Do Try This at Home

english-cottage

I don’t usually say much about money, because I don’t have the II Corinthians 9:8 “enough for all my needs and an abundance to give to every good work” bank balance.  So, I figure I’m not really qualified to give financial advice.

But then, I look at people who earn more money than we do in our single-income, many-membered home, and who live without many of the luxuries that for me definitely qualify as “needs.”  A fire in the fireplace in wintertime is a need and a luxury, and one I never intend to do without, so help me, God.  Making my own chemical-free skincare is a need (especially in the high and dry Rocky Mountains) and a luxury.  Having money to do a little traveling, and more importantly the time and presence of mind to enjoy it, is a need and luxury (N&L).

The list goes on:  green coffee beans for home roasting; homemade Dijon mustard and money to buy books such as The Kitchen Pantry Cookbook, wherein such recipes are found; and Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman Cooks. 

Melissa Gilbert’s My Prairie Cookbook was a gift, and having the time as well as the beautiful stamps and stationery at the ready to send a prompt and heartfelt thank-you note is, of course, both N&L.  And the time to peruse this book and suggest my daughter use it to bake sweet-tart apple muffins, to the delight of all participating parties, is the epitome of N&L.

clock

The time.  So often people say they don’t have time for such shenanigans as enjoying the making and partaking of muffins with their daughters.  They don’t have time for this or that.  For what are they working?

I’ve been there and done that – the endless, mindless, thankless grind, and the eating out and on the fly of non-food substances; the bounced checks and astronomical service charges because I didn’t have the presence of mind that “taking the time” gives us.

We all have the same 24 hours, and we can either use time as a tool, or it can be our enemy.  We deceive ourselves when we think we don’t have time to cook from scratch, to balance a checkbook, to write a friend a thank-you note.

mailboxes

Most people think the goal of time management is to get more done.  I say the goal of time management is freedom from enslavement to the clock.  Rather than getting more “things” done, how about getting more people loved and enjoyed?

And how does all this tie into money?  First of all, it leads to peace and satisfaction, something that we so often try to buy.  A great example is a breadmaker.  I used my breadmaker plenty until it went kaput, and now that I know the satisfaction of making the boule for artisan bread, now that I’ve tasted my child’s authentic French bread, I will never again clutter my kitchen counter with a breadmaker.

New tools are great for my husband’s shop (yes, I do have and love some kitchen tools, but there are limits).  My kitchen is a place where romance reigns, where money is saved and even made.  I am, in effect, making money, learning a new and fun skill, impressing other people (I’d like to say this isn’t important to me, but alas . . . ) and making an amazing treat when I make pear butter from the pears that have been too long in the window sill.  Said pear butter demands the making of super flaky biscuits for brunch, to which we invite the neighbors, adding eggs scrambled with cream cheese and a delicious homemade and homegrown turkey sausage (Christmas gift from same neighbors) and serving it all with a giant pot of delicious tea (giant and lovely teapot another gift which merited the sending of a thank-you note).

muffins

When I roast my own organic coffee beans nice and dark and aromatic, and convince my mostly non-coffee drinking family to share a small cup as we talk about what we’re writing, plotting, or planning, I am living in the rhythms of grace not often observed by today’s families.

coffee

I first heard of roasting green coffee beans at home from financial advice guru Mary Hunt, who convinced me there’s no comparison between brew-ready and home roasted coffees.  Mary Hunt also echoes wisdom I once received after praying about finances:  You can have anything you want if you stop eating out.

We are back to taking and making and managing time so that we can be creative and artisitic in the kitchen.  A functioning and active kitchen is at the top of the N&L list.  Let’s make a list, asking the question, “What do we gain when we cook and eat at home?”

  1.  Money!
  2. Skills
  3. Nutrition
  4. Joys of creativity
  5. Better tasting food (after a little learning in some cases)
  6. Family fun
  7. Self esteem
  8. Real mealtimes
  9. House that smells like a home
  10. __________________________________________ (your turn)

So here’s my money advice in a nutshell:  If at all possible, do it at home.  In many cases you will find what’s done in your kitchen is much more satisfactory than that made to exist on a shelf for six months, and often less expensive.

cash

But money management isn’t about what’s the least expensive, it’s about what satisfies the most, what’s really worth it, what is both N&L.  You may think chocolate covered peanuts are both N&L, but I say make them at home from quality ingredients (real butter for starters) and you’ll have more of your needs met (we NEED to create) with more luxury to boot.

Enjoy them over conversation with home roasted coffee, or perhaps while watching Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in Pride and Prejudice.  At home, where all good things begin and end, anyway.

english-cottage

P.S.  For more inspiration and ideas, join me Fridays at 2:00 Mountain Time, on 1360 AM radio, The Lion, in Johnstown, CO.

The Best Use Ever for Popcorn

Every year at Christmas my daughter Rebekah asks for a popcorn garland on the tree, and every year I hem and haw and resist.  But this year I succumbed to her persistence and thanked her for it as well.

christmas-tree-2

 

It took a couple of very pleasant and peaceful hours around the table for three of us to make enough garland for a nine-foot tree, and what a difference it makes!

The difference truly is in the details – those things that may take a little time and may seem like a chore at first – these are the things that make Christmas magic.

When we decide to make Christmas about the small things, the easily overlooked and underestimated things, the big things seem to fall into place.

Years ago I asked the kids what they wanted to do for Christmas.  They made lists including going to town to see the lights, going to a Christmas Eve candlelight service at a lovely mountain chapel, getting our tree from the woods, having friends for Christmas brunch, making exceptional and traditional desserts for Christmas dinner, keeping the fire going all the time in the fireplace, along with non-stop Christmas music, putting brown packages in the mail to loved ones, making gingerbread, caroling, giving homemade gifts to the merchants in our little town, and . . . making popcorn garlands for the tree.

We’ve done most of the above in most of the years past, except for the popcorn garland.  And this year I’ve come into the season with more Jesus in my heart, more thankfulness, more comfort and joy.  And so, when a child asks yet again for a desire of her heart, the Love of Christ trumped the laziness of Bev, and we made our tree the best it’s ever been.

Over and over we comment on it:  this is the best tree ever, and it’s because of the popcorn; I just love the popcorn; the popcorn really adds something, doesn’t it?; and so forth.

I ponder this in my heart.  What makes Christmas wonderful?  I will never be false enough to say it’s not about the presents, because I am enough of a child at heart to know that indeed, it is about the presents.  The presents – both the giving and the receiving of them – are the participating with Jesus in showing love.

The problem with gifts is the thinking that they have to come from the electronics department, must be only affordable via credit card to be valuable, and that they’re only available from under the tree on Christmas Day.

I say Christmas can and must be practice for the giving of gifts all the time, everywhere and every way possible.  This past Monday I gave the gift of listening even more than usual.  I put aside my plans for the day and simply listened carefully and closely to everyone around me.  And it was as though they had radar (Mom’s available) – I was listening to someone almost all day long, and well into the evening.

Yesterday John and I went to town for snow tires and out to breakfast.  I’m took a gift of fine chocolates to give to our waitress.  We did this a couple of weeks ago, and our waitress “happened” to be having a baby, one due on Christmas Day.  She was delighted, but not so much as were we.

So back to yesterday.  We prayed about where to eat, and that we’d sit with the waitress of His choosing.  When I gave her the gift her face kind of melted and she asked if she could open it right then and there.  “I wasn’t going to do Christmas this year,” she said.  “I’m a big family person and all my family is far away and so I was just going to forget about it.”  Turns out her family is in Indiana (she’s in Colorado).  I tried not to cry as the conversation continued.  “God did that,” I said to John when she walked away.  He nodded, a bit misty-eyed as well.

Tomorrow there will be more opportunities to give – opportunities I will not only pray to see, but I will be on the lookout when God answers my prayer, which He undoubtedly will.  He’s all about giving.  And He’s in the details, like popcorn garlands on a tree, just because a child’s heart will be made glad because of them.  What more reason do we need?

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art vs. Ugly

bass-with-hands

I listen to Cold Play reluctantly.  The haunting beauty of “For some reason I can’t explain, I know St. Peter won’t call my name,” compels me to explain this listening to myself.

It’s as though against all evidence, as he sees it, he’s determined to create beauty in the face of hopelessness.

I admire this.  Often “artists” express their angst at ugliness via more ugliness.  The true artist, however, shows us the beauty of God, even if he professes unbelief, or at least extreme uncertainty of God’s existence.

The existence of music, such as that of Cold Play, is proof of God.  Proof of Love, Mystery, Enchantment.  Our hearts yearn for the truth of the unseen, the “unprovable.”  We long to be enchanted.  As Thomas Moore says in The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, “”Enchantment invites us to pause and be arrested by whatever is before us.”

Last night I was arrested by God’s pencil drawings.  The evening clouds were charcoal lines and swirls, as lovely as though spirits had left ballerina leaps and twirls.  Leafless aspen were grey lace against a pale silver sky, and I was reminded that even to those of us who love all things bright and beautiful, there is beauty in the quieter, the more still, the subtle.  There is a cry for resurrection in the cold and the not quite yet dead.

Would the aspen leaf out again in spring if we didn’t expect and decree and celebrate their doing so?  The calculating mind says, “Yes, of course.  Don’t be ridiculous.  It’s their nature.”

But I say they will do so because it’s God’s nature.  Doesn’t God want to be seen and heard and heralded and rejoiced over?  Doesn’t God want to bless us?  And if we are His, don’t we want to bless the world, to beautify it?

There is art in listening attentively to a child’s meandering story, and in such “mundane” activities as lovingly dusting wooden furniture, or making a cup of tea for a lover.  All of life is, or can be, art.

God has put in every one of us that desire and ability to show Him to the world.  But when we focus on the ugly, when we create more of the same – music without melody, fiction without romance, paintings with polluted colors and lines, words without sweetness – we are saying that ugly is truth.

Ugly is a lie.  Let’s not tell it.

 

The Church of Homemade Apple Pie

For my son’s birthday (Nov. 3) I made apple pie.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(I failed to take a picture, so I made use of this picture made by someone whose baking skills exceed mine.)

Three kinds of apples, three healthy sweeteners, lemon juice, spices, a little flour for thickening, then marinating in the fridge overnight.

A crust with two kinds of flour, salt, butter, coconut oil.  Should have had some vodka (keeps it tender) but it was, as are most of my pies, a creative endeavor making use of the materials at hand.

We (daughter and I) peeled enough for two pies, sliced them thinly and smashed and piled them into one pie.  I asked the birthday boy if I could add raisins (no!), and how about doing a crisp top crust made up of oats, butter, sugars, salt, and chopped walnuts?  “No, Mom, just plain, traditional apple pie.”

I don’t really do “plain, traditional” but I came close enough.  The pie was a big pie and a big hit, and it didn’t hurt that I whipped heavy cream with a pinch of salt, a bit of almond flavoring, and a tablespoon or so of honey to liberally pile atop each slice.

The pie was enjoyed with laughter, candlelight, and song.  I was chastised by my wondering children for starting “Happy Birthday” before the candles were lit (we are all in agreement that a large three-wick candle in the midst of the table works just fine for every birthday, and eliminates the cringing we all do when someone spits on the candles, and thereby the pie).

As a student of economics and government, I thought about pie slice sizes, and how my professors talked so often about scarcity, and pieces of the pie.  I thought of the socialist idea that there is only so much pie to go around, and that we must all share and share alike, our tiny sliver of a sliver.

I thought of the apple pie served to the masses – storebought, from old and tired and flavorless apples, with bleached GMO white sugar, thinly layered into a nasty, off-tasting crust.  Said pies are not, as was mine, baked at home in a large red pie dish.  Rather, they are each merely one of hundreds, baked in throw-away aluminum via industrial ovens.  For the masses.  Those of whom there are too many, supposedly creating scarcity.

I am here to submit that God’s way is a very large and luscious and multi-nuanced, soul-nourishing pie.  God’s way is more people to plant more apple trees, to get creative and try new varieties of apples, cooked with various kinds of sweeteners, in pies, cakes, tarts, ciders, juices, sauces, and anything else the unendingly creative human mind can dream up.

God’s way is more pie.  Enough for you and whoever He puts on your heart to invite into your home and partake.

God’s way is a variety (for every individual taste, because He is not the God of stereotypes, of groups – He is the God of each and every precious individual, unique-in-all-the-world human being) of coffees and teas to go with the pie, and the giving of thanks that He is the Blesser, the Giver, the Abundant One.

The Church of Apple Pie.  Try that thought on for size.  Your have a choice:  The Church of Slivers and Scarcity vs. The Church of Apple Pie.

It begins with each of us, looking in the mirror, being Apple Pie to those at home – not stingy in anything at all.  Partakers of His bounty, that we might pass it on.

We live in a world physically and spiritually starving for big, spicy, delicious slices of apple pie.  And since we’re all different, some of us want raisins, some want rum sauce atop our whipped cream.  Some want plain, traditional apple pie.  Some, unbelievably and inconceivably, don’t want apple pie at all, ever.  They want pumpkin, or peanut butter chocolate.  But I think it’s safe to say, whatever pie we prefer, we want more than a sliver, about which we have to feel we’re stealing from someone else.

Let’s do away with the lack mentality.  Like storebought pie, it’s from Hell.

 

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Burdens vs. Rewards

I want to talk specifically about turning kitchen burdens to rewards.

The first step is to see cooking as a creative means to a lovely reward. An attitude adjustment is what’s needed, beginning with yours truly.

I came to realize some years ago that if all Hell’s attacks on a thing were an indicator of its importance, then my cooking healthy and delicious meals and enjoying them with my family, must be extremely important.

stew

So, when I started that mental whine about not wanting to cook, not feeling like cooking, being tired of cooking, not having anything to cook, I just said, “Whoa there, Girly. You are blessed beyond most of humanity in that you have a kitchen complete with running water, modern appliances, and get this – FOOD!”

You’re not a two-year-old, so get up and do the kitchen dance.  Sing a song to your fridge, shake your booty at your stove, sing opera to your pantry, turn on the beautifully running water and soap up your hands and splash, both before and after you take out the trash.”

There are some people who don’ t have enough to fill a kitchen trash can.

Burdens to rewards, that’s the attitude change we’re talking about. Satan is the author of burdens and God is the author of rewards.  I didn’t earn many of the rewards in my kitchen – they are blessings and the fruit of labors of those gone before.  But perhaps I maintain them by appreciating and making use of them.

 

“I came that you might have (and choose) life.” – Jesus, in John 10:10

praying baby
          Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women.”  I believe that Mary was much more than we know, that she is a model, a pattern for emulating, and that in his hatred for her, Satan has twisted and snapped the threads of that life pattern for a tapestry of rhythm and grace.  He turns what God intends for life, into death.
          That is how I see abortion – the ultimate success for the ultimate woman hater.  We are endowed with the ability to create the ultimate masterpiece – a child.  We partner, as did Mary, with God, to make sons and daughters who can bring light to the darkness, beauty for ashes, healing for the broken. 
          My brokenness began with buying Satan’s lie that casual sex (no mating for life marriage commitment) is OK.  I had that unplanned pregnancy, the one where abortion was suggested.  I can only thank God and my heritage – not that of a Christian upbringing (which I didn’t have) but that of parents who loved me unconditionally, and who taught by example the preciousness of a child – for the existence of that child in the world today.  How glad I am that Mom and Dad were too unworldly, too “unsophisticated”, to buy the lie from Hell that children are expendable, that abortion is a solution to anything at all, ever.
          And so I sit in the middle of the night, pondering the angel’s words in Luke 1:28.  I do rejoice in the face of temporal stresses, heartaches, things not as I want them to be, children partaking of my past brokenness.  And yet, there is no denying it:  I am highly favored.  God has given me children, and He has shown my volatile and wayward heart over and over and over that He is with me.  I am blessed among women.
          And  therein lies the sadness.  There are too few women walking in my shoes.  I look around me, especially at church, and I want to wear a sign:  GOD DID THIS AND HE’LL DO IT FOR YOU, TOO!!!!  Years ago I looked around as a single mother, bereft of that ever-so-essential ingredient in a family – Daddy.  I looked at the women in church, the married ones, and wanted to know two things:  Is it real, and if it is, is it forever beyond my reach?
          The day finally came when I had the courage to believe, to trust, to call (loudly) on God.  “Lord,” I said, “I need a husband.  I don’t care if he’s tall or short, fat or skinny. I don’t care where he’s from or what he does for a living.  I just want a good, honest man who will love me like I am.”
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          Two weeks later, after a nine-year drought, God sent John.  John the Blessing, John the Family Man.  John who knew the value of a child.  John who God knew would heal my brokenness through the very love of Christ Himself abiding in John’s heart and being passed on to mine. 
          And John who would partner with God and with me to make a family, the most beautiful thing of all. Our children weren’t planned or affordable or convenient.  They were and are simply the greatest of all blessings, the highest of all honors and privileges, the gifts beyond all gifts. 
          And that, Dear Reader, is what you and I are to God.
          Rejoice, highly favored one.

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.