Friday, October 31, 2014

the Halloween-pumpkin-cut-out-cookie tradition

Cookie cutters must feel lonely in their drawer; we only use them at Christmas, but yet we have so many other non-Christmas cutters. As some people think cut outs are laborious to make because they need to be chilled, rolled out, cut and then baked, I really don't mind the extra steps. Do I make them other than Christmas? I have to; I married into the Halloween-pumpkin-cut-out-cookie tradition.

Some rules to this tradition that I have learned:

1. You CANNOT use your mother-in-law's Christmas cut out cookie recipe. That is strictly used for Christmas.

2. You must decorate your pumpkin cut outs with candy corn and M&Ms.

Growing up, the only things we used to decorate cut outs were frosting and sprinkles. Putting candy corn and M&Ms on a cookie? Isn't it sweet enough? No; these additions are required. I married into a let's-put-sugar-in-almost-everything family. I have learned to stand up to my mother-in-law on the occasions when adding sugar has seemed like a sin. And then there are the times when I need to succumb to traditions that only happen once a year for tradition's sake.

Because of rule number one, my mother-in-law found an alternate cut out recipe to use.




Soft Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
2/3 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
2/3 c. shortening
2 slightly beaten eggs
2 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. baking powder
 
Form into a ball; chill overnight. Roll out to desired thickness. Cut out with pumpkin cutter. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Decorate with orange icing and adorn with candy corn and M&Ms.

 

I bought a bag of candy corn two weeks ago because I planned on making these cookies. What I forgot however, was that I REALLY like candy corn and putting them in the candy dish on the counter was a really BAD idea. I had to use rainbow sprinkles on half the cookies because I didn't have enough candy corn to decorate with- whoops! I also forgot to buy M&Ms.


 
My husband will be happy because I made cookies even if they're sans sugar coated chocolate. I think he'll live.
Happy Fall <3

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

be careful what you wish for...

If I had a church resume, you'd probably picture at sixty-four year old woman.
 
My husband and I attend a wonderful, little church outside of town. And even though when we were "church shopping" we wanted to go somewhere with people our age, after going to about five or six different churches, we settled on Beaverdam Mennonite Church. We liked the mix of contemporary worship with traditional, the congregation was so welcoming and the teaching was stellar. As we sat near the back of the sanctuary however, a majority of the heads we saw seemed to be middle aged and gray; that didn't deter us from continuing to attend.
On the third or fourth Sunday we were there, a man, in a very vibrant, Cosby-like sweater asked to take our picture. (As you walk into the church, there is a mural of a tree and with all the pictures of people who attend, each photo taped onto a colorful, paper leaf.) I thought that it was a bit early to commit to this church by agreeing to have our photo on the wall, but we went with it anyways. Almost two years later, we are still there.

It can be hard finding ways to get involved at a new church or it can be a little too easy... After a couple months of attending, I was asked if I would help with vacation Bible school. After I agreed, I turned to my husband, "I guess we are locked in for the next two years."
My husband was asked to be part of an outreach group a month later. We weren't going anywhere.

For the first potluck we attended, I was complimented for my homemade dinner rolls. I volunteered with the annual gifts sale and helped decorate the church for Christmas. By Christmas, I felt like a part of a family.

Around early January, one of the ladies I had gotten to know, found out she had cancer. I wanted to do something for her and decided I would crochet her a prayer shawl. My mother-in-law had made a few and I thought it would be appreciated by my new friend. I picked a shawl pattern I had already done before and started crocheting it on a road trip that my husband and I were going on. As we returned home from our trip, I wanted to drop off the finished shawl at my friend's house. She didn't have a doorbell, so after some knocking with no answer, I left it on her doorstep. I called her when we got home to let her know it was there and she said, "Oh no! We were here! Oh, and I see your little footprints in the snow. I'll go get it now. Thank you!"
At the same time, I took over her position as "Visual Arts Coordinator" (which is a fancy term for the flower lady) something she had done the previous fifteen years at the church and wanted a break from. My friend also decided that she should start a Prayer Shawl ministry because of how blessed she was to get her prayer shawl from me. One dilemma with that was, my friend didn't know how to knit or crochet, so I started meeting with ladies to teach them how to crochet.
A few months later, I was asked if I would be interested in helping with the primary aged Sunday school class. Now, I help teach the class.

I am the flower lady, I help with VBS, I crochet Tuesday nights with the prayer shawl ministry, I teach Sunday school-- I skipped childbearing and went straight to menopause.

There's a sewing group at our church, too and we meet once a month to sew quilts.  The average age is probably seventy and then there's me, a twenty-something, sewing quilt blocks together, wearing Chuck Taylors, listening to ladies talk about hot flashes and canning green beans. I love it.
There is no other place I'd rather be then at this church.

Here is a another prayer shawl I just finished last night. I hope that the recipient feels loved when she wears it.



It's pretty funny that my husband and I attend a Mennonite church now. A few years ago, when he was working on an organic dairy farm in New York, he had the opportunity to visit a dairy farm run by a Mennonite family. When he came back home, my husband said, "Let's be Mennonite!"
Be careful what you wish for... <3

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

here on our farm


Autumn is a beautiful season- visually and deliciously. My sister, Juliet, and her family came to visit us on the farm a couple weeks ago. Even though it was a little chilly outside, we later warmed up with some homemade confections inside.

We have cows, chickens and cats here on our farm and that was a fun-filled afternoon for a four year old boy, let me tell you!

My nephew loved visiting the heifers in the barn and feeding them hay.




 
He loved feeding the chickens corn and was fascinated with our cat, Alfie. What more could a kid want? Oh wait, donuts. He would want homemade donuts.


I always use the same donut recipe that my mother-in-law found when we made them five years ago, before I was married. (I guess I'm attached to this particular recipe for those sentimental reasons.) I mixed up the dough in the morning, so it would be ready by the afternoon.




My sister manned the pot of oil and fried the donuts and donut holes to golden perfection. Some were left plain, but they were preferred shaken in powdered sugar and cinnamon sugar. (The latter was my favorite.)

Of course, I bought locally pressed cider to complement the donuts. My husband has called me a "cider snob" because I am pretty particular about my cider. Growing up in western New York, apple cider is a beloved beverage. I still am bias toward Robb Farms' Apple Cider from Brockport, NY. www.robbfarms.com If you are nearby they are worth the visit! The place where our cider came from was a close runner-up; still very tasty.

Here is the recipe if you'd like to give these donuts a whirl.



Old-Time Cake Doughnuts
2 T. softened butter
1 c. sugar
3 eggs
4 c. flour
1 T. baking powder
1-2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
1/8 t. nutmeg
3/4 c. milk
 
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until crumbly. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Add to butter mixture alternating with milk, beating well after each addition.
Cover and refrigerate for two hours.
Turn out onto heavily floured surface; pat to 1/4" thick. Cut with donut cutter.
Fry in oil of 375 degrees until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
Roll in sugar.
 
This recipes makes about two dozen donuts and donut holes, so if you plan on making them, invite LOTS of people over! Donuts are best eaten fresh and tend to dry out after just one day. Plus, who needs the temptation of fresh donuts in the house? They go down oh, too easily. Enjoy!

Monday, October 13, 2014

peanut butter & arugula sandwiches

A few summers ago, I worked on an organic vegetable farm in Western New York. It wasn't easy work and I probably complained more than I should've, but it was such a rewarding experience. I learned a lot and am able to use some of that knowledge with my own organic garden.
Living on a farm, in a renovated Shasta camper with my husband was something I won't ever forget. I also won't forget the many meals we shared as a family of farm hands, under a billboard covered hoop house.
We usually ate oatmeal for breakfast or reject granola from the bakery, lots of salads for lunch and anything with peanut butter: carrots and peanut butter, apples and peanut butter, and my very favorite, peanut butter and arugula sandwiches!


I had forgotten that my husband seeded some arugula in our garden about a month ago and he asked me if I'd had an arugula and peanut butter sandwich yet. WHAT?! No! That was on my list of things I needed to do today: go pick some arugula and make a sandwich.
I love spicy greens. Mustard greens and arugula; so tasty. I think it's the sweetness of the creamy peanut butter paired with the crisp, spicy arugula that I love.
When you live on a farm, you'll try a lot of interesting combinations. This one was and still is a keeper.
I wish I kept in better touch with all the wonderful people we worked with on Mud Creek Farm that summer. If you were one of those people- Erin, Kim, Luke, Eli, or Margaret; I'm thinking of you and miss you. I hope you all are doing well <3

just "eh"

I have been a part time art teacher at a small Christian school for the past two years. It is kindergarten through sixth grade and even though I probably would prefer adolescent over elementary education, I have enjoyed getting to know the students and finding out where they come from.
Last month was open house at school. I share a room with the sixth grade teacher and he asked if I would do something on the bulletin board. I said, yes because I love doing bulletin boards and he was thrilled because he does not. After looking on pinterest (which is where I find much inspiration) I saw someone made a "coloring wall." The person had painted various designs on a large piece of paper and encouraged people to help fill it in.
I googled "The Earth without Art is just Eh" and this Stampin' Up! image come up.


Since it was after school when I started working on this and my energy level was slowing down as was my creativity, I copied this image onto a piece of paper, and stapled it the bulletin board. I called it, "Mrs. McCray's Open House Coloring Page!"


I told the kids the bulletin board looked pretty boring without any color.


They helped themselves to the crayons on my "Art Cart" and started making the coloring page look fun!

 
The kids enjoyed coloring and some of the parents joined in as well. This may turn into an annual event at open house. I don't even want to imagine the Earth without art; how boring would that be?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

living on a dusty, dirt road

I love living in the country. It's peaceful.  I get to see wildlife, there's room for a garden and a small flock of chickens. Living on a dusty, dirt road, as rustic as that sounds, has had one slight drawback to my twenty-something lifestyle: no internet. My in-laws live down the road and have dial-up. (Yes, it does still exist.) For years, dial-up had been the only option for the internet. If we were desperate, my husband or I would drive ten minutes into town to use the computer at the library.
Fortunately, we stumbled upon the news that DSL now reached our dusty dirt road! Of course, only a few days into our new found internet-full life, I have been found to be less productive. Good thing I don't have a smartphone, I would get nothing done.
I have missed blogging and sharing what I've been up to. Not sure if you've missed me, but ready or not here I come!

Our Summer, has been eventful; we adopted a cat, Alfie, who we cuddle and spoil and our garden was a huge success! When people complained about the excessive rain washing out plants, I just bit my lip.



We were overloaded with green and yellow beans and sold them at the Farmer's Market and to our neighbors. I may or may not have over thirty pints of beans on my canning shelf in the basement...

 
 
Another hot ticket item is our winter squash. One reason we love it is because it keeps all Winter. We have a table in front of our house and have buttercup, butternut, delicata (my favorite), pie pumpkins, red kuri and acorn squash for sale.


Living on a dusty, dirt road isn't so bad. I just need to look at the blessings I already have and be thankful for them.