Stay warm with treats

Have you thawed out yet? Wow, what a week. This is written while it is still cold, so by Sunday and warmer temperatures, we will probably all think we have moved south. It would have to be real south – like South America, though, to have found really warm weather. The house here on the hilltop is over 150 years old, so it is somewhat hard to keep it warm, and I can’t really imagine how the early settlers managed to keep from freezing to death with living in those early dwellings. We have a LP gas furnace and three gas fireplaces (the gas company loves us. We should buy stock in that company) and an electric heater to help in the bathroom. We are staying warm and have no frozen pipes – yet – but the water bill will be a good one as the faucets are kept dripping. The wind has blown almost all of the snow away and left the yard and fields just looking half brown and ugly. I am trying hard to remember the beautiful scene when the snow is nice and white and deep enough to cover the dead grass. The road has black ice going down either side of the hill. I will drive when it melts. That should be done by the time you read this, I hope. It is still nice to live in the country – I think.

The young ones around our valley enjoyed this cold spell. Most of them got some extra days added to their Christmas school holiday. Will they remember where their classrooms are after so much time off? Of course, about only one in a thousand spent the long vacation studying. Did we older folks ever spend vacation time with the books?

The kitchen is warm today as I am roasting a turkey. I always get an extra one when they are on sale around Thanksgiving, but I hadn’t planned on using my spare this early in the year. It does smell good roasting, though. I will even pamper husband Norm and make dressing and gravy. That “slim it down” eating plan will just have to wait a few days – maybe until Lent. I see Turkey Soup in my future.

The seed catalogs are coming to the mailbox in a much greater abundance than will ever be used. I do enjoy looking at them and day-dreaming about what I would like to try in my garden. The spirit is more excited at the idea than the old bones are though. I promise myself that there will be a reduction in the area planted this year. Norm seems to hear that same promise every year and is vocal about reminding me of it. Gardening is good exercise, but has to be done in moderation at this stage in the game. That’s OK, though – the Farmers’ Markets are getting more and more interesting and the Chesterhill Auction is an interesting place to go, as well as purchasing anything I really want to put up. The travel advertisements are coming at about the same rate as the seed catalogs, so that may save me from overdoing canning that I shouldn’t do in the first place.

My granddaughter Jessica in South Carolina has gotten the “canning bug” and I wish I were closer to her to enjoy it with her. Her grandmother Bonnie is a great canner, too, so she comes by it naturally and she has been lucky enough to find a companion who likes to garden. Oh, to turn the clock back about fifty years. Great memories, though, and the family recipes will be passed to one who will appreciate them. This will be a good chance for me to clear out some of the extra jars in my basement and I won’t be so tempted to do that extra canning that we really don’t need. Just habit (and enjoyment) to want to see all those jars lined up on the shelves with food for the winter. We do have grocery stores out here in the boonies.

The retailers must be in a panic. The sale prices on just about everything are fantastic right now. I love to shop but I really don’t need anything, so I am staying away from temptation. If you have a long list of shopping for birthdays and next Christmas, this is the time to take advantage of those sales. Then make a list of what you got and where you have hidden it as you might not remember where it is when you want it. I often find gifts which I have forgotten where they were hid. A large, lockable closet helps for “saving money by getting it now”. Of course, most grandkids have an uncanny ability to unlock any lock.

Norm about had a heart attack the other day – Ollie’s is a favorite store and their selection of reduced price cookbooks is a giant temptation. He just looked at the stack of books and shook his head. Of course, they are mostly just read, not used. I can’t give you the recipes from them – copyright laws – but I was glad to see a variation of many of the recipes I have collected in them, especially the German recipes my grandmother Semon handed down. Her coffeecake was so much like the Moravian Sugar Cake that I could almost taste it again. I can give you her recipes. Now, where to find room to put those new cookbooks.

For that coffeecake, use a sweet roll dough or just bread dough – the cookbook used a potato and egg bread dough. After punching the dough down after the first rising, roll out a thick piece of dough to fit your pan. Then, when it has risen again, use your finger to punch holes (not all the way through) all across the dough. Generously add brown sugar and a sprinkling of cinnamon, then melted butter or good cream so it goes into the holes, and bake. Those gooey holes are fantastic. Don’t try this if you are on a diet. I just gained five pounds thinking about it.

Welcome this New Year – it won’t stay cold forever. Take care and keep warm. God Bless!

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SUGARED NUTS

Two cups sugar

One-half cup water

One teaspoon ground cinnamon

One-eighth teaspoon cream of tartar

Two teaspoons vanilla extract

Four cups pecan halves

Combine sugar, water, cinnamon and cream of tartar in a small Dutch oven. Stir well. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches soft ball stage – 240-degrees F. Remove from heat and add vanilla and pecans. Stir until sugar begins to harden. Immediately spread pecans on waxed paper and separate into clusters with a spoon. Let cool.

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DIRT CAKE

(Kids love this; just don’t serve it to the Queen of England!)

Two (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, softened

One cup powdered sugar

Two (3.9-oz.) packages instant chocolate pudding

Here and one-half cups cold milk

One (12-oz.) container whipped topping

One-fourth cup softened butter

One (20-oz.) package Oreo cookies, crushed

Artificial flowers

Gummy worms

One plastic play shovel

One plastic 8-inch flowerpot

In a large mixing bowl, cream together cream cheese and butter. Add sugar, and then set aside. In a separate bowl, mix pudding mix, milk and whipped topping until smooth. Add creamed mixture. Line inside of flowerpot with plastic wrap, making certain hole in bottom is covered. Place one-third of crushed cookies in pot and top with half of cream cheese mixture. Repeat layers, ending with cookies. Refrigerate overnight. Decorate cake with flowers, worms, and shovel. This can also be put in a regular pan, or in individual small flower pots to give each child his own “Dirt Cake”.

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COOKIE MIX

Eight cups all-purpose flour

Two and one-half cups granulated sugar

Two cups brown sugar, packed

Four teaspoons salt (I use just two)

One-and one-half teaspoons baking powder

Three cups vegetable shortening

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Store in airtight container in cool, dry place. Keep on hand for quick cookies.

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CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Three cups cookie mix (above)

Three tablespoons milk – more if needed

One teaspoon vanilla extract

One egg

One-half cup nutmeats

One cup chocolate chips

Combine Cookie Mix, milk, vanilla, and egg. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased (or parchment paper) lined cookie sheets and bake in pre-heated 375-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until gold brown.

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PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

Three cups Cookie Mix (above)

One-fourth cup brown sugar, packed

One teaspoon vanilla extract

Two eggs

One-half cup chunky-style peanut butter

Combine all ingredients. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place on lightly greased cookie sheets (or sheets lined with parchment paper). Flatten with fork tines. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

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PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY COOKIES

Make cookies as above. Instead of flattening with a fork, make an indentation with your thumb in the center of the balls. Fill indentation with grape jelly (or jelly of your choice). Another idea, place a chocolate kiss in the indentation of each cookie.

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Patty Christopher is a longtime columnist for The Parkersburg News & Sentinel.