Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Lesson from the Linen Closet

This week I was beginning the process of decluttering a file cabinet... trying to decide what to save and what to throw away. Some things are no-brainers -- owners’ manuals for worn-out or discarded appliances, instructions for craft projects I’ll never make. Others are more difficult. Over the years I’ve saved many articles, devotional thoughts, newsletters, etc. Some of those are worth saving, and I’m trying to sort those into categories to file.
As I sorted through some old newsletters, I discovered one devotional article that really spoke to my heart. It was written by Beneth Peters Jones, who, some years ago, used to write a regular column -- “Sunshine on the Soapsuds” -- in a couple of different periodicals. In this particular column, she was speaking about changing the sheets in the master bedroom, and how she would usually simply wait until the pillowcases had been washed and dried and then replace them on the pillows. But on this day, she didn’t want to wait that long before putting on fresh pillowcases. She went to the linen closet and pulled out two white pillowcases. She had my attention now, because I dearly love my white pillowcases. They are older and need to be ironed each time they’re washed, but oh, what a nice crisp feel they have to them! But Beneth Jones was somewhat disappointed in her clean white pillowcases, and she found a spiritual lesson in her linen closet. She wrote:


“I started putting the cases on the pillows, but while doing so I detected a musty smell. Examining the pillowcases, I saw that both had been smoothly ironed; both had been neatly folded; both had been stored in the linen closet and left there unused for some time. My inspection revealed pillowcases that were clean, but stale.
“There are many Christians who are much like my pillowcases. Yes, they are genuinely born again. They are not dirty; they keep themselves set apart from the grime of the world. But they are on the shelf, out of circulation. Seemingly, they are content just to exist -- safe and quiet on their shelf, ignoring God’s commands to be active for Him. There they sit, not serving the purpose for which God intended them.
“And, like my pillowcases, those believers inevitably grow stale! An unpleasant aroma wafts out to those around them: the closet-kept smell of Bible verses learned as children and kept as ‘emergency material’ should they be called upon to quote a verse in Sunday School; the mustiness of their shelf-bound lives as they only comment upon and criticize those who are active for the Lord; the slightly sour aura of their self-saving motivations. Not dirty -- just stale.
“As I put those stale-scented pillowcases into the washing machine that morning, I had to wonder about the aroma of my life on a day-to-day basis. It is so easy to become stale, though we keep ourselves from the dirt of gross sin! The only way you and I can stay both clean and fresh... is through daily cleansing, sweetening, empowering, and using by the Spirit and the Word!”
-- Beneth Peters Jones


What a great lesson this was to me! I pray it will be an encouragement to someone else as well.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

My Outdoor Kitchen Table


For several days this week, my kitchen table was a picnic table at a campsite in a beautiful local campground. Although my hubby continued to go to work each day, I had the days to myself in the midst of a quiet natural setting. What a blessing! I took lots of walks and did a lot of reading and studying for my Sunday School class preparation. Also had an opportunity to work on a cross-stitch project -- nearly completed! -- and to spend some precious times with good friends who are camping at a nearby site. Each evening we enjoyed time around a campfire with dear friends.

We love camping -- “real” camping in a tent, that is! My camping kitchen looks a lot different from my real kitchen, but it’s so functional. After covering the picnic table with a colorful vinyl tablecloth -- a flannel-back Wal*Mart special -- we set up the Coleman stove on one end of the table and a Coleman lantern in the center.

At the other end we put what we call the “camping cabinet”. It’s a small chest of drawers some friends were getting rid of many years ago. They had used it for camping themselves for years. It has a plywood top covered with Contact paper -- a very useful place to keep cooking utensils (stored in a clean empty maple syrup tin) and a citronella candle. The drawers hold a multitude of things from a clothesline and clothespins to matches in an Altoids tin to bungee cords to dishwashing liquid. Last year we bought a large plastic tote to replace the cardboard boxes we formerly used for larger kitchen items. In here we store everything from cooking utensils to paper plates and plasticware, clean dish towels and hot mats. The tote works really well to protect these items from chipmunks and squirrels.

If we are camping for an extended period of time, we will set up a screen tent and place the picnic table and other kitchen “furnishings” inside. This time, since we were only camping for a few days, we just put up a tarp over the kitchen. We use water frozen in gallon milk jugs as the ice supply in our cooler. Works beautifully! If the weather is really hot, we have been known to bring our kids’ old “college fridge” and plug that in if we have a water/electric site. Otherwise, it’s our good old cooler. Our Coleman stove has a removable Teflon griddle which we love. We bought this stove/griddle many years ago at a consignment shop for $15. It has served us well!

I enjoy cooking in my camp kitchen. And I especially love walking through the campground in the morning and smelling all the wonderful aromas as campers cook their breakfasts. Bacon & eggs, anyone?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Picnic Memories...

Lately I've been thinking back to picnic memories of summers gone by. There are so many, it’s hard to know how to sort them out or where to start.

One special type of picnic I recall was evening picnics at a nearby lake after my dad came home from work. There was a state park there with a beach, plus a playground, picnic tables, grills, etc. We would take hot dogs along to cook over the grills, or maybe just sandwiches. Many of the picnic tables were in little wooded nooks just a little way from the beach. High on the ledges above the beach were more picnic tables and also horseshoe pits. My dad and brothers often enjoyed a game of horseshoes after we ate, or while the picnic was being prepared.

We also took a picnic every time we went on a road trip in the summer or fall. There were no fast food places along the highway in those days. Ice cream places and dairy bars were about it. (I was nearly college age before I ate at the only McDonalds in our state back then!) We often went out for ice cream in the evenings in summer -- there were several places not too far away. But we didn’t eat out much. A Chinese restaurant occasionally, and my grandmother sometimes took us (one or two at a time!) to Howard Johnson’s or a similar type of place. So picnics were always in order on day trips. Our very favorite picnic sandwich was something I think my dad invented, though my mom was usually the designated sandwich-maker. It was a bologna-tomato sandwich, which doesn’t sound as delicious as it actually was. Wheat bread would be generously spread with mayonnaise or, more often, Miracle Whip. A slice of bologna would be placed on one side and thinly sliced, perfectly ripe tomatoes on the other side. The tomatoes would be lightly salted and generously peppered. Then the two slices would be put together and neatly sliced in half. No plastic sandwich baggies back then... we put the sandwiches in little waxed paper bags.

Blueberry -picking expeditions also called for a picnic lunch. Sometimes we went to the top of a nearby mountain, where there were many high-bush blueberries. The old farm up there had been the boyhood home of the hired man on the farm of my mother’s childhood. In later years, my parents found another mountain farm even closer to home where we were welcome to pick berries -- although the blueberries there were of the low-bush type. In either case, we could drive the family station wagon to the top of the mountain and then, buckets secured to our waists by a belt (leaving both hands free for picking) we would fan out to our chosen picking areas. Farther afield, we would drive to my great-uncle’s farm about an hour and a half away. He had a cow pasture which was filled with high-bush blueberry bushes. It was very quiet and secluded there, and we always thought about bears. .. and bulls. Uncle Tom had a sign reading “Beware of the bull” or some such warning. However, he did not pasture such a creature in this field. He merely wanted to keep people out of his blueberry patch!

For a few years when I was in elementary school, the school year always ended with a picnic. One year, for some reason, my grandmother was going to be packing my picnic lunch. I can’t remember if my mother was ill, or too busy, or just what the reason was. But I do remember my grandmother asking me what kind of sandwiches I would like her to make. I think I surprised her (and myself!) by asking for her famous Ribbon Sandwiches, a time-consuming delicacy which started with an unsliced pullman loaf sliced crosswise in fourths. It was then filled with three different fillings -- I believe she used tuna or chicken salad, ham salad, and egg salad. The next step was to wrap the loaf snugly and chill it well -- ideally, overnight. When ready to serve, the loaf was sliced to reveal colorful “ribbons” of filling in the white bread. What nerve I had to ask for something that required so much work! But, if I remember correctly, she did make Ribbon Sandwiches for me.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Picnic Hill

We've had a couple of cookouts lately, and this got me thinking back to my childhood picnic memories. We picnicked a lot when we took day trips in the summer, and also sometimes after my dad got home from work. And then there were the picnics we kids took all by ourselves on a nearby hill. I want to share some more of my memories later when I have time to write more. But for now I'll just share this remembrance of our special picnic place.


PICNIC HILL

Picnic Hill! Even today, the words conjure up the scents, the sounds, the tastes of a very special part of a ten-year-old’s world. It was only minutes from home, but it could have been on another planet, so far removed was it from everyday life.

Even the way there was enchanted. First a stroll down a leafy tree-lined lane, where bees buzzed sleepily on clover blossoms and sun-warmed grass exuded its intoxicating scent, then across a stream by way of a fallen apple tree. We followed the sparkling brook as it wound its way through a meadow of spring-green velvet. It was a miniature stream, a delicious sunlit brown color with smooth rocks visible on its bottom: a perfect place for wading. It simply beckoned to us. But we postponed that pleasure, and followed the brook to the base of Picnic Hill.

It was high and rounded, exactly like the top scoop of a double-decker coffee ice cream cone. It was dusted with spicy brown pine needles and crowned with several huge old evergreens.

Seated on the spongy forest floor, we’d have our picnic. I can’t even remember what we ate, but I do know the neighbor children who accompanied us often had cucumber sandwiches. Nor can I recall what, if anything, we drank. Maybe just the magic of being on Picnic Hill made us forget about what we were eating.

After lunch, we stretched out in the sun-dappled shade of the pines, closing our eyes and inhaling the balsam aroma. These interludes never lasted too long; there were other pleasures in store. One was sliding down the hill. Those dry pine needles were wonderfully slippery. It was more fun than any metal or wooden slide could ever be.

Before starting home, it was part of the ritual to remove shoes and socks and wade in the stream. The water was clear and cold, the pebbles silky smooth, and little fish darted here and there, nibbling at our toes. (The brook was so clear and fast-moving here that we never feared bloodsuckers, as we did in the part nearer our home!) Finally, we sat in the warm grass to replace our footwear for the homeward trip.

Picnic Hill never failed to refresh me. It was a place apart from worries, from squabbles, from adults. I’m an adult myself now, with children and grandchildren of my own. Picnic Hill is all grown up, too -- so ringed with brush and alders it is almost unrecognizable. Yet in memory I can always go back to Picnic Hill, and be refreshed again in spirit.


...Thinking back, I've wondered often about those cucumber sandwiches our neighborhood friends brought along. These were poor kids from a tough background, in the 1950s. Cucumber sandwiches sound more like teatime in England. I've often wondered if cucumbers were just a cheap sandwich filling, or if they were some handed-down family recipe from long ago and faraway. I'll probably never know!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Saving Money in the Kitchen and other thoughts


I teach a ladies’ Sunday School class and we’re currently studying Proverbs 31 together. This week’s lesson reminds us that a godly woman is thrifty. As part of my preparation for this lesson, I referred to a book I once purchased for $1 at a used-book sale. It’s called How to Pinch a Penny Till it Screams. In the first chapter, the author, Rochelle McDonald, lists 12 guidelines for thriftiness, and one of these is not to buy something if you can make it yourself more cheaply. That reminded me of some of my favorite recipes for things I make rather than buying.

Years ago when money was really tight, there were a lot of things I made myself -- yogurt, mayonnaise, French salad dressing -- that I don’t do anymore. But I do still make specialty mixes like taco seasoning mix, ranch dressing mix, zesty Italian dressing mix, and onion soup mix. I find that these mixes are often called for in various recipes, and they can be quite expensive. So I thought I would share those recipes here.

TACO SEASONING MIX
1/4 cup dried minced onion
1/4 cup chili powder
2 Tablespoons salt
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon dried minced garlic
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 Tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons beef bouillon granules
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
Mix all together well and transfer to an airtight container such as a small tin or jar. For each pound of ground beef, use 3 Tablespoons mix and 1/2 cup water. Add to the browned beef. Bring to boil; cook & stir 2 minutes.

ONION SOUP MIX
3/4 cup dried minced onion
1/3 cup beef bouillon granules
1/4 cup onion powder
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon celery seed, optional
Combine all ingredients; store in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to 1 year. When a recipe calls for onion soup mix, use 5 Tablespoons mix for each envelope of soup mix called for.

RANCH DRESSING MIX
2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons dried minced onion
1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
In small bowl, combine all ingredients. Store in airtight container. For each packet of ranch dressing mix called for in recipe, use 1 Tablespoon of this mix.

ZESTY ITALIAN DRESSING MIX
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon each: pepper. oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, sweet red pepper flakes
Pinch of paprika
Mix all together. Whirl in blender if a finer texture is desired. This recipe equals one envelope zesty Italian salad dressing mix. It may be doubled, tripled, or whatever quantity you need to make.

AND ALSO IN THE KITCHEN TODAY....

I‘m preparing for lunch guests after church tomorrow. We’re keeping it simple... raw veggies, chips and dip for starters while the hamburgers and hot dogs are grilling. With the burgers and dogs, we’ll have purchased potato salad. For dessert, ice cream with brownies and homemade fudge sauce.
The brownie recipe is the best I’ve ever had. It came originally from my pastor’s wife, and I still want to give her credit for this great recipe even though I’ve changed a couple of things.

THE PASTOR’S WIFE’S BROWNIES
1 cup flour
2/3 cup baking cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup canola oil
2 scant cups sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a mixing bowl beat together the remaining ingredients. Sift in the flour mixture and stir it in thoroughly. (Some people will add 1 cup chocolate chips here.) Scrape into a greased 13x9” pan. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or just until done. Don’t overbake or you’ll lose the fudgy texture.

And the hot fudge sauce recipe is also a “best-of-the-best”. Made in the microwave, I found the recipe in Cook & Tell, my favorite cooking newsletter.

BEST HOT FUDGE SAUCE
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 1/2 squares unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup baking cocoa
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cream, evaporated milk OR regular milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Place butter and chocolate in a 1 1/2 qt. microwave-safe casserole or bowl. Cook 2 minutes on High. Stir in cocoa, sugar, cream or milk, and salt. Heat 2 more minutes on High. Stir in vanilla. If necessary, cook another 30 to 60 seconds on High, or until no longer sugary.

Have fun with these ideas!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

From Gram's Corner Cupboard



Thinking about my grandmother, as I did in yesterday’s post, reminded me of an essay I wrote some years ago. I decided to post it here so I’ll know where it is. Maybe it will stir some memories for someone else.

FROM GRAM’S CORNER CUPBOARD
Almost anyone else would have thrown it away. In fact, I nearly missed seeing it as I sorted through a box of things from my grandmother’s house. It was just a little cellophane packet containing three unused paper coasters. Why had she saved them? They were of quilted white paper, about three inches square, with scalloped edges. Embossed in red were a house, a tree, and a cheerful folk-art couple, along with these words:

Come in the evening
Or come in the morning
Come when you’re looked for
Or come without warning.

Yes, almost anyone else would have thrown them away. I nearly did. Then I reconsidered, thinking that the coasters would be like a little part of my grandmother in my home. I could use them, perhaps, when a special friend came over for tea. Or maybe I would just display them in my corner cupboard as a bit of memorabilia. Whatever I did, I knew I would not choose to throw them in the trash. I wondered why they reminded me so strongly of Gram.

Why indeed? Maybe it’s because just those few words, embossed in red, tell one a great deal about my grandmother. She was a truly hospitable person who loved company -- the more, the better. As I gazed at the little paper coasters, so many memories returned. The huge family feasts of Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Sunday dinners, back when all of the cousins were so much younger, and grownups ate in the dining room, kids in the kitchen. The steamy summer days of childhood, when I would enter her big, cool house on an errand, and she’d take iced tea from the refrigerator for me. Summer afternoons, when relatives or friends came to call, and she’d invite them to “step out onto the piazza”. The roomy porch would be lined with folks in rocking chairs, just visiting and enjoying the breezes that always seemed to blow there.

How wonderful to have all these memories of my grandmother’s hospitality! But I remember, too, other times. On a Saturday or Sunday, Gram would often bake one of her light, fluffy cakes or a batch of her famous chocolate cookies with the shiny white icing. And then on Monday, she might call and offer some of the cookies or part of the cake to my mother, for us kids to snack on. It wasn’t until years later that I saw the pattern in all of this. On the weekends, she always hoped that some of the family -- from near or far -- would drop in for a visit. Sometimes they did. And she was prepared with her freshly frosted cake or her full cookie tin. But often -- probably more often than not -- nobody came. Now I look back and my heart aches a little when I think of the times I could have gone but didn’t.

But, in a way, it’s not too late. Though she has been gone for many years now, I am still learning from my grandmother. I thought of her just now as I arranged two comfortable rockers on my front porch. And I know why I didn’t throw that little cellophane packet away.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

My Grandmother's Cool Kitchen


Thinking about memories of kitchens I have known, I was reminded this morning of how cool (literally) my grandmother's farmhouse kitchen used to be on hot summer days. We lived just down the road from my grandmother, and we kids were often sent there on one errand or another. We especially liked going in there on a hot day. There was a dirt and rock cellar under her house, and so the house stayed cooler than most. I suppose she also opened the windows at night and closed everything up in the early morning while it was still cool. So when you went into her kitchen later in the day, it was cool and dim -- she refrained from putting lights on too, and the shades were drawn against the sun. Oh, how nice it felt after the steamy heat of a New England summer day! Even better were the times when Gram would open up the refrigerator and pour us a glass of chilled iced tea from the jug she kept there. She had some of those shiny aluminum tumblers in different colors, and the tea tasted especially icy when sipped from one of those.

This summer, I've been trying to follow Gram's example and keep a jug of iced tea in the fridge. After tweaking a few recipes, this is the best formula I've come up with.

SUMMERTIME ICED TEA
12 tea bags, either regular tea or green tea
6 cups boiling water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup orange juice
6 cups water
Ice and lemon slices, optional
In a large bowl, pour the boiling water over the tea bags. Let steep. (Green tea should steep no longer than 7 minutes.) Remove tea bags, squeezing excess tea back into the bowl. Add the sugar, lemon juice and orange juice; stir well to dissolve sugar. Let cool until lukewarm. Pour tea mixture into a gallon jug or container. (I use one of those nifty glass jugs with a spigot.) Add the cold water and stir well. Add ice and lemon slices if desired. This makes a really neat thing to take along to a picnic at the beach or elsewhere. I just keep it in a cooler with ice. The ice and lemon slices make it look so refreshing!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A new venture . . .

Inspired by my daughter and some other friends, I've decided to try my own hand at blogging. It occurred to me that so much of life takes place around a kitchen table. We do so much more there than just eat meals and share family time. Board games may be played there, homework may be done there. Craft projects may be worked on, and the pieces of sewing projects may be cut out there. Food preparation, correspondence, bill-paying... the list could go on and on. Not to mention all the wonderful times of fun and fellowship that happen at the kitchen table. As a friend of ours once commented, "We're kitchen-table people". So much laughter takes place at a kitchen table! Tears may be shed there as well. Jokes are told and serious conversations are shared. I hope that this blog will be a "virtual kitchen table" where I can share recipes, memories, and kitchen-table thoughts with those who visit here.