Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cookin' With the Best!

     Now that the holidays are nearly over, I pause to reflect on many of the treats and meals I've fixed. I love to cook and I love to experiment in the kitchen. I figure most of the recipes I use were, at some point, experiments that worked out pretty well. But there are just some recipes that you don't mess with. I prefer to call them the "Champion Recipes", provided by top-notch cooks in the area.
     I have a fetish for cookbooks, especially community books. I love thumbing through local cookbooks, even if they're not from my community. I've come to recognize the wonderful cooks in all the cookbooks if I didn't know beforehand. In my own community, however, I know which recipes to trust to the utmost.
     You can tell which cookbooks are my favorite simply by their tattered and torn covers. There are two Edison cookbooks that are fondly referred to as the "green book" and the "orange book" by those who own them. We know of which book we're talking about. I've long lost the green and orange covers of these two books, but I know exactly which is which. I love one of the recipes in the green book submitted by Lillie Anderson. It's not so much the recipe as how it's written. It's how to make chicken dressing. It reads, "Roast one fat hen until tender." Then it goes on to tell how to make the dressing from the broth just secured from said fat hen. The dressing is marvelous!
     Corky Golding has a cookie recipe in one of the books that says to use a 15-cent Butterfinger candy bar. It's a bit challenging today knowing what size of Butterfinger candy bar that is, thus the experimenting. Same with a number 303 can of beans, vegetables, etc. But it's all good.
     I'm sure each of you have your favorite "cooks" who have submitted recipes in your local cookbooks. Here are a few of mine that are definitely "no-fail" cooks: Corky Golding, Mable Keller, Margaret Gieck, Marge Anderson, Shirley Eichman, Shirley Eichman (yes, there are two of them), Pearlie Geist, Juanita Rasner, Etta Jenkins, Ellen Tanner, Corinna Sullivan, Irene Keller, Peggy Bennett, Penny Book, Janell Reid, Patsy Tompkins, Jody Gieck...well, heck, that's practically all of the green and orange books.
     Mike Kenney submitted a champion Peanut Brittle recipe (along with Vada Harmon, Mary Golding, and Marge Anderson) that I use every year for my holiday brittle. Jake eats the brittle out of the container and I usually have to make about six batches.
     In addition to the community cookbooks, I also own Margaret Gieck's book, two by Patsy Tompkins, a Falcon Fire Department book that's almost seen its better days, a Tri-County Fire Department book that's super, a wonderful Simla cookbook (Lorene Florey, Alberta McKim Moreland, Linda Maranville, Mary Ann McKim, May Ann Allen...just to name a few of the wonderful cooks).
     Well, all this talk about cooking is about to make me hungry. I might have to break out one of the books and create something new and different for dinner tonight. How about a recipe from "Tried & True", recipes from Colorado's Cattle Country, which includes submissions from the Cage Ranch at Wild Horse, my good friend Jerilyn Vick from Boyero, Janell Reid, Jean Reid...the list goes on. I figure I can't go wrong if the recipes are used to feed hungry cowboys during big spring brandings!
     I will share the peanut brittle recipe with you, just because it's still the holiday season and I'm in a sharing mood: 1 c. sugar, 1/2 c. white corn syrup, 1/2 c. water, 1 c. raw peanuts, 1 tsp. oleo, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1 tsp. soda. Cook sugar, water, and syrup to soft ball stage. Add peanuts and continue cooking until syrup is light brown in color and gives a hard crack test. Remove from fire and add vanilla, butter, and soda. Mix well. Pour onto buttered platter. When cool and hard, break into pieces.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Best Christmas Ever!

     Funny how every year we seem to say "That was the best Christmas ever!" Well, I do believe this was the best Christmas ever for me. It was the best because it was simple. Our family got back to the basics. We didn't gorge ourselves on food. We didn't have an over-abundance of gifts. But we did have each other and that's what made it the best.
     Our oldest son was able to come home from Arkansas for a week. He has to be back at work tomorrow. Our youngest son was not able to come home from Kansas for Christmas because he took off the Thanksgiving week. He did that because his co-worker lives in Indiana and Jade offered to give up his Christmas break so Ryan could have more time with his family in Indiana. That's how we brought them up, giving to others. Jake needed to be back early because his co-worker also wanted a couple of weeks off. He, too, took off Thanksgiving week so she could have more time off at Christmas.
     It was a dicey decision-wondering if I should make the trip with my husband to Hays, KS to spend Christmas with our sons. Jake took his vehicle and left for Arkansas today after spending a couple of quality days with his brother. I love that they are so close. I was concerned about my dad's health and condition, so I considered not going to Kansas. But Dad had a great day Friday when we went in to visit he and Mom. We took them a John Deere windmill and put it outside their patio door. Tears streamed from their eyes when they saw that windmill. I know it brought both of them back to the ranch for a while.
     So I decided to go to Kansas and spend a couple of days with the family there. I took all the fixings for a ham dinner for Christmas Eve. Simple--bone-in, spiral ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, glazed sweet potatoes, fresh steamed asparagus, blueberry, cherry, and pumpkin pies. For Christmas Day, Jade smoked a brisket for us and I fixed mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh green beans, and, of course, the pie. I'm proud that my boys both know how to cook and aren't afraid to do so. That was a wonderful present, eating that delicious smoked brisket that Jade prepared. We weren't rolling out the door complaining of over-eating. It was just right.
     Just as the gift opening was just right. The boys "pre-selected" their Christmas presents. They didn't want much, which is great. They just wanted to be together. I enjoy purchasing little things for them, like maybe a western shirt that they know they're getting. What they don't know is what I've done to those "little things", such as having their respective cattle brands embroidered on the shirts or on the hot mitts I purchased right in front of them. So there remains that element of surprise.
     And, just like little kids enjoy doing, the boys dressed in their new "duds" and we went to church with Jade on Christmas morning. Then we enjoyed the delicious lunch and visited some more before Harold and I departed for Colorado, leaving the two brothers to enjoy the remainder of the afternoon and evening together, visiting and reminiscing. They called us just as we pulled into the yard. They hadn't gone to a movie or done anything other than ate leftovers, visited, and were watching a football game on television.
     That's the best Christmas present any parent could ask for--siblings so close and spending a simple Christmas together with the family and simple eats. It doesn't get any better than that. Merry Christmas to all of you and a very Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Snow Days

     God is blessing us with beautiful snow that has blanketed everything. Yes, because we live on a ranch, the snow does create more hard work. It's difficult feeding the animals and it takes about double the time to get chores done. But it's worth it. The moisture will pay off next spring. And the beauty we see through God's reflection in the snow is priceless.
     My dad always looked forward to snow days. He'd venture out to the shop and build a toasty fire in the old pot-bellied stove. Usually, it was warmer in that shop than in the house. Many things would be accomplished in that shop on snow days.
      If our neighbor, Slick Moreland, would finish feeding his cattle and could make it through the pasture, he'd come up and spend hours visiting with Dad in that shop. Sometimes they would work on a project, but more often than not, they would just visit. I miss those days.
     I honed my basketball skills in that shop on snow days. The goal was obviously not a ten-footer, so I perfected my dunking technique...not that those particular skills paid off later. But the shooting and dribbling skills did get perfected and, more importantly, it meant quality time with Dad.
     I loved watching Dad weld something. He could fabricate just about anything. And, I can weld much better than I can sew, which really isn't saying much. It's not my mom's fault that I can't sew. She tried teaching me. But I just wanted to be outside more than I wanted to spend time in the sewing room. I also learned how to change the oil in vehicles and how to do some basic auto mechanic work on snow days. Dad used to always tell me, "Monkey (that was his pet name for me...don't ask), if you're gonna drive, you've gotta know how to take care of your vehicle. Check the oil...the gas will take care of itself."
     Watching Dad weld something seemed to mesmerize me. He'd always say, "Monkey, go get a welding helmet on. You can't watch me weld if you don't protect your eyes." And I'd grab an oversized helmet and sit and watch him fabricate something. There's just something about watching welding sparks dance on the table through a colored visor. It presents a different outlook on things...much like Dad would present a different outlook on things.
     Dad and I made lots of things in that shop. We'd visit and build. Sometimes we'd "invent" something for Mom to put in the house. I don't know exactly how proud she was of some of those things, but, being the good mom she was, she always displayed them. I thought they were pretty special, but looking back on those times now, I think it was just more the time spent with Dad.
     My dad's days are waning. He's under hospice care. He celebrated his 90th birthday in October. Last year I took a photo of he and Mom at Christmastime. He was in a rehab center, trying to build enough strength to move back to the apartment he and Mom share at assisted living. He did that because he's tough. He's made his living off the land. He's a survivor. This year I took a photo of he and our sons at Thanksgiving. His eyes lit up when they walked in the room. He doesn't talk much these days, but when he saw those two boys, he found some conversation deep within him.
     This is most likely my dad's final Christmas on earth. And on this snow day, I really wonder what he's fabricating in the shop in his mind? I think I might venture out to the shop later today and see what there is to do. And Dad, Monkey's gonna put on her welding helmet cause "I've got to protect my eyes."

     Thanks for the snow day memories, Dad!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Tis the Season!

     I love looking at Christmas lights. My family (well, I) used to put up outdoor lights and decorations, but that novelty kind of wore off a few years ago and I just enjoy looking at the ones others have so eloquently displayed. Tonight the local news featured a place in Pueblo that uses 83,000 lights. The thought of that boggles my mind. I thought 8 STRANDS of lights were a lot, but I can't even fathom 83,000 lights!
     When I was on the school board, I loved attending the annual state board association conference at the Broadmoor because the place is always so lavishly decorated and they put on the ritz in the old building. You can get free hot chocolate and cookies there, see massive ginger bread villages, and model train sets. Usually there are carolers dressed in period attire and it's all just a throw back to what we envision Christmas to be like.
     Another of my favorite haunts is the Seven Falls. They always light it up so beautifully and the drive up the canyon is simply breathtaking. If you visit on a beautiful night when the snow's not flying, you can roll down your car windows and listen as the Christmas carols echo throughout the canyon as you make your way to the Falls. There, your eyes are treated to multi-colored lights dancing off the roaring falls as the water tumbles beneath the ice. No photograph can do it justice.
     The past three years my travels in search of beautiful Christmas lights have taken me out of state. I've included a photo of this stop, which has become a favorite of mine. I probably won't return for many more Christmas seasons, however, because I won't have a reason to travel to Arkansas. Oops, I tipped off where the location is, but you should have guessed that if you scrutinized the photo well enough to see the razorback in the middle of the picture. They're proud of their hawgs in Arkansas, especially in Fayetteville, which is also home to the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.
     Despite all my ramblings through big cities and into five-star territories, I still prefer to take in the sights and sounds of rural Christmas settings. I find that rural dwellers seem to be a bit more creative when it comes to stringing lights and putting up decorations. There's just something about a real tractor all decked out in lights, pulling an old-fashioned wagon, plow, or manure spreader that's equally as illuminated. And Santa rarely dons a red cap--usually it's a grungy old Stetson that's probably seen it's better days, but still hangs in a special place on the front porch of the house that's beautifully and tastefully decorated with REAL wreaths and bows. Most of these places look like they've just leaped out of a Christmas card. That's probably where the card idea came from, don't you suppose?

     Well, I've put up a few photos for you to look at. They're urban decorations, but they carry the same message to all of you--have a blessed Christmas!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Trimming the Tree

     I finished trimming our Christmas tree today. That's a tiresome task, lots of ups and downs, both physically and emotionally. Normally my family members don't jump at the chance to help trim the tree, but I don't really mind. I like taking my time and reflecting on what the ornaments mean.
     Our tree is an artificial one, but the memories and love connected with it are so very real. Each ornament tells a story. My favorite ornament is the silver cross that is so detailed, it appears to be made out of wood with a silver coating. It  reminds me why we celebrate Christmas--to honor the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That ornament ALWAYS occupies a prime limb on the front of the tree.  My second favorite ornament is the gold Christmas bells bearing the date "September 25, 1982" and my husband's and my name. That's the day I married my best friend.
      I've bought an ornament every year for each of my boys since they were born. When they finally get a place of their own and want to set up their own Christmas tree, this can be a great start for them if they so choose. These ornaments probably won't mean nearly as much to them as they do to me, but that's okay. It was the love that went into choosing each individual ornament that really matters. The ornaments reflect their interests as young children, on through their school years, and now into adulthood. They range from homemade masterpieces each boy made as a preschooler, right through the shotgun shell ornament dictating their love for trap shooting. My three favorite ornaments for them depict the lifestyle they have come to love and they will always bear these roots, regardless of where they settle in life. Those three ornaments are a John Deere tractor, the aforementioned shotgun shell, and a cowboy riding a horse.
     The boys spend countless hours when they are together enjoying the freedom we are privileged to have and that is the right to bear arms. They love shooting their shotguns. Their grandpa instilled in them at an early age the importance of being good stewards of the land and how to drive the big tractors. And they quickly accepted my love of horses and riding and they so look forward to riding their horses and engaging in brotherly conversation whenever they are reunited at home.
     There are ornaments on our tree that are constant reminders of the tragedies that have occurred in our lives--everything from the 9-11 attacks on our beautiful nation to those special ornaments that revive the memories of a lost loved one--be it a relative, close friend, or former co-worker. Other ornaments force spontaneous outbursts of uncontrolled laughter as I recall the event or events that led to the purchase of that particular story-telling ornament.
      Well, the tree's all lit up for another year. Some people express their talents through their Christmas trees by decorating them with beautiful bows or making them themed trees. Our tree looks pretty much the same every year. This year I forgot to string the shotgun shell rope around the tree, but that's okay. The shell ornaments carry the same message.

     So Merry Christmas to each and every one of you from our household. May the memories you create this year be special ones and may you forever remember the reason for the season!