pink peony

pink peony
old-fashioned peony

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Some crunchy goodness ...

Almost all of my favored recipes come from one of the many good cooks I know. I'm not likely to try something unless someone I know and trust has already tried it and pronounced it "good." Sometimes I break my own rule, as I did for Christmas Eve dinner. I made a cake -- a buttermilk cake with caramel frosting -- that I found online. The recommendation was glowing; this cake was "prize-winning," "always a hit at potlucks," "moist and rich" -- all the things you want your Christmas cake to be. But it wasn't moist and it wasn't a hit with my family. Although I'll concede the fault might have been mine (could I have cooked it just a teensy bit too long?), I won't make the cake again. No, I'll stick to my tried and true file for cakes I KNOW will succeed with my guests.

Many of those tried and true recipes, the ones I go back to again and again, came from one special lady. She is my ex-step-grandmother, I think, if she must have a label. Actually, she is just simply my Annabel. Annabel is the only Annabel I know, and she truly is one of a kind.

Annabel married my grandfather in about 1973, after they had both been divorced for many years, long enough for each of them to become rather set in their ways and independent. I loved Annabel immediately, for her hearty laughter and sense of humor, her zest for life, her I-can-do-it attitude, and for the many shared interests we had. She loves to garden and to cook, and she really, really loves antiques (especially antique dishes.) I guess it all ties to food, somehow. She makes the best homemade rolls and pies I've ever had and can make them with seemingly little effort. I've never mastered that.

I will always remember the first time Grandad and Annabel came to visit us after we moved our little family to a farm on the prairie in Mississippi in 1975. I had been with her a few times but this was the first time we spent considerable time together. Annabel is a natural storyteller and kept us up late each night they were there, telling tales in her inimitable way. One story had to do with when she was a very young woman and drove her family from Missouri to Florida in the World War II years to meet a family serviceman. Nothing was going to stop Annabel from making the trip, not even the fact that her old car's transmission was going out. When she got to Birmingham, the vintage vehicle wouldn't make it up the steep hills in that city, so Annabel simply turned around, put the car in reverse and BACKED THROUGH BIRMINGHAM, to the amazement of other drivers and her own family. We laughed until we cried! Actually, that story says something about the lady -- she is unstoppable.

After Annabel and Grandad had been married for many years, it became apparent that they were simply too much alike to get along. But although they couldn't live together, Annabel and I have remained friends, even though we don't see one another very often. She still sends me a new recipe occasionally and we talk on the phone and keep in touch. She is 91, still lives alone and drives herself everywhere, cooks holiday meals for her family, plays cards with friends and is still a keen antique collector/trader (she can tell you the cost of every piece she has ever bought, down to the penny, and if she sold it, what she made, in 70 years of doing this.) Our enduring friendship is proof that age, distance and time don't really matter when hearts align.

The many recipes Annabel has shared with me are ones I trust; they are ones I return to over and over again, even though they may not be trendy or new. One I just finished making is Annabel's homemade granola. As a confirmed cereal eater, I count on that cup of milk each morning for part of my calcium intake. And when I can pour it over a bowl of this crunchy, filling goodness, it makes for a good start to my day. There are also other ways to use granola -- with yogurt, sprinkled on ice cream, as a topping for hot oatmeal or simply by the handful for a great snack -- it's versatile and yummy any way you try it.

When I go through my recipe file, Annabel's handwriting greets me often. Her Date Pinwheels are one of our favorite Christmas cookies, and her Chess Pie is easy and wonderful. She sure knows her way around a cucumber -- Annabel's Ever Crisp and Refrigerator Pickles are the best! Next to my mother and grandmother, Annabel is surely the best cook I've ever had the privilege of knowing.

If you're thinking of eating healthy for the new year, maybe you'll want to start with breakfast. This granola is all natural and full of fiber, with just the right amount of sweetness. It is also great for gift-giving -- simply fill a vintage canning jar with granola, tie on a pretty ribbon and it's an appreciated gift. Here's how to make it:


8 cups regular rolled oats (not quick or instant)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup (or more) wheat germ or bran
8-oz. shredded coconut
1 cup salted sunflower seed kernels or salted cashews
1/2 cup oil
3/4 cup honey
2 tsp. vanilla
Raisins or chopped dates, if desired

Mix first five ingredients together in a large bowl. Stir in fruit, if desired. Bring oil, honey and vanilla to a boil and pour over dry ingredients and fruit. Stir and stir (I end up mixing with my hands) until well mixed.

Spread in two greased 10 x 15 baking pans and bake, uncovered, at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes, stirring with a spatula halfway through cooking. Don't let it get too brown. Remove from oven and cool, stirring a couple of times to break the granola up. Store in an airtight jar. 

I just filled my gallon vintage pickle jar -- wonder how long it will last?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

How I got the Christmas Spriit

We arrived at Sargent's Chapel before darkness
descended so I was able to get a photo of the building.

Last week we finally got away for a few hours to do something I've longed to do for years --

The communion table at Oak Ridge Baptist, which celebrated 150 years of existence in 2015.
 The décor in this lovely church was simple -- greens, burlap and candles.

we took the Country Christmas Church Tour.
The Advent Wreath table was skirted in burlap.

Featuring 22 churches, each one at least 100 years old and most much older, in two counties near the Mississippi River ...

In the fellowship hall, a nativity scene spilled out a basket.

this was WONDERFUL!
The people who greeted us at each church were the nicest folks. The man here
"grew up just two hills over" from Sargents Chapel and has attended here
all his life. Their daughter drives out from Cape Girardeau each Sunday to play the organ,
helping keep this little church alive.

In the early 1800s, 700 German families followed a spiritual leader to the New World and settled on farms in this place that now spans two counties.

After visiting three simple churches, walking into St. Maurus Catholic Church
was a jaw-dropping experience. It was simply gorgeous!

They came because of their faith, and the first thing they did was organize churches.

I loved the grouping of trees with lights behind the nativity scene.

Many of the churches on the tour are Lutheran churches that resulted from that emigration.

One of the ladies who greeted us at this church said she and her husband decided
to move back to the very small community just to be able to attend this church.
It was where she grew up and meant so much to her.

There are also Catholic, Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches that participate in the tour. They are all bastions of the faith history of the people of this area.

Most of the time, we drove 4-5 miles between churches.

Some of the decorations were lush ...

and some were the simplest style.

The tour began at 3 p.m. and ended at 9. We were able to visit 13 churches in that span of time.

Next year, we'll go back and see the ones we missed and perhaps go back and visit some of these again. It was simply MARVELOUS!

The greeters were so friendly and gladly related a bit of the history to us.

Each church also had a array of treats for visitors.
Three dulcimer players did a wonderful job in the balcony of one of the Lutheran churches.

I took hundreds of photos and still could not capture how lovely each church was, often lit only by candlelight.
This was the only church that no longer holds regular services. There are still
some special services throughout the year. This church as decorated only with cedar and

This MADE Christmas for me. Thank you to all the many volunteers who decorated and hosted this unique and special event.

Looking down on Hill of  Peace sanctuary. The pews are original to the 1858 structure, made of poplar boards; they cost $1.25 each when they were made.

We loved the big cedar tree and the nativity set up on an old cobbler's bench.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My favorite Christmas tradition

Vintage sled with greenery

In another life, I would have loved having a nursery and a degree in landscape design. There is nothing I love much more than making landscape beds, planting things and having my hands in good dirt. The trouble is that I have no knowledge, so I've made mostly mistakes through the years, as I've planted, dug up, transplanted, killed, thrown away and mostly mismanaged my own landscape. What I'd really focus on (in that other realm) is using native plants for landscaping -- such a smart and practical way to do it, and those things have a much better chance of survival! Maybe when we retire (Hahaha!) I'll do that -- go back to school and become a world-famous landscape architect. In the meantime, I'll content myself with practicing and playing in my own backyard.
Winter is my favorite time to be outside (except when it's 20 degrees with a stiff north wind.) The approach of Christmas always inspires me to head out and clip some pine, cedar and red berries to make a few decorations. I love the elegant, tasteful, everything-coordinated-and-matched décor I see in magazines and on sites like Pinterest, but my truly favorite kind of Christmas decorations are the homely ones made with simple trimmings from the woods nearby. My homemade decorations won't win any Yard-of-the-Month award, but they make me happy. I guess that is what matters, after all. This weekend we'll cut a cedar tree and put lights and ornaments on it and my decorating will be complete. Just like we've always done it ... keeping traditions is what makes Christmas special, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A simple tree skirt

I love finding things that other women have made, especially vintage items. This simple tree skirt was in a flea market, tucked in among other nondescript items. The price was very low, but when I pulled it out and really looked at it I could see it was all done by hand.
The lady who made this simply cut a large circle out of a single piece of material that feels like a lightweight cotton duck, cut a slit to the middle, finished the cut edges with twill tape, and cut a circle for the center to fit around the base of the Christmas tree. Then she embroidered her simple message and sweet shapes that might have been traced around cookie cutters. The work is not perfect nor is it of exceptional quality, but the overall effect is very sweet.
Around the star ...
and around the snowman, the embroidery is couched. Kind of interesting that she added this element to such a simple, primitive piece of embroidery.
I love that the little deer is smiling.  :)
The candle is cross-stitched.

A sweet little wreath with holly berries and bow ...

...and a purple bell with rust spot nearby for accent.  :)
The underside of the tree skirt reveals how neatly she worked her outline stitch on the sleigh and star.
And here is the mystery element in this primitive piece. It's an airplane, with some numbers and letters embroidered upon it. Any guesses as to what they mean?
This shows how she finished the hemmed edge with a wide blanket stitch.

This modest little tree skirt is nothing special, except perhaps to me and hopefully to its new owners. This little piece is going to a new home where some wonderful little children will love it. The shapes look as if Wyatt and Addie could have drawn them! I wish the woman who made this could somehow know that it is still being loved and used.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

An unexpected gift ...

Sometimes the best gifts are those you didn't even know to wish for. A couple of weeks ago I was given an unexpected gift ...

... this beautiful hand-knitted blue sweater. Oh, my! Can you imagine the pleasure this gift gives me? I am a knitter, and I know what went into the making of this lovely garment. But that is not all that makes it special. I remember when this sweater was made!

When I was a teenager, I was very keen on knitting. A very special lady, Bernie Sanders, with whom I went to church and who also happened to be a distant cousin (so there was another bond) cheered my efforts and helped me when I ran into trouble. I even remember her showing me how to make a bobble, sort of a little knitted pom-pom, the kind of decorative element that adorns this sweater. I distinctly remember when Bernie was knitting complicated and beautiful sweaters for several of her relatives, including this blue beauty which she made for her sister-in-law, Edith. I was much in awe of Bernie's knitting skills and admired her creations endlessly.

Fast forward almost 50 years and imagine my delight when Edith's daughter (who also happens to be Bernie's special niece) gave me this vintage jewel as an unexpected gift. Oh, my! I do hope that Bernie is smiling from above, knowing how much I love wearing this sweater. I love that I have something that was Bernie's, for she really was an inspiration to me. I love that my friend, Susan, could bear to part with it (since it was too large for her to wear.) And I love that Susan knew just how much I would treasure this sweater, which is why she could entrust me with it.

While she was here for Thanksgiving, I asked my granddaughter to take a picture of the sweater (I don't do selfies) and I told her the story of the sweater. Just telling it made me feel warm and loved, all over again. This sweater is like a hug from Bernie, a completely unexpected and beloved gift ... the very best kind.