...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In the Interim

 So the Christmas rush is over, and you finally have time to sit for a spell and enjoy your own holiday decorations before they all come down and return to their storage bins. Here in the eye of the storm that is the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve, we find a moment to catch our breath.

But even as you take that breather, your mind is already envisioning the novelty-food needs for the upcoming holiday's party.  If you made a double batch of that Chex mix I blogged here, then you probable still have enough of it, but what about candy?

A quick and easy candy option has us revisit another old blog post about that highly versatile melting chocolate. Besides using the chocolate as a dipping source for fruits, pretzels, etc., it can also simply be poured out on waxed paper and spread thinly, then sprinkled with anything from nuts and candies to toffee chips, peanut butter chips, etc. Let the candy cool. When it hardens, break it into chunks most often called "bark" in candy lingo.


These are 5-minute candy recipes, folks! So sit a few minutes longer. Enjoy that late afternoon sunlight shining on your mantle display. Brew that extra pot of tea.
And, speaking of tea, keep these recipes handy for your traditional tea party plans. To be authentic, everything served at a tea party must be homemade, and these candies complete the dessert tier of the tea server nicely. A piece of candy to top off a scone and fruit sets the menu for the dessert course.
More on the tea menu in a later post, but for now...
Happy relaxing!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Sharing My Only Secret Recipe

...because I'm just like that!
For many years, my Chex mix recipe was as generic as they come: it was found on the back of the box of Chex cereal.  Gradually, however, I began to experiment. Now, I have what is considered a delicious but "secret" recipe for seasoning the mix.

In the spirit of generosity, I'm sharing it here on the blog.

I begin with the classic mix of a variety of Chex-styled cereals, 15 cups total. Add 2 cups of various nuts, raisins, dried cranberries, etc.; 2 cups pretzels and 2 cups of garlic bagel chips, goldfish crackers, melba toast etc. Mix all these well.

In a separate bowl, melt a stick of butter and add 1 tsp. of salt and 4 tsp. of Worcestershire sauce. Now, for the secret ingredient: 1 1/2 tbsp. of Rogan Josh, a spice from Penzey's Spice store.

Mix these together then stir into the food mix to coat. 
Bake at 250 degrees for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.
 Allow to cool and then store in an air-tight container.
(This recipe can be doubled.)

More traditional recipes might have you building a spice blend of your own from things like coriander, cumin, salt, onion and garlic powders, but trying a pre-made spice blend can be a fun way to experiment with new flavorings. Next I might try a batch with a California spice blend.

Happy experimenting!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sometimes I Forget

 Sometimes I forget.
I forget how treacherous the natural world can be.
I think of water as a place to play...
 I think of the outdoors as a place to rest and relax...
 ...or maybe to work, but...
...a work that carries a bounteous return.

I forget sometimes, that nature can have her moments of wildness. 
Moments when she tests us.
How well do we tend to each other in the aftermath of her more furious moments?
Do we put aside our debates and our arguments, our boycotts and our promotions when the needs of others warrant it?
This one says "Yes! We still do!"

Friday, December 20, 2013

Winter Woolen Workshop, Promo Post #2

As promised, a photo essay of past festival pics.

The friend who first showed me how to properly use a drop-spindle.

Cashiers being serenaded by folk musicians.

Shopping mecca

Selfie on one of the standard museum exhibit floors.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Easy Chocolate-dipping Sauce

Want to know a quick easy dessert recipe?
I mean easier than a boxed cake mix.
Almost as easy as opening a bag of store-bought cookies and dishing up ice cream.
Dipping chocolate.
That's it. 
Dipping chocolate. 
It's easy to make even without a double boiler.  If you have a microwave, you're three minutes away from dipping whatever your little heart desires.
Set the power at level 6 or 7, and give a few blocks of chocolate 2  minutes of cook time. Depending on how much chocolate you're melting, the 2 minutes might be sufficient and you can start dipping then and there. If, however,  a few un-melted chunks are still floating after a little stirring, give it another 10 seconds and stir again.  You might throw in a few dark chocolate chips as well, to give it a richer flavor, but the cooking process remains the same. You could even melt white chocolate chips or peanut butter chips using the same process. But, I digress.
Back to the dipping.
If dipping strawberries, I'd advise you dry them after washing, and select ones that are firm, without soft spots.  Both moisture and soft spots cause the chocolate to fail to adhere to the berry.  After dipping, scrape the bottom of the berry against the side of the bowl to avoid dripping, then place it in a cupcake paper on a cookie sheet to dry. I'd refrigerate until ready to use.

Chocolate-dipped berries are an easy item to prep and take to holiday parties or serve up at a holiday luncheon. But don't forget, you can always dip other things like pretzels or marshmallows, too.
What's more, you can pour the remaining liquid chocolate into a greased and parchment-lined pan, scatter peppermint chips, nuts, etc. across it, refrigerate until it sets, and then break it into chunks for an easy chocolate "candy" option.

Happy dipping!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tea Party Day

 A year ago, I worked at a tea parlor in a wonderful old Victorian house downtown. There I learned much about the art of hosting tea parties; what's more, I discovered I had a deep appreciation for an area of hospitality work that had never occurred to me.
I learned I loved serving tea.

The owners were wonderful about allowing me to borrow from their library, and soon I had an accordion file of notes about serving teas--notes filled with recipes, theme ideas, etc. I began to envision myself incorporating tea service into some ministry initiatives that were already taking shape in my life.

For one thing, I started attending school to become a spiritual director. And, I began running my appointments with directees in a little bistro corner of the library/music room in my house, a corner that was easy to transform into a mini-tea parlor.  We would start sessions with the ritual of choosing and brewing a pot of tea. I also began serving tea during knitting lessons and pretty much any time someone came over for a chat.

Meanwhile, I continued learning to serve scrumptious tea meals; right up until the owners of the tea parlor decided it was time to retire, and the tea parlor closed up shop.

Mother's Day, 2013

By that time, friends had learned of my "tea ministry" plans and were feeling prompted to send support my way.  Beautiful offerings came in the form of gifted tea pots, recipes, a listening ear during my brainstorming sessions and specialty pieces--like this Christmas tea set given to me by a dear friend.

I've been making good use of those gifts, too! Today I had the opportunity to serve my third Christmas tea of the season. One tea was a larger party for a group of five, but the other teas were quaint two-person affairs. Whether large or small, each time I set to work preparing for a tea, I get nostalgic for the days at the tea parlor. The bright sunny kitchen, the dark lustrous serving rooms--it was altogether a delightful place to work.  A delightful place with delightful people, and I miss them all dearly. Part of me sees every humble little tea I serve as a tribute to that lovely time and place.

Coming up, I'm going to run a blog post or two with a few "staple" recipes and menu plans for a basic tea. But first, I felt that this introduction was appropriate. 

Happy tea party!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

WInter Woolen Workshop, Promo Post #1

Come sit here with me for a minute!
Let me tell you about a local event coming up that might interest you. 
You're not from around here?  Bah! You might enjoy at least imagining you can attend...

In fact, I'm going to give this festival two days worth of blogosphere attention.  For one thing, it's worth it.  For another, I've committed myself to a daily blog post for a week here, so why in the world would I cram all the photos and info into one post when they could easily fill two?? What festival? The Winter Woolen Workshop, held in Kokomo, Indiana.

You can get the  Kokomo Historical Society's perspective here. But, in my opinion, the festival is almost as lovely as a day of personal retreat.

Held at the beautiful Seiberling Mansion and Elliott House, the environment is dark wood, old world, brocade-and-lace museum-esque, but you'll see that in the pictures of Friday's post.

As to the fiber-arts-diversity of the festival, the historical society's article offers the following information:
 Participants may enjoy the all-day workshops and demonstrations in early samplers, colonial painting, punch needle embroidery, rug hooking, spinning and weaving, hand quilting, tatting, rug punch, needle felting and knitting and crocheting. "There are so many things to try, like learning to hand quilt," Notaro said.
A number of clubs, groups and guilds, some with names as colorful as their handiwork, will provide demonstrations and...More than 30 vendors will sell items relating to these arts, such as quilting material and punch-needle embroidery, inside the Elliott House. The event will include make-it-and-take-it projects and demonstrations. Those attending may bring a project from home to work on, or try something new at the workshop. Participants will also have the opportunity to sign up for classes with the clubs and guilds.

See there? I told you that you'd enjoy imagining you were there! And if there's a chance you could attend, it happens February 22 and 23.
Don't worry.  I'll remind you when it gets close to time to go.

Monday, December 16, 2013

On the I-don't-even-know-what-number Day of Christmas...

This time of year it gets busy.
It just gets too busy.
Still, you want to give your family healthy, hearty meals.
If only you could shave a little time off your cooking schedule somewhere to repurpose it toward gift-wrapping...
That's what I did today.  I started with veggies and broth that were leftover from a roast I baked--of course the roast was eaten whole by this house's meat-eating crew that very night I cooked it.  To those I added some fresh stew meat and a can of cream-of-mushroom soup to make a nice hearty stew. Nothing particularly original there.

But then, I pulled my Italian bread recipe for my bread machine and started playing with some of the ingredients. Nothing major--still flour, water, oil, yeast, etc. I did, however, go to my dried herb stash and do some browsing, eventually choosing rosemary for an herb base. Then I decide to throw in a couple tablespoons of parmesan cheese as well. These changed up the flavoring of the bread just enough to make it "something different."  I'll open the jars of thyme and basil to blend into some olive oil for bread-dipping.  By the way, a couple of those herb jars are repurposed lemon curd jars. Dried herbs don't require that vacuum seal, so herb storage makes a great way to recycle those glass jars! 

And look what I managed to accomplish today thanks to the involvement of the crock pot and the bread machine:

Happy gift-wrapping!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sabbath Rest: Rediscovering the Masculine and Feminine

 We entered a long sort of winter when we lost the masculine and feminine "indicators" in the Hebrew forms of certain words in prophetic books and in the Psalms.

In their historic language, words like salvation and righteousness had elegantly specific attachments to either God or man based on the gender of the word used.  Masculine forms indicated God.  Feminine, humanity.  What's more, "in the world of the OT period, objects and ideas connected with the sky above were regarded as masculine while the earth below was feminine."
--Psalms, by George A.F. Knight, p. 4.)

Therefore, Knight teaches, passages like Isaiah 45:8, become relational in a much more intimate way when historic gender references are applied:

"Shower, O heavens (masculine), from above
and let the skies (masculine) rain down righteousness (masculine, tsedeq);
let the earth (feminine) open, that they (people) may bear the fruit of (God's) salvation (masculine),
and let it cause righteousness (feminine, tsedaqah) to spring up also (this time out of the ground, or out of the human heart);
I the Lord have created it..."

So there is a God-righteousness, but there is also human response. These are as distinctly different as man is from woman...and as complimentary.  The feminine expression of "saving love" (which is to say the human form of saving love) is a "compassionate, creative love that a human being can show towards his neighbor." It is a gift from the masculine Saving-Love, the God-righteousness that must be given first, "by means of which he (the human) can bring his neighbor out of the chaotic power of sin into the joy and peace of God.  Those who thus 'recreate' their neighbors have earned the right, as Jesus puts it, to be called children of God." (Ibid. p 5.)
So how do we open the earth when we feel the heavens showering righteousness?
This is material for a lifetime's worth of meditation for it is the substance of union with God.

How do we re-create the loveliness of a more distant season?
An "other" domain?
The tsedeq?
Maybe we have dried it, preserved it, arranged it for display. In any case, it is given to us to make an offering of it, and so we do.
It is our tsedaqah, and we have the power to offer it in the beauty of holiness.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Church-Cookbook Candy Day

As promised to a few blog readers, I'm sharing an easy peanut brittle recipe included in a church cookbook I found at a garage sale a couple of summers ago. It's a microwave recipe that doesn't even mention a candy thermometer, so if you're like me and pretty novice in the candy-making sphere, you, too, might like this one as a start-up attempt in the craft of candy-making!

Peanut Brittle
1 C peanuts
1 C sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C white corn syrup
1 tsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda

Stir peanuts, sugar and salt together; add syrup in 1 1/2 quart glass bowl. Microwave on high 7-8 minutes, stirring well after 4 minutes. At end of 7-8 minutes, add butter and vanilla.  Blend well. Return to microwave and cook on high 1-2 minutes more. Remove from oven and add baking soda.  Stir until light and foamy. Pour immediately on greased cookie sheet. Cool 30-60 minutes Break into pieces store in airtight container.

My own experience with this recipe is that the full cooking time option burns the brittle right at the very end, which is discouraging because it smells heavenly until the last 30 seconds or so. On the other hand, the minimum time allotment doesn't seem to draw as good a froth as you might want at the point of adding baking soda.  You just might need to experiment on a couple of batches to get the candy the consistency you like. (wink, wink)
Even more fun than successfully making candy in under 30 minutes (wow!) is hearing the mental echo of the dedication offered in the Bread of Life  recipe book as you gather the ingredients and go to work:
We dedicate this book to all cooks. In our homes today, as always, life is centered around the kitchen. It is with this thought in mind that we, the sponsors, have compiled these recipes. Some of the recipes are treasured family keepsakes and some are new; however, they all reflect the love of good cooking...

 So say the ladies of Salem United Methodist Church in Straughn, Indiana.

By the way, they have Sunday School at 9:30 a.m. and Sunday Morning Worship at 10:30 am.
"Visitors Are Always Welcome"
Precious, personal, and real...what I love about a cookbook created not by a publisher but by a committee.
Happy candy-making!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dreams of Fiber Arts Danced in Their Heads

For some of us, the best ideas come at the worst times, times when life is too busy and too harried to add even one more thing.
But these can also be the best times, because we are already energized and in the best frame of mind for brainstorming.
A friend and I met at a local coffee shop this morning to have an exploratory meeting for the sake of dream-casting a potential fiber arts ministry group at our church. We both arrived with Christmas projects in hand--mine was a pair of Christmas socks in the making, hers a set of crocheted coasters to include in gift baskets. We spent the first few minutes sipping our coffee and chatting as we worked on the projects.  It's  somewhat an understood part of the agenda--these meetings must include a prelude of hands-on fiber time and conversation about our current project work.
Only 10 minutes or so is required, but these minutes set the tone and even do something to the organizational structure of the mental work to come. Then we got down to business and had a very productive first meeting.

 This session, however, was a big shift from a couple of my recent projects. For one, I made fancy party wares for a holiday open house-soiree serving as a fund-raiser to support a friend's toy drive at her church. Bring a toy and receive tea, scones and holiday cookies while browsing the booths.
 My booth offered sparkling scarves, hats and headbands; warm-and-wooly hats, gloves and scarves; velvety stockings to hang on the mantle and knitted pomanders for a scented "something extra" to hang on the tree. Working with the shiny, sparkly fibers was fun, but even more pleasant was the atmosphere at the event. The tea, scones and holiday cookies were available to us sales-folk, too; and the salespeople were good friends of mine, so the event felt more like a party than a "work" day at a craft fair.

That event came right on the heels of one in which I made holiday scarves for my choir's performance at the Gaither Christmas Homecoming concert. Lots of red scarves made all in a row.

And of course, knitting lessons have woven throughout all these projects, given in the part of the house where the lessons, spiritual direction sessions and ministry teas all happen. Such a great space for building memories of intimate communal gatherings.
All that to say this: if you like diversity in your hobby choice, fiber arts are a great way to go.
Happy holiday project work!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

What to Do with Too Much

That time of the season has arrived.
Sooner or later in a good year a common gardener faces it:
How do you process, how do you accept that there is more out there than you can possibly use.
Do you give it away?
Do you chide yourself for planting too much in the first place?
Do you let it go to seed in the hopes that it will re-seed itself and produce volunteer offspring the next year?
The way we face the dilemma tells us more about ourselves than we realize.

Early morning today dawned bright and beautiful outside--much more so than within, and so I waited to do my garden tending until I took a bike ride along my favorite river trail.

And the river, too, was bright and beautiful...and very still. 
 I saw two fishermen in the water. 
Two fishermen like statues.  Armpit deep.  Holding poles.  Silent as monks.
And I thought about gathering.
I thought how commercial fishermen haul in nets--even back to ancient times.
The sweat and the strain, the need for much more than enough,
because more than enough is the only way to sustain the "industry" of it.
Then I thought of the two old men I saw fishing.
One fish at a time.
What different modes of approach for the same activity.
And it felt like I touched something sacred there.
We know so well what to do in a dark place: we turn our eyes to whatever bright spot (no matter how dim) we can find.  But what do we do when we stand in the brilliance?
We know what to do in our poverty. We cry our need out to our Maker. 
Our instinct informs us.
It is our excess, our more than enough that gets us into trouble.
We forget the best things to do with that.
So today, after considering the shelf of canned goods and seeing it well-stocked, after visiting the garden and hauling in yet another basket of diverse veggies, I packed a bag for a friend...a friend who offers hospitality to so many others, who has, in fact, committed herself to that as a ministry.
At one time, I did make an industry of it all--taking my jars of pickled treasure to market and selling them.  It was not my calling.
I fish with a pole.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Evening in the Garden

The garden is a lot of work.
Don't forget to take the occasional stroll just to appreciate its beauty, too.

chive blooms

purple kholrabi

bee-teasing perennial

orange zinnia

ripe tomato behind the yellow ghost of another tomato blossom

dill blooms

sleepy squash blossom

lettuce gone to seed

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How Much Is Too Much?

It's a question every gardener learns to ask carefully; and an answer he or she learns to apply wisely over the seasons.  For while the garden looks rather full and verdant here in mid-August...


it was far less so in July...

...and even less impressive in June...
So when the seed packet or the seedling container's little tag advises you of the space requirements for that particular plant, don't just frown and say "You've got to be kidding me!"
They're not kidding you!