Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cranberry Tree responds

I heard from a reader who noted I neglected to provide the recipe for the orange bread. So this is for Stephanie:

Orange Bread
Dice 1 cup of orange peel. Cover with water and boil until tender. Add 1 cup sugar and boil gently until syrupy. (This mixture can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator.)

Mix together:
1-1/2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons shortening
2 cups milk
4 cups flour
4 teaspons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg

Place into two loaf pans. Let sit for 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

While I'm at it, I heard from my friend, Mary, who responded to the Growing like weeds post.

She uses fresh mint all summer, crushing it into tea, ice tea or lemonade. She makes sun tea just using mint leaves and water and steeping it on the deck for 3 or 4 hours in the sun.

Keep those cards and letters coming, folks.

Monday, June 28, 2010

So much to learn

My friend, Mary, noted on Facebook yesterday that she is learning about forgiveness and healing.

She recently completed a course that taught her how learning to forgive adds greatly to the value and quality of your life. She was shown examples of survivors of catastrophes and atrocities that have forgiven and are better for it.

Boy, that is a tough one.

I have been wrestling with this myself for a long time. Forgiveness does not come easily when a hurt is really deep. I can readily forgive small things, and even most big things from way back in my life.

But when something leaves a deep imprint that broke your heart, and altered - not ruined, but altered - your life, forgiveness is a slow process and one I have yet to achieve.

I don't exactly wear this on my sleeve, and I doubt that anyone but me is aware of it. But there it is, buried in my heart like a sore. Not a fresh sore, but more like a scar.

I either need this course that Mary took, or I need to sit down with these atrocity-survivors and ask them to teach me how they arrived at that place.

Oh, I still have so much to learn!

Growing like weeds

Nobody warned me that herbs grow like weeds.

The sweet basil and spearmint are taking over my garden.

I'm going to have to Google to find out what to do with it all. Freeze it? If so, do I chop it up first? Does it get soggy?

I really just like things fresh. Nothing seems the same after being frozen or canned.

While snapping the photo of the herbs, I took this one of my cute little barnwood bench my brother-in-law, Ron, made me years ago.

Ron is a great woodworker and made all my garden ornaments, like the one in the herb picture, as well as our bird houses and feeders. The barnwood came from their country home in rural Ames, Iowa.

And the little pile of seeds next to the bench are for the benefit of the chipmunks. They fill their little pouches with it and have a great time.

Okay, truth be told, it's for the benefit of my husband.

He loves to watch our cat, Catrina, go crazy when the chipmunks are outside our patio door. He lures the little critters with the seeds just to watch Catrina stare like a hawk and just about go through the glass door in nervous excitement.

While he is amused by that sight, I'm glad we're providing a good meal for a few chipmunks. I think they've spread the word around the chipmunk neighborhood because there seem to be more coming for breakfast every morning.

Too bad they don't like herbs.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Nostalgic recipes

Searching for the orange bread recipe from 1953 that I made earlier this week, I found another oldie.

So today I made Woody's Bran Muffins, a recipe I got in 1976.

Woody's was a restaurant located right off Highway 61 in Cottage Grove, Minnesota. Of course, Cottage Grove, once a suburb of 3-bedroom ramblers that all looked the same, no longer resembles what it was in the 70s, and Woody's has long since closed.

Back then, we lived in Cottage Grove in a 3-bedroom rambler, very near Woody's Restaurant. After the kids were off to school and before my husband left for the office, we loved to have breakfast there together to start the day.

They were great breakfasts: basted eggs, hash browns, an orange slice, and always a bran muffin.

And there really was a Woody.

I met Woody when his sister was a patient at Mounds Park Hospital in St. Paul. I was working there and he was visiting his sister. I told him how much we loved those wonderful bran muffins. Flattered, he offered me the recipe:

The best part about this recipe, besides how good it tastes, is that it makes enough for an army (or perhaps a restaurant), and keeps in the frig for six weeks. So when you want them fresh from the oven, voile, you have your batter all ready. Efficient, huh?

I baked some today. Mmmmmm, so good. And what great memories!

P.S. If you click inside the recipe, it will be enlarged and easy to read.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Storyteller project: Check!

The Storyteller is ready for framing.

Isn't she sweet?

Like a good book, I was almost sad when she was finished.
Okay, on to the next project...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Baking orange bread

It all started with Valencia oranges sent from my sister, Christine, to Mom for Mother's Day.

Valencia oranges are rather large and very, very juicy. So when Mom attempted to peel them, she found the skin too tough to peel away, but assumed she could just cut them in half and then in quarters and eat them that way. She had orange juice dripping down her arms.

So she asked if I wanted them. Well, of course, I did. Living on Social Security is making a scrooge out of me and I figured there must be a way I could get all the nutrition and value out of a dozen free oranges.

First, I juiced them. I got the most wonderful glass of juice I ever tasted, and a sore wrist from all the squeezing. Then I looked at the 24 half-shells and thought, hmmmm, I should zest these and freeze the zest for later uses. How frugal is that?

And then I thought of Ruth Stephens' orange bread, calling for a cup of finely chopped orange peel, cooked with sugar to make a wonderful syrup.

"Miss Stephens" (we never called her anything else) was a teacher at Summit Academy, a private girls' school, and our neighbor on Lincoln Avenue as I was growing up. The day we moved into our "new" home (in 1953), Miss Stephens brought a loaf of orange bread to my Mom as a welcome to the neighborhood gift.

She always looked the same. She wore her hair pulled back in a bun and wore sensible shoes and plain clothes. She lived in a huge two-story home that was sparsely furnished and austere looking. She worked in her garden and her lawn was meticulous. She baked molasses cookies. And she was the most interesting person. We were fortunate to have her as a neighbor and friend all those years.

So it is Miss Stephens' orange bread recipe that is baking in my oven today. I wish I could transfer the aroma right into this blog for you.

I doubled the recipe and got two large loaves and three small ones. Here is the first batch fresh from the oven.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bathroom renovation project: Check!

The bathroom renovation is complete. What a relief.

It was more work (well, not so much for me) and mess (yes, for me) than I ever imagined. The walls were torn down to the studs and new walls went up with tile installed in the bathtub area. The old 1970s small white floor tiles were taken up and new tile installed in a diagonal pattern. The big old, ugly vanity was removed and a new one installed.

Last, but not least, the globe swag lights bit the dust. Since there are lights built into the mirrored cabinet above the vanity, they didn't have to be replaced.

The fixtures are all brushed nickel. How trendy is that?

Our contractor (and good friend), Bob, was meticulous, thorough, and well organized. Ben, the tile guy, was adorable. Oh yes, he did very careful work, too. Rich, the plumber (and our son-in-law), outdid himself, carefully putting parts together and giving us back a functional bathroom once again.

Then my fabulous neighbor, Elaine, painted two coats of paint on the walls, so artfully and patiently cutting around the tile and ceiling to give us the finished look.

George was off on a fishing trip in northern Minnesota all this time and missed all the fun! Elaine and I hung the shower curtain, I filled the soap container and hung the towels, and it was all done about an hour before he arrived back home...Happy Father's Day, Dear!

Here's the new look!

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Giving up

I personally don't subscribe to the practice of giving up. I am prone to stubbornness and determination (not always good attributes) and usually insist on overcoming challenges when I hit a roadblock.

There are two exceptions to this. They don't come to me by nature. I learned them.

One is when I am reading a boring, poorly written or hopelessly uninteresting book.

I used to believe that once a book was started, you were committed, almost as though you gave birth to it. You absolutely needed to finish the book and could not ever abandon it.

In the wisdom of my advancing years, I now realize this is complete hogwash. I no longer hestitate to close a book, either returning it to the library or, if it's mine, giving it away to someone who might enjoy it. There are just far too many good books out there to waste time on one that isn't interesting to you. It's nothing against the book itself. But for heaven's sake, move on, find one worthy of your time spent reading it. And read for the pure enjoyment of it.

Another similar exception is with a stitching (or knitting) project. One time I was struggling with a piece, wishing it were done or I had never started it. But, since I did, I assumed I was committed to finishing the darn thing.

I asked my sister Edie (an expert stitcher) for advice on a troublesome part of the pattern. Apparently I had a wrinkled frown or something, but she said simply: "If you are not really enjoying it, don't do it. Stitching should bring enjoyment."

What a relief.

I now don't hesitate to ignore a pattern altogether, even if it once looked like one I'd enjoy making and regardless of what I paid for it. Likewise, I no longer hesitate to scrap a project started if I made mistakes or are disappointed with the way it is turning out. I give myself permission to forget about it and start over.

In other words, if a hobby or activity doesn't bring enjoyment, out it goes.

Why does it take so long to learn lessons like this that free your very spirit? All mistakes and disappointments in life should be treated this way. Give yourself permission to give up, forget about it, move on, start over.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Nature's call

Bathroom renovation, day 2: My house is looking like a disaster area and smelling like plaster dust. But progress is evident.

Today I was able to help Bob, our contractor and carpenter (as well as our very good long-time friend), by following the saw as it cut through the walls with the shop vac to catch the plaster particles. It did take some training. Does that qualify for carpenter pay?

We only have one bathroom. That creates an obvious problem.

Thanks to my wonderful former neighbor, whose condo unit at the end of the hall is vacant, for allowing us to take over her bathroom. And we have.

But picture us traipsing down the hall in our jammies to answer nature's call in the middle of the night. I am reasonably certain everyone was asleep as it was very quiet and almost spooky...yet there I was actually tiptoeing down the hall in my slippers.

Are we almost done yet?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Toilet in the living room

Does anyone else have a toilet in their living room? Well, we do (non-functioning, of course).

Today is Day 1 of a major bathroom renovation. The plumber (our wonderful son-in-law, Rich) was here all morning disconnecting the plumbing, removing the toilet, sink and vanity and bathtub fixtures.

I'm so glad I had just cleaned the bathtub as it was a beautiful sparkly white when the plaster dust and tile chips landed in it.

Here is the "before" look of the ugly bathroom.

I especially love the swag light fixture.

The entire bathroom is circa 1970s when the condominium was built. It has served us well, but face it - when it's time, it's time. We're ready to bring it up to the 21st century. And brushed nickel is so 21st century.

I am not particularly good with construction projects, being a bit short in the patience department. Although I love a good challenge (as in my volunteer library project), I dislike disruption. With the library project, I can at least come home to an orderly house.

Well, I could before today.

Now I have a toilet in the living room.

Monday, June 7, 2010

I have a job

That didn't take long, did it?

One visit to the Chisago Lakes Area library and a brief chat with Carla, the librarian, and the deal was cinched. I am now the "Used Book Coordinator" (a title I gave myself).

My duties entail reviewing all donated used books for condition and appropriateness, categorizing and shelving them in a room for this purpose in the library office, deciding which books to display for sale in the library (a function of the Friends of the Library with proceeds benefiting the local library) and which books to transfer to Family Pathways (to sell in their used book store, proceeds benefiting community members in need), and which books should simply be discarded. Can you just sense the power in all this decision-making?

This opportunity appealed to me for several reasons: (1) it is a big project, has been neglected and is very disorganized (yes, that appeals to me); (2) I can pretty much do what I want with it; (3) I can work whenever I choose, with no schedule; (4) my organizational skills and neurotic tendencies might just be appreciated here; and (5) best of all, I get first dibs on buying the donated books that come in.

So last week I reported to work. This is what the room looked like when I walked in:

Quite a mess, huh? Just let me at it!

Friday, June 4, 2010

A simply divine day

Yesterday my friend, Candy Walker, and I left Lindstrom early in the morning for a two-hour drive to Red Wing, Minnesota.

First stop at Red Wing: breakfast at Jenny Lind Bakery and Cafe where we ate fresh cardamom rolls and sipped coffee outside in the fresh morning air. The bakery is next to the Red Wing Pottery showroom and a long row of shops, including a Minnesota specialty store, a fudge shop (we resisted), a gift shop and a clothing store. I don't think we missed a square inch.

Then we headed over to a very old three-story brick building that was the original Red Wing Pottery factory. Now housing, guess what, more shops, this time smaller boutique-type bath and kitchen stores and many antique stores.

We decided we needed a slight breather from gift shop browsing, so we headed off to downtown Red Wing where we, guess what, browsed through many more gift shops. There is no shortage of them in Red Wing.

We did discover a great art and sculpture exhibit at the old Depot and a wonderful independent book store (sadly, a dying breed) and spent some time there. We meandered down to the river where we sat and took in the wonderful weather which was absolutely perfect. The sun felt good, the breeze was great, the air smelled fresh and clean, and the temperature was a perfect 74 degrees.

Of course, by now we are hungry as I'm sure you know how browsing through gift shops and sitting by the river can work up quite an appetite.

So we're off to the historic St. James Hotel where we had a great lunch on their veranda. I had a most unusual salad: fresh watermelon and pistachios tossed with vanilla bean vinaigrette, topped with bleu cheese and fresh mint. For a few moments there, I must have resembled my cat, Catrina, as I just about licked the bowl. Honestly, it was the best salad I have ever had.

A short drive later, about 10 miles further south, we arrived at the charming little town of Lake City on Lake Pepin. The lake was so beautifully blue and dotted with sailboats.

Then we reluctantly started the long drive home, stopping at Betty's Pies (well, we're hungry again) in Mahtomedi.

All this was to spend a nice day together and enjoy one more "adventure" (we've had a few) before Candy moves back to Texas, her home state, after seven years working as a Research Scientist at Hazelden. In a few short days, her moving van will come and she will be gone. But we will forever have our memory of a divinely wonderful day.

Of course, we will keep in touch and will remain friends. However the reality of being separated by geographic distance is that it's never quite the same.

Thank you, Candy, for your friendship, your inspiration, your gentle spirit, being a great "knitting coach" and for spending such a simply divine day with me.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Last night I threw away yet another sock with a hole in the toe. This has recently become at least a once-weekly occurrence, indicating the age of my socks and that perhaps I should think about a trip to Target to replace them.

Or perhaps I should be darning them.

I think darning socks ended with our generation. It's something the present generation may never have even heard of. Remember the wooden darning egg? The one you placed inside your sock to hold it taut while you carefully wove matching threads back and forth to cover the hole (usually in the heel)?

I have never actually done this myself, but I have watched my Grandma and my Mom do it. Of course, that was back in time, when it was just one of the many things involved in their main occupation as homemaker. That, too, is almost a thing of the past.

Well, anyway, I'm off to Target to buy socks.