Monday, January 30, 2017

Birds Of A Feather

Birds of a feather...that's what we were. (See the birds we made from our yarn scraps?) Knitters from several states who came together for a few days to be with others who share a passion for creating with yarn. We unloaded our cars and hauled our suitcases and knitting bags into the lodge at the lakeside camp. A camp where there were no meals to cook and no dishes to do for a whole weekend. We could put on makeup or not. It was fine to linger the morning in our pajamas with an extra cup of coffee and visit with friends while the fire cracked and popped gently in the fireplace. The friends might be ones we had known for many years or ones we had just met. But there were hugs all around when it was time to head home.

There were knitters who were masters of the art. There were knitters who were just moving out of the beginner category. There was always someone to respond when a knitter shrieked "Oh no! Something's wrong! Help!!!" Thankfully, the conversation was typically less dramatic. It was usually more like, "Oh, that's gorgeous! What pattern is that?" Or, "I've never used that yarn. Do you like it?"

At the end of every day, I read this sign that hung on the wall over my bed. And what a reminder it was each morning. For me, this is what a retreat is about. It's about being in community. Being together with those who share a common interest. Being with women who encourage each other. In their knitting journey. In life's journey. There were stories told in the mornings that had us rolling in laughter before we'd brushed our teeth. There were gentle voices to say, "I understand" as the conversation turned toward more serious topics late at night.

And yes, there IS knitting at a knitting retreat! So let's talk about some practical considerations. I have been to enough of these retreats over the years to know that successful "retreat knitting" means choosing a pattern that can be worked on while talking and listening. It also helps to use a lighter colored yarn. Dark yarns are always harder to see. (I tried that once. Lesson learned.) And you may not know if good lighting will be available.

It helps to have a system to keep up with where you are. I know, I think you'll remember where you were when you laid the knitting down to go check out the snack table or go see a beautiful shawl that someone pulled out of a knitting bag. But the odds are not in your favor. A tracking system helps.

My own system of keeping up is just a simple piece a graph paper stuck on the side of my pattern. I check off each row as I finish. But as simple as it is, I didn't think of doing this until I saw a photo of someone else who uses this method. There are wonderful apps available, like knitCompanion, if you are a tech lover. (Debbie, I'm looking at you!) There are plastic click counters and row counter bead bracelets and digital ring counters and magnetic boards to try if you like gadgets. I think I've tried them all. Just find what works for you.

For social knitting (that's what you call knitting in a group where there is lots of chatter) I go even one step further than I might at home.  This time you can see that I wrote the stitch count out on the right side of the graph paper. Every repeat added 18 stitches, so it was easy to calculate the changing totals. And sure enough, when I counted stitches at repeat #9, I was off a few stitches. You can see a section where I didn't bother to count the stitches. I marked the places where the count was correct. I don't count every time, but at least and now-and-then count lets me make a correction before I've gone too far.

You might also notice the red lines marking off row 4 in the pattern. Row 4 is the single row of purl stitches in the repeat. The red lines are there because a couple of times near the beginning I forgot to purl on that row. A red marker took care of that problem. I'm by no means telling you "my way is best," but after lots of experiments, this IS best for me. We all need to find our own way.

Now, this morning I'm happy to be back doing laundry, unloading the dishwasher, and making a grocery list. A break was good. If your life doesn't allow a weekend get-away, maybe take a few minutes to give yourself a recharge. Play one song on the piano every day. Go outside and walk around your house one time. That might take less than three minutes. But you'll feel the difference.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

When You Don't Want To Cook

Just because you don't want to cook supper doesn't mean you don't have to cook supper. You probably still have to find something to put on the table. Especially if you live in a rural area like we do, where going out to dinner or picking up food can take as much effort as cooking.

This week I had one of those days so I made one of the very easiest slow cooker recipes I know. Put pork chops in the slow cooker. Mix two ingredients—from a can and a bottle. Pour over chops and cook. Really. Could it be any less work?  Keep the can and the bottle in your pantry and you'll be ready for an easy meal, too. Oh....and did I say it's delicious? It's delicious.

We have a guest coming tonight. If I had not just made this for supper a few days ago, this would be our company meal. Yep. A recipe good enough to serve to company and easy enough to let you visit with company while it cooks.


4-6 boneless pork chops (2-3 lbs)
14-oz. can cranberry sauce, whole or jellied
12-oz. bottle chili sauce

Place pork chops in slow cooker.
Empty cranberry sauce into a bowl and microwave* for 20 seconds at a time to melt it enough to combine with chili sauce. (It took mine about 60 seconds total.)
Stir cranberry sauce and chili sauce together.
Pour over pork chops.
Cook on LOW for 7-8 hours or HIGH for 5-6 hours.

*I have found that the whole berry sauce doesn't need to be warmed to mix it. Just mash it up a bit and stir in the chili sauce.

Add a green vegetable and maybe some mashed potatoes, a baked potato, or rice and supper is done. I actually cooked and mashed my potatoes this time, but the Simply Potatoes mashed potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes are good and would be even easier.

Be honest about the time you have to cook. Keep a couple of super-easy recipes handy. Remember that choosing a shortcut product (like the Simply Potatoes) for your meal is still probably a healthier choice than ending up in the drive-thru line. Make the best realistic choices. A homemade sandwich or breakfast for dinner are perfectly good options.

Here at the farm, our meals aren't perfect. Everything isn't always all freshly prepared. Sometimes I can't get it done. Sometimes I just don't want to. But I do the best I can and then move on the next meal. And that is okay.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sour Cream Cinnamon Coffee Cake

It's still January. If you made a New Year's resolution to eat only healthy foods, DO NOT make this cake! It is so very good. So good, in fact, that it might be hard to limit yourself to one slice. I am not a believer in never having treats, but I do believe in moderation. My saving grace was that I baked this coffee cake while I was at Mommy's house. And after I enjoyed a slice (well, maybe two) I headed home and left the cake with them.

This recipe is an old one. I got it from a knitting friend that I met years ago on Ravelry. I now have Ravelry friends like I used to have penpals. After a year or so of emailing back and forth, she drove down from Ohio and we got to meet in person. Somewhere in all of out correspondence, she gave me this cake recipe and said was a favorite. I understand why. Not sure why I waited so long to try it, but I'm glad I finally did.

The recipe says to bake it in a Bundt pan. I couldn't find one at Mommy's house. And I really wanted the cinnamon topping to be the top of the cake anyway. Because of the shape, you typically turn out a Bundt cake and leave it flipped over—top of the cake down on the plate. So it worked out that I used a regular tube cake pan. When I turned out the baked cake, I turned it over again so the cinnamon was on top. Another time, I might try baking it in a 9-inch loaf pan. As you change pan shapes and sizes, the baking time might need to be adjusted.


1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream (8 oz.)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Thoroughly cream butter, sugar and eggs. Stir in sour cream and vanilla. Sift the flour together with baking powder and salt. Stir flour into butter mixture.

Spoon half the batter into a greased Bundt (or tube) pan. Sprinkle with half the topping mix. Carefully spoon remaining batter over cinnamon mix and sprinkle remaining topping over batter.

Bake for 55-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in pan about 10 minutes. Turn out onto plate.

My knitter friend said she has made this and cut the sugar to 3/4 cup and no one noticed. I used the whole 2 cups. Maybe another time, I'll try less sugar. But oh my goodness, this full sugar version was good!

Many older recipes call for sifting flour. I will admit that I often skip that part, like I did with this cake. Here's what I do instead—I stir the flour to fluff it up, then lightly spoon it into the measuring cup and level with a knife. And instead of sifting the flour with the baking powder and salt, I sprinkle those over the measured flour and used a wire whisk to blend the dry ingredients together.

And I must share one cake story. One granddaughter came in and asked what kind of cake I baked. "Coffee cake." In a real life Amelia Bedelia moment, she turned up her nose and said she didn't like coffee. When it was explained that coffee cake didn't have coffee in it, but it was a cake that was good with a cup of coffee, she cut a slice to add to her school lunch. Glad to have provided a learning moment!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Knitting And Grandmothering

I am back at the farm after a few days helping out with the grandchildren while the little one was sick. (Thankfully, she is better now.) One way I help is by providing "car service." I drive to school, pick up after school, drive to dance lessons and haircuts and so on. That lets Mommy skip a lot of buckling and unbuckling in car seats for multiple trips every day. And it's nice to let the sick one continue napping when it's time for these trips and errands.

I often am a responder grandmother—one who leaves on a moment's notice when circumstances demand it. So I keep a "basket of bags" sitting by the sewing machine. It's easy to grab a few knitting projects to take with me when I need to go. I put yarn, pattern, knitting needles, stitch markers, and maybe even a tape measure in a clear ziptop bag.  (Tape measures cost less than a dollar at Hobby Lobby.) It's like making knitting kits.

I usually keep a sock project, a baby hat or two and maybe a shawl or scarf ready to pick up and go. Sometimes—especially with baby hats—I'll even do the cast on and knit a row or two, then it goes in the bag ready to pick up and knit. Bagging up these knitting kits means I need a few extra sets of knitting needles, but I love having several kits to choose from when I leave in a hurry.

Some of my knitting time while being "helper Mimi" was early in the mornings. I would work quietly in my room while Mommy and the sick one got some extra sleep. The light in that room isn't the best. Working with dark yarn is always a challenge but I knew that working with dark yarn over a light background makes the knitting easier to see. This time it was a white washcloth in my lap. It might not be a bad idea to keep a light color dish towel or handkerchief in your knitting bag for this purpose. It really helps.

When you are a traveling knitter, you probably discover from time to time that you don't have quite all of the normal tools/accessories with you. There are so many ways to use everyday items to make do. A mom in the dance class waiting area found a big safety pin for me to use as a stitch marker as I cast on 120 stitches for this tubular scarf. (I had driven straight from home to dance class and met Mommy there. I stayed with Little Sister while she had class and let Mommy take Baby Girl home.) And when I knitted in early mornings in this girly household, it wasn't hard to find a small hair rubber band to keep the stitches from slipping off the needles when it was time to put my work down.

If you are a newer knitter, you might not have thought about all the work-arounds that you can use as you knit. Paper clips work as stitch markers and cable needles. You can use bread twist ties as stitch markers, too. And wine corks can work to keep yarn on the needles when you put the work away. Goodness, you could even knit with chopsticks if you are desperate. Just think before you give up when your regular tools aren't handy.

I have found that always having my knitting with me helps me stay centered when life is a little chaotic. It's like meditation with yarn.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Swiss-Style Brisket with Champagne Cheddar Grits

Swiss-Style Brisket with Champagne Cheddar Grits

I happened to see this recipe on Facebook a couple of weeks ago. A high school friend of mine and her sister both have quite a reputation as excellent cooks. The sister posted this one when she made it. She said she just makes up recipes as she goes. She told me her husband says they never eat the same dish twice! If you are not as creative in the kitchen as she is, here is one of her latest creations, shared with her permission.

Months ago, my crockpot had an accident (actually, it was Daddy-O who had the accident) and I meant to replace it but I hadn't slowed down to buy a new one until I saw this recipe. Yes. This recipe pushed me to order a new one right then! I made this brisket for supper last week when it was cold. (This weekend we are wearing flipflops.)

It's a recipe in the "good and easy" category. The only real prep was slicing the onion. I did that ahead and put it in a freezer ziploc bag so that Daddy-O could put everything in the crockpot while I was away. Use freezer bags for storing cut onion in the refrigerator. The freezer bags are vapor-proof and should keep your refrigerator from smelling like onions.


1 beef brisket (or any other roast--chuck works great)
salt, pepper, & garlic powder
1 jar Classico spaghetti sauce with Cabernet or portabella mushrooms
1 onion, sliced thin

Place beef, rubbed with salt, pepper and garlic powder, into crockpot. Cover with sliced onion. Pour spaghetti sauce over. Cook on HIGH for 6-8 hours. When fork tender, slice meat and place back into sauce while preparing grits.

Cheese Grits:
quick-cooking grits (the 5-minute kind—not instant)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup shredded Champagne Cheddar cheese (or cheese of your choice)

Cook grits for 4 servings, according to package. Stir in garlic powder and shredded cheese. Stir until cheese melts. You can adjust the garlic powder and cheese amount to suit you.

I was not familiar with Champagne Cheddar cheese, but I happened to see it at Fresh Market the day before I planned to make this and decided to try it. If you don't have it, your regular cheddar will work just fine. But doesn't the recipe with "Champagne Cheddar grits" sound special?

If you live in a place where grits are a "foreign food," this would be delicious over mashed potatoes. If you like grits, but have never made them, let me give you a couple of tips. When you stir the grits into the boiling water, keep stirring as you pour the grits into the water. Don't dump them all in at once. That helps avoid lumps. I also like to cook them a little longer than the package states. I like mine thick. When I have time, I will turn the heat off, cover the pot and let them stand a couple of minutes before serving. If they get too thick, stir in a little warm water.

Thanks, Reida, for giving us a good busy-day supper idea.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

One Foot In Front Of The Other

One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. Remember to breath. Sometimes that's all we can do. That is all we are asked to do.

Pattern:  A Nice Ribbed Sock by Glenna C.
Yarn:  Paton's Kroy Socks, Bramble Stripes colorway
Needles:  size 1-1/2 (2.5 mm)

I have made several prayer shawls over the years. But these are prayer socks. For someone who is putting one foot in front of the other. Stepping out in faith.

Pattern:  Kid's Fruit Hat by Ann Norling
Yarn:  Rowan Wool Cotton
Needles:  size 6

And this is a happy knit---another new baby has arrived. I just counted today. I have made 43 baby hats in the last few years. My own grandchildren have gotten several each, but many, many have been gifts. They have been sent all over the country. What a fun way to welcome new babies.

I find I knit when times are hard and when times are happy. The rhythm of the needles soothes me. The focus on the pattern keeps my mind in gear. I'm knitting love and prayers into each stitch. It's good for me. It's good for the one I'm knitting for.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Sweet Goodbye

Pumpkin Spice Muffins

One of the best parts of this grandmother gig is getting to babysit every now and then. They don't live close enough for routine babysitting, but I'm happy to drive down to help out when I'm needed. It makes life much easier for Mommy when she doesn't have to take the littlest one along when she has a dentist or doctor appointment.

This past weekend we had a blast of winter weather. Now, you dear readers who live way north of us would laugh at our Southern snow storms. It doesn't take much to throw us in a tizzy. We cancel everything---schools, offices, churches. There isn't much snow removal resources except for the main highways. So we wait for it to melt. Driving down the interstate wasn't bad at all, but when I made the turn onto their hilly street, it was pretty icy.

Since there was no school because of the snow, the two little sisters and I had a good time together. We played Candyland (by their rules) and Go Fish and the newest game, Sneaky Snacky Squirrel (which is a great game for the really young ones.) There was dancing and singing and dollhouse play, too.

During nap times I was happy to sit down and add a few rounds to my pair of socks. (Knitting is such a wonderfully portable hobby.) These socks are for Mommy. It would have been nice if I could have finished them before I came home today but I have half a sock to go. It was 11 degrees one night while I was there. And it is supposed to be in the 70s this coming weekend. We will be back in flipflops.

This morning all the girls did have to go to school---three schools, three drop off times, three dismissal times. I had to leave before even the preschool dismissed, so I decided I would leave them a treat. It's hard to leave them when they ask, "Mimi, can you live here forever?" Or, "Can I come with you and live at the farm." Okay. That's the two little ones. The high school sister has moved on, as she should. Her focus is on her friends and keeping up with AP classes. And I know that all too soon, these precious little girls will expand their world, too. So I'm soaking up all the Mimi love while it lasts. But I hope this sweet surprise helped with the goodbye sadness.

I left these pumpkin spice muffins ready for them to find when they got home from school. And maybe a muffin will find its way into a lunch box or two tomorrow. This recipe was the very first one I posted on this blog all those years ago. Back then we used it because it didn't have any eggs or soy in it. At that point Big Sister was dealing with some food sensitivities that thankfully, she has outgrown. But this recipe stands on its own. We've made it many times since then just because it's easy and it's delicious. If you have a young baker in your house, this a a terrific recipe for them to make, too.


1 box Duncan Hines spice cake mix
1 (15-oz) can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup water

    1/2 all-purpose flour
    1/2 brown sugar, packed
    1/2 stick butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put cupcake papers in a 12-cup muffin tin. Mix cake mix, pumpkin and water until well blended. Using a hand mixer is the easiest way to do it. Spoon batter into muffin tins. Add topping.

Mix flour and sugar. Cut butter in until crumbly. Sprinkle topping over muffin batter, pressing in lightly.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until done. Test with a toothpick. It should come out clean when done.

We have made these muffins with yellow cake mix and chocolate cake mix, too. They are all good. But we all like the spice cake mix best. Try them all and decide which is your favorite.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Happy New Year! Happy Birthday!

Welcome 2017! We made it through the holiday season and are a few days into a brand new year. Our holiday was a combination of Christmas trees and coughing, singing carols and sniffing, celebration and sneezing.  It seems like most everyone I know had similar problems. Our family was here at the farm for nearly two weeks and my kitchen looked like a hospital dispensary. 

In spite of all of the coughs and sneezes and sniffles, we enjoyed our Christmas. Just at a slower speed. I think I liked the "lesser" version we observed. I'm taking notes for next Christmas. I had already planned to do less, but this was even less than I thought I'd do. And it was fine without making every single special Christmas recipe we love. It was fine without as many gifts (which meant less wrapping for me.) It was fine with just a few of the decorations pulled out. It was enough to be together. There was singing and dancing, with "shows" put on by the two tiny ballerinas who sometimes insisted we all get up and dance with them.

And mixed in with Christmas and New Year's observances, there was a birthday. Bless all of you people who have a birthday around Christmas. Mommy's birthday is a week after Christmas. I had many a "mommy fail" years ago when just as the Christmas rush subsided I'd remember that I had not planned a birthday party yet! Or bought a birthday gift. School friends were still out of town on Christmas break. Store shelves were nearly bare as I shopped last minute for a gift. Mommy's birthday often felt like a "P.S." after the big holiday season.

This year we celebrated a little early, before they headed home. And I did make sure there was cake. Some things are not negotiable. For the little girls, that's the most important part of a birthday celebration. A cake with candles. They expected to have a cake for their mommy. Beyond that, it was all okay. Well, almost. Little Sister wasn't sure about the "square cake."  "Cakes are round, Mimi, not square." she explained. Well, I overruled her and baked this one in a 9x13 foil pan with a lid, so that her mommy could take the leftover cake home with them.

I am not a cake baker, but this recipe has never failed me. It came from cousin Jackie who was a wonderful cook. I've topped it with Caramel Frosting. And it's good with strawberries and whipped cream. But this time I used a chocolate frosting. This frosting recipe came from Martha McDaniel, a local home economics teacher back in the day. I was not a student where she taught, but Daddy-O had a home living class with her. I know buying a can of frosting is easy, but truly this isn't much effort and it's so much better! Trust Martha.

I think that maybe this cake and frosting was even better on the second day. (We kept a little of the cake here.) I'm keeping this recipe in mind when I need to take a cake somewhere.


2 cups self-rising flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla 

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Beat until well mixed. This can be baked in layers or a 9x13-inch pan. (Greased and floured, of course. Or, use baking spray.) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown and the top springs back when lightly touched.


1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
2 squares chocolate
1 egg
1 (16-oz) box 4X confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
dash salt
chopped nuts, if desired  

Melt butter and chocolate squares. Add egg and beat well. This will get thick and look like "clabber." Add box of sugar, vanilla and salt. Stir in chopped nuts if using them.

If mixture is a little dry, add a small amount (1-2 tablespoons) of warm water. This frosting is thick and spreads nicely. It works best when spread on a warm cake.  

If you are using a bag of powdered sugar, 3-3/4 cups equals a 16-oz box. And the chocolate squares really are "square." My chocolate was in little sections and two sections made a square. I only had unsweetened chocolate in the pantry, so I added a big pinch of sugar when I was melting it. The last time I made it, I used semi-sweet chocolate. Good to know either will work.

The cake was delicious, but now it's time to give up the daily treats that are hard to avoid during the holidays. Salads and apples and grapes are calling my name!