December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

In the past 90 days this blog has been read by people in 20 countries, and in the USA that includes 31 states!! It has been a pleasure to share with you the everyday things that go on here at our home in Iowa, and it's been a great outlet for a seeker like me. To my family and friends that have been so kind in their comments about the blog, I thank you from the bottom of my heart and I want you to know that you have had a special effect on me. To everyone reading, I wish you a fresh new start with the coming year (if you need it!), and to all of you I offer this prayer for 2009 from Numbers 6:24-26:

"May the Lord bless you
and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you His favor
and give you His peace." Amen

December 29, 2008

Joy of Salsa

We canned a good amount of salsa this year and one of my favorite things to do with it is make smothered burritos. It's much tastier than using tomato sauce. These were made with beef that was braised with onions, mushrooms, garlic, and tomatoes. Then it was rolled up into whole wheat tortillas, covered with our salsa and baked. I topped it with cheese near the end and then served it on lettuce with more salsa and sour cream. This could easily have been spiced up with any kind of peppers in the filling too, but DD has a sore throat so I took pity on her and made it mild!

I don't think I've mentioned that we have a nice amount of Angus grass-fed beef in our freezer from a farmer who lives right up the road from us. It is just as tender and flavorful as anything we've ever tried and grass-fed is beginning to be looked at as a beef that has a lower incidence of E. coli contamination. A friend from church mentioned that her daughter was looking into this issue. After researching it a little, I found that it has to do with the environment that's established within the cows' systems as they're trying to process corn, which is not a naturally friendly food for them. Something to consider.

Well, this is all then.

December 27, 2008

Iced Again

Our alarm clock this morning was the weather radio. It blasted off an ice storm warning at 7:30am - saying that the storm was either starting soon, or already under way. Judging by the click, click, click we could hear on the windows it was easy to guess that it was under way. These windows are on the north side of our house and are obviously crusted with ice, as are all those on the west side of the house. Thanks again to the "weather people" for being so on top of it - sure! There was only talk of a slight chance of precipitation for today. Yesterday we were doing the happy dance because it was 55 degrees and all the old ice melted! We could see our driveway, we made our way down our gravel road without white-knuckling the steering wheel, and DD was able to open her car since the ice blanket fell off of it! But now, here we go again. The warning stated that travel would either be very dangerous, or impossible by the time the ice was down and the snow fell on top of it later today. And the likelihood of power lines falling was high. Oh my, this has been some winter and it's just begun! On the bright side - we went out last night with my aunt and uncle and enjoyed our time with them as usual, we rented three movies on the way home, we have a generator, we like each other if we do get stuck inside, and we have this wonderful soup to eat!

It's made from Christmas Day leftovers and the recipe I used was designed to be a two-in-one. It's one of Rachel Ray's concoctions and both parts were delicious! For our Christmas dinner we served the chuck roast with our garden goodies - roasted beets with pesto and succotash. For the soup part, we followed her suggestion of making grilled Fontina cheese sandwiches to go with it - really good! One important change - use whole barley if you can, also called hulled barley. It has much, much more nutrition. Just cook it a bit longer and maybe add a little more liquid.

Well, this is all then.

December 24, 2008

Joy to the World

Luke 2:10-11 And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love...

Isaac Watts

December 23, 2008

Dasher? Dancer?

No, I guess not! Just a herd of deer hanging around the pond and munching on the junipers outside our dining room windows. They seem to know the addresses of those with private property where there are no hunters! It's so interesting to me that they mass together once the shots start ringing out in the distance and they find safe haven. How do they know?

They do look pretty in the snow, and after dark it's fun to pull into our driveway and see all the glowing eyes out on the western side of our acreage as the deer are camping out there overnight. But I don't forget what they do to pumpkin vines, rose bushes, new trees, and too often, car fenders. The Iowa DNR reports that as of today, the count of deer harvested in our county this season is around 2300, and in all the state it's over 117,ooo. We have way too many of these lovely animals in Iowa and if we knew how to gut them, we'd shoot a few on our property to put in the freezer. But other than a hunting rifle, we have none of the equipment or skills to get a deer carcass to a butcher. I bought DH a heavy duty garden cart for Christmas, but even if we paired that with the rider mower, I don't think we'd get it done! If anyone is interested in a deal, we'll get the tags, you bring your gear, and we'll split the take!

Well, this is all then.

December 22, 2008

Sure Cure for Cold

With a high of ZERO degrees, you just have to think about a warm soup! A few weeks ago when I was down with a very bad cold, DH brought home some tortilla soup from a local health market and it warmed me from the inside out. Then today I came across Amanda's recipe for tortilla soup, and I just had the urge to make some. I wanted a cross between the two soups, so I took the basic ingredients in Amanda's recipe and adapted them. I know she won't mind my doing that since she and I have the same kind of cooking brain!

Here are most of the components. Frozen roasted tomatoes and hot peppers from our garden, local wine and chicken, and lots of organic ingredients from our food club purchases. I think I've mentioned our food buying club before, and I will eventually blog all about it. It makes finding and buying healthy, organic, U.S. foods very easy and more affordable for us.

Dinner is served! The two biggest recipe changes that I made were removing the chicken after it was sauteed with the veggies, and pureeing the finished soup with a hand held blender. To serve, I topped the soup with the chicken, some home toasted tortilla strips, and a dollop of sour cream. A piece of our homemade bread and some melted Jack cheese made for a great dipper. Stay warm!

Well, this is all then.

December 20, 2008

The Weather Outside...

has been frightful! We've had ice, snow, and sleet over the past couple of days and our grass, trees, and shrubs are coated in ice. Under this swirly crust is our driveway too! It's beautiful from inside the warm house though, and most importantly we got our dear girl home during a clear weather window on Thursday - yipeeeeee!! Today we drove in ground blizzard conditions as we made our way home from visiting my Grandmother, but she's well worth the trouble and we enjoyed our visit very much. We took a few little gifts and had the bonus of being able to visit with my dear aunt, uncle, and cousin at the same time. We were a rowdy, noisy bunch and I dare say we were ample entertainment for more than one resident this morning! I hope our laughter and general silliness was good medicine for my grandmother and all the others in the living room. Unfortunately the only camera I had with me was the cell phone and it basically stinks! So I made this overexposed photo into a black and white and then colored in the Santa in the corner - I will now call this an "artsy" photo - uh, huh! But you can still make out our crowd and DD's smiling face turned around toward me, DH in front of the tree, my cousin torturing my aunt with her camera, and most importantly, Grandma with her youngest son's arm around her. So, I guess it's a good photo after all!

On the way home we found a gem of a restaurant that we've passed many times but never had the time to stop. It's called the Knotty Pine Family Steak House. We almost missed out again because common sense would have told us to keep moving and get home before the storm worsened. But against better judgment, we pulled in with the hope that the storm would quickly pass, and it did. The views were so beautiful as we watched it snow and ate a wonderful lunch. Can't wait to go back!

It's a joy to be ready for Christmas ahead of schedule so that we are free to savor this time together. If you aren't completely ready and are still looking for a perfect gift, go to my cousin's website and pick out one of her wonderful crafts, or visit her etsy shop too!

Well, this is all then.

December 18, 2008

Kitchen Tradition

Peanut Blossoms, Santa's Whiskers, and Snow Balls! These are all cookies that my mother made year after year at Christmas until she passed the cookie baton to me! I'm so glad she did because it's something I truly love to do. At our house there are only 3 of us to eat them, so we make sure we have a good plan about where they will be distributed before we start! That way I can make as many varieties as we want to have, but not worry about eating ourselves silly. As kids, my three siblings and I loved to decorate cut-out sugar cookies with all the gaudy colored icing we could make. Some of us were purists about appropriate colors for each shape, and some (my brothers) made them as obnoxious as possible, mostly to get a rise out of me! I can still picture the chaos on the kitchen table, but my mother had infinite patience with the yearly mess!

Below is a link to a treasure chest of recipes. You can probably find just about any family favorite here and not have to dig around for the slip of paper that you stuck in who-knows-which cookbook a couple of years ago! Bake away!

Well, this is all then.

December 16, 2008

Just a Snowy Day

This book by Mercer Mayer was the first thing that ever caused our little baby to belly laugh! It has interactive parts inside including a sled that you pull down the page. For reasons known only to her 8-month-old self, that made her chuckle every time we did it. Good memories!

This is another snowy day title by Ezra Jack Keats that I still adore. It takes me back to the good old Captain Kangaroo days when this was one of the books he read on his show. Could there be anything more comforting than his kind voice? I remember having to hustle to kindergarten on some mornings because I could hardly tear myself away from his show!

And it's just a snowy day here too. It's blowing sideways across the back of our property and blowing up onto the porch out front as well. This package is part of our outdoor decorations and it's wrapped up in a colorful vinyl table cloth rather than paper so it can withstand the snow, cold, and wind - and wind - and more wind - did I say wind? Jeesh it's windy on our little elevation! It is beautiful though and I feel blessed to be warm inside doing more baking of course! Pictures to come soon.

Well, this is all then.

December 15, 2008

Cookie Weather

We're in the deep freeze! Last night when we headed out for evening church service, the temperature was 47. By the time we got home, three hours later, it was 3!! Today got all the way up to 7.5, so the only solution was to start Christmas baking! Just look at this chocolatey goodness...

This is my black walnut fudge - DH's favorite! We're fortunate enough to have a local source for fresh black walnuts, and there is absolutely no comparison to any other nut. They perfume the fudge like nothing else could. I use an old "Fantasy Fudge" recipe and just substitute the black walnuts. This recipe makes a load of gifts!

This plate holds a new cookie for us - "Irish Coffee Crunchies". Though it's a bit humble looking, it is fantastic! Kind of like an oat shortbread I'd say. The recipe is from a wonderful website by Gourmet Magazine, which highlights the favorite cookie from 1941-2008. Take a look at it, it's great fun to go through the years and see the trends. This recipe is from 1977 - thanks for finding this site DH!

Here are a couple of things we're using this year for our kitchen gifts. We'll put a box of these great seasonal teas with the cookies, or cookie mix, or fudge we're giving to friends, neighbors, and co-workers. It makes the gift nice and complete I think. I also found these great bakery-style boxes in the Wilton Cake aisle. They should give a nice finished look to some of the gifts. I'd like to find a more complete source for these kinds of boxes, so if you know one, please share with me!

More cookies to come. Tonight we wrap gifts - can't have our sweet college kid coming home to a tree with no gifts under it! Hope you're enjoying getting ready for the big day.

Well, this is all then.

December 12, 2008

A Merry Little Rant

This is our Christmas mantel for 2008. I have a strange little hobby of decorating our mantle with each new season, month, or any other reason that comes along. My family has deemed these my "mantlescapes" after someone on the Food Network (who will remain nameless on my blog) who makes "tablescapes". This year I was going for an "I Spy" look on the mantle. I linked the title in case you've never enjoyed one of these fun books. If you click on the pictures below you can see all the little goodies on the mantle.

You'll obviously notice that there are lots of secular Christmas decorations and symbols on our mantle. There was a time in the recent past when I would have been apologetic with other Christians about my fondness for all things of the North Pole. But now I realize that trying to prove we are keeping this holiday sacred by banning all these little symbols is truly ludicrous. Enjoying Santa and all the other fantastical aspects of the Christmas season can in no way pull us off track from the real story of Christmas. Nor do I feel the need to display a Santa who is kneeling at the manger - are you kidding me?

I grew up as a card carrying member of the Santa believers club and even after I had made the logical leap of knowing that it couldn't be real, it was still just plain, joyful fun. But as excited as I was about the toys that were coming my way, my favorite thing to do on Christmas Eve was to stare out at the sky and imagine what it was like at the manger that amazing night. We carried on the Santa tradition with our daughter, and believe me the real message of Christmas was never lost on this child. Her first full sentence was "Seep in heaveny peace". She was draped in one of her blankets as 'Mary' and she was talking to a doll that she had swaddled to be baby Jesus. I think she knew the real Christmas story!
I'm all for analyzing what we do and holding things up to scripture to make sure we're operating in an honest way, but political correctness reigns in our world today and we overthink everything. For the record, if one more person tries to tell me that the first Thanksgiving wasn't the way it's portrayed in paintings, I may just swing a turkey leg at them! And I don't buy into the idea that Halloween is of the devil - only if we let that happen rather than protecting it as an innocent childhood celebration will it really be something evil. So I'm going to enjoy Santa and the reindeer and all the sappy movies and TV specials and have that joy once a year. More importantly we will continue embracing the joy of Christ, which sustains us every day of the year, and endeavor to reflect that joy in the way we live, rather than the way we decorate the house in December.

Well, this is all then.

December 8, 2008

Tea and Tradition

This is our frozen pond, looking so pretty and so uninviting at the same time! We're expecting more snow tonight and tomorrow we have the promise of ground blizzard conditions. I love snowy days because they give me a huge burst of energy and projects get done in an inspired fashion, but for the last several days I've been mostly out of commission with a nasty cold and I'm surviving by drinking lots and lots of tea. Coffee doesn't taste good right now, which is a sure sign that I'm really under the weather! I just finished a bowl of homemade peanut noodle salad with extra garlic, grated ginger, green onions and hot pepper flakes - BE GONE COLD!

Being sidelined has given me the excuse to sit and plan the fast approaching holiday. The three of us have been discussing tradition a lot lately and during the tiny window of Thanksgiving break that we had with DD, we had her write down which Christmas family traditions she wanted to continue and which she had outgrown. Showing hospitality is a year-round tradition with us, but we will be slightly untraditional this Christmas since we are all in agreement that what we want most is to spend time alone, just the three of us. We have the usual slate of pre-Christmas activities on the calendar, and of course we'll go to Christmas Eve service, but we don't feel the need to fill up the house this year. Maybe there is the realization that DD won't be under this roof for too many more years. We crave time to talk, play games, watch movies, and sit in our P.J.'s if the mood strikes us!

My friend Chenni recently posted some childhood photos and she inspired me to dig out this photo. You can see on the edge of the photo that this is in 1963. The four of us are sitting on the porch of one of the homes my grandmother lived in down in southwest Iowa - the same town she's now lived in for 94 of her 98 years! I'm 4 1/2 in this photo and I'm holding my 5 month old sister. My brothers are in between the two of us in age and are only 11 months apart. It makes me tired just thinking about this many kids so close in age! When I was growing up, my family had loads of Christmas traditions and my parents outdid themselves making Christmas absolutely magical for us. Only a few years ago I learned from my mom that back in the time of this photo, my dad actually took on a second job in the evenings, after we were in bed, just so that they would have enough money for Christmas gifts for us - a very special tradition I'd say.

Well, this is all then.

December 4, 2008

Not a Creature Is Stirring

Not even our mouse! It's been gone since DH caulked the holes in the house, so it either worked it's way outside before the caulking or... Fortunately there has been no evidence of the lovely little thing, so my darling daughter and I both feel comfortable again going down into the basement storage area, now affectionately known as "mousetown". And as you can see from the picture, the cat isn't stirring either. Retirement mode 24/7. Must be nice.

Well, this is all then.

December 2, 2008

Christmas Seed Craft

I love to make homemade, homegrown gifts for family and friends at Christmas. We took pear butter back to Colorado and also some seeds. As I mentioned a number of posts ago, one of the things I wanted to do was make homemade, custom seed packets for my hyacinth bean vine seeds. The seed packet template that I had originally found didn't work out too well, so I ended up going to Microsoft Home Magazine, where there was a great, easy template for making the packets. If you go to this link, the instructions are near the end of the page and the template download is near the top right corner of the page. I had never heard of this site but it seems very good. Below is a picture of various stages of completion.

The template was very flexible and you can add your own picture or some clipart to one side, then add a text box with instructions on the other side. I did jimmy the lettering around and used word-art for the title, but you can make this as simple or as artsy as you like.

Here are the finished packets. I was very pleased with the way they looked. The picture of course, is the vine we grew on our front porch this year. My mom had a great idea, which was to have everyone who wants to grow the vine be in a competition of sorts to see who can grow the largest vine. We will potentially have these growing in Iowa, Illinois, Colorado, California, Maine, and believe it or not Alaska! Yep, my little sister and her husband are going back there to live. They left it a few years ago and now they're returning. They'll live outside Anchorage (Palinville!), but my sister will be working at Prudhoe Bay - can you say Arctic Ocean??? She'll send me some photos soon - my little sister the adventurer! May all your dreams come true.

Well, this is all then.

December 1, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

winter!! And a lot like Christmas because of the snow. This was our beautiful view as we pulled away from my mother's house in Colorado. It's so breathtaking there. Just look at those mountains in the background! Why did we leave again? Hmmm... We had a lovely Thanksgiving and a big thanks goes to my brother and sister-in-law who were perfect hosts in every way. Everyone felt welcome, there was no bedlam, the food was wonderful, and the family ties grew. Thanks so much to my mother as well. You always treat us like royalty. I'm nearly 50 and I never get tired of being mothered! We also enjoyed a visit from my dad and step-mother at the end of our Thanksgiving vacation so we are full to the brim with family love. Last and not least was our time with our girl. She headed back to school today and we were so blessed to be together. She's a gem. We thank God for all of these folks, for safe travel, and a warm home to embrace us back again. Now it's on to the Christmas dance!