Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Best Laid Plans, And All That

We have joined the ranks of those whose Christmas does not look like the ones in the TV commercials and magazine pages. Watching the news and the weather reports and messages on Facebook makes me know ours could be worse, but this year is surely not the Christmas we were expecting.

Then I started thinking about that very first Christmas. The authentic Christmas. And I'm beginning to think maybe that's what we are having this year—an authentic Christmas. And that maybe an authentic Christmas is more important than the regular merry one.

That first Christmas involved a long journey, a baby, worried parents, angels, shepherds, wisemen and unexpected circumstances. Our Christmas has all of those elements, too.

Our Baby Girl has been very sick and is spending her first Christmas in the hospital in the midwest. Of course, Mommy is there with her. We have certainly all worried.

Our long journey was driving out halfway to get the big girls and bringing back them here. All of the other family lives near us. Now their daddy is driving about a million miles (well, 1000 miles feels like a million) to be here a couple of days, to make sure Santa knows these girls are here at the farm.

But we've had Christmas angels, too. Number one is Aunt Jessica who has made sure her sister's gifts that were shipped here were all properly sorted out and wrapped. And more importantly, when Little Sister looked up at her and said, "We need to bake cookies for Santa," she took over and made those special cookies with both sisters. (Loved it when Little Sister looked down at the floor and squealed, "It looks like SNOW!")

There have been angels in the midwest, too. Angels who have brought gifts to the hospital for the baby. Angels who are taking Christmas dinner to mommy tomorrow. And there are so many other praying angels that we have leaned on.

The wiseman? That's Daddy-O, who looked at me hard when I was ready to jump on a plane and fly out there. He told me, "You are right where you need to be. Right here with 4-year-old Little Sister, keeping her settled and calm during all this." Of course, he is right, although my heart is out there with them. Big Sister also qualifies as a wiseman (wise woman?) as she has helped keep things on keel here and has rocked along without complaint as things have changed rapidly and has been so good with her little sister who doesn't quite understand what's going on.

What about the shepherd? We don't have sheep on the farm, but we do have cows who need to eat in the winter. The cousin down the road stepped in and took care of feeding them while we were on the road. Watching over the animals in the field—that's close enough.

Yes, this has not been the Christmas we planned. Just like that very first one was not the trip Mary and Joseph planned. But we will celebrate. Differently than we thought, but we will still find joy. The excitement in this four-year-old's eyes is still there. She has missed her mommy, but Mimi and Aunt Jessica are managing okay. We are not "Mommy" but we are passable substitutes.

Baby Girl is getting better. And we will be happy to see her after Christmas. One day, years from now, we will tell her about this unusual Christmas.

The Grandmother Gig will be taking a little break  to focus on the matters at hand. There are lots of grandmother things that need doing right now. I'll see you back here in the new year. Merry Christmas from all of us here on the farm!

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
             "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
                                                                                   ~from Luke 2

Friday, December 19, 2014

Last-Minute Recipe: Toasted Pecans

Less than a week to go to Christmas. Like most of you, I've been busy here with Christmas things, non-Christmas things and life in general. Some of the plans I made have gone by the wayside. Some were replaced by something easier/faster. Others were scratched off completely.

Here is a super quick recipe that might fill the bill for your last minute needs. It is such a typical Southern nibble to have on hand. My grandmother made these often when I was little. She had several pecan trees in her back yard, so there were always pecans in her kitchen. When I was little, I didn't love these, but I do remember the grown-ups were always excited to find that Grandmother had taken a pan of these out of the oven. Now that I'm grown, I know why they were excited. These are wonderful. 

When Jessica was home at Thanksgiving, she made these to take back to the city. She was using these as an add-on for a little gift for friends. So fast. So easy. So delicious. If you are gifting them, pack them  as soon as they have cooled, or you will find everyone at your house will be sneaking a taste and soon there won't be enough to give away! I'm making some today to have for Christmas.


pecan halves

Put pecan halves on a baking sheet in a single layer. Add a few pats of butter. Place in a 350 degree oven. Bake about 15 minutes, stirring a couple of times.
The time is only approximate, so watch closely! (Do not walk away from the kitchen to do something else!)

Use your nose to help you know when they are done, because you can begin to smell the nuts when they are nearly ready. Taste the nuts, allowing for the nuts to crisp a little more as they cool. Watch closely. Nuts can burn easily.

Salt nuts to taste.  

A 1-lb bag of pecans fills a large baking sheet. For this many, use 5-6 good-size pats of butter.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Gift (Again...and Again)

I posted this blog in 2011. But the story is worthy of sharing again. The past couple of weeks have been hectic for me, and I'm sure many of you have felt the same way. Stories like this remind us of how we should be observing the season.

I was rummaging through a drawer last week looking for something and I found this little stocking at the bottom of the drawer. It's a reminder of what wonderful children I have.

Many Christmases ago, just as we were leaving for the Christmas Eve service at church, Jessica asked us to wait just a minute. She wasn't quite finished. I knew she was making something but we were busy and I didn't exactly know what she was doing. In a couple of minutes she was ready and had this little stocking in her hand. You can see that the tag says "To Needing." 

When we went up for communion that night, she placed this little stocking on the altar rail. I didn't know what was in it but thought that it was nice that she wanted to leave something. The adults often left a dollar or two there. That money was used for people who came to the church needing help with things like paying the heating bill, or getting their car repaired. The money was always collected after the service and given to the pastor. That little stocking was gathered up along with the dollar bills and that's the last we saw of it.

Weeks later I got a phone call from the pastor telling me that the that little stocking been laying on his office desk since Christmas. The top was stapled together (with lots of staples.) It was stuffed full and it had the tag written in a small child's writing. One day his wife was in the office and picked the stocking up. She asked what it was. He told her that Jessica had left it on the altar Christmas Eve, that it was probably filled with candy and she could throw it away. She weighed it in her hand and said she thought it was awfully heavy for candy. She undid the staples and poured out lots of coins and some rolled up bills. The pastor was astounded. They counted the money and said it held just over $17. 

Jessica had emptied her bank and given it all to the "needing." He was moved by her generosity.  He said he had learned a lesson, too. He had learned not to judge what was on the inside by how the outside looked. When you make up your mind before looking further, it's easy to miss something special. The other bills left on the altar that night were all ones and fives. This little second grader had given more than anyone. She gave all she had. And he had almost thrown the stocking away.

This little stocking is one of my Christmas treasures. 

So, slow down this week. Do one of these things: Look at the stars in the dark night sky. Turn off the TV for a few minutes and sit in front of the Christmas tree. Take a walk in the woods, or through your neighborhood. Declare your kitchen closed one night this week and have sandwiches for supper. Use the extra time to read a story to your children or enjoy a book yourself.  Just remember to slow down. Remember to breathe.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Cinnamon Goodness

Cinnamon Rolls w/Maple Frosting

If they gave a Nobel Prize for cinnamon rolls, the Pioneer Woman should get one for this recipe. I don't have words to describe the gooey goodness that is a pan of these rolls. They are that good. I just took seven pans of them to church for a bake sale. Pan #8 (the oddly shaped ends and such) stayed here and lasted exactly six and a half minutes after they came out of the oven. 

Daddy-O had to taste them, of course. And, he tasted and tasted and tasted until the pan was empty. I got one bite just to make sure they were okay. They were way more than okay. Glad there was only one bite left for me because I'm not sure I would have found a stopping place.

I made no changes to her recipe. But I am making a few notes here that I think will make it a little easier for you if it's your first time baking them. Her recipe has wonderful photos that show you the step-by-step process. (I have a new appreciation for her. Cooking and photographing at the same time isn't easy.) Please go look at her recipe to see how she does it.  
First pans in the oven.

If you have never used yeast, don't be afraid. This was an easy dough to work with. The big payoff is that you get SEVEN pans of cinnamon rolls. And, maybe a little taster pan for the baker.

Here are my own tips if you are new to this:
  • I used a 4-1/2 qt. saucepan to heat the milk mixture and then added flour straight into the pan after the milk cooled. I let the dough rise right in the saucepan.
  • I used unbleached all-purpose flour. (I like King Arthur.) After my last bread experiment, the soft flours aren't my first choice for this recipe. So I'm skipping my usual White Lily and Martha White flours for yeast recipes calling for all-purpose flour.
  • You can just scoop up the flour and level as you measure. Lightly spooning it into the measuring might give you a really soft, sticky dough. (Add more flour as you roll it out if that happens.)
  • Take off your rings. It's hard to get dough out of the prongs
  • Clean off a lot of counter space before you start. You roll the dough 30-inchs long and then you still need room for the sugar, cinnamon, foil pans, knife, etc.
  • It took about a half of a regular size bottle of cinnamon. If you aren't starting with a new bottle, make sure you have enough.
  • Lay a yard stick at the back of the counter where you roll the dough. 30-inches was longer than I would have guessed. I didn't actually "measure" with the yard stick (who knows where that yard stick has been?) but it gave me a reference so I could eyeball it better. You could also pull off 30-inches of masking tape and put on the front edge of the counter.
  • I rolled the dough out right on my granite countertop. If you have laminate countertops, you should be able to roll the out dough there, but be sure to slide a cutting board or mat under the dough before you cut!
  • Allow about three hours, beginning to end, to make this recipe. There are nice long spaces while the milk cools, and when the dough rises so you can do other things around the house. But we have tried making them on a tight time schedule and today was much easier to have ample time.

Now, go make some. Be brave and just follow the recipe. Release your inner child. It's a little like working with play dough. 

Bake sale table.

If you go to the Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Rolls 101, you can print out the recipe right from there. Her photos are a huge help, too.


1 quart whole milk (that's 4 cups)
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
2  (1/4-oz) packets ActiveDry yeast (that's just the regular little envelopes)
8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (plus additional 1 cup)
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
1 scant teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon salt
2—3 sticks butter, melted (for brushing over rolled out dough)
2 cups sugar
lots of ground cinnamon (about a half bottle)

1 (32-oz.) bag powdered sugar
2 teaspoons maple flavoring
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup brewed coffee
1/8 teaspoon salt

7-8 foil cake pans

Heat the milk, vegetable oil and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat to just below a boil. (In other words, scald it.)

Set aside and cool to warm (about 100-110 degrees), about 45 minutes. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let it sit for 1 minute.

Stir in 8 cups flour until just combined. Cover with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour. (I put mine on the counter and turn on the under-counter lights.) After an hour (the dough will hae risen and be puffy), add the baking powder, baking soda, salt and the remaining 1 cup flour. Stir to combine thoroughly. You can continue with the recipe now or  put dough in a bowl and refrigerate (covered) for up to 3 days Punch down the dough as necessary. You can also chill the dough for an hour to make it easier to handle.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Remove half the dough and roll out on a floured surface to about 30x10-inch rectangle. Dough will be thin.

Pour 3/4 to 1 cup melted butter over dough and use fingers to spread evenly. Sprinkle 1 cup sugar over dough, then sprinkle generously with cinnamon. You can add more butter or sugar if you need to.

Roll up the long side of the rectangle, rolling toward you, working slowly and rolling tightly. When you get to the end, pinch the other long edge to seal. You now have a long skinny "log." 

Spoon a tablespoon of melted butter in each foil pan and brush to cover bottom. Slice the log into 1-inch slices. Place 7-9 slices in each pan, being careful not to crowd. Cover pans with clean towels or plastic wrap. Repeat with other half of dough.

Let stand at least 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15-17 minutes, until golden brown. (But not too brown.) 

While rolls are baking, make the frosting:  Pour sugar into a large bowl. Add milk, butter, coffee, flavoring and salt and whisk until smooth. (Daddy-O did a great job here.) Taste and adjust flavors if needed. Frosting should be thick, but pourable.

When pans come out of the oven, immediately pour frosting over hot rolls. Be generous, covering them completely—all the nooks and crannies and around the edges. The rolls will absorb a lot of the frosting and they will look just right when they cool.

And that's it! Beginning to end took me about three hours. And I let the dough chill for a little while in the refrigerator before rolling. It isn't quite as much work as it sounds like, but do allow enough time. During the cooling and then the rising, I had time to do other things around the house.

Happy Birthday today to Daddy-O! Sorry that all the baking went to church. I'll make something just for you soon. Promise.

Friday, December 5, 2014

One Bite At A Time

The Christmas elephant at our local tree lot in 2012.

I arrived at handbell practice at the last split second this week, as others were rushing in, too. Just before we started I chatted with the bell player beside me. We talked about our busy holiday schedules, wondering how we were going to get it all done. She said that at one of her many meetings this week, the same conversation happened there. And one man on that committee said in his thick Southern drawl, "Y'all don't need to worry about any of this. It's just like eating an elephant. Just eat it one bite at a time." 

In other words, don't get overwhelmed looking at the big work load ahead of you. Just focus on the task at hand. And I'm sticking by my last post—if I don't get everything done, I am going to be okay with that, too.

My music activities are over for this week (until Sunday.) Today is dedicated to baking for the bake sale tomorrow. Bread is rising. Fruit cake is cooling. Cinnamon rolls are in progress. I'll think about cooking for tomorrow's covered dish supper after the bake sale in the morning. "One bite at a time."

These were my little kitchen helpers at Christmas a long time ago. Miss having them nearby.

For the record, I am using Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Roll recipe. She has a great photo tutorial. Jessica has made these several times and they are always wonderful. A bonus is that the recipe makes SEVEN pans of cinnamon rolls! If you are to make the effort, might as well get a lot for your work.

I'll add a photo of the cinnamon rolls later. (I'm thinking positive. They WILL turn out fine.) So check back in a day or so to see how they came out.
Oh. My. Goodness.

Monday, December 1, 2014

December Is Here

This time of year, it's easy to get caught up in the "there aren't enough days left" kind of thinking. I just happen to have a front row seat for the sunrise every morning. Seeing the sun rise reminds me to enjoy each day as it comes. If I can't get it all done today, so be it. I'll try again tomorrow. At this (old) age, I have figured out that the house won't be perfect no matter how hard I work. So I'm going with less-than-perfect and not-so-tired this year.

Pattern: A Nice Ribbed Sock
Yarn: Madelinetosh Dandelion
Needles: size 1.5

We sent Jessica back down the highway today after an extended Thanksgiving visit. It's always hard to tell your children goodbye. Especially this year when she was the only one who could come home. I sent her home with a new pair of mom-made socks as a reminder that I love her. 

This was the first time I had worked with the Dandelion yarn. If I were a sayer-of-bad-words, I would have used every one of them! But I love the finished product. There is nothing inherently wrong with this wool/linen yarn, but it was a difficult combination of yarn, pattern and needles. Trust Jessica to pick a yarn that challenged me.

Mrs. Claus (otherwise known as Mimi) has more knitting going on, too. But she can't show it to you just yet. Good thing that Mrs. Claus/Mimi finds knitting a relaxing activity. Because there still is a good bit to do.