Thursday, 26 May 2011

The-Not-THE- Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Mama was known in our small town for her oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe.   When the other kids at school sold Krispy Kreme donuts for fundraisers, I sold her cookies and she donated the ingredients so the organization could keep all of the profits.   When I was in high school, I would bring a huge shopping bag filled with gift bags of cookies for friends and teachers.   The second year I did that, I was met at the bus by people looking for their cookies.   My seventh grade English teacher offered me $25 for the recipe.  Several friends from high school messaged me about Mama's cookies when they first found me on Facebook.

One day, in eighth grade PE class, I had some left-over cookies in a bag and I gave them to my PE teacher.   She told me I didn't have to bother dressing out that day.   Now, the women in my family loathe PE.   I love watching sports and supporting athletes, but I despise PE.   When you have no athletic ability and the teacher makes the losing team run laps with no extra time to get dressed, you come to dislike the class.   Needless to say, that teacher got a lot more cookies over the course of that school year and I got a few extra "no-dress" days, I'll admit.

That being said, the following recipe is not Mama's.   Really, after all that build-up!  I'm just not ready to release it and honestly, I can't duplicate her results with it.   She swore by Winn-Dixie's Superbrand margarine.   I know purists say butter, and I am normally in the purist camp, but there is something about margarine and shortening that gives cookies just the right texture and crumb.   I usually like a combination of half margarine (I like Imperial)/shortening (always Crisco) and half butter.   Butter for the taste, the other for the texture, just like my pie crust.   I really think the hand-written copy of the recipe I found in her cookbook has something missing.   

No, this is a more standard chocolate chip recipe, but it's the BEST I've ever tasted.   I beat the sugar and fats in my mixer, but then I stir in the rest by hand.   It makes a difference, I think.   The dough freezes beautifully, as do the baked cookies.   There is no reason to buy frozen dough!

So here's The-Not-THE-Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe from Pillsbury's The Complete Book of Baking:

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped nuts or sunflower seed kernels

Heat oven to 375 degrees.   In a large bowl, combine butter, sugars, and shortening; beat until light and fluffy.   Add vanilla and egg; blend well.   Stir in flour, baking soda and salt; mix well.   Stir in chips and nuts.   Drop dough by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.   Bake at 375 for 8 to 10 min. or until light golden brown.   Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets.*  Cool on baking racks.

*This is an IMPORTANT step.   Cookies continue cooking on the sheet for that minute.   That's why you remove the cookies from the oven just right before they are the right color.  

Yield: 4 doz. cookies

Two Quick "Alternative to Cans" Recipes: Sloppy Joes & Chili Dog Sauce

These are two favorite recipes from Southern Living's Homestyle Cooking cook book.   Both allow a healthy, or at least, wholesome alternative to canned items.   Plus, they're very economical. 

Sloppy Joes  
(I always add chopped bell pepper and minced garlic w/the onion.)

1 lb. ground beef or turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup ketchup
3 Tbsp. sweet or dill pickle relish
1 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. prepared mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
5 hamburger buns, toasted

Brown ground meat and onion in a large nonstick skillet, stirring until meat crumbles; drain.   Stir in ketchup and next 5 ingredients.   Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.   Spoon meat mixture over bottom halves of buns; top with remaining halves.  Yield: 5 servings.

Chili Dog Sauce  
( I try to make double or triple batches to freeze.   It reheats well, especially on the stove.)

2 lbs. ground beef, turkey, or combo.
1 med. onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. pepper
2 cups tomato juice

Cook ground meat and onion in a Dutch oven over med.-high heat until beef is browned, stirring until it crumbles; drain well.  

Add garlic, chili powder, and ground cumin; cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly.   Add ground ginger and remaining ingredients; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 30 min. or until thickened.  Serve hot over frankfurters in buns.   Yield: 5 cups.

Monday, 16 May 2011

One Canopy For Another

It's been a while since I've written a post of any real length.   My reason can be summed up in one word: MOVING.   In March, we bought a new (to us) home!

It's been quite an experience.   We began looking in December and we found our new home in January.   I won't go into the details, but the previous owners' story was very interesting and complicated.   And we had an emergency house blessing the morning after closing!  

It's an odd thing to upgrade your living situation.   I kept walking around saying, "This is too nice for us."   I spoke to a friend about it and she said she felt the same way when they bought their home.  I mean, what percentage of the world's population sleeps on dirt floors and I have 3 different eating areas in my new house?   I've felt very guilty, but I've come to realize that I can accept the blessing and share it in the form of hospitality and generosity toward guests in our home.   Conversations with friends on this matter have helped greatly!

It's also been odd because this house is nothing like I thought my next house would be.   For one, it's a very common floor plan in our area.   We looked at about five houses with similar layouts.    I can't stand to be just like everyone else, so the first time we looked at it, I was not keen on it just for that reason.   I wanted to come back, though, and could not get it out of my mind, though, for one reason: Location!   I know, I hear about location, location, location in real estate talk, but this one was special for reasons other than property/resale value.   It is only half a mile from our parish.   I can see the steeples of our Adoration chapel and Sanctuary from my kitchen window!   We can walk to church.   Now, in Texas summers, the odds of us doing that in church clothes: not likely.   However, we can walk or bike to the chapel, with confidence that Jesus will accept our sweaty appearance!   In addition, we are also half a mile away from our neighborhood pool and park.   Refreshment of body to the left, refreshment of soul to the right.   That is what sold me on this house!   That is why I knew our search was over.   You see, after losing my parents, the familial terms of Catholicism are very real to me.   I belong to Holy Mother Church and I share Jesus' mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, since my adoption at Baptism.   The Holy Father is my Papa, and my priest is my spiritual father.  The move to this new house is a move to be closer to family for us.

This house is newer than the house I imagined buying.   It's only ten years old, compared to our last home that was forty-seven years old.   I love older homes.   Although, being from Louisiana and being an Anglophile, forty-seven doesn't seem old for a structure!   In this community, though, that is almost considered ancient.   There are nice things about a newer home, though.   No lead paint or asbestos worries if we want to make changes or improvements.   Energy efficient materials and building practices.

After location, the layout of the home sealed the deal for me.   Even though it's a common floor plan, there were several areas that were just "bumped out" a little, leaving extra space for some of my special items that belonged to Mama.   Our breakfast area has enough room for the Hoosier cabinet she refinished with Granddad, along with the table made by one of my dad's students.   The chairs around the table are the same ones we always used at the table as I grew up.   We have a true dining room that holds Mama's furniture.   Almost everything in that room came from Mama.

There are other things I really love about our new home.   As I mentioned before, we have three eating areas.   In our previous home, there was really no designated eating area.   We made the front room, originally designed as a formal living room, our dining room.   Then, we had a kitchen table in a corner of the living room.  Both tables were on carpet and you had to walk through the living room to get to our dining room.   In our new home, our bar above the counter is a true eating bar, with space for four people to eat comfortably.   That means that if the kitchen table is occupied with homeschooling, we don't have to clear it to eat lunch.   The children can have breakfast, lunch, and snacks at the high bar.   For us, a separate classroom isn't needed as much as a nice table space in the kitchen for school work.   That way, the children can work with me right there as I cook or clean.   I can't tell you just how much I enjoy seeing there faces right there with me when they are at the bar and I am cooking in the kitchen.   It's also a joy to use a broom to just sweep after meals instead of dragging out the vacuum cleaner!

Then there's the laundry ROOM!   Let me first say that the first two years we were married, we did not have a laundry room or area in our apartment.   We drove twenty miles to do our laundry.   Why the drive?   We taught middle school and the only two decent laundromats were frequented by our students and their parents.   So, every Friday, we drove to a laundromat right next to a Sonic Drive-In that had an eat-in area, complete with table juke boxes.   We could look out the window by the booth and see our clothes spin!   Therefore, I appreciate an in-house laundry area in any form.   In our next apartment, we had our washer and dryer in our kitchen and then in our rental house, it was in the garage.   When we bought our first house, it was also in the garage, but unlike our rental house, there were no screen doors or windows to let air in during the summer, so doing laundry was not very comfortable.   Plus, it's just hard to keep clothes clean out in the garage.   Now, I have a laundry room, with air conditioning and cabinets I can reach, and therefore, actually use.   Even that area has some of Mama's things, including the washboard her parents bought with their first groceries after they were married.   Again the guilt, as I picture women in third world countries traveling to a stream to do what little laundry they have, but may I always remain appreciative and thankful for the blessings of my dirty laundry.

We also have a sitting room in our bedroom which is going to make a wonderful reading and prayer area.   I can even see the children in the backyard from the window there.     It is all so overwhelming and I feel tremendously blessed.   I am so glad that we took the route to home ownership that we did.   We rented for the first nine years of our marriage and we stayed in the first home we bought over five years.   We were able to learn a lot about what works, what to look for, and we were able to really appreciate each little upgrade we made.   Plus, we have funny stories about the places we lived that might not have looked like much to others.  

Leaving our home was difficult because we brought home C. and T. to that house.   It was the place of first steps, Christmas, and birthday parties.   Every wall, every space holds some special smile, laugh from the children.   It was walking through with friends and sharing stories behind almost every piece in the house.

It was also the place where, two weeks after moving in, we got the call from Missouri that my dad was in a wreck and had seriously injured the people in the other car.   The place we brought him while we waited for courts to allow him to see a neurosurgeon and neurologist so he could be diagnosed with Parkinson's and dementia.   It was within walking distance to the nursing home where he spent his last days, unable to speak or get out of bed, desperately trying to communicate through his eyes after years of being a brilliant teacher.   It was clutter, piled in closets and the garage, from two household's worth of mail, bills, paperwork and items from their home I had to empty --as I tried to manage our own affairs as well as those of my dad.     

So, our new home is a fresh start.   I have not allowed any clutter to come in.   We have a nice stack of boxes ready to go to our church garage sale and even bigger stacks have already gone to donation, garbage, and recycling.   We have outside storage space and attic space we can use, which makes a tremendous difference.

Memories of "home" always include this canopy of my childhood.   Sturdy branches from aged trees.   Comfort, strength, beauty--a place to find rest, quiet, and God. 

The one disadvantage of this new home is there are no mature trees, but I've traded the canopy of nature for one where I can truly be with He who created and controls nature.   And that is the greatest blessing of all.

(This picture is from our church website.   Our sanctuary ceiling looks like the hull of a ship, made of beautiful wood.   It's gorgeous and comforts me as I remember I am at home in the "barque of Peter.")

Monday, 2 May 2011

On the Death of A Man

I shared this as a note on Facebook this morning:

Last night my friend Regina sent me a text message, "Get on the computer.  Fox News says Bin Laden is dead."   She knew we are currently without a television and she wanted me to witness this historic event.   I must say I was overwhelmed with pride and even happiness for the U.S. intelligence services and our special forces.   They have labored for nearly a decade, following every scrap of information.   They have pursued this man with diligence and sacrifice, spending countless hours, days, months away from their families without being able to share with them any details of their jobs.    They have put themselves in harm's way on a daily basis and we will never know the number of or the names of the men and women who were killed and injured while on the trail of this mastermind of mass murder.

The feelings that overwhelm me are identical to those which take hold of me on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day.   At no point on those two holidays do I become blood-thirsty.   At no point does the thought of a dead Hitler even enter into my mind.   At no point do I rejoice over any deaths.   What is central to my thoughts though are bodies of beautiful young men washed upon the shores after the D-Day invasion.   And of faithful, moral men who never rested well another night of their lives because of the hard but necessary decisions they were forced to make for the safety of their troops and the citizens of their country.   Could I make those same decisions or carry out those same "messy" and "uncomfortable" decisions or tasks?   Never.   But I will be forever grateful for those brave, sacrificing men who did.

So, today, I am not rejoicing over the death of a man.   A man created in the image and likeness of God.   A man who freely chose to lead and finance a war against the West.   A war which made absolutely no distinction between civilian and military targets and victims.   I proudly congratulate the brave men and women of the CIA and special forces, with names never-to-be-known who spent over a decade faithfully executing their mission, sometimes in the face of criticism and ridicule for the length of that mission.  A mission executed with so much care and thought that no civilians were killed.

I sit freely at my computer, half a mile from my parish where I may freely worship my loving and just God and I type this note in English, not German, because freedom is, as they saying goes, not free.   It was paid at a high cost.   And it was not pretty or simple.  Yes, pray for bin Laden.  Yes, pray for mercy.   Yes, pray for the conversion of those who seek to harm others.   But do not deny the brave men and women who bought your freedoms their congratulations or your gratitude.   One can do so without celebrating the death of a man.
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