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Category Archives: Baking

A Moment for Gratitude

A lot of life was packed into yesterday. A beautiful and courageous young woman publically dedicated her life to Christ through baptism.  Five recent birthdays were celebrated. An adorable one-year old baby boy, who’s every day of life is a miracle, was dedicated to God. The shortened life of his baby sister was celebrated and remembered. A young couple got married and we fêted with delicious food and lots of laughter.

The day held a lot of tears, both happy and sad.

It was a long one, yesterday, but of the good sort. From sun-up to sundown I was running from one task to the next; food, flowers, photography, advice, ideas, hugs – involved. Today I’m exhausted. But I wouldn’t trade the involvement for anything. Sometimes life is so beautiful, it hurts.

Yesterday morning, as I was standing at the counter creating a pear, pecan, and raspberry vinaigrette salad for 35 people, I suddenly experienced a moment of intense gratitude. As I julienned the pears, my thoughts had been focused on the list of things yet to accomplish. Flowers on the tables. Appetizers for the afternoon party. Balloons – where were the balloons to be released in honor of the sweet baby girl? And the frosting – it still needed to be whipped before I applied it to the two-layer cake for the evening’s wedding reception. And…

I paused. Pear in one hand, knife in the other, I was suddenly compelled to listen to the sounds around me. Grampy, as he searched for the right spoon to stir his famous punch. Mary, as she worried over the potatoes and whether they would be crispy enough. Grammie, as she joked with one of her three daughters.  Prateek, as he wheeled in a cart full of his son’s ventilator equipment that makes it possible for the little miracle boy to spend the day with us. Yddo, video camera in hand, interviewing the oldest great-grandchild who, at two-and-a-half, is clearly the boss of the clan.

And there in lies the gratitude. Thankfulness for the big family who adopted me into their midst years ago. Appreciation for the chance to be involved, to help, as they experience a day so full of both happiness and regret. And deep gratitude for the knife and pear in my hands and the knowledge of the task before me so ingrained that completion does not require conscience thought.

Suddenly I am back in a dark brown cabinetry kitchen with a squash-yellow refrigerator and standing at another counter with a too-big apron tied around my waist. I am making nachos and it takes all my concentration. I am seven years old.

I had begged Mom for the opportunity to make dinner by myself. Wisely, she suggested a very simple menu and I’d never been so proud as I placed the platter of crispy nachos on the table before my family. From then on, throughout our childhood to the time we all left for college, my siblings and I had a rotating schedule – three meals a day, three kids. By the time we were pre-teens, Mom and Dad rarely had to cook.

By the 3rd grade, I had a part-time job outside our home. And by the time I enrolled in college, I’d worked at everything from janitorial to babysitting to long, hot summers on the farm. I’d worked alongside my parents on mission trips, Vacation Bible School programs, banquets, and even a couple of TV programs. We camped, hiked, rode dirtbikes, and traveled the U.S. My dad spent one long, muggy summer sanding and refinishing a huge gymnasium floor by himself, instead of contracting the job out, so that he and Mom could afford to take us to Disney World. And though they didn’t quite understand the obsession, they supported my love of horses in every way possible.

Now I’m an adult. And the busy life of my childhood has morphed into an extremely active adulthood. The kitchen counter in the church in Texas is a long way from the kitchen counter in our home in rural Pennsylvania. And with the bustle of activity around me and a long-list of things to accomplish, it’s a strange moment for a walk down memory lane. But the gratitude in my heart and the symbolism of the pear in my hand are not to be denied. I’m here because of my parents.

Knowing that the day would be as hectic as any other, I’d texted them earlier that morning to let them know what I was up to and to tell them how much I loved them. While it wasn’t the usual conversation we often have, I knew they’d understand. Like I said, I’m here because of them.

I know how to prepare a salad because my mom taught me, and then trusted me to branch out on my own at a tender age. She laughs about it now and claims it was all a part of her diabolical plan to never have to cook again. My brother is a very competent cook and my sister and I took to the kitchen with alacrity. As a teenager and young adult, she ran food service kitchens at schools and camps with delicious and competent results. I’ve catered and thrown parties for years. We both love to experiment. We joke that someday, somewhere we’ll start our own business.

I know how to work hard and I possess an intense need to be of service because my dad first led by example and then taught me by putting a paintbrush in my hand on community service day when I was 6 years old.  My parents read us Uncle Dan and Aunt Sue stories about secretly helping others and then supported us when we wanted to follow the example of the stories and leave anonymous notes and gifts for their students, never doubting the heart behind little packs of gum and pictures drawn in crayon.

From camping trips to music lessons to mission trips, each one of those activities and skills learned as a young family has become something we can share today. All three of us spent many summers working at summer camp. Like my parents, my siblings are both teachers and the connections they have with their students is wonderful to behold. My parents support of my love for horses made possible my involvement in equitherapy. My sister sews clothes for students and, with her husband, leads out in song service and produces hilarious talent shows. My brother coaches basketball that encourages sportsmanship and teamwork; he still spends summers at camp. There is always someone in need of assistance. And we learned quickly the feeling of joy and satisfaction earned when you do something for someone else; not for the acknowledgement, but for the service.

As I finish the salad, set it on the table, and enjoy a big hug from Grammie, my heart is full. I love this family dearly. And I’m grateful I can be there for them on this bitter-sweet day.  Later in the evening, I will spend time with a lovely young couple.  They may not have a lot of material goods but they possess a lot of joy and love and big ideas and they’re ready to embark on their journey to make a difference. My friends and I will be there to support them too.

I find myself wishing my parents were there to receive the hugs too. The gratitude should be for them. I’m here with the skills and desire to be of help because my parents taught me those skills and values. They led by example. So when that lovely, warm feeling of joy and satisfaction bubbles up inside of me, I realize I can’t possibly thank my parents’ enough. But I’ll try.

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Biscuits and Gravy: Mom’s Recipe

For some, Friday night is the time to go out and unwind. For me, Friday night is usually the time to stay in and unwind. With comfort food, good music, a good book, and, if I really had my druthers, a fire in a big stone hearth. Dreamin’ big tonight.

I at least had the comfort food down right tonight; nothin’ beat’s Momma’s recipe for biscuits and gravy, which was passed down from her Momma, who received it from her Momma…

Growing up, we usually had something like stew or biscuits and hot fruit on Friday night. Usually, there’s also popcorn. On Saturday night too. It was not at all unusual for us to be having “breakfast foods” for supper. It’s something my siblings and I continue today – we all eat breakfast any time of the day. My sister even had breakfast for her wedding reception.

It’s actually taken me awhile to become even remotely proficient at making gravy. I was chatting with a bunch of seasoned cooks and mentioned my gravy-making achilles heel. What do you know, but each one of them had one too. One couldn’t make cornbread for the life of her. Another had issues with pie crust. My Mom can whip up a batch of gravy in no time flat and it always both tastes good and has the perfect thick, creamy consistency. I, on the other hand, seem to have either one or the other and occasionally neither.

In fact, it was only about 2 weeks ago that, after witnessing pictures of biscuit-making posted on Facebook by a friend, I was inspired to try again. Salivating over fluffy biscuits was apparently the impetus I needed because, though the gravy is still far from perfect, it’s certainly a lot better!

Baking Powder Biscuits

2/3 oil

3 1/2 c flour

5 t baking powder

1 1/2 t salt

1 1/2 c milk

Mix. Roll out on floured surface to 2 inch thick and cut in shapes. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

Egg Gravy

if you really want advice from me, though this IS how my Mom does it!

1/2 cup Egg Beaters, scramble

Once scrambled, coat with approximately:

2 T McKay’s Chicken Seasoning

1/2 t salt

1/4 cup flour

Cover bottom of skillet with milk, about 2 cups. Stir in 2 T Braggs Liquid Aminos – the secret to covering the Silk taste of you’re using soy milk! Depending on my mood, I also might add 1-2 t of paprika, cumin, or chile powder. I like spicy. Mom doesn’t. The thing about gravy is that it always varies a little – Mom always taste- tests and adds a little of this or that. But these are her basic ingredients. Good luck! 😉

Happy Birthday: Yellow and Green

This sweet friend had a birthday yesterday. Largely thanks to our mutual friend Carrie, we celebrated with lots of yellow and green, some finger-painting, some bowling, some color-coordinated shirts, and a delicious carrot cake – if I do say so myself. 😉 I’ve discovered that using a recipe for mochi (my favorite recipe so far) works great for small decorations like the above; easier and tastier than fondant I think.

I heart birthdays. You are never too old to celebrate! Certainly, this beautiful young lady isn’t too old for anything. Still, I think it’s hilarious that our birthday celebrations are so often “old-school”. You shoulda seen tough-guy, chic-magnet, 35+ year old Murray with paint all over his hands.

Ah, the things friends do for you.

You also should have seen the 4 year old bowling – cuteness impersonified.

Happy Birthday: 31 Flavors

A dear friend of mine recently turned 31. For various reasons, her 30th birthday was not celebrated with the usual fanfare I deem appropriate for a milestone birthday. Who asked me, right? Nobody really. 🙂 But I took it upon myself anyway… called a mutual friend and planned a celebration for her 31st that would hopefully be fun for both the adults and all the little kiddies that come with our group of friends these days. Aach, we are so tame in our old age.

I wholeheartedly believe in celebrating the little joys in life. It’s not very practical to throw a party for every birthday, though I wish it were. There is something very sweet and heart-felt about a nice dinner with friends and family to honor another year of life; sometimes it’s certainly preferable. However, given the opportunity, party I will throw!

Since my girl is now 31 and loves ice cream, my cohort/ fellow conspirator and I went for a 31 flavors ice cream party, held at the backyard pool of a friend’s home. The birthday girl’s Mom also pitched in. In addition to the toppings and ice cream cone cupcakes, we tied in hearts (another favorite of the birthday girl) and 31 sweet things about her which I then wrote on an old window pane.

One of the dudes at the party took one look at the long list on the window pane and said, wow! are we really going to have all those flavors? We encouraged him to actually read the list. He looked again, said “aah”. And then, funny man that he is, repeated his original question.

Hilarious.

I also had a backdrop and props for the ever-popular photo booth. I don’t care if it’s been done, and done. It’s fun. And the pictures are always cute!

The ice cream cone cupcakes are so easy – you just bake your favorite cupcake recipe directly in the cone. I tightly stacked my cones into a springform pan, which has higher sides than most pans, and poured the batter in – to the rim of each cone. I baked at normal temp and time; then scooped frosting with an ice cream scoop and topped with a maraschino cherry.

The fringe banner idea came from AshleyAnn, always a fan of her ideas!  Some of the photo booth props came from here, while others I just made up. Another dear friend helped me cut them out, and then was there the day of the party to help set-up and clean-up. Friends are invaluable! The cone holders, candy holders, and ice cream sundae dishes all came from Goodwill; yay for thrifty + hot water, soap, and paint!

This little guy did not want to use props at first, until no one was watching. Fortunately his momma grabbed my camera in time.

a message for her Momma, who was the birthday girl. she didn't want her face in the photo. 🙂

the end

Mulberry Lime Hand-Pies

Mulberries – as many as you can pick!

2 T cornstarch

1-2 limes (create lime zest before cutting and squeezing limes)

1/3 c honey

One recipe Pate Brisee
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup chilled earth balance
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cups cold water

Mix up dough; cover and put in refrigerator to chill. In saucepan, stir mulberries with 2 T (per 2 cups mulberries) cornstarch on med-low heat. Let thicken. Stir in 1/3 cup honey and juice from a half of a fresh lime. Let cool.

Roll out dough and create shapes – squares or circles work best. For circles, cut two pieces for each pie: top and bottom. Squares can be folded in half or on the diagonal. Pour a spoonful or two of thickened mulberries (depending on the size of your pies) onto half of crust, fold over (or place top over bottom) and pinch edges of dough together. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Let cool. Drizzle with mixture of 3/4 c powdered sugar, juice from half of fresh lime, and lime zest. (2 cups of mulberries is enough filling for about 6-8 4in pies.)

Take a big bite and be prepared:  your eyes may roll back into your head in pure ecstasy. 😉

A Baby Blessing

My sister  is pregnant! Have I mentioned that I’m excited?

My sister, BIL, and I were all scheduled to visit Mom and Dad (bro lives nearby) this summer so the parents and

I decided that would be a great time to do something special for the new parents-to-be.

We did not, however, want to do the regular shower shindig. Not to be down on showers – but the usual shower games and silliness didn’t really fit  our plans.

So we had a baby blessing.

We invited close friends and family; asked each of them to write a blessing (or prayer or advice) on the provided

(and cutely decorated, of course) piece of paper. We also asked them to bring a copy of their favorite childhood book.

My Dad then led out in prayer and the reading of blessings.

In the invitations, I had included a stamped and self-addressed envelope for those who

probably wouldn’t make it to the blessing.

It was wonderful to read blessings from friends, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who couldn’t make it.

And of course, there was lots of food. And reading of sweet, fun, hilarious, and heart-warming children’s stories.

Most of it was supposed to be held outside in the gorgeous CO weather – and then it just DUMPED rain. Oh well. 🙂

As you can see from the pictures, it’s a Woodland theme, which is the theme my sister and BIL have chosen for the nursery. It was a little tricky, because at the time of the blessing we did not know the baby’s gender.

Menu:

Spanikopita

Pasta Salad

Bruschetta

Various sandwiches and salads brought by friends

Peach Tea

Lemonade

Chocolate Forest Cake with Mushroom Cookies and Chocolate Squirrels

Apple Pie on a Stick

Pear Ginger Tarte

Chocolate birds and squirrels, displayed on a “tree”

Cherry Almond Cupcakes

(all the food we made was vegan)

Spanikopita - photo by BIL

The Cake - photo by BIL

The bird chandy - photo by BIL

Decorations:

Fabric pennant

Pine garland

Trees

Needle-felted acorns

Wood-burned pins for the immediate family, that said Mommy 2 B, Daddy 2 B, Aunt, Uncle, etc

Wild flowers, thistles, and sunflowers in our Grandma’s vases

Various woodland creatures

Stumps, used as pedestals

Trail signs for “Love”, “Blessings”, and “Family”

Lots of hand-stitched felt animals – some of the birds hung from a branch chandy over the food table

Homemade quilt, made by Mom

Hand-stamped napkins, tied with ribbon and wood buttons (from the downed limbs in my yard!)

Lots of baby pictures of the new parents, and of grand and great grand parents.

Beans and lentils scattered on the table – representing “Bean”, the nickname given to the baby until a name is announced

Wood-burned and painted sign and photo album with “Bless This Family”

Utensils - photo by BIL

The chocolate tree - with a few less birds, as they kept melting. 😦

Special thanks to Dad – who helped me cut all those log pedestals and cake stands, etc. Especially after the chain saw stopped working. Whew! What a work-out! He’s the man.

shirts made by sister and BIL - he teaches computers and math. hilarious.

Productive?

Posted on

I’m really tired. So this post is going to be more “show” than tell. ha!

a blurry pic of homemade soup, zucchini bread, and blueberry muffins for my cousin (and family) who had an emergency appendectomy on Sunday

a poorly-composed pic of part of my Mom's mother's day gift. she and Granma also received photo books of my flowers.

hastily thrown together bouquet for grad reception. 2 points for you if you can find the two roses that shoulda been shorter!

the big bouquet for graduation - took me about 3 hours

Those are some of my little projects this week. They were good projects.

My heart was with the tornado victims though, wishing I could help. I appreciate the reflections, and actions, of a dear friend who was able to go help. My thoughts stay with them tonight…