holidays


BUTTER LAMBS

Years ago when my husband and I lived in Buffalo, New York, there was (and still is) a big Polish Catholic tradition of purchasing butter in the shape of a lamb for your Easter celebration.

I don’t ban the bunnies, but I feel a lot happier with a few lambs and crosses around my house, especially at this time of the year.  Those sorts of things are getting more difficult to find nowadays on account of having to make store shelf room for the camouflage plastic eggs and the Barbie tin pails that someone out there feels is a MUST-HAVE for your modern egg hunt (I have to admit that those little rubber duckies they have this year are adorable!).

So when we lived in Buffalo, I joyously bought my butter lamb every year. When we left Buffalo, I was very sad to have no more.  So I make my own now.

Some people make a “wooly” lamb by making the butter all squiggly through a garlic press, but I just use a plastic mold that you might buy for making chocolate lambs.   I have 2 kinds:  one has a front and a back that makes a whole lamb, and the other is for chocolate lollipops–the front of a lamb without a back.

You can purchase a whole lamb mold at a baking supplies shop or at the Polish Art Center.

Here’s how to make a butter lamb!

1.  Using clean hands or the tip of a table knife, press semi-firm butter into the molds.  Keep looking on the front-side as you’re pressing, to make sure you get the air bubbles out.

2.  Scrape the back-sides level, wipe off the excess around the edges, and attach the two sides together.

3.  Put in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

4.  Carefully take the lamb out of the mold.  Using a knife and/or paper towel, trim the excess off the seams.

5.  Traditionally, peppercorns are used for the eyes; I melt a few chocolate chips and use a toothpick to paint the eyes.

6.  Traditionally, the lamb has a bow or sash, and a toothpick flag with a red cross is placed in his back.  I usually put a red or purple ribbon bow on mine, using melted chocolate to attach it.

May you have a blessed Easter, Friends!

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  ~~Isaiah 53:6

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Valentine’s Day was always a special event when I was growing up, because my mother always bought us a little gift and candy. I still have the plastic pin she bought me, and each year I manage to find an occasion on which to wear it.

I’ve carried on the tradition by always buying some Reese’s peanut butter cups for my guys, along with making a personalized Valentine for each.  For example, when the boys were into dinosaurs, I cut out red dinosaurs with something like “I’m stomping over to you to tell you I love you” or somesuch.

But this year, I was out of ideas.

The internet showed how to make an origami heart, so midnight last night found me struggling and exasperated trying out to make sense out of those directions.  I could NOT do it!  I finally found a different heart on a different website, and finished by beating out a ragged form that was kinda like a heart; it was easy enough to think of a slogan to write on it.  I decided one heart was enough, and that prize went to my husband.

I also broke tradition by giving him a small gift, enlarging and framing a photo recently found when unearthing old treasures.  This is a Christmas card his family sent to friends in 1961.  Chip is the youngest of the family.

As for myself, I snitch a bit of the others’ candy.And Chip usually gives me flowers, which were particularly lovely this year.

I had a flower from another source too:  my chiropractor, who gave a carnation to each of his lady customers!

Supper for us on Valentine’s Day is always the same menu, simply because I looked through a cookbook 27 years ago to find something different to fix when Chip was coming to visit me on this special day.  I remember painstakingly following this new recipe, as Chip sat in a corner of my small kitchen, keeping me company.  Disney’s Parent Trap was playing on the television in the other room.

Here is what we always have:

Chicken Imperial (from Good Housekeeping Illustrated)

Mashed potatoes

Carrots with brown sugar glaze (Betty Crocker)

Company cheesecake with strawberry topping (Betty Crocker)

Chicken Imperial has ALWAYS been very very good to eat, even when through the years we’ve done it differently–without flour, with gluten-free flour, with rice milk, with soy milk, or with water replacing the cooking sherry.  Here is the recipe:

Chicken Imperial

(with my comments in parentheses-as you can see, I’m not fancy!)

4 large whole chicken breasts, skinned (I use 3 lb. cut into small pieces)

¼ to ½ C. flour

½ C. butter

1 lb. small mushrooms–quartered (I use 8 oz. chopped)

1 T. minced onion (I use a bit of onion powder)

1 C. heavy or whipping cream

¼ C. dry sherry

1 ½ tsp. salt (I use 1 tsp. nowadays)

1/8 tsp. pepper

2 T. water

1.  Coat chicken with the flour.In 12-inch skillet over medium heat, in hot butter, cook chicken till lightly browned on all sides.  Put aside.

2.  In drippings in skillet over medium heat, cook mushrooms and onion for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in cream, sherry, salt and pepper and stir to blend well.

3.  Return chicken to skillet.  Reduce heat to low; cover skillet and simmer 20 minutes or till chicken is fork-tender.

4.  To thicken sauce (which I usually skip):  Blend 1 T. flour with water. Gradually add to pan liquid, stirring constantly, and cook till mixture is thickened.

5.  To serve:  Spoon sauce over chicken and/or put sauce in a gravy boat for the mashed potatoes.

Now to the subject of the greatest love of all: Yesterday I had the privilege of listening to the first eight chapters of the letter the apostle Paul had written to the Romans; when you hear the Word of God in big batches, it is so fine.  And when I listened, I tried to think of what it would be like living in that time and hearing Paul say those words.  Paul points out how terribly bad we are, and how hopeless it is to try to make amends for it ourselves.  It makes you feel horrified.

Then Paul explains how God passes over our sins, because Jesus paid the price for it.   By His grace, as a gift to us, he says.

Can you imagine it?   The people of that time knew so many gods, and these gods were so cruel; they demanded behavior and sacrifices to be just so, and you could never really tell whether or not they were going to be appeased (and isn’t that really what it’s like now too?).   But here is such a different God, the real God, who is so unlike the others (who were never real at all).   A God we can cry out to like children, and He is our papa.  A papa who loves us, gives us assurance, and gives us all hope for the future.

The passage ends with such a strong and definite promise:  Romans 8:38–“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

WHO needs ANYthing else?

ONE OF THOSE “REMEMBER THAT CHRISTMAS?”

The boys and I just got home from Iceland.

Not the one close to Europe, but the icyland of northern Indiana.

When we drove the 8 hour trip on Saturday, it was 1 ½ days after the big ice storm that so badly damaged trees and left much of Ft. Wayne without power.  But it seemed as if it had just happened-the trees and grass were astonishing and eerie, and when we opened our car doors upon arrival, it sounded like a thousand tiny chimes of tinkling.

The next day was the Christmas celebration of the Harvey sisters (and their children), and the temperature never rose above -3 degrees.  The wind made the snow blow horizontally across the farm fields, and so the wind chill factor was very very bad.  But since the only time they have ever cancelled the celebration was when it was twenty-five below, 40 people came to my parents’ home for lunch, gifts, bingo, and a visit from Santa.  Many of them brought sleeping bags “just in case,” but at the end of the day all got home safely.

The house was so full, and there was so much chatter and laughter, the windows fogged up and we were safe and snug inside.  Every once in a while, I would take a towel and clear a space for me to peek outside to see the wild wind and snow.

If you would like to see the whole group of us trying to sing the last verse of The 12 Days of Christmas, go here.

On the way home today, our first “rest break” was at a very very large department store in Ft.Wayne.  Most of the residents have power restored now, but you could still feel the shell-shock.  As we waited in line to pay for our stocking-stuffer oranges and apples, the lights flickered, and the whole huge building of shoppers paused and gasped.  But nothing bad happened, and we got out of there as fast as we could!

NOT SAYIN’

I had a short but interesting conversation with my dad today.  When I called, their answering machine started to pick up the call, but my dad quickly picked up the phone then, and we began to talk.  He was out in the farm shed and told me that Mom had called a few minutes ago to say she was headed home, and that she would bring lunch with her.

The subject quickly turned to my dad’s concern:  what should he buy for my mother’s Christmas present?  He had no idea, and now it’s only a week until Christmas….

Knowing how easy it is to spend someone else’s money, I readily came up with a couple of great ideas!   (I will not be specific here, on the off chance that “someone” from my family will read this blog)

We were happily into details, brand names, and plans when we heard this sound:  beeeeeeeeeep.  It was the answering machine, which had been recording our entire conversation!  And quite frankly, it could be quite possible that my mom had arrived home and had been gleefully sitting in the kitchen listening to every word we uttered!

“DAD!”  I said, “That was the answering machine!  It recorded everything we said!”

“ACK!” he replied.  “I gotta go to the house!”  Click.  And THAT was the end of that.

CHRISTMAS SECRETS

AntiqueMommy has her blog up and running again (after having her website destroyed by hackers at Thanksgiving), for which I’m grateful!  She lists some random things about herself, and I thought someone might be dying to know some things about me (well, maybe not, but here you have it…).

I have 20 kinds of Christmas wrapping paper downstairs, because I like variety.  I have to keep an eye on my husband, who would prefer to wrap everything the same and get rid of some of those tubes.

I keep them in an old wastebasket.

I have 2 presents under the tree for myself that I bought myself.  They’re not wrapped, but I’m not allowed to look at them, play with them, or read the instructions.

On Christmas morning, we eat quick things that we don’t usually have the rest of the year:  frozen pastries, bacon, and cheap frozen pizza.

The bottom half of our Christmas tree is not decorated this year; we have a teenage cat in the house.

I vividly remember many of the Christmas gifts my parents got us for Christmas, as it was a very exciting time for our family!  When I was three years old, I wanted a Thumbelina doll, and told my mother that I had prayed to God about it.  I did get that doll for that Christmas.  When I outgrew her, my baby brother took her over, and he used to fling her into his crib when it was bedtime and fling her out in the morning.  I have her still (although her head no longer turns with the crank), and she’s wearing a dress I wore as a baby.

I remember the rapture of Santa coming to our town each year.  He arrived in the firetruck, and we lined up in an empty storefront to have a visit with him.  There were no fancy decorations, no photographer…just a folding chair grabbed on the spur of the moment as he passed through town.  He always gave each of us a bag of candy.

Christmas, growing up, was always about Santa and gifts.  I am so very grateful that now, with my family, it is so much more than that.

That being said…Although my boys are teens, I still carry-on making noise, shaking bells, and ho-ho-ho-ing after they go to bed, pretending to be Santa as I fill their stockings (boys, don’t read this paragraph!).

From the time of our first Christmas together, my husband and I have gone to a nursing home/rest home sometime on the day of Christmas Eve, to give presents to a stranger (who is a stranger no longer) and/or to visit people we know who live there (which is the case as we grow older!).

I try to be creative with the annual Christmas letter.  Once it was a bookmark with statistics on it (Bars of soap I made this year:  107; Decibels of son’s bagpipes:  130).  Once it was a “find-the-object” photograph, with instructions on what these objects meant to us (Cannon:  seen while touring Gettsyburg).  Sometimes it is terrible poetry (“…tears out her hair in her Supermom role, there’s no time for thinking-she’s always on the roll”).  This year it will be a crossword puzzle.

I like to read Christmas-themed romances and/or mysteries this time of year.

And I have an organized list of what food items I need to buy for the holidays (this many bags of sugar, this many bags of Hershey kisses, etc.), so I don’t have to re-invent the wheel every year!

I didn’t know I was supposed to write a Thanksgiving post till all my xanga friends pointed it out, so I only took one photo on the Big Day.  But it does tell a story.

I was planning to take several of my niece holding her twins, in the hopes that I would end up with one photograph that didn’t have closed eyes, open mouths, or arms in the way!  But if you look at the photo closely, perhaps you can guess what might be coming next-and all opportunity for another photo of them was lost.  (HINT:  Mama was not happy)

I spent the day before Thanksgiving cooking as I’ve done every year, even though this was the first time in years when the meal wasn’t going to be at my house!  In this way, my son and I were able to take our own gluten-free food to the feast, and we all came home to leftovers in the evening.

In spite of being gluten-free, we were still able to carry on our tradition of making “turkey bread.”  I have a photograph of my children with their turkey bread for every year since we began, so we can’t stop now.

Younger son, in grade 1

Even though it definitely took a drastic down-turn for the worse this year…ah well, there are many more new recipes to explore.

Younger son, in grade 11

Everyone in the extended family was kind enough not to mention its loss; the taste of it is something they all look forward to at the holidays.

FRIDAY could be dubbed Teenage Day.  Because some teens who had moved away were coming to the area to visit their grandma, we hosted a get-together in our church basement for the teens to play games, chat, and dance some English Country and contradance.

My older son traveled to pick up some dagorhir warriors from New York state (girls this time) and they slept at our house for a few hours before leaving to attend a dagorhir event in the Washington, D.C. area.  Every mother’s dream:  to have children traveling on the highways on Thanksgiving weekend.  If you’re dying to see dagorhir in action, click HERE to see a 30-second commercial.

TODAY: Ah, today is the relaxing day, the housecleaning day, the catch-up day, the prepare-for-the-next-whirlwind day!  It is good to have a few hours like this!