Saturday, December 3, 2016

Lowered Expectations


How are things at your house? The count down to Christmas is getting intense. I know there are some of you who had everything in place for the holiday before Thanksgiving. Or, you wrapped up your preparations over the Thanksgiving weekend. I am not one of you. I imagine there are many of you who, like me, will stumble through Advent and limp into Christmas, getting some things done along the way and leaving other things in the "Well, it was a nice thought" category.

I told someone last night that my secret to "getting it all done" was lowering my expectations. Way lower. And that's okay. If you are like me, the expectations are mostly self-imposed anyway.

The photo-a-day Advent project a couple of years ago was a truly meaningful exercise for me. When it was announced this year, I thought about it. For two seconds. It was meaningful because it required much more thought than I had anticipated. And this year I know I cannot be that focused. Instead I am taking part in Project Peace, a knitting project sponsored by The Healthy Knitter with over 15,000 participants world-wide. It is a simple exercise in mindfulness. With knitting.

I love sending Christmas cards with a family photo. But this year when the grandchildren were here for Thanksgiving, Little Sister was still broken out in hives all over her face from her illness and Baby Girl cried much of that week with an ear infection. So no grandchildren photo happened. My holiday expectations dropped another notch. And that's okay. The list of things-not-done is growing.

Certainly there are many things that will get done. But they will be chosen carefully. We are already opening the doors on our Advent calendar. That means a lot to us. I might not decorate our lamp post. I'm not sure anyone would notice.  Maybe instead of "lowered expectations" I should say we are having a "curated Christmas" Participating in things carefully selected to enhance the season. I am sifting through the events, the recipes, and the traditions and deciding which ones will make us feel better and not feel pressured.

You get the idea. I plan to do what I can, what is meaningful, and truly not worry about the rest. By December 27, no one will remember if there was greenery on the mantle. Or, whether or not I pulled out the Christmas mugs.  We will remember that we were together. We will remember laughter. We will remember that we could feel the love.




Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving


I am thankful for all of you who visit here. 
Time is precious and I'm honored that 
you choose to use a little of yours visiting this space. 

May today find you doing something meaningful.
Maybe it's spending time with family,
or serving in your community, 
or having some quiet time alone.
It's all good.
 Wherever we are, whatever we do today, 
let us all pause and give thanks for our many blessings.

"I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content."-Philippians 4:11


HAPPY THANKSGIVING!



Saturday, November 19, 2016

Giving Thanks And Sweet Potato Souffle

"Mimi, if you miss me, you can look at this. That's me in the red nightgown."

Like Batman who always responded quickly to the bat signal, this grandmother headed out as soon as she saw the "signal." It's part of the grandmother gig. As soon as I got home from a wonderful, relaxing knitting retreat with friends (old and new) in the mountains last weekend, I got a call that Little Sister was sick. Not critical like Baby Girl was last fall, thankfully. But sick enough to need extra hands. You always have to remember that when one child is sick, the others still have a regular schedule to keep.

Knitting retreat friends.
Someone got clever with the popcorn at the retreat.

I had not unpacked from my knitting trip yet, so I threw the suitcase and knitting bag back into the car and headed out. And almost a week later, I am back at home. Little Sister is improving. Recovery will take a little longer but it's coming.

Next week, we will be hearing lots about thankfulness. We should be giving thanks each and every day, but we really do talk about it more in November. If you asked me today, these things are top of my list...
  • I am thankful for the interstate highway that let me make the trip down quickly and safely.
  • I am thankful for doctors and nurses who work odd hours at urgent care offices and answer night phone calls.
  • I am thankful for paramedics. (And I'm thankful no one scowled because she was better by the time they arrived.)
  • I am thankful for airline personnel who got J-Daddy on a return flight 90 minutes after his plane landed on the other coast.
  • I am thankful for the ER staff that finally sorted it all out days later.
  • I am thankful for all-night pharmacies where prescriptions can be filled in the wee hours.
  • I am thankful for children playing loudly because that means things are better.
  • I am thankful that as bad as it sounds, it wasn't quite as scary as it reads here. Although in the moment, it was scary enough.
  • I am thankful that Daddy-O can manage without me here when I am needed there.
  •  And today I am thankful to be at home. But I am ready to go again if needed. Just put up the "grandmother signal." I'll answer as quick as Batman responds to his signal!

In the midst all of the craziness of the week, Mommy was trying to make lists and get Thanksgiving things planned. She said, "Mom, your sweet potato recipe isn't on the blog. I was at the grocery store and looked for the recipe. Why haven't you posted that one?"

So in the interest of collecting all of my favorite recipes here in one place, I'm sharing our sweet potato recipe. I grew up with sweet potato souffle with marshmallows on top. With raisins in it if we got fancy. Then my mother switched to this recipe and made it for years. When I started making it, I cut down the amount of butter. (She used a half cup of butter in the topping.) And no one has ever complained.


(I will try to pop a recipe photo in here soon.)
Just so you understand, this is not really a souffle. But that's what this recipe was called back then. That's what my mother's recipe said, so I'm leaving the name as is.

SWEET POTATO SOUFFLE

5 medium sweet potatoes, cooked (3 cups mashed)
1/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoon flour

Mash sweet potatoes in mixer. (Hand mixer is fine.) Melt butter and add to potatoes. Add sugar and salt. Beat in eggs and add vanilla and flour.
Pour into a greased 8x12-inch casserole. (2-quart) 

Topping:
1 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar

Mix and spread crumbly topping over sweet potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. 
Can be made a day ahead, refrigerated and baked the following day.

You can substitute 2 medium cans of sweet potatoes, drained, in place fresh sweet potatoes. I think it's worth peeling the potatoes, though.


We worked on many art projects while home from school.




Monday, November 14, 2016

It's Time To Start The Starter


I have just enough time to get this started so that we can have bread for Thanksgiving. Yes, the rolls are great, but this is the recipe that everyone looks forward to. I've been using this sourdough recipe for 25 years now. Even if I make rolls, I need to make this also. Someone saw the roll recipe here and said, "But you're bringing the loaves, too, aren't you?" And the granddaughers call this "Mimi bread." How can I not bake it?

It takes 5 days to make your starter. So I mixed it today and can bake by the weekend. On VERY rare occasions I had ended up with bad starter. It happens. And I have not allowed time for a redo this year. Good thing the roll recipe is good, too.

Make a note somewhere of the day you started and the day that you are to add the yeast. My memory is short these days.

I wrote the feeding recipe on the lid of my container to make things easier. (I have been known to buy a large Cool Whip just to get the plastic container. Yep. Threw out the Cool Whip and saved the bowl. But don't tell anybody I did that.)


To make starter:  Double the feeding recipe.  Put in a glass or plastic container, loosely covered.  Let set out for 4 days.  Then add one pack dry yeast.  Let stand another 24 hours.  Use 1 cup for the first batch or store in refrigerator for up to 7 days.

To feed starter:  
Remove 1 cup for baking (or discard) and feed with:
1/3 cup sugar, 
3 tbsp. instant potatoes
1 cup warm water 
Mix well and let stand 8-12 hours. Then refrigerate. Store in plastic container with slits cut in lid. Feed every 3-7 days. (My favorite container for storage is a large Cool Whip container. Cut an "X" in the lid to let the starter breath.) 

SOURDOUGH BREAD

1 cup starter
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup oil
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 cups warm water (just beyond lukewarm)
6 or more cups bread flour (use the extra to flour the surface for kneading)

Mix bread ingredients. (I use a wire whisk to mix in the first 3 cups, and then use a spoon for the last three cups.) Place in large bowl sprayed with PAM.  Lightly spray dough with PAM.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Let stand and rise at least 8 hours.
Punch down dough and knead on floured board about 10 times.  Divide into equal 3 parts. (I have started weighing my dough to get the loaves the same size. But I guessed for years and years and that works, too.)
Spray three 8-inch loaf pans with PAM.  Shape dough and place in pans. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let stand and rise until pans are full, about 5 to 6 hours.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, or until brown and bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Whole wheat bread variation:  Use 2 cups whole wheat flour and 4 cups bread flour.

This bread freezes beautifully. It makes a great gift. 


I have friends who have used this to make rolls also. And some have done cinnamon bread. One adventurous friend mixes all manner of herbs and cheeses into hers for a wide assortment of breads. I need to ask her one more time how she does that and if I can share her tricks.

And just so you know, this is not true sour dough. I've done that, too. True sour dough would not include instant potato flakes. But this is the recipe we like best. And it's nearly foolproof. Barely requires kneading. It's a good beginner recipe if you haven't tried yeast breads.

So what IS the hardest part? Making all of the wait times fit into your schedule. Once the starter is going, I often will mix the bread right at bedtime and let it rise overnight. Then in the morning it's ready to punch down, knead and put into pans for the second rising. I'll do that soon after I get up and it will be ready to bake around lunch time.

And I've used all sorts of other baking schedules. You'll have to figure out how to make it work in your house. But do think about it before you get started. There have been times when I set my alarm for 4:00 AM because that's when the bread was ready to go into the oven. That was not my best planning. But the bread was perfect. You'll figure it out.




Sunday, November 13, 2016

So How Old Am I?

The most fun birthday card from a dear knitting friend

Today is my birthday. 67 years old. That's a long time. I thought it would be fun to see what was invented, discovered and developed AFTER I was born.

There were the obvious computer-y things like social media, all the digital stuff, touch screens and iAnything. And then there were the things, like 8-track tapes, VHS players, Atari game systems, and Instamatic cameras, that have already come and gone.

I found some surprises. I thought air conditioning came along after me. It was not a standard for buildings where I grew up until after I was in college, but it was invented and was in use before I was born. I guessed that paper towels hit the market after me—but no, they were an item earlier than 1949, as were asphalt and styrofoam.

No, I am not older than dinosaurs or steam engines even though the granddaughters think I came over with the Pilgrims. They also think Daddy-O is 28. They don't have a strong grasp of age yet.

So what has happened in my 67 years? Here is a list of things that have come along after I was born. Most of them feel like they've been around forever.

I AM OLDER THAN...

     
1.      Color television
2.      Remote control TV
3.      Flat screen TV/digital TV
4.      DVRs
5.      Push button telephones
6.      Portable telephones
7.      Cell phones/Smart phones
8.      Personal computers—laptop & desktop
9.      Handheld calculators
10.  Velcro
11.   Post-It notes
12.  Super glue
13.  Ziploc bags
14.  TV dinners
15.  Instant grits & oatmeal
16.  Ketchup packets
17.  ICEEs/Slurpies
18.  Frosted Flakes & Sugar Smacks
19.  Jif peanut butter, Jiffy Pop, & Cheese Whiz
20.  Cake mix
21.  Microwave ovens (for home use)
22.  Ebooks/Kindles
23.  GPS guidance systems
24.  Drive-thru fast food windows
25. Online shopping
26.  ATMs
27.  Banking drive-up windows
28.  Internet
29.  WiFi
30.  Text messages
31.  Email
32.  Google
33.  Answering machines
34.  Spandex
35.  Panty hose
36.  Corning Ware
37.  Tupperware
38.  Non-stick cookware 
39.  CDs/DVDs
40.  Plastic bags
41.  Bubble wrap
42.  Con-Tact paper
43.   Bar codes
44.  AA batteries
45.  Smoke detectors
46.  Cordless power tools
47.  Polar fleece
48.  MasterCard & VISA
49.  Radial tires
50.  State of Alaska
51.  State of Hawaii
52.  Power steering
53.  Automatic sliding doors
54.  Sharpie pens & Magic Markers
55.  Diet soda
56.  Barbie dolls
57.  Mr. Potato Head
58.  Hula hoops
59.  Silly putty
60.  Play Doh
61.  Commercial jet liners
62.  Weather satellites
63.  Hydrogen bomb
64.  The “I Love Lucy” television show
65.   Mad magazine
66.  James Bond  (the novels & the movies)
67.  Rock ‘n Roll

I have always thought that if I were six weeks younger, I would sound much younger. Being born "in the 40s" just sounds older to me than being a child of the "50s." If you are much younger than me, you're thinking, "That ALL sounds old!" You are right. We all are.







Thursday, November 10, 2016

When You Need Cookies Fast

Glorified Grahams

This has been one busy week. I drove into my driveway late yesterday. And I'm headed out again today. This time to a knitting retreat in the mountains. Looks like the temperatures will be much cooler than anything we've seen so far this fall. Which means I need to think about packing more carefully than my usual throw-a-few-things-in-a-bag approach. This is the first time I've had to think about jackets and socks and sweaters in a very long time.

My information also said to bring something for the snack table. Snacks are a big deal at knitting retreats. Snack foods, coffee, knitting and friends. Maybe not in that order, but that's what knitting retreats are about.

It just isn't in my soul to take store bought cookies to a retreat, but goodness I didn't have time to bake. And then I remembered this recipe. It is as old as the hills. I found it years ago in my 1971 Better Homes & Garden New Cookbook in the section marked "Easy Cookies."


Man, I don't know how many times this recipe has saved the day for us. Mommy who is our family's expert baker made a cake for a church function a few weeks ago and the cake was a "throw away" (her words.) So she quickly whipped up a batch of these and sent them instead. Every time we've every taken these, someone wants the recipe. Many of you may already have it. But if you don't, here you go.

 
I usually have the four ingredients on hand. It only takes minutes to put together. The note in my own cookbook says, "This is my go-to recipe when I need just one more thing to serve."


I feel better about my snack contribution now.

GLORIFIED GRAHAMS

24 graham cracker squares, divided into "sticks"(that's about two packs from the box)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans

Line a 15-1/2x 10-1/2x1-inch pan with aluminum foil. Then line up the the graham crackers on the bottom of the pan. Mix butter and brown sugar. Spoon over graham crackers and spread to cover if necessary. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes. Let cool. Break apart.

I lift the foil from the pan to easily remove cookies. One pan of these fills an 8-inch square foil pan if you are taking them somewhere.




Tuesday, November 8, 2016

So Who Is Lillian Hellman And Did She Make This Roast?

Lillian Hellman's Pot Roast

Since last year when Mommy and her family moved 11 hours closer to us, I have spent much time driving up and down a very busy interstate highway when I go to visit and babysit. Three hours down there. Three hours back. (In fact, I'm sitting at their kitchen table right this minute.) Satellite radio is wonderful for long trips because I don't lose radio stations as I travel.

But in the last several months, I added audio books to my listening. Pride And Prejudice was terrific entertainment for a couple of trips. It was about 13 hours of listening. And it had me laughing from the first few sentences. People haven't changed much over the years. I have seen the movie more than once, but I had never read the book. Listening to it was great fun.

I listened to The Martian (11 hours.) I still haven't seen the award winning movie but can't imagine it's better than the book. This one kept me....well, I can't say "on the edge of my seat" because I was driving. But you get the idea. It was a thriller. I also listen to non-fiction books and feel more informed. I am listening to Just Mercy right now.

But when I had a chance to get a free book several weeks ago, I picked Nora Ephron's Heartburn because, (#1) it was much shorter than the others—under 6 hours, and (#2) Meryl Streep was the reader. Meryl Streep rode in the car with me for hours! If you don't know Nora Ephron from her books, you'll know some of her movies—Sleepless In Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, and her last film, Julie & Julia.

While the book Heartburn is very 1980s, it was pleasant entertainment for one trip down and back. What I had not expected when I chose it, was that it was filled with recipes. As Meryl Streep read the book and read the recipes, I kept thinking, "That sounds good. I would make that." But this was an AUDIO book. I couldn't go back and look at the recipe. And I was driving. I couldn't jot them down as I listened.

The very last recipe in the book did sound good and easy. It was nearly easy enough to remember, but I wasn't sure about the herbs. Thanks to the powers of Google, I found the recipe easily. One blogger said this recipe was "just this side of white trash." I'm guessing she said that because of use of condensed soup and dry onion soup mix. I think I feel insulted. Those ingredients are still in use where I live. (Although people do use them less and less now.)

Well, I had to try this recipe. And you know I often tinker with a recipe when I use it. I could not find a 4-lb roast at my store, so I bought the biggest chuck roast they had. It was 3 pounds, so I reduced the amount of liquid a little. My changes are in italics. And years ago I found that browning a roast before cooking improved the color and the flavor. But if I were running short on time, I still might skip that and just put everything in the pot, like the recipe says.


So, who was Lillian Hellman? And did she really make this pot roast? She was a dramatist and screenwriter at a time when "writers were celebrities and their recklessness was admirable." You can google her name and read more if you're interested. And did she really make this roast—who knows? All I can tell you is that it's good.

LILLIAN HELLMAN'S POT ROAST (from the book Heartburn)

4-lb beef roast, the more expensive the better (I used a 3-lb chuck roast)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped (I used 1-1/2 tsp jarred minced garlic)
2 cups red wine (I used one soup can wine)
2 cups water (I used one soup can water)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil

Put ingredients in a large good pot and cover. Bake at 350 for 3-1/2 hours until tender. Remove bay leaf before serving.

How I cooked it:  Now, I browned the meat first in a heavy Dutch oven. I tossed the onion in on top of the roast, then mixed soups, wine, water and herbs and poured over all. I put the lid on the Dutch oven and baked it. I turned the roast over about halfway through the cooking time.


Daddy-O, who loved the roast, asked if I could have used the slow cooker. When you use a slow cooker, the big difference is that the liquids aren't reduced. See the photo above with the roast still in the pot? You can see that the soup/water/wine mix has cooked down into a thick rich gravy. I don't think the end result would be the same if you go the crockpot route. Probably still good, but not the same.




If you have tender ears, be forewarned that The Martian uses words that are not in my own vocabulary. Kind of surprised me. But if I had been stranded alone on Mars, I might have needed some of those words.