29 November 2011

The Moments That Matter Most

Our Monday nights are reserved for family time.  We sing and play and have an uplifting spiritual thought before enjoy something sugary and and more often than not, chocolaty.

So, we played Ring Around The Rosie . . .
 . . .all fell down . . .
 . . . piled on daddy . . .
. . . and watched one of my favorite inspirational clips.  I can't be reminded enough that it really is the small, simple moments (like these!) that matter most.

Apples!

There are over a dozen trees scattered about our seven acres and just about all of them are in the golden years of life.  The apples have surely past their prime decades ago and now their trunks are gnarled, their limbs have grown into tangled messes and one tree within the first few weeks of us living here split right in half.  I hacked off the limbs from the lifeless trunk and used it as a crutch to support some of the weight of the still-live portion.
When we planted another modest orchard just north of the two elderly apple trees, we bought a few galas that will one day replace the originals.  For now, they're still just babies.  It will be a few more years before they sprout any fruit and more than likely, we'll have moved on.  Planting an orchard seemed like it would be a good selling point though we wouldn't reap much--if any--benefits after the cost and work of transplanting.  But what is a hobby farm without a fruit tree orchard?
Sometimes it seems people tend to discount old things as obsolete.  If it's not shiny and new, it's not any good.  Not true!  In their mature age, the trees still produce several bushels of apples.  We're not sure of their breed--they're fairly small with a thick skin and there's only about a week period where they're mildly sweet.  Otherwise they've got an unappetizing bitter tang.

I don't know why but there's something very satisfying about eating food produced from our own soil.  Sure there are a few worms to yank out but the best part about is that there's little work involved and they're one of nature's many freebies.  Other than pruning, mowing around their trunks and plucking blossoms so that one apple grows at the tip of each twig, we just wait for the apples to plump up for that magical week of sweetness.  I have a hunch the hot weather near the end of summer has something to do with ripeness (which explains why Claire's munching on apples in her diaper).  All except for the tree who split in two--he's in panic mode ever year and drops his apples mid-summer.  They can barely even be called apples.  They're more like oversized cherries: the skin flushes a dark red while the fruit inside is grainy and powdery.  It seems he's in a hurry to produce some replacement offspring.

Fruit isn't the only benefit of the geriatric trees.  The cats love scrambling up their trunks because they have hunched with age and are an easy climb.  Sometimes the squirrels dash covertly over for a mouthful of apples and during the summer of cicadas, there were several insects at any given time droning from the apple's limbs.
Any apples that fall to the ground and rot before we can sink our teeth in are fed to the creatures that probably appreciate them more than any of us: the horses.  We dump fruit in their paddock by the bucketful and watch them eat.  The way they rip off the flesh and smack their lips, it almost sounds like a pride of lions eating freshly caught prey:


The two apple trees give me the impression of brothers.  I have no idea why other than the way they have grown up side-by-side, weathering the strong winds and storms through innumerable seasons.  I don't have the heart to hack them down as some guests suggest I probably should.  For now, they are in retirement--still chugging along with not much being expected of them save one unpretentious yet appreciated apple crop each autumn.

27 November 2011

Honey Butter

Despite being back "home" in Nebraska for the week of Thanksgiving, it seems like it was a whirlwind trip.  There are always so many people to visit and try to hurry and catch up with, one being a good friend from my days at the vet clinic.

Wendy gave me some of her tastiest recipes and gave me the go ahead to share.  Her quick recipe for honey butter made the list and as I Ooooed and Ahhhed my gift, she pulled a small homemade jar from the fridge.  Once we made it home, we cracked it open and smeared it over a loaf of thick bread and now, well, it's almost gone.
There isn't quite a way to describe the taste: it's certainly honey and butter but it has a little something else as the two ingredients meld during the cooking process.  Make some and keep some in the fridge to scrape over toast, dinner rolls, a slice of wheat bread--it'll be delicious however you spread it.
(This recipe makes about two pint jars).
1 pound of honey
1 pound of UNsalted butter
-OR-
1:1 ratio of each

Melt butter over low in a saucepan, being careful not to scorch.  Add the honey when the butter is completely melted.  Stir continuously.

When the butter is no longer yellow and has taken on the hue of golden honey, it's ready to pour into canning jars for sealing. (If you can still "feel" the scrape of honey sugar crystals in the pan, keep stirring until smooth).

Ladle honey butter into jars and seal.  Don't forget to wipe the jar rim before placing on the lid or it won't seal properly.  Cool at room temperature for several hours before storing in the refrigerator.
***Be sure to keep it refrigerated or the butter will go rancid.  Don't worry about separating either--remove the lid and microwave for a few seconds to soften before mixing the honey and butter together again.***

Everything At Once

I recently discovered this song by Lenka though it's been out for several months now.  It's very whimsical, clever and catchy.  Have fun listening to it and I hope you enjoy it (it's probably going to be stuck in your head for a while)!

25 November 2011

Funny Photos: That Was Good

I spotted a few comical photos lately, all centered around eating.  Here's a couple of them:
Claire is not one to delay finishing off her food.  By the end of the meal, she was beyond happy--giddy really--that her tummy was no longer vacant.

Lydia was assigned the official taste tester while my sister and I whipped up our Thanksgiving meal.  She ate it and also essayed the grub as a potential beauty product, smothering it on her face, cheeks and hands and hair.

Next time I'll take Evelyn seriously when she says she's not hungry and would rather take a nap . . .

A flawless evil villain mustache composed entirely of tasty chocolate!

I don't know many kids that wouldn't be ecstatic to be eating chocolate pudding topped with whipped cream!

I'm Rich!

There's a running joke with my family and friends who have assisted with the demolition of our house.  We quip quite frequently that somewhere, hidden inconspicuously in the walls is a pile of gold just waiting to be retrieved.

No one can say that we haven't tried our darnedest to find it.  Nearly every wall in the house has been taken down or otherwise modified.  Nothing more than old cellulose tumbled down with the plaster.  That and a steak knife but that's another story.

All of that changed when I decided to paint the door between the kitchen and the back porch.  The door handle needed some attention so I removed it and began smearing the door with a thick, neutral ivory.  Halfway down the door, I sat on an empty bucket and came face to face with the dirty door knob gap.
I cringed at all of that grime but before I looked away, I noticed a small coin in the back.  I scooted it to the front with a screwdriver and found . . .
. . . a dime!  I suspect some curious child slipped it through the lock slot and forever lost their ten cents.  It didn't exactly make us wealthy but I'll take whatever I can find.  I think I'll put it in our home improvement fund . . .

23 November 2011

Evaporated Milk Substitute

Scrambling to finish the Thanksgiving baking, I scoured the shelves for the last precious can of evaporated milk.  As was my luck, it expired in 2008.  There wasn't time to run to the store but fortunately, I'd noticed a rose colored sticky note posted on my mother's kitchen wall.  It contained a simple recipe for evaporated milk substitute.  Phew!

Combine:
2/3 cup powdered milk
3/4 cup (8oz) warm water

Dissolve completely and substitute as needed in recipes. 

Nothing But Ordinary

I took this picture several weeks ago as I scrambled in the dark to finish some landscaping.  Rain was imminent the following day and I for one didn't want to try to shovel mud out of the way to plant bushes.

I didn't intend the picture to be a creepy Peeping Tom sort of photo but a way to give perspective on our home.  There is nothing special about the shot, nothing but ordinary--toys scattered on the floor, the television's on, nobody's posing--but what sticks out to me are the rooms encompassing the cheery family.  Lately, the house has been transforming at a rate that I am beginning to forget what a decrepit shanty it was only a few years ago. Usually, I'm a bit sentimental about change but in this case, I am more than happy to leave the home's trying past behind.

Kid's Cranberry Salad

This fluffy salad is a great way to get your kids to love cranberries.  It's sweet, pink and has miniature marshmallows!  Plus, it only has a few steps and though it requires several hours of refrigeration, can be made several days early and frozen until you're ready to enjoy it.

Here's How To Make It:
In blender, combine 1 package of cranberries and 1 3/4 cups sugar until smooth.  Refrigerate for two hours.
Add 1 large bag of miniature marshmallows and fold in one 16oz container of cool whip.  Refrigerate two hours more.
Add one can of pineapple with juice (if you've reduced the amount of marshmallows, drain the juice from the pineapple before adding).  Mix well and (you guessed it!) refrigerate before serving.

22 November 2011

Homemade Granola

This recipe has been a long time family favorite.  It can be made in larger batches and stored in airtight containers for up to six months though it usually doesn't last that long--it's too delicious!  Plus it has the added bonus of packing in lots of whole grains and thanks to the light sweetness, it doesn't taste too 'healthy.'  It doesn't take much to fill a stomach either.  And it's homemade . . . really, I could go on and on about how wonderful this granola recipe is.

Ingredients:

10 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup wheat germ
1/2 pound shredded coconut
2 cups raw sunflower seeds
1 cup sesame seeds
3 cups chopped almonds, pecans, walnuts or combination
1/2 cup flax seed meal (optional)
1 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 cups water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup molasses
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 teaspoons vanilla
Raisins or other dried fruit (optional)

Preheat oven to 300F.  Combine oats, wheat germ, coconut, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, nuts and flax seed meal (if using).  Blend well.
In a large saucepan, combine brown sugar, water, oil, honey, molasses, salt, cinnamon and vanilla.  Heat until dissolved but do not boil.  Pour syrup over dry ingredients and stir until well coated.
Spread into five 13x9in pans or cookie sheets with sides.  Bake 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Bake 15 minutes longer for crunchier texture.  Cool.  Add dried fruit or raisins if desired.  Store in airtight containers.
 ***Be aware that while the granola is still warm, it will not be crunchy when finished baking--test a small spoonful by allowing to cool to see if it has reached desired crunchiness***
 Enjoy!

21 November 2011

Be Prepared!

Visiting my mother at work, I strolled by the fantastic magnolia tree tucked in a nook by the school of music.  Every spring, it's one of the first of the plants to awake and be riotously covered with large, colorful blossoms.  Now in the chilly grey of autumn, the flowers are long gone and the last of the leaves has fallen.  What amazed me most were the plump buds already sprouting from the tip of every twig.  It's not even winter and yet this tree is already planning for the thaw.
I gleaned an important lesson from nature: be optimistic--it's never too early to be prepared for warmer, brighter seasons to arrive.

18 November 2011

The Great Outdoors

This morning I accidentally left the door open and Snickers slipped in, thinking she'd have a warm nap curled up on the couch.  She didn't account for the fact that the kids were awake and that Claire's new obsession are the cats, so much so that she's learned to say "Kitties!" before "Mama" or "Dadda."

It didn't take long for Snickers to remember that, while the benefit may outweigh the cost once in a while, she prefers the great outdoors.  In several ways, she's safer.

Here's what Snickers suffered at the hands of Claire before dashing away:

Did you hear her say, "Kitty" when Snickers got up?

After escaping Claire's grasp, she bolted for the door.  Jack was more than happy to send her out but it was Evelyn who scooped her up as best as she could and drug her to the back patio.  With one annoyed glance over her shoulder, she trotted off to the hay pile for a nap.  It might be chillier but there would be no boisterous girls to torment her.

Parmesan Chicken

I found this recipe on All Recipes.com, modified it slightly and used it when entertaining guests a few nights ago.  It only requires four ingredients, is ready in under a half an hour and was a big hit.

Ingredients:
 
 1/2 cup Mayonnaise (light Mayo can be substituted if desired)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
4 teaspoons Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs

  



Preheat oven to 425F.  Combine May with cheese.  Coat chicken evenly with Mayo mixture and arrange on baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.








Sprinkle with bread crumbs.  Bake 20 minutes or until chicken is thoroughly cooked.


17 November 2011

Here, Kitty, Kitty!

After being spayed, neutered and vaccinated, the three feline siblings began their life as farm cats.  They began with a few quick hours outdoors to explore under my watchful eye, then returned inside to eat and sleep every night.  Immediately, the dozens of towering trees became intensely fascinating.  Each day their confidence swelled and they climbed higher and higher.  If you've never seen a cat climbing his first tree, it's quite comical.  The expression they get on their face is half-crazed and wild as they sink their claws into the bark and heave themselves upward.

The boys were the first to make it up to the branches where they'd rest in the crooks.  Deciding they wanted to come down, they meowed nervously, only then becoming aware that they were stuck.  They spent a little while stranded until they gleaned enough bravery to tumble clumsily back to the ground.

Snickers, their only sister, is not one to be left behind.  She's considerably daintier than Hercules and RJ but she can be ferocious in her own right.  She was soon tearing up the trees and getting marooned on the limbs, only after she paced and fidgeted and meowed pleadingly, she could not figure out how to get down.  Jack reassured me that she'd stumble back down.  I reluctantly allowed her to spend her first night in a tree.
More than once I begged Jack to get her down.  He rolled his eyes, reminding me that he only was doing it because he loved me, all the while muttering about stupid cats  Eventually he ran out of patience and then it was me heaving the ladder up to where she anxiously begged.  At the top of a shaky ladder stretching to reach Snicker's scruff just beyond my fingertips, I too was grumbling about stupid cats.

After a learning curve, Snickers figured out how to rotate herself around and slide down the trunk, not unlike a baby learning to successfully navigate stairs.

This morning, Claire yelled happily from her room and I went to get her, drawing the blinds to let the sun shine in.  I took a double take:
Snickers was sunbathing on the slope of the shingles, her eyes half closed in pleasant revelry.  I knocked on the window and she snapped up to the roof, employing the same pathetic cry I hadn't heard since the last time she got stranded.
I let her in through the window and she purred her thanks.  The gash on her nose clearly explained her predicament.  It's not the first time the cats have used their climbing ability to escape danger, though it's certainly the first time any of them have scaled a ladder.
I don't know if the scratch came from one of my boys who occasionally like to torment their sister or a rogue stray that has been spotted in the neighborhood.  Regardless, Snickers didn't seem too upset.  After a quick drink from the sink, she was begging to go back out.

I'm glad that the cats aren't afraid to stand up for themselves but at the same time, know when it's time to hightail it.  The ladder's back down so if comes to it again tonight, Snickers is going to have to revert to back to the trusty old trees.

16 November 2011

Pack That Brown Sugar

I wasn't a huge baker as a girl.  I'd say I was more than content to let my mom do the work and yet, overly eager to help eating her delectable creations.  So, when it came time to be my own baker, I had a few things to learn.
Here's a tip I picked up from a dear friend who has take numerous culinary courses:  When using brown sugar, pack it firmly into the measuring cup.  How do you know if it's firm enough?  When you dump it into the bowl, the sugar should maintain the shape of the measuring cup.  Simple as that!

Hope the reminder's helpful!

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