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Preparing for the Uncertain Holidays

Another Way for week of November 20, 2020

Preparing for the Uncertain Holidays

I’d been wanting to do it for weeks: clean the top of my kitchen cupboards where I display some of my favorite things. These are plates and dishes and trays I seldom use in day to day cooking. They highlight the blues and yellows of our kitchen, and some of them are antiques passed down from grandmothers or aunts and cousins. The items tend to collect grease and dust up there, especially those sitting closest to my stove. I try to wash them all once or twice a year, and always before the holidays.

None of us are sure yet what kinds of holidays we’ll have given the virus hiding out everywhere. So I was a bit melancholy while cleaning.

I usually line the surface with newspaper to save some scrubbing and it is always something of a gas to see the news from a year ago.

This year, I was somewhat surprised that those newspapers were from 2018. That means even though I washed the objects on the top, I had skipped the chore of changing my newspaper liners in 2019. The news from two years ago reminded me of how unimaginable our 2020 has been, all around the world. It also made me wonder what we’ll be experiencing a year from now.

Sadness and family stress and disagreements about what is safe or not safe abound in these uncertain times. Families have not only lost loved ones, they have had to stress and discuss and disagree about how to honor their deceased family members. I know one family that split down the middle on whether it was safe for them to all gather in another state to bury ashes, which they had been delaying for over eight months. The husband deeply desired to have a meaningful burial and move on, while others wanted to wait indefinitely. I grieved for them afresh, and not just the passing of their dear wife, mother, and grandmother.

Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday of many here in the U.S. because you just get together to cook, eat, catch up, and maybe play football (or watch it). I remember the year I missed Thanksgiving most acutely. It was 1973 when I studying in Spain for a year, and learned that Thanksgiving is not a thing in that country. Canada of course celebrates theirs the second Monday in October. A few other countries, celebrate harvest time in November, notably Brazil, Philippines, Netherlands and some others.  

My attempt at making a turkey centerpiece at last minute.

I remember the year my husband and I decided that driving to Indiana for a short Thanksgiving weekend with my family was no longer worth it, given the horrible traffic that accompanies the holiday, at least in years past. That year we were driving from Indiana to Virginia on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and traffic was moving about 20-30 miles per hour (the toll road was also way cheaper back then). The speed was not because of an accident, but just the clog of traffic. We got off the toll road and went much faster on smaller highways to arrive safely home. But we told my mother and father that we would not plan to drive to Indiana for Thanksgiving after that, and generally made it for Christmas celebrations.

What I want to say to all families and to my own: The important thing is not whether you gather or how many are able to make it, but whether we all stay safe in anticipation of years ahead. Current spikes in illness and deaths do not sound encouraging, although reports on coming vaccines bring us all hope for the future.

I was happy when I finished cleaning my upper shelf decorative items: they look so pretty and it always feels good to have that chore done. Meanwhile, I will hold my family dear in my heart. For those who didn’t or couldn’t go home, we’ll look for better times in 2021 and beyond, the good Lord willing and the spikes don’t rise (to twist an old saying).

***

What do you or did you enjoy most about Thanksgiving?

Comment here or send to anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com, or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

Building a Woodshed: A Year in the Making

Another Way for week of November 13, 2020

Building a Woodshed: A Year in the Making

I am so proud of my husband. He/we finished the woodshed that we started over a year ago. I stood by him most of the way through construction and learned a lot. He even complimented me at times for how much better I did knowing which tool was which, which drill/driver he needed (you do know the difference, don’t you?), the difference between various screws and bolts and washers and all that jazz which always left me confused and bamboozled.

So I’m proud of myself too. Two mid-to-late 60-year-olds building a shed which we hope someone else will also eventually enjoy and use. Oh yeah, we paused for many months on this project after Stuart had his knee replacement surgery in early March. We also had lots of sore muscles, lots of arguments, lots of holding the ladders for each other so we wouldn’t fall.

We also had precious helpers: a brother-in-law, a close friend, some neighbors who brought in a tractor with a hole digger when we were putting six posts in the ground.

And I almost forgot the dog. She showed up in her tux (white fur front with black fuzz over the rest of her) and supervised our sessions as diligently as any boss. She watched, waited, got antsy toward suppertime when she thought we should be quitting. And, she managed to avoid having any drill or hammer fall on her head.

I guess the other reason I’m so proud and happy is that my husband managed to use up some lumber, plywood, and scrap pieces he had been saving for over 30 years. Over the years, he had worked in two different plants that produced wood products—and offered plenty of free scraps for the takers. Much to my dismay.

Here you can see the varieties of scrap/free wood we used–and the rafters he glued and screwed together out of the 3/4 inch plywood planks.

“Where will we put that?” I would holler every time he’d bring home a new batch of castoffs. “When will you use that?” Unknown.

Patiently and not so patiently I put up with stacks of high grade ¾ inch plywood planks (5 ½ inches by 8 feet). We moved all of them from the basement of our former house (13 years ago) to our current home. He is also now trying to get rid of other scraps and I’ve heard him say—and let me document this—“That’s the last building I’m building myself.” Yay! And truth be told, I don’t see a need for ANY more buildings.

The woodshed looks like a small open-sided picnic pavilion, which is the model he used in his head: no blueprints or sketched out designs. It is 14 by 14 feet with a nice brown metal roof that matches the shed where he keeps (ahem) multiple mowers and tractors. He wanted a woodshed that he could drive wagonloads of wood into with our old heavy-duty lawn and garden tractor, to make it easier to feed the wood stove in our basement. We also have a heat pump we use occasionally, and for when we are too decrepit to saw and carry in wood. In our area, there are lots of wooded areas, so we cut up downed trees in our woods or those of other friends and neighbors.

By building the shed ourselves, using largely scrap wood from other projects, we spent about $750. If someone had built it for us, it would probably have cost at least $2500, especially with recent plywood and lumber prices. Plus, what else are you going to do when you’re retired and the old corona virus keeps you home much more than you’d like. I’m especially glad that by this fall, Stuart’s knee had healed enough that climbing carefully up and down ladders and stretching out over the roof to nail down the roof, was doable.

I’m including a slideshow of pictures below for the curious. Indeed, my blog name “Finding Harmony” speaks here: we had to find ways to work together in harmony, and largely succeeded. We are also so grateful to God for safety and for the help of a friends and relatives. 

***

I’d love to hear about projects you took on this year–or in recent times.

Are you handy with tools and equipment? What is your forte?

Comment here on send to anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

Pecan Pie Muffins

Pecan Pie Muffins

           

Pecan Pie Muffins: perfect for tea or coffee time.

A nice twist on traditional pecan pie for Thanksgiving is individual muffins with all the gooey goodness of pecan pie. Yes, I’m a fan of pecan pies and also these delectable “Southern Pecan Bars” (that you might want to save and make for Christmas).

But a couple years ago I got this recipe from Lovina’s Amish Kitchen newspaper column and blog and tried a batch and they are super easy. Here with only slight tweaking is an alternate to traditional pie. These can be frozen and kept around for treats after holidays.

The great part is this recipe only has five ingredients. I’m tempted to mess with it, as in subbing in dark corn syrup for some of the brown sugar, as I think that would increase the similarity to pecan pie. It is also interesting that there is no baking powder or baking soda here and in various renditions I’ve seen online.

Yet there is something really nice about throwing together a delicacy like this with only five ingredients.

Before baking.

Pecan Pie Muffins

Ingredients:

1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups chopped pecans
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line mini or regular muffin pan with liners. Mix brown sugar, flour, and chopped pecans. Stir. Add eggs and butter until combined. Spoon batter in muffin cups about ½ full. Bake for 12 minutes for mini, or 16 minutes for regular size muffins.

Right out of the oven.

You can get Lovina’s latest cookbook which is a treasury of family recipes and stories from Lovina’s own family.

The pictures alone are priceless–including grandchildren as here, but without showing faces of course.

Amish Family Recipes was published earlier this pandemic year and she and her family could definitely use a boost in sales! Christmas is around the corner.

You can also follow the blog and Facebook page that Herald Press staff keep up for Lovina.

P.S. I previously shared this recipe on the Amish Wisdom blog but it has now been shut down, sorry to say. So if you think you read this before from me, it was on Amish Wisdom, not here. 🙂

How to Deal with Addictions

Another Way for week of November 6, 2020

How to Deal with Addictions

The third Thursday in November is Great American Smokeout Day and billed as a day to stop smoking forever. I only ever smoked a little while in college but I can sympathize, because most of us have an addiction to coffee, chocolate, or any of numerous sweet attractions. Just ask my kids about my affinity for red licorice. If I have some in the house, I cannot leave it alone.

I feel an immense amount of sadness for those addicted to the stronger stuff like meth and codeine and heroin. My family has known too many who have struggled with these issues. It is life changing to be able to quit these habits.

Christina Showalter, left, with yours truly as a book editor, at a book launch and reception.

Last fall I was asked to help edit a book titled, Escaping Addiction: Portraits of Hope and Restoration, by Christina Showalter who is both the book’s author and the photographer. Christina is a splendid photographer and I knew her older sister from work and we went to the same church for awhile.

Christina developed a vision to create a book of photography that helped tell the before and after stories of those addicted to alcohol or drugs, and how with God’s help they are recovering from their addictions. It is common to say “recovering” in this situation because what I hear from their stories is that the temptation or urge still exists, but by whatever means possible, just for today, they will choose to live without that drink or drug.  

Christina’s introduction to the book says “In the following pages you will meet men and women who found themselves in terrible situations where they hit rock bottom.” I’ve received permission to share an excerpt, which could be the story of many:

“Sarah had never felt love before in her life. She had no clue what it felt like to be loved or accepted in any way. Her whole life, from birth, was one of rejection, abuse and extreme violence. Sarah left her abusive home at age 14 which began a life of prostitution and drug addiction. Violence was very much a part of her life working on the streets. The only breaks she had were short stays in a hospital after getting beaten up, or for psych evaluations in the psychiatric ward. 

“In and out of rehabs for various time periods, she always went back to the streets. ‘That was all I knew; it was my job.’ She met a guy who was in a gang and started a relationship with him. She ended up getting stabbed and almost lost her arm. When she was in the hospital, she prayed that God would save her arm.

“At that same time, she was pregnant without knowing it. It was a miracle that the baby survived because Sarah had bruises all over her body and foot marks where this man would kick her. Her mental anguish was so extreme that she had been diagnosed with many different disorders including multiple personality disorder. 

“When Sarah felt the love of Jesus for the first time, it was so powerful that it began an unstoppable change in her. Currently, Sarah says of herself, ‘I’m completely different now.’  After a short time in Betel (Christian rehabilitation program in Britain), she was praying in a worship service. As she closed her eyes a warm feeling came upon her that spread from her head to her toes. She suddenly burst into tears. These tears were a really big deal for Sarah because as she said, ‘I didn’t cry. I did not do it. It was a weakness to me. But I just felt so secure. So loved. So safe!’

“Today, Sarah doesn’t struggle with mental disorders; once she got off drugs and began the healing process, the mental disorders fell away. She is living and working at Betel and has a growing relationship with her daughter.” (Excerpted from Escaping Addiction, 2020, p. 70).

Betel is based in the UK and is an independent Christian charity for men, women and families affected by drug and alcohol abuse. In the U.S., the Teen Challenge program and many others offer religious-based rehab for those struggling. Perhaps you can share this story of hope with others.

Christina’s book can be purchased here: https://shop.multzi.com/product/escaping/ or write to her at Christina Showalter, PO Box 132, Linville VA  22834.

P.S. It is never too late! I also had the privilege of producing radio spots which were aired in the U.S some years ago. They are called “Never Too Late” and share true stories of persons who have found help. You can find them here.

Comment below if you have found help, or would like help for others. For those also struggling with mental issues, check https://www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

How to Cook a Tender Beef Roast and Veggies

Delicious Beef Roast and Veggies – Even with a cheap chuck roast

Now that fall is truly here, I love me some good old vegetables cooked with a juicy beef roast. (“I love me” is maybe a funny country expression to some readers. Urban dictionary online tells me it’s a slang expression for “I really love”.)  

Ready to eat: small bowl of veggies after cooking.

My husband is not fond of the stewed vegetables part. He loves the beef and the broth which he laces over the slices of beef, and while he loves potatoes and carrots and even cabbage (as cole slaw), he’ll take a pass on the veggies that have cooked several hours in the steamed environment of beef roasting (whether in a crockpot or in the oven).

So for his veggies, I also add a mess of green beans to the menu. I mash some potatoes, and voila, an easier dinner is hard to imagine. (Okay, slicing the beef and mashing the potatoes in close succession near serving time gets a little hairy in terms of keeping everything hot and juicy.) Sometimes I make beef gravy, which adds to the last minute fuss.

Beef and veggies before cooking.

Do you need a recipe for throwing this together? Not really, but for the maybe newbies out there, here’s a start. And if you have family members who prefer to keep the vegetables separate from the beef, you can do as I did and layer several layers of cabbage leaves on top of the roast (boat fashion) and place there your potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions, as desired.

I used a carefully selected chuck roast—the best of several on display at the supermarket where I shop, and slightly hiding toward the back. It was on sale for $3.49 and it turned out to be delicious! This recipe should feed a family or group of 4, double for more. For two of us, it allows delightful leftovers for a meal or two.

Beef Roast and Veggies

3-4 pound roast
5-8 outer cabbage leaves
4 potatoes peeled and cut into smaller hunks (2 or 3 hunks from each potato)
4-5 whole carrots
(I did not use celery or onion with this roast but they add delightful savory flavors and texture)
1 teaspoon salt
½ to 1 teaspoon pepper or to taste

Brown roast on all sides in a hot skillet with about 1 tablespoon of Crisco or other shortening. To brown on all sides, use a large tongs to hold it up and carefully allow each edge to sear a bit. Just a minute or two is enough. (The roast can be frozen, partially frozen or thawed. Adjust cooking times and temperature accordingly.)

Put roast in crock pot. Add salt and pepper to the top of the roast. Then add maybe 1 cup water to the remains of your browning of the roast in the still hot skillet—the beginnings of a nice broth. Let it cook just a bit (not more than a minute). Pour this watery broth over the roast. (The roast’s own juices will cook out and add extra flavor and broth.)

Pile up the cabbage leaves (boat style), add carrots, potatoes, and any other veggies or seasoning you wish to add on top of the cabbage.  

Put the lid on tight and cook for 4-6 hours on low.

When time to serve, skim off the layer of veggies into a separate bowl and serve that way. Carve roast (it will likely be very moist and easy to cut). Do not cook too long on high as this will burn or cook the bottom of the roast too fast.

Beef and veggies before removing from crock pot.

Bon appetit! Or as my father-in-law used to say (born in Alabama and lived most of his life in Virginia) “Take bread and eat!”

***

How do you enjoy roast beef? Or not?

What family differences do you have in relation to favorite meals or foods?

For some of the best of Mennonite cooking historically, check out this lovely volume! Available here.

Surviving and Coping in This Exile

Another Way for week of November 6, 2020

Surviving and Coping in This Exile

We call it the pandemic or the virus or I’ve heard some call it the plague. But the result is exile. Many of us are living in exile from family, friends, colleagues, and especially, church.

I was struck by that thought reading a devotional magazine Rejoice! where seminary dean, Valerie Rempel, describes how people in the Old Testament were exiled to Babylonia. Some 70 years later they wept as the priest Ezra read scriptures when they were finally able to worship together again. Nehemiah (the governor and cupbearer for the king) worked long and hard to restore the walls, gates, and temple in Jerusalem. Various groupings of workers came together to also repair partially ruined houses. When it was over, men and women gathered in the square with Ezra positioned high on a hill where everyone could see him.

The Bible in Nehemiah 8:9 speaks of them “weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.” Ezra told them not to weep, but I think these were happy tears, tears of rejoicing and maybe some feeling sorry for themselves.

“Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written: ‘It is reported among the nations—and Geshemsays it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their kingand have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: “There is a king in Judah!” Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.’

I sent him this reply: ‘Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head'” (Nehemiah 6: 5-8). 

Nehemiah even has reports of fake news. I was almost amused to read this scripture about the after effects of Nehemiah restoring the walls:

So fake news is nothing new.

There’s lots of stuff in Nehemiah to ponder in these days of separation and anguish. With exile lasting some 70 years, no wonder the people had forgotten the basis for their faith.

I know a lot of us have felt sorry for ourselves during this pandemic. I feel especially keenly for families not allowed to visit kin in nursing or retirement homes, and for those unable to have real memorial services for a deceased loved one.

I’ve felt a little pouty too, primarily when it comes to friends and family that we can’t just visit without being careful and without worrying if we are infecting someone unknowingly or they us. It is no way to live.

Trinity in an “exile” service set up for video taping with no more than 10 people in the room and keeping at least 6 feet apart and all workers wearing masks unless they are speaking. Our video team has done an awesome amazing job.

I think many of us at our church will weep when we are finally able to return safely to worshiping in the beloved little sanctuary of our smallish church. We have had music gatherings on the church lawn and fellowship and game nights via Zoom. We have attended worship by Facebook most Sundays. Visiting my 96-year-old mother in September, we were able to take her to a parking lot worship service at my home church which was installing a new pastor. Mom sat in our minivan while I stood outside and tried to help her understand what was going on (they lacked a radio frequency for the worship that Sunday). I squeezed back tears.

A recent afternoon of music on the lawn + “bubbles!” Both the physical kind (staying in bubbles with household or dear friends) and the soapy kind.

Others have shared blessings from this very difficult season of our lives. A church friend said she is “back teaching French—a class of one—for her 10th grade grandson.” He will actually get credit for the private course. My middle daughter says her sons have learned to know each other much better than when one was in daycare, and the other in a separate class or kindergarten. They’ve improvised creative play together as their imaginations take them on journeys of the mind.

My husband, right, all masked up on a very chilly and windy fall afternoon for an afternoon concert at our church, Trinity. Other families and folks in household bubbles.

Interestingly, we have had eight new adult members join our join during this tumultuous time, and even though our worship is only conveyed via Facebook. I invite you to joint our streaming service Sunday mornings at 10:00 a.m.

Let us continue to remember and pray for those suffering and losing loved ones, and those taking care of patients amid this exhausting virus.

***

Subscribe to the Rejoice! devotional that I love to use, and that I occasionally write for. Plus, other Rejoice! writers compiled a special edition out of this time of exile, that you may want to buy for yourself, family member, pastor, or a friend. It is FREE! Check here.

Other comments? Contact me at anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

10 Mistakes Not to Make in Cooking

Ten Mistakes Not to Make in Cooking

Most of these are mistakes I’ve made—and some of them turned out well anyway, even better than hoped!

  1. The pie where I used only ¾ cup of flour, not a full cup. I made two apple pies last week; one for my husband and me (and a piece to share with a friend). I also made a gluten free pie for my daughter’s family who have a son with celiac. In the pie I made for us, the crust ended up being extra tender and flaky. The dough stretched to be just barely enough for a top and bottom crust in a nine-inch pie pan. While cleaning up and washing my dishes, I noticed I had used not the 1 cup measuring device of my Pampered Chef stacked cups (which includes 6 stackable cups with quantities of almost any amount a recipe might call for: 1 cup, ¾, 2/3, ½, 1/3, ¼. Instead, I had grabbed the ¾ cup size to measure the flour for the pie. So the dough was short a whole ¼ cup of flour for the crust! No wonder I struggled in stretching the crust, but as I said, the crust was great. Not quite phyllo thin, but delicate and light enough to top off the yummy flavor of the apples. You know how with some pies you abandon eating the tough crust and just gobble down the filling? This was the opposite of that: the pie’s flavors all melded together for a delicious pastry good enough for a bakery in Paris. Maybe. 

2. The pie where I forgot to lower the heat after 10 minutes of baking. At some point, a recipe I had said to bake the pie at 425 for the first ten minutes, and then lower the temp to 350 for 50 more minutes, so as to not burn the outer ridge of the crust. First of all, use a pie crust guard. If you don’t, that’s your first mistake in making a pie. (You can use foil but for a couple dollars, you can save yourself a bundle of struggle trying to put strips of aluminum foil around the edge.) But there is also a teeny problem of forgetting to set the timer for the first ten minutes. After making the delicious crust two days earlier which I’ve described above, I was chagrined when I realized that on my gluten free pie, I had not remembered to set the timer and baked the whole pie at a high 425 degrees! Yikes. I was surprised it didn’t burn or brown, but when I pulled it out, it looked extra glazy and hard. Not good. So I told the family not to bother eating the crust, just focus on the yummy apple slices inside.

  • 3. The cookies when my sister used a cup of instant coffee granules instead of a cup of liquid coffee. I’m not faulting my sister, at all, a lovely baker of many goodies over the years, especially now with many grandchildren and even great grandchildren. But these cookies were so hard that even the dog refused them, or so the family lore goes. After I shared the recipe in this post my cousin’s wife commented that if a recipe is unclear about something, she avoids it rather than mess up precious ingredients.
  • 4. When you almost ruin the Lions’ Club reputation for splendid sausage gravy, “roux” this. Several years ago a couple of us had to sub in for our famed sausage gravy maker, when he was called to other duties as district governor at a state Lions conference the same weekend as our Pancake Days. I wrote about that gravy and recipe here (one of my most viewed posts ever). Our problem the second year when I was head gravy maker was at some point we had a run on customers and needed to hurry up the gravy. I didn’t have time for the normal process which took about an hour. A former restaurant owner in our club suggested making a roux, (French for a thick sauce) as in a Béchamel sauce. I was going, “Roo what? Becha who?” But Dianne jumped in and as I quickly fried the sausage for the gravy, she masterminded the roux in a different skillet and saved the day as we put it all together in maybe half the time.  
  • 5. Where I learned the wisdom of letting boneless chicken breasts come to room temperature before cooking. My sister-in-law Barbara and her daughter Anna introduced us to a splendid variation on “fried chicken,” which is Chicken breasts rolled in butter, crumbled Ritz crackers and sharp grated cheese. I didn’t have any problem making it the first time or two and then one time I got in a hurry and tried to quickly use frozen chicken breast strips. As I rolled the frozen pieces in the melted butter, the butter congealed on the pieces, and the cracker crumbs and grated cheese don’t adhere very well. The answer is to let the chicken come to room temperature before you try to roll it in the butter and crumbs, and then bake it.
  • 6. When you’ve got way too much yeast roll dough for your mixer. I had a favorite roll dough recipe that I made ever since high school, and one day I was really ambitious and thought I would use my newish (then) Kitchen Aid mixer with its handy dandy dough hooks for kneading the dough. It didn’t quite power out under the strain, but I decided I should never do that again, as the dough insisted on riding up the dough hook unmanageably. Just don’t.
  • 7. When you accidentally use tablespoons instead of teaspoons in cornbread. If you make a mistake in cooking, always write the correction or reminder on your recipe—whether it is in your recipe box, or in a cookbook. Not sure where you can write reminders if you are of the generation that only uses recipes you find online. At any rate, I had totally forgotten about the time I accidentally used 4 tablespoons of baking powder instead of 4 teaspoons in a quick batch of cornbread I made to accompany our chili soup one evening. In case you wonder, the cornbread was totally not fit to eat.
  • 8. What food not to make at home. Sometimes, you just need to give up, right? I’ve tried making angel food cake from scratch and from a box and although I finally conquered making one—(and then turning it upside down on a bottle or funnel which you need to do after the cake has baked). Read about my trials with angel food cakes below. And then, maybe resolve not to punish yourself that way. Afterall, they only cost a couple bucks in most grocery stores, right? And P.S. “Why Did My Angel Food Cake Fall” is another of my top posts, so at least misery has company.
  • 9. When I kept having fails at the Butterscotch Brownies (which my oldest sister rocks so well). I share this because it applies to other recipes too, especially in the cookie category. I always wondered, well what is the difference between baking soda and baking powder. When I googled these questions here is what I got: “Baking powder is used to increase the volume and lighten the texture of baked goods. It works by releasing carbon dioxide gas into a batter or dough through an acid-base reaction, causing bubbles in the wet mixture to expand and thus leavening the mixture.” Allrecipes.com adds regarding margarine: “Margarine, which can contain more water and less fat, may make thin cookies that spread out while baking.”
  • 10. When the gluten free cupcake recipe turns out fine, but then the next day you get sicker than a dog. Dare you serve the cupcakes to the birthday boy a week later? This past post tells a long story but especially if you have kids or grandkids or anyone in the family who must eat gluten free, it may be worth the read as my husband and I got to finally eat and enjoy (immensely) the cupcakes. And we didn’t get sick from the cupcakes! This also reminds me that many times, there are rescues for what you fear is a failed recipe. Don’t be too quick to throw out those hard hard cookies—might make a topping for ice cream, eh?

What were your biggest or worst mistakes in cooking?

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Did you have a major “save” you are bursting to share?

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Herald Press still sells my book of recipes as well.

Whatever Happened to Dinner?

The Watermelon Writing Method

Another Way for week of October 30, 2020

How First Graders Learn to Write Stories

Last week I told you our watermelon-raising fiasco. This week I’ll tell you what I learned from my oldest grandson’s first grade teacher about using watermelons to help you shape or write a good story.

We were visiting Sam’s family and both parents were busy. So I was eager to sit alongside Sam and watch his teacher on Zoom describe their morning writing exercise. She said to picture a big watermelon, but when writing a story, don’t pick a big topic like a whole watermelon. Instead, just think of one little seed or detail of that story.

As a writer, I knew this truth, that the best way to connect with readers is not to tell everything you know (indeed, impossible) but to boil it down to one small aspect or seed of a story.

But, I had never heard of the watermelon writing method. I quickly discovered that this was not an invention of this particular teacher but apparently by Lucy Calkins, a somewhat well-known teacher who published a book The Art of Teaching Writing back in 1994 and a proponent of the Writing Workshop approach to teaching writing. Today a website “Teachers Pay Teachers” is an online marketplace where teachers can buy and sell their original educational materials, certainly a wonderful aid in this pandemic time.

Sam on right, eager younger brother Owen on left. “Red Panda” showing between them.

So Sam had just celebrated his birthday the night before. Rather than describe the whole celebration (which was quite simple), he narrowed his final focus to just one gift he got to pick out at their nearby zoo, a stuffed animal he named “Red Panda.”

“I felt excited and happy. Red Panda was happy I got it [at] the zoo.”

The teacher also had them make simple stick figure illustrations to help prod their thinking about what to put in the story. He did a fine job of writing and illustrating it. It is no prize winner, but a great start in first grade! My own brain was percolating with how I could better use this watermelon and seed technique in my own writing. (I was not supposed to over-help him, so I did not correct spelling or suggest sentences.)

A few years ago, our great niece Jade wrote and published a story about her grandmother (my oldest sister) falling through a chair at a campout. Jade didn’t try to describe the whole campout, but got some great detail into just that surprising incident (my sister wasn’t hurt). The teacher sent off her students’ books to an online book printer, and I purchased a copy. My favorite line from her book is “I could feel the hot fire on my face and cheeks.” Nice!

Writing down seeds of stories or experiences is not just for grade schoolers. I’m happy that my middle sister had the foresight to buy a journal type book a few years back for my mother to write down memories and stories from her own growing up days and raising our family. Each spread or page has a prompt or question which helps frame a “seed” story.

Thinking about writing one’s life story is daunting and while some do an autobiography or memoir—even such longer stories or books benefit from taking key experiences or memories and writing those with vivid detail, rather than writing every single time you got up and washed your face … etc. I’m exaggerating there, no one writes like that but it is always tempting to write too much. Including yours truly in these columns.

If this idea intrigues you, maybe try jotting down some of your own stories. There are many prompts online if you Google “writing prompts.” Here are a few ideas from Carol Baxter, a writer at caroling.wordpress.com:

·       What do you wish you could have asked your parents?

·       What is the most surprising gift you ever received? Explain the circumstances around receiving this gift.

·       Write of one specific time when you felt hopeless and alone. What helped you through the experience?

So grab a notebook or page on your computer and … go! Or maybe, painting a picture from your life grabs you more. Here’s our Sam as artist!

Sam enjoys painting with watercolors.

***

For pre-made simple booklets your children or grandchildren might enjoy writing their stories, there are a variety available online. Another daughter ordered a pack of 10 on Amazon for less than $10. Christmas is coming!

Also, see a sample hardback journal here (not the one my mother is using.)

***
Comments or your own stories? Send to anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

Gluten Free Pie Crust

Gluten free crust for pie

Fresh Stayman apples, our favorite.

I guess it was the title of the recipe that grabbed me: Extra Flaky Gluten Free Crust. If you have a person with celiac or gluten intolerance in your family, you will likely perk up your ears also for a good pie crust recipe. And one that claims to be flaky, even Extra Flaky!

This was easier to handle than some gluten free dough I’ve made, and the Gluten Free on a Shoestring blog by Nicole Hunn is nicely illustrated, including her recent video of making the crust.

My grandson (now six) has celiac. He has been growing like a weed ever since he went on a rigid celiac diet. He doesn’t necessarily like pie crust (yes, this crust still has a somewhat gritty consistency). But his mother is to the point of trying to serve as much GF food as possible for their family in order that the rest of the family doesn’t have to be so careful about cross-contamination with his food when the family is eating.

Our favorite fall apples, Stayman, had just become available at our preferred farm-based orchard, Paughs, so I was anxious to get some fall pies going.

Some say Winesap are similiar to Stayman.

The main way this recipe differs from others is using sour cream in the dough, along with cold butter. And I just happened to have on hand an 8 oz. cup container of sour cream. 

Two pie dough balls.

(Adapted slightly from Nicole’s recipe.)

Nicole’s Extra Flaky Gluten-Free Pie Crust

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups (210 g) all-purpose gluten free flour (I used Pillsbury Gluten-free All Purpose Flour, which already has xanthan gum in it, so I didn’t add more)
3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your blend already contains it)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (84 g) unsalted butter, roughly chopped and chilled (I used salted butter, because that’s what I had)
1/2 cup (120 g) sour cream (preferably not lowfat), chilled
Ice water by the teaspoonful, as necessary

Pie dough after crumbling the butter chunks.

Fresh cut up fruit (apples or other) for pie according to your favorite recipe or canned pie filling.

Cut up apples with cinnamon, sugar, lemon juice.

Directions for crust

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix well. Add small chunks of chilled butter. Flatten each chunk of butter between thumb and one finger. Add sour cream. Mix. The dough will be somewhat crumbly. Then knead the dough together (clean hands of course). Eventually it will start to hang together. You can add cold water by teaspoon as needed to hold dough together. (I added about 3 teaspoons cold water, one at a time.) Turn the dough out onto a sheet of wax paper (or plastic wrap), and press into a clump, folding the paper around the balls of dough. It won’t be perfectly smooth. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes. (I had two balls of dough given these ingredients, one for bottom crust and one for top.)

Preheat oven to 425°F

Flipping the piecrust into the pan. First time I ever tried this. I usually lift the pie crust with a turner. (See instructions below)

Unroll the chilled dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured piece of wax or parchment paper. Sprinkle the dough lightly with more flour, and using your rolling pin, roll dough in a circle, moving the dough and turning over, and sprinkling it and the paper lightly with flour if it begins to stick.

Roll until approximately 12-inches around, about 1/4-inch thick (or less if it doesn’t cooperate). Keep sprinkling with GF flour if it starts sticking to your rolling pin.

Lift the bottom pie crust with the paper and flip it into your pie pan. (Nicole has other instructions for transferring the dough to the pie pan and crimping the edges.) Using fingers, dampen the dough slightly all around outside edge.

Add apples or other pie filling for your favorite pie recipe, at least 5 cups worth. Roll out second pie crust on wax or parchment paper and lightly score the crust with lines and slits to let steam out while baking. Can follow this pattern for slits ( = ).

Again, lift the pie’s second crust carefully on wax or parchment paper, and flip it over the pie. Crimp the edge together—with a fork or twisting your thumb and forefinger to make the bottom and top crusts stick together.  

The top layer of dough with slits and lines to allow steam from pie to escape.

Put aluminum foil around edge to prevent burning, or use a purchased pie edge crust cover. Bake for 10 minutes at high temperature (425°), then lower temperature to 375° for another 45-50 minutes. (Don’t forget to lower the temperature as I did recently.)

Remove from oven. Cool. Enjoy. I love it slightly warm, and with ice cream!

Gluten free apple pie.

When You Experiment with Raising Watermelon

Another Way for week of October 23, 2020

Our Watermelon Story

We have a very good friend who was all excited about a watermelon he’d heard about: the best best best watermelon anyone ever tasted and didn’t we want to give it a try in our 30 by 90-foot Shenandoah Valley garden. We have pretty decent soil.

There are several things wrong with this proposal: you need a lot of space for meandering watermelon vines, and you need some sandy soil. Plus you need a very long growing season of days where soil temperature is at least 80 degrees.

In his work life (now retired), Joe was a crack salesman. Not the drug kind, but a really successful sales guy. You can guess what happened next: he convinced us to at least try. Maybe we’d learn something.

He sent for a packet of “Bradford Watermelon” seeds that cost $10 for about 20 seeds, give or take a few. Yes, you read right. They were the thickest watermelon seeds I’ve ever seen, and after fetching some cow manure off of a neighbor, we proceeded to spread the manure and mound up three hills. Finally, we planted the seeds on top with high hopes.

We could just imagine the lush sweet melons in late summer, for they required about 85 days growing time. We’d have a watermelon party! One of my nicknames from Dad was “Watermelody” because I was such a big fan of summer’s bright red treats. Dad grew numerous small varieties and even some larger ones in a mucky patch near a creek bed.

Our experiment would probably have benefited from some of that muck. We did water the plants almost every other day if it didn’t rain. The long sheet of directions said to “monitor the germinated seeds for vigor. Keep the strongest, cull the rest.” Only two seeds out of that pack ever germinated. What a bum deal. But finally, there were ample vines from those two seeds pushing up.

When blossoms actually started appearing on the vines I was ecstatic—you would have thought I was expecting a baby. My daughter had said I needed to be sure bees were pollinating the blossoms. I carefully hunted for the male and female flowers blossoming (and yes, they look sort of like actual male and female reproductive parts if you get my drift). You take a little pollen off of the male stemen that is a little stalk sticking up in the center of the flower, and rub it on a flower with a female stigma which is a sticky little knob. You know about the birds and the bees don’t you? Underneath the flower is a tiny immature melon that does not mature unless it is pollinated.

When the vines were spreading everywhere and among our precious corn.

I went out 8:30 a.m., which was too early because blossoms weren’t open yet, but by 9:30 a.m., bees and their pollination activity was happening all over our garden and I didn’t actually need to help it along.

Half the patch suddenly ended up looking like you see above on the left side of this picture.

And then. One evening I discovered that half of the watermelon patch lay in ruin: wilted, the life drained out of the vines. I almost cried. Perhaps a vole or critter or bug or virus attacked our lush watermelon vines, which by this time were edging their way into the precious corn rows, crawling up the stalks, and making mayhem out of our otherwise neatly mulched (with straw) garden. I ran into the house both sad and irate because I felt it was the end of our watermelon patch.

Closer inspection made me wonder if moles or voles had disturbed the vines?

Well, the other half of the patch did survive and by late summer, we counted maybe 12 or 13 melons which were actually growing. Most ended up rotting before ripening. But one day in early October, we cut into the best of two surviving smallish melons. Just meh. Edible, but not sweet or ripe or delicious. Not really tasty.

The “meh” watermelon party.

The moral of the story? You can try raising watermelon if you want to for a wonderful learning experiment in gardening. Just don’t plan to eat any.

***

What’s your worst gardening disaster story?

Have you grown watermelon successfully? I’d love to hear tips or tricks?

***

My father-in-law was a prolific gardener, but he did not raise watermelon because they took up too much ground for the results. What have you learned from your parents or grandparents?

Comment below or write to me at anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

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