Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Images of Autumn: Costumes

Captain Underpants

Sophie and Clara all dressed up for the Halloween dance at school

Whatever you do, don't turn around!

Rock Star

Scary Sister

Tat and piercing

Zip your lips, girl!

Images of Autumn: Harvest Time

Joe digs, the girls find the treasures

What do we have here?

Donna shows us one of the teeny-tinies

Stella shows off three nice ones

Inge displays one of the larger potatoes

Not a great harvest, but it will make a few meals anyway

L to R  Donna shows our seconds, small, medium, and large potatoes

I boiled up the tiny ones for supper that night.

Mint leaves to dry for herbal tea

Images of Autumn: An Autumn Drive

A View to the East, along Cty Hwy 2, North of Itasca State Park

Between Elsie and Jeremy being in Mankato and Joe's Grandfather ailing in Redwood Falls, and of course the youth group trip to the corn maze in Warroad, I have had opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this falls colors more than I do most years.  But, alas, I haven't had the camera along.

On the way home from our trip to Mankato in September the maples between Sauk Centre and Park Rapids were in a full blaze of a deep and blazing red.  It was absolutely stunning.  The kind of stunning that causes that sharp intake of breath with each new prospect.  I so wished for the camera, but instead I had to drink in the moments with deep breaths of the fall air and lengthy gazing at the glorious colors and textures as I drove along the twists and hills of US 71.

A few weeks later into the season, as we traveled to the further-north of Warroad, the yellows and tawny colors of the ripened corn and beans opened before us.  In the marshier areas, the golden birches and poplars and the deep green of the pines and spruce lined our route.  The sumac and other ground covers were starting to turn, for a lower layer of reds and yellows.

And then when we traveled to Redwood Falls the other week, we enjoyed a yet different set of shades and colors with the burning gold of the tamarac swamps.   Apparently, although we've travel this route to Joe's parents quite often throughout the years, we've never yet had the privilege to see the tarmacs in their most stunning color.  I couldn't believe the richness of the orangey-gold between Deer Creek and Wadena.  One the way home, I was traveling with Cameraman Joe, since Louisa had headed home a day early with the car.  But he was sleeping so soundly during that stretch of road, I didn't dare wake him.

He did try to capture some of the later tamaracks along our route.  They, too were marvelous, with the sharp golds of the tamaracks contrasting amongst the deep greens of the pines.  But now nearly so intensely vivid as the broad swaths of gold further south.

Pine and Spruce on the left and Tamarac and Birch on the right

A roadside cluster of gold and green

Colors along the telephone wire cut

The tamaracks at the curve in the road makes one wonder what awaits

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Enjoying an Old Favorite

I'm reading again!  What bliss!  What comfort!  (What temptation to read too often!)

Some of you may know that with this stupid depression thing through which I've been floundering this several years, I have had little or no concentration to read.  And some of you may remember the days when I was a two-or-three-book-a-week kind of gal.  When I was a reader of both fiction and nonfiction.  When I liked to learn things from reading about something new, or a new take on old knowledge.

Those of you especially who remember those days will rejoice with me, and totally understand my deep, deep joy, when I say I can read again.  Nothing very heavy.  Nothing scary or intense.  Still not much nonfiction.  But I read.  Read.  Read!  I love it!

I've been picking up cheapo books at my second hand stores.  I whip through them and then send them back where I got them.  Or at least that's the plan.  Mostly they just sit in stacks on my dressers because I forget to put them in the second hand bins.

I've read three Zane Gray novels in the last month or so.  Although those white covers with the red spines and the Texas Longhorn imprint were a staple of just about every home when I grew up out west, I had never read any Zane Gray.  I find them appealing.  Not great writing, but somehow, appealing.  I love the descriptions of the colors and light and sounds of the wide open spaces.   I  love the cowboy type settings and characters.  The West.  And I like that there's always a little love story.  A clean love story, toosomething that's not found in much of today's fiction.

I've read some fantasy by Raymond Feist, Magician: Apprentice, the first book of the Riftwar Saga.  It was an average book, or perhaps a little above average, but it brought me a disappointment.  The Ranger's Apprentice series of children's novels is a favorite of our family's.  It saddened me to find that the plot of the first book in the Ranger's Apprentice series, The Ruins of Gorlon, is very similar to this other title written for adults some twenty years earlier.  In general, the bigger plot of the fantasy world is not identical, but the character histories and sketches and much of the interpersonal relationships are very like.  

I recently picked up a copy of A Room with a View by E.M. Forster.  Ahhh, this book remains one of my all-time favorites.  Like Jane Austen, I love how Forster plays on the societal foibles of the time.  The book is a love story, full of passion, discontent, confusion, deceit.  But it so well portrays some of the silly things we all do as we navigate our lives.

The time setting of A Room with a View, being early Edwardian, gives Forster fertile ground to set up fun scenarios involving the clash between the prim and proper tail of the Victorian sensibilities and the free-thinking modern ideals.  The Honeychurches are the normal family, stable, proper, loving, and real. Aunt Charlotte, or Miss Bartlett, is the poorer spinster aunt who is prudish; prim to the point of judgmental; and proper to the point of perpetual martyrdom.  Mr. Beebe is the perfect universalist parson who sees the good in everyone.  Cecil is über prim and proper, and vacuous.  The Misses Alan are two elderly spinsters, also prim and proper, but disposed to think well of those who are not altogether so.  Eleanor Lavish is the daring modern woman.  An author.  And of course the counter-culture Emersons are kind-hearted. Mr. Emerson, the father, is portrayed as a kindly socialist buffoon; while his son, George is the brooding introvert, fixated on the meaning of "it all."

When Forster right at the beginning of the story, places these characters in the Pension Bertolini, in Florance, Italy, he shows his mastery of the art of satire in the behavior and dialog of the diverse personalities.  Before the end of the first chapter Forster has readers first chuckling, and then even hooting in mirth, as we get to know the characters.  And although I've read the book numerous times, I still laugh.  I still find new insights into the humor.  And I enjoy once more the old favorite dialogs and mannerisms.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Miss Bartlett is telling Mr. Beebe about their unfortunate beginning, without really want to gossip, of course.
     "The first evening means so much. When you arrived, we were in for a perculiarly mauvais quart d'heure."
     He expressed his regret.
     "Do you, by any chance, know the name of an old man who sat opposite us at dinner."
     "Is he a friend of yours?"
     "We are friendly, as one is in pensions."
     "Then I will say no more."
     He pressed her very slightly, and she said more.
Mr. Beebe continues a few minutes later with a more in depth sketch of Mr. Emerson's character.
     "I think he is [nice]; nice and tiresome.  I differ from him on almost every point of any importance, and so, I expectI may say I rather hopeyou will differ.  But his is a type one disagrees with rather than deplores.  When he first came here he not unnaturally put people's backs up.  He has no tact and no manners—I don't mean by that that he has bad manners—and he will not keep his opinions to himself.  We nearly complained about him to our depressing Signora, but I am glad to say we thought better of it.
     "Am I to conclude," said Miss Bartlett, "that he is a Socialist?"

     Mr. Beebe accepted the convenient word, not without a slight twitching of the lips.
And finally, as young George Emerson agrees to offer once more, his and his father's rooms with a view in exchange for those of Miss Bartlett and Miss Lucy Honeychurch, who have no view.  He scores a great coup that leaves us cheering and laughing.
     The young man gazed down on the three ladies, who felt seated on the floor, so low were their chairs.   "My father," he said, "is in his bath, so you cannot thank him personally.  But any message given by you to me will be given by me to him as soon as he comes out."
     Miss Bartlett was unequal to the bath.  All her barbed civilities came out wrong end first.  Young Mr. Emerson scored a notable triumph to the delight of Mr. Beebe and to the secret delight of Lucy.
But these little snippets, as much as they are enjoyed by those familiar with all the personalities, barely scratch the surface of the pleasure of this book.  You must read it yourself.  


Monday, October 6, 2014

Gluten Free Streusel Crumble Coffee Cake with a cup of memories.

Gluten Free Streusel Crumble Coffee Cake

One of the reasons I love facebook is because of the surprise connections I find.  It's fun to hear from long lost friends and acquaintance that I never thought I'd hear from again.  One such friend is a guy who went to my elementary school for only a few months when we were in eighth grade. 

I attended a small Christian Day School, so everyone knew everyone, and most of the same families also attended our church.  It was our neighborhood.  Our primary community.  When a new family moved into the area, they were instantly part of our circle of people.  Bob's family moved to our city for only a few short months.  He had several brothers and a sister, the different ones of them aligning with different kids in our family.  For whatever reason, we've always remembered their family.  Throughout the years, we've talked about them periodically.  We've tried to remember their names and ages and which one was in whose grade, etc.  And we've wondered where they ended up.  They were a nice family and a nice addition to our "neighborhood" for the short time they were with us.

A few months back, I heard from Bob on facebook.  I had posted a picture from my gradeschool years and tagged some of the others of my friends with whom I'm still in touch.  And Bob had seen the tag and gotten in touch with me.  What a fun surprise!

Besides the getting-to-know-an-old-friend, thing, I've also totally appreciated Bob's photos of the wonderful Puget Sound area.  Oh, how I sometimes pine for those views.  And seeing periodic photos seems to feed that little hungry spot in my heart.

Bob is a single dad of two beautiful girls, and in such a role, he does many "Mom" type things.  One of the things he's been working on lately is teaching his girls to cook.  And as he finds recipes that work well or that look like something they might try, he posts them on facebook. 

The other day he posted this recipe for Cinnamon Roll Cake.  The picture reminded me of the Cinnabon Rolls that my friend, Ann, used to periodically buy us when I lived in the Madison area.  All the gooey cinnamony sweetness.  The tactile pleasure of the yeasty rolls. The glutenous goodness.

I saw right away that this was not a yeast leavened cake.  But I bake Gluten Free, and since generally I have better luck producing something wonderful using quick bread type leavenings rather than yeast. 

I opened a document straight away and began transposing the Cinnamon Roll Cake recipe into a Gluten Free version.

And Saturday morning, I finally tried it out.

Some of the kids said it was too dry.  Others said too crumbly.  When I got back to the house after some work I had to do down at church that morning, I eagerly tasted a piece.  Or two.  Yes, it was a bit crumbly, but I don't think much more so than many other gluten free baked goods.  It wasn't dry either.  But it was heavy.  And kind of, ... well, ... Clara said it best when she said, "It kind of gets stuck in the back of your throat like homemade doughnuts."  Yes, that's it.  It had a similar clingy heaviness.  Which many of us like and others don't.

It's wonderful with a hot cup of coffee.  I've been eating a square of it each morning with my first cup before the kids get up.  And that's how I know it's not terribly crumbly.  We don't allow the kids to eat in the living room.  And Joe and I only allow ourselves occasional adult living room indulging.  I've been eating my cake in here each day without making a crumbly mess.  I have it on a napkin, but I can life up the piece and take a bite with only a minimal dropping of crumbs upon my bathrobe. 

But I've only had it after it cooled the first day, and then the two mornings since, it has bee refrigerated.  Perhaps that makes a difference.  Because of the high amount of fat, I suppose that it might hold together better when chilled.  Maybe when the kids had it fresh from the oven, it fell apart more readily. 

You'll have to try it your self to see.

I'm going to veer off one more time into some memories before posting the recipe.  So, read on or skip to the recipe according to your preference.

After my parents passed away when I was five and six years old, I went to live in "the city" to be raised by my aunt and uncle.  A few things were packed away for my sister and I to have when we were older.  One of the things that we found when we went through such things was a couple of 1969 church cookbooks from Holy Cross Lutheran Church, in Withrow, WA.  Our mom had purchased one for each of us girls and written our names inside the front cover.

Holy Cross had been our church when we lived with Mom and Dad, and Withrow was our home town.  A very small town.  Fewer than 50 people probably lived there at that time.  And although there are a few residents still in Withrow today, I've seen it listed among Washington's ghost towns.   Holy Cross church as since closed down, although I understand there is still a core group of people in that area who would like to try to reorganize.

Needless to say, this cookbook, for all the sentimental reasons listed above, is one of my special possessions. 

Within it's pages is a recipe for a coffee cake called Deelish coffee cake.  My gluten free version of the Cinnamon Roll Cake kind of reminded me of this recipe I used to make quite often. Of course I always changed things up a bit, and you can still see my variations penciled in.

Here's what I think I did for my Gluten Free variety.  I do have it written down, but, because of my change-it-up tendencies, I have no idea how close it is to what I actually made.  It seems like I must have used some almond meal, too, but, ... I just can't remember for sure.

Gluten Free Streusel Crumble Coffee Cake
Grease two 9x13 pans
Preheat oven to 350°F

  • 6 c GF flour mix flour*
  • (perhaps 1/2 - 1 c almond meal)
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tbs. baking powder
  • ½ tbs xanthan gum
  • 3 cups sour milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tbs. vanilla
Mix together.
  • 1 cup melted fat (I used about half butter and half coconut oil)
Drizzle fat in as you mix.
When well mixed, pour into cake pans.

  • 1 cup fat, softened (I used coconut oil)
  • 2 cup brown sugar (usually for this I'd use white sugar with a little molasses, but I didn't have it, so I just used white)
  • 1/4 c GF flour mix. flour
  • 1/8 c cinnamon
Mix together until cream. Drop by tablespoons onto cake. Swirl into the cake batter with a knife.

GLAZE (I only had about 1/2 c of powdered sugar, so our glaze was very minimal)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 5 Tbsp. milk
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
Drizzle over warm cake.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Room upset: Phases Two and Three

It's kind of hard to know where one of these phases starts and another one ends.  But here's the skinny.

Elsie's room in progress.
We have Elsie's room mostly emptied out.  We have a full sized mattress on the floor on which the littles are temporarily sleeping, since their former room is now the family room.  We left two dressers in there which Sophie and Stella may or may not use.  We can work around them for now. 

We have scrubbed from the ceiling and walls of the walk-in closet under the stairs a frightening black mural which Elsie called an owl.  And her representation of the wind, which I thought was the flames of hell from which various emaciated arms and hands reach out.  This mural was done on white paint in black paint.  Oh, and the paint was very thickly applied tempera paint. 

Sophie said, "I am NOT moving in down there until that haunted closet is fixed!"

I had bought a primer sealant to put over the black paint.  But.  Alas!  The thickly applied tempera simply smeared and smudged into the primer.  Spottily.

The owl on the slanting ceiling, the wind on the side wall.    I should add that Clara added the white heart when she was trying to see how the primer would coat.
Clara and I used about 20 buckets half full of soapy water to wash most of the tempera off.  It's not all off, as you can see.  But the smeary and smudgy part is removed to allow the primer to adhere and cover well.  I eventually got quite a system down.  I had two buckets of water and three rags.  I'd wet a small area of the tempera with one rag, totally soaking it.  I'd scrub that same area with the second rag.  I'd rinse those two rags in one bucket, and then repeat.  This left the water in one bucket totally saturated with black.  I'd then use the other bucket to do a thorough rinse, rinsing the black from the rag every few strokes.  By that time I'd need to dump the water and rinse the rags under running water.  And start again an another small area. 

Elsie, ... I know, I know.  You are an artist.  You inherited from your Dad the irrepressible urge to apply your artwork directly onto the walls.  You're probably too young to remember the Grecian Lady Dad put on his office wall in our house in Mankato.  But please, ... Do the J.'s a favor when you start feeling artistic while you're living in their home.  Use paper.  Oh, and in the future, ... when you do feel the need to do a wall mural, .. use acrylics.  Please.  It can be covered much more easily than can tempura. 

So, where was I?

Aha, the downstairs bedroom.  After the closet clean-up, it kind of took the wind out of our sails.  We got the edgework painted on the ceiling, but after that, the work has simply sat.  And waited.  I've been doing other things.  We had some church activities, John's birthday, and much catching up to do around the rest of the house.

But yesterday I finally got to some of the bigger projects once more.  I started to fold the heaps and mountains of clean but mostly unfolded laundry in the basement, in what is currently called our family room but really is just a catch all.  Boxes and bins and half sorted projects. 

I refolded and sorted several bins of bedding.  Blankets, sheets, pillow cases, car pillows, mattress pads, table clothes, etc, etc.  It's been sorted many times, but never completely put away.  With this many beds, it's a real challenge remembering which of the extra sets go on which beds.  I never know where to put it away.  And so it sits.  When someone needs a clean set, I send them down to the stacks, which are soon disrupted and askew.  The needed clean sheets or blankets are found eventually.  But the stacks and piles and bins gradually become less and less sorted and folded. 

I folded several loads of towels.  Since we recently got our Duane towels unpacked, I'm weeding through the older ones to see what's suitable to donate, what can be used for household rags, what can be passed on for shop rags, and what needs to go to the burn pile.  And then just the regular sorting that comes with four bathrooms and a kitchen.

What are Duane towels, you may ask?  Joe and I each had towels when we married.  We had also found a box of towels in one of the apts Joe lived in.  We got some towels for our wedding.  And about a week or two after we got married, one of our good friends brought us a case of towels.  Really.  From Sam's Club which was the latest new thing at that time.  Two of each of four colors and three sizes.   They were beautiful.  But with our already sufficient towel situation, and with our apartment living, we simply packed them away.

"We'll use them someday," thought I.  "It will be a treat to pull our these wonderfully plush and matching sets of towels somewhere down the line."  I recalled when I was young, with all the kids, it seemed like our towels were often a bit raggedy.

With the trend these days of people redoing their bathrooms somewhat frequently, we've also seemed to have a constant influx of really nice hand-me-down towels.  We've never had to break out the Duane towels.  After we moved up north here, anticipating much company coming to see us in the very sizable parsonage, I washed up that case of Duane towels and packed them away in an accessible tote bin to use for guests.  They've been used a few times.  But mostly they just sit.  We don't really get much company up in this remote area of the country.

And so it's time.  Joe and I just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary.  It's time to break out the Duane towels.  They are so wonderful!  What a treat!

Getting back to yesterday's cleaning, however, after the towels were folded and sorted, I bagged up two big hefty bags of older throw pillows and afghans and throw blankets.  Somehow we get so very many of this sort of thing.  Nothing matches.  It's all soiled, torn, dated looking, worn.  Really, we don't need to hang on to all of this.  Oh, that felt good to get rid of some of that.

Ugh!  The mountain of laundry that remains.
By the time I was done with that and had only the regular laundry left to fold, the pile was substantially reduced.  The old mattress from Louisa's room has been leaning against the family room wall.  But more accurately it's gone through a steady repetition of me leaning it on the wall, the kids jumping and climbing on it, it sliding down the wall for further climbing and jumping.  And then I put it back up and the process starts again. 

"Why do this, Mary?

"Because it's going to be John's bed when we get this room fixed up." 

"Why don't you just clear out the corner of the room and put the mattress down and make it up into a bed?   He can sleep in it, and perhaps if it looks like a bed, it will be subjected to less jumping."

"Oh, novel idea, Mary!"

And so, after having this little talk with myself, I did just that.  I brought his mattress down from upstairs, too, from the walk-in closet he calls his bedroom while pining for a real room.

The one complete corner of John's new room
John has a nice little bed now, in the corner of the family room.  The walls were painted last spring, but I see they could probably use another coat already.  The carpet needs to be cleaned.  And the remaining laundry needs to be folded and gotten out of there.  Then we'll arrange dressers and shelves in such a way to offer him some privacy.  It's hard to be the only young boy among the seven girls.  The other two boys are so much older, John often feels like he has no brother.  And he kind of tends to get tucked into whatever space is available. 

John's closet room
Bedroom Hallway
Entry Hallway