Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Easy Peasy And Loosey Goosey


I had zero idea that this supper would be blog worthy. So you only get a photo of the leftovers. But sometimes life's surprises are good ones. I made a plate for Daddy-O's lunch tomorrow.  We've been busy this week with house and yard chores so I made something new that sounded super easy. I was only aiming for edible. But this exceeded my goal. Daddy-O said, "Be sure to put this one on the blog so I could make it if I needed to when you are gone." I put boneless pork chops in the slow cooker and topped them with a mix of two ingredients—a can of whole berry cranberry sauce and an envelope of dry onion soup mix. You really can't get much easier.

The rest of the meal of the meal was only canned peas (which Daddy-O loves) and yellow rice from a mix. Remember? I told you that tonight was all about easy. We were focused on the house and the yard. (The house is clean and the grass is cut.) Cooking supper was way down on my list. But it's a happy thing when something that easy turns out to be delicious.

I saw a recipe somewhere in the last week or two that used the cranberry sauce/onion soup concoction. I don't even remember what meat they put it over or how they cooked it. But I have a recipe on the blog that uses cranberry sauce and bottled chili sauce over pork chops. So I kinda sorta followed those directions. I also was trying out a new slow cooker. All slow cookers are different. So I set this one like I usually do. But two hours before it should have been done, I checked it. New slow cooker has a temperature probe. And it was done. So I turned it to "keep warm" until we were ready to eat. I think you could also do this in the oven. The pandemic year has found me getting all loosey-goosey with my cooking methods and recipes (or lack of recipes.) 

For the record I'm also getting all loosey-goosey with my piano playing. Who says I have to play ALL the notes on the page? Don't tell Little Sister who is taking piano lessons and practicing hard, but now I play a song the way I want to. Add notes. Leave out notes. As long as it sounds good, it IS good. There are perks to passing age 70. 

So Daddy-O, here you go! Since it wasn't really a recipe, I had to make up a name for it. Somewhere later I'll try the cranberry/onion soup mixture with other meats.

CRANBERRY PORK CHOPS

4 to 6 boneless pork chops (my pack only had 3 this time)
1 (14-oz) can whole berry cranberry sauce
1 envelope dry onion soup mix

Place chops in a slow cooker. Mix cranberry sauce and onion soup mix. Spread on top of chops. Cook on LOW 5-6 hours. Or until done. (This slow cooker was faster than my other one, where the recipe says LOW for 7-8 hours. I also had less meat. Do it how your slow cooker works.) 


If you are wondering why I bought a new slow cooker, let's just blame it on pandemic brain. I have seen so many people who love the Hamilton Beach slow cooker I had to try it, too. This one has a temperature probe and a locking lid. Like every brand there are so many different models I have no clue if this particular one is even one I read about. I do like the locking lid. Haven't used it enough to have thoughts about cooking in it. I've used the Crock-Pot brand for decades with no complaints. Like I said...pandemic brain and too easy online ordering. Now to figure out where to store it. It will likely end up in Big Sister's apartment kitchen in the fall. Yes. She is that old.








 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Best Slow Cooker Pulled Pork I've Ever Had

PULLED PORK BARBECUE -- SLOW COOKER


I got lucky enough to bring home a quart of this pulled pork last week when I stopped by Mommy's house to drop off some things on my way home from Jessica's house. And I got to see the granddaughters for a few minutes. Right now I can only visit with the little girls through the storm door but that is better than nothing. 

When Mommy ordered her groceries for the week, she had not anticipated such a large cut of meat, so she ended up with a massive amount of BBQ. Worked out well for me because I got back to the farm late that afternoon and I didn't have a dinner plan. But I had the BBQ that Mommy shared. It was delicious! We wrapped it up in tortillas because that's all I had on hand. 

Let me be clear! This does not taste like you made it in a slow cooker. It's pretty close to pulled pork you'd get at a BBQ restaurant. I have a couple of other slow cooker pulled pork recipes on the blog and we like them, too. But this one is different. Better different. I asked Mommy to share the recipe and tell a little about it. And send me photos. Here is what she sent.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Words and photos from Mommy....


This was a hit at my house. The first time it was served, Little Sister ate 3 helpings, Baby Girl ate 2 big helpings, and J-Daddy said it was worthy to sit on an Independence Day spread. Leftovers have been eaten multiple times without complaints.

 

PULLED PORK BARBECUE
from Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker by Nicki Sizemore, creator of FromScratchFast.com 

Spice Rub
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbsp packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp granulated garlic (I used jarred minced garlic.)
  • 1 tsp ground mustard
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (I omitted it.)
  • 1 (4-5 lb) boneless pork shoulder (also called pork butt), trimmed of excess fat
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Slow Cooker
  • 1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced (I used jarred minced garlic.)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2-1 cup barbecue sauce (I used 1c of Sweet Baby Ray's Original Sauce.)
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
For Serving
  • Buns (or rice, or tortillas)
  • Barbecue sauce 
  • Red Cabbage & Sweet Corn Slaw (aka Princess Slaw at our house) 
RUB THE PORK
1. Combine the paprika, sugar, garlic, mustard, and cayenne in a small bowl. Season the pork generously with salt and pepper to taste, and rub it all over with the spice mixture. If you have the time, refrigerate the pork in an airtight container or ziplock bag overnight.

ASSEMBLE THE SLOW COOKER
2. Arrange the onion and garlic in the bottom of a 5- to 7-quart slow cooker, and pour in the vinegar and honey. Place the pork on top. Cover and cook until the pork is tender and pulls apart easily with a fork, 9 to 10 hours on low or 7 to 8 hours on high.

3. Switch the slow cooker off, and transfer the pork to a cutting board. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Using two forks, coarsely shred the pork, discarding any large chunks of fat.

4. Using a ladle, skim off enough fat and liquid in the slow cooker to measure 1 cup, then discard. Transfer the shredded pork back into the slow cooker with the remaining liquid and onions, and add the barbecue sauce to taste. Season with salt and pepper to taste then toss to combine.

SERVE
5. Pile the pulled pork into buns, and serve with additional barbecue sauce on the size for drizzling. Serve the slaw either in the sandwiches or on the side (or both!)

Cook’s Notes:
  • Kroger gave me 8-lb bone-in pork butt, so I cut it in half, and doubled the spice rub amounts. I adjusted the cooking time to 5 hours on low and then 5 hours on high.
  • Since I skipped cayenne pepper, J-Daddy added Frank’s hot sauce to his before eating.
  • The first time I served barbecue with rice and lima beans. The second time I served it in quesadillas. The third time it will be served as sandwiches. Guessing could work in a biscuit or on pizza too…

 


 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Sometimes A Recipe Is More Than A Recipe

Lemon Pound Cake


Sometimes a recipe is just a recipe. But every now and then a recipe is more like a love letter. Or a sympathy card. Or a thinking of you card. This pound cake is one of those special recipes. Every time I make it I am reminded of a teacher who loved my children dearly. She loved all her students. She was a miracle worker as far as I could tell, teaching band class to middle school students. I marveled at how she could take several classes of seventh graders, most not able to read music, hand out assorted instruments and by mid-December put them all on stage and present a Christmas concert, playing songs we could recognize. It was a miracle. Year after year. 


She was tough as nails in the classroom. She had to be to create music out of potential chaos. (Do you remember your seventh grade?) But there was always love underneath the tough. This pound cake was her calling card. I don't know exactly how many she brought to us over those band years. I particularly remember the one I found waiting on us in the front seat of our car. The cake was still warm. I don't have a clue what had happened that time, but this cake was waiting on us when we got home. It was her way to say "I care." Those were some hard years for us as we cared for ailing parents (all of them) and our older daughter had a serious surgery. It felt like we lurched from one challenge to the next for a time. But when it started to feel like too much, a cake appeared. And I knew we were not alone.


Paula was generous enough to share her recipe with me years ago. But like many of those special recipes I never thought mine was a good as hers. But last week I think I hit the mark. It was my shining pound cake moment! This was an early birthday cake for Jessica. I went down to play with the baby while she packed and packed and packed. They are moving soon. I am pretty sure that both of us worked off any extra calories from the cake.

I had a learning curve with this recipe. I remember the year I wanted to make one for a baby shower. The first one rose so high that it collapsed and ran down the outside of the pan. When that one finished baking (it still tasted good) I cleaned it all up and made another one. By supper time, I had made FOUR pound cakes to get one that looked good enough to serve. So glad those learning days are behind me. But the nice thing with pound cake is the homely ones still taste good. I figured out that I was over mixing the batter after I added the flour and milk. Too much air was incorporated and they puffed up too much. Now I make sure to mix it plenty good with the butter/sugar/egg part, but not overdo the flour part.


For the most part, I like pound cakes plain—no frosting. If it's a really good one, it doesn't need anything else. But this time I added a lemon glaze to Paula's recipe. It was a birthday cake. And we like things really lemony. 

You mix this in the standard pound cake method. Paula's directions didn't quite tell me step-by-step. But in the years since, I have made many pound cakes (mostly chocolate) and have a better handle on how it's done.  Check my notes that follow the recipe. 

LEMON POUND CAKE


2 sticks butter, softened

8 tbsp. butter Crisco

3 cups sugar

5 large eggs

1 cup milk

4 cups plain flour (I like to use White Lily flour for this)

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lemon flavoring

1 tablespoon vanilla extract


Cream butter, sugar and eggs until consistency of paint; then add dry ingredients alternately with milk.  Add flavorings last.

Bake for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes at 325 degrees in a floured and greased tube pan.

This cake freezes well.

That is the recipe just as I got it from Paula. I've always teased her that I needed to know what brand of paint she used. 

Make sure your lemon flavoring is not old. I use a lot of vanilla and it doesn't have time to sit on the shelf long. But lemon flavoring is another matter. If it doesn't have a good strong lemon smell, go buy a new bottle. Like I had to do.


Standard cake directions apply here. If you are not a cake baker, let me help you out...
  • Whisk baking powder and salt into flour to blend it in.
  • Cream butter and shortening until lighter and fluffy. Add sugar and mix well, until sugar is nearly dissolved.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one.
  • Add flour and milk alternately, starting and ending with the flour, mixing just until blended after each addition.
  • Add lemon flavoring and vanilla extract and mix another 30 seconds. 
  • Use a spatula to scrape to the bottom of the bowl and make sure everything is mixed.
  • Pour (or spoon) into a well greased tube pan. (I use Baker's Joy to grease the pan.) Spread it evenly. 
  • When done, let cake cool in pan on a rack for about 15 minutes. Turn out and cool completely.
I didn't use a recipe for the glaze. Just mixed powdered sugar, fresh lemon juice and a little melted butter until it tasted good and was the consistency to drizzle. I'm sure you can look up measurements if you need them.

If you have an extra minute, go read what the Bitter Southerner has to say about pound cakes. There are some excellent tips there. One day I'll try their recipe. And I want to make the other recipes in that article as well.


Here is my "fitness trainer" for the week. This was one of her rare, still moments. Oh, those are long, tiring days. But then you blink and that hard part is over. Glad I got to spend some extra time with her. While I can still keep up!





 

Saturday, March 6, 2021

I'm Still Here

While I was taking a blog vacation, 
I missed the 10th anniversary of this blog last month. 
Who knew this venture would last so long? 
The little one on the blog title banner is 10 years old now.
And two more granddaughters have been added to the family 
since I began my grandmother journal here. 

Oven Baked Chicken Fajitas

Did you think I went away and wasn't coming back? When I looked at this blog last week I realized it's been over a month since I posted. It was not an intentional break, but it was one that I needed. I needed time to just be. Time to take care of some house chores. Time to do some serious decluttering. 

You can thank reader Becky for today's post. She emailed to tell me she thought she had accidentally been unsubscribed. But no. She was not receiving new posts because there weren't any. I ran out of words. 

I've been thinking a lot about this past year. This time last year I was at the beach with my girl friends for our annual trip. Watching the TV news the night before we headed home we saw the announcement that the NBA was cancelling the rest of their season. I knew things were about to be drastically different. But goodness, I had no clue how very different. And here we sit now, fully vaccinated, thinking about how we plan to venture back into the world. For the last year, we have mostly stayed home. No restaurant meals. No trips. 

Are we ready to make a mad dash back into our favorite restaurant? Not quite yet. We will try outside dining first. But I have realized how much better we have eaten this year when all of our meals have been at home. I have control over salt, fat and portions. I am healthier now that I was last year. And I don't want to lose the health improvements I've made. I also started an exercise program while I was only at home. And I have loved that program. We all have to find the one that works for us, but Grow Young Fitness has suited me to a tee. Next week will mark one year of following the progressive workouts without missing a day. Yes, there is a subscription fee but for me it's been worth it.


You know me. I only cook easy things. And after a year of making all the meals, I have streamlined my simple cooking even more. The above supper was made with no recipe. I pulled out the things that go with a Chinese-inspired dish—ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, etc.—and put them with chicken and vegetables that were in the refrigerator. And I just cooked. For whatever reason, that feels much faster than following a recipe. Trust yourself in the kitchen. You know more than you think!

So what have I been doing during that last month when I didn't blog? I have spent some time with the newest granddaughter, keeping an eye on her while her mommy packs up their house. That family is moving. I'll head back there one more time before they go.

There are more boxes stacked up now than when I made this photo.

After watching Jessica pack and pack and pack, I realized now was the time to get serious about decluttering. I'm talking about the things put away neatly in cabinets and closets and drawers. But things I no longer needed. Right at this minute I have many  boxes ready to donate. And that much more has gone to the dump. I've been doing this with a vengeance. And acknowledging that things that served me well have no place in my current life. This feels so good. (Marie Kondo would be proud.) 

I have also decommissioned my "pandemic pantry." What a lesson I've learned from this year. I know that it's a good thing to have a well-stocked pantry for those emergency times. But I have learned more specifically what things I use a lot of and what "emergency" foods I shouldn't have bought. Ever. Yesterday I sorted it all out. Threw out the expired foods. Boxed up the excess/about to expire items and have them ready to go where they are needed. And I'll plan my menus around what is on hand as I work down my food stash.

So while the last week has been non-stop busy around the house, we still had to eat. I found a box of recipes printed out from my blog. (This year I've gotten better at cooking from a screen and not needing paper.) And one recipe jumped out at me as I went through that stack of paper and tossed the duplicates and the ones I'll never cook. It had been about a year since I made it, so it was due for a repeat.

If you need a simple supper, give this one a try. No. It is not fajitas like you get at your favorite Mexican restaurant. But it's delicious even if it doesn't sizzle. 


This time I used a  whole red and a whole yellow pepper. The tri-pack of peppers I had were smaller than the huge green peppers I often buy. The amount of pepper strips is not critical to the recipe. The rest of the recipe I did just like it says.

OVEN BAKED CHICKEN FAJITA 

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken cutlets, cut into thin strips (cut against "the grain")  
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons chili powder
1-1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 (10-oz) can diced tomatoes with green chilies (I used Rotel Mild)
1 medium onion, cut into thin strips
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into thin strips 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place chicken strips in a greased 9x13-inch baking dish.
In a small bowl (I used a custard cup) combine the oil, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, oregano and salt. Drizzle the spice mixture over the chicken and stir to coat. Add the undrained tomatoes, peppers and onions to the dish. Stir to combine. 

Bake, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender. Stir a time or two through the cooking time.

We topped ours with sour cream, salsa, avocado and shredded lettuce. And instead of a second "fajita" I spooned the chicken/pepper mix over the shredded lettuce. That was a good, less-carby way to enjoy this.

Let's hope I'm not gone again for so long. Today the whole Blogger platform is trying to thwart me. Fingers crossed it sorts itself out soon.








Monday, February 1, 2021

The Best Vegetarian Chili


I have a thing about naming recipes "The Best...." or "The Ultimate..." That is always a subjective call. Today's recipe was named "The Best Instant Pot Vegetarian Chili" and I will say that this recipe might be worthy of the title. I have been making similar vegetable chilis or bean chilis for years and years. Everything from the simplest "open the cans, dump and heat" to others that called for more seasonings, sometimes using packets of ranch dressing mix or chili mix." But this combination of seasonings is a winner. I had all the spices on my shelf—except coriander. I have never owned a bottle of coriander in my life. So I just left that out. And I was totally happy with the result.

This looks like the longest list of ingredients. But it's actually a very simple recipe if you don't mind dicing several peppers and an onion. I've said this before but I'm going to tell you again. With a long list like this, here's what I like to do:
  • Gather all ingredients before you start. Make sure you have what you need.
  • Measure the spices into a small cup before you start cooking. I move a spice bottle from the left side of the recipe to the right as I measure so I know what I've done should I get interrupted. It happens.
  • Make the long recipe easier to read. Divide the recipe ingredients into groups—if you print the recipe out, draw a line between the groups.  I divided this one up as I typed.
See? There is nothing special there. But trust me, these steps make everything easier. 


VEGETARIAN CHILI (for Instant Pot)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, diced
1 red onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup chicken or vegetable broth (I used 1 tsp of Knorr Chicken bouillon in 1 cup hot water)
15-oz can kidney beans, drained & rinsed
15-oz can black beans, drained & rinsed
15-oz can pinto beans, drained & rinsed 
1 cup corn kernels, frozen or canned (I like Green Giant Steam Crisp corn)
28-oz can crushed tomatoes

1 heaping tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin 
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
couple of splashes of low-sodium soy sauce

Turn your Instant Pot to Sauté and give it a couple of minutes to heat. Add olive oil, bell peppers, onion and garlic. Sauté for 3-4 minutes, stirring a few times as it cooks, until vegetables are slightly softened. Stir in remaining ingredients.

Close Instant Pot and cook on High pressure for 4 minutes. Once the cooking is done, let the pot natural release for 5 minutes, then quick release the remaining pressure.

Serve the chili with your favorite chili toppings, such as shredded cheese, sour cream or tortilla chips.

IF YOU DON'T HAVE AN INSTANT POT, make this on the stovetop. Sauté the peppers, onion and garlic. Then add the remaining ingredients, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-60 minutes, stirring occasionally. 


You can go back and check the original post and see the recipe with the two ingredients I left out—coriander and salt. Plus, she has other tips. She says if your Instant Pot has a tendency to show the "Burn" warning, you can stir in the broth, then add the remaining ingredients without stirring. You can stir after it has cooked.

We topped our chili with tortilla chips, so neither of us missed the salt. And it was plenty good without the coriander. I have cooked for 50+ years without using that. So I'm pretty sure if I buy a bottle, it won't get used much. But then, maybe I will try adding it to see what I've been missing all these years.

This chili had a more complex flavor than most I've vegetable chilis I've made. The smoked paprika and the cocoa gave it a depth of flavor that my less complicated versions lacked. It's loaded with peppers, but when you taste it, the amount does not overwhelm. The flavors are balanced. The textures of the soft beans and the crisp corn are just right. The crushed tomatoes made this a thick hearty chili. So. You tell me. Is this the "best" vegetable chili ever? By golly, I think it might be!

You know I always ask my cattle farming husband for his opinion. "Well, it's not hamburger steak smothered in onions." Then he went back for more. I interpreted that as, "Yes. This is really good." We had a freezer incident last week. Everything thawed out, so we ended up cooking 5 beautiful filet mignons that night. A couple of those were grilled rare and frozen again for another time. (Not sure how that will work out.) But Daddy-O had plenty of red meat that week. I do like to mix in some meatless meals along the way. First, because I really like meatless meals. And second, because it is a good choice from a health standpoint. 




Friday, January 29, 2021

Goodness Gracious! This Glaze!!!


Sunday dinners used to be a thing. After church we would sit down to a table set with the good china on a tablecloth. Food was placed on the table to be passed around family style. That is how we learned to set a table and how we learned good table manners. How on earth my mother got the dinner cooked on Sundays, I am still not sure. It felt like it magically appeared after church. But it was a given...we would sit down together and eat,


Fast forward several decades and things are different. Pre-pandemic, we often would go out to eat after church. No lunch to cook. No dishes to wash. And we would always see some friends to visit with as we left the restaurant. If we did eat at home, it likely was something I had picked up at a drive-thru on the way home. (KFC, anyone?) 

Roasted sweet potatoes, green beans, & pear salad on the side.

But on Sunday of this week it felt like we time traveled back to the 1960s. The table was set. A full meal was ready. And we—just the two of us—sat down together and shared a proper meal. Daddy-O saw this recipe a couple of weeks ago and he told me he'd like for us to try it. I suggested that he cook it. And he said, "Sure. If you will make the side dishes." The deal was done. 

He found the recipe for glazed pork loin in the online version of our local newspaper. Not the pork tenderloin that we cook fairly often. But a pork loin. Make sure you buy the right cut of pork. This roast is cooked, uncovered, in the oven and basted with a tasty glaze. 

I make pork loin in the slow cooker sometimes. This excellent oven version is almost as easy. This particular pork roast came from Whole Foods (I have discovered they will deliver to my front door) instead of the big box store where I have picked up groceries for months now. I will still order pork loin from the big box store but I do think the pricier Whole Foods roast was the better piece of meat. It's nice to have options.

But y'all...this recipe is all about the glaze. It is delicious. After putting the first slices on our plates we realized we needed to spoon some glaze over the top. And the best part of this recipe might have been the leftovers. We sliced the remaining roast very thin and put the slices back in the glaze to be reheated. So. Very. Good. The last slices were made into sandwiches on toasted buns topped with a sliced of Swiss cheese that got all melty.


If you are close to my age, you remember cutting recipes out of the newspaper or a magazine. When you find a recipe online now, it's still possible to print it out (ask a grandchild how if necessary) if you like to cook from a printed copy. I do. And there are several ways to save them online, too. I like the "CopyMeThat" app. It only saves the recipe. Pretty uncomplicated. I only use it to clip recipes. Maybe it does get complicated if you try to do more, but it's easy to save recipes.

MAPLE GLAZED PORK ROAST

1 (3-lb) pork loin roast
2 teaspoons canola oil
1-1/4 cups maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 375º.  Season roast well with salt and pepper. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet until just smoking. Brown roast on all sides, about 10 minutes. Do not clean skillet. 

Move roast to a 9x13-inch baking dish. (We used a baking pan lined with foil.) Cook 50 to 70 minutes, until internal temp is 145º, flipping roast over about halfway through cooking.

While roast is cooking, make the glaze. Pour any fat out of skillet. Heat to medium-high and add syrup, cinnamon, cloves and cayenne pepper, scraping up any brown bits left in skillet into sauce. Simmer until slightly thickened and fragrant, about 30 to 60 seconds. Remove from heat and let sit until ready to use.

With 20 to 30 minutes left to cook, pour the glaze over the roast and roll the roast over in pan to coat it all. Return to oven to finish cooking. If glaze in pan begins to look dry, pour 1/4 cup hot water into pan. Check temp at 50 minutes. Continue cooking until desired doneness.

Slice and serve with glaze spooned over slices.

Serves 8. (Or two hungry people, with lots of leftovers)







 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

It's Book Club Day!


Saturdays are the day the Red Beret Book Club gets together on Zoom to talk about the book of the week. My 10-year-old granddaughter and I are reading the Nancy Drew books in order. I sent her a boxed set for Christmas having no clue if she would even like these books that were written in the 1930s. I know she loves old Fred Astaire movies, so I had hopes.

I loved them when I was the 10 year old. But I wasn't even sure if I would still enjoy them as much now as I did decades ago. But I do! Yes. They are dated. Nancy climbs up a trellis to sneak in an upstairs room to look for clues wearing a SKIRT! They are served a first course of bouillon or fruit cup for lunch. Neither of those things are likely to happen today. But it's like watching old black & white movies—those references add texture to the story.


Back in the fall, while stuck at home, I began sending Little Sister a Trixie Belden book every few weeks. I know how much fun it is to get a package in the mail. I was the biggest Trixie Belden fan back in the day. That's one of my old books pictured above. I still have a few on my book shelf. I remember the books on the revolving book rack at the local dime store. I'd slowly turn that rack around over and over, studying all the titles. But if a new Trixie book was there, it was an easy choice. I still love a good mystery. And this is where that love started. 


During the Christmas holiday season I'll admit I watched a lot of Hallmark Christmas movies. I, like everyone else, was home more than usual. And you all know, those movies may not be stellar cinema. But this was a year when we craved comforting and predictable. These movies fit that bill to a tee.


One Saturday morning in December a Hallmark movie was playing on TV while I was folding laundry. I had missed the beginning of the movie but I heard the main character mention a "Trixie" as she talked about books with a young reader. I was not paying close attention. But I felt sure the Trixie they were talking about was MY Trixie.  I managed to find a re-broadcast of that movie (Holly and Ivy) so that I could record it and take a closer look. And yes, I found a couple of scenes that showed the book title. Trixie Belden on a Hallmark movie! 

I was so excited that I posted the two movie screen shots on Instagram. I did not expect the flood of comments that appeared under that post. So many of my IG friends were also Trixie fans growing up. Trixie was a strong, brave young girl who had adventures that we only could dream about. She made us feel like we could do brave things, too.


Soon after Trixie I discovered the next mystery series—Nancy Drew. Nancy was older and got into more dangerous situations (always coming out on top.) And I loved these books, too. I found an old one at our lake house yesterday. It's waiting on Little Sister when she gets back there. 

At our Red Beret Book Club, we talk about the plot, the characters we like best, things we find interesting and how things were different way back then. And beginning today, we will talk about two books. I discovered there is another Nancy Drew out there...Nancy Drew & the Clue Crew. It features an 8 year old Nancy and her friends. The first mystery involves a missing doll. They are a good starting place for a 1st grade reader. Baby Girl is joining us. Yep. She also has a red beret.

In this crazy year of distancing, we have found a way to stay connected. No, it's not like being together. I miss the hugs. I miss having them curl up in my lap or tuck in under my arm while we read together. But I am thankful for today's technology. Zoom and FaceTime can fill in the gaps until we are together. It is still a connection. We are still making memories.


While we are talking about words—that is what we've talked about, isn't it?—let me say that I think I've gotten more thank you notes in the mail this year than ever. Another way to connect. I'll take a thank you any way it comes...text message, voice mail, email...but a written note can linger on my desk and be re-read again and again. Since this photo, our mail has brought several more notes. So it made me rethink my own note writing. I want to send more.


I decided to make it so easy to write a note that I had no excuses. I found a cute rope coil basket on the Target website ($8) and I added it to my basket. I am loving the Target "drive up" option. They usually are walking out with my order before I've completely pulled into the designated parking spot. Now my writing station is ready. I've added my cards to the basket, along with stamps, return address labels, a pen and my Christmas card list that has most of the addresses I need. For now the basket is on my kitchen table where I can write a note while I enjoy that last cup of coffee. But because it's all contained it can move to the desk in the den, or even the little table beside my favorite chair. This basket stares me in the face every day. I don't do New Year's resolutions. But if I did, writing more notes would be at the top of my list.