Thursday, January 30, 2014

First Loaf of Bread

So this morning I check my email and find pictures.  I love it when I find pictures.

Last evening my son and his family made their first loaf of bread.  David remembered watching me knead bread when he was a kid, but just to refresh his memory, he found a YouTube video on kneading bread.  Isn't YouTube wonderful.  There is almost nothing you can't learn how to do just by searching for videos on the subject.  Anyway, Boston, the oldest,  was in charge of the kneading.

After the dough rose once in a bowl, they made it into a loaf and put it in the pan to rise.

Now comes the bad part.  The bread took longer to rise than they anticipated.  It was a school night.  The kids get up early in the morning.  So they had to go to bed before the bread was baked.  But isn't this a lovely loaf of homemade bread?  Yes it is!

I'm just so proud of them.  And it is good that they have learned a new skill that can help them feed themselves should the need arise. Or just to know how to make a treat of a loaf of homemade bread.  With lots of butter.  And homemade strawberry jam.

Drat.  Now I'm hungry.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Never, Ever Make Plans

I had planned to hop on the bus and ride it to the grocery store today.  After what seems like weeks of damnitscold weather, the prediction was for a balmy 27 degrees today.  That is on the plus side of zero - not the minus side.  I even thought about treating myself to a small bag of chocolate stars from the bulk candy section, and getting a couple of the ingredients I need to make the pooches a batch of the peanut butter treats they love so much.  And then Fate stepped in and said, "I don't think so."

Anyone who reads this blog is probably aware that a short while ago I spent time whining about the lack of heat in my apartment and voicing my opinions about the furnace guy from Hell.  I was thrilled when heat started to flow from the vents and my toes thawed out.  Well, over the weekend I noticed that something was amiss.  Even with the temperatures in the sub-zero range and the howling wind, my apartment kept getting warmer.....and warmer.....and warmer.  I can't regulate the temperature.  My landlord sets it and controls it.  But it is set at a comfortable setting.  Except that now it doesn't want to shut down.  When it reached 77 degrees I started opening windows.

Anyway, enter the furnace guy from Hell.  Right away this morning he is slogging through my apartment, checking the vents, looking at the thermostat and scratching his head.  Because I am not fond of the idea of strangers traipsing in and out while I am gone, I decided to spend the day getting caught up on fun stuff like laundry, trash hauling and floor scrubbing.  Scratch the chocolate stars, at least for today.  I will go to the store tomorrow.

Or maybe not.  Oldest son calls me a couple of times a week.  He says he just calls to see what I am doing, but I know he is calling to check up on me to make sure that I am OK.  I am grateful that he does.  Anyway, he says that there is a winter storm headed our way tomorrow.  Then, as soon as I hang up the phone, it rings again and it is youngest son.  He didn't get around to the bread baking with his kids until this evening, and he has questions.  I tell him what he needs to know about the process, and he then says that he just received a weather alert.  Part of the duties of his job have to do with managing the snow removal crews, hence the weather alert.  Seems the aforementioned winter storm is supposed to drop 3 to 6 inches of snow on us by noon tomorrow.

I think I will stop trying to plan anything in advance.  The gods of winter have a mean streak.  If I plan a day out, they drop the temp down into the freeze my keister off range or they dump snow on me.  Maybe in April...........

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Coffee is the Elixir of Life

I didn't used to drink much coffee.  Just a cup now and then to be polite.  But in recent years, I find myself brewing a pot of coffee first thing in the morning, right after I feed my dogs and cat.  I prefer coffee over tea or soda.  I have never tried those "high energy" drinks that the commercials say will make me more alert and probably smarter, and if I don't use them, I will most assuredly fall asleep in my tracks about two o'clock in the afternoon.  No thank you.  I'll stick with coffee.

So my coffee stash is getting a bit low.  Time to fill the shelf.  I am not a coffee snob.  I don't need flavored gourmet coffee.  (Although, youngest son gave me some hazelnut and some chocolate flavored coffee that was awesome!) If it looks like coffee and smells like coffee and isn't bitter, it's all good.

I could go to my local grocery and buy coffee.  They have a large selection and a large price.  Dollar store coffee works just fine.  And it is on sale this week.  Six cans of the stuff will reside on my shelf tomorrow.  (After the temps warm up enough for me to stick my nose out!)  And as that won't leave a gaping hole in my budget, I probably will add another six cans the next time it goes on sale.  It is good to have rice and beans and all the other staples in food storage, but I firmly believe that in times of trouble, a person also needs some of the familiar comfort items, and coffee fills that bill for me.  (That and a goodly supply of chocolate.)

I don't need to spend a ton of money on fancy coffee makers, either.  Years ago my Dad gave me this one.

I don't know what the real name of this style of coffee pot is, but he always called it a "drip-o-lator."  I wonder if that is even a word.  This coffee pot has been around at least as long as I have been, and that is a long time.  We are both showing our age.  I think my parents got it when they were first married in 1945.  Over the years I have had a series of Mr. Coffee type electric coffee makers.  And one by one, each has died.  This silly coffee pot will probably out last me.  And it makes better coffee than the fancy electric ones with their clocks and timers and buttons and digital numbers that always flash "12:00" because I can't seem to program them correctly.

So now, if you will excuse me, my cup is empty and that is not a good thing.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Winter Day Ramblings

French toast made with Grandmother Bread, topped with butter and homemade plum jam.  Bacon on the side.  A cup of fresh brewed coffee.  Two dogs of the ankle-biting variety cruising my kitchen in hopes of a piece of bacon coming their way.  Fat Cat stretched out on top of the chest freezer, patiently waiting to supervise whatever action is happening in the kitchen today.  Life doesn't get much better than this.

I know I said that I wasn't going to talk about the weather any more, but damn!  It is 10:30 AM and it is still minus 14 degrees outside, with a wind chill of minus 37 degrees.  Here in town we don't have the white-out conditions of blowing and drifting snow like they do on the open prairie.  I live in an old building with walls that are maybe 8 inches thick.  I can still hear the wind howling down the alleys and around the corners.  City Hall is right across the street.  The flag on top of that building isn't waving like flags in the wind usually do.  It appears stiff as a board.

You know those dust devils that you see in the summertime?  Where the wind picks up dust from the fields and swirls it around like mini tornadoes.  I look out my window and watch snow devils dancing across the roof of the building next to City Hall.  It looks like the building could be on fire, but it is not.  Warm air escaping from doors and windows freezes immediately and looks like plumes of smoke.  I am glad my building has thick walls and lots of insulation.

Even with the cold and wind, my apartment stays toasty.  And I am ever so glad that I spent all of those hours canning food last summer and fall, for I want for nothing.  The only thing I have run out of that I can't make for myself is yarn.  I am working on a couple of afghans and I used up the last of the colors of yarn for those projects.  But that can wait until the temperatures get above the zero mark again.  I still have lots to keep me busy.

I hear other retirees complain about being bored.  I am never bored.  I seem to never have lost my yearning for learning.  When a subject catches my interest, I can spend hours in online research.  Last week I learned how to make some types of cheese from the powdered milk I keep in stock.  Before that I found all sorts of information on healing herbs and how to use them.  This week I am looking for tutorials on how to crochet scarves and mittens, to use up the leftover yarn from the afghan projects.  And after that I want to find recipes to make things like my own taco seasoning or pumpkin pie spice or other combination seasonings I can make from the basic seasonings I keep on the shelf.  And as a bonus, I stumbled across a YouTube channel with a bucket load of hour long Sherlock Holmes mysteries.  Yippie Ki-Yay!  I can watch those in the evening while I crochet or sew.  There is always something.  How can a person ever be bored?

And now I think I have rambled on enough - or too much - depending on your point of view!  On to the little dab of housework that awaits my attention, and then the fun stuff.  Even with the cold and wind, my life here in the frozen north is pretty darned good.  Oh, I still get worked up over the insanities in the world around me. Our government officials in particular tend to tick me off.  Even though I never forget the threats to our freedoms and the threats to our way of life that we cherish and I continue to prepare, I choose to enjoy my life as much as possible.  Those words, "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" are as true today as they were when written.  And I believe in them.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Good Bread Baking Day

While the wind blows and the snow swirls around, everything is toasty warm here in my little corner of the world.  I just got off the phone with youngest son who is out helping his crews move snow.  He asked what I was doing today and I replied that it was a good day to bake bread.  He said that he would be home in a couple of hours and would like his kids to learn to bake bread, but that he had never tried that skill.  He remembered watching me knead bread when he was a kid.  He wanted to know if I had a good recipe.  Because my email has been a bit wonky lately, I told him that I would post the recipe here.  Perhaps someone else will find it useful, too.

This is the recipe that I use most often.  It makes a good tasting loaf and requires only basic ingredients.  I got the recipe from Suzanne McMinn's blog, "Chickens in the Road," and have included her instructions, word for word.

"Grandmother Bread
Submitted by: Suzanne McMinn
Deliciously simple and simply delicious, Grandmother Bread is a daily staple in our farmhouse. This is a heritage recipe, tested by time and the hands of mothers and grandmothers for over a hundred years. This secret family recipe is different from many standard white bread recipes in that it contains no milk, egg, or oil, and its very simplicity produces a bread of light but sturdy texture that yields loaves for perfectly sliced sandwich bread (the best sandwich bread you’ll ever taste! also makes excellent french toast!), plus the same dough can be used to create dinner rolls, cinnamon-swirl loaves, sweet rolls, crispies, and apple-strudel ladder loaf.

Once you’ve grasped the concept of the standard Grandmother Bread recipe, you can create variations of your own–the possibilities are limitless!

Two-loaf standard recipe

3 cups warm water
1 tablespoon yeast (1 packet)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
7 cups all-purpose flour

One-loaf standard recipe

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3 1/2 cups flour

See step by step instructions on How to Make Bread:
In a large bowl, combine water, yeast, sugar, and salt. Let sit five minutes.
Stir in first three cups of flour with a heavy spoon. Add the next cup of flour a little at a time as needed, stirring until dough becomes too stiff to continue stirring easily. Add a little more flour and begin kneading. The amount of flour is approximate–your mileage may vary! Continue adding flour and kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Let dough rise in a greased, covered bowl until doubled. (Usually, about an hour.) Uncover bowl; sprinkle in a little more flour and knead again before dividing in half. With floured hands, shape dough into loaves and place in two greased loaf pans. Tear off two pieces of waxed paper and grease with oil spray (to prevent it from sticking to the loaves as they rise) and cover loaf pans. Let rise till loaves are tall and beautiful! (About an hour, depending on the temperature in your kitchen.)
Bake for 25 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven."

The only thing I don't do is use the waxed paper to cover the loaves while they raise.  A clean dish towel works fine for me.  And I will add that when tapping on the loaf produces a hollow sound, the bread is done.

It does my heart good to see skills like bread baking passed down from one generation to the next.  I am grateful that my mother taught me as it is a skill that I use every week.  Today I can make my own bread and I don't have to brave the cold and the wind just to go to a store for a loaf.  And it just tastes so good.

To my grandkids - let me know how your bread turns out.  I know it will be good.  Make sure Mom and Dad give each of you a slice with lots of butter while it is still warm.  And have fun!

Love, Grandma

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Yes, It Did Freeze Over

It is January.  It is Minnesota.  It's not like this is anything new.  So that is the last I am going to say about the cold.  It is time to think Spring.

Ah, yes.  Much better!

Sunshine Through My Windows

So this morning, I'm a happy camper.  There is this big yellow ball in the eastern sky.  Haven't seen it for a while.  Sunlight is streaming through my living room windows.  The cat has positioned herself to take full advantage of a sunbeam.  Even the dogs seem more energetic.  Lily has gathered half a dozen small tennis balls, waiting for me to toss them.  She won't bring them back to me, but she loves chasing them, and that is enough.  Jesse Jane, "she of little energy and big appetite," is cruising the kitchen, waiting for me to cook or bake something, and possibly drop some tidbit on the floor for her to snag.

Then I check the latest weather report.

"Minnesota Issues Blizzard Warning."

Here in the Frozen North, it doesn't have to be snowing to create a blizzard.  It is enough that an inch or two of fluffy cold white stuff fell yesterday.  The winds are picking up and will blow the snow around later today.  And temps will again drop from a few degrees above zero back down to -15.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

There Comes a Time

In my travels through the Internet, I happened upon the following quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.  I realize that he was talking about the fight for Civil Rights for black Americans, but I think it applies just as well today.

“You know, my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life's July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November. There comes a time.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have to wonder, when will the time come when we as American citizens will get tired of the insanity coming from Washington.  How many more intrusions into our personal lives will we put up with?  How many more of our God given rights do we have to watch disappear?  What, exactly, has to happen before we say, "Enough."

Monday, January 20, 2014


The cold snap that was forecast is upon us.  This morning started out at 20 degrees and by supper time the temperature had fallen to 6 degrees.  As my joints are still protesting, I spent my day puttering.

I cleaned out the drawers in my desk.  It is amazing the stuff I found...stuff that I dropped into a drawer thinking I would find a home for it later but never did.  Does any sane person really need that many pens and pencils?  I doubt it!  I think I found enough of them to last the rest of my natural life.  And I found a bunch of other stuff that I had totally forgotten I had.  It was sort of like a treasure hunt without any treasure of real value.  Truth be told, it was more like an archaeological dig through a trash heap.

I sorted through some old photos and genealogy notes that had accumulated but hadn't as yet been filed or entered into my genealogy program.  I love reading the old letters and stories that I have collected over the years.  They give me a peek into what life was like in the late 1800's and early 1900's.  One told about a pair of boots that were made at home, using wooden pegs to attach the soles.  When one child outgrew the boots, they were passed on to the next in line.  They were so well made that they went through half a dozen kids and never did completely wear out.

Last fall when I turned 50 lbs of cranberries into juice and canned it, I had a quantity of what I call cranberry sludge left over from the process.  It is the skins and pulp that were left from straining the juice.  As I hate to waste anything, I had bagged it all up and tossed it into my freezer.  Last evening I got the bags out and laid them out to thaw.  Today I spread the sludge out on the fruit roll-up sheets for my dehydrators and dried it.  When it was crispy, I broke it up into small pieces and put it into quart jars.  Later I will run small batches of it through my little grinder and use the powder to flavor baked goods or mix with dried apple peels for a really good tea.

It has taken me a lot of years to own up to my limitations.  Not all that long ago I would probably have been ranting and raving because I am sidelined for a time.  And would have been irritated because I can't do what I would like.  I guess that sometimes a person just has to accept what is.  And spend a day or two just puttering.  Actually, it was kind of fun.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Best Laid Plans...

I just should have known better than to make plans.  I woke up this  morning with more creaking bones than is normal for me.  Within an hour or so my lower back had given up the fight and said to me, "Just go find someplace warm and comfy.  And dig out that heating pad.  You're gonna need it."

I checked our local weather forecast and sure enough.  Another cold front is headed our way.  Not as severe as the last one, but enough to send temperatures into the sub-zero range by tomorrow evening.  Maybe I should rent out my arthritic joints to the weather service.  My predictions, based on my joints, are usually more accurate than the professionals predictions.

I am beginning to better understand the advice my Dad gave me.  On the occasion of his 90th birthday he said to me, "Sis, if you get the chance to live to be 90, don't do it!"  By that time Dad had gone from a strong, vibrant man to one who was unsteady on his legs and who, within another year or so, found it necessary to live in the nursing home.

I have to say this for Dad.  He never lost his sense of humor.  When he still lived in his own home and I lived a couple of hundred miles away, he would make sure during our phone conversations that I knew about the apple pie cooling on his counter.  He knew how much I loved his apple pie.  For years I tried to get him to mail me a piece and for years he would tell me that he would, but he just couldn't fit it into the envelope.  Even after leaving his own home, he kept his sense of humor, joking with the nurses and aides and teasing with his older sister who lived in the same nursing home.

So I think I will ignore Dad's advice and strive for that 90 year mark.  But I will follow his example and keep my sense of humor that has to laugh at the absurdities of the Universe tossing a monkey wrench into my best laid plans.  After all, it's not like I have a schedule.  If I get out to play this week or next week isn't important.  What is important is that I woke up this morning.  Even with aches and pains, I still woke up.  The stairs in my building may be a temporary problem, but I can still get around well enough to put a pot of soup on to simmer and bake a loaf of bread.  And a pan of brownies may be just the thing.

Never give up.  And keep on smiling.  And chocolate makes everything better!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Winter Doldrums

dol·drums, noun plural
1: a state or period of sadness or depression
2: a state or period in which there is no activity or improvement

I am not sad nor am I depressed.  So I think the second definition probably applies.

Since the first of the year I have had little ambition.  I don't know why.  I chalk it up to winter with its short, cloudy days and long, cold nights.  I find myself spending more time with my cup of coffee and my books than I usually do.  Daily chores that I zip through at other times of the year seem to take considerably longer now.  If they get done at all.  Procrastination is the watchword of the day.

So last evening I was thinking about this blah feeling that has come over me, and decided that it was high time to do something about it.  I acknowledged the fact that there is no fairy godmother waiting in the wings to wave her magic wand and fix everything.  I have no pumpkins to turn into coaches and no glass slippers.  If anything is going to be changed, it will be changed by me.

I tend to procrastinate doing my laundry more than anything else.  My building has two washers and two dryers in the basement.  Both of the washers are merrily washing away with another two loads waiting to go.  My refrigerator is sparkling clean and devoid of all leftovers that resembled science experiments gone bad.  My "To Do" list has several more tasks to be checked off over the weekend.  And after that, come Monday morning, I have a Plan.

The plan includes some play time.  Yes, even 67 year old grandmas need serious play time now and then.  And no, my play time has nothing to do with a night on the town or a visit to the local watering holes.  I don't drink alcohol any more, (Not that I wouldn't like to - I just can't.) so those activities are not on the agenda.

My play time includes things like a meal out at my favorite Chinese restaurant.  And a trip to the yarn store for the yarn to finish two afghans I am working on.  And a trip to the Goodwill store just because I like to poke about in thrift shops.  And a trip to the craft store for the scrapbooking supplies I need to complete some photo albums I am working on.

For someone who is not fond of shopping, my Plan seems to include too many stores, but I figure that the supplies I get will keep me busy and happily crocheting and crafting until spring.

There.  I feel better already!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

He is 6 Today!

He never walks when he can run.  The training wheels are off of his bike and he rides like the wind.  He is a superhero with a blanket for a cape.  He runs to me with a twinkle in his eye and a grin and gives me bear hugs.  He is funny and smart and loving, all rolled up in an all boy package.  He is my youngest grandson and I love him to pieces.

Happy Birthday, Jacob!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Final Ice Fishing Post

Youngest Son posted this morning that in spite of a temperature of -36 degrees, his fishing trip was a success.

And then he posted this.....

with the following comment.


Friday, January 3, 2014

The Perils of Ice Fishing

When my son goes ice fishing in the winter, he often posts photos on Facebook.

The ice road leading out to the fish house yesterday.

Sunset on Upper Red Lake.

The ice road this morning.  It was snowing lightly with a pretty strong wind.

And then there was this:

"I have successfully fished my truck keys from the bottom of Upper Red Lake!"

The keys were found through this hole in the ice.

I can't wait to hear the story he has to tell about that one!

Brass Monkeys

Years ago there was a local weatherman who, when the temperatures dropped to well below zero, would warn his audience that they should bring their brass monkeys indoors out of the cold.  Now if you live in a warmer climate, you may not have heard that brass monkeys are in peril of having certain parts of their anatomy frozen off.  Well, here in Minnesota that threat is a real possibility the next few days.

Youngest Son is ice fishing in northern Minnesota.  He posted a picture of the temperature reading on the lake where he and a friend are fishing.  It read -33 degrees.  Good thing they have a heated ice fishing house.  Me, I'll wait until the lakes here are in liquid form rather than solid.

According the the guesses of our local forecasters, temperatures are supposed to stay bitterly cold for the next three or four days.  They say that by Monday we should see a daytime high of -17 degrees.  I am happier if I don't know how cold it will be at night.

Global warming?  Humph!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ham and Beans

So yesterday morning my phone rings.  It is Youngest Son, wanting to know if I will be home a little later.  Seems he has this left-over ham bone.  He doesn't want to toss it, for he doesn't like waste.  He knows Mom will make good use of it.

The beans soaked overnight.  Tossed a handful of dehydrated carrots in with them along with a couple handfuls of dehydrated onion.  They are simmering, along with the ham bone, on the back burner.  Lots of meat left on that bone, so later I will remove the bone, leaving chunks of ham in with the beans.  And simmer some more.

I'm nearly out of bread, so after a while I will bake a couple of loaves and have some with my supper of ham and beans.  I'd say that is a pretty good way to start off the New Year.