Sunday, December 25, 2011

This has been a difficult Christmas weekend.  Although I have felt blessed by the season, we were saddened by an unexpected death in our family.  Even though my heart was gladdened and uplifted by song or smile of loved ones, my heart went out to grieving family.  How I wish we all lived closer to each other!  It's hard to rejoice when someone you love is hurting beyond words.  I hope he knows how much we all love him and wish we could be there for him.   Isaiah 40:31

Merry Christmas!

Wow, this has been a wonderful Advent Season, and now we look forward to the magical Christmas Season!  Most people think Christmas is over by the 25th of December, but it is actually just beginning.  That's when I do most of my Christmas baking and sharing.  A recent tradition in my house is Cranberry Orange Pancakes for Christmas breakfast.  My daughter found the recipe and urged me to try it.  It turned out great.  In a pinch, I've even used instant (dare I say) pancake mix and canned cranberries.  It just makes breakfast a little extra special.  Homemade sausage on the side, fresh hot coffee and you've got the fixings for great breakfast memories. 

Cranberry Orange Pancakes
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 -3 teaspoons orange zest, finely minced
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg , slightly beaten
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted


1.      In a small bowl, mix cranberries, sugar & zest & set aside. 
2.      In large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda & salt. 
3.      In another small bowl, mix egg, buttermilk, OJ & butter, then add this mixture to flour mixture, stirring until just combined [batter should be lumpy]. 
4.      Fold cranberry mixture into the other mixed ingredients. 
5.      Heat a lightly greased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat. 
6.      Pour about 1/4 cup batter onto hot griddle for each pancake. 
7.      Cook pancakes until golden brown, then turn to cook other side.
8.      Serve hot!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Truffles

It feels strange talking about Christmas Candies when the weather here is so absolutely beautiful out.  I'm still looking for a LITTLE bit of snow so it feels like Christmas, but I'm glad it's not so cold.  I love making truffles and just ran across this one.  I hope you enjoy it!

Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles

  • 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking cocoa
  • 4 milk chocolate candy bars (1.55 ounces each)
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 24 whole hazelnuts
  • 1 cup ground hazelnuts, toasted
  • In a large bowl, sift together confectioners' sugar and cocoa; set
  • aside.
  • In a small saucepan, melt candy bars and butter. Add cream and
  • reserved cocoa mixture. Cook and stir over medium-low heat until
  • mixture is thickened and smooth. Pour into an 8-in. square dish.
  • Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • Using a melon baller or spoon, shape candy into 1-in. balls; press a
  • hazelnut into each. Reshape balls and roll in ground hazelnuts.
  • Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Yield: 2 dozen.
Click here to find out more!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's hard to believe we're halfway through Advent.  Christmas is almost here!  Here is a wonderful and easy Tortilla soup to warm your soul as your prepare your heart for Christmas:

Chicken Enchilada Soup
  • 2 bone-in chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Onion, chopped - about 1/4 cup
  • Red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 10 ounce package of frozen corn
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 10 ounce can enchilada sauce
  • 1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Chili Powder
  • Cumin
  • Pepper Jack or Colby Jack cheese, for sprinkling on top
  • Tortilla strips, for sprinkling on top
  1. Place chicken into crock pot, add 4 cups of water, and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper, 1 teaspoon chili powder, and 1 teaspoon cumin over the chicken. Cook on low for 8 hours.
  2. Remove the chicken from the crock pot. Allow it to cool, and then cut it into pieces.
  3. Strain the broth into a large pot.
  4. In a large pot, add the olive oil, and heat over medium high heat. Add the bell pepper and onion, and saute for about 3-5 minutes. Pour in the reserved chicken broth, enchilada sauce, tomato sauce, corn, and black beans. Reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Mix the corn starch with the cream, and slowly add it to the soup. Simmer for another 5 minutes, and season to taste with the additional salt, pepper, chili powder, and/our cumin.
  6. Ladle into soup bowls, and sprinkle with cheese and tortilla strips.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

I am reading the most interesting little book right now, called The Autobiography of Santa Claus.  It starts out as a historical account of Christmas through the eyes of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.  Then the story takes a fun twist into fiction, but it's still fun to read.  I can't remember when I realized the truth about Santa, but I know it wasn't a traumatic experience.  We hung our little red felt stockings on the west front door of our house.  Our mother hung some kind of banner on the door and the stockings were pinned there.  We would wait in such anticipation for Christmas Eve, wondering what would be brought and stuffed into our stockings.  I do remember NOT being able to sleep at all on Christmas Eve and we would shout out to our parents..."Is it Christmas yet?"  We would hear tired mumblings of  "no... go to sleep..."  Our poor parents had to wait a long time for us to truly fall asleep.  Even as older kids, we would sneak out in the night, hopeful of getting a glimpse of our presents. 

Here is a wonderful recipe for the second week of Advent:  Speculaas.  Enjoy!

Saint Nicholas Day Baking Project

The following recipe, for "speculaas" (speculations) ginger cookies are served especially on Saint Nicholas Day. The recipe is from A Continual Feast, by Evelyn Birge Vitz (Ignatius Press), and is traditional in the Low Countries. (In America these cookies are called "windmills", usually embellished with almonds, and can be brought at the grocery store.)
This cookie dough may be cut into the shape of Saint Nicholas, following our pattern here, which can also be used for coloring. When cool, the cookies can be decorated with icing "paint" -- thinned icing colored with food coloring -- and applied with brushes.
This delicious ginger cookie might also be cut into other shapes, recalling other aspects of the kindly bishop's legendary life and work: such as the three young girls to whom he threw the three bags of gold for their doweries, or the three little boys whom he brought back to life, or the sailors whom he saved from the storm.
Speculaas cookies
1 Cup (2 sticks) sweet butter, at room temperature
2 cups dark brown sugar
2 eggs
Grated rind of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Optional: powdered sugar for decorative icing
In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy. Stir in the eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly after each addition. Stir in the lemon rind.
Sift the spices and salt with the flour and baking powder, and stir gradually into the butter mixture. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and chill for several hours or overnight. (If you are in a hurry, start the chilling process in the freezer: leave the dough in the freezer for about 20 minutes.)
On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch, or for larger figures to about 1/4 inch. Cut out with cookie cutters, or trace around a heavy paper pattern with a sharp knife. This dough can also be used with a cookie mold, or can be molded by hand.
Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned. If you like you cookies soft, remove them from the oven when they are just set -- the longer the baking time, the crisper the cookie.
Optional: Paint when cool. These cookies ­ especially when baked in the form of Saint Nicholas ­ are fun to paint with colored icing.
Icing "paint"
In little pots or plastic containers, mix powdered sugar with a little bit of water (or lightly beaten egg white, or lemon juice) and a few drops of food coloring, to produce the desired shades and the desired consistency for painting. Apply with small paintbrushes.
Yield:: approximately 3 dozen cookies or fewer large figures.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Blessings!

On this first day of Advent, I can't help but wish (just a little) for snow.  Not as much as we had last year, thank you very much, but just a little bit to gladden your heart.  Wasn't the first snowfall always magical as a child?  I'm going to try and post recipes that reflect the season in the next few weeks.  Enjoy!

Artisan St. Lucia or Braided Focaccia Bread Wreath


cups all-purpose flour
4Tbsp. sugar
2packages Fleischmann’s® Rapid Rise Yeast
2tsp. salt
2cups water
6Tbsp. margarine
~Toppings: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, grated Parmesan, fresh basil


  1. In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, undissolved yeast, and salt. Heat water and butter until very warm (125 to 130ºF). Gradually add to dry ingredients; and stir until you make a dough.
  2. Knead on floured surface until smooth. Divide dough into 3 pieces; roll each to 24-inch rope; braid ropes. Place braid on greased pizza sheet. Form into ring and pinch ends to seal.
  3. Top with oil to prevent cracking, decorate with cherry tomatoes and bell peppers or your favorite fresh veggies in the manner of a green wreath with berries.
  4. Place large, shallow pan on counter; half-fill with boiling water. Place baking sheet over pan. Let rise 15 minutes until puffy.
  5. Bake at 400ºF for 25 minutes or until done. When almost ready, sprinkle on Parmesan cheese and continue baking until lightly browned. Brush oil on ring. Garnish with fresh basil and tall Advent or St. Lucia taper candles.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I simply cannot believe it is Thanksgiving already!  Thanksgiving has always been a favorite holiday of mine.  My mom would start weeks early it seemed.  My favorite was always her homemade crescent rolls.  I have not yet attempted to try making my own.  I loved watching her slather each crescent with butter before rolling them and letting them rise.  I always imagine her thinking of all the family that would soon be arriving...  the laughter and the hugs.  It always amazes me to think of how, as our families grew, we all fit so snugly into her home during the holidays.  One by one, the families would arrive and there would be a flurry of greetings and hugs.  Dad would often go out to the driveway and greet each person with a wave and a smile. Mom would be stirring in the kitchen, eyes sparkling as she watched from the kitchen window.  I think she was happiest when we were all together.  The girls would help in the kitchen or play with the new babies and Dad would entertain the boys.  As soon as the last family arrived, the food was heaped on the tables and Mom would lead the prayer.  I am sure she held private Thanks in her heart for her family and the opportunity to gather.  My most poignant memory of family gatherings is feeling the tug in my heart when I knew it was time to go.  There would be long goodbyes and promises to write... and then they would follow everyone out to their cars and linger a while longer.  I can still see them waving at the end of the driveway until the cars were out of site.
Our family certainly held its challenges, but I am most thankful for having that family.  I cherish all the memories and give Thanks every day for each of them.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

First Snow

I read a post this morning where a young mom said her kids woke up to a winter wonderland this morning and how excited they were for the first snow.  We had our first snow during the night, so I missed watching the first flakes fall.  Growing up in North Dakota, the winters did seem magical.  We would rush through breakfast and then pull on our red snowpants and boots and rush out for hours of snow fun.  The one thing I can't remember doing is building snowmen, but I suppose we did when the snow was sticky enough to form a ball.  We ran around making tracks and built tunnels if the snow was deep enough.  I still am tempted to catch a snowflake on my tongue.

I honestly haven't tried this recipe yet, but maybe one of you will try it and let me know how it goes.  It just sounds fabulous.  Happy First Snow!
Wittamer’s Belgian Hot Chocolate
1 quart (1l) half-and-half or whole milk ( I think low fat would work just fine.)
8 ounces (230g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (try and find good quality chocolate)
4 ounces (115g) milk chocolate, finely chopped
tiny pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Warm about one-third of the half-and-half or milk, with the chopped chocolates and salt, stirring until the chocolate is melted.
2. Whisk in the remaining half-and-half or milk, heating until the mixture is warmed through. Add the cinnamon.
3. Use a hand-held blender, or a whisk, and mix the hot chocolate until it’s completely smooth. Serve very warm.
Serve with a poof of whipped cream and chocolate curls.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Halloweens growing up in North Dakota seemed so wonderfully fun.  We usually made our own costumes and I don't remember it ever being unbearably cold like Montana halloweens can be.  I don't really remember having school parties, but I do remember rushing home and trying to hurry mother along with supper so we could have more time to trick or treat.  I don't remember carving jack o lanterns or having any kind of spooky decorations in our house, but we had fun none the less.  I still like carving pumpkins, but I don't do it so much anymore.  Here's a great recipe for savory stuffed pumpkin.  It's a winner!

Savory Stuffed Pumpkin 


  • 1-1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • 1 jar (4-1/2 ounces) sliced mushrooms
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups cooked rice
  • 1 can (8 ounces) sliced water chestnuts, drained
  • 1 large pumpkin (8 to 9 pounds)
  • Vegetable oil


  • In a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Add the soup, mushrooms, soy sauce and brown sugar. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the rice and water chestnuts.
  • Wash pumpkin; cut a 6-in. circle around stem. Remove top and set aside. Discard seeds and loose fibers from the inside. Spoon beef mixture into pumpkin; replace top.
  • Place in a greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan. Rub oil over outside of pumpkin. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 1-1/2 hours or until pumpkin is tender. Scoop out some pumpkin with each serving of beef mixture. Yield: 6 servings.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kahlua Soaked Grilled Pears a la Mode

Today was one of those beautiful autumn days full of crunching leaves, the smell of wood stoves and rain.  The moon is almost full and my thoughts are turning to simmering soups and hearty casseroles that fill my kitchen with the most comforting aromas.  Autumn brings crisp apples and delicious pears just ripe for baking or munching.  My friend and I recently got together and shared a meal on a Sunday afternoon and found this recipe for Kaluah Soaked Pears.  It turned into a wonderful afternoon of conversation and laughter.  We also watched old movies and complained about our kids.  By the time the pears were ready, we were done solving the problems of the world, and completed a couple crossword puzzles.  Aren't friends the greatest?

Kahlua Soaked Grilled Pears a la Mode


  • 2 pears cored and cut into six slices lengthwise.
  • 1 cup Kahlua
  • ¼ cup rum
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 large cinnamon stick broken into small pieces
  • 6-7 cardamom pods broken
  •  For serving
  •     Pecans
  •     Ice cream of your choice.
  • Method
Mix the Kahlua, rum, sugar and spices in a large bowl and place the pear quarters in the bowl. Mix well so the pears are coated with the liquor. Leave it in the fridge for at least two hours, overnight will be great.
Heat a grill to medium high heat and place the pear slices at an angle, so that it gets diagonal grill marks. Grill for about 3-4 minutes per side, the slices will start to brown and the fruit will get soft.
In the meantime, soak the pecans if using, in the same marinade. Place a slightly greased pan on the stove. When the pan is hot add the pecans and heat them through stirring frequently. Remove when the pecans are brown and toasty.
To serve, arrange 2-4 pear slices in a bowl, place a scoop of ice cream, pour some of the marinade over and top with the pecans.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Turkey Buzzards

For some odd reason, I have grown fond of these huge birds that perch in a tree near the middle school playground.  I love the quizzical tilt of that one bird's head.  It's as if he's trying to figure us out.  In the evenings there can be fifty or more birds sitting around on braches, looking spectacularily spooky.  Until now, I have not been a fan of birds.  Especially after seeing an Alfred Hitchcock movie of birds going crazy.  My mom loved birds, however and saved all kinds of bread scraps to take out to her little feeder.  I think she liked to watch the birds as she did dishes.  Mom was a joyful woman and found all kinds of ways to celebrate little things in life.  I think all us girls have that same kind of joyful spirit.  We often share little things that amuse us.  My story today was discovering halfway through the work day that I had my garden shoes on instead of work shoes.  It wasn't very fashionable, but it sure was comfortable.  I actually was relieved that I had on a matching pair.  I'm sure that will be the next thing.  That did happen to a co-worker a few years ago.  They were the same color, but different heel size.  She wondered all day long why she felt like she was walking funny.  I love moments like those. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

English Tea Party

What a beautiful day for a Tea Party!  Our little town celebrated the twentieth anniversary opening of the Evelyn Cameron Gallery with an old fashioned High Tea.   We were greeted at the door by the Board Members and given a memento 2012 calendar. We were then invited to view the amazing Cameron photos taken in the late 1800s and early 1900s depicting Homestead life, immigrants and cowboys.  We could also view the diary transcriptions and copies of Evelyn's diaries she kept of daily life in Eastern Montana.  The tea party was so much fun.  They had antique silver tea sets and an assortment of savory and sweet items.  There were several kinds of cucumber sandwichs, a scottish bread with orange marmalade, several different kinds of scones and tea infused shortbread.  There were fruit desserts and jams and all kinds of goodness.  Autumn flowers were everywhere and little purple pansies decorated the plates.  The gallery is housed in an old building that was once a pharmacy and drugstore... and in the back, where we ate used to be an old fashioned ice cream parlor.  The elderly couple who invited me to sit with them told me stories about working there as high schoolers and all the shenanigans they pulled to get free sodas.  It was a charming visit.  If you haven't had a chance to read about Evelyn and Ewen Cameron's life, it is worth the read. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

As I write, it is thundering and lighting.  The kind of storm we haven't seen since June.  It is so cozy in here with squash and porkchops in the oven.  September evenings growing up in North Dakota seemed so crisp with leaves everywhere.  Juicy red apples in boxes sat in our back room, jars of glistening peaches lined the canning room shelves.  They're just getting ready to celebrate Sauerkraut Day in the town I grew up in.  Those memories will be forever etched in my heart.  Getting out of school early to play in the band, getting plates of sauerkraut, sausage, mashed potatoes and a roll.  The Schiemeleski Brothers playing polka music and everyone in town gathering for a community meal and fun.  It's still an important part of that little community, whose numbers have dwindled and faces I remember no longer there.  If I remember right, the tradition began 86 years ago when a wagon rolled into town and the farmers in town were treated to a sauerkraut dinner in appreciation of all their hard work in the fields.  It's now grown to a full day of fun, crafts, food and community.  I still miss going and every year, try to fix a sauerkraut meal.  I made this recipe last year, with a few modifications to my german heritage.  It was amazingly good:

Sauerkraut 'n' Sausage
1 small onion, chopped
1 T butter
1 jar sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
1 pound fully cooked polish sausge, cut into chunks ( I used elk sausage... amazing)
3 1/2 c diced cooked peeled potatoes
1 C apple juice
1 medium unpeeled apple, diced
2 T brown sugar
2 T all purpose flour
1 T caraway seeds
3 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
In a large saucepan, saute the onion in butter until it's tender.  Add sauerkraut, sausage, potatoes, apple juice and apple.  In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour and caraway; stir into saucepan.  Simmer for 35 minutes while your mouth drools in anticipation.  Garnish with bacon.  It really doesn't need the bacon.  I could eat this right out of the pan.  Yum!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

It's a beautiful morning here in Montana.  Blue sky... cool.  I woke up this morning remembering the tragedy of September 11, 2001.   It was a beautiful blue sky morning that morning too.  There seems to be a lot of remembering this weekend in the media.  I remember crying in the library with co-workers as we watched the towers fall and praying for all those people.  I remember the first ball game after that, when we sang God Bless America before the National Anthem.  There was not a dry eye in the gymnasium.  I remember the fear I felt for my daughter, who was in San Diego at the time in the Navy.  My heart is still filled with pride for the fireworkers and the EMTS and those who just put their lives in danger to do what they could to help.  Our communities were changed forever that day and a new American pride made us stronger.  So I will take a moment this morning to grieve again, and then with a deep breath move on...  and continue to be thankful for all those who continue to fight for our freedoms and keep us save. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Aren't sisters wonderful?  I wonder if they remember what they were giggling at.  When we all get together, it's a beautiful symphony of voices and laughter.  We all live so far apart, it's difficult to gather, but when we do it's so much fun.  My youngest sister had the opportunity on the way to a family wedding to stop and visit our other sister and her family.  She got to meet the newest (for now) baby of the family and spend the day reminiscing and catching up.  This week on the playground, I sat down with a disgruntled girl who was upset with her sister.  She giggled when I told her stories about my bossy sisters and even told on myself about a time when I had been bossy.  I think I was an irritating child. I have a feeling my teachers thought so.  Luckily, I had older sisters to set me straight if I needed it.  I am grateful I have all of them to lean on if I need them.  We have a hilarious tradition in our family we call the Black Plate...  I will fill you in on that story in a later post.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I love to make my own dressings.  I got tired of buying bottled dressing to only throw it away because I wasn't using it.  So I started making my own.  Most dressings and vinaigrettes make only a small portion, so I can use it up.  A friend brought a pasta salad with this dressing on it and it was amazing. Enjoy!

Parmesan Balsamic Vinaigrette

yield: Makes about 2/3 cup
Only ten minutes to make - start to finish!
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1/2 oz parmesan, finely grated (1/4 cup)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
Mince garlic and mash to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt, then whisk together with vinegar, lemon juice, basil, parmesan, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper.
Add oil in a slow stream, whisking until well blended.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cranberry Oatmeal Breakfast Bake

I heard this afternoon that Cranberries are the new super fruit and should be included in your daily diets.  So here's something to pop into your oven while you do your morning Tai Chi.  Then call your best friend over for breakfast and coffee and tell her you need some help with something... :)

12 ServingsPrep: 10 min. Bake: 50 min.
  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 3 cups fat-free milk
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Additional milk, optional
  • In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients. In another bowl,
  • whisk together the egg whites, milk, oil and vanilla. Stir into the
  • oat mixture just until moistened.
  • Place in a 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake
  • at 350° for 50-55 minutes or until oats are tender and liquid is
  • absorbed. Cut into bars. Serve in bowls with milk if desired. Yield:
  • 12 servings.

Adventures in Tai Chi

I had some time before the retreat to memorize my stretches and the order they came in and was feeling fairly confident... and more than a little scared.  I decided that these ladies had probably never heard of the exercises and wouldn't know if I just made it up as I went along.  As the ladies entered the beautifully decorated room and made themselves comfortable, I sat at a back table clutching my Native American CD and my notes and tried to wake up from the dream I must obviously be having.  Finally the retreat director brought everyone to the front of the room and introduced me.  Twenty ladies stared back at me, some with looks of delight and others curious.  The director was looking a little frantic and I hoped I did not have a deer in the headlight look on my face.  I started the flute music and explained a little bit about the benefits of Tai Chi and told them this one had name I just could not pronounce.  They all giggled a little, but one woman lifted her chin, and with a twinkle in her eye said,  "Oh! Qi Gong!"   Well isn't that special.  Someone in the group was familiar with those exercises.  I allowed myself to panic a little, but pasted a huge smile on my face and agreed with her.  As we began the stretches, I continued to talk gently about the importance of crossing the midline and how these exercises not only stretch your body, but allows you spend some quiet time with God.   Their faces lit up and they followed my every move.  One woman gasped in delight when I renamed one of the stretches Calling to the Spirit.  When it was all over and the sounds of the flute drifted away, we began the retreat in prayer.  Several of the women came up to me and actually asked me if I lead classes in Tai Chi and how could they sign up?   I wasn't about to tell them I had only hours to learn the moves and then just trust in the Holy Spirit.  Some day I will...    
I got to lead the routine again in the morning when we gathered for breakfast.  I learned a lot about myself that weekend and the power of friendship.  Tai Chi truly energizes you and forces you to become silent for a moment.  I hope you do learn some of the stretches and try them in the morning.  And I hope you all have the kind of friends who call you  and get you involved in all kinds of crazy activities that force you out of your comfort zones. (This is the same friend, by the way, who got me to play for her daughters wedding on five minutes notice.  The bride was literally standing just below the foyer. But that's a story for another day)
  I felt like I was free falling that weekend of the retreat.  Lucky for me the Holy Spirit was there to lift me up. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What are friends for?

Last spring we had a wonderful womens' retreat in our church.  It was a weekend of relaxation and renewal in a spa-like atmosphere- for those attending.  For those of us planning,  it was a hilarious journey of panic and stress.  After months of hip deep snow and sub-zero weather, the director was determined to give us a weekend of inner peace.  And she did.  It was a beautiful weekend that ladies are still talking about.  We had many wonderful speakers and scrumptuous food.  Then she got the idea of Tai Chi exercises.  She had the name of an older woman in the community who was familiar with the process and she agreed to come and lead us.  The morning of the retreat I was jarred out of a blissful sleep by the sound of the phone.  It was the director's husband, apologetically calling for his wife.  On hindsight, she probably thought I would not say no to him.  I imagined her sitting in bed with the quilt covers up to her nose as he started dialing.  He went on to relay the bad news that the woman leading the Tai Chi class was stuck in a blizzard in North Dakota and would not be at the retreat.  He gently explained that his wife wanted ME to learn the moves and lead the class in just a mere six hours.  What?!  Assuming this was all a bad dream, I laughed and pinched myself.  No luck.  I was still standing there in my jammies, hair standing on end, clutching the phone in silence.  What was she thinking?  When the phone was passed to my friend, I hear the panic in her voice.  This is the first retreat she has ever put together. In fact, she finally revealed that she had never even been to a retreat and she didn't know what she was doing and needed my help.  Then she told me she already emailed me the link for the exercises and would I please...   The real panic hadn't set in yet for me, so I reluctantly agreed and went straight to the computer to look at the nine stretches.  I watched a video on someone doing some of the moves and thought (famous last words)  how hard could it be?  So I printed the exercises, grabbed my coffee and headed off to work.  Yes...  I had to work that day and would be practicing the moves in my head all day long until the retreat.  I admit during recess duties, I gave furtive glances around me and practiced a few moves.  My co-workers, of course heard the story and were in stitches all day long waiting to hear how this would all turn out.  to be continued...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fabulous Beet Recipe

I was never a fan of beets growing up, but now I love them.  I heard of this recipe in a book I am currently reading and I just had to google it.   This sounded way too good to keep to myself.  I cannot WAIT to try this:

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb onions (2 medium), cut 4 by 4
1 teaspoon sugar
2 (15-oz) cans small whole beets, drained and quartered (or halved if very small)
3 oz crumbled feta (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (1 oz), or more
Whisk together vinegar, mustard, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl, then add 2 tablespoons oil in a slow stream, whisking until combined well.
Cook onions with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and sugar in remaining 1 tablespoons oil and Pam in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Add onions pinenuts and beets to dressing, stirring gently to combine. Serve sprinkled with cheese,
Makes 4 servings.

Daily Grace

...The last two days of summer vacation...  where did it go?  It seems like just one blink ago, I had that goat on my front lawn, taking care of extra grass.  Sort of.  And now the nights are getting so chilly, the days growing shorter.  Back to school shopping reminds me of penny loafers and brand new boxes of 16 count crayons.  That was the biggest box you could get then.  We didn't carry backpacks to school in those days.  I imagine we carried our supplies in a brown paper bag.  We only lived a few blocks from school, so we walked on most days.  I do remember getting to ride the Town Bus once in awhile. I have vague memories of first grade and adoring my teacher.  I don't remember the walks home, but I do remember telling my very curious little sister everything about school when I got home.  She would watch for me at the back door and ask so many questions. Then we would settle in for an afterschool snack and watch Popeye on our old black and white television.  Dinner time was always six sharp.  Shortly before that we would be called to set the table, which meant pulling the table out from the wall and fighting about who set the plates and who set the middle.  Before long, dad would roll up the drive in his old pickup, come into the house all dusty from work and give our mom a quick kiss.  Then he would ask how his 'girlies' were before cleaning up for supper.  We each had our own mealtime prayers and mom would finish with the main grace.  I can still hear her soft voice as she prayed, head bowed.   I have been researching meal prayers for years trying to find the exact one she used, but have had little luck.  Meals were simple on most days.  Typical german meat and potatoes meals, with lots of pickles, veggies and fresh bread.  Most of the food was grown in our backyard or bought from neighboring farms.  I can remember going to pick corn.  We brought back bushel after bushel that mom froze.  There was nothing better than coming home after an afternoon of swimming to pluck a piece of corn out of the boiling kettle.  Salt and butter dripping off our chins, we would talk about our days.  That sunny little kitchen seemed to be the heart of our home. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Prairie Mornin'

Mornings on the Prairie are just so beautiful.  Especially after a wonderful evening with friends and a peaceful walk home.  We gathered for a barbecue to celebrate a birthday this week and I was thinking what a blessing friends are as I walked the brief two blocks home. My sister and her family came north for a wedding this week and stopped to visit our other sister during their busy week.  It sounds like they had a fabulous visit.  I could almost hear their laughter over morning coffee and caramel rolls as they began to catch up on their lives.  And everyone got to fuss over the new baby in the family.  My little group of friends are each as different as we could possibly be.  I often wonder why we are friends - we are that different from each other.  But when we're together, we're a tight group and there's nothing we wouldn't do for each other.  It was my mother's biggest fear that we sisters would not really know each other as adults.  But to our delight, we have bonded and can truly say we are all friends.  And we are all as different from each other as can be.  Our mother had five rose bushes planted in her yard.  Was she thinking of the five of us when she planted them? I like to think so.  I like to think of her prayers for us as she planted each one.  Her hopes and dreams for our futures.  She was that kind of mom.  A piece of her is in all of us...  whether it's her giggle, sparkling eyes, love of baking, creativity, or enthusiasm for life.  I always think a hug from my sister is like a hug from mom...  and how many hugs I missed on this last family visit.  I miss you all!

This is the salad I brought to the party last night.  I don't mind telling you it is fantastic.  Enjoy!

Heirloom Tomato Salad
6 medium yellow and red tomatoes (about 3 pounds. I used some cherry tomatoes also) cut into wedges
1 small Vidalia or other sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 T red wine vinegar
1 T sugar
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1 c fresh basil leaves, chopped

Heat vinegars and sugar over medium heat about 1 minutes until sugar dissolves, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat; whisk in oil, garlic, salt and pepper.  Pour warm dressing over tomatoes; sprinkle with basil and toss gently to coat.  Let stand 30 minutes to blend flavors.  Toss before serving.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

UMC Church

Elevator Memories

I live very close to train tracks and a friend commented recently that she really likes the grafitti that's prominent on the train cars.  I've never paid much attention to them, quite honestly, but I've gained a new appreciation for some of them.  Usually I'm irritated by the constant rumbling of the trains, or the loud wail of the whistle as it approaches crossings.  I think I might miss it if they stopped coming through our little town.  The trains pass by what's left of an elevator, which now is Yellowstone Bean.  It's where the pinto beans are brought every autumn for cleaning.  It's quite a noisy and dusty affair during harvest time.  They've long since torn down the actual elevator and left the bins.  I was sad to see the elevator taken down, although I can now see out into the badlands; but it always reminded me of the elevator my dad worked at for many years.  Sometimes my sister and I were allowed to go spend the morning with Dad at work.  I can barely remember the office area where we were allowed to play.  There was a yellow linoleum couch in the sitting area and a board with all the grain futures written on it.  If we were good, Dad would buy us a bottled Squirt or 7-Up from the machine.  An extra special treat would be an icy Orange Crush.  I don't remember what we did all morning, but he would admonish us to stay in that area and not to come into the loading dock where the trucks were pulling up.  I can remember the acrid, dusty smell of the elevator and recall looking up, up, up to the top. There were many times when we could not resist peeking into the loading area and watching as the trucks of grain pulled in.  I also remember being on the lookout for mice.  We were content to play all morning long in the office until the whistle blew at noon.  Then we would scramble into the old pickup and make our way home for lunch.  We would giggle as we bounced across the rail road tracks and headed toward 9th street.  I'm not sure why he took us to work with him every once in awhile, but it was fun to spend the morning with him and see what he did while he was there.  I do know that every job he did, he took very seriously and taught us all good work ethics.   Here comes another train...  and I must say, the grafitti is kind of cool...

We didn't have hamburgers often, but Mom made homemade buns for sandwiches often.  This recipe sounds like one I would like to try.

Whole-Wheat Burger Buns

From EatingWell:  Summer 2002
No store-bought bun can compare with rustic, wheaty, homemade burger buns like these.
8 buns | Active Time: 1 1/4 hours | Total Time: 4 hours


  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 1/3 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, or canola oil
  • 1 3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 3/4 cups (approximately) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Cornmeal, for sprinkling


  1. Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until the surface shimmers. Transfer to a medium bowl and let cool to body temperature, about 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, pour water into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast over the water, stir, then let stand for 5 to 10 minutes to dissolve.
  3. Add egg to the milk; whisk well. Whisk in sugar, salt, oil and the yeast. Stir in whole-wheat flour. Using a heavy wooden spoon, beat vigorously by hand for 100 strokes. Let stand for 5 minutes.
  4. Start adding all-purpose flour to the dough, about 1/3 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. When the dough is somewhat firm and no longer too sticky to handle, turn it out onto a floured surface. With floured hands, knead the dough for 7 to 8 minutes, using additional flour as needed to prevent sticking. Coat a large bowl with cooking spray. Add the dough and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free spot to rise until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  5. When the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for 1 minute. Using a dough cutter or chef's knife, cut the dough into 8 equal pieces. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 5 minutes.
  6. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray and dust it with cornmeal. Shape the dough into tight balls and place them about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Coat a large sheet of plastic wrap with cooking spray and place it over the buns, sprayed side down.
  7. Set the buns in a warm, draft-free spot until they have risen by about half, 25 to 30 minutes. Gently press down on the buns, pressing right on the plastic, to flatten them a little. Let them rise for another 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  8. Bake the buns on the center rack until golden and crusty, about 25 minutes. The bottoms should sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before slicing.


Per bun : 232 Calories; 3 g Fat; 1 g Sat; 2 g Mono; 28 mg Cholesterol; 41 g Carbohydrates; 9 g Protein; 4 g Fiber; 318 mg Sodium; 164 mg Potassium
3 Carbohydrate Serving
Exchanges: 2 1/2 starch

Monday, August 8, 2011

Faith of Our Fathers

As organist for my church, I get to pick the songs and this last Sunday I picked this familiar hymn of my childhood.  As we sang with gusto, I couldn't help but remember the little church of my youth.  Just recently they celebrated their final service.  With aging members and dwindling numbers, they made the painful decision to close the church.  With heavy hearts, I am sure.  The actual building is to be sold and moved away.  I can only hope that it will house another family of believers who need a building to worship in.  That building held so many memories.   My sisters were married there, my parents' final blessings heard there.  My mother sang in the church choir and I myself played organ for Sunday Worship.  We girls sat in the front rows and usually caused our father great embarrassment by our giggling and quick whispering or note passing.  Many times, he would reach across pews and with a hard FLICK to the ear, we were disciplined into silence.  For a moment.  After church, we attended Sunday School and then walked home to Sunday dinner of chicken noodle soup and the Jamestown Sun funny pages.  Youth Group was always held on Wednesday evenings and in the summers VBS.  I remember long games of Ante Over the parsonage garage and the cups of kool-aid in the afternoons. Christmas Eve Candlelight Services, Sunrise service on Easter.  So many memories, and if I close my eyes, I can see the members' smiling faces and hear their thick German accents.  No matter how long we were away, we were always welcomed back with a smile or a hug.  It has always been a comfort to me to know that building was still warming souls and the thought of it being moved tugs at my heart.  I know it's just a building, and the true faith is carried on within us, but it's still painful to realize UMC of Wishek will soon be a distant memory.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Zucchini, anyone?

Did you know that August 8th is official Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day?  You have to get up pretty early in my town if you want to catch the Zucchini Sharer.  Yes, it's that time of year when it is just not safe to leave your cars unlocked or windows open.  You never know when a bagful of beautiful zucchinis will appear on your porch. Or your car.  Or your Office.  I was at the Post Office exactly three minutes one day and came out to find some happiness in my car.  I have my suspicions of who the bearer of Zucchini is and she has way too much fun delivering the succulent summer squash to unsuspecting victims.  I myself have heard the muffled giggle and squeal of tires as she makes her getaway.  People tend to get very suspicious of each other this time of year, casting furtive, sidelong glances and listening for the crunch of tires on gravel.  My mom was a sharer.  Not a secret sharer, really. She always made sure the Pastor's wife had an extra Tea Ring (always the best one ) at Christmas and I think the neighbors enjoyed her kuchens.  I remember her sending us next door with a plate of something to give to them.  We would stand there in our shy way and knock until Esther opened the door.  She was a tiny grandmother type with a genuine smile and eyes that twinkled.  And she liked to share back.  Whenever she made fried chicken, my sister and I usually got the drumsticks.  She always said, in her rich German brogue that she and Edwin did not care for drumsticks, so would we mind taking them?  There seemed to be nothing better than eating a cold drumstick shared by a wonderful neighbor on a hot summer day.  I don't remember my mother growing zucchini in her garden and I have no idea when this vegetable gained such notoriety.  But it has, and here we are, about to celebrate Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch day!  Celebrate it to the fullest, but be cautioned that no matter how many zucchinis you sneak on that day,  I guarantee you will be repayed and then some.  I have to confess, I have never made this recipe, but it sounds wonderful.  Enjoy!

Zucchini Breakfast Casserole Recipe

  • 6-8 eggs
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce or other hot chili sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups grated zucchini (from 2-3 fresh zucchinis)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped plum tomatoes (from 4-5 fresh tomatoes),
  • 1/2 cup sliced fresh basil (from about 20 leaves)*
  • 4 cups cubed day-old bread (from about 4 slices)
  • Olive oil
*Chiffonade basil by stacking a few leaves on top of each other, roll them up like a cigar, slice thin, starting at one end of the cigar and working your way down.

1 Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl beat the eggs. Add the ricotta and beat until smooth. Mix in the grated Parmesan cheese, Tabasco, salt and pepper.
2 Prepare the vegetables and bread. Once you chop the tomatoes, squeeze excess moisture out of them by pressing them in a sieve, or wrapping in paper towels and squeezing. Add the tomatoes, basil, and zucchini to the egg mixture. Moisten the bread cubes with a little water then squeeze out any excess moisture using paper towels. Mix the bread cubes into the egg mixture.
3 Coat the bottom and sides of a 9x13 baking dish generously with olive oil. Pour the egg vegetable mixture into the baking pan and even it out in the pan. Place in the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes at 350°F. The casserole should puff up and brown lightly. If it hasn't after 30 minutes at 350, increase the heat to 425° and cook for 5-10 minutes further. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for 10 minutes before cutting into squares to serve.
Makes 6-8 portions.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

What a beautiful evening it was last night!  Fair week is always so busy as I'm sure it is in any little town.  What better way to kick off a busy week, but at a nice relaxing Book Club meeting.  We just finished reading Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.  I loved it.  Set in England in the early 1950s where a precocious eleven-year old finds a man murdered in their cucumber patch.  It is a race to see who can solve the mystery first - Flavia de Luce or the Inspector.  I laughed all the way through it, mostly because she reminded me of myself as a child.  I'm afraid I spilled many beans last night at PiCkLe readers book club...  (sorry).  Flavia is left to her own devices and overactive imagination in her huge country home with her two sisters.  She gets into plenty of trouble trying to solve the case, while exacting revenge on her siblings.  My sisters and I had many moments of revenge.  I clearly remember intentionally causing a ruckus in our little home knowing full well that eventually our irritated mother would separate us.  One of us would go to our boring little bedroom and the other would get to go into the inner sanctum. Our parents' bedroom.  Naturally, since I was the instigator, I had all bases covered.  When it was clear Mom would simply take no more of our bickering, I would position myself closest to their room, so I could stomp off to my Time Out and have many hours of peace.  During that time, while my sister stewed and simmered, I would try on Mom's feather hats and all the jewelry I could find.  I had a great time snooping in drawers and reading old newspaper clippings.  One time I even snuck in (ahead of time somehow... to this day I don't know how I accomplished that) my older sisters' wedding dresses and having a real fashion show.  I don't remember returning them to their storage boxes in the hall closet, but I guess I did because I didn't get caught.  Here's a family favorite cucumber recipe for you to enjoy. 

Old Fashioned Creamed Cucumbers


3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 cucumber
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

I usually put in a sliced green onion as well.


Mix the mayonnaise, milk, vinegar, sugar and salt together in a small bowl. Mix until smooth.

Peel and slice the cucumber very thin. Pour the sauce over the cucumber; serve.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Creamy Dilled Potatoes

Isn't dill the most wonderful herb?  I also love basil, rosemary and fennel.  You will be hearing a lot about them.  I have used dill in dozens of wonderful recipes from breads to soups.  It is so healthy for you and smells absolutely divine.  I swear, when I breathe in dill, I am transported right back to my mother's garden and can almost taste the sweet and sour pickles of my youth.  My dad loved pickles and every autumn Mom would can quart after quart.  It was our job to haul the jars downstairs to the old canning room and place them carefully on the shelves.  The sharp smell of vinegar and dill would fill the air as she chopped and sliced.  Oh my goodness I miss her...

Creamy Dilled Potatoes
6 small red potatoes
1 tablespoon thinly sliced green onion
2 teaspoons butter
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 to 3 teaspoons minced fresh dill
1/8 teaspoon salt
Dash pepper
With a vegetable peeler, remove a strip of peel around the middle of
each potato. Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or
until tender.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, saute onion in butter until tender.
Add the cream, dill, salt and pepper. Reduce heat; simmer for 4-5
minutes or until sauce is thickened. Drain potatoes; drizzle with
sauce and toss gently. Yield: 2 servings

August? Already?

How can it be August already? As I sit here enjoying a yummy latte and gazing out onto the misty Montana badlands, I wonder where the summer went.  It seems just hours ago when the children flung off their shoes in celebration of a long summer vacation.  And yet here we are.  This time of year I start thinking about glistening jars of jams and pickles, county fairs and wistfully glancing at piles of books that will have to wait as my life gets busier.  Growing up in North Dakota, the summers seemed to go on forever.  We spent hours at the Wishek Pool and then playing far into the night until our parents called us in.  Weekends or evenings were spent at Green Lake.  While Dad fished, our mother perched on rocks and relaxed.  I often wonder now what she was dreaming about.  We clambered around, my sisters and I, shouting and running and occassionally trying our hand at fishing.  I don't remember ever catching anything, but my sister does remember  going out with a net to get a fish and having the fish chase her back to shore.  She never quite recovered from that.  I am so thankful for getting to grow up in such a wonderful place as North Dakota...