Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Scheduling Growing Families and Holiday Meals

I have been baking today. I made dinner rolls and two King Cakes. Granddaughter Lala was here and accused me of torturing her. All that food -- and we can't eat it until SATURDAY. Oh, Grandma!!

This year my children and I hit the wall every family meets eventually. I couldn't schedule Thanksgiving or Christmas celebrations at my house because the kids were busy doing their own things at their houses. So at Thanksgiving, I went with my beau, Leon, to his sister's for the holiday. Jen, Steve and Lala had a meal at their house. Joe and Lisa and Aunt Roseanna did something else at their places.

I thought we might be able to manage a Christmas meal, but the same problems came up. So, I stole a page from Leon's family. I am not trying to have a family holiday meal at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I'm celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas and inviting everyone for an Epiphany Meal (that's Kings Day or 12th Night, depending on how you count it.)

This is the second time I've made a King Cake (which is really a sweet bread with a cinnamon/raisin/nut filling.)  I made one for Mardi Gras one year when I worked at Grand Prairie Memorial Library. The recipe makes 2 cakes, so I took one to work. Everyone had fun with that, especially Mel, who was from New Orleans.  That was when I learned King Cakes were originally made for Epiphany in honor of the Three Kings coming to visit the Baby Jesus. What would be better then, than to make a King Cake for this Epiphany Celebration?

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. I'm going to Topeka to see my friend Marsha. It's her birthday. When we were kids, we always spent her birthday together. We have tried to get together several times since I returned to Kansas, but tomorrow we are going to make it! I will present her with a newly printed copy of my cookbook and wish her Happy Birthday and Joyous New Year.

And Thursday I'll be back to cooking for our dinner on Saturday. Hm... wonder what pies go well with King Cake?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Mea Culpa

I haven't blogged much in the past year. There are photos waiting in a folder. Stories yet to tell. Good intentions say I'll still write those blogs and pre-date them so they show up in the right spots. Hey, it's winter now? That's a good time to do inside jobs, right?

Well, 2014 was a busy year. In January I had foot surgery. That sat me back for a goodly time. During the 6-8 weeks of recovery time, I did a lot of knitting and watching TV. YEA! An excuse to knit. The main thing I worked on was the Lion Brand Flattering Jacket. I got everything but the sleeves done while I was not walking. In November I finished it. The sweater is made from a llama/wool blend and is quite warm. I love it.

By the time I was walking again, it was time to start the seeds for my garden. I never have success growing my plants from seeds. I use a grow light. I use good soil. I use fresh seeds. They don't grow. Viola! A nursery man I was complaining to this summer told me what I was doing wrong. He said it didn't matter how early I planted my seeds. If the soil isn't warm, the seeds won't grow. My seed starts are kept in the sunniest, however, the coolest room of the house. It sounds like I need to find one of those mats that folks put in terrariums for lizards -- something to keep the floor warm (or at least an electric heating pad). I could put that under the trays of seedlings. I'll search my seed catalogs and see what they offer. Guerney's Seed and Nursery Co., formerly of Yankton, S.D., now in Greendale, Indiana, always has neat goodies. It just so happens my new Guerney's catalog came in last week... Dream time!!

Yard Long Beans growing on a trellis
Perhaps I'll find something interesting. Otherwise, I will not even try seedlings in 2015.  I'll just haunt all my favorite nurseries. There are two in Topeka, One south of town, one in Burlington and one in LeRoy. I love nurseries. There is a lot of instant gratification in bringing home plants 3", 6" or taller and putting them right in the ground where I want them. No worrying with watering and waiting. No wondering if they will come up and survive. They are right there! I can see them. I can plan around them. Unfortunately, I'm limited to the varieties that the nurseries stock. Seeds can come from anywhere. You can have any kind of seed that will grow in your climate if you start your own. (Sigh) Stick within your capabilities, Iris.

First Yard Long Beans picked
The garden did get in. As usual, I tried some things I hadn't grown before. My best experiment was Yard Long Beans. My 4'x12" raised bed grew enough beans for me to put up  the 75 1/2-pints I wanted for the year. If I were feeding more than one person, I could probably plant the plot more densely and get 75 full pints from that space. I will definitely grow these beans next year.

This was not a good year for tomatoes. I don't know if it was the new bed where I planted them, or if there was something else wrong. I had a terrible time with blossom end rot, particularly on the paste tomatoes. Nearly all of them had to be discarded. The beefsteak tomatoes fared the best. I canned and juiced all I wanted, but supplemented a lot with tomatoes from Pome on the Range in Homewood, Ks. I hear calcium helps prevent blossom end rot. Next time I plant tomatoes, I'll be certain to put ground up egg shells in each hole at the time of planting. I will also research the problem this winter to see what else I can do to prevent it next year.

Root crops don't grow well here. My onions are a bit bigger than pearl onions. The potatoes and sweet potatoes are hardly big enough to peel. I don't think I will mess with potatoes next year. My soil has a large clay content. I need more humus and what? sand?  Wouldn't that turn clay to concrete? Need more research. I truly would like to grow big onions and healthy carrots. Forget about potatoes. Give me carrots!!

It is now December. The New Year will be here before the week is out. It's time to knit, study seed catalogs, and plan for next year.  The Wheel of the Year turns even when we aren't ready. We might as well keep jogging and stay with it. It's certain I'm 66 and ready to slow down in some areas, but I enjoy playing in the dirt too much to quit gardening. There is such a joy to see the plants come up, bloom and give their fruit or seeds. I find myself out there talking to them and telling them how pretty they are.

If you're going to be a Crazy Cat Lady and Eccentric Gardener, you might as well start with talking to to plants. :)  Wouldn't you tell these flowers how beautiful they are?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Mom's Home Cooking is DONE!

Cover sheet and dividers for cookbook

When Dad was on the road, Mom typed up the recipes she didn't want to be without and put them in a small ring binder. This was her personal cookbook. It went with her everywhere. When I left home, I typed my own copy of that book. Over the years I've added many recipes to it. After Mom died in 2000, I realized I wanted to share those recipes with my daughter Jen.

I had inherited Mom's and Grandma Hull's recipe files, cookbooks and the ever faithful ring binder. I didn't want those recipes to be lost. In the late 70s the Bethell cousins had shared recipes with me so I could preserve Grandma Bethell's recipes. Now it was time to do it for the Hull side. 

I purchased cookbook writing software and got to work. By 2004 the first pass was printed for Jen and I, but there were lots of recipes I hadn't even started to key into the computer. Fast forward to 2014. Three or four software programs, several computer OS upgrades and computer crashes later, I have finally come to a place where I can say "Stop." Not "Done." Just stop. All the files that had been keyed in over the last 14 years had to be rekeyed this year because Windows 7 doesn't talk to that older software. I started last fall and have worked at it steadily. There are close to 450 recipes in the book now, and over 200 pages. This is a good start.

It was good that no one was coming to my house today, Christmas Day. I was still formatting the chapters and printing them. By 5:30 when I went to Jen and Steve's for Christmas Dinner, the books were finished. I printed seven copies. A master copy, a working copy for me, and presents for Jen, Lala, Lisa, Marsha and Roseanna. I will be sharing the book with cousin, in-laws, and outlaws via email as a .pdf file. The ones that want a hard copy can print it for themselves.
Juicing tomatoes to make ketchup

I am so proud of this book! Most chapters have about 30 recipes in them, even the canning chapter! We come from a long line of country cooks and gardeners. Canning is a strong family tradition. You could see a set up like the one in the picture in any cousin's kitchen during tomato season. 

A days baking
Mom would be proud of the large section on bread making. She enjoyed making bread. Grandma Hull once told Mom when she was a new wife that Grandma was proud of her. Most modern cooks had given up bread making, but Mom hadn't. Grandma would be glad to know that Jen and I are bread makers, too. The line continues. I haven't tried every recipe in the bread section of the cookbook, but I can vouch for most of them!

Lammas Bread
There is one point. The cookbook isn't final. I anticipate adding more recipes every year. I've asked the people who got copies to share their favorite recipes with me in the coming year. I'll key them in and send out "update pages" at Christmas next year. The book will keep growing and truly reflect the favorite foods of our extended family.

   Mom's gift to the family was her genealogical research. My gift may be Mom's Home Cooking. Hm... I don't think that will be a bad thing.