Thursday, December 25, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day..."

This Christmas Carol is based on the poem "Christmas Bells" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, during the American Civil War.

Longfellow had just lost his wife in a house fire and his son had been severely wounded in battle. When he stepped outside, on Christmas morning, to the sound of bells chiming, he was anguished. The world was not at peace. How could anyone ring those bells? Then he worked out his pain on paper. It's worth reading. A poem of hurt and dispair but also a poem of understanding and hope.

And isn't hope what Christmas is about?

If you would like to hear a very stirring rendition, go here.

Photo: Public Domain

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Had I But One Penny in the World, Thou Shouldst Have It for Gingerbread." --Wm. Shakespeare

I don't like crunchy cookies. I like them soft.

These gingersnaps are a family favorite but they don't snap so maybe we should call them Ginger Squishes or something along that line.

The secret is the cane sugar and the margarine. The one and only time I will use margarine is when I am making these cookies. If you substitute butter, they will be harder cookies. I recommend Parkay Margarine. If you use another brand, make sure you are not using one which consists largely of water or you will have a mess on your hands. Likewise, if you buy a "brown" sugar instead of true cane sugar, you will not get the best results. Many cheap brands of brown sugar are simply beet sugar with molasses. The taste is very bland in comparison. True cane sugar is tastier and safer for those of us on a gluten-free diet.

SOFT GINGERSNAPS 375F cookie sheets 12-15min. approx 3 dozen

1 cup light or dark cane sugar (C&H Brown Sugar)
3/4 cup Parkay margarine
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour ( for GF cookies use 2 1/2 cups Bob's Red Mill
Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour sifted with 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger

some white sugar in a bowl, custard cup, or shallow mug

Cream the cane sugar and the margarine together.
Add the egg and mix well.
Add the molasses and mix well.
Stir the dry ingredients (except for the white sugar) together in a separate bowl and then mix into the wet ingredients a little at a time.

Chill the dough for at least one hour.

Roll into balls, roll the balls in white sugar, and bake for 12-15 minutes at 375 degrees F.

You can really impress your guests by serving these, hot out of the oven, with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Halcyon Days

The fourteen days preceeding the winter solstice are referred to as Halcyon Days. In ancient times, the belief was that this bird, a kingfisher, nested on the sea, which it calmed in order to lay its eggs on a floating nest. For this reason, the ancients expected the weather to be calm around the winter solstice. Ultimately, the term "halcyon" came to mean calmness or peacefulness.

I mentioned previously that I'm not all that fond of winter. Still, I think these last, short days of the year are a wonderful time to reflect and look forward to lengthening days and more sunshine. I am a Christian, but I observe the solstice as well. I see no conflict here. Rather, it is another way of marking time and remembering to be grateful for all the wonderful gifts we have in the natural world.

photo licenced by david meeker

Saturday, November 29, 2008

C is for Cookie

Learning to obtain, cook, bake, and eat gluten-free is a real challenge. It is expecially tough for someone like me, who loves to bake. Tough, I guess, because the end product often seems inferior, no matter how much effort goes into it.

I learned very quickly that prepared gluten-free food is at best, tasteless, and often the texture is even worse.

For the first few months of this odyssey, I vacillated from avoiding the grocery store completely and just not eating much, to wandering around the local grocery, slobbering like Pavlov's Dog, as I examined one forbidden item after another. I will say that no matter how great the temptation to cheat, it usually didn't happen. The effects of eating wheat or wheat gluten are immediate and not something one discusses in polite company. It just isn't worth the very real pain it causes.

I tried one recommended item after another and ended up wondering just how long it had been since the well-meaning, fellow Celiac had tasted "real food". Store-bought GF sandwich bread: 1/2 the size, 4 times the price, and tastes only slightly better than soggy cardboard. GF frozen waffles: tasteless and gritty. I could write a whole lament here but that would not be helpful.

I wanted food I could feed to family and friends without them noticing that the food was different.

I have found that it is best to plan ahead and cook and bake at home. I rely on the wonderful Gluten-Free Gourmet series of cookbooks by Bette Hagman and some great blogs like Gluten-Free Girl and Jennifer Ate. Why? Because the ingredients, and therefore mistakes, are expensive.

There are three items I find enormously helpful:

Bob's Red Mill GF All-Purpose Flour This flour can be substituted successfully in a large number of my old recipes for muffins, fruit breads, and cookies. There is no need to look up conversions. If the recipe calls for 1 cup, 1 cup of this flour is fine. I do add a little xanthan gum, especially for cookies.

Bob's Red Mill GF Pancake Mix Yes, pancakes. It won't do to mix up too much of this the first time. The pancakes are slightly heavy and very filling. But they're good.

Cherrybrook Kitchen's "Gluten-Free Dreams" Sugar Cookie Mix I've saved my favorite for last. This mix is so yummy there is just no point in making sugar cookies from scratch. I do take liberties with this mix. By substituting Almond Extract for Vanilla Extract, they can be made to taste like spritz cookies. Add 1/4 tsp. of cream of tartar and roll them in ground cinnamon before baking and you have Snickerdoodles. If I am going to a function like a baby shower or a wedding reception, I smuggle some of these cookies in so that I can have dessert too. My next mad scientist project for this mix will be melting chocolate (the safe kind) and dipping the cookies half way into the chocolate.

All of these items can be ordered directly from the manufacturers' websites. I often get them at Super Target. If you cannot find them, carries all of them, at a lower price, and will charge you even less if you set up "subscriptions" based on how much you will need in a 3,6, or 9 month period. If you set up these subbscriptions with Amazon, the shipping on these items is FREE.
For a little extra encouragement, go here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

New York, 3 October 1789

"By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted--for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions-- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually--to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Geo: Washington"

Just in case you've never had the priviledge of reading it.....

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nebraska November

Just some images of late fall.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happiness List

1) Finding ways to use local honey instead of sugar. In cookies, applesauce, tea.....
2) Minnetonka Moccasins. Nerdy? Maybe, but I have loved them since childhood when they could be found in every souvenir shop from Mitchell, South Dakota to Donner Pass, Idaho.
3) Puppy sitting. For the record, he hates the sissy jacket.
4) Finding a Gluten-Free pie crust recipe to swear by instead of at. We all owe you, Shauna, for sooooo many things.
5) A naughty kitten who loves to "model" fabric and yarn.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Get out of town!

I like to take mini-vacations. There are so many interesting sites not far away. I think this is probably true of most cities. I can usually find something worth exploring within an hour's driving distance.

I have been watching my friends' home, and animals, about twenty-five miles south of Omaha. Ten miles south of her home is the frontier town of Plattsmouth. There is so much history there. I visit there regularly and still have not see all of it. An important site on the Lewis and Clark Trail, Plattsmouth boasts a wonderful Main Street. It's original buildings house an old fashioned hardware store, an amazing quilt shop, a wine shop which stocks local vintners' wares, a restaurant called "Mom's" which serves up comfort food and a quaint atmosphere, and much more.

Just two blocks east of Mom's, near the Burlington Rail Lines, I found the Cook Cabin. Del Hervey, a member of the Cass County historical society, was just locking the cabin and a restored caboose, for the winter, when I arrived. I didn't want to bother him and thought I'd just snap a few pics before heading toward the toll bridge to get some pictures of the river. But Del, in spite of the chilly weather, was enthusiastic about showing me around.

The cabin was built by German settlers, Joseph and Mary Cook (originally Koch) in 1868. It was their second home. The first was even smaller. The main floor is roughly the size of my guest bedroom but the Cooks raised eleven children to adulthood under this roof. Diaries and letters from family members indicate children slept downstairs until they were walking and "trained" and then moved upstairs, to the sleeping loft, with their older brothers and sisters.
The Cook family was on friendly terms with the Native Americans who also lived in the area. They did find it a little odd when their neighbors entered without knocking and helped themselves to whatever food was on the table.
The cabin was moved from its' original site, five miles away, to the edge of the city. Later generations had added on and eventually engulfed the cabin in a bigger farmhouse. That farmhouse was painstakingly peeled away until the cabin was once again freestanding. Historical Society members are not quite finished restoring it, but have done a wonderful job.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Love Thy Neighbor

My neighbors' teenage daughter, K., has an attic bedroom which includes this skylight.
The current display is just one of many which change at least once a month.
Now how can you not love a kid who just wants to send a smile up into the world?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sweater Rescue: Part One

Have any of you ever braved the Goodwill Wearhouse? It's not for the faint of heart. This is the last place items donated to Goodwill are taken, before the knick knacks are smashed and thrown in a dumpster and the clothing is all sold to rag companies.

Workers at the GW wheel huge, wooden bins heaped with items out onto the floor of the store and you are free to sort through and fill your cart with anything you like.

The cons:
There is often the nerve wracking sound of items being smashed in the back room.
Some of the shoppers are really competitive when those bins are first rolled out. I'm perfectly happy sticking with the bins which have been in the showroom for a while.
You must take care when sorting through the bins. Quite often there are sharp objects lurking.
Your shoulders and arms can get tired and sore from sorting. This is especially true for those of us who are petite because the bins are somewhat tall.

The Pros:
Since Goodwill's prices, in their regular retail stores, have gotten markedly higher, due to E-bay's popularity, some very nice things end up in these bins.
The merchandise, except for the furniture, appliances, and books, is sold for $1.37 per pound. Be careful. Some individual items are so heavy that their "by-the-pound" price ends up being higher than it would have been priced at the regular Goodwill.

I've shopped for linen for quilts, anything in large sizes made from t-shirt fabric to experiment with projects from The Alabama Stitch Book, vintage quilt tops, and my favorite, cashmere sweaters. Yes! Cashmere. It's light as thisledown! I recently walked away with seven cashmere sweaters for $1.29 and tax.

Six of them where in awesome shape. Two of them still had their original tags! One cappucchino colored cardigan had a few tiny holes and one missing button but that didn't stop me.

First, I placed all the sweaters in a freezer bag and froze them for 72 hours. Moth larvae cannot survive freezing. This is why moths migrate. Then I washed them in cold water in the gentle cycle. I never send cashmere to the dry cleaners. It simply isn't necessary. Then I dryed them in the dryer on the gentlest setting. I recommend using a dryer sheet because the cashmere can smell, well, a little gamey, when drying. Always clean your lint screen with a soft toothbrush and a little Dawn dishwashing soap after using a dryer sheet. The sheet can occlude the screen and keep your dryer from working efficiently.

Then, I checked the inside of the sweater and, sure enough, there was a spare button still stitched to the inside seam.
More soon....

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Mitten Maven

For some time now, I have been marveling over the work of Leena at Riihivilla.

Leena and her husband live in Finland. Leena has been dyeing Finnsheep wool for more than 20 years, gathering and fermenting her own dyestuffs, and, together with her mother, creating awesome Mitten Kits. The kits are inspired, in both colorways and design, by the breathtaking Finnish countryside.

Leena and her husband sell their yarns at the Market Place Kauppatori, in Helsinki, but fortunately for us, they are also available online.

If you have a knitter on your list, or you are looking for a chilly weather project with sumptuous color, may I suggest you pour yourself a cup of tea, explore Leena's blog, and then check out her shop? Do remember that the kits and patterns are for personal use only.

If only I could make up my mind which kit to hint for this Christmas.......! I think the one pictured above might be my favorite.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

"Youth is a circumstance you can't do anything about. The trick is to grow up without getting old." --Frank Lloyd Wright

Every morning I'm greeted by angels. They perch quietly atop my armoire. One for each woman in my immediate family. March and December for my amazing grandmothers. January for a sister who left us six months before I was born. And, October, times two, for my mother and me.

The knowledge, the love, and the wisdom of my female relatives is such a rich heritage. A gift I continue to open and explore. The gentle humor, homespun wisdom, and unmatched energy of my maternal grandma. The grace, talent, and deep intelligence of my paternal grandmother. And the unconditional love and tireless one-woman cheering squad also known as Mom.

I am humbled to be a part of this group. I hope that, like them, I can truly make a difference to those who surround me. Yes. It's my birthday.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"How many apples fell on Newton's head before he took the hint?" --Robert Frost

I've always turned my nose up at fancy apple peelers. They waste too much of the apple. I prefer the "zen" of paring and coring by hand. They cost too much....

A few pies and a batch of applesauce later, I've changed my mind.

I planted a pair of Granny Smith trees in my backyard this summer. With any luck, someone will present me with one of these before the trees begin producing. (hint, hint) This one is pretty too but a little pricey.

The tiny apples are crabs but they are sweet! We got them from Charles and Susan of Prairie Song Apiary.

Going to let my hands rest now. ;)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Twining Woodbine

Saturday was the annual Applefest in Woodbine, Iowa, my father's hometown.

Over the years more and more members of my family have descended on this tiny, rural town, located on the Lincoln Highway, for this celebration. We troll the fleamarkets and craft shows and have lunch at one of the local churches.

There are vintage car and motorcycle shows, quilt exhibits, and more.

The day wouldn't be complete without a visit with our favorite beekeepers.
Much apple peeling and honey tasting to come!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Dragon Scales

I have a dear friend, S., who loves complete sets. She does not see the sense in wearing a necklace if she does not have the matching earrings. When she buys a painting, she likes to buy the artist's studies too. Similarly, when I gifted her with a pair of these done in Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, in the "pansy" colorway, she quickly purchased a bag of matching yarn and asked, very sweetly, for a matching scarf.

I would never refuse her anything so....

I cast on 51 stitches instead of 48. This gives a border of three stitches in stockinette on each side. The three pattern repeats used in the mitts provide a perfect width for the scarf. I am using seven balls of the aforementioned yarn. This should make the scarf at least 72" long. Very important since S. is elegantly tall.
I was somewhat worried that somewhere along the way I might get a little bored. To counter this, I treated myself to those lovely rosewood needles found at String of Purls. Okay, so it was an excuse to splurge on gorgeous needles....
I love the new point protecters too. I am allergic to latex and rubber so I was very happy to find them made of silicone, from Clover.

Isn't my model sweet?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

"Who loves a garden, still his Eden keeps, Perennial pleasures plants, and wholesome harvests reaps." --A. Bronson Alcott

Autumn has arrived early in the Heartland. I believe we are going to have an early and long winter. All summer long I have been watching for a doe with a single fawn. All of them have twins or triplets.

The walnut and oak trees are just sagging with nuts this year. While walking among the Bur Oaks this morning, I gathered acorn caps which are all triplets. Normally, they would be singles or twinned.

The geese have been flocking for two weeks now. There is such a sense of excitement and urgency when they are gathering, getting ready, and eating to fuel their journey. It gives me a serious case of wanderlust.

I have been staying at the country home of a friend. Watching her dogs and cats and horses while she attends the 50th Anniversary Party for her parents. The last few mornings have been breathtaking. Fog was nestled into the hollows and low over the fields. The rising sun cast beautiful pinks and violets into the sky. A mama bobcat and her two kits have been sleeping on the top of my car! Thankfully, they haven't tried to sharpen their claws on it, there is just some wild kitty fur sticking to the fabric.

On an excursion around the property, I spotted two different bucks with their hareems of doe and all those fawns, a group of wild turkeys, and some prairie voles. This is my favorite season. I wish I liked winter, even a little, but I don’t. So, I’m soaking Autumn in as long as I can. I know that the calendar says it hasn’t started yet but, well, the calendar is wrong.

That reminds me of an elderly gentleman I once knew. Gustav Andres was his name. Gus, as we called him, ran away from his home in Saffle Sweden at the age of ten because he hated fish. Saffle is a fishing village and he actually believed that since he was one of twelve kids, no one would miss him. He stowed away on a ship and came to America. He lived to be 96 years old and talking with him was always fun and interesting. He insisted that God only made two seasons: winter and summer. The others were “manmade”. I guess this would make sense when you come from the land of midnight sun.

Monday, September 1, 2008

It's a little odd, beginning a blog. There is so much I want to share but where does one start? I don't want this to end up being an "Enough about me, let's talk about ME," sort of thing.

So, welcome! Thanks for giving my little virtual home a look.