Sunday, November 22, 2009

Getting a Jump on Thanksgiving: Recipes

Yesterday, I spent quite a bit of time making some do-ahead items for Thanksgiving. I made sixteen sweet potato pull-apart rolls, sixteen yeast rolls, and a loaf of pumpkin gingerbread. Of course, I now only have fifteen of each roll because I had to eat one of each when they were hot out of the oven. They are now all packaged up and safely in the freezer until I need them. I've had some requests for recipes, so here they are.

Sweet Potato Pull-Apart Rolls
(uses a bread machine for mixing and first rising)

- 3/4 cup mashed, drained, canned sweet potatoes (I used Trader Joe's canned sweet potato puree and skipped the mashing and draining step)
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 egg
- 2 T butter, cut up (margarine is okay, too, if you must)
- 2 1/2 cups bread flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
- 1 T dark brown sugar
- 3/4 t salt
- 1 1/4 t active dry yeast or bread machine yeast

Add ingredients to bread machine according to manufacturer's instructions. Select "dough" cycle. When cycle is complete, remove dough from machine and punch down. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. Divide dough into 16 portions, and shape each portion into a smooth ball. Divide balls between two lightly greased 8-inch round baking pans. Cover and let rise in a warm place until nearly double (about 30 minutes or so -- took mine more like an hour).

Then, mix together:
- 1 slightly beaten egg white
- 1 T water

Brush over rolls and sprinkle with more wheat germ.
(I actually inadvertently skipped this step and they still turned out fine.)

Bake at 375 degrees about 15-18 minutes until lightly browned. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove rolls from pans and devour.

For even more fabulousness, serve with Orange-Ginger Butter.

Orange-Ginger Butter
- 1/2 cup orange marmalade
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 T balsamic vinegar or cider vinegar
- 1 T finely chopped crystallized ginger

Heat marmalade in a small saucepan til just melted. In a medium bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Add melted marmalade, vinegar, and ginger. Beat til well combined. Cover and chill at least one hour before serving. Makes about 1 cup.

Pumpkin Gingerbread
- 1 package (14 or 14.5 ounces) gingerbread mix
- 1 cup canned pumpkin puree (about 1/2 a 15-oz can) NOT pumpkin pie filling
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup warm water

Place oven rack in the center position and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly mist a 9x5 loaf pan with cooking spray and then dust with flour and shake out the excess (or use Baker's Secret brand spray, like I did). In a large bowl, mix together all four ingredients on low speed of electric mixer for 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula. Mix on medium for 1 minute til batter is well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake loaf until it springs back when lightly pressed with a finger, about 45 minutes. Remove pan from oven and cool on wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a long, sharp knife around the edge of the gingerbread and remove from pan to cool completely on the wire rack.

(Note: I used Trader Joe's Deep Dark Gingerbread mix. It's really good, but it's also strong and spicy. The ginger flavor dominates the pumpkin. I'd use another brand next time for this recipe.)
Serve with Cream Cheese Butter.

Cream Cheese Butter
- 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 1 t vanilla
- 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

Beat first three ingredients til light and fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating well. Cover and chill. Let stand at room temp 30 minutes before serving.

I tend to omit the vanilla and add cinnamon for a different flavor. Another option is to omit the butter as well and just mix together some cream cheese, powdered sugar, and cinnamon. If need be, thin with a little milk.

Finally, start practicing a modest expression with which to greet all the gushes of admiration. You'll probably need one.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What I Want You to Know, Part Two: Purpose

In Part One of this series, Who's Talking Louder?, I wrote that we need to be louder than the media to effectively drown out those destructive messages that plague the girls in our care. It's critical that we talk often and loudly about God's love for each girl and His purpose for her life (whatever that may be). We must help them explore their unique gifts and talents and the important ways in which they can use these blessings. In that way, we help instill in our girls a strong core of who they are in God's eyes.

So I've been thinking about the idea of purpose. And here's what I want to say to my daughters:

God created each of you on purpose, and He has in mind a specific role for you to play in the body of Christ. Only you can fulfill that purpose God has planned for you to do.

But don’t worry too much about what that purpose is, exactly. People devote too much time and energy to fretting over their purpose. It’s true that some people have a clear understanding of what they’re meant to do with their lives, a singular focus. Others (like me) live day by day, using whatever gifts we have when we can. Concentrate on seeking and serving God, and fully enjoy the blessings He heaps upon you.

While you're at it, make certain to try new things, even if they may frighten you at first. Don’t be so afraid to fail that you live tentatively, taking few risks and missing out on a rich and varied life. God often asks us to do the very things we feel the least capable of doing. Look at Moses!

Most importantly, seek God through prayer and study. Consider everything you do as serving Him, yes, even when you're cleaning your room! Take time to fully enjoy the blessings He heaps upon you, His beloved child.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book Suggestions for Pre-Teen Girls

I am always on the lookout for book suggestions for Miss Priss. Tiny Girl likes to read, but Miss Priss is my avid reader right now. (I have hopes that T.G. will blossom in a year or so.) I stumbled upon this member discussion on Amazon, and thought I'd pass it along. Obviously, you'll need to use your own discretion about what's right for your family; but it never hurts to have some titles on a list for future reference.

The discussion made an impression on me because Miss Priss just recently asked me if she could read the original Little Women. I hesitated. Well, it's really long and the language can be a bit archaic! But we read literature chock-full of archaic language in our lessons every day, so she'd probably have no problems. And she's reading The Princess and the Goblin with no problems whatsoever. After reading this discussion, I'm telling her to go for it. I know she'll love Little Women; I did, and I wasn't much older than she.

What Beautiful Birds!

As you may know, we are backyard birders. However, the girls spotted these two lovelies on the roof of our neighbor's house this morning. I snapped a few photos, and then did a bit of research. (Gotta love Wikipedia!) We thought they might be turkey vultures, which we'd seen at a birds of prey show at Callaway Gardens last year. We were correct. A bit more research yielded that they are specifically Eastern Turkey Vultures (C. a. septentrionalis, in case you were wondering).

One of them adopted this spread-winged stance (see his shadow in the photo below?), which, according to Wikipedia is quite common: "The stance is believed to serve multiple functions: drying the wings, warming the body, and baking off bacteria."

We learned a lot about turkey vultures and the crucial role they play in our ecosystem. I'm glad they're on the planet! But I'm also glad they don't visit my feeders.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Bake, Decorate, Donate": Tasty Fun for a Good Cause

A blog I really enjoy reading, A Year of Slow Cooking, featured a great activity for the Christmas season. I thought I'd pass along the info. It's called Drop In & Decorate. Basically, you bake some cookies (or buy some), invite some folks over, decorate the cookies, and then donate them to a charitable organization, senior center, homeless shelter, etc. The fabulous Drop In & Decorate website tells you everything you need to know to make this a successful venture. Not only would it be great for Scout troops, church groups, your book club, or whatever, it would also be a fun thing to do with your children and maybe some of their friends. In fact, it's a great thing to do all year round.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Best Place to Bury a Dog

My dear friend Jackie wrote a lovely post in honor of our loss of Lily. In her post, she included a link to this lovely poem, which appeared on her friend's blog, La Ferme de Sourrou. I loved it and wanted to share.

Burying a Dog

There are various places in which a dog may be buried. I am thinking now of a Setter, whose coat was flame in the sunshine, and who, so far as I am aware, never entertained a mean or an unworthy thought. This Setter is buried beneath a cherry tree, under four feet of garden loam. And at its proper season, the cherry tree strews petals on the green lawn of his grave. Beneath a cherry tree, or an apple, or any flowering shrub is an excellent place to bury a dog. Beneath such trees, such shrubs, he slept in the drowsy summer, or gnawed at a flavoursome bone, or lifted his head to challenge some strange intruder. These are good places in life or in death.

Yet, it is a small matter, for if the dog be well remembered, if sometimes he leaps through your dreams actual as in life, eyes kindling, laughing, begging, it matters not at all where that dog sleeps. On a hill where the wind is unrebuked, and the trees are roaring, or beside a stream he knew in puppy hood, or somewhere in the flatness of a pasture lane where most exhilarating cattle grazed, is all one to the dog, and all one to you. And nothing is gained, nothing is lost if memory lives.But, there is one place to bury a dog.

If you bury him in this spot, he will come to you when you call - come to you over the grim, dim frontiers of death and down the well-remembered path, and to your side again.And though you call a dozen living dogs to heel, they shall not growl at him nor resent his coming, for he belongs there. People may laugh at you who see no lightest blade of grass bent by his footfall...who hear no whimper, people who never really had a dog. Smile at them, for you shall know something that is hidden from them, and which is well worth the knowing.

The one best place to bury a dog is in the heart of his master.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

In Memoriam: Lily

Our precious Pembroke Welsh corgi, Lily, died this morning. She turned 15 years old 10 days ago. We are all heartbroken. The last two years or so had been difficult, as arthritis had set in and got much worse this fall. She could not go up or down stairs at all. Then two days ago, she began having what the vet later deemed were seizures. These episodes were agonizing to witness. After her second one yesterday morning, the girls and I took her to the vet, who gently agreed with me that it was time to let Lily go. These new neurological issues (most likely caused by either a tumor or stroke or both) were not anything that were going to get better.

We took her home for one last day. I won't describe how difficult that day was, for us or sweet Lily, because those are private sorrows. If you've ever watch a beloved pet suffer, you already know anyway.

This morning, I took a few final photos of Lily. Then we all went back to the vet and afterward brought her home to bury. As I said, we are heartbroken, but we are happy that we had Lily to love for a good, long life. She was a blessing to us; may the Lord bless her and keep her.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book Review: The Woman in White

"The driver was evidently discomposed by the lateness of my arrival. He was in that state of highly respectful sulkiness which is peculiar to English servants."

Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White is really a novel to sink your teeth (and brain) into. (I realize that's not a grammatically correct sentence, but sometimes I opt for the vernacular over the cumbersome.) First serialized in in 1859 and then published in book form in 1860, the work is one of the first in both the mystery and sensation genre. Once I started reading it and wrapped my brain around the 19th century verbosity (the antithesis of minimalism), I was hooked.

The story line is complex, with more than one mystery to unravel. Collins effectively utilizes the epistolary format to present different characters' interpretations of events and to tie together various elements of the plot. This was especially entertaining to me, as it really gives an in-depth look into the perceptions and personalities of different characters.

Collins is adept at creating memorable characters, almost all of whom seem so real you would know them anywhere. Consider this description of Laura Fairlie's former governess, Mrs. Vesey: "Some of us rush through life, and some of us saunter through life. Mrs. Vesey sat through life. Sat in the house, early and late; sat in the garden; sat in unexpected windowseats in passages; sat (on a camp-stool) when her friends tried to take her out walking; sat before she looked at anything, before she talked of anything, before she answered Yes, or No, to the commonest question -- always with the same serene smile on her lips, the same vacantly-attentive turn of the head, the same snugly-comfortable position of her hands and arms, under every possible change of domestic circumstances. A mild, a compliant, an unutterably tranquil and harmless old lady, who never by any chance suggested the idea that she had been actually alive since the hour of her birth." Can't you just see her?

Of course, there those few issues when 21st century readers dive into a 19th century text. Certain plot twists meant to elicit shock fall short; but that's to be expected. We're talking about one of the first mystery novels published. Contemporary readers of the novel were completely surprised by developments that readers today can see coming from miles away. That being said, The Woman in White still has the power to pull the rug out from under us, keep us guessing, and pull us into the story. For me, that is a hallmark of a classic. The laundry and dishes may pile up and your family may wonder aloud about supper, but sometimes the book is so engrossing you just can't put it down. Aren't those the best?

What I Want You to Know: Who's Talking Louder? (Part One)

I am surrounded by young girls. I have two daughters of my own. I teach Bible to fourth and fifth grade girls on Wednesday nights at church. I also teach fifth grade Sunday school. And I'm a co-leader for my daughters' Girl Scout troop. These girls are between nine and eleven years old, the crucial tween years. I say crucial because our society has already begun an onslaught on them: what's pretty and what's not; what's cool and what's not; what's important and what's not; and what's worthwhile and what's not. And now's the time to intercept those messages, change them into something else.

I'm not the only person who thinks so. Lately, I've been talking about this very topic with other women, other mothers, who want so desperately to be louder than our culture, to speak out against media manipulation, and, truly, to save our girls. And we're not the only ones, either. Contemporary Christian artist Jonny Diaz's fabulous song, "A More Beautiful You" says perfectly the very words we must pass along to our young girls.

Now, I am not a fan of the current philosophy that builds a child's self-esteem in such a way that encourages a sense of entitlement instead of gratitude or superiority instead of service. Not only is that extremely dangerous, it's also unscriptural. Nor do I believe that we should teach our girls that they are inferior or in any way less than other people. I am a fan of embracing God's values instead.

So how do we drown out the enemy? We talk often and loudly about God's love for each girl and His purpose for her life (whatever that may be). We help them explore their gifts and talents and the important ways in which they can use them. We instill in our girls such a strong core of who they are in God's eyes -- how precious they are to Him -- that they'll never fall prey to any other lies.

What I Want You to Know: A Letter to a Girl on the Brink of Womanhood

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a friend of mine (I'll call her Rachel). I was only one of many recipients, and Rachel asked each of us to write a letter to her daughter, who would be turning sixteen at the end of October. Rachel wanted to give these letters of amassed "wisdom" to her daughter as a present. I thought it was a fabulous idea, and then proceeded to worry and wonder about what to write. A typical set of circumstances for me, alas.

But after I wrote and sent the letter, it occurred to me that what I'd written is what I want to say to my own daughters. So I thought I'd share. Since the words I wrote for Rachel's daughter were for her only, I've adapted the basic ideas into a series of posts. I hope and pray you can find something of value as well.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Note About Chocolate. . .

But just a note.

Le chocolat du jour chez moi: Trader Joe's Organic 73% Super Dark. Luscious!

For My Edification and Enlightenment

I stole the title above from a psych professor I had as an undergrad (developmental psychology, in case you're wondering). She was forever saying, and I quote, "Blah, blah, blah, blah, for your edification and enlightenment." Perhaps she still does, these two decades later.

I shared earlier that we are using Rosetta Stone French 1 and couldn't be more pleased. Let me amend that: Miss Priss and I are pleased; Tiny Girl is not. She struggles with the pronunciation bit. Anyway, I've been using it as well, in the afternoons and evenings, but I've found I can recall much more than I thought I would. So it's too easy pour moi.

Then I thought I'd check the ol' Internet for free online college courses, which I can take in my loads of spare time. I found this website right away. I'm sure there are others. Of course, not every university listed offers what I want. NYU, for example, seems to offer only mathematics courses. Linear algebra, anyone? I thought not.

But Open University in the UK offers several free French classes. Yippee! The first course takes about 20 hours. So when I finish this box of bon bons I've been devouring (because that's what housewives do), I'll register and take the class. I've nothing better to do.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What's a Bluestocking, Anyway?

In case you've been wondering, a bluestocking is "an educated, intellectual woman," according to that fount of all things encyclopedic, Wikipedia. Since I like the way the entry is worded, I'll continue to quote: "Such women are stereotyped as being frumpy and the reference to blue stockings refers to the time when woolen worsted stockings were informal dress, as compared with formal, fashionable black silk stockings. The term originated with the Blue Stockings Society -- a literary society founded by Elizabeth Montagu in the 1750s. This provoked derogatory usage in the late 18th century, specifically in reference to women. . . ." You can read the entire entry, should you so desire, here. Take particular note of William Hazlitt's charming description of a bluestocking that appears in the entry. What a gentleman!'

So what I've been wondering is: if I call myself a bluestocking, why don't I talk about books on my blog? Am I really a bluestocking, or just a mere dilettante (as defined in number 2 of Merriam-Webster's online)? I'd like to think I'm the real deal, except for the frumpy, odious, egg yolk stuff.

If time spent reading is an indicator, then I'm golden. I read all the time. I read instead of doing other things, like watch TV or clean my house. I've been known to shush my children if they interrupt me at a really good part. (Just so you'll know, if it were a real emergency, I would stop reading and attend to my children. But it never is. Someone just wants something. As per usual.)

I'm in a book club. Check! I used to be in two book clubs, but discovered, what with Girl Scout service unit meetings, neighborhood Bible study, and church every Wednesday, that I needed to cut back on my evening meetings. So one book club had to go.

If I'm without a book to read, I get this nervous, twitchy feeling. I prefer to have two or three lined up before I've finished the one I'm reading.

And speaking of "one I'm reading," I'm often reading more than one at a time. Is this a tad excessive? Or is it normal?

Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but I'm a book snob. It took me years to read any Harry Potters because if everyone thinks they're fabulous, they can't be. Right? (I've since read all seven. Twice.) But there have been plenty of books I've read upon recommendation that I could hardly tolerate. And that's okay.

All this to say: I don't consider reading a hobby. Reading is truly a huge part of who I am. I'm a Reader (capitalized on purpose). I've been thinking lately about what that means, to be a Reader. I have some ideas, but they are still percolating. More on this to come.