Saturday, November 27, 2010

'Tis the Season


Item ThumbnailThe day after Thanksgiving is not known for shopping here at the farm.  For us, it is the first day of the Christmas season.   Arliss and Travis help get the Christmas boxes up from the cellar and we begin to put up the tree.  Every year we make sure the lights go on first, then the wooden beads that look like cranberries.   The next big decision is which ornaments will be used this year.  I have ornaments given to me from friends and family; enough to fill three trees.
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Arliss pressing sugar cookies



Once the tree is up we begin the baking. I make sure I have Great-Grandma Ellen's cardamom coffee cake, a staple on my mom's side of the family.  From my dad's side we have to make Gram's ginger snaps and sugar cookies.   This year Travis made Gram's ginger snaps and Arliss made the sugar cookies.  I took on the cardamom bread, a braided sweet bread.
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Travis dipping the dough balls in sugar


Over the years the cardamom bread was made by my Great-Grandma, then my grandma, my mom, and finally me.  I took over the bread making when I got married.  The first year, my husband and I lived in an apartment with an electric oven.  I had grown up with a gas range.  My first attempts were not the most palatable.   We have a convection option on the oven here at the farm and it makes the best bread ever!

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Great-Grandma's Cardamom Bread

Travis loves this bread and will do almost anything to get it.  Today he tried to hide an entire loaf from me, hoping I would forget how many I made.


My childhood family would spend Christmas Eve with my mom's folks.  My grandfather would greet us by saying "Gud Jul," which was Swedish for Merry Christmas.  His mother had made the cardamom bread.
My uncle would read the Christmas story from the big King James Bible before dinner.  We would open the presents after dinner and then attend the candlelight midnight service.  I remember waking up one Christmas morning full of excitement, only to remember that we'd opened all the presents the night before.

On Christmas Day we would go to my grandparents' farm.  My aunt, uncle, and cousins would be at the farm when we got there.  My cousin, Cindy, and I would go upstairs and catch up on what was going on with us.
Item Thumbnail Gram would have Cindy and I set the table with her wedding china and the other special dishes from the china cabinet.  Sometimes, Gram would find a prayer written in the newspaper.  She would cut it out and set it next to my place; it was my duty to lead the family in saying grace.
When it was time to open the presents we would gather in the living room. The pine scent from the blue spruce filled the air, mingling with warmth of the fire.  The presents under the tree seemed to overflow.  Of course with five grandchildren and six adults, the tree was pretty full.

Gram and Gramps are gone now.  Their farm is but a memory.  Every year as the boys and I make cookies, and breads I am filled with memories of all of the laughter, fun, and family time we shared.

And now for another piece of cardamom bread before Travis eats it all.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Love from the Kitchen

This past Saturday Arliss and I had the house to ourselves.  Traditionally my husband is in the kitchen, but with him at work, it was my turn.  Fall brings out the baker in me.  I love to make hearty soups, breads, cookies, etc.
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Arliss wanted to make cookies and I wanted to make some squash soup, so we each took our positions at the counter and got started.  Arliss collected eggs, vanilla, sugar, flour, butter, and baking soda for his sugar cookies.  He was taught how to read recipes by his dad a few years ago.  While he put ingredients in the KitchenAid mixer, I cut up spaghetti squash and acorn squash into chunks.  Once the squash was in a saucepan to cook, I collected the other things I would need.  Arliss said he wanted carrots and celery in the soup too, so I rough cut these and put them in to cook with the squash.
I put the cooked squash into the blender to make it smooth, adding a cup of milk for a creamy texture.  Once the squash was mixed, I put it back into a 4 qt. pot to simmer.  A little salt and pepper and dash of pepper flakes were all I needed.  I found a recipe in a Williams-Sonoma soup cookbook for any other inspiration.  One recipe recommended putting shredded cheese in the soup.  I shredded extra sharp, white cheddar cheese and some Romano cheese, adding about 1 1/2 cups total to the soup.  While this simmered a bit longer I helped Arliss roll the sugar cookie dough into logs on wax paper for cooling in the freezer before he baked them.

As I dug around in the fridge I found apples, pears, and plums that were getting overripe.  The spiced pear jam I had made during our canning week was running low, so  I decided to make some more.  Arliss helped to peel and cut the fruit for the saucepan and soon we had more amazing smells wafting through the house.  I added a few cups of sugar, 1/2 of what the recipe said--6 cups seemed a bit much, then added a teaspoon of cloves.  I continued to cook the fruit down and prepared the jars for the jam.
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Some of the goodies from the canning week
Arliss and I ate our wonderful soup for lunch and started on the cookies while the jars of jam cooled.  I showed Arliss how to cut the dough into coins and place them on the cookie sheet.  He asked for sprinkles and began meticulously placing the sprinkles on the cookie dough.  I smiled at his focus and finished my tasks.

When our afternoon was finished we had 3 1/2 pints of spiced fruit jam, a quart of squash soup, and nearly 3 dozen sugar cookies.  Proud of our work, we set some aside to share with my folks when we visited them that night.  At bedtime, Arliss said how much he enjoyed our day together.  I couldn't agree more.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Wood cutting

On a farm it is a fact of life that trees will die and eventually fall down.  Here at our farm the cow yard tends to be very profitable when it comes to potential firewood.  The trees in the cow yard are old and established.  Some of them may very well be as old as the farm itself.
Item ThumbnailMy dad came out last Saturday to cut some firewood for his house which has a fireplace and a wood-burning stove.  Ironically, our farmhouse does not have a fireplace.  He chose to come when the boys were out of school for the weekend so they could be a part of it.  I sometimes wonder who enjoys their time together more.

After checking the cow yard for any potential tire hazards (we've had flat tires in the past due to hidden items), my dad pulled his truck up to a fallen red oak and started assessing the branches.  The tree had a number of good sized branches that I measured out for him since his wood-burning stove has a length limit for the logs.  I used a paint stick to measure and a small bricklayer's hammer to mark the tree.
Item ThumbnailArliss and Travis were busy finding branches that could be used for forts and looking for whatever treasures might be hiding in the grass.  My dad and I talked about how he was going to approach the tree and what we would need to do first.
Arliss and Travis were put in charge of stacking the wood into the truck bed; a job their father had when he was growing up in Colorado.  Travis decided that Arliss should be in the truck bed and he should be the one collecting the logs once they were cut.

Because of the way the tree had fallen my dad had to make sure he didn't cut a branch that was supporting the tree's weight.  As he cut the branches I would toss the logs to Travis who would give them to Arliss to stack.  The job is more about the fun of being together than the task of cutting enough wood for the winter. My husband has said he prefers this way of wood cutting to the way his dad would do it.

My husband's family lives in the mountains of Colorado where the only heat comes from wood burning stoves.  My father-in-law would go out into the forest to cut wood, felling the tree and then cutting it into rounds that my husband would load onto the truck bed while my father-in-law would go in search of the next tree.  This was not a fun way to spend many a weekend.

Item ThumbnailBy the time the tree's large branches were cut and a few rounds of the lower part of the trunk were cut, the truck bed was full.  The afternoon was in full swing and it was time to call it a day.  The trunk itself will have to wait for another weekend.  In the meantime Arliss and Travis have found hollowed out tree stumps which make great hideouts.Item Thumbnail

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Turkey Dinner

My grandparents' church held a Turkey Dinner every year on the third Wednesday in October.  The Turkey Dinner was as sacred to our family as Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Grandma would call up and say, "I'm buying the tickets how many do I need to get?"  Our family of four would attend, meeting Grandma and Grandpa at their church, where we would meet our cousins, and then all of us would wait until our number was called on the church P.A. system, like customers at the deli counter.

The Turkey Dinner had originally been a chicken dinner I learned from my grandma.  "The church has been having the dinner since before Grandpa and I were married,"  she said.  "Your great-grandma would help out too."  Before the fellowship hall had been added the turkeys were cooked in people's homes and they would bring the turkey to the church when it was finished cooking.  I could only imagine how glad everyone was when the turkeys could be cooked at the church.
My grandfather would come to the church earlier in the week to shred the cabbage for the cole slaw.  He wouldn't let anyone else do it because he was afraid someone would cut their hands on the homemade mandolin slicer.  The mandolin had belonged to his parents and eventually he donated it to the town historical society.  Once a year he would go to the historical society and take back the mandolin to shred the cabbage.  I can hear him now, warning someone in the kitchen, "Now don't monkey with this thing.  I'll do the cabbage so no one gets hurt."
My grandma would serve a shift in the cranberry sauce and cole slaw station.  While I was in college I was able to help her serve at the dinner.  Every time someone would finish their cole slaw or cranberry sauce the empty serving dish would come back to the church kitchen and we would refill it.  I loved this time with Gram.  I could ask her questions about her life with Grandpa or anything else, it was just us together.

"Number 72," the voice would call.  Our family would stand up and say farewell to friends we had been visiting with in the church sanctuary to go into the church fellowship hall to find our table.  The fellowship hall would be decorated with a Thanksgiving theme complete with gourds, pumpkins, and pilgrims.
The room would be filled wall to wall with banquet tables that sat 10-12 people, each table set for dinner.  The tables would have a pitcher of water, a pitcher of coffee and styrofoam cups, butter and rolls, cranberry sauce, and cole slaw.  A server would come by our table and ask if the kids would like milk and away they would go to get the main course.
Two or three servers would come back with bowls of mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and of course the turkey on a platter.  Our family would immediately decide if we were going to pass the dishes clockwise or counter-clockwise.  With a few false starts we would begin passing the dishes to one another.  As soon as the server saw we were low they would come and replenish our platters.
When my grandfather was at the table person after person would come by to say hello.  Most of the time the person would come and give Grandpa some good natured teasing, which he easily gave back.  The visitor would greet our family and ask how we all were doing, often commenting on someone's red hair, how much someone had grown since last year, etc.

I loved the Turkey Dinner.  My grandparents' church had been established in 1845 and was the first Protestant Church in the area.  On the walls in the fellowship hall were pictures of confirmation classes and church activities from years past.  My two favorite things on the walls were a painting depicting church members arriving for a Sunday service and a bicentennial quilt with a square dedicated to each of the families who had been members of the church.  Each block had the family's name and the years they attended the church all the way back to 1845.  Our family had nine different blocks for the various branches of our family.  I would read each block carefully trying to absorb the history.
The Turkey Dinner would end with a slice of pie.  We all knew I would have the pumpkin pie, my dad would have the apple pie, and my grandpa would have a slice of cherry pie.   I sometimes wondered if the ladies who served the pie kept a slice of cherry pie off to the side for Grandpa.
As we would say our goodbyes in the church foyer we would be reminded to buy a raffle ticket for the quilt that would be awarded to one lucky winner at the church bazaar in two weeks.   The church bazaar was another tradition in our family among the women.  But that is a tale for another time.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Welcome to the First day of November

Each morning on the farm I have woken up to a sunrise that has been startling and amazing.  I wake up each day and wonder how God is going to paint "Good Morning" in the sky.  This is how He painted the sky on the first of November, 2010.

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