Saturday, April 28, 2012

Another Snake Tale

Remember when I posted my snake tales here?  Well I need to add another one.

Last night my husband, kids and I went to the movies.  We were late getting home because we dropped son number two off at a friend's house to spend the night.  We finally pulled into the driveway around 11:30 p.m.  My youngest son (number 4)  was the first one out of the car and was bounding up the walk, my daughter not far behind him.  Suddenly she screamed, and son number 4 jumped back into the yard.  He had almost stepped on a super long copperhead that was stretched across the brick walk.  But it wasn't really a super long copperhead -- it was two copperheads in the act of mating!!!  They mate back to back, so the heads are on either end (in effect, a two-headed snake).  This would have been interesting to observe -- a highly unusual activity to be seen by the average human -- EXCEPT it was in the middle of my little walkway.  It's surprising to me that they would mate in such an unprotected area, with the porch light shining down on them.  Any sympathy for their situation was mitigated by thoughts of the cost of an emergency room visit.

Copperhead love
Each copperhead was around three feet long.  My husband kept an eye on them while I ran to the garage to find a weapon.  (I did not forget to yell out, "Take a picture!") Unfortunately, our hoe -- the best weapon for snake-killing -- and our shovel were out in the garden, and he had to attempt execution with some heavy posthole diggers.  After much effort on my husband's part (with the rest of us screaming shrill encouragement), one snake is now dead in the front yard.  I am very disappointed (and more than a little alarmed) to report to you that the other snake slithered away into the bushes.    My husband thinks he -- or worse, she -- was wounded, but we're not sure.  Now we are left with an unpleasant uncertainty of its fate.

Here I was thinking maybe we had skipped snake sightings this year.  WRONG!!  It is crazy how many copperheads we've seen, and this is with our two dogs, two sheep, and my neighbor's feral cat patrolling our yard.  Today I am going to the hardware store for snake repellent and I am buying an extra hoe just for occasions like this.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Day of Doughnuts

I started yesterday by making these:
Frying them in this:
Cooling them on paper towels:
Shaking them - one at a time - in a sack (I double-bagged it)  of cinnamon and sugar:
A basketful of doughnuts and doughnut holes:

I ended my day doing this AGAIN:
Lesson learned:  No need to double the recipe!

Oops!  Forgot to give this one a hole:
There!  Much better!
A second basketful:
I finished up by writing some notes in my cookbook.  Do you write comments in your cookbooks?  I highly recommend the practice.  The notes are so useful when you come back to the recipe again.  (The star means this recipe is a keeper.)
The recipe came from this cookbook:
I tried to find a link for it on their website, but there was not an exact match, so here's the recipe (slightly adapted by me), if you are inclined to try it.

Cake Doughnuts (makes around 24 doughnuts)

2 eggs 
1 cup buttermilk (I used plain yogurt)
1 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp. melted butter
1 cup whole wheat flour 
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Beat the eggs with buttermilk until light.  Add and beat in the sugar and butter.  Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a separate bowl.  Add to the liquid, beating until just mixed (don't overdo it).

Turn the sticky dough out onto a well-floured board.  With a well-floured rolling pin roll the dough out to between 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.  Cut with a doughnut cutter and allow them to rest while you heat either vegetable oil (what I used) or lard or shortening to 365ºF.  The oil should be deep enough so the doughnuts can float (between an inch and two inches).

Add the doughnuts to the hot oil, a few at a time.  Cook a minute or so til the bottom half is golden, then flip them (use a slotted spoon or metal tongs) and brown the other side.  Remove them to a paper towel to drain.

In the meantime, take two paper sacks and put one inside the other.  Put 3/4 cup of sugar and 2 tsp. cinnamon in the bag.  Make sure they are mixed well together.  After the doughnuts are cool enough to handle, put them one at a time into the sack and give them a good shake to coat them with the cinnamon and sugar.  Take them out of the bag and put them in a towel-lined basket.  Now they are ready to eat!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Monday Motion

My husband usually takes Mondays off, and consequently our day usually gets off to a leisurely start.  But this week he was up and out of the house early, and so I could set my own agenda.  (I don't know if it's just me or what, but I have trouble focusing on my tasks if there is anyone else around.)  I've definitely been feeling the need to revamp my housecleaning routines, so I decided to use this Monday to do an all around straightening up, and then the rest of the week focus on bedrooms (this week is zone 4-- Master Bedroom on the Flylady system).

I love Flylady, I just need to tweak her system a little to fit my needs.  So I swished and swiped my bathroom, made my bed, did a five minute tidy in my bedroom, and threw some laundry in (with seven people in the household laundry gets backed up if I skip even one day).

I spent yesterday doing some of this:

And I whisked my way around the house with this:
The purple feather shows it is a Flylady duster
I windexed everything that could get windexed:

And I took my trusty central vacuum on a tour of the house:

When we moved into this house I didn't even own a vacuum.  All the floors were either tile or laminate and I thought I would just sweep them.  Which I did, for two years.  Sweeping is quiet and uses no electricity -- two things it's got going for it.  But it's hard to get ALL the dirt up, and I started to crave the satisfaction of watching a vacuum simply -- if loudly -- suck the dirt away.

I was on the lookout for a vacuum -- one that could handle dog hair -- when I remembered that our house had actually come with a central vacuum.  I just had never used it and we didn't have it hooked up.  Why buy a vacuum when there is already an expensive one attached to the house?  We found someone to inspect it and give it a tune-up, and we (my husband)  had to do some minor attic work, and then we were in business.

The central vacuum does a great job and it's only loud out in the garage where the motor is, but you have to be careful, because it has a LOONG hose.  Last year I was happily vacuuming away and had (unwisely) taken the attachment off the end to reach into a tight space by my bed, when SOMETHING got sucked into the hose and got stuck.  I tried for several weeks to unclog the hose, to no avail, so I finally had to confess to the vacuum cleaner repairman what had happened.  He came out to the house (yes, they are a wonderful company -- they make house calls:), and he's probably around my age, very dapper, and very formal.  I explained to him what happened, but the worst part was I didn't really know what had gotten sucked up.  I knew it was some kind of fabric -- my worst fear was that it was a pair of my underwear (YIKES) -- so I told him I couldn't guarantee what was in that hose.  I was trying to make jovial banter, but he took it all with a straight face, bless his heart.  I don't think he quite knew how to respond to that kind of information.

He -- kind of like the Grinch -- said he would take the hose THERE (to his shop) and fix it, and then bring it back HERE (to my house), which he did.  Thankfully, it ended up being a bandana, of all things, and the whole thing ended up costing me somewhere around $20.  So, I am their loyal customer, and I also try very hard not to suck up Unidentified Objects.

My plan -- for now -- is to try to make Mondays an all-around cleaning day, and save more specialized jobs for later in the week.  But housekeeping is not my forte -- if I were a servant I would have to be a laundress or a cook instead -- so we will see how it goes.  The main thing is I have to keep at it because I don't want the dust bunnies -- or in this case the dog hair -- to completely take over my house.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Views from My Yard

The photos I've chosen for this month's Note Card Party, sponsored by Vee at A Haven for Vee, are all pictures taken from my yard at various times.  If you look, you will see that photos one and three are actually the same view, starring the same tree.
After the rain

Under the live oak
Misty morning

Golden rain tree

To see what lovely photos others are posting, go here.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dining Area

While everything is still tidied up from Easter, I thought I would show you my dining area.  It's not really a dining room -- it's just separated from the kitchen by a bar/counter, but it is a nice size space.  

Below is my hutch.  Sadly, it got badly beaten up during our move here six years ago.  As a general rule I try to practice "defensive decorating." In other words, have things that are already supposed to be distressed-looking, or things that are super difficult to mess up.  Believe me, this is very necessary with a large, mostly male, family.  You don't want to know how many holes in my wall, blah blah blah, that I don't even show you.  The hutch was not one of those supposed-to-be-distressed pieces. But, hey, this blog is supposed to be about finding the good things, so that's what I'm concentrating on:)

Anyway, on my hutch are some pottery pieces I've accumulated over the years.  I don't have any china (although I love looking at many of yours!), but I am very drawn to pottery.  One of these days I would love to learn how to make my own.  My mom even has a piece of pottery -- just a simple crock -- that was made by her great-great-grandmother, who we know very little about but was apparently a potter.  Who knows, maybe some her genes passed down to me?  

Some of the pieces below were made by students at Georgia Southern University and were purchased when we lived in Georgia, others were purchased at art festivals here in Texas, a few were gifts.

Here's a little closer look, although I have to say in person they are much more beautiful.  Mixed in I have a few metal pieces.  The little teapot in the center is something one of my children bought and likes to keep there:)

I do use these pieces, pulling them down to put cookies on or displaying flowers in the vases.  The long pewter platter on the bottom shelf was just used during Easter for a lemon pound cake.

These barn pictures hang on the wall to the left of the hutch.  The one on the left was given to me by my mother-in-law.  It reminds me a little of East Tennessee.  The other one is a pastel drawing of a barn and pumpkin patch by my oldest son when he was elementary-school age.

The geranium painting on the right of the hutch was done by my husband's maternal grandmother.  She painted lots of pictures.  This one belonged to my mother-in-law and she knew I loved it so she gave it to me.  My mother-in-law grows the most beautiful geraniums, so this picture is a reminder not only of my husband's grandmother, but my mother-in-law too.  It makes me very happy.

A few years ago my husband, following his grandmother's example, took up painting himself:)  This is one of his earlier pieces.

These chiles (also by my husband) hang by the door to the patio.

My old dining table is temporarily serving as a buffet.  It's a little too large for the space, and I would love to have something with more storage, but until I find something better it will do.

Above it is a window from the my dad's house.  His grandfather built the house back in the 1930s or 40s.  It's just a small, regular house but so far it has stayed in the family.  When my dad updated it, my sister took all the discarded windows.  She did some stained-glass type painting and gave this one to me (she's nice that way :).

Below is our table.  It was built by my husband and a friend (who is a great woodworker) several years ago from black walnut wood.  It is in constant use.  I love it!  But it is in dire need of refinishing, which I keep procrastinating about because I'm not quite sure the best way to do it.  The chairs are a motley crew of various Windsors.  At some point I decided to embrace the unmatched look -- it goes along with the defensive decorating and my budget ;)

The next two signs -- good reminders for us all -- were given to me by my mother-in-law.

That's the end of my little tour!  I hope you enjoyed it:)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Angel Biscuits

This is my great-aunt Mabel's recipe for angel biscuits.  It is a handy recipe because it makes a lot and they can be made -- all except the baking -- the day before. Usually biscuits are not made with yeast; since these are, they are a little lighter -- maybe that's why they have the name "angel biscuit."  (A reminder to any non-US readers:  biscuits in America are more like a crumbly bread, not dessert.)

Angel Biscuits

5 cups unsifted plain flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening
2 cups buttermilk
1 package (or 1 Tablespoon) dry yeast
2 Tablespoons warm water
melted butter

Sift the dry ingredients together.  Cut in shortening.  Dissolve yeast in warm water and add with buttermilk to dry ingredients.  Mix well.  Turn out on slightly floured board and roll to 1/4 inch thickness.  Cut biscuits out (I used a 2 inch diameter cutter), dip in melted butter and fold to pocketbook rolls (this just means fold almost, but not quite, in half).  Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes (watch them, mine got done a little sooner than that).

They can be made, put on the baking sheets, and refrigerated a day ahead.  Let stand at least two hours at room temperature before baking.  If you use a large cutter, you will get about 36 biscuits.  With my 2-inch cutter, I got quite a few more, so it's enough for a crowd.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter, Present and Past

Easter at our house was rather quiet this year.  A virus had been making its rounds during the week, so our eggs didn't get colored until LATE Saturday night.  By that time some of the eggs had already been eaten by impatient boys, and I had to boil a few more to have enough to color.  We did make a serendipitous discovery:  using crayons on still-warm eggs causes the wax to melt on, giving a more painterly effect (see the little bird below).  The kids used crayons first and then dipped the eggs in the dye.

Partly thanks to all the inspiration among my blog friends, I did get together a few Easter decorations:  a basket holding our collection of plastic eggs, the basket of real eggs, and an Easter lily -- I have never bought one before, but the scent is wonderful!  The lemon pound cake is for dessert.

And I got two little bunnies for centerpieces:

If you look closely, you can see them on the table:

All of us but one went to church, and then came home.  I had planned a good meal, which is quite a feat for me.  I have a very hard time figuring out how to have a meal ready for when you get home from church when you are not home to fix it.  As it was, it took all of my Saturday.  But we had ham, a jello salad (that we call pink stuff :), peas, mashed potatoes, broccoli salad, and angel biscuits (below).  In the picture you can just see a piece of my apron.

Here is another shot:

This is my wonderful apron I won from Mrs. Thomasina Tittlemouse.  The apron made its Easter debut Sunday!

My efforts -- as probably is true for many of you -- towards making an Easter feast were motivated by the desire to form happy memories for my children, and even for my husband and myself.  The resurrection is something to celebrate!  But sometimes I feel like I'm at a disadvantage because we live so far away from family, so there is no one to get together with (or to share the cooking with).  (And the virus prevented us from inviting anyone over this year anyway). Very different from my own childhood, when no relative was more than thirty minutes away.

My sister and I always had coordinating Easter dresses made by my mom, who was already an excellent seamstress even though she was only in her twenties.  We lived up the street from our church, so we would walk to church in our finery.

After the service our family would drive the thirty minutes to my mom's parents for an Easter lunch.  They lived out in the country on a small farm in a small house.  I don't have memories of sitting around a fancily-laid table.  There were so many of us we could barely fit in the house.  My mom was one of five, plus my great-aunt Mabel would be there and other sundry relatives and friends, bringing food.  I can remember as a kid one time having to eat while sitting on top of the washing machine there was such a crowd.

Because there were so many people we had to eat in shifts, and usually the women ate last.  I didn't necessarily think that was fair since they had done all the cooking, but now I understand it.  When everything is so chaotic -- even though it's a happy chaos -- it is much more relaxing to wait til everyone else clears out and then eat in peace.  Under similar circumstances, that's what I do now.

And it's not like they were going to run out of food.  Thinking about my "mamaw" -- as a lot of people in the south call their grandmas -- has always helped me to know that being a great cook and a gracious hostess has nothing to do with having the latest and the greatest kitchen or cooking equipment or fancy house at all.  She had none of those things, yet you NEVER went to my mamaw's house that there wasn't something good to eat.

On Easter there would be ham, macaroni and cheese, deviled eggs, green beans, angel biscuits, jello salads, punch to drink, mashed potatoes, corn, some kind of cake, lots of stuff I can't even remember.  (You can see I've tried to incorporate some of it into our family:) My mamaw would have made a lot of it, but every other grownup woman would also have contributed.

In the center of the table would be a bowl filled with colored eggs.  And every grandchild would have an egg with their name on it.  The name was written in wax before the eggs were colored.  It was just a happy thing that we expected at my grandmother's on Easter.  But now that I'm an adult -- older even than my grandmother was when I was born -- I think about my grandmother coloring those eggs when there were no little children at her house, writing all those names she loved on the eggs, and it makes me happy and amazed at her, and also humbled.

After everyone had eaten, my uncles -- who were in their late teens or twenties at this time -- would take the eggs out into the yard and hide them.  For a long time there were only six grandchildren -- more came along later (some after I was grown) -- and we would go outside and find them, my mom helping my youngest brother.  It was great fun, so much different from the gigantic egg hunts I see today, which are less about finding a hidden egg than grabbing up as many as you can from thousands laying on the ground.

In Tennessee's milder climate it was no problem to use the real eggs.  We finally did get some plastic eggs for home use after we hid a real egg in the house and didn't find it until months later.  (Amazingly, it never did stink!).  My siblings and I loved to play this, and we would take turns hiding and finding eggs for weeks.  For my children, growing up in south Georgia, hiding real eggs outside would be crazy -- the fire ants would be on them before anyone could find them.  So they only hid plastic ones.

Anyway, those are some of my Easter memories.  My husband (who was the youngest grandchild) remembers his grandmother making him a bunny cake, in the shape of a bunny with coconut icing.  So he has a happy memory, too.

The true meaning of Easter is Jesus being raised from the dead.  Hallelujah!  That is what I really want my children to internalize from Easter.  At the same time, surrounding these truths with little things -- like good food, flowers, traditions -- that make children (even older children) feel loved and secure......hopefully those things will reinforce the true meaning and not distract from it.  I love the quote from C.S. Lewis:
"Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen!"


Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Should-Have-Been-Simple Skirt

One of the things I am interested in doing is making more clothes.  However, the idea of sewing clothes is a lot more intimidating to me than making craft items.  There just are so many more variables.  And I'm very much an overthinker (which is quite in contrast to my own mother, who can think up an idea and have it executed in an hour).  But I'm trying to have the attitude of Mrs. Frizzell from The Magic Schoolbus -- "Go ahead!  Make mistakes!  Get messy!"

So......or should I say "sew....."?  A while back I bought some fabric to make a skirt for my daughter, who is thin and tall.  I used a skirt she already wore as a general pattern, but I added two inches to the length, just to be on the safe size.  I roughly followed the directions in Sew What! Skirts, although I have to say I haven't had great luck with that book, somehow it has not been as straightforward as I thought.

I sewed the skirt up, even adding a lining, and putting in an invisible zipper (for that I used the directions on Kay Whitt's blog here).  It turned out not perfect, but certainly wearable EXCEPT.....instead of having extra length, it came out way too short:(

This was particularly galling to me since I purposefully had cut the skirt long (I thought).  What should have been a quick job now turned into more complicated calculations.  There was nothing for it but to cut a new piece and add it to the bottom.  I tried to think it all through, but my powers of thinking failed me, and the new piece was still a little short!

Frustrated, but determined to persevere,  I added hem tape to the bottom of the piece and then machine-hemmed the skirt.
Lastly, I covered over the extra seam with grosgrain ribbon, which involved a trip to the store and some tedious edge-stitching (I never sew without having an occasion to be reminded that "the seam ripper is my friend" -- my personal sewing mantra).  At this point I just wanted to be done, hence the very amateurish job on the ribbon.
Now the skirt is a little too LONG!  Too late for any more changes, though.  It will have to do.  And really, this is more of a winter skirt.  It would have been better if I had made it back in the fall.  Sigh.  I am so often a season behind.  Nevertheless, I think it turned out okay and I can check it off my list.

Next up is an Easter a spring dress for me.  I hope I get it done before next winter.........

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Birthday Dinner

At our house when it is your birthday you get to choose what kind of cake to have and what kind of dinner you want.  My oldest usually chooses something shrimpy for dinner and cheesecake for dessert, my daughter is adventurous with the cake but not with the dinner, I always choose exactly the same birthday cake, my husband chooses tiramisu, son number two might choose cheesecake and steak, son number three might choose chocolate cake and pizza.  

March marked the eleventh birthday of my youngest son, and he made his choices: Ice Cream Cake for dessert and Sausage and Apples for dinner.  I consider sausage and apples a rather humble meal and was a little surprised at his choice, but.... at least neither was difficult to make.  

The Ice Cream Cake is rather easy, the only ingredients are an Angel Food Cake Mix, some ice cream, and some whipped topping.  I got this idea from a 2006 Southern Living cookbook.  It's not exactly a recipe, more like a method.  Basically, I add 1/4 c. cocoa powder to the cake mix, mix as directed on the box, spread the batter on two jelly roll pans lined with parchment paper, and bake at 325 degrees F for 15 to 20 min.  Take the cakes out, cool for 10 min., then flip them onto aluminum foil which has been heavily sprinkled with powdered sugar, peel off the parchment paper, cover with a towel, and roll up from the long side. Seal the foil, stick in the freezer for 30 minutes.  Remove from freezer, unroll and remove the towel, and spread (very softened) ice cream -- whatever flavor you choose -- across the cake, then reroll the cake, reseal the foil, and put it back in the freezer.  Before serving, I get the cakes out (it makes two rolled cakes) and frost them with whipped cream.  (I have also used regular cake frosting -- that's another area you can change up).  One of these cakes had mint ice cream and one had chocolate/vanilla, so I used sprinkles to tell them apart.

A cross-sectional view after everyone was served:

There are endless variations you could make for this.  And they can be made ahead.  I once made six of these for a large party.  I also like that it looks fancy but is very inexpensive.


The original recipe for sausage and apples was given to me by a lady at a church brunch from 20 years ago.  I've adapted it a little over the years.  I thought I'd show you how to make it.

First, get your sausage.  I use turkey sausage, but any kind you like is find.  For most families, one sausage is probably enough.  I used three because I had at least ten people to feed that night.  Put them in the pan (love my electric skillet for this) with a little water and simmer for ten minutes or so, turning them halfway.  If your water gets too low, add some more -- you don't want your pan to run dry.  Since I usually put the lid on, I have to peek every once in a while and check on the water.

While the sausages are cooking along, get your apples.  Again, it's not that important what kind, but you need 6 to 9 apples.  I would have liked to have more than six for this particular meal, but that's what I had, so that's what I used.

Wash them, quarter them, cut the core out, peel a strip off the back of the quarters, then slice them and put them in a bowl.  (Some people may prefer them peeled all the way, some may want to leave the peels on -- I compromise and peel them a little bit :).
Then you need to put something on the apple slices to keep them from turning brown.  I usually just pour orange juice on them.

Then assemble your other ingredients:  butter, brown sugar, blackstrap molasses, and cinnamon.

When the sausages are done, remove them from the pan --

and put the apples in.  I just poured all my apples and orange juice in, but I got a little too much liquid, so maybe don't pour ALL the orange juice in.  Then I add my other ingredients.  I don't really measure, but roughly a tablespoon each of butter, brown sugar and molasses, and then a generous sprinkling of cinnamon.  Cook the apples until they are nice and soft (maybe 10 minutes).
While the apples are cooking, slice your sausage up into bite sizes.  You can cut these up in regular slices, I have been making this since my kids were little and so have gotten into the habit of cutting the sausage up smaller.

When the apples are done, throw the sausage back into the pan and warm everything up.  In this particular batch, the ratio of sausage to apples is a little lopsided ;)
I serve this with slices of cheddar cheese and warm dark bread (like pumpernickel) with butter and honey on it.  It reminds me of a peasant meal and is definitely in the category of comfort food.  Maybe that's why my son chose it.

Here's a picture of the birthday boy -- love that smile!