Sunday, December 04, 2016

December 4

It's been a long and busy day but I wanted to quickly pop in with a short post.  We took my dad's lighted ceramic Christmas tree to the nursing home and set it up in his room this afternoon.  Although he hasn't had a real Christmas tree at home for many years, he has very much enjoyed this little lighted tree, turning it on at dusk each evening.  So we trust he will enjoy having it in his room.

Next week we plan to take up his creche, complete with a wooden stable.  He made many of these for gifts over the years, and I thought it would be fun to show what the stable looks like.  The creche figures in the scene I have are quite unattractive and really don't fit the scale of the stable, but I hope eventually to find nicer ones. 
Creche with a lantern I found after Christmas last year
 Do you set up a manger scene?  We certainly enjoy ours.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

December 3

Today was our annual Ladies' Christmas Fellowship at church.  We tried something different this year and had a brunch.  For years we had the fellowship on a weekday evening at the church, then switched to having it at someone's home.  Last year we held it on a Saturday afternoon.  This year I had the thought that a brunch might work even better, because it would free up the afternoon and evening during a busy season and would eliminate the concern which many of us have of driving after dark.  We decided to try this and to have it at the church as a more central location.  Most of us felt that it worked out very well as a brunch.  Making foods for a Christmasy brunch is just plain fun.

I brought a California Egg Casserole -- something I have never made at Christmas time before, but it is perfect with red tomato, green avocado, and white cream cheese.  Here it is uncooked.  I failed to get a picture after it baked.

I also made a Cranberry Coffeecake -- a recipe I sort of cobbled together and was so pleased with.  I hope to share the recipe this coming week.

Just a bit of decor.  My friend Heather did the decorating and was determined to make it homey.  She succeeded!
We sat in this area, first to eat, then to have our devotional time, and finally to have our Yankee swap.
The hutch in our fellowship hall was decorated with a Christmasy baking theme.
Gifts awaiting the swap
Buffet table awaiting the arrival of the food
My friend Ruth played her guitar and we sang some carols.

This bowl of cookie cutters was used in our devotional time.  There are relevant Scripture verses clipped to the tags.

Finally gifts were opened.  A fun time.

This Christmas fellowship is a nice way to begin our season and  set our hearts toward the true meaning of the holiday.  The gift swap is fun but really secondary.  It was a lovely morning.

Friday, December 02, 2016

December 2

Well, this has been a different day.  Different, but good.

Mr. T has been off from his regular work for a few days (too wet in the woods) and has instead been doing some maintenance and repairs on the equipment he works with.  He and the mechanic have been doing some work on the machine he runs -- and that necessitated a trip to another area of our state.  He would take some cylinders to this facility to have work done on them, then would pick them up a couple of hours later, and finally return back to the job site to meet up with the mechanic to reinstall them.  We saw this as a good opportunity for some time together, so I went along for the ride.

We left at 6 a.m. and ended up here:
Known in the vernacular as simply "Cat"

And, oh happy day, we were only about ten minutes away from this:

And it was by now close to 8 a.m.  So of course we had to have breakfast.  Wouldn't you?

I had the Sunrise Sampler, always one of my favorites ... though breakfast choices at Cracker Barrel are always difficult.

Mr. T chose a seasonal special, the White Chocolate 'n' Fresh Berry French Toast.  It also came with eggs and a breakfast meat --- he chose turkey sausage.

He said the French toast was delicious, but I was in the mood for something less dessert-like.  He also had a taste of my fried apples, some of my ham, and one of the biscuits that came with my meal.
My view from our table
Of course we also looked around in the country store part of Cracker Barrel and enjoyed seeing the many lovely and unique items for sale.  But that will be a post for another day.
The view from Cracker Barrel
We returned to Cat, picked up his cylinders and headed north.  We did need to stop at one of our state's gorgeous new welcome centers en route.  Here is one of the windows in the general store, still painted for autumn:

And a very limited view of the interior of the welcome center:

We came home, Mr. T headed off to the woods with his cylinders and I headed to the computer to finish up a devotional for our ladies' Christmas fellowship at church tomorrow and then to the kitchen to bake a cranberry coffeecake for the same event.

A full but most enjoyable day!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

December 1

Taken in my dad's back yard this morning.
 It really doesn't seem like December when we look at the outdoors.  We have had a lot of rain over the past couple of days.  Tuesday was a rainy day; Wednesday was not, but last night and early this morning we got a great deal of rain.  My dad's back yard adjoins a field with a brook running through it, but when we get lots of rain the field has a tendency to flood.  That is what you see here.

Once the rain ended this morning I was able to go for a nice long walk with a friend.  The temp was in the 40s!  I took the pics with my Kindle upon returning.
Another view
This one shows the bittersweet bush and stone wall
As does this one
A closer look at the bittersweet bush in December
If you look closely (or click to enlarge) you may also see the water droplets on some of the berries.
I hope to be here at my kitchen table each day through December, but we will see.  I'm definitely planning to be over at my Christmas blog, Mrs. T's Christmas Kitchen, each day, so we will see if I can come up with enough Christmasy material to post in both blogs!

Meanwhile, the weather is a reliable subject for today.

And, now that the calendar has turned to December, this is a lovely time to begin an Advent Bible study or Bible reading challenge.  I will be doing this and find it a wonderful way to deepen my appreciation of Christmas.  Perhaps later this evening I can add some links to this post.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Last day of November

 Where, oh, where, did November go?  It was a whirl of activity, it seems to me.

We swapped cookies.
Photo and recipe from Steph's Silver Boxes
We met up with a cousin of mine in an equidistant town for lunch and a walk by the lake.  Only a couple of pictures were taken.  It was a glorious sunny day, perfect for what we had planned.
We followed that walkway around to the right.  A lovely day.
We had Thanksgiving dinner on the Monday before with my dad at the nursing home.
Pretty centerpieces, place mats, etc. made this meal really festive.
Tables were set up in the activity room so larger groups like ours could have a table just for their family.  Here you see Sam's heaping plate, while Josiah waits for his to be served.
I made owls and alphabet letters.
I baked pies.  Three, over the month.  Here is one:

And there was much more.  We did some Christmas shopping, we had supper out, went to dental and eye appointments, enjoyed a harvest dinner at church.  Just a busy month.

And now December is at the door.  How exciting!  I am hoping to post daily in both of my blogs, but for sure in my Christmas Kitchen.  We will see!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

This gorgeous, meaningful graphic is by Abby at Little Birdie Blessings
From Mr. T and myself, Thanksgiving wishes go out to all of my readers and friends.  May this be a precious day of counting our blessings.  Whether you're part of a family group sitting around a festive, laden table, or if it's just you at a table for one or two in a restaurant, even if you are sitting in a hospital waiting room -- wherever your circumstances find you today, may you find much to thank God for today and every day.  Truly, His mercies are new every morning, and His faithfulness is great!

Thanksgiving Day always seems to bring memories of past Thanksgivings, and along with the memories comes gratitude for the blessings God has showered on us in the past. So to that end I am re-posting memories of my childhood Thanksgivings (and, if you scroll on down, a few memories of more recent ones).


It wasn’t a large group that gathered at the farm for Thanksgiving, although ours was a big family. All of Gram’s six children were married, with families of their own, so it was understandable that not everyone could manage to come at the same time. Usually, about eight or ten adults and teenagers were seated around the dining room table, while five or six younger children ate in the kitchen. It was a very big deal when one was considered old enough to eat in the dining room.

Gram’s dining room was a magical place, even on ordinary days. Creamy-smooth painted wainscoting ran halfway up the walls, where it met a pale wallpaper patterned in clear, bright colors. At the far end of the room were dark built-in cupboards that held plates and serving dishes, and a maple sideboard containing the good silver and the table linens. In one wall were two large sunny windows; in the other, one small window which opened -- amazingly! -- into the pantry. No simple pass-through, this was a real window, with glass in it. As a child, I found that window endlessly fascinating, and I always wanted to see it actually being used.

But the most enchanting thing about the dining room was the corner cupboard that held Gram’s pitcher collection. I could stand in front of that glassed-in cupboard for hours and still not see everything. There were animal-shaped pitchers, like an orange-and-black striped tiger and a lifelike moose head. There were brightly painted Toby jugs and other pitchers made to look like people. There were small, shiny copper pitchers. In fact, her collection included almost every kind of pitcher imaginable. The ones that delighted me most were the miniatures. Some were no bigger than my fingernail, and they were beautifully detailed, painted with tiny flowers, rimmed with gold.

On Thanksgiving Day, the dining room assumed an even greater splendor. The table was extended to its full length and spread with a snowy linen cloth. It was set with Gram’s best dishes -- white with a graceful design of trailing green ivy and a crimped "pie crust" rim. The serving dishes were of the same pattern. At each end of the table stood a butter dish and salt and pepper shakers, all of clear glass in a bumpy hobnail design.
(The above is a bread-and-butter plate like those in my grandmother's set.  It is "Ivy" by Harker Pottery Company.  I inherited my grandmother's dishes, but I have so many dishes already that, much as I loved these, I wanted them to go to someone who would appreciate them more.  I knew that my mother had had it in mind to offer these to a niece [my cousin] and so one day I made a tentative phone call.  My cousin was beyond thrilled to have these dishes and I'm sure she is using them for her family's special dinners.  I had no idea how much she loved the ivy dishes, and I am so happy to have them in good hands.)

And the food! Even before the meal was ready, nibbling was encouraged. The sideboard was covered with a tempting array of pretty little dishes, filled with mixed nuts, chocolates, homemade fudge and divinity, and Grammie Wallace’s famous stuffed dates. For those not inclined to nibble on sweets, cheese and crackers were available. My favorite was sage cheese -- an extra sharp Vermont cheddar, with aromatic sage marbled throughout it.

Even with all the snacking, everyone managed to do the Thanksgiving dinner full justice. In fact, the only sounds during the meal were the clink of forks against china, and the occasional murmur of conversation. Gram prepared and served all the food herself, and never sat down until everything was on the table.

There was turkey, of course, with mounds of moist bread stuffing, redolent of Bell’s Seasoning, and Gram’s incomparable dark brown gravy. There were vegetables -- white, fluffy mashed potatoes, well-peppered golden winter squash, boiled onions, and tender green peas. There was cranberry sauce, both the jellied and the whole-berry types, both referred to by Gram as “cranberry jelly”, and often there was cranberry-orange relish as well. Always, there was a huge tossed salad with Gram’s favorite, Wish-Bone Italian dressing. There were home-baked rolls that exuded a marvelous, yeasty aroma. And sometimes, in keeping with Gram’s love affair with convenience foods (understand this is a lady who once cooked in lumber camps, and you’ll know why!) there were Pillsbury butterflake rolls! What fun it was to pull them apart and eat them layer by layer -- at least, it was fun unless my dad happened to notice, at which time I would be scolded for playing with my food. (There were some benefits to being relegated to the little kids’ table in the kitchen!)

After all this, the desserts were a bit of an anticlimax: apple, custard, and pumpkin pies, and hot, sweet Indian pudding that never tasted quite as wonderful as it smelled.

Even after consuming all that food, most of us were not uncomfortably full. (My cousin Kevin was the exception. He invariably ended up on the living room couch clutching his stomach.) And, as everyone rallied around to clear the table and help with the dishes, there seemed to be a spirit of family closeness and good will that was rarely felt at any other time. Maybe -- just maybe -- the magic of Thanksgiving at Gram’s worked on grownups just as well as it did on children! 

Memories of past Thanksgivings always include thoughts of the days when we hosted Mr. T's large family here, with 20 to 30 people attending.  We borrowed folding chairs and tables from our church and set them up in the living room, and served the food buffet-style in the dining room.  People were quite literally everywhere, and there was so much food that we had to keep the pies on the porch until dessert time.  After the main meal was finished, we packaged up the leftovers, washed the dishes,  and cleared off the table neatly and then, weather permitting, we all took a walk, usually a couple of miles.  (This always reminded Mr. T and his siblings of their childhood Thanksgivings, when they would run laps around the house [outdoors] and jump in the haymow to make room for pie.)

After we got back from our walk, we would reload the table with desserts so people could help themselves.  Someone always brought games along, and some folks would play games while waiting for dessert.  Jenga was always a favorite!  After dessert, usually more games before folks packed up to head home.

Then the real damage control would begin as we cleaned and folded up the tables and chairs, gathered cups from window sills and other horizontal surfaces, and vacuumed the floors, which had taken a beating.  Many years, our own family would then head over to our friends' home for an evening of pie and games.  It was a relaxing time after the busyness of the day!

I could go on and on with nostalgia -- the Thanksgiving break when my daughter's dear friend Emily was with us; the time when we all tramped through our back woods to collect greenery for Christmas wreaths, the year we made the gingerbread house -- but I will stop for now.  Maybe next year!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving help and inspiration

Every year I like to share some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes and traditions with my readers.  Usually I like to post these things earlier than just a few days before the big day.  However, some people do wait until the last minute to decide what they're serving, and others have been known to make last-minute deletions, substitutions, or additions to the menu at the last minute.  (I have been there.)  So here we go ... this is more or less a repost of last year, with a few additions.
I posted the following in 2012, and it includes a lot of the same links I'm sharing today, but it might be helpful to someone:  A Gathering of Thanksgiving Tips and Recipes.

For pies, which are the most intimidating part of the meal for many people, I offer these Helpful Tips for Thanksgiving Pies.  If pie crust intimidates you (as it does many others), then don't stress about it.  I give you a recipe for an easy oil pastry, but if you don't want to go that route, then the sheets of refrigerated pie crust one can buy (I've even seen them in store brands!) work very well.  You can even buy frozen pie shells that aren't half bad.  Or if you just don't want to make pies, you can buy some very nice pies from bakeries that specialize in them.

Some of our Favorite Thanksgiving Pie Recipes are included in this post.  Maybe you will find a new family favorite!

But what if you are avoiding wheat, or a family member who'll be at your table is eating gluten free?  No worries.  This Gluten Free Pie Crust is easy to make and very good.  It's a simple press-in-pan crust and so it really won't work for a double crust pie.  But anyone who has lived without wheat for any length of time will be so happy to have a pie they can eat that they won't care if it's just a single crust pie.  It works perfectly for pumpkin pie, for example.

Probably the next most intimidating part of the meal is the turkey itself.  If you have, or are buying a frozen turkey, the rule of thumb for thawing it is to allow 24 hours in the fridge for each 5 pounds of the turkey's weight.  I find this not quite enough, so allowing an extra day would be my advice.  Invariably if I follow that rule of thumb, the giblets are still frozen in place.  Last year I bought my frozen turkey (21 pounds) on the Thursday before Thanksgiving and put it right into the fridge to start thawing.

Cooking it in an oven bag is my best advice on roasting a turkey.  It shortens the time considerably and produces tender, juicy meat.
From my Autumn in the Air booklet (Cracker Barrel, 2001)
For years, I stressed about gravy.  People love it and expect it, but making it at the last minute can be very stressful.  Usually there are other people in the kitchen, helping out with other things, and that complicates matters (even though they are truly trying to help when they watch over your shoulder and give advice).  So for a few years I then turned to canned or jarred gravy, transferring it to a saucepan and removing the evidence of the cans and jars well ahead of the guests' arrival.  That was great, but I found the gravy packets made even better gravy.  And then finally, I found this recipe:  Easy Turkey Gravy.  It truly is easy and it makes lots and lots of gravy.  If you are feeding people who think there is never enough gravy, try this.  For once they will be satisfied and there may even be some gravy left to serve with the leftovers or to make hot turkey sandwiches.

Stuffing, too, can be a source of discouragement.  I usually use a bag of Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix, prepare it with celery and onion as the package instructions suggest, and also add dried cranberries.  In my tips and recipes post ( the first link at top) I detail how I cook it in a slow cooker.  Just don't leave it in there for too long, as it will burn and dry out.

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes are my go-to recipe for making mashed potatoes for a lot of people.  This year I was seriously thinking of using the Idahoan instant mashed potatoes, which are actually very good and are only $1 per packet, but my hubby won't let me because he loves the make-ahead mashed potatoes so much!

Sweet Potato Casserole is our family's favorite sweet potato recipe.  I've made it with canned sweet potatoes and it comes out just fine.

Broccoli Casserole is another great side dish that always goes over well.

I tend to skip serving rolls when there is so much other good food on the table, but if your family won't let you, then try these: Homemade Dinner Rolls.  They're a homemade crescent roll and are really delicious.

If your family insists on creamed onions (as mine does), here's the recipe I use:  Scalloped Onions.  It uses the frozen small onions.  Life is far too short to peel those little pearl onions.  I always buy the frozen (unsauced) ones and make my own sauce.

Cranberry sauce or relish can be purchased and is just fine.  If you want to make your own, try the Taste of Home site for some good recipes, or you may be able to find one here.

For a memory of my childhood Thanksgivings, you might like to read A Thanksgiving Memory for a little nostalgia.  By the way, that's my grandmother in the photo at top, and the recipe is for my great-grandmother's Date Cake, which was somewhat of a tradition at our holiday dinners.  It was served thickly frosted with white frosting and with walnut or pecan halves pressed into the frosting.

And if you enjoy vintage things, you might like to take a peek at this Children's Book of Thanksgiving Prayers.  This was actually sold as a greeting card, I believe. 

 Setting the Thanksgiving table is always an enjoyable task.  I've made a few Thanksgiving table toppers, hot mats, and so on.  These Thanksgiving Candle Mats always make an appearance on our Thanksgiving table!
Some years I bring out the cornucopia!
 For more Thanksgiving posts, click on the "Thanksgiving" label in the word cloud of labels in the right sidebar.  You may find some surprises I've forgotten about!