Thursday, November 30, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 25



* I got a couple new ideas for gifts for grandchildren.

* I planned what I will take for refreshments for the ladies' Christmas fellowship at church. (A hot seafood dip in a bread bowl, to be served with bread cubes and raw veggies [I'm thinking red and green pepper strips]; and a plate of fudge [cranberry nut fudge]. Both of these are new recipes. I also got to thinking about how I could duplicate some chocolate-covered fruitcake squares I saw in a Gooseberry Patch ad. I have a wonderful recipe for fruitcake which includes milk chocolate chunks along with cherries and pineapple [no yucky citron] and I'm thinking that if I baked it in a flattish pan and cut it in squares, I could then dip it in melted chocolate confectionery coating and have a reasonable facsimile. We'll see if I get to this!) And I added the needed ingredients to my grocery list.

* Yay and hurray, I FINISHED my first foldable fabric basket. I've topstitched the edges of two more and pinned the ribbon ties in place on another.

* I put a Christmas picture on my computer desktop and made a screensaver out of Christmas card images.

* I listened to Christmas music all day.

Tomorrow, Lord willing, I'll take down my fall decor in the front entry and on the porch (it'll be Zone 1 in FlyLady, so that's perfect) and put up some Christmasy stuff. It's in the high 50s here today and mild and partly sunny, so it's been hard to think Christmas today!

Something fun for December


I had an idea which I think will be fun for me and my readers too. Each day during December, I'll post a little something special -- a recipe, a helpful hint, an idea, a craft, and so on. So tomorrow, December 1, will begin this fun feature. Hope others enjoy this idea -- I know I will!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 26



Wednesdays are always difficult, and today was no exception. I did, however, manage to accomplish a few Christmasy tasks:

* Cut out several more fabric baskets and got the ribbon ties pinned in place on another.

* Measured and cut some pattern pieces for some other sewn gifts I plan to make.

* Scanned a bunch of my antique Christmas cards to use as illustrations here on my blog.

* Finished typing up one Christmas devotional and got it posted.

Hoping for a more productive day tomorrow...

The Most Wonderful Time?



Graphic from CrossCards.com
As mentioned, I've recently run across some Christmas devotionals I shared at ladies' Christmas fellowships in years past. Perhaps they might be an encouragement to some of you in this busy, yet most precious of seasons. This is the first one, written some time in the early 1990s.


The Most Wonderful Time?

I love Christmas! I don't know about you, but ever since I was a child I have loved this special time of year. I guess maybe our childhood memories of the holiday have a lot to do with how we view it as adults. Even if our childhood Christmases were disappointing, we decide our grownup Christmases will be perfect.

My own memories are wonderful! We weren't a Christian family back then, but it was a special time anyway. My father built a small wooden stable, and we set up our manger scene every year. My mother baked for days: cookies and candies and holiday breads. Christmas Eve was spent delivering goodies to neighbors and loved ones. We just loved seeing everyone else's decorations and putting up our own.

So it's no wonder, with memories like these, that I still love Christmas and want it to be just as wonderful for my own family. Along about October, I get out my Christmas magazines and craft books and begin planning for the holiday. By the way, that's not early enough! Invariably I run out of time and energy, and sometimes out of money, too. And invariably the Lord brings me back down to earth by reminding me what this is really, actually all about. One of my craft books is "Scrap Savers Christmas Stitchery" by Sandra Lounsbury Foose. In the introduction she offers some very wise words:

"How quickly the Christmas season is upon us... At Christmas time, I always need more Christmas TIME! There's not even a moment to open one of those magazines that promise 'The Very Best Christmas Ever.'

"Then, in the midst of all this busyness, I remember that the miracle and the memories of Christmas are the true gifts of the season. So even if my own preparations aren't complete, Christmas is complete."

Isn't that true? In our quest for the perfect Christmas, we forget that the perfect Christmas has already occurred.

She goes on to say, "As you begin your holiday plans, think about the miracle of that first Christmas, which really was 'The Best Christmas Ever."

And that is so true. That is what we need to be focusing on. That's one reason I always look forward to our Ladies' Christmas Fellowship at church. It never fails to help me get my plans into the right perspective. But we should be doing that anyway. How?

I'm as guilty as anyone else of trying to cram too much into December. Church and school activities, decorating, sewing, baking, shopping, wrapping, sending cards -- it all takes time! How can we choose what and what not to do so that we don't lose sight of what it's really all about?

Here is a Scripture to help us with our choices. "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." (Romans 12:2) This has long been a favorite verse of mine, and it has helped me with making decisions about other things. The Phillips translation says it this way: "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its mold." A paraphrase of this verse says: "Don't copy the behaviors and customs of the world."

All Christians should be nonconformists to the world's thinking. There are many facets of the way the world looks at Christmas that many not be harmful, but distract us from its real meaning. For example, it's wonderful to decorate your house for the holiday, but not if it keeps you from coming to church. It's fine to get all your craft projects, shopping, and wrapping done early, but not if you neglect your devotions in the process.

Have you noticed that in addition to those articles that promise the very best Christmas ever, there's another kind of article, usually in the same magazine? These have titles like this:

1) "The Holidays -- Heavenly or Hectic?"
2) "In Pursuit of Tranquility"
3) "Fending Off the Holiday Blues"
4) "95 Holiday Survival Tips"
5) "150 Ways to Conquer Christmas Chaos"

And my personal favorite,
6) "'Twas the Night Before Christmas -- and Nothing was Done!"

As I read over one of these articles, I found myself translating it into terms that will help the Christian keep a right perspective on Christmas. It was helpful to me, and I'm sure it will be to you also.
1)The first point: Maintain your focus on what is important to you.

As Christians, our first priority is to please the Lord. So any activities need to be considered in light of His Word. We've already looked at Romans 12:2 and the fact that we shouldn't conform to this world. Another priority at Christmastime -- and all the time -- is to spend time with other believers. Hebrews 10:25 encourages us: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." We are to be out for church services and spending time encouraging our brothers and sisters in Christ. In years when Christmas falls on a Sunday, this can be especially challenging. And yet, what better place is there to be on the day we celebrate Christ's birth?

2) Practice calm.

The best way for a believer to remain calm is to depend upon the Lord moment by moment. Spend much time in prayer and in meditating on God's Word. Luke 18:1 reminds us, "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint." The word "faint" here means "to lose heart." When do we lose heart? When we don't keep praying about a matter, but try to take things into our own hands and solve the problem with our own efforts. It doesn't work. No wonder we lose heart! 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us, "Pray without ceasing." Let's also consider Philippians 4:6-7: "Be careful for nothing: but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." That word "careful" means "anxious". So we are to be anxious for nothing, but to pray and trust the Lord for the outcome.

3) Look beyond the trimmings.

This really should be #1. What is the reason we are celebrating? We are all familiar with John 3:16. Yes, God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to die to save sinners like you and me. Galatians 4:4-5 says, "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." The words of the angel to the shepherds in Luke 2:10-11 are a good reminder to us: "Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."

4) Evaluate your expectations.
We shouldn't expect our holiday to live up to our childhood memories or to the world's idea of a perfect Christmas. Make sure our activities and choices line up with God's Word. Psalm 32:8 reminds us that God will help us with our choices: "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye." Psalm 119:105 tells us, "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."

5) Curb the holiday splurge.

Don't spend money you can't afford to spend. Remember Acts 20:35 -- it is more blessed to give than to receive. Even with your children, try to keep the emphasis on what they will be giving -- not what they will be getting. Some practical suggestions that worked for me: Have children make gifts or buy small gifts for everyone on their list. At present-opening time, have each one hand out a present, then everyone watches the recipient open the gift before going on to another.

6) Reach out to someone else.

In particular, reach out to them with friendship and with the Gospel. At this time of year, people are often more receptive to spiritual things. For years, we've baked cookies and made up plates of them for our neighbors, tying them up with a pretty ribbon and adding a lovely Christmas tract. During this season, many of us will put tracts in our Christmas cards or find the opportunity to speak a word of witness to family and friends. 1 Peter 3:15 instructs, "Be ready always to give an answer to every man of the hope that is in you.. ."

7) Be kind to yourself.

The best way to do this is to do the things which please God. An important biblical principle is that obedience is always followed by blessing. John 13:17 encourages us: "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."

8) Create "white" spaces.

The article I was reading defined "white" spaces as "restful, uncrowded margins of time." Doesn't that sound wonderful? For the Christian, these times are best spent communing with the Lord. Take that time at the beginning of every day to read your Bible and pray. Commit your day into His hands, and He will give you strength for all you need to do. "Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass." (Psalm 37:5)
I'd like to close with a thought from my friend Karyl Bannister, from her essay in the December 1989 issue of Cook & Tell. She wrote: "Traditions bring comforting predictability to holiday observances and thus seem to simplify this busy time, to make it somewhat easier to do all the things we think we must do for this grand occasion... But what are we celebrating -- the traditions themselves, or that humblest and most hallowed happening of ages ago, that occasioned the traditions in the first place? Just what is it that we observe, in the midst of the merriment? Are the bits of business that fidget around the edges of this truly momentous event, too busy?" She adds, "As life unfolds its seasons and its lessons, it offers choices at every turn."

May our choices this Christmas season be those that glorify God, point our friends and neighbors to Him, encourage our fellow believers, and bless our own lives with His joy. It truly can be "the most wonderful time of the year"!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 27




Today has felt decidedly "unaccomplished" as far as the challenge goes! However, I did listen to some lovely Christmas music all day!

Here's what else I've done:

* Nearly completed typing up a Christmas devotional to post here on my blog.

* Cut out 3 more foldable fabric baskets.

* Got shipping information and gift ideas for loved ones who'll be spending Christmas in the West Indies

* Ordered 3 Christmas gifts online.

* Wrapped 3 other Christmas gifts.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 28


Christmas Countdown Challenge Day 28

Mondays are always really busy for me, catching up from the weekend, so although I've accomplished a lot today, very little of it has been Christmas-related.

I've done a bit more planning for our "neighbor gifts". We have certain neighbors and relatives with whom we exchange edible treats each Christmas. Often I make cookies, other times it will be scones or tea breads which I will give along with a jar of homemade hot chocolate or spiced tea mix. This year I am planning to go the tea bread/hot drink mix route. I am making some foldable fabric boxes in Christmas prints which should just hold a pack of luncheon size Christmas paper napkins which I will include with the goodies. If there's time, I want to use the fabric scraps to make some matching coasters. This should help to make a nice dent in my Christmas fabric stash!

So far, I'm planning to make mini loaves of Lemon Cranberry Tea Bread and Gift of the Magi Bread, and possibly some mini Chocolate Fruitcakes.

I've got one fabric basket started and tonight I cut the ribbon ties for a second one and got them pinned in place. I also cut the fabric pieces for a third basket -- I will need 10 or 12 baskets in all. I find it hard to sew at night because the light isn't good enough -- but I may end up doing so!

Another thing I did tonight was to replace the Thanksgiving-themed items under the glass top of my bedroom desk with Christmas-themed items. Most of them are cards, and several of them are special ones from our kids. I love how the glittery ones sparkle through the glass.

I'm also preparing to post some Christmas devotionals I've shared at our church's Ladies' Christmas Fellowships in years gone by. This fellowship is always a blessing, and it's usually held early in December. I find it such a good way to get my Christmas planning and preparations in perspective, so I hope other ladies may enjoy these thoughts as well.

Just before bed, I also spent a few minutes working on some snowflakes I'm crocheting for gifts.

So those are my accomplishments for today's challenge. I'm hoping for a craftier day tomorrow!

Chickened Out!




One of my tasks today was to package 20 pounds of boneless chicken breasts for the freezer. Oh, what a task it was!

A small local market had the boneless breasts on sale for only $1.49 per pound. An incredible buy! Usually the cheapest one can ever find them around here is $1.79/lb. We bought 40 pounds and then our daughter & husband purchased half of the chicken from us.

Usually we only buy about 5 pounds at a time, and then my hubby and I usually package the chicken together. That makes it a lot easier. Today I tackled the job myself because he had other responsibilities.

While packaging the chicken, I also lined a baking dish with parchment paper and arranged 3 of the chicken pieces in it, then sprinkled with salt & pepper and spread with barbecue sauce to refrigerate and bake later for Monterey Chicken. I was happy to have 3 less pieces to package up.

It will be nice to have all of that chicken in the freezer for meals this winter. But for now, yes, I can truly say I am... chickened out.

Menu Plan Monday for November 27



Another week begins! As always, I seem to have lots of repeat menus owing to not using some of them in the previous weeks. Here goes:

MONDAY: Monterey Chicken, Baked Potatoes, Baked Squash

TUESDAY: Pizza, Veggie Pasta Salad

WEDNESDAY: Turkey Soup, Biscuits or Whole Wheat Bread

THURSDAY: Cranberry Pork Chops, Mashed Potatoes, Asparagus Stir-fry Vegetables

FRIDAY: Italian Baked Pasta, Ciabatta Bread, Winter Blend Vegetables

SATURDAY: Veggie Calzones, Spinach Broccoli Soup

SUNDAY (potluck lunch at church): Creamy Country Chicken & Vegetables, Cornbread, Assorted Cookies

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 29



Hmmm... we sang some Christmas carols in church today. Does that count?

Seriously, I did do a few -- very few -- Christmas preparations.

* I spent a few minutes embroidering a kitchen towel for a gift.

* I took my Thanksgiving table linens off in preparation for Christmas ones.

* I spent an hour or more selecting Christmas poems to use as readings at our upcoming ladies' Christmas fellowship at church.

* Spent some time in a meeting with other Sunday School teachers planning a special time for Christmas Eve morning.

* Got out a few Christmas cards to be ready for those early Christmas card arrivals that are sure to appear in my mailbox in the next day or two.

* Looked over some instructions and recipes for items I'll use in gift baskets.

And that's about it!

My Thanksgiving Table


Well, even though Thanksgiving has come and gone, I want to write a brief post concerning my Thanksgiving table -- mainly so I don't forget what I did. (Usually, the less said about my table, the better. We usually have about 25 people. We borrow tables from the church and seat everyone in the living room. We use fall-themed vinyl tablecloths from Walmart and try to put some sort of cute centerpiece and/or candles on each one. We always use Chinet or foam plates, and plastic cups -- often plastic flatware, too. We put all of the food on the dining room table and serve it buffet style. I usually put either a vinyl or a paper tablecloth on this table too, which is a good thing, since it is always trashed by the time the main course is over, never mind dessert.)

Since we had a small group for Thanksgiving dinner this year, I was able to be much more creative with my table setting -- a fact that was pretty much lost on me until the last moment. Hence, I did not plan my table arrangements ahead of time. All I had decided was that I would use "real" plates and "real" glassware. I should say up front that I don't own any crystal, fine china, or good silverware. My only complete set of anything is a set of Christmas dishes which we bought at Walmart after Christmas probably 4 or 5 years ago. Our dining room table is 7 feet long and I don't even own a tablecloth that fits it well. So I decided I would just have to get creative with what I could find around the house.

I had read somewhere that if your table-setting budget is small, you can make your table look nice just by layering things on it. So that's what I decided to do. I had a nice sort of antique-white tablecloth from either my mother or mother-in-law, I forget which. That was the bottom layer. Down the center of this I placed a runner I'd made a couple of years ago from an opulent-looking fall print fabric -- lots of colorful leaves, fruits, etc. In the center of the runner I placed an ecru doily -- and on it, a round green enamel dish -- old and chipped -- filled with a baby pumpkin, some leaves, faux gourds, and sprigs of bittersweet. Now remember the tablecloth does not cover the table completely -- there were bare spaces at each end, and I had people sitting at the ends. So I took some rectangular paper lace doilies and put one at each place setting -- a third layer! My plates were a mixture of Olde Curiosity Shoppe and Old Colonial Homestead, all in a green/antique white color scheme. I had 5 green glass tumblers that matched and one that didn't, but when they were all carefully arranged everything looked quite nice. For place markers, we had paper squirrels sitting on hollow logs (adapted from a Martha Stewart idea), and I rolled up a pretty Thanksgiving-themed paper napkin inside each one. At the last minute I realized the table needed candles. I had some cute candle holders in the form of resin pine cones, and found some swirled metallic gold candles to put in them. This using what I had on hand was great fun! I got several nice comments on the table setting, and I had such a good time putting it all together.

This could be habit forming... I sure wouldn't mind a small group for Thanksgiving anytime!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 30


Since Carrie, over at Life on a Back Road, has issued a 30-day Christmas Countdown Challenge, I feel compelled to participate! It sounds like fun and a good way to make sure some preparations for the season-- spiritual as well as physical -- take place each day. I hope others will participate as well.

I'd like to highly recommend the site OrganizedChristmas.com. -- the forums in particular. The craft forum issues crafting challenges every week, all year long, which have really helped to keep Christmas crafting on my radar screen. Not to say I'm done -- or anywhere close to done! -- but it has definitely made a difference. They have forums for organizing, for bargains, for gift baskets, for decorating, for cooking -- you name it. It's a great resource.

So what have I done toward Carrie's challenge? Well, last night I went grocery shopping. On my list were some items to start my Christmas baking; for one, an orange, for my favorite Pepparkakor recipe that includes the rind and juice thereof. I found this recipe years ago in a Country Woman magazine, and the lady who shared the recipe said these were the cookies she always baked first, to make her house really smell like Christmas! And they really do. I'll share the recipe if anyone is interested.

I also purchased some milk chocolate chips (another 95¢ bargain) and a can of milk chocolate frosting, to try out a new recipe for Cranberry Nut Fudge.

Yesterday -- and for a short time this morning -- I spent some time sorting through my stash of Christmas fabric and choosing some to make some small sewn gifts from.

Most of today, I've been way too busy with other things to do much toward Christmas. But, according to Carrie's guidelines, what I did do still counts: I listened to Christmas CDs all day while doing other tasks, and I sipped on holiday tea, both "Candy Cane Lane" and "Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride".

How about it? Anyone else game for this challenge?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies


CRANBERRY OATMEAL COOKIES

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. orange extract
1 1/3 cups flour
2 tsp. apple pie spice OR pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries (craisins)
1 cup white chocolate chips

In a large bowl beat the shortening and butter for 30 seconds, till softened. Add the sugars and beat well. Add the eggs and extracts; beat again. Sift together the flour, spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; stir into the shortening mixture. Stir in the remaining ingredients.

Drop the mixture by rounded teaspoonfuls (I use a cookie scoop) onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Flatten each one slightly with the bottom of a drinking glass which has been greased and dipped in sugar. (You will only need to grease it for the first use.) Bake at 375º for 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges are golden. Makes 3-4 dozen cookies, I think -- I didn't keep track.)

I adapted this from Cook & Tell, my favorite cooking newsletter. There's a link in the sidebar if anyone is interested. Some of my best recipes come from this source.

These are the cookies I made Saturday afternoon for a get-together Sunday evening. They were the favorite out of all the cookies I brought. I used apple pie spice, being low on pumpkin pie spice (in either case, I make my own). People commented on the nice flavor added by the spice.

Thanksgiving Traditions 2




Well, Thanksgiving is coming up on Thursday in the U.S. I've been thinking a bit about our traditions as a family -- most of them, like place card making, are sort of sporadic, but we do have a few traditions nonetheless.

One of the most longstanding for many years, when all of the kids were home, has been our church's Praise & Thanksgiving Service, the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. The kids could attend this even during their boarding school years, because they had a Thanksgiving break and could be home for it. Of course, that changed during the college years.

This service is always such a blessing. It's an evening of just praising God for all that He has done in the year just past. Even small children are encouraged to share a testimony of something they are thankful for, and we have lots of singing as people choose their favorite hymns for the group to sing together. To me, this is the real Thanksgiving, much more than the big dinner on Thursday. It's been good, because often on Thanksgiving Day itself we have a houseful of very diverse relatives and it's not the most conducive circumstances in which to thank and praise God. (Although certainly we are to be giving thanks in every circumstance, so I'm glad we have the evening before to get my thoughts into the proper perspective.)

This year, thankfully, our Thanksgiving table will only be set for 5 or 6 adults and 2 little ones. I'm looking forward to a quieter, saner day.

As for food traditions, we don't have a lot of those, because so many different people ordinarily contribute to our meal. This year, my daughter and I are preparing most of the food and there are a few things we simply must make -- foods that have become our tradition over the years.

Carrie's famous Honey Rolls is one such treat. These homemade rolls always go fast. I can't share the recipe here because I don't have it. But maybe Carrie will.

My sister-in-law always brings her Broccoli Casserole, and even though she won't be with us this year, her casserole will be. We decided it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it. Here's the recipe:

DAWN'S BROCCOLI CASSEROLE

1 16-oz. pkg. frozen broccoli cuts, cooked
Chopped onion to taste
Shredded cheddar to taste
1 roll Ritz (or similar) crackers, crushed
1 stick (or much less) margarine, melted

If using onion, saute´it in some of the margarine. Make layers of broccoli, onion, and shredded cheddar in a casserole dish. (1.5 quart would be fine, maybe even 1 quart.) Combine the crushed crackers and melted margarine and spread over the top of the vegetables. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes.

My son-in-law is a huge fan of sweet potatoes, so a few years ago I tried this recipe. Even though it's not quite as good as his grandma's recipe, he enjoys this -- and so do the rest of us!

SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE

2 large cans cut yams, drained and mashed*
1/4 cup margarine, melted
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup evaporated milk**
Pinch of nutmeg
Topping:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour (may use whole wheat)
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/4 cup softened margarine (may use 3 Tablespoons oil instead)
Mix the first six ingredients in a large bowl; beat with electric mixer until well combined. Pile into a 2-quart baking dish. In another bowl, stir together topping ingredients. Sprinkle over top of potatoes. Bake the casserole at 325º to 350º for 35 minutes.
Makes 6 to 8 side-dish servings.

May be made ahead and frozen for future use. Simply thaw overnight in refrigerator and bake as directed.

* Or substitute about 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cooked, and mashed.

** Or substitute evaporated skim milk or fat-free half & half.

This recipe is one I adapted from the Cook & Tell recipe newsletter (see link in sidebar).

One more traditional recipe I simply must share is this:

PUMPKIN LAYERED DESSERT

Crust:
1 cup flour
2 T. sugar
1/2 cup margarine, softened
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Mix together ingredients and pat into a 13x9-inch pan or dish. Bake at 350º for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool.

2nd Layer:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
half of a 12-oz. tub frozen whipped topping, thawed

Beat cream cheese and sugar well. Fold in whipped topping and spread on cooled crust.

3rd Layer:
16-oz. can of pumpkin
2 small (3.5 oz. I think) pkgs. vanilla instant pudding mix
1 cup half & half cream (or use evaporated milk or even regular milk)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves

Beat these ingredients together and spread the pumpkin mixture over the cream cheese layer. Chill for 1 hour.

4th Layer:
remaining 6 ounces of whipped topping (from the 12-oz. tub mentioned above)
Chopped walnuts

Spread the remaining whipped topping over the pumpkin mixture. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

This wonderful dessert has been a favorite at our Thanksgiving dinners for 10 years! In 1995, my youngest daughter's best friend, Emily, spent the Thanksgiving break with us, and the two of them made this dessert together. It was a new recipe to us then, but it quickly became a tradition. God took Emily home to heaven in the summer of 1996, so this tradition is doubly sweet to us as we remember her and the wonderful Thanksgiving we spent together.

Well, those are our traditions, such as they are. What about you? Does your family have some favorite Thanksgiving treats and traditions?

Menu Plan Monday for November 20


The start of a new week again! Where does the time go? Again this week I am dealing with leftovers, and menus that didn't get used for one reason or another. One night we got panini sandwiches from the supermarket deli; another night I made a main-dish pasta salad because the day had been unseasonably warm. So I hope these repeat menus aren't too boring. Here goes:

MONDAY: Meatball Stew (leftover from Sunday); Colcannon (made from leftover mashed potatoes); Apple Salad

TUESDAY: Vegetable Shrimp Toss, Ciabatta Bread

WEDNESDAY: Basque Soup, Cornbread

THURSDAY: Thanksgiving! Turkey/Stuffing/Gravy, Mashed Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Broccoli Casserole, Creamed Onions, Cranberry Sauce, Rolls, Pumpkin Pie, Apple Pie, Pumpkin Dessert (Not all of this food is being made by me, thankfully!)

FRIDAY: Thanksgiving leftovers

SATURDAY: Veggie Calzones, Spinach-Broccoli Soup

SUNDAY: Hearty Pasta Tomato Soup, Seven-Grain Bread

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Baking up a storm




What was I thinking? I wasn't thinking, obviously, when I decided to spend Saturday afternoon baking. Two commitments for Sunday, one after the morning service and one after the evening service, necessitated some kitchen activity on my part.

We're having friends from another state over for lunch after church in the morning. They'll be visiting at our church for the morning service and want to head home right after lunch, but we want them to have some sustenance for their journey. I'm planning to make meatball stew in the crockpot and had planned for herbed dinner rolls to accompany the stew. Right after the grandkids left this afternoon, I planned to put the roll dough ingredients in the bread machine. Suddenly I was just too tired to think about it. I decided to take a loaf of homemade whole wheat bread out of the freezer instead. For dessert we'll have cranberry apple crisp, which is in the oven at this very moment.

After the evening service, we've been invited to our pastor's home for some fellowship with visiting missionaries and the family who's providing their overnight accommodations. I asked if I could bring something and was assigned dessert. Since it's to be a very informal meal -- sandwiches, etc. -- my hostess suggested finger desserts, and cookies seemed an appropriate choice.

But of course, I couldn't simply bring one kind of cookies. I had found a really yummy-looking brownie recipe (which included a cheesecake layer containing milk chocolate toffee bits) in a Gooseberry Patch "Cookie Swap" booklet -- but some people don't like chocolate. I decided also to try a recipe for Eggnog Snickerdoodles from a Country Woman Christmas magazine. This is essentially like a regular snickerdoodle except for 2 things: 1) It contains 1/4 tsp. to 1/2 tsp. rum extract in the dough; and 2) The tops are dipped in a nutmeg-sugar mix rather than cinnamon sugar. Now, I do not even own a bottle of rum extract, not caring for boozy flavors. So instead of that ingredient, I put 2 tsp. vanilla and 1 tsp. nutmeg in the dough. This is what I use in my Eggnog Logs that I make every Christmas, and they come out with a nice eggnog flavor. These did, too. I made the snickerdoodles yesterday, and they came out great. Today I decided some Cranberry Oat Cookies would be nice for the cookie platter too. I've had this recipe -- from the Cook & Tell newsletter -- for awhile and have made them quite a few times.

So, after the grandkids left and I'd had a few minutes to unwind and relax, I put on my apron and started in baking up a storm. By the time my hubby got home, I was getting weary. So, being the sweet guy that he is, he cheerfully suggested panini sandwiches from the local supermarket deli, and scooted off to get them. He also picked up our Thanksgiving turkey while he was there.

Now, the kitchen is closed. The dishes are done, the cookies in plastic boxes, the brownies covered and refrigerated, the crisp finished and waiting in the fridge to be reheated after lunch tomorrow. The baking storm is over -- for today!

A Thanksgiving tradition...



Today, I had a Thanksgiving craft time with the grandkids.
Although I've done the occasional informal craft project with two of my granddaughters, this was the first time I've tried a structured craft time with the three "old-enough" grandkids, Sarah (5 1/2) Mackenzie (3 1/2) and Sam (2 1/2). Thankfully, their moms were also present and helping. We made some cute foam door hangers with pilgrims and a "Give Thanks" saying, did some coloring pages, and made some nice squirrel-themed place markers (dumbed down greatly from Martha Stewart). Then we all had a yummy lunch of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, chips, and pickles. (Menu chosen by kids.) The nurturing mom in me wanted to make homemade alphabet vegetable soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. The younger, wiser moms -- my daughter and daughter-in-law -- urged simplicity. They were right!

In doing this project, we carried on a sort of informal family tradition of many years' standing. As a child, on the occasions when we ate Thanksgiving dinner at home (we were usually at my grandmother's) I was often enlisted to help make place cards -- most often just a small tent of construction paper with the name crayoned on and a Thanksgiving sticker placed beside the name.

When my own kids were growing up, I usually gave them the place card job to do. (Sometimes we served such a large group that I didn't bother with place cards and just let people eat wherever they landed.) Usually, the place cards were the same construction paper type I always made as a child. But sometimes we branched out and tried something different. One year, we made these neat little miniature Mayflower ships out of egg cartons. The individual "cups" from the carton were cut out and painted brown. Then we stuck a piece of floral foam inside each one and added a toothpick for a mast. A sail was cut out of paper and a name printed on each sail, then the sail was threaded onto the toothpick. We had a whole flotilla of such ships, one at each place, and they really came out very nicely indeed. Another year, I remember, the kids designed the place cards themselves -- little birch bark canoes (made out of construction paper) stuck in rectangles of styrofoam to enable them to stand up, then strips of blue construction paper "waves" were glued to the front of each stand to hide the styrofoam. A name was printed on the side of each canoe. Those were also very cute. I'm sure there were others over the years, but two canoes and a Mayflower survived, so those are the ones I remember!

We had a nice time this morning, and this is something I'd like to try to continue every year. It can only become easier and more fun as the kids get older and more capable. In browsing the web, I've noticed tons of neat ideas for kids' Thanksgiving crafts, so we won't have any lack of projects to try in years to come.

For now, three little kids made some neat projects... and the Thanksgiving place marker torch is passed to a new generation.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Another prayer journal section -- Health & Energy




In my prayer journal I have yet another section, this one concerning health and energy. I haven't previously mentioned this much because it is a newer section I've added in more recently. Patty had asked me to share a bit about this section, so, although it isn't finished, I will share some of what I've completed so far. I still want to do pages on getting enough sleep and drinking enough water, as well as pages that remind me I need to take time out for myself each day. Each day I turn to a different page of this section and pray through that particular page. It's so helpful in keeping the need for good health and energy before me. So far the pages I have done have to do with eating right and exercising, plus one general page.

Page 1 -- I have written out 1 Corinthians 10:31 on the top. Next I have written out "A Prayer for Wisdom" by Elizabeth George. Here it is:

"Lord, may a lifestyle of physical fatigue, financial folly, spiritual deadening, and the practical misuse of time not be true of me. Help me be a woman who yearns to live my life in a wise way -- in Your way."

Then I have "God's Rules for Better Eating" -- also from Elizabeth George.

Page 2 -- Again I wrote out 1 Corinthians 10:31 at the top. Then I put a "Checklist for Eating" which, again, I adapted from one of Elizabeth George's books.

Then I have the following quote:

"Let us not be Christians as to the few great things of our lives, and atheists as to the many small things which fill up a far greater space of them. God is in both, waiting for the glory we can give Him in them." -- D.L. Moody

Page 3 -- On this page I have written out the following verses:

Proverbs 19:24
Proverbs 23:1-2
1 Corinthians 6:12
Colossians 3:17
Romans 13:14
Galatians 5:22-23 (the temperance part)

Page 4 -- On this page I have written out the following verses:

1 Corinthians 6:19-20
1 Corinthians 9:27
1 Corinthians 10:23
Romans 14:17

Page 5 -- At the top of this page I have written out 1 Timothy 4:8. Then I have the following quote:

"Self-discipline can't be a one-time event. It has to become a lifestyle."
-- John Maxwell

Then I have a list, Benefits of Regular Exercise (also from Elizabeth George)

Page 6 -- At the top of this page I listed 10 disciplines for managing one's body, also from Elizabeth George.

And then at the bottom I have a rather lengthy quote from Elizabeth George, stressing the importance of life management as a marathon rather than a sprint. Most of the material I have quoted is from her book Life Management for Busy Women. Some of it may be from God's Wisdom for a Woman's Life. I highly recommend both of them.

I have just been so convicted of the importance of good health and energy to help me live the Christian life as God would have me to and to help me live out the purposes He has for my life. Perhaps you've been feeling the same way. I hope this idea for yet another prayer journal section may be helpful to you, too. I am sure that you all probably have plenty of good resource material available, both from Christian sources and from sites like FlyLady, that will help you in setting up your own pages for health and energy.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

World's Easiest Coffeecake

Well, I think so anyway. I knew my mother-in-law would be stopping by this morning after a physical therapy session, and figured she would be ready for a cup of coffee and a little "smackerel of something" as Winnie-the-Pooh would say. I decided to make this coffeecake, which takes almost no time at all to mix up from scratch.

FRENCH COFFEE CAKE

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg, plus milk to equal 1 cup
1 stick of butter, melted (1/2 cup)
Cinnamon-sugar

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a flour sifter; sift into a medium bowl. Break the egg into a 1-cup measuring cup. Add milk to come up to the 1-cup line on the measuring cup. Stir this egg/milk mixture into the flour mixture, using a fork. Stir in the melted butter. Scrape the batter into a greased 9-inch square pan. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar generously over the batter. Bake 25 minutes at 350º, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean, with no uncooked batter clinging to it. Yield: One 9-inch square coffee cake.

This easy recipe is from the Cook & Tell newsletter. It is so quick to make for unexpected guests, or easy enough to whip up for a company breakfast, even on a busy morning.

Apple Cranberry Crisp

Angie asked for details on this crisp, mentioned in my menu plan for this coming Sunday. I think I posted this with some other apple recipes back in August, but to save people searching for it and possibly getting a "page not found" type of error when they click the link (as I did this morning) I figured I would just post it again. It's perfect right now when the fresh cranberries and apples are both available.


APPLE CRANBERRY CRISP

3 cups chopped unpeeled apples
2 cups raw cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
TOPPING:
1 1/2 cups quick or old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup whole wheat or all-purpose flour
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup canola oil

Combine the apples, cranberries and sugar in a 9” square baking dish or a 2-qt. casserole dish. Mix thoroughly to blend; set aside. Combine topping ingredients until crumbly; spread evenly over fruit layer. Bake at 350º for 1 hour or until the fruit is fork-tender. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Yield: 6-8 servings.

This is a wonderful dessert to make in the fall when apples and cranberries are both fresh. But it tastes good anytime! I’ve adapted this recipe from the original to make it healthier and lower in fat and sugar.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Menu Plan Monday

Well, here it is Monday again. As usual, I didn't use a few menus from last week (and yesterday we were invited out to lunch on the spur of the moment after church) so I have some repeats from last week in my planning. I'm sure that makes my menus more boring, but it also saves me work! Here's this week's plan:

MONDAY: Chicken Bruschetta Bake, Italian Mixed Vegetables

TUESDAY: Italian Wedding Soup, Whole Wheat Bread

WEDNESDAY: Vegetable Shrimp Toss, Ciabatta Bread

THURSDAY: Cube Steak with Gravy, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, Carrots

FRIDAY: Italian Baked Pasta, Ciabatta, Winter Blend Vegetables

SATURDAY: Veggie Calzones, Spinach Broccoli Soup

SUNDAY (company meal): Beef Stew, Herbed Dinner Rolls, Coleslaw, Cranberry Apple Crisp

There you have it! Looking forward to reading others' menus!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Actually using my prayer journal -- a daily blessing!





I’ve done a number of posts about my prayer journal -- guidelines for making one, how it’s put together, and how to make a prayer journal kit as a gift -- but I thought it was high time to actually write a post as to how the prayer journal works on a daily basis.

Before I begin, I'd like to say a word about prayer requests. A number of people have asked me how I deal with the short-term, more urgent prayer requests which we get at church, from friends, or via our church’s prayer chain (email or phone). They felt these requests would be hard to keep track of on an ongoing basis in a prayer journal. And they’re right. I don’t put these sorts of requests in my prayer journal.

If I get a request for someone at church, I usually write it down in the notebook I keep with me for sermon notes. That’s usually enough to keep that request in my memory for when I pray for that person during the week. When it’s answered, I can cross it out. If I get a request via phone or email, I’ll jot it on a post-it note. When the prayer is answered, I toss the paper.

The prayer requests I keep in my prayer journal are long-term ones. For example, for my grown children I pray for things like this:
• Closeness to God
• Spiritual growth
• Wisdom for parenting
• Wisdom for marriage
• Wise use of finances
• Wise use of time
• Use of spiritual gifts and talents... etc.

Now, as to actually using my prayer journal on a daily basis. The first section I come to is Adoration -- where I have a number of pages concerning the attributes of God. So I turn to the attribute for the day -- I keep a marker in this section so I praise God for a different attribute each day. As I praise Him for, say, His omniscience, I can also thank Him for the fact that He knows all about me and every circumstance of my life. I find that praising God for His attributes first sets the tone for my prayer time.

Next, I come to Agreeing -- that is, agreeing with God about my sin. In this section I have a number of pages concerning character flaws and sin issues in my life. Again, I keep a marker in this section so I pray concerning a different problem each day. This makes a huge difference in my life, because these issues don’t slip off my radar screen. I am praying about them on a regular basis. Also in this section, I have a section called Health and Energy -- detailing the daily need for eating healthfully, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, etc. Again, since these are areas where I am prone to get lazy, it makes sense to have them here where I can pray about them every day.

Next, I come to Asking. Within this section, I start by praying through the requests for Every Day. These would be ongoing, long-term requests for my husband, children/spouses, grandchildren, parents and close friends.

Next, I pray through the requests I have allotted to different days of the week. On Monday, for example, I pray for missionaries. Again, the requests I pray for missionaries are not short-term urgent requests (although I do pray for those needs at other times) but are ongoing, long-term things like protection, boldness, opportunities to witness, fluency in language, times of refreshment, etc. Each day I also pray for a portion of our church family. And this is where those prayer requests I get at church or via the prayer chain come into play. As I pray for, say, Sue Jones (made-up name) I remember that Sue is having a biopsy next week, and pray about that.

So that is pretty much my prayer time in a nutshell. I have found that my prayer time is so much more effective and so much more of a blessing to me as I use my prayer journal. I hope that those who are making their own journals or those who receive them as gifts will find them as helpful as I have found mine to be.

OUR AMTRAK ADVENTURE, Part 6

First Class on the Lake Shore Limited, Chicago to Albany

Sunday evening, October 22

Aboard the Lake Shore Limited, we were welcomed by Sharon, our hospitable sleeper car attendant, who informed us we could head straight to the dining car for supper. (It's been interesting finding our way to the dining car on the four different trains. On the first train, it was a simple matter of going into the next car; on the second and third trains, we had to go upstairs and then pass through another sleeping car to access the dining car. On this train, you follow long, winding. windowless corridors through two sleeping cars to get there. Of them all, I liked this setup the least. It's sort of claustrophobic.)

We were seated with an interesting couple from St. Louis and enjoyed a lively conversation about the Cardinals and the World Series. Mr. T and I both had beef ragout with mashed potatoes, carrots and broccoli, plus the salad and rolls that are usual with dinner here. Mr. T had a piece of mud pie for dessert.

Sharon was a real sweetheart. Finding herself with a number of extra rooms, she made some changes and allotted us the room across the hall for ours as well. So we could sit in one and sleep in the other. Since the roomettes on this train all have in-room sinks and toilets, it was like having a private bathroom (minus shower) as well. It was like our own little suite and was a very comfortable arrangement.

Monday, October 23

We both slept very well. After showers and a nice cup of hot coffee (courtesy of Sharon -- she has a nice little area all set up with drinks and snacks) we headed for breakfast. We both ordered the three-cheese quiche with sausage and hash browns. Our waiter -- whom we had observed last night waiting on others -- was a delight to watch. He literally runs up and down the aisle between tables, alternately holding his tray high and dipping it low as he runs. He serves things with a flourish and obviously loves his job. (And, as Mr.T pointed out, all of that running, lifting, and dipping may also help him keep his balance while serving food and beverages on a lurching train.)

After breakfast, we returned to our sitting room for devotions, prayer, and relaxation. The scenery was lovely -- we were traveling alongside the Erie Canal at times -- and, although the skies were overcast, there was still some beautiful fall foliage to be seen. The train was running about 2 hours late, due to having to wait for freight trains, but Sharon assured us our connecting train in Albany would wait for us.

It did, too! Soon after a late lunch (we both had pizza and salad), we were pulling into Albany. We didn't even go into the station this time, but switched from one train to another at trackside.

The last leg of our journey was pretty much exactly like the first one, so there's not much need to write about coach class from Albany to Springfield. We slept through much of it. We stopped at Cracker Barrel in Holyoke, MA for supper. It was a fitting finale to our Amtrak Adventure!

OUR AMTRAK ADVENTURE, Part 5






Eastbound on the California Zephyr

This part of our trip was an adventure to begin with! We knew it would be best to check ahead of time before assuming our train would actually be in Elko for us to board at 9:40 p.m. Everything we could determine from our phone calls and Internet checking said that the train would be on time, so around 9:20 we all drove to the train "station". (In Elko this is just a glass-enclosed waiting area with no amenities of any sort.) Others were waiting too, but no train. We waited, I think, close to an hour before receiving an update that the train had just left Winnemucca. From this we knew that it would be at least 2 more hours before it reached Elko. So we said our goodbyes to our daughter, son-in-law and baby grandson, all of whom needed sleep more than they needed to wait with us. Our friends graciously drove us back to their home, where we nibbled on popcorn and played a board game until it was time to head for the station once again.

We were sure we'd allowed plenty of time -- but as we approached the road to the station, my friend looked down and exclaimed, "There's a train down there!" It turned out to be a freight train (big sigh of relief here) and our "9:40 p.m. train" eventually arrived close to 1:00 a.m. Once again we had to thank our friends for their hospitality, kindness, and sense of humor with the situation.

Our car attendant, Reggie, welcomed us warmly and got us settled in Room 11 -- the exact same room we'd had coming out. We really slept quite well!

Saturday, October 21 -- After a good breakfast -- we both enjoyed the Bob Evans Scramble again -- we spent the rest of the morning in the observation car enjoying the splendor of the Rockies. We had a lovely conversation with the lady next to us, who struck up a conversation with us about our camera. She turned out to be a Christian. It was so neat how the Lord provided Christian fellowship on our journey!

For lunch, one of us ordered a supreme pizza and the other a grilled chicken sandwich, and we split them between us. The pizza was very good, but the sandwich was definitely my least favorite of all the dining car fare we sampled. (I should add that I never really care for the way grilled chicken sandwiches always tend to slide out of the bun anyway. I just keep ordering them now and then because they're healthier than some other choices.)

In Elko, I had begun feeling sort of sick (sore throat) and never was really sure if it was an actual cold or just the dry air. I took lots of Airborne and felt better in a couple of days. But now, I could tell I had fluid in my ears and it was making me sort of motion-sick. So I spent the afternoon in our room, after consuming some Sudafed and ginger-root capsules. I put on my Sea Bands® motion sickness wristbands at this point, and kept them firmly in place for the remainder of the journey!

I felt better by suppertime, and we both enjoyed the evening's special -- country-fried steak & gravy -- with potatoes (baked for me, mashed for Mr.T) and veggies (carrots and Italian green beans). I had had Mississippi Mud Pie at lunch, so skipped dessert now in favor of a cup of tea. We had a lively conversation with our dinner companions, Lil and Amber, a mother-daughter duo from Colorado and Utah, respectively. A snowstorm had prevented them from driving to a family event in Denver, so they decided to take the train instead.

Sunday, October 22 -- For breakfast this morning I had the Bob Evans Scramble again and Mr. T enjoyed French toast with sausage on the side. Our breakfast companions were an older Amish couple who own a cabinet-making shop in Illinois.

We spent time in the dome car, then returned to our room for devotions. We had lunch with Brad and Betty, a nice Christian couple from Colorado. Both husbands had the Angus beef burger and both wives ordered the Chicken Caesar Salad. We all had cheesecake for dessert. Our server, Bill, kept reminding us that the dining car desserts are "calorie free" so that's why we all had dessert!

After lunch, Mr. T spent more time in the dome car. I returned to our room, where I crocheted, dozed a little, and organized our carry-on bags. We would be getting into Chicago around 5:15 p.m. -- only a couple of hours late! The train really made up time en route, since we had started out about 4 hours late.

At Union Station, we headed for the Metropolitan Lounge. We stored our carry-ons and checked our other bags through to Springfield. Mr. T, along with Brad and Betty, who were still with us, went out to take a quick look at Chicago. They got something to eat at the food court in the station, since they would be traveling in coach class for the rest of their trip. Mr. T and I learned that we would be getting supper on the train, so we didn't buy any food. Soon enough, our train was boarding, so we again hopped aboard a speedy little baggage vehicle and were whisked to the proper car.

Next installment: First Class aboard the Lake Shore Limited

Friday, November 10, 2006

A very sweet deal


Last night I did my grocery shopping. I am buying a few baking ingredients ahead each week with an eye to holiday baking. I had noticed in the sale flyer that our usual supermarket had Hershey's chocolate chips on sale for $1.89, so brought along my four 55¢ coupons to see if it worked out to be a better deal than the store brand.

We did a bit of shopping at Walmart first, so I checked the price of Hershey chips there. They were on sale for $1.50!! So with my coupons, I paid only 95¢ per bag of chocolate chips. To me, that's a very sweet deal indeed! Now, I'm off to put them to work in making some chocolate caramel apples...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sunshine after rain


This photo was actually taken about a month ago, but I just had to post it to show a little of what today's autumn sky is like.

After a day of intermittent rain and dark gray skies yesterday, and a night of heavy, pouring rain, we have a gorgeous day today. The sky is brilliant blue and the temperatures warm and mild. At noon my hubby and I were able to enjoy a 2-mile walk on our favorite walking route.

God is so good to give sunshine after rain!

An azalea experiment

Anyone who knows me well will tell you I definitely do not have a green thumb. Brown, or maybe even black, is much more like it.

At Easter time, our church family will often bring plants to beautify the sanctuary and will specify that these are in memory of certain loved ones. My hubby and I always get a plant in memory of his dad and also of a dear "adopted daughter" of ours, a friend of our daughter's who died at 18. The last couple of years we've bought azaleas, as they are very pretty and seem to last better than tulips, daffodils, etc. This year we got a gorgeous, healthy azalea in a magenta hue.

Now usually, I set these plants outside after their stint of beautifying the church. And they usually die, because we still have plenty of freezing weather after Easter. This year, the azalea kept looking so nice, I figured out a way to keep it in the house, utilizing a nice pot and plant stand we'd bought for a wedding a few years back. When most of the blossoms finally fell off, I moved the plant to the back porch. I watered it when I thought of it, poured off excess water after heavy rain, and that was about all I did. It stayed pretty green and healthy looking.

Against all odds, the plant was still alive this fall. Last week I dug a hole and planted it. It's only an experiment, and if the azalea doesn't make it, I'll uproot it in the spring. But any plant that could survive 6 months of "care" by me deserves a fighting chance to live through the winter!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

An evening at Bil-Toki

An evening at Bil-Toki

During our visit to Elko, Nevada in summer 2005, we had the unique dining experience of eating at Bil-Toki, a Basque dinner house. Mr. T and I had never tasted Basque food of any sort before, so it was all new to us and very enjoyable.

A large group of us gathered at Bil-Toki to celebrate a birthday. The specials were a bit pricey to Mr. T and me -- $15 each -- but lots of food was included and it was a fun way to try an entire Basque meal. Each member of our party chose a different special so that we could all try a variety of main courses. The meals are served family style, with the food coming out in large serving dishes to be passed around the table.

First they brought out a crock of Basque vegetable soup and some Basque bread. The soup was a cabbage soup in a tomato base with carrots, celery, and onion -- possibly a small amount of rice or orzo, too.

Next came salad. This was iceberg lettuce with shreds of carrot and red cabbage, all drenched in a Basque creamy garlic dressing. Very tasty.

Next came the entrees. These included Basque chicken (falling off the bones in a Basque tomato sauce); codfish (breaded and sauteéd, covered in a light lemony cream sauce); salmon (steaks baked and covered with garlic and other seasonings); Lomo (pork tenderloin breaded and fried, served with sauteéd red and green peppers and garlic); and tri-tip ( a very tender pot roast, sliced and also topped with sauteéd red and green peppers and garlic). The entrees were all delicious, but my favorites were the Lomo and the tri-tip.

These entrees were accompanied by an array of side dishes -- French fries, Basque beans, thick spaghetti in sauce, and a vegetable dish that looked suspiciously like Veg-All out of a can -- corn, carrots, celery, and potatoes. (I didn't bother to try any, so can't say for sure. )

If I recall, the only desserts offered were ice cream and possibly pudding, but I can't remember for sure. We went back to our daughter and son-in-law's home for banana chiffon cake with fresh banana icing (both homemade) and rainbow sherbet.

All in all, it was a fun evening and a delicious taste of Basque cooking!

Comforting fare for a chilly evening

Here in New England, it's beginning to get cold at night. Not as cold as it will be, but plenty cool. Especially when there's the promise of snow or rain, as there is today, the air feels brisk.

I tried a new recipe for soup this past Saturday -- made it ahead to reheat in the crockpot for Sunday's potluck at church. This is a Nevada recipe. In my post about Elko, I mentioned Machi's and their great variety of soups, etc. Our hostess for this year's visit to Elko (my son-in-law's mom) had a Machi's cookbook which I had great fun paging through. I copied two soup recipes. This is one of them. I should add that I adapted it somewhat from the original, so I'm giving it here as I made it. Here it is:

NEVADA CHILI-ALBONDIGAS SOUP
Meatballs:
1.5 lbs. ground beef
1 Tblsp. dried sweet basil
1 tsp. chili powder
1 egg
1/2 tsp. garlic granules
1/3 cup fine dry plain bread crumbs
1 Tblsp. water mixed with 1/2 tsp. chicken bouillon granules

Soup:
2 qts. water
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
2 medium carrots, cut in sticks (I actually used baby carrots, sliced vertically, probably almost a pound of them)
1/2 head cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 green pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
5 whole fresh garlic cloves (I prefer to take the green sprout out of the center of my garlic before using it, so I sliced these vertically in half rather that leaving them whole)
3 beef bouillon cubes
1/2 tsp. paprika (I used the Hungarian sweet paprika)
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt to taste

Mix the meatball ingredients together in a large bowl. Form into small balls approximately 1.5 inches in diameter.

Bring 2 qts. water to boil in a large soup kettle. Add all of the remaining soup ingredients (except salt and meatballs). Return the soup to boiling. When soup is boiling, carefully drop in the meatballs. Turn heat to simmering. Cover and cook from 1.5 hours to 3 hours. Add salt to taste. Serve soup very hot with warm, buttered flour tortillas or warm, buttered sourdough bread. (For the church dinner, I served this with herbed dinner rolls. For the leftovers, at home, I made cornbread to go alongside.)

This makes a LOT of soup, so you might want to experiment with cutting the recipe in half. It does get more and more flavorful each time it is reheated, I noticed.

As mentioned, I served this with cornbread. I can't remember if I've ever posted my cornbread recipe here before (and I'm too lazy to hunt in the archives for it) so here it is:

FAVORITE CORN BREAD

3 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1 stick melted margarine (1/2 cup)*
2 cups buttermilk baking mix (I use the store brand)
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal (I use the Hodgson Mill stone-ground brand)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9-inch square pan. Blend eggs, milk, and melted margarine. Sift sugar, cornmeal and baking powder together and add to egg mixture along with baking mix. (There will be some bran left in the sifter if you use the stone-ground cornmeal. Just add it into the mixture.) Whisk the ingredients together just until blended. Pour batter into greased pan and bake approximately 30 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in the center of the corn bread comes out clean. (It may take up to 40 minutes, depending on your oven.) Makes 1 9-inch pan of corn bread.

Recipe may be doubled and baked in a 9 x 13-inch pan. This may not be the healthiest corn bread in the world, but it may well be the best corn bread you've ever tasted! Wonderful with a bowl of chili or soup!

* Recently I've been experimenting with the amount of butter in this recipe. I've found that 1/4 cup butter (half a stick) works just fine. No one I've served it to has noticed any difference in the flavor. If I really feel like I want this cornbread to be healthier, I substitute canola oil for butter, still using only 1/4 cup.

There you have a very comforting meal for a chilly evening. Enjoy!

Our Amtrak Destination: Elko, Nevada

Our destination: Elko, Nevada

Elko, Nevada is where our daughter and son-in-law currently live. Through visits to Elko in summer 2005 and now in fall 2006, we have come to really enjoy this town. It has a lot to offer tourists and townsfolk alike. When most people hear we are going to visit Nevada, the first thing they think of is gambling. (That's the last thing we think of!) There is so much more to Nevada than gambling! I thought others might enjoy reading a little bit about Elko and some of our favorite places there.

An article a few years back in National Geographic presented Elko as a rather gritty town with many questionable elements. The casual reader might have looked at this article and reached the conclusion that it wouldn't be an interesting or even a safe place to visit. We haven't found that to be true at all.

Elko is located in the northeastern corner of Nevada. It is situated on the Humboldt River and is halfway between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Reno, Nevada. Elko's elevation is 5, 060 feet and is considered high desert. It doesn't get quite as cold in winter as here in New England, but Elko gets its share of snow and ice. We found summer there to be very hot, but it doesn't feel as hot as New England because there is no humidity. Fall in the high desert is absolutely beautiful and the temperatures are mild.

One of the most interesting things about Elko is the people who live there. Some of our country's largest cattle ranches are in northeastern Nevada, so you will see cowboys. There are also Shoshone Indians, Hispanic folks (many of whom originally came to the area as vaqueros) and Basques who originally came here as sheepherders. In addition, of course, there are people from all over the world who've come, through the years, to work as cowboys , on the railroad, or in the mines. We've found the people of Elko to be very friendly, hospitable, and welcoming.

I must hasten to add that my puny little thoughts are in no way to be taken as a truly in-depth picture of the people or the city of Elko. These are just my own impressions and are very much on-the-surface ones. I am sure there is much, much more to this city and its people for one to learn in a longer time span than what we have had.

One of the first things we did on our 2005 trip was to take a walking tour of Elko. It was really neat to see the oldest buildings in the town. It was very much a reminder of the newness of the West in comparison with New England. The oldest home in Elko was built in 1869. By contrast, our town back home was incorporated in the 1760s!

Next I want to list a few of our favorite places in Elko so far. We look forward to revisiting these in the coming years, and also look forward to finding some new favorites. These are in no particular order -- they are all just places we have visited and enjoyed. Obviously, there are many other interesting places that we haven't visited yet. Some of these have websites, so do visit those for more information.

The Northeastern Nevada Museum -- This museum has many fascinating displays on gold mining, Old West life and history, the Basques and Chinese who came here, a rebuilt Pony Express cabin, and much,much more. Bing Crosby owned a ranch near Elko, so there was even an exhibit about that. The museum's Wanamaker Wildlife Wing is also very interesting, with its many displays of all sorts of wild animals in natural settings. (www.museum_elko.us)

Sherman Station Visitor's Center -- An easy walk from the museum, this unique visitors' center is composed of an old ranch house and outbuildings which were moved to this in-town site from Huntington Valley, NV. Sherman Station is definitely worth a visit. The outbuildings include a stable, the blacksmith shop, the creamery, and a one-room schoolhouse. (www.elkonevada.com)

Western Folklife Center -- We love this place! It's located in the historic Pioneer Hotel and is "dedicated to the preservation and presentation of the traditional cultures of the American West." When we visited in 2005 we thoroughly enjoyed the fascinating exhibit "From Vaquero to Buckaroo". The Western Folklife Center has a wonderful gift shop where we always find great things to take to family and friends back east. (www.westernfolklife.org)

J.M. Capriola -- This wonderful store features Western clothing and accessories. It boasts over 70 years' experience in saddle and leather crafting. It is also the home of the famous J.S. Garcia bits and spurs. If you go upstairs in this store, you are likely to find a saddle being made -- a fascinating process to observe. (www.capriolas.com)

Anacabe Elko General Merchandise -- Another wonderfully old-fashioned store. We found some great souvenirs, postcards and note cards here, as well as a very friendly welcome, on our first visit. This time, they were closed on the afternoon we chose to stop by.

Cherished Friends -- This store sells probably the best selection of scrapbooking supplies I've ever seen in one shop. As well, it has a wonderful selection of cards, and gifts in all price ranges. I always find things here to bring back to friends and family. (www.cherishedfriendsgifts.com)

Cucina Fresca -- The kitchen store to end all kitchen stores. Nice kitchenware and gourmet items, all displayed so attractively. A perfect place to buy gifts -- but I always see things I want for my own kitchen, as well.

Hayley's Fine Gifts & Antiques -- A beautifully arranged shop. It makes me think of being in the pages of a really fun catalog, like Gooseberry Patch or Tender Heart Treasures. I always find special, different gifts here. And it smells so nice!

I also enjoy being able to visit "Western" supermarkets, in particular Raley's and Albertson's.

Sierra Java -- A very nice coffee shop. It has a wonderfully informal, cozy atmosphere and features art by local artists on a rotating basis. When we visited this time, a members of a quilt group were enjoying coffee as they hand-stitched on projects. (www.sierrajava.com)

Machi's -- A unique restaurant, legendary for its variety of soups, sandwiches and salads. My daughter took me out to lunch here on our first visit, and I've been trying to figure out the secret of their 2-bean salad with French chutney ever since.

The Coffee Mug restaurant -- We had a wonderful breakfast here. The prices are great and the food delicious. Mr. T. enjoyed the "Sink Omelet" which contains "everything but the kitchen sink"!

Bil-Toki -- A Basque dinner house. This meal was so unique and the experience so fascinating, I'm going to do an entire post just about this meal.

The Star Hotel -- another Basque restaurant. We enjoyed the steak sandwiches, a specialty here.

The Great American Grill at the Hilton Garden Inn -- This is my son-in-law's favorite restaurant in Elko. After our visit there, I can see why. The food is very good and the atmosphere quiet and relaxing. We will definitely eat there again.

Well, this post has gone on long enough. These places I've mentioned are all right in Elko, but if you venture outside the city limits you will find many other fascinating places to visit, many of them in the great outdoors. The natural beauty here is astounding. On a hike in Lamoille Canyon last year, I remember just sitting on a rock and feeling as if I had stepped into the pages of Country magazine. The scenery is simply breathtaking. The Ruby Mountains have been described as "Nevada's Alps". If you ever get the chance to visit Elko, and have time to get out into the outdoors as well as to enjoy the wonderful shops and restaurants, I'm sure you'll enjoy this unique place as much as we do.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Menu Plan Monday


Here's my plan for this week. There are a few repeats due to leftovers and menus not used last week.

MONDAY -- Nevada Chili-Albondigas Soup (leftover from Sunday); Cornbread

TUESDAY -- Spinach Lasagna Roll-Ups, Mixed Vegetable Salad

WEDNESDAY -- Macaroni & Cheese, Green Beans, Applesauce

THURSDAY -- Seafood Chowder, Whole Wheat Bread

FRIDAY -- Chicken Bruschetta Bake, Italian Mixed Vegetables

SATURDAY -- Veggie Calzones, Spinach Broccoli Soup

SUNDAY -- Cranberry Pork Chops, Mashed Potatoes, Asparagus Stir-fry Vegetables

There you have it! Looking forward to seeing others' ideas!

Friday, November 03, 2006

My Favorite Cleaning Supplies

My Favorite Cleaning Supplies

Oh, I really like this idea, so I am going to join in and share my favorites for cleaning supplies. Thanks to Susan Godfrey for the idea.

For Windows (and also shining sinks/faucets): WINDEX in the Mountain Berry scent. For years I just used the generic store brand window cleaner and thought it was good enough. Then I noticed I could often find $1 off coupons on Windex. I bought some Mountain Berry Windex and loved it. Now that's all I buy, and I always use a $1 off coupon. It does a good job and makes the room smell nice at the same time. I've tried the Windex wipes but haven't found them as satisfactory.

For Laundry: PUREX. It's cheap and does a good job.

For Fabric Softener: WHITE VINEGAR in the rinse water. (Just put it in the fabric softener dispenser.)

For Spots & Stains on Laundry: ZOUT.

For Dusting: Either PLEDGE LEMON WIPES or PLEDGE GRAB-IT DRY CLOTHS in the Orange scent. I find that in some areas the dry cloths work better than the wipes.

For Floors: For simple everyday mopping, as in the bathroom or entryway, I use GENERIC WET FLOOR WIPES that fit my swiffer. The generics do a fine job. For my kitchen floor, which unfortunately is not a no-wax one, I use MOP & GLO Triple Action. For doing a serious cleaning job on bathroom floors, I use GREASED LIGHTNING in water. For wood floors (living room and master bedroom) I use MURPHY OIL SOAP in water.

For Tub/Shower: TILEX FRESH SHOWER daily shower cleaner. A daily cleaner is a must with our hard water. For scrubbing tub/shower once a month, I use GREASED LIGHTNING.

For any ingrained dirt: MR. CLEAN MAGIC ERASER.

For scrubbing sinks: BARKEEPER'S FRIEND.

For a general-purpose spray cleaner: LYSOL ALL-PURPOSE CLEANER in the Lemon scent.

For quick cleanups and swiping down my bathrooms each day: Either LYSOL or CLOROX DISINFECTING WIPES.

For dishes: AJAX dish detergent in the Ruby Red Grapefruit scent. For scrubbing pots and pans, SCOTCH-BRITE CAMPWARE COMPANIONS.

For toilets (which I swish each day): LYSOL TOILET BOWL CLEANER WITH BLEACH.

Whew! That's quite a list! I've worked cleaning houses, and also clean our church quite frequently, so have some pretty definite ideas of what products I prefer. Hope this list may be helpful to others. Thanks to Susan for suggesting this.

By the way, has anyone but me ever noticed that the product names on most cleaning products (not all) are printed with an upward slant? I'm not sure if it is supposed to make us feel positive about cleaning, or if it's supposed to point to the effectiveness of the product, but I'm quite sure it's not a coincidence!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

OUR AMTRAK ADVENTURE, Part 4












The above are just a few of the scenes we observed as the California Zephyr wound its way through the mountains of Colorado and Utah.


Part 4 -- First Class on the CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR

As mentioned before, the California Zephyr is a Superliner train. The cars have a second level. Here's an excerpt from my journal:

October 11 -- "Our room on this train seems a tiny bit smaller and there is no sink or toilet, but the bathrooms are very close by, and there's a nice shower (much larger than on the previous train) just a few steps away from our door. This train has an upstairs, and we have to go up there to access the dining car. So far, it's a very nice train!"

On that first day, we spent some time in the observation car and enjoyed it very much, even though the sights so far were nothing compared to what they would be in the Rockies. One highlight was crossing the Mississippi River in Burlington, Iowa. Even though the afternoon was gray and drizzly, it was still a majestic sight.

That night, I had the salmon fillet for supper. It was absolutely delicious. Mr. T chose pork shanks. One of the dessert offerings was chocolate bundt cake, which I assumed would be just a slice of bundt cake. Not so! It was -- as I observed from dessert trays being delivered to other diners -- an individual chocolate mini-bundt cake, covered in chocolate ganache and drizzled with white chocolate. We didn't have time for dessert that evening -- we should have ordered it at the time of ordering our meals, we discovered after the fact. Oh well -- we probably didn't need the calories, anyway!

The dining car staff is absolutely amazing -- they manage to feed all these people on a moving (sometimes lurching) train, and they do it so efficiently and graciously. There are white tablecloths, cloth napkins, and -- on the California Zephyr, anyway -- real flowers on the tables. We found that when the trains are full, you don't usually need reservations for breakfast, but for lunch and dinner a dining car staff member will go through the train and ask people to make reservations for the time they prefer to eat. It seems to work out pretty well.

We had a better night's sleep, in spite of several stops during the night when passengers boarded the train at various stations along the way.

October 12 -- Breakfast was French toast for both of us, with pork sausage patties on the side. Our dining companions were a nice couple from Minnesota.

We spent the rest of the morning in the observation car, enjoying the scenery from Denver on. We both chose the Angus beef burgers for lunch -- very good -- and enjoyed chatting with a lovely couple from Kansas City celebrating their 50th anniversary with a wonderful train trip -- a gift from their children.

Here's an entry from my journal:

3:45 pm, October 12 -- "The passing scenery here in the Colorado Rockies is absolutely incredible. I suppose the people who live here are used to it, but it's hard to imagine becoming used to such majesty. I'm here in our roomette, enjoying some quiet time for reading and study. I view these mountains and am moved at the power and majesty of their Creator. I'm reminded of the words of the hymnwriter: "I sing the mighty power of God, that made the mountains rise...".

We got off the train for a 10-minute stop in Grand Junction, CO. It was so nice to get off the train for a few moments and to stretch our legs. We walked through the station and around the other side to where there was a mailbox. Here we mailed some postcards (bought on the train) for our grandkids back home.

At some stops there isn't even time to get off the train, but whenever there is, passengers are reminded to heed the train whistle and the car attendant's call of "All Aboard!" Failure to heed this will result in being left behind -- and it does happen. As the car attendant reminded people while they were getting off, "The next train is in 24 hours!"

Our sleeping car attendants on all four trains were excellent. These folks work so hard to make sure their passengers are comfortable. Gwendolyn, the car attendant on this train, was a standout. We were sad to find she would be off duty on our return trip!

We went to bed around 10, setting our cell phone's alarm for 2:45 a.m. since we were to get into Elko, NV at around 3:20 a.m. The first thing that happened was that the alarm went off an hour early, since we had been in Mountain Time when we set it, and Elko is in Pacific Time. Then, the train was greatly delayed after Salt Lake City -- a common occurrence, according to Gwendolyn -- so we didn't get to Elko until 5 a.m.

The conductor came down to let us off, but prior to that a flustered Gwendolyn also appeared -- she had to make up our room for someone else who would be boarding the train at Elko. We quickly vacated the room so she could do so, and chatted with the conductor while waiting. We pulled into Elko, and he helped us off with our bags. On the platform, our friends waited with welcoming smiles. What good sports they were, to get up in the middle of the night to meet us!

For the next installment, I want to share a little bit about Elko, Nevada and some of our favorite places there, before returning to the Amtrak adventure. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Homemade Applesauce

Carrie asked if I would post my applesauce recipe. Well, Carrie, you already have this recipe, I think; it's in the Carpentry Cuisine cookbook. But I will share it here just in case anyone else would like to have it. Applesauce is one of those things that one doesn't really need a recipe for, I guess, but I do use one as a guideline. This recipe is originally from my pastor's wife. It originally called for 1/4 cup honey in addition to the brown sugar, but I leave this out.

Homemade Applesauce

3 lbs. apples (about 12 medium apples, I think -- use Macintosh, Cortland or other cooking apples)
about 1 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (or less) nutmeg -- I prefer to use about half as much nutmeg as cinnamon.

Peel apples and cut them into chunks. Place apples in heavy saucepan and add water. Cook, covered, over medium heat until apples come to a boil; turn heat to low and simmer 45 minutes or until apples are very soft. Remove from heat and mash apples with a potato masher. Add spices and stir well. Serve warm or cold.

This makes about 8 cups of applesauce or so. You can easily cut the recipe in half, which is what I've been doing when I use our smaller wild apples.

Enjoy!