Saturday, February 28, 2009

New Blog Header Photo

I want to give credit for my new blog header photo to my daughter, the photographer extraordinaire. This beautiful shot has a bittersweet memory attached to it.

A dear friend of my daughter lost her mom a couple of years ago at much too young an age. It so happened that my daughter took this photograph the night her friend's mom died. So when news reached my daughter of the death, she asked if she could title it 'Maribeth's Sunset' in honor of her mom.

Friday, February 27, 2009

My Grandma Maggie

I almost named my daughter McLean. That was my grandma's middle name, and I thought seriously of naming our daughter after her great-grandmother. But I knew it would get shortened to Mac, and I didn't think I wanted to saddle her with that.

Grandma was born in Beith, Scotland, in 1893, and immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was fifteen years old. She remembered whole winters in the Old Country when they had very little to eat but potatoes. Hearty stock, but certainly not well-to-do in a financial sense by any means. She married Grandpa when she was just sixteen years old (he was twenty-five), and they raised seven children, a boy born first and then six girls. I remember being shocked when my mom told me Grandma had had so many miscarriages that she didn't actually remember how many. Those poor gals of that day and age sure didn't have much in the way of birth control to work with, did they?

I think Grandma was an excellent example of making do with what she had. Grandpa kept a huge vegetable garden, and Grandma canned and preserved everything. She cooked anything my grandpa brought home whether it be fur, fowl, or most of the time, fish. When they were raising their family, what he brought home for the table constituted a large part of their diet. Since he was such a fisherman, there was nearly always live bait in her refrigerator, sometimes not as contained as she would have liked it to be.

My mom worked outside the home, and Grandma took care of me and my brother during the day. She came to our house each week day, cooked, cleaned and cared for us. After that she went home and did her own housework, got a meal for herself and Grandpa, then a couple nights a week, got "gussied up" (a favorite term of hers) to go out for the evening. Most often these evenings were spent with other lady friends at the local bingo hall. What fun they had for the price of a couple of dollars. I know because she took me with her many nights, and the socialization involved a lot of chatter and much laughing.

She and Grandpa had a solid but teasing/bickering relationship. He referred to her as "The Old Battle Axe," and she constantly complained about him spending too much time with his "girlfriends" in the neighborhood. Grandpa retired from his physical labor job early because of health problems but was constantly on the go, if not working around their house and yard, then off somewhere doing good deeds for anyone who needed help. Often the women Grandma jokingly referred to as his "girlfriends" were widows, single mothers, or those whose husbands were too lazy to do maintenance around their house or yard.

I can vividly remember sitting in our old doctor's waiting room (I was probably only six or seven) with my mom and Grandma after Grandpa had been brought in there to be checked over after he had fallen out of a neighbor's plum tree he was pruning. I can still see Grandma sitting there turning the broken parts of his glasses over and over in her hands while muttering words about the stupidity of the old coot, and why couldn't he stay home rather than running all over town (he'd only been next door) risking life and limb falling out of a tree and landing on his head.

Grandma believed you should never go out in public without your spurs on (by this she meant make-up and hair done and in nice clothes) 'cause you never knew when you might need them. She was a petite, little woman and being short, she liked to wear high heels (she had really nice legs!), and she loved keeping polish on her pretty fingernails. She had beautiful snow white hair from an early age, and it always looked nice although I doubt she ever saw the inside of a beauty parlor.

When Grandpa died, Grandma found she didn't like living alone. Each of her children, to the last one, wanted her to come live with them. Grandma decided she would just float around for a while, a month here, a couple of months there, but always ended up spending the longest times at the house with the most or smallest children as she adored wee ones, and she wanted to be kept busy and feel helpful.

She died one day shy of exactly two years after Grandpa did. That was in 1965 when she was 72 years old. Cause of death was listed as leukemia, but I've often wondered if that was true. Not that it wouldn't be possible, but no one else in our large family has ever had any form of cancer (for which we can be very, very thankful, needless to say). Could be she missed Grandpa more than anyone realized.

I have a strong feeling that if I had been blessed with more children, there would have been a boy named McLean or a girl named Maggie. With hindsight, I can now see that by giving a descendant an ancestor's name, it's not only a way of honoring that person but possibly even carrying on their spirit.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Just Out of the Oven

Wow. Look what happens when you bake bread with yeast that isn't older than dirt. Your dough actually rises and forms nice loaves!

Two loaves of yummy (at least I hope they will be) Oatmeal Bread. Makes me think of big ol' farm breakfasts . . . two fresh eggs over easy, a passel of fried potatoes, homemade applesauce, home-cured bacon, slices of Oatmeal Bread and jam. Cryminuttly, I'm gonna have to go plow up the back forty before breakfast if I'm planning on eating like that.

Snow Update and Mystery Birds

Seems like we are indeed getting some of the forecasted snow. It started coming down around dawn this morning and we have a couple of inches now with more still falling. It is so beautiful out there. Can't help it, I really love snow and I'm so happy to be experiencing a winter season where we actually get to see snow falling on a regular basis.

I need some help from you bird experts out there. We've had a small flock of black birds hanging around for about a week now and I have no idea what they are.

I'm almost embarrassed to post these two pictures but they were the best I could get. The birds are very flighty and shy; they scatter whenever I get near a window or door.

There seem to be 6-8 of them and they are a smidge smaller and more streamlined than a robin. Basically black with gray/tan(?) speckles on shoulders, wings, and back. They have a square tail and a very long light colored, pointy beak. I've seen them eating seeds on the ground but they attack the suet feeders with a frenzy. Lots of wing fluttering and squabbling when one is on a feeder and another customer comes by. They are able to get big chunks of suet out of the feeders and gobble it down.

I don't think we've ever seen ones like this before and am really curious as to what they might be.

Addendum: Now I'm thinking European Starlings?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Midweek, Last Week of February

Three inches of new snow greeted us this morning. Just enough light, fluffy stuff to cover all of the ice underneath. Roy went out to water the poultry carrying two full buckets of water and slipped, dumping both buckets directly on top of himself. Remarkable what two buckets of water can do in a couple of seconds. Soaked right through his insulated coveralls and all the way in to his Henley undershirt that he had to change. The good news is that he didn't hurt himself, and there was plenty more water where the first came from.

I made a trip to town around 1 p.m. this afternoon. Went around a curve in the driveway on the way out and just about plowed into six good-sized deer blocking my way. Darn, when will I learn to always take my camera with me when I leave home? If I had had it on the seat next to me, I think I could have gotten a good picture. The deer and I had a stare-off for a good five seconds before they decided they didn't like the looks of me and bounded off into the woods.

Heard some folks in the county lost their dog this week. Wolves came up on their front porch and took him there. Roy came back from a trip up to the ridge behind us this weekend and reported he saw some of the biggest wolf tracks he's seen in a long time. Wildlife abounds.

We had a very gray, overcast day today with some short periods of spitting sleet/rain/hail/snow. The wind picked up just before dusk and continues to howl now at 7 p.m. Forecast is for snow tomorrow. Could be significant or not depending on whether it comes as far north as we are or stays to the south. It's definitely still winter around here. Sounds like tomorrow may be a good bread baking day. A good day for doing anything while warm and protected inside.

Here's a quote to ponder:

"Year by year the complexities of this spinning world grow more bewildering and so each year we need all the more to seek peace and comfort in the joyful simplicities.”

The above taken from Women's Home Companion, 1935.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Day of Wood Cutting in Pictures

We spent yesterday at our daughter and son's-in-law helping them cut and stack eight cords of birch wood they had delivered into their yard last Saturday.

Start your saws, men!

Roy started on one end and FSIL (favorite son-in-law) attacked from the top of the pile.

We thought FSIL should have the honor of placing the first cut logs in the shed.

Dad cuts while Daughter picks up and stacks in wood shed.

A long way to go, but it's a start.

Wasn't long before those darn logs started to feel heavier, and heavier, and . . .

FSIL's smile got bigger as the stacks of wood got higher.

Daughter and son-in-law conferring. It was 4 o'clock and we were all getting a little tired. Okay, a lot tired. Even though we still had between two and three cords to go to finish, we decided to call it a day.

The one casualty of the day: This is what happens when an eight-foot log starts to roll and takes a wayward jump. Could have been a lot worse. This will be a lot easier (and less painful) to fix than a smashed toe.

There are definite advantages to being the person in charge of documentation. I didn't have to do any work all day!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday Sundries

It's a gorgeous late winter day. The sun is shining and the sky is a dazzling shade of Minnesota Blue. That's a sky color that we came up with when we first started coming up here some forty years ago. You just don't see that color anywhere else. Minnesota Blue.

We just got back from a memorial service for the nineteen year old son of a friend of ours. He took his own life earlier this week. The service took place in the biggest church in our town. To augment seating, as many folding chairs as could be were brought in, and the rest of the people stood wherever they could. The pastor gave a moving sermon explaining why no one should feel guilty. Not his parents, not his siblings, not his friends, not his teachers, not any of us who came to pay our respects. In situations such as this, one couldn't go on if one did carry guilt. And yet I suspect there wasn't one person in that church this afternoon that didn't have an inner voice whispering, "I wonder if it might have made a difference if I . . . "

But life, as they say, goes on.

Just got an e-mail from our daughter and son-in-law inviting us to come play on a really big wood pile with them some day this coming week. They've found themselves on the short end of the (firewood) stick this year and had to order eight cords of birch logs in eight foot lengths to get them through this heating season and a jump-start on next year's wood supply. It was delivered into their yard yesterday and now needs to be cut up and stacked in the wood shed. Even though we're retired folks these days and can hardly find enough to keep us occupied (ahem!), the only days we have open this coming week are Monday and Friday. Friday our daughter does her nannying thing with that darling little baby girl so . . . guess who is sharpening his chain saws as we speak? My cold is sufficiently insignificant that I'm looking forward to partaking in a little much needed physical exercise (as long as I keep my tissue box close at hand) and we're both looking forward to a fun day tomorrow. I'll take my camera and record the wood chips flying.

Well, I think I have some bad yeast. (All together now, "Awwww . . . ") Yesterday I made a loaf of Poppy Seed Bread and although I should be ashamed to show pictures of it, I'm doing it in the name of bringing a little humor into your lives.

First off, I was pretty sure I had killed the yeast by sprinkling it in water that was too hot. I should have stopped right there but being stubborn, plowed on and finished the whole process and you can see where that got me. (You will also note, we're eating the bread regardless of how it looks. Desperation, I guess.)

I evidently mistakenly used Elmer's Glue to grease the pan. Trying to separate loaf and baking pan turned into a brawl that wasn't pretty.

And what the heck caused the top of the loaf to try to disengage itself from the bottom of the loaf? Obviously, something wonky to do with the yeast. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

So today, I pulled out my trusty rye bread recipe that always rises and makes beautiful loaves. Mixed up yeast and water and got lovely, bubbly, foamy, fuzzy action. But could I get the dough to rise to double its size in the bowl? No. Actually, the lump may have gotten smaller while sitting there for two hours.

But into the bread pans and another two hours rising. This time it did rise. Maybe about 1/2". Into the oven anyway (why stop now?) and I will admit, I ended up with two almost passable loaves of rye bread.

As you can see by the ruler included in the picture for documentation, the loaf is not even 3" high. But the texture is good, the flavor is nice, and after a quick sample (three slices), my husband just announced that's what he's eating for dinner tonight . . . fresh rye bread, butter and homemade strawberry jam. And if you're a teeny-tiny person with a teeny-tiny appetite for a teeny-tiny sandwich, have I got a loaf of bread for you!

Note on list for whole foods co-op groceries: baking yeast.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Need to Knead

I've had a real urge to bake some bread lately. There was a day when you would never find any bread in my house that wasn't homemade, but I've gotten a little lazy in recent years and fallen out of the habit. However, methinks it's time to get back into it. There's nothing that makes a house smell better than bread baking and surely nothing that can compare taste-wise to a slice of fresh, warm, homemade bread just out of the oven and slathered with butter. (Oh, be still, my heart.)

Of course, now that I can almost see the ol' yeast and warm water foaming in the bottom of my bread bowl, I want to make about six different kinds right away. Well, gotta decide what to start with first so I've pulled out my bread recipe cards.

No sense asking Roy for his preference because he'll say, "Rye!" Rye bread (in just about any shape or form . . . or recipe) is his all-time favorite. Here's an old, old recipe photocopied from a cookbook that is labeled simply Rye Bread. In a line over that, many years ago, I wrote "Roy's Favorite." This is the same recipe that our daughter made as an entry in her Science Fair umpteen years ago when she was in third grade. (You know, the action of yeast, and all that.) She made the bread all by herself and handed out samples at the Fair. I happened to overhear one parent comment that it was the best bread he'd ever tasted. No surprise that she's still a good bread baker.

Then there's the 100% Whole Wheat Bread. We went through a period when my husband felt we shouldn't be using ANY white flour in anything we consumed so it was a real challenge to find a bread recipe that would rise adequately without the addition of white flour. This recipe does indeed have only whole wheat flour in it and, lo and behold, does rise to form nice, high loaves. Good flavor, too.

Another rye bread. Casserole Swedish Rye bread. Can't tell you how many times I've made this one in a pinch when I didn't have time to make a regular kneaded yeast bread. You just mix it up, let it rise for a total of an hour's time (no kneading required) and bake. Nice flavor, nice texture, easy.

A Black Bread modified from "Laurel's Kitchen." Lordy, lordy, there was a period in the 80s when I don't think I cooked or baked anything that wasn't from this revered cookbook. Yep, we were pretty strict vegetarians for a period of about fifteen years. Probably ruined our daughter to a certain extent. Not nutritionally, as I was super-careful about that, but to this day, she has trouble eating meat because the texture is so unpleasant for her. But back to the bread. My notation on this Black Bread recipe reads, "Especially good for breakfast with eggs, etc. Makes good French toast. A bit too sweet for sandwiches.”

I have a hard cover book "Pillsbury's Bake Off Breads Cook Book" from 1968 that has seen such extensive use that it's held together with a big rubber band because so many of the pages are flapping loose and falling out. I've gotten innumerable great recipes from this book: Scandinavian Rye, Crusty French, Two-Tone Loaves (putzy and a lot of work but spectacular looking), Country Fair Egg Bread, Dilly Casserole Bread, and luscious Dark Orange Raisin Bread. Makes a slice of toast to die for. I gave loaves of it as Christmas gifts one year and got lots of complimentary feedback.

Back in my recipe box, Swedish Rye Bread Supreme. (Gotta keep that man happy.) Although this one isn't labeled his favorite, I like to make it because it makes a nice, high loaf which is always a challenge when using rye flour which seems happier imitating a stone rather than rising into a normal looking loaf.

Cinnamon Twist Bread. When we were first married Pepperidge Farm used to make a cinnamon bread that was downright yummy. (This was in the dark ages when commercial bread actually had flavor.) I've always been partial to cinnamon bread and this recipe makes a couple of delicious loaves,spicy with pungent cinnamon (no raisins in my cinnamon bread, thank you) and especially decadent with white vanilla frosting drizzled over the top.

The recipe for Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Bread has a couple of oat flakes cemented to it. Obviously, it's been used a lot. Bread made with the recipe has been eaten a lot, too.

Cocoa in my Heidelberg Rye can't be tasted, but definitely adds a lovely coloring and something special to this bread. Roy's not crazy about my Cream of Tomato Soup but if I make garlic croutons out of this bread to sprinkle in a bowl, the soup disappears.

When I was growing up, my mom bought Potato Rolls at a corner bakery that she used when making leftover ham sandwiches. My recipe for Old-Fashioned Potato Loaves reminds me of those rolls. Heavy and moist.

I like to have a couple of loaves of Italian Bread in the freezer to make up into garlic-cheese bread to serve with lasagna or spaghetti. The recipe makes two good sized loaves but I form the dough into four smaller loaves because each little loaf then serves two people nicely. If it's just the two of us eating, one small loaf does it. If we have another couple eating with us, each couple can have their own loaf.

Yummy, moist, good! This bread, Poppy Seed Batter Bread, is wonderful in egg salad sandwiches. Another no-knead bread that can be whipped up quickly. Makes me think of a friend whose son is a pilot and has to submit to random drug testing by the company he flies for. He loves a poppy seed cake his mom makes and once when she was visiting, she made his favorite cake which he proceeded to devour a good half of the night before a surprise testing. He failed the test. Just goes to show you, be careful when you consume your poppy seeds.

Well, believe it or not, there are more bread recipes but I think the above will give me enough to choose from. Now if I were a good blogger and ambitious, I'd bake a sample to picture with each recipe talked about. Nuh -uh, ain't gonna happen. But I am going to get out the yeast and pummel some dough into submission real soon. (No, I've never had a bread machine. I'm just not a gadget kind of gal. Give me a wooden spoon and stand back.) But stay tuned. Maybe there will be a picture or two coming up. Ya never know.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Happy Skating Bear

This is not a highly intellectual post. (All right, I heard that! You just said, "So when has she made a 'highly intellectual post?'") If intelligence is what you're looking for I can give you a couple of really good blog sites to check out. (I won't be taking on the pressure of sounding even vaguely intelligent anytime soon.)

They say you should keep things in/around your home that make you feel good. This skating bear makes me feel good every time I look at him.

I suppose he was meant to be an ornament hung on the Christmas tree but I hang him on a peg on a drying rack in our bathroom every year after the holiday decorations are put away.

It's easy to see he doesn't have a care in the world. This bear is living in the moment. Nothing is more important than the good time he's having pumping away on his skates, effortlessly covering miles of smooooth ice. Yeah, that's what I want in my life: smooth ice.