En-JOY-ment and Breakfast

snow tracks

The root of “enjoy” is the Latin “gaudere” which means “rejoice”.  I believe enjoyment is a responsibility and a choice and a life skill which can be learned.  But first I think it’s worthwhile to understand what enjoyment is NOT.

True enjoyment has no sorrow added to it.  In other words, a movie that I feel “smarmed” from afterward, doesn’t cut the mustard like a long walk in the snow.  Deep wet snow, like today’s, may be a bit difficult to traverse, but there will be no sorrow in this trek.  Rather, there are feelings of accomplishment and invigoration and the righteous earning of homemade hot chocolate, made by yours truly while someone else builds a roaring fire, and we continue discussing whatever came to our stimulated minds as we tried to identify animal tracks in the snow and discussed what we wanted to cook for Easter dinner.

Or I might read a bit and fall asleep on the couch.  Now that’s enjoyment.

cat napping

Yesterday the forecasted 2-4 inches of snow was closer to two feet.  The power went off for many in our area, and because ours was flickering, I cut my quiet time short and began cooking:  a double batch of biscuits, huge pan of scrambled eggs, elk sausages, canned peaches, and two pots of black tea.  What says enjoyment like not just a pot, but TWO pots of tea?

blue teapot

This wasn’t difficult because I prepped almost everything the night before.  I pulled my homemade baking mix out of the freezer, cut in the butter, added cream and milk, rolled out and cut out the biscuits, then put them in a baking dish thickly covered with coconut oil (makes the biscuits nice and crispy/crunchy on the bottom) while the oven was preheating to 450 and baking the sausages (the biscuits will take about 12 minutes at sea level, longer at 8,000 feet).  The kids made tea, set the table, got out the butter, honey, peanut butter, cream pitcher, cinnamon, and peaches, and when the biscuits were five minutes from finished I put the eggs on to scramble.

It takes the stress out of breakfast (where everything needs to be hot) to heat up the plates and serving dishes (it’s more fun if you take your time and serve everything in dishes at the table to be passed around) and to heat the tea pot.  If we’re having coffee (cream cools it) I leave the cream pitcher on the stove and preheat the mugs as well.

coffee pot

HERE’S HOW TO BEGIN:  Put the sausages on (I prefer the oven rather than stove top).  Put the tea kettle on and/or prepare the coffee (another thing to do the night before if you really want to make things nice and easy).  Put the plates (number of eaters plus one to put food on, or simply to stack under or over to help keep the plates hot) in the oven on 175 degrees until you need to preheat for biscuits, or to bake leftover boiled potatoes cut into wedges.  Take the plates out and wrap in dish towels to keep them warm.

Eggs:  We do two eggs per person, add sea salt, pepper, nutmeg and a little cream.  It’s nice if you’ve whipped them up the night before and just have to pull the bowl out of the fridge.  Heat your pan a bit, then right when you’re ready to pour the eggs in, add your oil of choice (I prefer organic lard).

Right after you put the eggs on to scramble (remember this is when the biscuits have about five minutes to go) pour your steaming water into the teapot – I keep my teapot on the warming zone on my new Hallelujah stove (you can also heat by filling with hot water from the sink – then dump the water, put in the tea bags and you’re ready when it’s time to brew).  Stir the eggs, give further instructions to kids (“don’t forget napkins, put milk in the cream pitcher,” etc.),  and give a “5 minutes til breakfast” call, then remove tea bags – this is according to taste, of course.  I don’t usually brew as long as the package says, and I usually use four bags per tea pot, and loose tea I sort of eyeball – about half the tea infuser full usually does it.

tea assortment

If something is awry (say your sausages aren’t ready) just go ahead with everything else – someone pouring tea, passing the eggs, giving thanks, and get the sausage to the table a little late – no problem.  Sausage is welcome whenever it arrives!  If you burned the eggs a bit, just add more pepper and call them Cajun-style.

When you get all this on the table you will  truly be the MVP, the Star of the Snow, the Queen of the Castle.  And no one will say “I’m hungry for a very long while.”

Enjoy!

P.S.  About that baking mix – DO NOT BUY THIS AT THE STORE.  JUST SAY “NO TO YUCK!”

My recipe, which, as all recipes, should be tweaked and personalized by you:

10 cups of various and assorted, or simply one kind of flour – in this particular batch I used 6 cups of unbleached non-GMO wheat flour, three cups of white whole wheat (again non-GMO – I get this at Wal-Mart or Sprouts, and it’s Wheat Montana Farms and Bakery), 1 cup of quick cooking oats.

3 Tablespoons of baking powder (non-aluminum)

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1 Tablespoon of sea salt (less if regular salt)

1/2 cup of powdered milk (I still add whole milk and cream, but the biscuits will turn out with water only)

Stir these dry ingredients together very thoroughly and separate into freezer bags according to your preferred outcome.  I made three 3-cup bags and one 2.5-cup bag.  This is a lot for most people.  The 3-cup bag makes 15-18 large biscuits, of which I put back some for leftovers to wrap in foil and heat in the oven for the next day’s breakfast.

For the 3-cup mix I used two sticks of butter (will turn out with just one if you’re butter-conscious) and 1.5 cups of milk/cream (this was mostly milk with about 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream).  I also added about a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to the milk (makes buttermilk of a sort).  If your mix is a little too moist, put flour on your hands, on top of the dough, and extra on the counter (or wherever you roll out your biscuits).  If it’s too dry, add a little more liquid.  No fretting allowed.  ENJOY this.

VARIATION:  Before adding butter and milk, stir in some (maybe two Tablespoons) organic sugar, about a cup (1/2 is fine) of chopped walnuts, pecans, flaked coconut, dried apricots or raisins, or any combination thereof, and call them scones.  Yum for sure.

ALWAYS:  Serve with butter and love, as butter, after all, is love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Enchanted Home is Authentic, Artistic, and Sometimes Even Boasts the Best-Ever Molasses Cookies

orange door

We forgive people who decorate in colors we abhor, with “style” we can’t fathom, using cat-clawed and dog-scratched furniture, if their homes are authentic.  If we have to hide a smile at some of the wild colors, particularly those in hues of sunshine, we will overlook what we consider a decided lack of taste and sophistication.

Conversely, walls of flawless beige, trimmed in pristine white, surrounding us and brand new-looking sofas set just so before “modern” décor atop ice-cold coffee tables make us wonder, “Is this a home or a statement?”

Does your house scream your lack of identity, thereby stealing your guests’ senses of identity as well, or does your house say “I’m OK, You’re OK. I didn’t invite you here to impress you, I invited you here because I value you enough to open my home, and therefore my heart.”

An authentic home has heart—it’s owner’s. An unauthentic home hides its heart behind its façade. It’s sad enough that we sometimes feel we must wear the façade in public, but at home we must take off the mask.

blog pic for bev - bed in castle

Does that mustard yellow throw your grandma made embarrass you? That’s a good reason to put it on the couch, front and center. Do you have a secret love for that hideous orange ottoman from the 50’s, and does it match absolutely nothing else in your living room? Go with it and add a bouquet of flowers with a bit of that same orange. You’ve shown yourself and your guests just a little bit of your heart. And you’ve given them art.

blog pic for bev - orange couch

But what will your guests think, especially the world travelers with such cool stuff? They’re on their way. You look around, asking yourself What does this look like to other people.

Dirty for starters. You can wash those awful smears off the patio doors, or make molasses cookies and put on a bright and crazy shirt. You guessed it. If this guest is a mom, she’ll either feel greatly relieved that other people have nasty doors, too, or she’ll feel superior because hers are clean. Let her feel superior. Authentic people make those kinds of sacrifices. Just be sure your cookies are better than hers. Just kidding. Sort of.

How to make great molasses cookies? Use the recipe on the molasses jar, only double (I did say double) the molasses and the spices and the salt. Also use real butter and/or coconut oil instead of shortening. Then make them awesome with lots of raisins and walnuts. For even better results (and healthier cookies) use half whole grain flour and half unbleached white flour, instead of the standard bleached white flour, and last of all, use a non-GMO organic sweetener. I like organic light brown sugar by Wholesome. Also, even when the recipe doesn’t call for it, I like a little vanilla flavoring in my molasses cookies. But I think it’s safe to say they’re wonderful without vanilla.

cookies

P.S.  These aren’t actually my cookies.  I’ll post them when I make them – closer to Christmas!

yellow castle picP.P.S.  This isn’t actually my house, but I’ll definitely post it if I get it for Christmas!

Home Comforts

Room in a historical Bohemian village

Whether or not you homeschool, your children are watching and learning your attitude about homemaking.  If you’re like most moms, things get a bit messy at times, especially in our minds!  We need a bit of decluttering, a little refurbishing, direction, and refreshment.  I give you the beyond-anything book, Home Comforts.

Home Comforts, by Cheryl Mendelson, is one of my two favorite books on making home a haven (the other is Alexandra Stoddard’s Creating a Beautiful Home). Cheryl (she is a friend even though we’ve never met) has done her homework. A former attorney, she’s very diligent and disciplined, and has the intelligence required to make a good job of homemaking.

As this book is over 800 pages long, and covers anything and everything you can think of, I can’t begin to do it justice here. But as an example here’s a quote from the chapter on home cooking: “Good meals at home satisfy emotional hunger as real as hunger in the belly, and nothing else does so in the same way.”

Cheryl goes on to discuss how and why not to use cookbooks–I am vindicated! I believe a recipe is only someone else’s creation, certainly nothing written in stone. Of course, if Julia Child wrote it I will pay attention. But someone telling me to make pumpkin cake without salt, or that you don’t need all those walnuts in your oatmeal raisin cookies? I don’t think so.

As usual, I am loving the sound of my own horn tooting, and it’s time to get back to the marvelous book at hand. Home Comforts covers anything and everything you might ever want to know about homemaking.  You will be sorry when you’ve turned the last page, and if you’re like me, determined to read it again.

And to share it with others, especially family.

Do you want to excel at the high and highly rewarding calling of homemaking?  This book, so aptly named, will inspire and gladden your heart, and perhaps best of all, it will convince you that what you do at home truly matters.

Is it Cocoa or is it Hot Chocolate? No, it’s Pudding!

IMG_3722Actually, it’s none of the three if it’s a store bought mix.  After you follow and hopefully tweak, my recipe for hot chocolate (which I’ll show you how to turn to pudding), you’ll never use a mix again.

You begin with 1/2 to 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa in a sauce pan (amount depends on how dark you like it).  Hershey’s is fine, but I prefer bulk cocoa from Sprouts.  Stir in about half as much sugar (if 1/2 cup of cocoa, then 1/4 cup of  sugar).  I use organic evaporated cane juice and/or organic coconut sugar.  Next add about 1 scant teaspoon of sea salt (or a little less if you’re using regular salt) and stir all together.

Stir in any workable (depends on what’s on hand) combination of milk, cream, half-n-half, evaporated milk, or even powdered milk.  I recommend about 4 cups of whole milk, one cup of half-n-half, and a half cup of heavy whipping cream.  You can double this without any complaints by using water to stretch the recipe, even half whole milk and half water makes a delicious outcome.  You can also hold the whipping cream and have it on top (recipe following near the end of the post).

As the cocoa tends to adhere to itself, and be a bit mix-resistant, I find the pictured potato masher works well to solve this problem.

On medium heat, heat to steaming, stirring frequently, then taste test for sweetness and chocolatey-ness.  I like mine a little bitter, but still at this point I add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of honey.  Note:  you can make this with white sugar (not as healthy) or sweeten entirely with honey.  Just take it slowly with honey, as it’s easy to get too much.

Tip:  butter or oil in your measuring cup will cause the honey to slide right out, or you can just eyeball it and pour it right out of the honey jug.

Now it’s time to add your choice of either vanilla (homemade is best-see the net for ideas/recipes) or almond flavoring.

Now taste test again.  If it seems to be lacking, you might try coffee, orange flavoring, nutmeg, cinnamon, or some combination thereof.  For coffee flavoring you can simply stir in a little Taster’s Choice instant, or, as I show in the picture, put some regular ground (I use about a tablespoon) in a tea ball and let it steep a bit.  This is really delicious!

Note:  A fine mesh tea strainer for your coffee infusion gives a better result than does the pictured tea ball, as it eliminates most of the coffee dregs.

AND NOW AND YAY FOR PUDDING!

Per my kids’ request, I turned the above into pudding by simply:

Adding butter and peanut butter and coconut and walnuts:  a tablespoon of butter, 1/4 cup of peanut butter, 1/2 cup of organic unsweetened flake coconut, chopped walnuts on top upon serving;

Then . . . thicken by simply sprinkling organic whole wheat flour over the top and stirring it in.  Since I don’t measure and got a bit too much, I added more milk.  How much flour did I use?  About 4 tablespoons I think.

However, start slowly as your flour, especially if it’s white flour, will thicken differently than did mine.  Also, if you’re using cornstarch, just follow the directions on the box which will tell you the ratios between corn starch and flour.

I have stopped using cornstarch for two reasons:  first, I was out of it and found out by accident that I liked the taste of whole wheat flour, and that it didn’t tend to lump as does cornstarch at times; second, I am leery of corn products which don’t staunchly proclaim their non-GMO status.

So, back to your pudding.  Stir almost constantly to avoid sticking and scorching–a very disappointing outcome–and let it boil and bubble a bit to cook your thickener.

Now for taste testing, at which time other humans will miraculously appear:  If it doesn’t really thrill the taster(s), try more vanilla or almond flavoring.  Or perhaps orange (I like this VERY much, my family not so much).  Or maybe any combination.  You can take a  bit out for yourself and be your own guinea pig before flavoring the entire batch.

Also, if you have stick-tending cookware, just create a makeshift double boiler by tucking your pan into a larger pan, with water in the bottom pan.

Now for some really good news:  Eat this pudding in beautiful bowls with perhaps an English Digestive or some ripe strawberries and you’ve got a meal.  No kidding.

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I have also used the leftover pudding or hot chocolate (make sure you keep a bit back) to wake up the child of the day.  What is the child of the day?  That’s for another post.

One last thought:  Leave the cocoa out entirely, for a lovely orange vanilla pudding, or, and this is one of my very favorites, use crushed pineapple and vanilla for your flavorings, and put toasted pecans on top.  Oh my!

The bottom line is that pudding is lovely and brilliant and you should go make some.

AND NOW FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM!!!

Put your bowl and mixing beaters in the freezer and your heavy whipping cream in the back of the fridge (where it’s coldest) for at least 15 minutes.

Add a tablespoon or two of sweetener (your choice) and a bit of salt to your whipping cream (and flavoring if that sounds good to you–vanilla almost always works) and just mix away until peaks form.  They don’t have to be stiff as there is reportedly such a thing as whipping the cream too long and causing it to begin softening.

If you like, you can forget the pudding or hot chocolate and can make whipped cream all by itself for dessert.  Simply serve it with a bit of nutmeg on top, and perhaps a pecan, or some berries, or all by its own marvelous self.  People will love it!  Everyone wants all the whipped cream they can get.

Homemade whipped cream is also, in my opinion, much better with cake or brownies, than is vanilla ice cream.  I know most people disagree, but you can tuck that thought away and try it some time.

We make domino, card, and board games enticing, and being snowed in during late May palatable, simply by adding hot chocolate or pudding to the evening.

Would a skinny hot chocolate packet or a pudding mix do the same thing?  Not even close.

Tea Cozy?

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You may think a tea cozy is a quilted teapot cover, and if so, may I recommend the knitted pineapple cozy found in Jane Brocket’s inimitable The Gentle Art of DomesticityBut I’d like to introduce the idea that a tea cozy is also a gathering of bliss wherein tea plays a part.
My first tea party was at friend’s house, and it was given in honor of our dolls, with a tiny painted metal tea set.  The dolls had tea (water) and raisins, and were quite happy with their fare.  After all, they got to sit at a little red wooden table in matching chairs, and be served. To this day, that is one of my all-time favorite teas cozies.
Such cozies may occur on quilts in the backyard with toddlers, peanut butter and crackers, a great book(s), and of course, tea.  Tea may be nice and hot in a thermos if fall is hinting at winter, or it may be iced to be enjoyed with berries picked alongside the road as you hike to a clearing under a nice big oak tree.

Other lovely tea cozy ideas include but are not limited to::  making breakfast special with tea, history teas, tea parties on a budget, literary teas, dress-up teas, teas on the balcony amid falling snow, slumber party teas, If-I-Could-Travel-Anywhere teas, Christmas teas, and tea parties for no particular reason (I think of these as conversation teas).

The only rule for a tea party is:  Conversation must be kind and intelligent.  Tea is a most excellent place to teach etiquette, and in fact when the kids were small I often brought a favorite etiquette book to our gatherings, Manners Matter by Hermine Hartley.

Now if you don’t have etiquette books, tea sets, knitted tea cozies, and a variety of gourmet teas, don’t be discouraged.  Have a coffee cozy (I use swiss water decaf mostly when having coffee with kids), or serve milk and cookies and call it a milk.  A milk?  Maybe a milk cozy.  If it’s cool outside, heat the milk and add honey and maybe some cinnamon and nutmeg.

There are endless possibilities, but the bottom line is simply this:  always be on the lookout for a tea cozy opportunity.  Bliss!

Breakfast Breads

IMG_3706Breakfast breads are lifesavers for me.  They are healthy, easy, filling, economical, versatile, and delicious.  I begin with a baking mix of sorts (NEVER buy these).  In other words, I mix and match flours, leavenings, dairy, nuts, spices, and dried fruits–depending on what I have on hand.  All you really need to know is that something close to three cups of flour and three teaspoons of baking powder (or ONE teaspoon of baking soda) and one teaspoon of salt equals a baking mix.  You can use powdered milk and then add water, instead of liquid dairy (or your liquid of choice) for a surprisingly good (sometimes superior) result.

So, when recently John left at 5:00 a.m. intending to pick up his breakfast on the road, and the kids were asleep, and I was hungry, I asked the question, What can I cook that will be good when the kids wake up, but delicious for me to eat ahead beforehand .  Breakfast bread!

On this particular morning I had only two cups of whole wheat flour left, (usually I have flax and almond and coconut flours), one cup of quick cooking oats, some rice cereal, and about a cup of unbleached white flour (time to get groceries).  I stirred these together with sea salt (always use more than the salt-stingy baking recipes call for, especially at high altitude where increased salt helps with rising), baking powder (the baking soda canister was empty and the baking soda boxes were in the laundry and bathrooms, or so I figured) so I added a third egg, figuring that would also help with the rising (always a concern at 8,000 feet above sea level).

The fruit going bad was apples, so I chopped a couple of those and added spices as though it was apple pie (if you haven’t ground your nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, cloves and allspice in the coffee grinder yet, you haven’t tasted spices–I’ll tell you a cautionary tale about this at the bottom of the post – see the P.S.).

Now for melted butter and/or coconut oil, vanilla flavoring (look into making your own–so very elegant you will be) honey and real maple syrup (molasses would have been good), evaporated milk and water (out of milk).

Finally, for the “optional” (per many recipes) ingredient which I consider essential for good breakfast bread:  Nuts.  In this case I used walnuts, but ordinarily I would have also added sunflower seeds, which are cheap and healthy (surprise, I was out of sunflower seeds, too).

If I had chosen crushed pineapple rather than apples, pecans would have been good, with maybe some orange juice concentrate and lemon flavoring.

A peanut butter bread is delicious (substitute for some or all of the butter).  I love this with a glaze made of still more peanut butter, honey (or sweetener of choice/availability) and a drop or two of orange essential oil.

If John were home I would have made pumpkin bread to have with cream cheese, scrambled eggs and vanilla almond tea (I recommend Republic of Tea).

I always make a small bundt bread with this batter, leaving enough for a loaf pan or muffins, some of which goes into the freezer for those days when I just don’t want to cook breakfast, or for when the kids want tea party goodies.

Have your breakfast bread with coffee, tea, or milk.  And joy.

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P.S.  The picture at the top of the post is from another day, another breakfast bread, and as you can see, I don’t always grind my spices.  As for my caution:  You must hammer up your cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, etc, inside a baggie or other enclosure before putting them in your coffee grinder.  Ask me how I know that if you don’t do so, you will soon be buying a new coffee grinder.  As for that bit of leftover spice in the coffee grinder?  Not a problem – it just makes your next cup of coffee extra good.

You don’t have a bulk spice source in your town?  Look on the net for bulk spice distributors.  Just know that you’ll be getting LOTS of spices (great savings).  I double bag mine and store them in the fridge (used often) and the freezer.  And remember, bulk spice distributors also carry vanilla beans for that homemade (divine) vanilla flavoring.

Café Home

 

There is so much more to cooking than following a recipe.  Cooking is about people – what they like, love, and need.  And cooking, like many things, is best done at home by someone who loves those for whom she or he cooks.  Becoming adept in the kitchen is a key to quality living for large families, couples, and for those who live alone.

This is true for trained chefs and for people who loathe the very sight of a kitchen.  Think of it this way:  Just because you live in New York is not to say you need never learn to drive a car.  The ability to drive a car is a handy skill.  Just because you don’t particularly enjoy doing laundry is no excuse for taking everything to the cleaners.  Knowing how to pull and turn a few knobs and separate the whites from the colors is a basic life skill.  Just so being able to feed yourself.

Being unable to scramble eggs, make biscuits from scratch, or whip up a mean spaghetti sauce is just plain dumb.  The idea that it’s fine to go around practically bragging about not cooking is childish.  Not being able to cook is only fine if you are a child.  Let’s all do our friends, parents, kids and their spouses, and our grandkids a great favor:  let’s lead by example and cook!

It doesn’t matter who you are, the time will come when you need to cook.  My mother-in-law, bless her forever and ever, taught my husband to cook, clean, can, and that no job was beneath him.  So, when our last child was born Cesarean and I was a bit under the weather – no sweat.  From the time John brought the older three to the hospital looking ready for portraits, until I no longer needed his help, he took care of things – including the cooking.  When the hospital nurses remarked on the kids’ neatly parted hair, clean fingernails and starched little Levis, I was at a loss.  Did other dads actually drag dirty, unkempt kids to the hospital to see their mother and new sibling?  Apparently so.

At our house it works best for me to be the Kitchen Master.  Because of my proficiency, it’s easier to do most of the cooking myself.  But easier is not always better.  I need breaks, John enjoys weekend cooking, and cooking with the kids (especially if the grill and beef are involved), and the kids need to learn to cook.

So, you’ve taken the first step.  You’re convinced (or almost) you do need to know your way around the kitchen.  Stay with me and you’ll learn so much more than that.