Thursday, December 3, 2015

Baking Christmas Cookies

I used to be quite the cookie baker when I was a stay home mom. I thought it just wasn't Christmas with at least a dozen varieties and different icings and decoration. I made cookie trays and cookie boxes as gifts and had dozens and dozens to serve on Christmas and the weeks that followed. 

I do remember one particular Christmas after I returned to work. I had mixed up a refrigerator full of different cookie dough to chill and the demands of five children, school plays, gift exchanges and my work schedule and the piles of laundry had left me no time to bake. My plan was to get up at about 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve morning so I could bake what I could before leaving for work and icing what needed icing after I got home. Behind my back, my dear, loving husband had tossed the dough (I could have never done this - what about the cost of the ingredients?) and picked up a tray of very nicely decorated cookies at the bakery to serve on Christmas. This is (and reasons like this) are why we are going to be celebrating 40 years of marriage next fall.  He balances my crazy, obsessive nature with a teaspoon of common sense. 

Meanwhile - this year I am babysitting for three of my favorite young men, my youngest grandchildren. This morning while his partners in crime (aged 14 months and 18 months) were napping, one of my favorite elves helped me bake some cookies. 

Using the step stool to reach the counter, he carefully put the store bought, sliced cookies on the baking sheet. 
My elf added decorative paper doilies to the Styrofoam plates so that the boys could take cookies home to their families. 
And there is our plate of cookies. Nothing fancy, not really "homemade" - but made with love and help from my favorite 3 year old. And we may not be making our own cookie dough, but we are making our own memories! 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Advice From a Pie Lady

I am a member of a small country church that is known for it's homemade pies. We cater dinners for community organizations and every "lady" of the parish is always willing to donate a pie or two, or three or four!  We also have a festival in the summer which features a chicken bbq dinner with mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon, applesauce, roll, and - your choice of a slice of homemade pie. 

MOST IMPORTANT PIECE OF ADVICE: If you are baking pies in aluminum pans, you must place a baking sheet in the oven, THEN preheat the oven AND the baking sheet. Bake the pie on the baking sheet. This will prevent an under baked, soggy crust.  

Another word of advice. I have spent untold dollars on rings to prevent your crust edges from over browning. I have never found anything that works better than strips of foil. 

Here is a look at my contributions for this summer festival (2 cherry, 2 blueberry, the rest apple since we have apple trees). The American Flags are marking the flavor for the "Pie Ladies" in our "Pie Room" (which is an actual room constructed in our new kitchen for pies - walls of narrow shelves to separate all the pies by flavor to assure an equal distribution of flavors to the pie tables.) 
The Official Pie Ladies can eye a pie, decide how many slices will be "just right" and then easily cut into 6 or 8 perfect pieces. I have even seen them cut a pie into 7 or 9 slices, by eye. What a talent!

My talent is pie crusts. When I first joined the church, I experimented with homemade crust recipes; sometimes used store bought frozen pie crust or graham cracker crust or even those Jiffy pie crust mixes that made crusts one at a time. I eventually must have found a good recipe because one of my daycare mothers from the early 1980's rediscovered me on Facebook and shared that she still uses the pie crust recipe I gave her, which she has named after me! I have no clue what this recipe is and I am too embarrassed to ask her. 

A few years ago I was working at a local farm equipment store and we received our monthly copy of the Ohio Farm Bureau's magazine. I flipped to the recipe section and found my perfect and favorite pie crust recipe. 

Not only does this recipe provide a perfect, flaky crust, it makes a mass quantity all at once! And extras can be frozen. It is so easy to handle, too - kind of like play dough! 

To begin - you need the largest bowl in the world. I use a very old Tupperware "Fix and Mix" bowl from the 70's. It is a tight fit, but works. 
 An alternative would be a roaster liner. If you used a foil one, you could reuse it for Thanksgiving. 
Glad to see whatever was on my kitchen tv was rated "G"!

Meanwhile - here is the link to the recipe I am using:

And now back to Plenty of Pie Crust

In your very large bowl, mix a 5 lb bag of flour with 1 teaspoon salt. 

Then cut in 1 3 pound can of shortening. I use a pastry cutter (pictured above) - it works pretty slick. Mine is metal with a rubber handle. It is mixed when the mixture resembles crumbs. 

Now - in a separate bowl (or 4 cup measuring cup), mix 3 1/2 cups of milk with 3 1/2 teaspoons of vinegar. Make a hole in your flour mixture and pour it in. 

You will now have to mix with your hands. It will be a gosh awful sticky mess. You can't stop until it is mixed. You will know it is mixed when it is no longer a gosh awful sticky mess and forms a ball. At that point it will come off your hands and fingers, too.. 

To recap the ingredients - (1) 5 pound bag of flour, (1) 3 pound can of shortening, (1) teaspoon of salt, 1 1/2 cups of milk and 1 1/2 teaspoons of vinegar. You will also need about 2 cups of flour for rolling purposes. 

Next I cut about 15 sheets of wax paper about 2-4 inches large than my pie pans.  Layer them on the counter (this is great for those of us with a small kitchen. 
Sprinkle flour on each sheet and roll a hand full of the dough into a circle. After the first one, you can judge how much you need. The recipe says it makes 15 crusts, but I usually get more. 

At this point you can use as many crusts as you want (remember most pies are "two-crust". Or you can make them ahead. You can refrigerate for a day or two, or freeze for up to 3 months. This way your family will not have to eat 8 pies at once! To freeze:
Just fold in half, then 

And then in half again!

Two crusts should fit in a quart sized zip lock bag or you can put several in a gallon bag for a holiday baking spree. 
These crusts aren't just for fruit pies, either. They work great for pot pies, too. 

Just thaw over night in the refrigerator and then put on the counter until room temperature. You can finger seal any fold marks or re-roll into a rectangle to cover a 9 x 13 pot pie! 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Won't You Come to Tea?

 Please join our friends and us for some tea!

I don't remember inviting him!
 Would you care for some Tea? Or maybe some POISON???
 Maybe just a little taste?
We would love to have you as a guest (hehehe)

We were just tricking you!

A spooky tea party shoot featuring my five year old twin grandchildren! Photo credit to my son's neighbor. Unfortunately my grandson has informed me that he is now too old to play dress up. 

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Little Bit of Motown Magic

Did you guess our destination? It was Frankenmuth, Michigan. My husband had visited with his family when he was young, but I had never been there. It was on my "bucket list". 

Once we got there, we sampled the famous Frankenmuth Chicken Dinner, spent several hours at Bronner's (the famous Christmas store). And then spent several hours in and out of all the high end shops on Main Street. 

We really aren't shoppers and my house is already full of almost 40 years of Christmas decorations. I need to downsize my collection, not add to it! 

My hubby was ready to leave, but I spotted a museum in Saginaw with an admission charge of only $1.00. It is called the Castle Museum due to the architecture; actually it was originally built as a post office.   
The museum was filled with great exhibits. One of my favorites was in a wing of replicas of some Saginaw's former businesses. My grandfather owned a jewelry store in my hometown that was so similar to this that I thought I was stepping back in time. 
When we entered the museum (and each paid $1.00 admission), the guide asked if we were there for the "Motown Event". Motown? Sure! It turned out it was opening day for an exhibit of the personal photographs and memorabilia of Saginaw native and Motown Publicist Abe Abrams. He was scheduled to present the exhibit, but unfortunately became ill and passed away the Saturday before. Stepping in for her dear friend was 
That's Abe Abrams on the left. 

Yes, that is Miss Martha Reeves on the left, graciously posing with Miss Merry who has the biggest smile on her face!

What we thought might be an hour's diversion turned into a 4 hour museum visit, with almost an almost 2 hour presention by Miss Reeves. She spoke, she shared, she even sang. She was so inspirational! She talked about how important her parents were in helping her become a successful young woman (even when she was a counter girl at a dry cleaners, singing in church and contests). How her dad would only let her sing at Happy Hours in nightclubs, because he didn't want her home late. 
How she was discovered after showing up for an audition and landing a secretarial post instead (due to her public high school education which taught her job skills in addition to fostering her vocal talents). How she named her backup singers - Van for her neighborhood and Dellas for Della Reese who she once heard sing at her church. 

Not only are we still talking about everything she shared with us, how wonderful the experience was, how inspirational her life was to us, my husband and I made the Saginaw evening news when they were featuring the story of the opening of the exhibit "Motown: Black & White".

We love to go off the beaten path and Saginaw Michigan will always have a very special place in our hearts. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Mini Vacay

 My husband actually took a vacation this past week. His vacations are scheduled by November of the previous year, but he has a habit of getting involved in projects at work and cancelling them. Therefore I had already committed to a few activities. 

We had to wait until I attended church and taught my Sunday School class (and did a load of laundry) before we could pack and hit the road. And we had to return by 5 p.m. on Wednesday for a mandatory meeting for another church group. 

I got online before we left and booked Sunday, Monday and Tuesday night at the Children's Halloween Package rate (the lowest online special) so two baskets of Halloween toys greeted us.  I can use them for treats for the grandchildren. 

We covered everything in town by Monday night. My husband was ready to leave Tuesday morning, but we had already paid for Tuesday night. My next post will be the magic that happened on Tuesday. 
Can you guess where we were?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Monday in Late September

My husband works for a business that runs 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Currently he works from 7 a.m.- 3 p.m. and his days off are Sunday and Monday. 

Sunday mornings start with church and I stay afterwards to teach Sunday School. After a quick lunch, he usually takes a nap while I catch up on laundry and run to the grocery store. We have supper and watch whatever series PBS is featuring (have you seen Indian Summer? - I am loving it!). 

Mondays we care for at least two of our young grandchildren during the day and I have a church meeting on Monday evenings. So basically, we do not often share a day off. 

Monday, September 28 was a day off! 

We decided to head north about 15 minutes to a small town on the shores of Lake Erie. This is a very popular place during the summer with home and cottage rentals, several condos, at least 2 beaches and several restaurants. 

This hot spot located right on the boat basin is usually crowded with boaters, boat watchers, vacationers, day visitors and night party-ers.  But not on a sunny afternoon in late September! We had the patio to ourselves!
As we enjoyed the weekday boaters coming into the boat basin from Lake Erie, we enjoyed a nice lunch. Prices are a little better in late September, too. Monday's special was a burger, fries and a beer only $6.00! 
After lunch, we took a walk up to the opening to the lake. We squinted, but couldn't quite see Canada! It was a wonderful sunny and warm day, not too hot, not too chilly. I hope everyone has as peaceful and enjoyable day as we did. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Gramma Mimi's Wild West Cousin Camp Days 3 & 4

It's our final full day of Gramma Mimi's Wild West Cousin Camp 2015! I think the twins are getting tired of posing for pictures! The three oldest grandchildren live out of town, so they stay as overnight guests. The youngest three come over after breakfast or morning naps. But Day Three starts with a field trip and all parents (and car seats) are kindly requested to help participate! We live on USA's north coast and 30 minutes from a small beach. Entry is only $5 a carload and we have discovered if we go the minute the beach opens, we are are the only ones there! By the time other beach goers arrive, we are hot, tired and ready to roll on. 

Breakfast of Cackleberries and Silliness!

Then it was off to the Beach!

Boys versus Girls for a volleyball game!

We loved the professional stance of this volleyball players. 

Middle son as supervisor

Mommies and Babies

Some of us were unimpressed with the outing. 

Dipping our toes in Lake Erie

Building Sand Castles

Then we headed out to lunch!

Excuse the exhaustion on the faces of our chaperones while we dined at our favorite pizza place.

Then home for a movie and a nap. 

Our snack was "Build your own Teepee"

This is right before we started applying chocolate frosting to our faces. 

We colored "leather" Native American bags and laced them. 

This pinterest activity told us to draw a picture in glue on parchment paper, add watercolor paint for color and allow to dry. You were supposed to be able to peel off the design. Note: You can't. 

Supplies for Sidewalk Puffy Paint

Then squirt the paint on the sidewalk to create designs. 

Some of us can get overwhelmed with all the activities. But after a moment alone, we recover. This is one of my absolute favorite camp pictures!

Then squirt the sidewalk with vinegar to make your designs POP!

This is what it looks like even when dry. It did not rain for several days and all the walkers would step around it. A gentle rain washed it all away. 

Cowboy stew, corn muffins and moo juice for supper. 

The cowpokes made their own s'mores for dessert

The next morning the twins discovered a Fairy Door in my living room! They had to leave pennies on the doorstep as a gift. 

They told me waffles were their favorite, but somehow chose cackleberries as the breakfast of choice. 

Then it was time to pack up and go home! Another successful Gramma Camp in the books.

Miss Merry