Thursday, April 22, 2010

Teacher Treats

Last week the children and I made little thank -you's for their Home School Co-op teachers, and today at our year end party, a few moms requested the recipe. It is an old favorite - and lately I've been really liking the chocolate and almond combination - it's just yummy!

So, for those of you asked, here is my recipe, adapted once again from an old Robin Hood Flour 1998 Festival of Baking booklet. I get the best recipes from those little freebie grocery store hand outs! Enjoy - but be warned, I had one dear friend utterly addicted to these simple bars. We had to do an intervention and take away her jelly roll pan!

Chocolate Almond Crunch
1 3/4 unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1 cup soft butter
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 package milk chocolate chips (340 grams)
1 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted

Combine flour and sugars; cut in butter until crumbly. Add yolks and vanilla. Combine. Dough will be sticky and look like there isn't enough, but keep going! Be fearless and press the dough (with floured fingers) into a 10"x15"x1/2" jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with sides. I promise it will cover - thinly, but it will cover! Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes or until it is light golden brown. It will 'puff up' a bit. Remove from oven and sprinkle those milk chocolate chips over evenly. Wait 4 minutes until they are well melted and spread the chocolate over the entire top with a knife. Sprinkle with almonds and press in lightly. Cool and cut into triangles or squares - no matter how you slice it, it's a simply sweet treat!

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Going Visiting?

I very nearly entitled this post 'Pastoral Home Visits for the Lay Person', but decided that was a bit too wordy, and might make me sound like I think I actually know something!  The truth is, my husband is the one who has lots of practice with 'Pastoral Care'.  It is a part of ministry that he still really misses - along with all those hours of in-depth Bible Study for message preparation.  It was also an aspect of ministry in which he excelled, mainly due to his compassionate heart, but also because of the helpful guidelines he followed. He always wished he had more time for home visits since he often came away blessed and encouraged by those he sought to minister to.

My sweet Mum has been blessed beyond measure by the loving attention of her church family during this time of recovering from hip repair surgery, however some of the situations that have arisen during her time of recovery at home have me thinking more about how the body of Christ could do home visits in a more helpful manner.  To be frank, Mum is so well loved that she isn't being given the time she needs to heal.  Too often she has been playing the ever gracious hostess instead of taking the time she needs to rest and do her physical therapy! Often one set of well-wishers are barely out the door before another contingency arrives! I read Mum the following guidelines over the phone and she added things I hadn't thought about, so this is a collaboration of sorts. I'm sure we haven't covered everything!

 Helpful Guidelines 
for the Home Visit
  1. Determine the appropriate time to visit. It is sometimes hard for those recovering from illness or surgery to 'get going' in the morning.  Often this is due to a poor night's sleep caused by physical discomfort, but at times it is simply because it is harder to get ready for the day. Simple tasks like getting clean, putting on clothing and brushing teeth or hair can be exhausting, often requiring a nap upon completion.  A 9 am visit might not be appreciated!  What about the case of a family with a new baby?  Everyone is longing to see the newest blessing, but keeping a calm home atmosphere and finding time to rest are more important. Call ahead and find out when it is best to visit.  Often just after lunch works well, but call to be sure. Don't interrupt rest times!
  2. Show up!.  If you say you are coming at 2pm, please show up at that time or call to arrange another time. Your visit is anticipated and your friend will be disappointed if you fail to show. Don't randomly change your schedule and come early either - there is a time for spontaneity, and this isn't it!
  3. Keep it SHORT!!! The general rule is 15-30 minutes, but be aware of your friend's complexion and demeanor and  look for signs of discomfort or tiring. Unless you've been asked to stay and 'patient sit' for extended hours, keep your visit brief.  It takes a lot of  good rest to heal, or to recover from birth or fresh sorrow and you don't want you desire to be a blessing to turn into a detriment. Remember, pain is exhausting and healing takes energy that can only be gained through proper rest.
  4. Avoid bossy greetings! There is nothing more annoying than being told what to do when you can't really do it!  For example, someone who is facing a long and difficult recovery time may not really appreciate a card that demands 'Get Well Soon!'.  It may be our deepest wish that our friend or loved one recovers quickly, but healing takes time and cannot be rushed.  Consider a 'Praying for you' type card instead. This applies in cases of chronic illness as well - reality is that chronic illness is by nature ongoing.  'I hope you are feeling better' or 'You've been on my mind' is far more thoughtful, and sensitive to the nature of the illness.
  5. Carry your own burden. While it is Scriptural to bear one another's burdens, this isn't the time.  Leave your personal struggles at home and bring your best and brightest smiles instead. Those who are facing difficulty need your encouragement and cheerful things to think about.  While they may be a wonderful 'burden bearer' when they are well, consider your friend temporarily out of the burden sharing business. They likely have enough of their own concerns right now - this is a season of healing.  If you lay your burden at their doorstep right now, you may find out later that they have dwelt so much on your concerns that they have been unable to properly rest. Unless they specifically ask about your struggles, keep it to yourself for now.
  6. Keep it upbeat! If you've ever spent time recovering from a long illness or tending to those who are, you know that 'Cabin Fever' can set in pretty quickly.  Well, there is nothing better for 'Cabin Fever' than a peek outside the window - and you can provide that for your friend by bringing cheerful, upbeat news about mutual friends and positive world events.  Feelings of isolation and disconnectedness will lessen when there are others to think about - and of course, never stray into the realm of gossip!
  7. Look for little needs.  Why is it so hard to be on the taking side of a blessing?  I'm not sure, but certainly for myself it is very humbling to be in need of help. That's why when friends graciously offer to help in some way, and then follow through, I am doubly blessed - by their help, and by knowing that they too have received a blessing.  If you walk into a friend's home and see something that needs to be done, quietly offer to do it and than just go ahead.  You know yourself how quickly a room can be dusted, picked up or made more comfortable. Little things that someone else has not seen to will make a big difference.  Can you brush hair, rub on lotion, give a gentle massage, fill a pill keeper, wash a few dishes, dust and straighten, throw in a load of wash, or make a phone call? Can you mop a floor, wipe a window, wipe the crumbs off the counter or tidy a fridge? Take 5 to 10 minutes and be a servant - you'll do more to encourage your recovering friend than you know. 
  8. Be a blessing. Don't neglect to share what the Lord is doing in your life, share a favorite verse, and pray for your friend. It doesn't have to be a sermon, a lengthy passage, or a prayer worthy of putting to music, just sincere words from a loving heart is all that is required.  'I would like to pray for you my friend' are some of the most precious words I've heard from the lips of my friends. Do be sure to avoid platitudes, hurtful comparisons, and thoughtless comments. 
  9. Skip the perfume. That goes for aftershave too guys.  The last thing you want to do is give someone who is struggling to recover a headache.  Many patients are more sensitive to scents when they are physically laid low.  This goes for flowers too - strong scented blossoms are often not the best choice. Ask a florist if you are unsure about what is best.
  10. Food or No Food? That is the question! Here are my humble thoughts. If the family has a church family that provides scheduled meals during convalescence or grief, consider bringing foods packaged and ready for the freezer, such as cookies, breads frozen casseroles or soups, rather than a hot and ready meal.  Dad and Mum have been doubly blessed some evenings and had two hot dinners to chooses from! That happened to us when we moved to a new church home, and also after our losses. It can be overwhelming, and frankly, wasteful. Even if you are part of a organized meal supply, do call ahead and be sure to bring appropriate meals - don't make assumptions. Ask about any dietary concerns or restriction, and make sure your amounts are appropriate.  Diminished appetite is often a part of  grieving as well as recovering from surgery or illness.  Are there two people in the home?  Don't bring enough for 8 - they will be heartily sick of even your best offering, and often don't have time or energy to think about freezing food for another time. Obviously you cannot cater to every like and dislike, allergy or preference for an entire household, but finding out about those is very helpful and shows your caring. 
*** I like to keep a 'friends file' on index cards and record these conversations so that I don't have to ask again.  I write down allergies, strong dislikes and preferences.  When we have a meal together I take mental note of what is enjoyed or appreciate most and record it later. If it has been a few years since we have shared a meal with a certain family I will call for an update ' Hi Mary, is Joe still deathly allergic to pineapple?' and update my card. It only takes a minute and it is so helpful.

I'm sure that there is much more to be said on this subject and that you have many good thoughts and ideas to add to ours from your experience.  I'd love to hear them!  I just wanted to get us started thinking about how to be a blessing to those in need, be it after birth, death, illness or surgery.  If you are part of household of faith, perhaps you will have an opportunity soon to be a blessing to a brother or sister in Christ!

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    Mama's Mystery Muffins

     These don't look like much, but they are yummy - the 'mystery' is that you never know just what kinds of jam will make their way into the middles - usually I use up those dribs and drabs of homemade jam that linger in their jars on the fridge door.  Enjoy!

     Mama's Mystery Muffins
     Preheat oven to 375 degree F.  Grease muffin tin - this make 9 muffins.
     1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour 
    1/3 cup white sugar
    1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
    1/2 tsp. baking soda
    1/2 tsp. sea salt
    Combine dry ingredients.

    1/4 cup melted butter - cooled
    1 cup vanilla yogurt - we love Stonyfield Organic ( sour cream works well too)
    1 beaten egg - room temperature
    1/3 cup milk - room temperature
    1 tsp. vanilla
    Combine wet ingredients thoroughly. 

    Jam assortment for the middles - about 9 teaspoons

    Make a 'well' in the dry ingredients and pour in yogurt mixture. Stir just until all dry ingredients are moistened - do not over stir. Spoon half the batter into 9 greased muffin cups.  Place 1 tsp. of jam in the center of each muffin and top with the remaining batter covering jam completely so it doesn't ooze out.  Bake for 18 -20 minutes. Remove from muffin tin carefully and allow to cool. Serve mid-morning with tea and sliced fruit!

    Certain children have burned their tongues on the hot jam in the middle of these light and tasty muffins because they were too impatient to wait for them to cool! Storyteller dubbed them 'Mama's Mystery Muffins' because he loves discovering which flavor of jam is hidden inside.

    Similar to 'Muffins That Taste Like Donuts', but with a nicer texture and less fuss!!

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    Sunday, April 18, 2010

    Dreamer's Delight

    I knew before I started that I would pay a heavy price, but I did it anyways, and I'll likely do it again!
    I did it to keep a promise to our Dreamer! 

    I 'lost' my Sunday today because yesterday we took another step towards making Dreamer's room a place of delight for her.  I don't like having to take a whole day to recover from exertion, but I am learning that's just what it takes. I often wish there were two Saturdays back to back each week before Sunday because I hate missing church.

    Six long months ago, our sweet girl had a very important birthday - she turned 12! Her hearts desire was to rid her room of it's 'pink ballerina' theme and move on to something a little more grown up. It took a while to settle on some color choices.  At first she wanted brown and pale robin's egg blue - but then the fabric we found included a vibrant teal, lime and chocolate brown combination. That was in November! 

    Her quilt top just needs a border - the back is made. Little by little this is coming together, and she has been pretty patient. I found an old thick white cotton Matelass√© Coverlet in our cedar trunk that was a double bed size and cut it down for her single bed, edging it in some cute ball fringe. We decided to recover her slipper chair too - it was mine as a little girl.  My Nanny covered it with white seersucker with pink gingham piping when I was a girl, and I recovered it for our guestroom in a green ivy print and than again for Dreamer's room when she was a baby - a pink floral. It's been around along time!

    She has something like this Pier 1 slipcover in mind - using her leftover quilt fabrics of course!  
    I think it will be sweet! The old chair has ugly legs so we'll just have to see what some paint can do!
    Painting is very mentally taxing for me - I really have to work myself up to it!  I hate painting - or at least, I hate how hard it is on my body.  I am so slow and unskilled.  I envy those who can paint a room in just a couple of hours.  I took all day, but all of the woodwork needed to be washed, primed and painted. All the walls needed to be dusted, washed, filled and sanded a bit.  It was the last room with oil based woodwork and it was very yellowed.  What a job.  We got the first coat of Behr's Cool Jazz  490A-2 on the walls and most of the pink is gone - but it needs another coat, for sure!  

    We used to have a good painter who was reasonable and good - though slow.  The last time we had him come he tripled his price without warning. We'll be doing our own painting from now on I guess.

    Meanwhile, the contents of Dreamer's room are in the playroom.  She is camped on the pull out in the family room, and Monday starts full speed ahead.  Maybe three Saturday's in a row would be good!

    I'll post pictures when it's done!  
    Dreamer is planning a party to celebrate!

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    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    Dreamer captures spring

    Dreamer took my camera outside today to capture some of the beauty of spring.

    We have a nice variety of tulips this year.

    These are her favorite.  I prefer the creamy 'Angelique' in the back garden, but these are delightful too!

    The daffodils are all but done - just a few of these creamy pink ones making a late appearance.

    These sweet mini's are ruffled beauty - and they have a sweet fragrance as well.

    I guess the lacy edges just make my heart hum - wish I had more of these!

    Do you see this???  These are scattered all over the gardens - thanks to the tree rats gray squirrels!  
    I have never planted red tulips - never!  I plant in clusters - these bold blooms are singly here and there everywhere in my shy pastel pink and purple garden! Poor Mr. Neighbor - his daughter worked so hard to make his flowerbed pop with spring color and all his bulbs have disappeared!

    Speaking of Mr. Neighbor, he has met the newest member of our family and heartily approves.  He says Bailey is an asset to the neighborhood and a sweet looking dog!  Thankfully she was very well behaved and waited patiently on her leash while we made the introductions!

    She really is just a sweet little sun puppy!

    I'm sorry I haven't been around much lately.  Remember how I said that just adding one thing to our schedule can make it hard to find balance? Such is life with chronic illness, I suppose. Baseball practices have tilted my world, just as I thought they would!  Our Storyteller is having a great time and learning so much, but I'll be glad when a few of our regular school year activities end and I can step off the tilt-a-whirl and on to solid ground again.  My liver has chosen this time to occupy far to much real estate in my abdomen and so I am quite tired and uncomfortable. Hopefully, this won't last long and I'll be feeling better again soon! I've been encouraged by this verse today, so I thought I'd share it with you for your encouragement as well!

    Romans 5:13
    Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, 
    through the power of the Holy Ghost.

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    Strawberry Cream Mold

     .... or a bowl full of yummy!  Whatever you call it, it was a huge hit at our lovely Easter Dinner yesterday, so I thought I'd share the secrets of my Mum's sweet gelled salad. I have to admit that I have often had trouble 'molding' this salad, as in putting it in an 8 cup ring mold and getting it to 'unmold' prettily. We've enjoyed many many 'flops' as  I have about a 50/50 success rate!  My 'stand by' now is to make it in a big glass bowl.  Yesterday, I doubled it and 14 people almost cleaned it up - and there were a lot of other delicious things to eat too!

    Strawberry Cream Mold
    1 3oz. package strawberry jello
    1 cup boiling water
    1/2 cup ice water
    1 1 oz. envelope of plain unflavored gelatin
    1/4 cup ice cold water
    1 quart strawberries
    1 3/4 cups whipping cream divided
    3/4 cup sour cream or whipped soft cream cheese (our preference)
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 tsp. vanilla
    1/2 cup good strawberry jam, room temperature - puree if chunky variety

     Dissolve strawberry jello in boiling water. Stir well.  Add 1/2 cup ice water and stir until ice has melted.  Refrigerate until softly set.
     Sprinkle unflavored gelatin over 1/4 cup cold water in a glass measuring cup and let sit for 5 minutes until softened. Place measuring cup of gelatin in a small pot with about an inch of boiling water (as for a double boiler) and allow gelatin in measuring cup to dissolve - it will become clear.  Remove cup from boiling water and let cool to room temperature.
     Whip 3/4 cup of whipping cream with 1/2 cup sugar until stiff.  Fold in sour cream or cream cheese and cooled gelatin. Mix well. Refrigerate.

    Wash and remove strawberry stems.  Slice strawberries and fold into softly set jello.  Pour 1/2 of the berry mixture into large glass bowl or if you are using an 8 cup jello mold, place 1/2 in the mold.  Refrigerate if too soft to 'hold' cream mixture.

    Layer berry mixture, cream mixture, berry mixture in bowl or mold. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours if  you are planning to be brave and unmold!  Unmold and garnish with fresh berries or piped whip cream.  I like to make a batch of 'strawberry whip cream' by whipping 1 cup of whip cream until stiff and folding in good strawberry preserves.  I smooth this over the last berry mixture layer in my bowl and than garnish.  I have often doubled this for my big 14 cup glass bowl and taken it to potlucks!  Enjoy!

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    April 1 - Just blessings

     I'm just popping in from the kitchen to share some blessings with you! I'm supposed to be making dinner, but since Dreamer is dropping chocolate cookies and everything is pretty much under control, I have a moment to sit. It feels pretty good, actually!

    BLESSING ~ I haven't been doing as much sitting lately ... my blood clot is improving! It feels great to be up and around and getting more things done.

    BLESSING ~  We have a yummy 'spring' dinner in the works for tonight - fresh fish from Sam's Club for my Historian to grill, local asparagus, a nice fresh salad, homemade Artisan Bread ready to pop in the oven when the cookies are done, a big bowl of sliced strawberries and a nice light angel food cake is cooling on the counter. I feel so blessed to have such a wide variety of wholesome foods - and a treat or two! The fish was on for $4.99 per pound. The salad greens were free with coupon at Kroger and 3# of strawberries were $3 - it's not an under $5 meal, but it's sure a treat. I've figured out that my Artisan Bread costs about $.60 a loaf, and we love it.  My next big investment will be in a grain mill attachment I think, so that I can grind my wheat freshly - it makes such a difference!

    BLESSING ~ A simply fantastic day weather-wise!  The daffodils are blooming, the birds are singing and we reached 80 degrees! Wow!  Happy April 1st!  We had our homeschool co-op today and it was such a blessing.  So many sweet friends asking after my Mum and myself.

    BLESSING ~ Mum is doing well.  She is getting stronger and doing her exercises, and it hurts a lot, but she is  making daily improvement.  I have been so happy with the many expressions of love that Mum and Dad have received - lots of calls, cards, flowers, and food - by the sounds of it, they will be eating very well for a good while! It's a blessing to me to know that while I cannot be there to bless my parents with my humble service, others have 'filled the gap' in wonderful, thoughtful ways.  Mum is so very cared for that I actually have not talked with her much all week - she has had to excuse herself because of visitors and other calls!

    BLESSING ~ Bailey!  She is a sweet dog.  I had forgotten the horrors joys of dog hair though! My, oh my!  Spring mud, dog hair and dust!  O.K.  It's time to get serious about this spring cleaning thing!  Maybe I should plan on some company soon ...

    BLESSING ~ Speaking of company, we are going to be company for Easter Dinner.  Our dear friends from co-op have asked us to join them, and we are so delighted.  I am taking a chocolate pie and strawberry creme mold to assist with the meal!  Even Bailey has been invited, but I've not discussed that with the Historian yet.  We'll see.

    BLESSING ~  the children and I got our hair cut yesterday - with wash cut and blow dry - all three for $35.  I love a good coupon! I feel so much lighter with 4" of dry dead hair gone!  It took 5 minutes less to blow it dry this morning too, so that's a big blessing!

    BLESSING ~ There are many more blessings today, and every day really!  It's time to get the bread out and round up some children to set the table! After we get the dog hair off of course!

    So, what blessings are you counting today?  I'd love to know what's making your heart sing ... or even just hum!