Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dinner on a Budget

Jake had a job interview this morning, but we are still extremely tight with money until one of us gets a position somewhere. God has continued to provide for us and our daily needs, but he also gave us the sense to not spend any more than is utterly necessary since things are so uncertain. With that, I'd like to share with you the recipe for one of our favorite meals, and it can be made on less than $3 to feed a family of 5. I'll break down the cost of ingredients, but remember that I say $3 for the recipe because the measurements of some of the ingredients don't equal the cost of the entire purchased item.
Here is the recipe:
Chipped Beef on Toast
3 cups medium white sauce
3 packages sliced, roast beef (Carl Budding is a good brand)
2 or 3 pieces of toast per person, torn into pieces
Prepare medium white sauce as directed. (see below)
When sauce is thickened, cut beef into small pieces and mix in.
Serve over toast.
Makes 4 servings.

Medium White Sauce (1 cup serving)
2 tbl butter or margarine
2 tbl self rising flour (if using all-purpose flour, add ¼ tsp salt)
1 cup milk
Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in flour. Add milk. Stir over medium heat until smooth (no lumps). Continue stirring until thickened/bubbly.

Now I'll break down the shopping for the Chipped Beef ingredients. These prices are what I generally find at Kroger, but you may be able to find them somewhere for even less. (If you do, let me know!)
1 loaf of bread: $1.29
3 pkgs Carl Budding sliced beef @ $.50/ea: $1.50
1 lb. self rising flour: about $1.00
1 pkg of margarine: $.60
1 gallon of milk: $3.25

So your total grocery bill (without tax) is $7.64, and most of that was the milk. All of the ingredients for less than $10, and you can use the rest of the flour, milk, and margarine for other cooking, or go get another loaf of bread and some more beef to make more chipped beef. Applesauce and peas are good sides with this dish, and also cheap. Enjoy!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fresh Wave of Creativity Part 4: Jeans remixed- Perfecting My Pleats

I now have a long piece of "fabric" made up of my denim strips which measures 70 inches long, and my waistband base which measures 40 inches around. How to make it fit? My answer (at least for now) is to pleat the fabric so that it will lose the inches that are too many around the top, while not sacrificing the flowing, pretty volume around the bottom. I divided 70 by 40 and came up with 1.75. So, I marked my fabric every 1 & 3/4 inches along the length of it:

Once it was marked, I paired the sets of lines right sides together with each other, putting the extra "fold" of fabric on the wrong side. I then sewed about an inch downward to make the pleat hold:

When all of the pleats were in, I set the right side edges of the fabric and base together and sewed them. The result was exactly as I expected it to be:

There are 2 sides to this now: 1st, I have achieved my goal! The jeans are now a skirt! However... the flip side is that it is too short-easily fixed by adding more strips to the bottom edge before making a hem line. And, more importantly, when I tried it on, it wasn't exactly flattering. The pleats fall right at my hip line and make me look a little wider than I'd like. I think I'm going to take the pleats out and sew the panels from the front center of the base towards the back. This means I will have to call on my very best sewing friend, Mr. Seam Ripper, to pull out some of the panels. I may leave a few pleats to add some volume around the bottom. I'll keep on playing with it. But at least it's a skirt.

Fresh Wave of Creativity Part 3: Jeans Remixed- Break Out the Sewing Machine!

We ended our last update on this project with a lot of strips of denim and a waistband/base section to sew them onto. The next step after getting all of my strips cut was to simple sew them all together. Facing right sides together, I sewed each strip to another one down the long edge, alternating wide and narrow strips. Like so:
The end result was one long piece:
I trimmed the edges to be more even (not shown). Now how do I attach this long piece to the base? See my next blog for the answer!

Something Else From the UK That I'm Thrilled About...

Some of you have heard me mention my favorite comedian, but I've never blogged about him. In fact, I've never been to one of his shows. I'd have to scrape up a few grand to do that because he makes his home in Edinborough, Scotland, and is currently on a tour of Australia. His name is Danny Bhoy. He's cute, he's funny, and he'll poke fun at just about anything. (Just ask those rats from Noah's Ark, they'll tell you.) I first saw Danny in 2006. Comedy Central was playing on mom's TV (this is how bizarre it is that I follow this guy- I don't even have TV!) and they had a show on of different international comedy festivals. I think the one of Danny was in Montreal, Canada. I'd have to go look to see what he was wearing to make sure, (he had a brown plaid shirt on, as opposed to the Australia tour 2007/08 footage I've seen where he's wearing a white shirt.) ANYWAY, he was talking about what countries of the world have for breakfast and it was sooooo hilarious! He joked about Scotland having the worst food in the WORLD. (Haggis! I've tried it! He's right!) He poked fun at the Germans for eating liver, and took a pot-shot at the French that I thoroughly enjoyed. (Not that I have anything against the French, necessarily, but everyone else seems to so it was very amusing.)

The funny funny stuff he said just kept playing back in my head (yes, IN his fabulous Scottish accent, too!) so I looked him up on Youtube. My husband and I laughed for at least an hour until our sides hurt!
I have a few complaints with Danny, but they aren't anything serious enough to keep me from overlooking them and checking in on his website and on youtube for more funnies. One thing is, I don't like his potty mouth. But I have seen comedians who dropped words a lot more often; so much so that I couldn't find any humor in the joke for all of the offense from the language. Danny is his own person and though I'd be happier if he'd clean his mouth out a bit, it's his gigs and I can watch and laugh or not watch and miss out. So there you go. Danny is also definately (as also referenced by the above) NOT a Christian. It was also pointed out to me, though, by a friend who grew up in England that church and God and all are put across TOTALLY differently (if at all) over there than how it is here in the heart of the Bible Belt in the South. So once again, I don't really like it when Danny says something that openly mocks my religious views. But he generally stays away from that (generally) and makes hilarious fun of the Australian Parliamentary Sessions (which I've never seen but can now never look at without laughing), Pretentious Food (you've got to hear it to understand; I can't even begin to relate any of it...), the size of the Country of Australia (insanely big!), and how the Scottish bagpipes in the history of music are the missing link between noise and sound (it's true!). Danny also does a fantastic accent impression of the Jerry Springer show contestants from Alabama. I'm told by my British friends that Jerry Springer is one of only a few American television feeds they get over there and I was asked if all American television is like that. Great. Just Lovely.

So, wrapping up, I LOVE the comedy of Danny Bhoy. If you get the chance, go to youtube and look him up. You'll laugh. A lot. I promise. Now if he would only tour the Southeastern US.... Danny, if you ever read this, I'm looking for a chance to see your show. Either you come here, or I'll have to come into a few thousand dollars so I can visit you. Either way, I'm still a big fan.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Verdict on Gossamer Spice Cookies

Alright, so yesterday I made the first batch of Gossamer Spice Cookies from a recipe I found in a 2002 Better Homes and Gardens Christmas edition. These are really different! There is only brown sugar to sweeten them. The texture is a lot like Gingerbread or Gingersnaps (and they do have ginger in them), but they are definately NOT Gingerbread. They are very spicy! Not spicy hot, necessarily, but definately not sweet! The ones I made were a lot darker than the picture I had, but I don't know if I left them in the oven for a minute too long, or if I ought to tweak the recipe and use light brown sugar instead of dark brown because the instructions say to bake them for 5-6 minutes until the edges are brown. Well, the whole unbaked cookie was dark brown! I couldn't tell when the edges were turning! So I think tomorrow I'll try a new batch with light brown sugar and see what happens. Or my printer could have been printing light since it's running low on ink...
Also, I must not have rolled them out thin enough, because the recipe says it yields 66 cookies and I got maybe 30. Anyway, I like them. They definitely stay in the Christmas Cookie section of my cookbook, and I can think of several people on my list who would love them. Jake tried one and said he would love to take a sack of them to the next reenactment with him. He's a very good judge when it comes to cookies, so there you have it. Here's the recipe:

1 & 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp apple pie spice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground red pepper
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup molasses
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

In a medium bowl, stir together first 7 ingredients (through red pepper); set aside. In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for
30 seconds. Add molasses and brown sugar. Beat until combined. Beat in flour mixture just until combined.
Divide dough in half; cover and chill for I hour or until easy to handle.
Preheat oven to 375°P. On a lightly floured surface roll half of the dough at a time to 1/16-inch thickness. Using a 2-inch round scalloped cutter cut out dough. Place cutouts 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake cookies in a preheated oven for 5 to 6 minutes, or until edges are browned. Transfer cookies to wire racks; cool.

Yield: About 66 cookies
If you make a batch, comment back and let me know how they did for you!

Fresh Wave of Creativity Part 2: Jeans Remixed-A solid base

For this outgrown-jeans-turned-skirt project, I had to find a starting place. Marilyn had given me this great pair of Miss Sixty jeans that were SO comfortable, and right now if I don't gain any weight and keep on losing a few lbs like I'm doing, they fit. But I haven't been able to wear them because there is a spot in the inner thigh that had worn thin and ripped, so I was going to have to turn them into a fabric art project anyway. I had originally planned to patch them all over with different shades of blue fabric so that they looked patchwork-quilt ish and you couldn't tell where the rip had been. Well, I never got around to it. Now the Miss Sixty jeans are the base for this skirt project.

I cut the legs off just at the crotch seam and above that ripped place so I got what looks like a mini MINI MINI skirt.
Next I salvaged what I could of the pants legs. The knees and backside are pretty well worn, so I was only able to get 2 workable pieces out of each leg, for a total of 4 strips measuring about 22" long and 4 1/2" wide.

If I need it longer, I'll use some other jean scraps; remember, I want this to look like a patchwork recycled piece of wearable art. I took the pant leg fabric from 2 other pairs of worn out jeans, but unlike the first pair, the workable part was wider and the front side was not workable at all, so I only got 2 strips total, at 22" long and 7" wide.
We'll be back to this project after a brief update on those Gossamer Spice cookies from the prior blog titled "The Cookie Baker Prepareth..."

Fresh Wave of Creativity Part 1: They don't fit!!

Most moms have all been there. We are one size when we conceive our children and find, to our complete and utter amazement, that our post-childbirth bodies don't want to deflate right back into those pre-preggie size jeans! (Ok, maybe the "complete and utter amazement" thing is just me, but I bet not.) So what happens to all of those outgrown jeans? Many moms will probably have done what I did: put them away at the top of a closet and bought "temporary" larger sizes to make do until I could buckle down to an excercise routine and bannish the baby-fat, at which point some few months (or two years) later I would retreive those sexy jeans from the closet shelf and find that I am once again a hot mama. Right. Well, it doesn't exactly pan out like that. For one thing, I've found that after having kids (especially when that second one was a hefty 9 lbs!) that no matter how much you eat right and punish your body with excercise routines, some of the changes that happened during pregnancy JUST DON'T GO BACK. Short of having cosmetic surgery, my body will never go back to what it used to be. Now, I'm not complaining about this personally, because that 5'3" and dead even 100 lbs of skin and bones that I used to be before I had Charles wasn't healthy. I ate. I was in no way annorexic and did not have any other eating disorders, but with a lightening fast metabolism it was hard to get up to a healthy weight and stay there. At 22 and 23 years old I was giving stick thin runway models a run for their money. (I think I missed the boat on how to pay for college back then, but that's another blog for another time)
I've finally come to the realization that I am NOT EVER (thankfully) going to fit into those size 3 and 5 jeans. Not even those awesome kakhis that I loved that had the amazing embroidery work on them. But they are so cool. I can't just throw them out! So in a moment of inspiration I started trying to figure out how I could recycle those most-loved but too small pants into something that I could still wear. The following few blogs will be my step by step method of seeing if I can't DIY myself a new skirt out of these old rags. Wish me Luck!!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Cookie Baker Prepareth...

Our church had its annual fall festival this past Sunday, which for me means the pagan holiday of Halloween (and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Go ahead and comment on it. You know you want to...) is now over for the most part, except for the kids going with my mom to several other churches fall festival functions to revel in all of that Inflatable Jumpy Thing and Candy More Candy goodness that belongs to childhood. As I get older I notice, like those who are older than me said I would, that as soon as the calendar hits November 1st, the rest of the year is in a great hurry to expire. Thanksgiving comes in fast and furious with all of that food (glorious food!) and before you've even picked all the meat off the turkey and put the leftovers in the fridge, it's every weekend booked for holiday parties (with more food) and then you blink and it's Christmas Eve service at church, after which you're sitting on the couch with your family looking at the beautiful tree with presents piled under it that you only vaguely remember wrapping. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!
Every single second of the AutumnChristmasHolidays, as I call them, is wonderful. The best part of all of the hustling and bustling is the baking!!!
I LOVE baking Christmas cookies! And pies. And cakes. I've just been working on my cookbook that has all of my favorite collected recipes in it. I took them all and typed each one on it's own page and put it in a page protector. That may seem like wasted space, but I have a hard time reading a recipe that has other recipes on the same page. It's a quirk. I love having a photo of the recipe I'm doing, too, so it's nice to put each one on its own with a photo so I can see exactly what it is I want to accomplish. Tonight I made the dough for Gossamer Spice Cookies (recipe to follow, if they turn out right and I approve them for inclusion in the final cookbook. Stay tuned on that.) The mixture smells divine. All sorts of spices in them. One I had to substitue because I couldn't afford it. A 2 oz. jar of ground cardamom at Kroger was $9.00!!! I looked up a substitute on Google though (equal parts cinnamon and nutmeg) and also found that if I MUST use cardamom, that the next time I'm over in Cobb county near the World Cost Market thing or whatever, over there at Town Center, that I can get some for around $2.49. Much better. Seeing as how that's kind of a ways to go however, I opted for the substitute this time around. Gotta run check the dough and see if it's workable yet. I'll post again when they've been baked and tested. If they pass then some of you will be getting a tin of them under the tree with your name on it! But only if you make the nice list...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I think I'm turning English....

We all know what an Anglophile I've always been. I love talking in a British accent, I adore British films, British literature and I have a very British sense of humor. Dry, admittedly, but there it is. Anyway, of late I seem to be delving deeper into the habits of those "across the pond".

One huge change that I've adopted is the 4 o'clock tea time. I drop everything and have tea. Now, this may not seem like a big deal to some. "So you have a cup of tea at 4 p.m." you say, "So what?" Well for one thing, I didn't grow up drinking tea. I live in Georgia, in the Metro Atlanta area. The Sweet Iced Tea Capital Of The World! To not drink sweet tea here is like...an insult to your heritage. If you were born and raised in the deep south and don't drink sweet tea then, Honey, there is something WRONG with you. And then people go around blessing your heart. It's an international fact that in the deep south-eastern United States, you may gossip and say absolutely anything about anybody, as long as you bless their heart first. As for myself, I try not to bless any one's heart. I'm learning not to gossip, which here in Atlanta is also unnatural. Girls from Atlanta are born gossiping and get some of the best tidbits of talk in their lives from the nurses who deliver them. Bless their hearts. But I'm digressing...

Tea for me is an acquired taste. I first started drinking hot tea last year during allergy season. I was pregnant with Emily and sick as a dog from both the hormone upheavals and the weather in October and November changing from hot to cold and back again. I started out with fruity herbal teas. Celestial Seasonings makes a variety pack of fruit herbal tea that is excellent. There is Raspberry Zinger, Country Peach Passion, Cranberry Apple Zinger, Tangerine Orange Zinger and Black Cherry Berry.
I tried each of these teas "straight up" because they all, being fruit based, have a mild natural sweetness to them. About a month ago I decided that if I was really going to get into tea the way I want to, I'm going to have to be adventurous. So I began trying other teas and also different methods of sweetening them. After all, when I drink coffee I can't stand it black! I like a little coffee with my cream and sugar. My Aunt Sally is that way and I can remember Christmas Eve breakfasts at Grandmama's house when I was in high school and college. Sally and I would doctor our coffee across the table from each other, taking turns with the sugar bowl and creamer. (My mother would scowl and fuss at the amount of sugar I added to a beverage she didn't approve of me drinking in the first place, but then, most everything I ate at Grandmama's table at Christmas was met with disapproval on her part.) I find that I like my tea with one sugar cube (equivalent to about 1/4 teaspoon), a drop or two of honey (depending on the type of tea) and a little milk. I've just developed my taste for Lipton's Black Pearl Tea, which I had originally bought as a component for a gift basket for a friend of mine who is majorly into the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. (So am I, but that's what I'd bought it for.) I took too long in getting the basket together and wound up sending something else Pirate related instead, so the box of tea sat on my shelf for a few weeks, unopened, until I screwed up the courage to try it lest it expire. (It's still a year away from it's expiry date, but all the same, I don't like to waste anything.) I love this tea. It's made in a pyramid tea bag so the leaves have room to expand and give optimal flavor. This tea encouraged me to try other Lipton pyramid bag teas: White tea with blueberry and pomegranate flavors and Bavarian Black tea with blackberry flavors. All of these are fantastic.

So there you are. Another quirk that makes me...me. It's really late, so I think I'll head to bed. I'll blog again on this subject, I'm sure, as I try new varieties of tea. At the moment I'm still sampling all kinds and am in no way an actual "Tea Connoisseur", and even if I did have a developed taste for different qualities in teas, I am at the moment somewhat impoverished, and cannot afford the more expensive gourmet teas. As I said, as I try new kinds I'll let you know. Until next time, then. Cheers!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My ancestral link to Jane Austen

For those of you you who may not already know, I am a devoted Austenophile. I LOVE all of Jane Austen's writings, though I am most attached to her three most widely known novels, Sense & Sensibility, Emma and Pride & Prejudice. There is a logical and obvious reason that these novels are popular and widely known and read; Jane's writing style is a fantastic snapshot of everyday life in societal England for that particular time period (Regency, early to mid 19 C). She tells it like she sees it, while maintaining her characters as entirely fictional so that no one of her time could truly be offended or insulted if the events, circumstances or character's mannerisms hit close to home. I love her writing style, most of all reasons, because she gives me leave to be myself in my own writing idiosyncrasies. I come across (rather often I'm afraid) as an insufferable know it all, because I love the English language. I revel in a wide and diverse vocabulary, stating in twenty or more words what my contemporaries could sum up in two. I like the sounds of different words that express the same thoughts and ideas and I like the way they feel in my mouth as I pronounce them. Jane uses such a broad vocabulary and her vivid imagery is so well practiced that I have no trouble at all composing a mental image of the Misses Dashwood as they are forced to endure the pointed remarks of Lucy Steele and the condescending looks of disdain from Edward's brother, Robert Ferrars at Lady Chelsea's ball in London while they are guests of Mrs. Jennings (S & S). I can imagine, with perfect clarity, the room in which Elizabeth Bennet is entertained by Mr. Bingley, his sisters and his friend Mr. Darcy when Elizabeth goes to see about her sister Jane, who became ill with a cold while also their guest (P & P). I know the character Emma Woodhouse inside and out from the author's descriptions of her and were she a living, breathing person, I think I know her well enough that I could recognise her if we passed on the street someday.

In can be no surprise, then, how utterly happy I was to discover in my genealogical search that this author, whose works of classic English literature I love so well, has a place in my own family tree! The link is an obscure one, to be sure, and is not by direct birth (Miss Austen never married or had any children), but through association by a siblingship. However, it is a link all the same and I grin and gloat with all of the other Austenophiles who have found her in their family trees as well. My link to her is as follows:
My 15th Great Grandmother (well, I told you it was a vague and obscure connection!) Had 2 sons, John and William. John's line comes down to me on my mother's side and William's line goes to Jane. I am not practiced enough in genealogical familial terms well enough yet to decipher exactly WHAT my relation to Jane is. My 6th -greats "somethingth" (4th? 8th?10th?) cousin, heaven knows how many times removed. But still, there it is. I wish I could post the chart, but the blog format removes all of my spacing and relation lines. Maybe I'll play with it further and post it somehow later.

There are several dozen other famous people in my tree that I could spend an afternoon blogging about, but the connection to Jane Austen is the most dear to me because of how much I relate to her intellectually already.
I'll write some more on the subject of Jane, her life and times, her books and how much I love them, etc, another time. I have to finish cleaning up our room before Emily wakes up from her nap. (Which may be quite soon if my cat doesn't handle jumping down from my chair with a little more grace and a lot less noise.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

My Life as a Rose Bush

Most of you know that I'm a huge fan of appropriate analogies. To me, the proper analogy can connect two people without any hope of understanding each other enough to allow them to accomplish great things together. The other day I discovered during the course of a conversation the perfect analogy for my own life. Essentially, my life is a fantastically enormous and glorious rose bush that has occasional infections of botanical disease. God is the gardener, and it is only through the sometimes painful process of putting Him in control and allowing Him to prune away the diseased parts of the rose bush that I am able to bloom effectively. Continuing this thought:

The full blooms of the rose bush are my life's beauties. My children; selected moments of my generally happy marriage; my accomplishments as an artist; my accolades. These beautiful things in my life bloom with bursts of vibrant color that others cannot help but notice. They often are encouraged and delighted by the fragrant, attractive flowers. Some "roses" are in full, wild splendor and reflect the happiest moments of my life. My wedding day, for instance, or the moment of the birth of each of my children (or the special time in which we became acquainted and bonded, in the case of the two eldest children). Some of the flowers are but buds that have not yet bloomed. These reflect those beautiful things which have not yet come to pass but are works in progress. A new and glorious work of quilled art as I add pieces to it, for example, or the successful sale of some of my smaller works. A new friendship with only a few memories to it, perhaps. All of these will hopefully, in time, also burst forth in radiant color and sweet fragrance.

Sadly, some of these large and abundant blooms fade and give way to newer ones not because of disease, but for the sad fact that I cannot recall and hold to every little thing and so do forget some of the memories that once upon a time meant so much and made the rose bush so beautiful. But no matter, no matter. There are, IF I submit to the will of the gardener, constantly abundant and plenteous blooms for the enjoyment of others.

Are you still wondering about the "botanical disease"? I will explain. Rose bushes suffer from a particularly nasty fungal disease called "black spot". The information site eSSORMENT.com offers this description of black spot:
"Black spot is one of the most serious and widespread of rose diseases, and it strikes the yellow strains of roses especially hard. A fungal infection, black spot is characterized by the appearance of large black spots on leaf surfaces. Eventually the spots spread and join, and the infected leaves turn yellow and fall off. If enough leaves die, the plant will be unable to photosynthesize the nutrients it needs to live, and may itself die. Although black spot doesn't visibly affect the canes, the spores of the disease often cling to them."

In my analogy, these black spot infections are negative things that cross my path; those things that poison me from the inside and cause the beautiful blooms to be just a little less spectacular. As I have apparently exhausted this blog's capacity for text, please continue to the other blogs of this topic that continue my line of thought and reflection.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Going Nuts

I have recently added to the image of being SuperMom in my child's eyes by employing the skill of cracking pecans without the aid of an actual nut cracker.

It has become a regular part of my day to share a snack of fresh pecans with Charles. Somewhere around 2 o'clock, he asks for "one more" while grabbing the Sun-maid Raisins box that I keep a stash of about 20 pecans in at any given time. (he says this because each time we share a few I end it by saying "Okay, only one more.") The pecans came from my mom's office building- there is a tree there which rains the sweet nuts in their tough little shells onto the parking lot (and, unfortunately, some of the cars if they park too close). A man she works with got permission from the owners of the tree to collect as many nuts as he wanted. So he took a little tool called a Nut Wizard (see picture below) and rolled it all over the grounds, picking up literally thousands of pecans.
He offered my mom a 10 lb bag. For Free. Now, if you've never seen a 10 lb bag of unshelled pecans, let me give you an idea. It's about 2 feet high and a foot wide and weighs (yes, of course,) 10 lbs but if you've ever tried to lift and/or carry said bag of southern goodness, it feels heavier by the minute! One other little point about this bag of pecans before I move on with my story about Charles: you may recall that I did mention the words FOR FREE just a few sentences ago. The next time you are at your local grocery store, meander on over to the baking or produce aisles and take a gander at the price tag on just a 1 lb bag of pecan halves. Better than that, I'll do it for you... my Google browser says that right now at Kroger in Douglasville (cause it also depends on where you live as to whether you can get them, right, Jennifer??) a 1 lb bag of pecan halves is $8.99!!! These things are expensive! All of that to say that we are extremely grateful for this 10 lb bag of pecans!
Anyway, Charles grabs the box and I sit down with a trashcan in front of me to collect the shell pieces.
Charles is thrilled with this particular cracker that we have- it's been my grandmother's for years and years. I played with it when I was little. It's a black dog; something like a St. Bernard of some sort, of cast iron. The tail lifts up to open the mouth, which cracks the nut when the tail is lowered again. I've seen them online anywhere from $10 on e-bay to $350 at antiques sites. He looks like this:
While I was getting the trashcan, Charles had trotted downstairs and fetched it from the hearth, but I told him we didn't really need it. He said "Why not?", looking at me as though I'd completely lost my mind. We have nuts, therefore we must need the nutcracker to get them open. Aren't you paying attention, Mama? His expression was so cute! I proceeded to show him a trick that I learned from my grandfather when I was Jeremy's age. I took 2 pecans in my right hand and squeezed. The pressure of the pecan with the harder of the 2 shells cracks the one with the weaker shell. Then with my thumb and nails, I peel the bits of shell off to get to the sweet nutmeat inside. The cast iron nutcracker is easier, but makes a bigger mess when the shell pieces go everywhere. The hand cracking method can make the flat part of your thumb sore as you press against the shells to peel them from the nutmeat, but it was interesting to see the awe and wonder on his face that mama is "Super Strong" enough to crack pecans with my bare hands! I thought the same thing of my grandfather, because at 8 years old, I wasn't strong or coordinated enough to do the trick. My hands were only big enough to hold one pecan in my fist at that age. While I was shelling the pecans I did see Charles get one pecan out of the box and squeeze it with all of his might, trying to copy me and crack it open! He stands patiently at my knee and gets the lion's share of the nuts. As soon as I have one cracked open and the bitter parts of the inside removed, Charles holds out his pudgy hand and I drop the nutmeat into it and he quickly pops it into his mouth. I get probably one pecan half for his every 5 whole pecans, but I don't mind because he can't crack them for himself and I can continue cracking them for my own portion after he has lost interest and gone to play with his toys.
For the sake of curiosity, I got this information on the pecan from the Food and Fiber Systems Literacy Curriculum at Oklahoma State University's Agricultural Education Department:

Before recorded history, pecan trees grew wild along the river banks of what is now southern Illinois. Flood waters moved their seeds across western Missouri into southeastern Kansas, Oklahoma, central Texas and Mexico. Accounts by early Spanish and French explorers show that Native American tribes living in these areas moved around to follow the pecan harvest. The Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca was held captive by one of these tribes from 1529 until he escaped in 1535. In his journals he wrote that the people lived on nothing but pecans for two months of every year. During the rest of the year they pounded pecan kernels, added them to boiling water and used the mixture as seasoning for other foods.
The pecan is a form of hickory. The word “pecan” comes from the Algonquin word “paccan,” which means “a tough nut to crack.” Some of the pecans harvested today are small native pecans whose shells are very tough to crack. Most are new varieties called “papershell” varieties.
The life of pecan trees can be 100 years or more. A pecan tree will start producing nuts in its first six to eight years. There are two parts to the pecan nut. The nut has a soft outer husk. A hard, brown shell forms within this husk. The pecan meat is within the shell. It is soft and clings to the inside of the shell until the fall of the year, when it starts to congeal and
separate from the shell. Ripened pecans are easier to separate from the shell than those that are not. When the nuts are mature, the husks split open into four pieces, and the nut falls out.
The price pecan growers receive for their product depends on the percentage of edible meats in a sample. The grower weighs out one pound of pecans and carefully cracks them by hand or in a mechanical cracker. He or she picks out the edible meats, weighs them and calculates what percentage they are of the total weight of pecans. In the best pecans the
edible meats make up 50 percent or more of the total weight. Some of the newer developed varieties of pecans have edible meats weighting up to 60 percent of the total weight. Those meats deemed inedible are those that are poorly developed, rotten, or moldy or those that have dark spots. The dark spots indicate insect damage.
After the grower has picked out the edible meats, he or she separates them into three piles according to their color and development. The best pecans (No. 1’s) are bright colored, full bodied and solid. The next best (No. 2’s) are bright colored but light-weight. The least best, or No. 3 meats, are brown-colored and either full-bodied or lightweight.
The use of pecans has reached outer space. NASA packs pecans for astronauts to eat because they are dry, compact, contain important nutrients and are easy to digest. Pecans are low in sodium and have no cholesterol. They are also high in energy and contain protein, vitamin A, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium. The oil in pecans is mostly unsaturated (95 percent). Unsaturated fat is the good source of fat people need because it helps lower blood cholesterol.
Most of the pecans grown in the United States are grown in Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida. Outside of the United States pecans are grown only in a few countries where the climate and soil conditions are proper. These countries include Australia, Canada, India, Israel and Mexico.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Philosophies of life as learned from soap bubbles...

I took a bubble bath the other night. It was the first time I've been able to get a tub bath in over a year. So much more relaxing than daily showers, but so much more trouble, so therefore largely ignored by overworked and under nourished moms who need sleep more than the scent of bubble bath hanging about them, no matter how pleasant that might be. But this time- Aha! Time smiled upon me and said, "ok, Jenny. You've been so sleep deprived and such a good mommy these past few months that you can have 30 whole minutes ALL TO YOUR SELF!" Emily had just taken a bottle. The other 3 kids were all asleep. From 11:25p.m.- 12:03a.m. I soaked in warm, liquid happiness, with blueberry scented bubbles up to my chin. When I had to sneeze twice, some of the suds broke away from the mountain like peaks they had formed and flew into the air, only to settle back onto another mountain top. I tried to clear my mind and just enjoy the hot water as it eased away the aches and pains from toting the baby carrier from car to store during errands and back again, and also the aches that came from my new Jazzercize classes. My muscle groups were hollering at me loud and clear that they had gotten complacent and comfortable and did not appreciate me pounding them into shape with crunches, leg lifts, hand weight reps and lunges. With the insane amount of stuff that I have to make sure gets done in a day, it was a real challenge to think of nothing that I should be doing instead of enjoying a well deserved soak in the tub. I began to concentrate on the piles of bubbles. I noticed that they made a little crackling sound as some of them started popping. Then I pondered whether anything special should happen when each of them lived out its round, irridescent, bubbly existance and burst into nothingness. Like, how about in "It's A Wonderful Life" where every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings? If pealing bells have a special purpose for being, why not a soap bubble in a bubble bath? So I leaned back and watched them. Hundreds and thousands and millions of teeny tiny foamy bubbles making a faint crackle sound. Then I decided. Even if it meant nothing to anyone else but me, I was going to hold on to that serene moment in the midst of the happy chaos that is my daily life and I was going to assign something wonderful to each popping bubble. Each bubble is a wish. Maybe not even a wish in the traditional sense. Maybe more like a thought proccess. Like "When the children are all a little older, I'm looking forward to finally getting my degree." *POP* wish granted, courtesy of a pearly, irridescent sphere dissipating into an inperceptable shower of water droplets as it bursts. "I really want to spend more time in prayer for the friends who have asked me to pray for them." *POP* says the little bubble, and in that *POP* I hear "remember that the next time you see soap bubbles and follow through on it!"

It may be silly, and you might even be thinking, as you read this, if maybe there wasn't something added to the blueberry bubble bath that I was breathing deeply of to make me just a little loopy. But silly as it seems, I think it's a very encouraging thought that something as fragile and fleeting as a soap bubble can be the center of our focus long enough to just be still and let the earth stop spinning so fast around us with our minute to minute, stressed out, overpacked schedules and simply be. To gaze into the irridescent spheres of delicate beauty and think and relax and recharge our mental and physical batteries. God was onto something when he invented bubbles. I think we would all do well to fit in a bubble bath every now and then. To slow down, to relax and unwind. That bath was one of the best moments of peace I have had in 5 years. The baby will sleep through the night soon and it might just become a more frequent occassion to give Emily her bottle, put her to bed, and once I'm sure she'll stay asleep for 30 minutes, grab my overized bath towel, cozy pjs, terrycloth robe, set the baby monitor on the counter and head to the tub for some more recharging and renewing of spirit with each *POP* of a scented bubble. I have some tangerine scented bubble bath that I haven't tried yet.....

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Spotlight on Children's Books: Ox-cart Man by Donald Hall

I took the kids to the library yesterday and I thought I would periodically include some book reviews on my blog. Enjoy!

I first saw this book on an episode of Reading Rainbow on PBS when I was about 13 or 14 and in bed with a cold. (For those of you who think that 14 is "too old" to be watching PBS, you are missing out! You are never too old to learn from public television!) The host of the show, Lavar Burton, was touring Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachussets. Old Sturbridge Village is a working village in which the workers dress, speak, act and work as townspeople of the late 1700 to early 1800s would have done. You can check out more about Old Sturbridge Village at www.osv.org.

In Ox-cart Man, the man and his wife and their son and daughter work through the year to make goods for him to sell in the spring. He takes honey and honeycombs, vegetables, goose feathers, apples, maple syrup, a shawl his wife made, mittens his daughter knit, and birch brooms that his son carved with a borrowed kitchen knife. After he and his family load up all of these things on the ox-cart, he walks ten days to Plymouth. He sells everything at the market there, down to the boxes the goods came in and then his cart and finally his ox. With some of the money he has made, he buys an iron kettle, an embroidery needle for his daughter, a barlow knife for his son, and 2 pounds of wintergreen candies for them all to enjoy. When he gets home, his wife uses the new kettle to make supper in. His daughter takes the needle and starts embroidering linen that she and her mother have woven from flax, and his son, now having his own knife, begins to carve birch brooms. The man begins sewing new harnesses for the young ox in the barn, and carves a new yoke for it and the whole cycle starts over again.

The illustrations in Ox-cart Man, by Barbara Cooney, are just beautiful. They look very much like paintings of early 19th century American folk artists. I highly recommend this book to everyone because the story and illustrations are so wonderfully matched. Just because it is found in the children's section does not mean it is meant only for the enjoyment of children!

I love this book because it reflects very much how wonderful a simple life can be, where everything you need comes from the hard work of your own hands. While I wouldn't give up my computer for anything, sometimes I think I would like to work at a place like Old Sturbridge Village, where everything you have is grown, gathered or else acquired by selling what you have grown (or made from what you have grown as with the linen and wool). I guess that's why I like reenacting so much- I can work on hand crafts for the weekend and satisfy that wish for quaintness, but then come back to my world of conveniences during the week.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

For Starters...

Here is my first post and I don't really have anything to say as yet, except that I hope everyone who reads anything I write gets something positive from it. I know that not everyone will agree with some of my opinions, but hey, that's life and I'll thank them not to send nasty or inappropriate comments. In the future I will probably address some very hot topics, so there it is: You've Been Warned!
We just got our computer back up and running after a very nasty virus wiped it out, so it will take some time before I add any pics, etc. I have to weed through all of the CDs that have hundreds of pictures in "temporary folders", uploaded from my digital camera over the last year, and actually edit, resize, sort and save said pictures onto new discs, but in a comprehensive and organized fashion. That's going to be quite an undertaking, but hopefully when I'm through it will make other things like making prints for scrapbooks a lot easier and stress free.