Stay grateful during holidays

It is so beautiful here on the hilltop this morning. This is being written the morning of the first snow of the winter. Now, I probably will get very tired of snow before spring comes, but now, the first snowfall of the year is a welcome sight.

Husband Norm started the car early and brushed the snow off the windows and got the frozen doors open. I had another cup of tea and enjoyed the warmth and beauty of the fireplace while I looked through a new cooking magazine. I will get something out of the freezer that I can bake in the oven for dinner tonight, have some more tea, then spend the next couple of hours (or more.) with you while the article, hopefully, takes form. I will probably go through Mother’s hand-written cookbook to find some nice, “stay in the house and keep warm” recipes to share with you. The sun shining on the snow-covered pasture and trees always makes me want to cook something. Of course, the teapot stays on and the fireplace, too.

The “Good Old Days” are fun to remember but I am very thankful to be living in this day and age with a house that warms with the turn of the gas line and not the wood to carry in and the ashes to carry out. It was nice not to have to cut the wood earlier in the season and split it before bringing it into the house. I am very thankful for running water and indoor plumbing and warm clothes and appliances that work with the flip of a switch and a freezer and cellar stocked with food. There is nothing colder than a trip through the snow to an outhouse in the middle of the night. If you never had that experience, count yourself very lucky and be thankful for the conveniences we have now.

As I was growing up, we always had a full cellar of food, but it took hours and hours to put it all there. Now, canning is more of a hobby to be enjoyed. Then, it was a matter of survival and everything that was grown had to be sown, weeded, and harvested before the canning was done. Now, if we don’t want to “enjoy’ that “hobby.” we can just go to the local grocery and get anything we can dream of to eat. Foods from all over the world are available to us and we don’t have to limit ourselves to what grows where we are or what is in season in our own garden. Some folks (like Norm.) don’t enjoy the chore of growing a garden or putting up one’s own food, so those grocery stores are “modern marvels”. I guess since I grew up on the arm, I will always have that urge to grow things and can and freeze them. As I grow older though, I enjoy going to the Farmers’ Markets and the Chesterhill produce auction more than I enjoy the work of a big garden. Of course, we will always have tomatoes, peppers, zucchini – and anything else I can squeeze into the limited space that is allotted to vegetables – and I will probably still have a hard time fighting the weeds until I just give up and go buy my veggies. Some folks around this hilltop just don’t understand that natural urge to grow things like was done during childhood. The well used excuse is that gardening is good exercise as one grows older but it is the earned right of anyone to get tired and not care if the weeds do take over.

The cookbook segment will be in next week’s paper. Be sure to save that and try some of the dishes, maybe even pick one to add to your traditional Thanksgiving Day dinner. I already have a list to try of those I know will be published and I am looking forward to see new ones. There are so many really good cooks in our valley that you will find lots of recipes to add to your personal cookbook.

The colder weather did cause a decision to make a quick trip to the East coast. We drove to Millsboro, Delaware, on Friday, closed up the beach house, and then drove back on Saturday. Nine hours each way made for a “have to” trip instead of an enjoyable one. Thank goodness for nice weather. We took Bella, our little dog that likes to get away and run in the road when someone keeps her, to make it easier for our house sitter. She discovered the many squirrels that live in our yard over there, and about ran herself to death trying to chase them. She would stand on her hind legs and look up into the trees, then not know which one to try to scare out of the trees and down on the ground. The squirrels seemed to enjoy teasing her and chattering at her which drove her crazy. She was so tired that she slept most of the way back home. Alex, the lab we used to have for years, loved chasing the squirrels over there, too. He would sit under the trees for hours, just waiting for them to get closer.

Several years ago, we had two dogs that treed a groundhog in the pasture, and took turns under the tree for three days before they finally gave up and the groundhog got to come down. I never knew before that a groundhog could climb a tree. Survivor instincts, I guess.

The retail stores are going crazy this year trying to get you into them to buy before you go anyplace else. It used to be a tradition for Black Friday shopping for the young and strong ones who could get up in the middle of the night and stand for hours waiting for stores to open. This year, nearly every store is advertising “Black Friday” prices now and most are staying open on Thanksgiving Day, too. Not my cup of tea, for sure, and makes me want to avoid them totally. They know they have us at their mercy, though, as we do the purchasing for the holidays. I would rather stay at home and bake cookies. Guess I’m getting old and grouchy…

We honored our veterans this past week, but don’t forget to say “Thanks.” to them on Thanksgiving, too. If you have military members in your family, try to get them to write down some of their history. Many can’t talk for many years about what they endured, but maybe they would write it down and put it in a sealed envelope to be opened after they are gone. People need to know about the sacrifices these brave souls have endured and to let them know they are appreciated.

Keep a grateful heart as the holidays approach. Don’t let the commercialism lead you away from the solemn meanings of Thanksgiving and Christmas. And, please, wish everyone a “Merry Christmas”, not a “Happy Holiday”. Keep a smile on your face, the teapot on, and the fireplace glowing. God Bless.

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CROCKPOT CHICKEN FOR SIX

One medium onion, chopped

Four carrots, sliced

Four celery ribs, sliced

One small can mushroom slices, drained

Six skinless chicken breasts

One teaspoon dried tarragon leaves

One teaspoon dried thyme leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

One can condensed cream of chicken soup

One envelope dried onion soup mix

One-third cup white wine or apple juice

Two tablespoons cornstarch

Hot cooked rice for serving

Place onion, carrots and celery in bottom of slow cooker. Add drained mushrooms. Arrange chicken breasts over vegetables. Sprinkle chicken with tarragon, thyme, salt and pepper. Pour condensed soup over chicken. Sprinkle with onion soup mix. Cover and cook on high for 3 to 4 hours, stirring once. Twenty minutes before serving, whisk together wine and cornstarch in a small bowl. Stir until smooth, then pour mixture over chicken and stir well. Cook, uncovered on high another 15 minutes or until sauce thickens. Time cooking the rice to be ready the same time as the chicken is done and serve the chicken and sauce over the hot rice.

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BRUSCHETTA

One cup thinly sliced onion

One-half cup chopped seeded tomato

Two tablespoons capers

One-fourth teaspoon black pepper

Three cloves garlic, finely chopped

One teaspoon olive oil

Slices of French bread

One-half cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Spray large nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Heat over medium heat until hot, and then add onion. Cook and stir about 5 minute. Stir in tomato, capers and pepper. Cook 3 minutes more. Preheat broiler. Combine garlic and olive oil in a small bowl and brush it on the bread slices. Top with the onion mixture and sprinkle with the cheese. Place on a baking sheet and broil 3 minutes or until the cheese melts.

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LEMON PUDDING

One tablespoon melted butter

Four tablespoons sugar

Two eggs, separated

Grated rind and juice of one lemon

One cup milk

Mix together butter, sugar, beaten egg yolks, grated lemon rind and lemon juice. Add milk. Beat egg whites and fold into lemon mixture. Put into custard cups and bake in a pan of hot water about 30 minutes in a preheated 325-degree oven.

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SUGARED WALNUTS

One cup brown sugar

One-half cup white sugar

One-half cup sour cream

One teaspoon vanilla

Two-and-one-half cups English walnut meats

One-fourth teaspoon cinnamon – optional

Combine brown and white sugars and sour cream. Cook to soft-ball stage. Add vanilla, and cinnamon if used, and beat until thick. Add walnuts, stirring until well coated, and turn onto a buttered platter. Separate into individual pieces.

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NUTMEG COOKIES

Two sticks butter or margarine

One cup sugar

Two eggs, beaten

Three and on-half cups flour

Four teaspoons baking powder

One nutmeg, freshly grated or 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

One-half teaspoon salt

Two teaspoons vanilla

Soften butter and cream with sugar. Add beaten eggs. Sift flour twice with baking powder, and then add nutmeg and salt. Add to egg mixture, and then add vanilla. Roll out on floured board and cut with Christmas cutters and decorate.

Bake on parchment paper lined cookie sheets in a preheated 375-degree oven for 10 minutes. Dough may be made ahead and stored in refrigerator for a day or so before cookies are rolled out and baked.

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Contact Patty Christopher at jkoenitzer@aol.com