Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year's Resolutions I'm Sure To Keep

What is it with all those New Year Resolutions where you give up the bad stuff like overeating and begin new stuff, like the agony of daily exercise? What sane person sets herself up for defeat? We all know that the majority of us never keep a single resolution, no matter how determined we are when we make them. This year, I'm changing things around by setting myself up for success. I'm making my own Rules For Resolutions. I know I'll be victorious too. I bet you that I won't fall down on any of them. Here is my personal list:

1.  Eat more chocolate.

2.  Drink only $30 a pound real Kona coffee.

3.  Go to the hairdresser twice a week.

4.  Buy all my clothes at the most expensive department store in town.

5.  Hire a personal chef.

6.  Go on a cruise at least four times a year.

7.  Have fresh flowers delivered every day.

8.  Buy a stretch limo and hire a chauffeur so I can ride around in style.

9.  Purchase one of those beds that goes up and down so I don't have to pile on the pillows to read or watch T.V.

10. Eat more chocolate.

Oops, I already said that. But it just goes to show how important it is to me. So if you should happen to see a white stretch cruising the highways and byways with a gray-haired, well coiffed, beautifully dressed, chocolate eating and coffee drinking old lady sitting in the back with flowers in her hair, that would be me.

Hey, it could happen.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Secret Family Recipe Just For You

My parents loved to entertain. Until I was in the sixth grade, I thought being surrounded by a lot of people all the time was normal family life. How surprised I was to discover that my family was an exception. How I figured that out isn't important. The thing was, I realized that our home was like an open house nearly all the time.

Holidays always found extra people around our dinner table. Sometimes they were people I knew to be my folks friends; other times they were strangers known only to mom and dad. Many a time they were invited to stay overnight. That was the only part I hated. Not because they stayed, but because my middle sister and I were sent up to the attic to sleep because the visitors always got our beds. One day I questioned mom as to why she didn't send the visitors to the attic. I was informed that the dark attic with it's assorted junk and one double bed, wasn't fit for visitors. It was then that I discerned how much she thought of my middle sister and me. We were attic kids. How mortifying.

All told, I loved the parties. Mom loved to entertain and I have to say that she was probably the best home cook I ever knew. She taught all three of us girls well. The fact that only the youngest sister enjoyed cooking was not mom's fault. At least we all know how to set a grand table. During Christmas, there were certain recipes mom fixed that were "once a year" goodies. And while I had many favorites among the sweets, my favorite savory was her wonderful cheese ball rolled in minced nuts and parsley. To this day I've never tasted a cheese ball anywhere near as good. I'm not saying there isn't one out there someplace, I'm just saying I haven't found it.

As far back as I can remember, the cheese ball recipe was a secret. The story goes that the one who gave the recipe to mom insisted that she share it with nobody. I don't know the story behind that. What I do know is that over the years, I heard so many women ask for that recipe, only to be told it wasn't to be given out. The only reason I have it is because after I was married, I went over to mom's and copied a bunch of her best recipe cards. The cheese ball was one of them.

Mom's been gone ten years now. I'm sure whoever gave her the recipe is gone too. Without one iota of guilt, I'm passing it on to you. I figure anyone who reads a blog that rambles as much as mine does, deserves a nice Christmas present. So this is for putting up with all my rememberings. My stories. My thoughts. My take on any given subject. I pray you enjoy eating the cheese ball as much as I love having you as my loyal followers. Merry Christmas and God Bless You.


9 oz. cream cheese
1 lb. Old English Cheese (a sharp to extra sharp Cheddar), shredded
1 lb. Blue Cheese, crumbled
1 c. parsley, finely minced
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
1 tsp. grated onion

Let the cheese stand until it comes to room temperature. There should be NO coldness left at all. Put the cheese in the mixing bowl of your stand mixer. You can use a hand mixer, but it will take longer to combine the cheeses.

When all the cheese is blended, mix in half of the nuts and half of the parsley. Form into a ball, roll in the remaining nuts and parsley. Wrap in aluminum foil or plastic wrap.Set in the refrigerator to harden. This cheese ball gets better the longer it sets. Mom always made it at least three days before the party.

To serve, allow the ball to come to room temperature. Surround with assorted crackers.

Decide whether you will pass the recipe on or not. Your choice. As simple as the ingredients are, I have yet to taste another cheese offering as good as this one.

P.S. DO NOT try to make this low calorie. Use the ingredients called for. Anything low calorie will disappoint you and you'll think I handed off a bad recipe. Make it once a year and enjoy every morsel. Trust me on this. I tried making it more figure friendly. It tasted terrible.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My Best Christmas Ever

I think every kid loves Christmas. I was no different. But while I was growing up I knew no one who was afraid of Santa Claus. No one, that is, but me.

There was no good reason that I could ever figure out then, and to this day I still don't know why he scared me. However, the man in the bright red suit, with that long, white beard, jingled when he walked. That wasn't normal. Even in my childish mind, I knew no one was supposed to jingle as they crunched along the snowy street.

I don't remember at what period in my childhood that I first became aware that Santa existed. I do remember that when I was nine I figured out it was a physical impossibility for one man to stop at every house in the world in a single night. I told mom of my findings and all she did was smile and ask me, "Are you sure about that?" I was a kid. But I got good grades in school. I was sure.

During all those "believing" years I waited in our town square, along with every other kid in our small Minnesota town and its outreaching farmlands, itching for Santa to show up. He was in town one day a year. For a few hours. After that we never saw him again till the following Christmas. So I suspect you're asking yourself why, if I was afraid of him, did I head out to to see the jingly man. The answer is simple. Candy. The forbidden treat mom almost never allowed in the house because it would either rot our teeth or give us diabetes.

But that one day a year, when Santa arrived with a big red sack on his back, every kid for miles around waited for just one thing. No, it wasn't to sit on his lap and say what we wanted for Christmas. It wasn't to have our photo taken with him. None of those things existed in our little town. The reason we followed him from the town square and all around the shopping area was for just one thing. His bag was stuffed with small brown bags filled with Christmas candy. Enough for every kid around.  And for that I braved the cold, the snow, and the jingly man.

Santa aside, I loved everything about the holiday. I loved the Christmas lights strung across main street, diffused into glowing circles by falling snow. Even blizzards wove their magic, keeping us inside, watching the world creep along from our upstairs windows and all the while, tracing with our fingers the etchings left by Jack Frost's midnight visit and always wishing the wonderful works would last the day through.

Long, pointy icicles decorated our roof; snow nearly obliterated the landscape; the house smelled of pine and Gene Autry sang "Here Comes Santa Claus" on our scratchy old record player. My sisters and I wrapped our gifts for mom and dad and hid them where we thought no one would find them. We couldn't buy much. But we always had something. Sometimes a hand print made at school or an ornament for the tree or a potholder woven of strips of old yarn.

We crafted red and green chains out of construction paper and strung popcorn and cranberries on sewing thread, then draped the resultant garlands along the fragrant branches. Our tree shimmered with light, sparkly ornaments, home made goodies, and badly hung tinsel.

We helped  mom make cookies, popcorn balls, fudge, peanut brittle, and watched in amazement as she poured brandy over an entire fruitcake--which we were never allowed to eat. My sisters and I fought over who's turn it was to use the nutcracker and who got to eat the last Swedish rosette and exactly how many pieces of Keekla each one of us had eaten and who should get the last delicate pastry.

The week before Christmas was the busiest of all. My sisters and I were in the church girl's choir and as such, were always part of the Christmas program. Add to that the caroling in our church neighborhood and tap dancing at the local Lion and VFW Clubs' Christmas parties, it was a week only the young could endure with so much enthusiasm.

In addition to that, my sisters and I found time to search the house, snooping through closets, under beds, and even the scary attic, just to see what surprises we might unearth. We never found any of our presents. To this day I have no idea where mom hid them.

When I was eight, all I wanted under the tree was a furry jacket and stadium boots, a sort of cross between today's Ugg's and snow boots. I yearned for nothing else. When mom requested a list, those two things were right at the top, followed by some Nancy Drew books and maybe new crayons and drawing paper.

If my feet were
visible, you'd see
my new boots too.
 It was that Christmas I recall the most clearly. I woke while it was still dark and tip toed into the living room and there they were, under the tree, and not even wrapped. My stadium boots and my furry jacket. I was in heaven. I tried them on and then took them back to bed with me. That's where mom and dad found me in the morning. Still wearing my wonderful presents. It was my best Christmas ever.

In a time when the world
is in chaos, may you find
the abiding peace and
joy that the birth of our
Savior promises.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Tale Of A Broken Bedsheet

Minnesota is cold in the winter. Any state that lies just south of the Canadian border is bound to have sub-zero temperatures for about four months of each year. That's how it was the winter I was nine.  That was the year I learned a valuable lesson concerning living in freezing temps. I learned it by being utterly disobedient. I can tell the tale now because mom is gone on to her reward. If she was still with us, she would likely be sending me on to my reward. I not only flagrantly disobeyed her, I did it with malice and forethought. Thankfully, she never found out.

When I was growing up in the 1940s, there were no clothes dryers as we have now. Mom trekked all our laundry down two flights of stairs into the dreaded basement. You've heard me talk of being sent down there to retrieve jars of summer-canned fruits and vegetables for our winter table, and while all three of us girls despised going down into its dark and dank reaches, it was I who hated it the most. Too much imagination I would suspect. And too many Nancy Drew mysteries under my belt. Mom just laughed at us and said we were scaredy cats. I never let her know she was right.

Mom had the latest thing in a clothes washer. No more scrubbing on a washboard. Down there in the basement stood an odd sort of contraption with a wringer on it. That wringer could squeeze every drop of water out of the clothes that went through it. I was leary of it and never got too close. I knew if my fingers got caught in that thing, I'd never see them again. But I digress. Once mom had washed the clothes, she lugged them back up two flights of stairs and out onto the back porch where she hung them on the clotheslines to dry.

In the summer, spring, and autumn, it was a no brainer. I could easily figure out how the laundry would dry with weather still so fine. But in winter, when mom had to put on a coat, scarf, and rubber boots to hang the clothes, I often quipped that it seemed a useless endeavor. How could laundry dry in freezing temps, I asked her. She always said the same thing. "It will freeze, but it will dry. It was her mantra and I have lost count of how many times she always followed that up with a stern command. "If you go onto the porch for any reason, DO NOT bend the clothes or you'll break them."

I guess she thought I was stupid. I'd bent, twisted, and rolled a lot of clothes in my short life span and nothing had ever broken. And while I knew mom wasn't given to telling stories, I did think she was mistaken about frozen fabric. I eventually conjured up a whole scenario concerning why she would think such a thing and finally put it back on my grandpa, mom's dad, who loved to tease. I finally decided that it was Pa, which is what we girls called him, who had convinced my mom that frozen fabric was breakable.

Now the thing was, I was just dying to do my own experiment. I so wanted to prove to mom that she'd been hoodwinked. The problem was, the kitchen was open to the dining room and the dining room was open to the door onto the porch and worse yet, there was a window she could see through, all the way from the kitchen. So she'd know if I was out there in the dead of winter, purposely bending the laundry to prove my case. "Ahh, hahh,"  I wanted to say to her, "I bent the clothes and they are just fine."  But I never got the chance. Mom was always in the kitchen cooking or baking or digging out or putting away. I dare not take the chance that she'd see me. Punishment in our house consisted of pain across the backside.

The year I was nine I got my chance to investigate. The snow was high and new fallen, the wind was cold and the day overcast. Surely another snow storm was on the way. As luck would have it, mom decided to head out to the grocery store, just in case we got snowed in for a few days. I saw my chance. Not knowing how soon she'd return, I headed for the back door onto the porch, no jacket, no scarf, no head covering, no boots. Just me in my indoor clothes. Curiosity had gotten the best of me. I just had to know if frozen clothes could break.

It was sheet day. With five of us in the family, and only three clothes lines, mom divided the laundry into increments. That day it was bedding. There they were, a whole gaggle of muslin sheets, hanging on the line like frozen ghosts. And even though there was a cold wind, the sheets didn't move. I reached out and touched one. Yep, it was frozen alright. Stiff as cardboard.

I gave my upcoming experiment considerable thought. I should have done it before braving the horrendous cold in indoor clothes, but my mind hadn't matured enough to have thought through the whole endeavor in great detail. I considered reaching out and bending a whole big chunk of a sheet back onto itself. Then I stopped. What if mom was right and it did break. I'd have to confess because the evidence of tampering would be obvious and there would be no one to blame but one of us kids.

The clothespins we had in those days were the simple wooden ones that rather looked like they had a head and two legs. The spring-type clothespins were off in the future. I carefully pried a clothespin off of the closest sheet, then I took the corner of that sheet and bent it down, rather like turning down the corner of a page in a book so as to mark the place where you left off.

SNAP. I tell you no lie. I heard the threads break. I looked at the sheet and could readily see where the threads were destroyed and I knew that once the sheet defrosted, the corner would likely fall off. I hurriedly put the sheet back on the line and replaced the clothes pin. I was so glad I'd used the corner where the pin was to do my experiment because I was pretty sure mom would think she had done the damage when she took the clothes off the line.

Mom changed the sheets on our twin beds every week. Each time I discovered clean sheets on my bed, I'd pull up the corners to see if  I had a sheet with a missing corner. I never found any. In my haste to get the experiment over with before mom returned from the store that day, I may have bent the corner of a double bed sheet. If that was the case, the evidence  would be on mom and dad's bed. I never went into their room to check for missing corners. Their bedroom was a forbidden place. How would I ever explain my presence there if I got caught, let alone the fact that the sheet corners had all been pulled up.

Those were the days of all cotton. The sheets were cotton as were the towels, the underwear, the socks, and all the dresses--unless you were a grown up. Mom had some pretty dresses she wore when they went dancing. They went somewhere to get clean. I wasn't exactly sure where, but they never got drug down to the basement or hung on the clotheslines. Do I know if clothes made of today's man-made fabrics will break if frozen? No, I don't. I can't test it out either, because ever since I was sixteen, I've lived at sea level in southern California. It doesn't freeze here. I mention this just in case you don't know.

So now that I'm past seventy, I can freely write of my disobedience. The fear of being caught disappeared long ago. But one thing I can vouch for is that when my own kids did something "just to prove a theory", I was more lenient than I might have been had it not been for breaking that sheet so long ago. So just to set the record straight, I can say my experiment proved with great accuracy that frozen fabric can break. I can also attest to the fact that you can hear frozen threads snap. What I cannot say is whether or not the broken fabric falls apart at the damaged spot once it comes to room temperature. I never wanted to ask mom if that had happened. I was curious child. Not a stupid one.

My love to all of you this wonderful season from the little old lady who's decided to come clean.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Christmas Cookie Exchange Fiasco

I'm sure cookie exchanges have been around since time began. Well, maybe not quite that long, but the idea had to come from somewhere, so I've always assumed it was a tradition passed down through history and ended up in our country via the Pilgrims. Who's to say it didn't happen like that?

I vaguely recall my mom making batch after batch of Christmas cookies that we three girls were not allowed to eat. Actually, I think the word "spanking" might have been involved should any come up missing. Most of the time, there was little temptation. Mom made cookies all the time. Just not such pretty ones. But when she brought out the big metal iron with the snowflake on a long steel handle, we knew Swedish rosettes were in the making.

One time a year those crisp, dainty cookies appeared at our house and that was at Christmas. Mom dipped the metal snowflake in the golden batter, then into the hot oil of a frying pan and once the snowflake fell off of the iron, it floated around till it turned a lovely gold. Mom set the delicate cookie on old dish clothes to drain (paper towels were far in the future) and when they were still warm, she sifted powdered sugar over them.

Mom always made a few extra for us, but most of them were eaten by the women at our church who belonged to the Ladies Aid. I remember it well. Off she went with boxes of beautiful cookies and in a few hours, she came home with boxes of different cookies, none of which looked as good as those mom had taken away from our drooling mouths. Young as I was, I never saw the fairness in the trade. Mom always took her best offerings. No one was ever able to convince me that the others had done the same.

So it was that I never participated in a cookie exchange once I was married and had a family. Why would I take my cookies made with fresh eggs and real butter and every premium ingredient I could afford and trade them for cookies the size of small rocks and hard as bullets even if they were drizzled with a powdered sugar glaze and sprinkled with red crystals? Why exchange my Austrian thumbprint cookies rolled in chopped pecans and filled with raspberry jam for a peanut butter cookie that had been made last week then freshly dusted with powdered sugar to improve its appearance?

I was the only hold out I knew. I gracefully refused every cookie exchange I was invited to for years on end. But then it happened. The ladies group at my church decided to hold a cookie exchange. We were only about thirty strong, and since I knew each of them well and knew them all to be great cooks, I decided to attend.

I arrived just a bit late and to my amazement, tables lined two of the walls in our meeting room and laid out in glorious fashion, was the lovliest assortment of Christmas cookies I'd ever seen. They were all sizes and all colors and nearly every one was decorated with sprinkles or coconut or silver dragees or colored sugar crystals. I was so glad I'd come. I'd exchange my three dozen cookies for an assortment of everything from Italian nut balls to gingerbread men.

The cookies sat showcased while we had our business meeting. Then we had our usual devotional and prayer time. Then the ladies who worked on quilts went to their part of the room and those who knitted went to another section, and those who stuffed fabric dolls adjourned to their place in the room. We were all busy doing our tasks, for the things we made were put on the shelves of a small adjoining room where visiting missionaries could go and freely pick up anything they needed.

The quilt I was helping with was nearly finished and I was anxious to get it off the frame so the woman who did the edging could take the quilt home and complete it. Quilts were generally the first things to go once a missionary came to town and I knew there were none left in the supply room. Thus it was that after our leader announced it was time for the cookie exchange, that I stayed behind to finish up the part I had been working on.

I was alone at the quilt frame. A couple of friends reminded me that it was time for the exchange. I thanked them and continued working. I wasn't worried. I'd brought 36 cookies and I'd go home with the 36 that were left. I didn't particularly care which ones they were. No more than ten minutes had passed before I made my way over to the tables that had once been laden with wonderful cookies. What I saw sent my heart plummeting. To all intents, the cookies were gone.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. Church ladies can't count. At least those ladies couldn't. A bite here to see if the cookie was good, a bite there for the same reason, then load up with the whole ones. What was left to me were broken bits and pieces, crumbs of gingerbread men, a scattering of displaced sprinkles, and one or two whole cookies made of peanut butter and freshly dusted with powdered sugar to make them look new.

I brought my sad assortment home and showed them to Jim. He asked had I eaten most of them while driving home. I explained that this is what I was left with because I'd been about ten minutes late to the exchange, even though it had taken place in the same room where I was finishing up quilting the area I'd been working on and the ladies knew I hadn't taken any cookies because they kept hollaring at me to get over there.

Jim seldom reacted to anything in a negative manner, but that day his eyes grew big as he looked at me and said, "You took all those pretty cookies you made to the exchange and traded them for this? Wouldn't it have been better just to let us eat the ones you made instead of trading them off for crumbs?" The kids were more vocal. Almost scolding me for giving away their favorite cookies and getting next to nothing in return.

I nodded in agreement. I'd been duped, I told them. Lulled into a false sense of security. I'd seen it happen with mom's cookies at the Ladies Aid and now it had happened to me. Had I given those lovely cookies to the poor, I'd have been glad. Had I handed them to someone who was homeless, I would have been filled with joy. Instead, I was downhearted. Feeling betrayed by my pals. Yet one principle of life had become clear in my mind that day. I've never forgotten the lesson learned. It is drilled into my being. When it's time for cookies, get at the beginning of the line. Don't lag behind to do any good deed.

Because those who snooze, lose.

Blessings Always,


Wishing you a crunchy, chocolate-filled, sugar dusted, coconut covered Christmas.