for Iced Maple Walnut cookies. The beauty of these treats turned out to be two-fold. They are made with maple flavoring, and the recipe makes about three dozen generously sized cookies. 


One more bonus. The smell of these baking in the oven may cause you to entertain the notion of making them every other day. 

Cookies:
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 and 3/4 cup all purpose flour* (see note)
2 cups walnuts, finely chopped
1 teaspoon maple flavoring
1 teaspoon salt

Icing:
4 Tablespoons butter 
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon maple flavoring
3-4 Tablespoons milk

*The original recipe calls for 1 and 1/2-2 cups self rising flour. I used basic flour and that worked fine. Of course, you are free to use self-rising or pastry flour.

Before icing.
Preheat oven to 350. In a mixer, cream the butter and sugars. Add eggs, flavoring, and salt. Beat until just combined. Add flours 1 cup at a time. If dough is sticky, add more plain flour 1/4 cup full at a time until smooth. Stir in walnuts.
Bake for 10-13 minutes until cookies are puffy and starting to turn tan. Remove from oven and let cool.



Mix icing ingredients until texture is smooth and thick. Add more milk or sugar to achieve a creamy texture. 


While I was waiting for the cookies to cool, I discovered my extract had a history lesson on the box. I bet you wish your middle name was "Peppy".

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