Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas is coming!

Are you ready for it?

This is what seems to have become of Christmas in America.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Legacy of Lives

A very special woman got married on Saturday.

When I attended the wedding I more fully realized just how special she is. Hers was the largest wedding I had ever attended and a full one third (or more!) of the guests were children of all ages. The significant relationship these children had with the bride is that most of them met Heather for the first time in the first moments of their birth.

Heather is not a nurse or a doctor. Heather is a midwife. She trained with her mother, who is also a midwife, and together they have helped to bring many hundreds of children into the world, including our Samuel and Peter. Seeing all these children together celebrating the marriage of Heather and Walter, made me think deeply about her unique impact on the world.

The work that this mother-daughter team has done over the last two decades can only be described as completely selfless and loving. As a recipient of that loving service I can testify that what they do is a most important work and it leaves a legacy that can be seen in the faces of all those little humans who joyfully played at the reception as well as their mothers and fathers who hugged and blessed Heather with their attendance. These families all dearly love the bride and feel connected to her by a special friendship.

The reason that her wedding and reception had a standing-room-only crowd is because of that legacy. Midwives touch families in a way that no other people do. They not only build a relationship with the woman carrying a child but also with her husband and her other family members. They go into the homes of the families and give them loving care at one of the most significant events in their lives- the birthing and welcoming of a new baby.

With great personal sacrifice, midwives attend to the health-care and comfort needs of mother and baby. They are the most skilled and knowledgeable people about birth, I believe more so then doctors. That sounds like a ridiculous statement I know. Having had three homebirths myself and having attended several others, I can testify to that knowledge and skill. I had complications with my homebirths that were handled by my midwives with competent skill, gently and lovingly. Midwives have the skill and knowledge to help women birth babies that are in difficult positions or "stuck" babies. In a hospital setting these situations are not allowed but interrupted with surgery. Under the care of a midwife, women are gently coaxed and drawn through long difficult labors to accomplish what women have been doing naturally since the beginning of time. They are never left to suffer alone and unsure or treated as just one more patient. Midwives do a great service to women by empowering them- giving them control over their own bodies and babies and showing them what they are capable of doing during the most challenging moments of their lives. I am in awe of what they so compassionately do for women.

My admiration and respect for these women and other midwives runs deep. Midwives sacrifice so much of their own personal lives; they shoulder serious responsibility for the welfare of others and they do so with grace, love and honor.

I know that this feeling is shared by the many others whose lives they have touched like my own.

I have been blessed by my association with them and I am grateful for their love and friendship.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Turkey Report

A few notes on our Thanksgiving Day...

The organic turkey was by far the best, most succulent, melt-in-your-mouth tender turkey I have ever prepared or eaten. It was even better then our own home-raised birds. It was well worth the higher price tag!

Bobby Flay's Pumpkin Bread Pudding was good but I'd be satisfied with a mug of the Creme Anglaise for dessert. The Spicy Apple Caramel Sauce is also delicious for coffee or hot rum drinks.

Our mountain man guest (back left) was an interesting guest. A Gulf War vet, he had lots of stories to tell, some of them plausible, some... not so much. Everyone was glad he came.

The mountain man's dog, Captain Tuddles (aka Cuddles) was a retired/rescued IED sniffer from Iraq. His owner says the army gave her a purple heart when she retired.

At the after-dinner Shoot-out at OK Corral, the little boys graduated to the Annie Oakley line-up. My babies are growing up. {{sniff}}

Despite my concerted efforts to have a game of Pinnochle, I was rejected for the hallowed and sacred tradition of Shanghai. Isn't thirty-five years of this game enough? Can I introduce you to 500 or Euchre?? Shanghai was more interesting back in the day when the card sharks of the family tried their best to Shanghai the rest of the table.

And finally, in the last move of the game, after three hours of play, Kris managed a real, true Shanghai. I think it was an accident.

Then the kids brought out the Quelf.
Quite possibly the most insanely ridiculous game ever. I mean trippy.

I got talked into this game once and figured out very quickly that I am just not uninhibited enough to play.

How was  your Thanksgiving?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Thanksgiving Menu

This has been our weather this week:

I'm posting this especially for those in sunny South Carolina or for those enjoying SUMMER down under in Australia. This is the kind of winter we are in for.

And there is nothing like some snow followed by melting boots, drippy coats and soggy gloves lying in front of the doorway to get a person into the holiday mood.

Tomorrow in America it is Thanksgiving which means that today is Food Preparation Day.

We are having a smaller crowd then usual which is okay with me but the kids have been complaining. A groaning board of fantastic food is not enough for them. They want relatives and cousins filling the furniture.

Here is our menu for the day:

The Ubiquitous Thanksgiving Menu

This year since we did not raise our own and since the crowd is small enough to afford it, I bought an organic turkey. Organic is my preference over a factory-farm-raised bird. I figure that when we had raised our own turkeys, (turkeys are eating machines) we easily poured $3 a pound worth of feed into them. I didn't see any organic store turkeys that were as big as what we raised though. One of them topped the scale that year at 40 pounds. That dinosaur did not fit into the oven.


After years of experimentation I now have developed a recipe I use every year. It always has the traditional bread and corn bread (which I make ahead), apples because we live in an apple valley and wild rice. I was born in Minnesota and my dad and other relatives harvested wild rice in canoes so adding it to our stuffing is a nod to our family heritage. I always stuff the bird then put the rest in a side dish to bake. The stuffing out of the bird is moister and more flavorful then the dressing in the side dish so just before it goes onto the table I mix the two together.

Mashed Taters and Gravy

Of course. I make my mashed potatoes with heavy cream. Sometimes I add parsley or chives. I make my gravy with the cooked potato water because that is the way my mother taught me.

Cranberry Salad

Back in the early days I got a recipe from my mother for a molded cranberry salad. It has been a staple on the menu ever since. I have tried to replace it with other cranberry salads which resulted in table banging rebellion. So we always have this salad which is made with raspberry jello, canned cranberry sauce, chopped apple, chopped orange, cinnamon and cloves. It is made in a ring jello mold because, like I said, we are from Minnesota!

Squash and/or Sweet Potatoes

Because somewhere there is a law written that there must be orange vegetables on every Thanksgiving table. This year it will be only our garden's buttercup squash. Because I don't need so many leftovers cramming the refrigerator.

Dinner Rolls

Homemade. Cracked Wheat Rolls. This is an old magazine recipe from my first Thanksgiving dinner. I am making these today because I have never found a better recipe. If you haven't tried these you are missing the best homemade dinner rolls ever.

The New Menu Addtions:

Sirloin Tip Elk Roast

Our son Neal got his first elk this year. It was a beauty. We will be having this wild game (and gravy?) along with our organic turkey. I don't know if they had any elk around Plymouth Colony in the seventeenth century but somehow it seems appropriate for a Thanksgiving feast.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

We never, ever ate brussel sprouts growing up. I never fed them to my children. Brussel sprouts have a very bad reputation and the first time I ate them (as an adult) they lived up to it. The sulfurous, cruciferous flavor made me go Hoi. Then I had them again a few years ago, prepared by a catering friend at a gourmet dinner event. They were sauteed with bacon and drizzled with lemon juice. The brussel sprouts were delicious and I have been a convert ever since. I will be roasting fresh brussel sprouts with bacon and apple and they will be drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction. If anyone complains or turns up their nose, I will gladly eat them all myself.


Has always and ever been pie. Pie, pie, pie. I have made hundreds of pies this year and I'm tired of pie.  I expect another rebellion from those not tired of pie. We'll be having Bobby Flay's Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Spicy Carmel Apple Sauce and Vanilla Creme Anglaise. Who can complain about that? Again, I will be glad to eat it all by myself. We are also having a pumpkin cheesecake with a ginger cookie crust.

And okay, fine. A pie. Maybe a chocolate pecan pie.

So that's the menu and for any of my family reading this, there will now be no surprises.

We will have one unusual guest.

Last fall when Mr. Dirtywrench was hunting up in the mountains he came upon a mountain man living back in the forest with his dog. Mr. D. has since seen him a few times hiking on the road to town to get supplies and he's done some investigating about him. Last week Mr. D. located him and invited him to our Thanksgiving dinner. The mountain man accepted the invitation.

And just so you don't think that our Thanksgiving is only about food, we start our day by attending a worship service at our church to properly give thanks for our abundant blessings.

I hope that you and yours have a wonderful day together and that your blessings are always more than you can count!

What are you going to be eating on this iconic American holiday?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Easy as Pie

Just in time for a Thanksgiving Pie-a-palooza, my niece Elizabeth is here to demonstrate how easy it is to roll pie crust. With the parchment paper method it is so easy, even a child can do it.

You simply roll your favorite pie dough recipe between two sheets of parchment paper.

After a few rolls, loosen the paper on both sides so that the dough will continue to expand in size.

When the dough is rolled to the needed size and thickness, loosen the paper again and remove one sheet. Then use the other sheet of paper to lift the dough and transfer it into a pie dish.

Crimp the edges of the pie crust in your favorite manner. Refrigerate the dough-lined pie dish while you prepare the filling.

Lizzy made an old-fashioned pumpkin pie.

It took more muscle to stir the filling then it did to roll the pie crust.

Put the filling into the chilled pie crust and bake!

It was her first ever pie and it tasted mahvelous!
For a more detailed tutorial on making pie crust, check out Pie Crust 101.

Thanksgiving is only two days away!
Are you making pie? What kind?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What to do with pumpkin puree?

So have you baked up some fresh sweet pumpkin? Now you have a load of pumpkin puree and you don't know what in the world to do with it?

Here's just a couple things that I did with mine this weekend:

Sunday Morning Pumpkin Pancakes

2 whole eggs, beaten
2 cups flour (any kind, I used spelt)
2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
 1 cup pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
a pinch of cloves
1/3 cup oil
2 cups buttermilk
Whisk together and fry on a hot skillet. Top with real maple syrup and chopped walnuts or pecans.

Saturday night we had pumpkin soup. I could have eaten the whole pot all by myself!

Curried Pumpkin Soup

Sautee one half of a chopped large onion and one chopped tart apple in two tablespoons of oil in a pot. After they are soft transfer to a food processor and puree. Put four or five cups of pumpkin puree in the soup pot and add the pureed onion/apple mixture. Stir in two cups of chicken broth or more, until the consistency is what you like. Add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar or maple syrup. Season with salt (1 teaspoon), pepper (1/2 teaspoon) and 2 teaspoons of curry powder (more or less according to taste).

If there is still plenty of pumpkin puree to cook with there is always pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin cookies and pumpkin bread.

I made some pumpkin bread also that will be made into Bobby Flay's pumpkin bread pudding for our Thanksgiving feast. I can't wait to eat this one!

What are you cooking up this week?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fresh Garden Pumpkin

We had a bumper crop of little sweet pumpkins in the garden this year.
We picked them and put them in storage a few weeks ago so that they would have some time to harden off and ripen before their Thanksgiving premier.

It is so very easy to make homemade pumpkin puree to be used in holiday desserts.

You simply cut up the pumpkin into even-sized sections and remove the seeds from inside. Put the sections into a baking dish and add a half an inch of water to the bottom of the pan.

Next lay a piece of parchment paper over the pumpkin and cover with aluminum foil. Seal the edges of the foil so that the water will steam the pumpkin while it bakes. Bake the pan in a 375 degree oven for 60-90 minutes until the flesh of the pumpkin is completely soft. It can be tested by sticking a fork in it.

After the pumpkin cools in the pan, it can be easily separated from the skin.

I have used it immediately like this with only a slight mashing with a fork but when I bake a large amount I like to put it into my food processor to puree it. In the absence of a food processor a simple old-fashioned potato masher will do the job. Or an electric hand mixer.

Take note that this is not done with the decorative jack-o-lantern like pumpkins. They have a stringy flesh that is not sweet for baking. The small sweet baking pumpkins are the ones to use.

This fresh pumpkin puree is now ready to be made into cookies, pumpkins breads, delicious soups and of course....holiday pies. It can also be frozen in bags or containers for future use.

A pie made with fresh pumpkin is better then any other. The superb flavor and texture will satisfy and bring back memories of your grandma's pumpkin pie.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I'm A Bag Lady

I got a shopping bag for my birthday.

And I love it!

I've only used regular old paper and plastic bags when shopping though I have occasionally (read "rarely") remembered to take along a canvas bag or a homemade bluejean bag. The problem is that they aren't very attractive; they aren't big enough to hold much; and I can't remember to keep them in the car so they are ready when I go into a store.

So I've been stuck with a cupboard stuffed full with paper sacks and plastic bags that I recycle when I can no longer shut the cabinet door.

Then my friend, Karen, gave me this lovely, heavy-duty, large capacity, water-proof work of art!

I've been enjoying its use so much that I decided to splurge and buy another one for myself so that all my groceries and Wally World purchases can come home in style. I have found that one of these bags can hold the equivalent of at least four of those plastic shopping bags.

This is SO my style!

I've never been enticed by the shopping bags with store names or cause logos on the side. I don't care to be a walking sign board for where I shop.
 But this? Adorable!
They add some charm to the mundane chore of grocery shopping.

And I know where to go if I want to find more like these.

After handing over all my money to a clerk in a store, I can still leave the store with a little smile.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Miserable Ones

Public high schools these days.....
They are in dire need of an overhaul.
From the dress code....

...to the quality of the academics...

...to the equipment. There's never enough- rooms, desks, necessities...

They want to expand, build additions...

...and some days there isn't even enough cafeteria food for all the starving children...

So there is a continual clamor for more money: levies, bonds, taxes. It never ends.

   Do you hear the people sing
     Lost in the valley of the night
     It is the music of a people
     Who are climbing to the light
     For the wretched of the earth
     There is a flame that never dies
     Even the darkest night will end
     And the sun will rise.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Peanut Butter Lover's Cake

I was honored this week with a request for a special birthday cake. The chef at one of our local fine restaurants was being feted at a party and the general manager asked me to make his cake. I was told his favorite flavor is peanut butter. The rest was up to me.

I decided to make a cake using both the classic combinations of peanut butter and jelly and peanut butter and chocolate, keeping the peanut butter as the predominate flavor.

I found a recipe for peanut butter cake and tested it to make sure it was what I wanted.  I decided to fill the cake with a fine blackberry preserve and ice it with Rose Levy Beranbaum's peanut butter buttercream.

This was a largish cake and I wanted to have lots of fruit filling to go with all that peanut butter flavor. Making a dam with the buttercream keeps the berry filling from oozing out the sides and messing up the icing.

I didn't have any blackberries available to make my own filling so after much label reading I settled on this good quality blackberry preserve for the filling.

The filling stayed nicely inside the dam.

I stacked the cake in three layers and crumb coated it with the peanut butter buttercream. A short stint in the refrigerator helps to firm up and set the icing.

I then mixed up another batch of buttercream and iced the cake.

I made up some rich chocolate ganache with a semi-sweet chocolate and heavy cream. It's essential that the ganache is just the right consistency for stress-free piping. I wanted to cover the top of the cake so that each slice would have some chocolate. If I made this cake again I would ice the sides of the cake with the peanut butter buttercream and then the top with straight ganache. I would then decorate the top with the buttercream as I did here. I think that would give more balance between the peanut butter, blackberry and chocolate flavors.
In the end though I think it was a peanut butter lover's delight!

So, I'm going to confess to you all my inner baker's angst. I go through these kind of things when I am doing an important job. I delivered the cake with a fair amount of confidence, except that I wished I had iced the top with the ganache as I said above. I was able to think "C'est la vie" until I started worrying about the filling.  As I said above, I wanted to use a lot of filling to balance the flavor of the peanut butter, but then I started worrying that the filling was too soft and that when the cake was sliced it would ooze and fall apart instead of transferring nicely to a dessert plate. I worry about this kind of stuff and Mr. Dirtywrench tells me that since the devil is in the details, my nit-picking is what ends in good results. 

So you can imagine my relief when I got these comments from the hotel manager in an email. 

"...when we cut into the cake it looked off the charts……beautiful….the blackberry ran down it and over the peanut butter cake. Chef Mark Whitehead loves peanut butter and as a general rule cake is NOT his favorite and he said “it was incredible one of the best cakes he’s had” Mark always looks at how a cake cuts and this cut perfect……THANK YOU so much and I’ll look forward to our next order and sending many clients your way."

I can now sleep peacefully once again.