Friday, December 31, 2010

Holidays--A Time for Reflection

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."  Mark 2:27

New Year's Eve is here! At this time of year, thinking about the past year is inevitable for most of us. And because there are already so many reminders of parties and fireworks grabbing your attention, I thought it appropriate for me to say something sober on this occasion. Reflection is an important part of understanding our lives. And remembering is an important part of our holidays. So today I'm giving you an analogy from Meeting God in Quiet Places: The Cotswold Parables by F. LaGard Smith about holidays.

The origin of the word holiday has to do with holy days--like Jewish Passovers, Jubilees, and Sabbaths. It has to do with our seven-day week, which was established by God. It was God who blessed His creation and included a day of rest, making it holy. It was God who came up with the idea of taking a "holiday." Having created a day of rest, it was eventually a holy day with special instructions from God to the Jews for remembering the Sabbath. This is what God said:  "Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.... Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day."

A day off for resting was justified, but remembering what God had done for the Israelites in bringing them out of bondage in Egypt made the day holy. And now Christians have a day of remembrance on the first day of the week, because it was the day on which Jesus rose triumphantly from the grave, setting us free from the bondage of sin and death!

So how were holidays historically spent? In rest and remembrance. Holidays have always been a time for rest, but also a time to take stock of what the other six days are about. Time to gain perspective on life, so that we can remember the meaning of life...what is important. And holidays are a time for renewing our spirit--the part of us that is connected to God. Today our vacations are more about non-stop activity than relaxation. 

Our vacations, or holidays--holy days, would be better spent in quiet relaxation and reflection. What better way to remember what God has done for us? Life is passing quickly by without our noticing just how fast it's moving. A holiday spent in nature, where we can remember the beauty of God's creation, would help us feel more of God's presense. Children are naturally inclined to love nature, and parents walking with them on a holiday through natural areas would be an experience they would love and remember. And for the parents, it would be a refreshing time of re-creation. 

During this New Year's holiday, take time to reflect on the purpose and quality of your life. Are you living on a higher plane? Only a spiritual attitude can help you create that. A spiritual way of life is not just going to happen. You must energize your soul and spirit to harmonize with God's plan for His much-loved creation--YOU! We resist the time, energy and thought required to live God's way, without realizing that the only way to have rest on our holidays is with God through Christ.

Take time to reflect on the way you have moved through the last year. If necessary, use a journal this year to jot down the substance of your days. When you sit down to reflect on why your life is going one way or another, you can see--even in the sketchiest of descriptions--what has been happening to bring you to this point. Then ask God through Christ our Savior to help you have the life you want, and the life He wants you to have. Time spent in thoughtful reflection will change your life in 2011! 

No snow here, so Lisa, Steve, Quinlyn, and Michael will be coming to my house to celebrate the new year. So Happy, Happy, Happy New Year to all of you!
And many blessings...Mimi  

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Food for Celebrating New Year's Eve ~

Snow is coming down, so I'm not sure whether I'll get to celebrate New Year's Eve with the family. I usually spend the night with Lisa, Steve, Quinlyn and Michael on New Year's Eve. Looks like I'll have to wait and see what the weather brings today to see how I'll spend this New Year's Eve.

But I've been giving some thought to food for New Year's Eve. Not New Year's Day, since most of us have the traditional meal of meat--probably roast beef for us this year--along with black-eyed peas, cabbage, and other vegetables. Some even make Hopping John, as Alice suggested this morning. But to me New Year's Eve has a different kind of air to that tells me not to do the usual cooking and sitting down at table, but to have something that can be picked up with your fingers and carried away--to talk to people, to laugh at silly comments, or to watch fireworks. Whatever you're doing, you probably don't want to sit quietly and eat dinner. There's too much electricity in the air, too much excitement about the end of one year and the beginning of another, and the wonder of what it will bring. 

And with all this in mind, I simply went online to find a few things that you could throw together--not a complete menu, but some ideas that might get you interested in a menu for your family or friends. I was surprised at what I found...not a lot of recipes for comfort food that's easy and familiar. But one site that has quite a few good recipes is And, of course, my favorite is Barefoot Contessa--Ina Garten--who always offers something to love. 

Let's begin with a spinach dip, which is so delicious, you'll find it hard to stop eating. These first two recipes come from 

Hot Spinach Dip
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds spinach, cleaned, trimmed, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup 2% milk
6 ounces reduced-fat bar cream cheese
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons hot sauce, such as Tabasco
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Pita wedges or tortilla chips for serving

In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook until lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes.

Add spinach and cook until completely wilted, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a colander; drain, pressing to release all excess liquid.

In the same pot, warm milk over high  heat. Whisk in cream cheese until melted, about 3 minutes. Add spinach, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and 3/4 cup mozzarella; stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer over medium-low heat until ready to serve. Transfer to serving dish and add pita wedges or tortilla chips for dipping.
This recipe reminds me of the Sullivan family. They love chocolate, and I think they'll enjoy the fact that if you have the ingredients, this is fast, easy and delicious. It's perfect for a party. And although this comes from Whats Gaby Cooking, she took it from another site, Three Many Cooks.

Chocolate Rice Krispies
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 package marshmellows
5 cups Rice Krispies
2/3 cups mini chocolate chips

Spray an 8-inch square metal baking pan with cooking spray. Line the pan with parchment paper and then spray the top of the parchment paper again. Set aside.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth. Remove the skillet from heat and add the Rice Krispies and 1/3 cup of the chocolate chips. Use a spatula to incorporate the mixture. Transfer the mixture into the prepared baking pan and spread out evenly. Sprinkle with the remaining chocolate chips. Let set for about 15 minutes until cool.
This is a favorite recipe that is easy and filling. In New Mexico, it's an ever-present dish that is served everywhere and often. This recipe comes from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and has tomatoes in it. You don't have to use tomatoes, but they give it a fresh summer taste. And Ina has left out cilantro because she doesn't like it. You can add some if you wish. She says to use the Haas avocados because they hold up to the process.

4 ripe Haas avocados
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)
8 dashes Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium tomato, seeded, and small-diced

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh out of their shells into a large bowl. (I use my hands.) Immediately add the lemon juice, Tabasco, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and toss well. Using a sharp knife, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are finely diced. Add the tomatoes. Mix well and taste for salt and pepper.
Ina says to keep your guacamole green, store it with plastic wrap pressed directly on top. Air will turn it brown, so the less air contact, the better. The lemon juice will help as well.
Here's an easy way to serve Baked Brie with no muss or fuss and delicious flavor!

Baked Brie
1/4 wheel brie
4 tablespoons honey

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Place the brie on it and drizzle with the honey.
A few pecans on top helps the flavor as well.
 Bake 5 to 7 minutes or until it starts to ooze but not melt.
Serve with crackers.

Brie can also be wrapped in foil and baked in the same way for 20 minutes.

One of my favorite things to do is to have a supper of fruit and cheese. For many years, this has been a fun meal with my granddaughters when they visit. We may have a small roasted bird sometimes, but we usually just have a good bread with several different fruits and cheeses. Brie warmed in the oven is dreamy. Be sure all the cheeses are at room temperature. Fond memories are locked into this fruit and cheese platter, which got my attention for some special New Year's Eve fare.
Fruit and Cheese Platter
Ina says: "Assembling a stunning fruit and cheese platter requires no cooking. I follow a few key principles to be sure it looks festive and is easy for guests to help themselves. First, I choose an interesting assortment of cheeses--hard sharp cheeses, soft creamy ones, and pungent blue cheeses. I look for an interesting mix of flavors, textures, and colors. For example, in this photograph I used ripe French Camembert: Le Chevrot, a sharp goat cheese; Rondin with herbs, a creamy goat cheese; and Montagnolo, a creamy blue cheese." Finish the platter with sliced breads or crackers, and green leaves. Don't forget the cheese knives!
And here's where I keep going with recipes when I should probably stop, but I can't resist reminding you how easily you can pull together a dessert platter. Even if you don't have time to bake, you can get very good pastries at your local bakery. 

Country Dessert Platter
Buy a delicious and beautiful assortment of cookies, bars, and pastries if you have decided that there isn't time to bake, or you're still tired from Christmas. Ina says: "At Barefoot Contessa, I choose things that are both colorful and easy to eat with fingers. Remember, lots of baked goods look delicious on their own, but grouped together, they can look very brown. I mix colorful things like lemon bars, pecan bars, brownies, cookies, strawberries, figs, and slices of lemon cake."
 The dessert plate in the picture isn't from Ina, and Ina does it a little differently. She places the pastries in paper muffin cups and arranges them in a flowing pattern around the cake. Then she piles strawberries and figs or grapes high to give some height to the design. Then she adds some cookies and lemon or hydrangea leaves to fill in the spaces. Can we all say, "YUM!" 

Anyway...I like these ideas for a simple and delicious menu for New Year's Eve. So I'll say once again...Happy New Year Everybody!



Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Quotes to Bring in the New Year 2011 ~

Looking for pictures for my blog, I came across these quotations for the New Year. I think they're exceptionally wise, so I'm giving them to you without more conversation from me.

1. "Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man."  ~ Benjamin Franklin

2.  "The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose, new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective." ~ G. K. Chesterton

3.  "The Old Year has gone. Let the dead past bury its own dead. The New Year has taken possession of the clock of time. All hail the duties and possibilities of the coming twelve months." ~ Edward Payson Powell

4.  "Ring out the old, ring in the new,  Ring happy bells, across the snow: the year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true."   ~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850

5.  "For Last year's words belong to last year's language And next year's words await another voice And to make an end is to make a beginning." ~ T. S. Eliot  "Little Gidding"

6.   "New Year's Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual." ~ Mark Twain

7.   "No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left. It is the nativity of our common Adam.  ~ Charles Lamb

8.   "We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. This book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day." ~ Edith Lovejoy Pierce

9.   "Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us." ~ Hal Borland

10.   "Every man should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page. Take up one more hole in the buckle, if necessary, or let down one, according to circumstances. But on the first of January, let every man gird himself up once more, with his face to the front, and take no interest in things that were and are past."  ~ Henry Ward Beecher

11.   "One hour of life, crowded to the full with glorious action, and filled with noble risks, is worth whole years of those mean observances of paltry decorum."  ~ Sir Walter Scott

12.   "There never will exist anything permanently noble and excellent in the character which is a stranger to resolute self-denial."  ~ Sir Walter Scott

There are so many good quotations out there, but these are a few to set you thinking about the new year coming in, and your attitude toward it. The last quotation was added especially for myself, since I have been thinking this morning about the reasons I so often end up doing the exact opposite of what I have determined to do. Self-denial is almost gone from my vocabulary, I think. Our idea of denying ourselves is not eating a second piece of cake. But we should take note of all our blessings, and thank God for a New Year to start least within our hearts. 


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Moving Toward a New Year ~ 2011

Today my guests left earlier than they'd planned, because of snow moving into this area. Albuquerque could lie deep in snow like much of the East when the New Year arrives! But that probably won't happen...too much sunshine to keep us bogged down for long.

The imminent arrival of a new year may have your mind agitated and excited, like it does mine. And, like me,  you may not know why you feel that hint of excitement and expectation--even anticipation--in the air. Life for most of us will be much the same on January 1, 2011, because life generally doesn't change much, which is both good and bad. Like everyone else, you and I need some changes and uncertainty to keep us fascinated by  the many aspects of life and to challenge us to do good things. But most of us realize that too much change may not allow us to accomplish very much for a period of time, because changes take a toll on almost all of us. And even when change is good, it has a dramatic effect.

 So what should we do to make the good and the bad balance? Maybe we should begin with acceptance, thankfulness, and a determination to do better this year than we have in the past. And how do these ways of looking at life help us balance it?

Acceptance helps us deal with life as it comes, and defrays the anxiety that accompanies worry. Learning to accept things as they are, while planning for a worthwhile future, is a combination which gives us a sense of control and competence. Thankfulness allows us to let go of what we don't have in order to appreciate what we do have. We must have gratitude to be happy. And repeating what I just said: without gratitude, no one can be happy.

 And for me, as for most of us, it really does take determination to improve ourselves and our lives each year. Almost any method of helping us do that is useful. I diligently remind myself with lists and journals and internal conversations to make good decisions, and to be kinder and more thoughtful. Having guests has once again forced me to grapple with the idea of putting others first, generously and unselfishly. If we aren't careful, being selfish becomes a way of life.  

For what else is life about? What else matters in this world? Remembering that you and I were created to be like Christ, we should look at our relationships as Christ would look at them. Family, friends, and all our relationships are the foundation of life...the essence of life...totally involved in its purpose. And with that I'm bound to say that the purpose of life--as King Solomon concluded--is to love God and keep His commandments. One of those commandments says to love your neighbor (or friend) as yourself. And as simple as that sounds, it is impossible without having a relationship with your Creator. We must have His help...His guidance...His love...His Spirit. He is our only hope of peace and love and eternal life. But if you or I are rebellious, He cannot offer us any of these gifts.

So while moving toward the new year 2011, you and I will make some resolutions which--with God's grace--we'll try to keep. Without giving details, let me simply say that I'm somewhat disappointed in myself as I look back over the last year. And so I pledge to  myself that it will be different at the end of this new year. Now, can we safely say that this year was at least better than the year before?
Perhaps it wasn't good enough to satisfy our perfectionist notions--but better! 

And please remember one very important thing: life takes on a different perspective according to our attitude. So this year, let's all work to keep a good attitude--a right attitude--a godly attitude, while moving through another year.

Yes! With fireworks popping, zinging, and blazing all around us, let's step forward to try and create a jolly good show! And I challenge you, with the help of our Creator, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, to make it the best year ever!!! Happy New Year 2011 everyone!!!

God's blessings to you and yours in 2011...Mimi

Friday, December 24, 2010

Jesus--Our Gate to God ~ 2

We who have believed enter that rest. Hebrews 4:3
Thinking of everyone I know in these hours before Christmas Eve,  who is blessed to be sharing time during the holidays with family and friends. And I think of the blessings God  has given us in our lives--gifts of food, shelter, clothing, health and family, as well as the freedom to study His word. Last night after going to bed, I watched a program about William Tyndale, the English priest who was determined to give the Bible to the people in their own language. Not only did they burn him at the stake, but they strangled him first. The Catholic Church had forbidden the general public to have the Bible. So when I think of my blessings, I include the word of God in my list! 

 Meeting God in Quiet Places: The Cotswold Parables shows us in this chapter how  Jesus is our gate to God. I want to take your mind again to the majestic gatehouse at Stanton in England that I spoke about yesterday. It takes your breath away to see the gate to the manor house! And imagine approaching that beautiful gatehouse...what expectation would you have of the grandeur beyond the gate? Approaching such a beautiful and ornately decorated entry gate, what would you expect to find within the manor house? Certainly, those who enter through the gate of the manor house in Stanton aren't disappointed, because the manor house itself is palatial...grand beyond belief! 

Looking at the manor house at Stanton reminds us of what Jesus said about the rooms in His Father's house: "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you." To our human minds, the palatial mansion at Stanton with its three-story gatehouse is grander than grand, but it helps us to appreciate the picture of heaven that Jesus has given. And yet, heaven is so grand that it is impossible to describe!

Imagining all the grand occasions held at that mansion, can you also imagine being on the guest list? Can you imagine riding in a carriage through the grand gate, and arriving in front of the manor house? The cream of society, lords and ladies, dressed in their finest would be consorting with you! But while you're imagining so much finery and beauty, try to compare it to the glories of heaven. Paul repeats the words of the prophet Isaiah when he says: "As it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him'." Heaven is about celebration, and praise, and relationship with God!

Knowing that heaven is a place where God has prepared a spiritual mansion for us, we think about what the  apostle John saw in his vision given by Jesus on the Isle of Patmos. He said: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.... And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.' He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' "

Surprising for us is that when Paul said eye has not seen, nor ear heard what God has prepared for us, he wasn't talking directly about heaven. God wants to share a relationship with us in this life! Before we are in our eternal home! Paul tells us that whatever God has prepared for us, He has revealed it to us by His Spirit. We don't  have to wait for heaven and eternity to have a relationship with God! 

Starting over for most of us in our lives would be do things better with our family, with our neighbors, and with our gain forgiveness and begin again. How can we start fresh and be like Cinderella at the ball in our new clothes, moving among the best? Who is on that invitation list? Like us, King David, Peter, Paul, and Miriam have all been given a new beginning, along with many others. You and I also have an invitation to join have a new beginning. God wants you to have life to the full today! There are many waiting for you just inside the Gate...ready and waiting to celebrate with you. Won't you go through the Gate and join them?

Wishing you a wonderful holiday with those you love and who love you! Give thanks and praise God for all the blessings we enjoy!



Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jesus--Our Gate to God

We who have believed enter that rest.
Hebrews 4:3
The holiday begins in earnest tomorrow evening with a family dinner with two of my daughters and their families at my house. I'll have Steve and Lisa, Quinlyn and Michael, and Donna and Ron. We're busily preparing food and gifts for the holidays, which will include a big dinner on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Today I'll be making some challah, some dinner rolls, and a pineapple cake--which is a version of a pound cake with crushed pineapple and some pineapple juice added to the batter for flavor. It's Quinlyn's favorite. 

Yesterday I received a delivery from Los Poblanos, so there will be fresh vegetables on the table, for which I'm very thankful. We even have Japanese turnips! Fresh green beans and fresh potatoes--both white and sweet--and apples. Donna made a delicious dish of fresh apples cooked with pineapple one evening recently, and it was so good that I've asked her to repeat that performance for one of our dinners.

And Keller's, our meat store, has fresh meat processed by them without anything unnatural to enhance the meat. We'll be having ham and a chicken casserole (especially for Quinlyn) on Christmas Eve, and ham and turkey (especially for Steve) on Christmas Day. Steve and Lisa buy all the meat, so I feel very blessed and thankful to be a part of their lives. When Donna and I went shopping at Keller's last week, we decided that a fondue would be good to have on Christmas Eve, so we got three cheeses to make one: Fontina, Gryere, and Baby Swiss. I have a fondue pot from Switzerland that I have only used once or twice, so that will be a pleasure for me. And the challah will make a good bread for dipping. The menu makes me say, "Yum!"  

Well, enough of our plans for the holiday! I tell you all of these details, so that I can also tell you that I'm giving you the first half of Chapter 16 from Meeting God In Quiet Places: The Cotswold Parables  by F. LaGard Smith today, because I won't be writing a blog on Saturday and Sunday. Each week when I read a chapter from this book, I have the same thought: this is the best analogy I've read so far. And so it is this week, with one of the nicest ways of looking at the possibility of being close to God. In this chapter Jesus is represented as a gate through which we can enter into a new relationship with God. The analogy used is that of an enormous and beautiful gate leading to the manor house  in Stanway in England. Not only is it a gate, but a three-story gatehouse.  As you can see in the pictures, it's very impressive.

There are many gates in the English landscape...gates of all descriptions and kinds, some built to keep animals in, and some to keep intruders out. Gates along footpaths invite you to enter and enjoy the countryside. Some gates are even beautifully embellished, like a wedding or party invitation--a beautiful invitation to come through. And one of the grandest gates in all of England is the one in Stanway, a gate which adorns many picture books of the Cotswolds. All the gates dotting the area are a reminder of something Jesus said: "I am the gate," he told his listeners. "Whoever enters through me will be saved." Jesus invites us all to enter into a new relationship with God. And even if you have nagging doubts and disbeliefs, or even stubborn pride, he is the gate through which you can gain access to God.

You've probably heard many of Jesus' invitations already: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." And another: "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!'...Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." How can anyone refuse such warm invitations!?

The context of Jesus' invitation is that of entering a sheep pen--appropriate for the Cotswolds perhaps, but what does it mean for you and me? Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.... I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Jesus is offering us an invitation to go through Him--as He is the gate--to find pasture. And He reminds us that He is the only gate!

Jesus is the only gate because He is the One through whom the world was made, the One who knows us better than we know ourselves, and the One who knows the path to spiritual life. Without Jesus, there can be no lasting fulfillment...any other path is futile. The prodigal son found out this truth the hard way. Doing what he wanted to do brought him nothing but misery, not the happiness and fulfillment he had planned. When he finally overcame his stubborn resistance, he found happiness in his father's home, where it had been right in front of his eyes all along!

Tomorrow we'll look at the expectation the gate at Stanton brings to those who see it. For today, I'll be busily working to make the holiday as merry and bright as I can! 


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

James Beard's Shortbread & Seedcake

This morning I pulled out a book that I haven't looked at in years. It's title is James Beard's Simple Foods: 40 Cooking Lessons by America's Greatest Cook. In case you aren't familiar with this famous chef, I'll give you a few words from the book cover:
"James Beard, the dean of American cookery, was born and brought up in Portland, Oregon. He began his career in food in 1938, when he and a friend started Hors d'Oeuvre, Inc., a cocktail catering service. The first of his two dozen books, Hors d'Oeuvres and Canapes, appeared in 1940, and in 1946 he conducted the first-ever television cookery show. He began his famous cooking classes in the mid-1950s and continued them for the rest of his life, most often holding them in the kitchen of his Greenwich Village townhouse, which is now the headquarters of the James Beard Foundation."

"He was a giant of a man (six feet three inches tall, and nearly 300 pounds) with a passion for food and strong opinions about it. He hated fussy, pretentious food, believed in simplicity and freshness, and had an enormous influence on American gastronomy. He died in 1985 at the age of eighty-one, still by universal agreement, full of enthusiasm and the joy of living."

As you can see in the picture, Julia at six feet two inches tall is almost as tall as he is. They were great friends, and she wrote the forward to this book. Both their contributions to the world of cookery have been phenomenal!

Scanning the pages of this book, I came upon several chapters on Christmas, and I want to share with you some of his advice about baking at Christmastime. In his first chapter on Christmas, he gives some recipes for goodies to go along with eggnog or Christmas punch, two drinks which he says are too sweet to add anything more than little sandwiches of chicken, ham, or turkey, salted nuts, or some such similar savory nibbles. But, he says, if you insist on serving some kind of cake or cookie with it, Scottish shortbread or seedcake are not very sweet and are very easy to make. So here are James Beard's instructions for making a very good shortbread.

Shortbread: Mix 3 cups of sifted all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, and 1 cup (that's 2 sticks) of soft butter together, either with your hands or in the electric mixer. Add 1 egg yolk and knead it in well. 

Divide the mixture into 4 parts and roll each into a square or a circle, about 1/2 inch thick. Prick with a fork. Cut each circle into 8 triangles or each square into 8 smaller squares, place the pieces on a lightly buttered and floured baking sheet, and bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 300 degrees F and bake for 30 minutes longer, until the shortbread is a delicate light brown. This makes 32 little pieces of shortbread. Or, you may bake the 4 circles, first crimping the edges with your fingers as you would do with pie crust, then cut them into 8 triangles while they are still warm, and return the pieces to the oven until the edges are lightly browned.  

Beard says: "Another traditional accompaniment to eggnog that I like very much is seedcake. It is rich, but not too sweet, and it makes better eating than gooey fruitcakes or Christmas cookies."  Here are his instructions straight out of the book for making it.

Seedcake: Cream 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter with 1 cup of sugar until very light and fluffy, using an electric mixer, if you have one. Add 5 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift 2 cups of all-purpose flour with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar-egg mixture and beat for 2 minutes at low speed in the electric mixer, or by hand with a wooden spoon, giving it about 100 strokes. Add 2 tablespoons of caraway seeds and continue beating for another minute.

Pour the cake batter into a buttered and floured 9-inch tube pan and bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 45 minutes, or until the cake tests done (when a straw or small wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean). This is a nice cake to have in reserve for the holiday season and if you keep it in a tin with a tight lid, it will stay fresh for quite a long time. Serve it thinly sliced with eggnog or other punches, or with tea or coffee. 

So there you have some nice old-fashioned recipes from the master himself. I love the casual approach of his recipes--he had a newspaper column for many years, and he used the same conversational style in his cookbooks. I hope you'll find them so tempting that you'll add them to your menu. 


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gingerbread Muffins ~

Christmas is moving quickly toward us, and my mind moves toward food automatically. I put a lot of recipes for muffins on here, because muffins are one of my favorite desserts. There are two good reasons: one is that they're little cakes, and another is that they're so quickly made. So it didn't take long for me to decide--when I saw this recipe in Victoria magazine (Nov/Dec issue) for gingerbread muffins--to put it on here for you.

Here's what the magazine had to say about these muffins: "Perfect for breakfast or with a cup of your favorite afternoon tea, these gingerbread muffins are made with dark molasses and pure cane sugar to naturally enrich the recipe's irresistibly fragrant spice blend. The muffins are seasoned lavishly with ground ginger and sweetened with a crumbly and buttery streusel topping made with brown sugar and cinnamon." The smell alone would make you drool. So here is a recipe suitable for devouring anytime during the holidays--on Christmas, on New Year's,  or just on a cold winter's night. 

Gingerbread Muffins with Streusel Topping
Makes about 18 muffins

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup dark molasses
1/2 cup fine cane sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup boiling water
1 large egg, room temperature
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 recipe Streusel Topping (recipe follows)
Garnish with confectioner's sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees, and line 18 muffin cups with liners. 
  2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, ginger, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together molasses, cane sugar, oil, water, egg, and egg yolk. Add molasses mixture to flour mixture, and whisk until well combined. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups.
  4. Crumble the Streusel Topping evenly over batter in each muffin cup. Bake 18 to 24 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in the centers of muffins comes out clean. Remove muffins from oven, and cool.
  5. Sprinkle muffins lightly with confectioner's sugar, if desired.
Streusel Topping

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

In a medium bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Slowly pour melted butter over flour mixture, and stir until mixture is well-combined and crumbly.

If this appeals to you, I hope you'll try it. As I said, the smell alone is worth the effort. Happy holidays!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Johnny Pignozzi ~ On Taking Photographs

Johnny Pignozzi ~ Catalogue Deraisonne
This past week a well-known photographer named Johnny Pignozzi was on the Martha Stewart Show. I thought it might be interesting for you to see his 10 rules for taking photos, so I'm going to list them here. Johnny and Martha are good friends and have traveled many times to the same places at the same time. On the show, he gave Martha a framed photograph of herself and her daughter made in the 1990's. He also gave her an electrical strip that was small and had six plugs--three on each side. On trips, it allows one to charge  cameras and phones with only one strip. Below is Johnny's book cover in black and white.
Johnny  has used many cameras over his lifetime, having taken hundreds of thousands of photographs over the years. Now he has  put together a book of his photographs--himself and famous people--which came out in bookstores  July 1, 2010  bearing the title Catalogue Deraisonne. He explained the title of his book by saying that when people catalogue something, they organize it, and the word for that is "raisonne." But since he didn't organize the photos in his book, they are literally the opposite-- "deraisonne." His book is a compilation  of many of the photographs he has taken in his lifetime in black and white.

Johnny surprised me when he said his favorite camera is a Canon S-95. He likes a small camera because he travels so much, and it can easily be carried in his pocket. Or if he's at a party, he can hide it in his hand and take photos of the other guests, which turn out candid and natural. And he claims to be the man who made taking photos of yourself popular. While putting his head close to Martha's, he put his arm out with the camera in hand and snapped! He says that the Canon S-95 takes photos in low light and even takes video. 

Before Johnny Pignozzi gave his rules for taking photos, he offered a few suggestions in conversation: 
  • Use a small camera unless you're taking photos at long range.
  • Don't have your subjects pose, as it creates an unnatural picture.
  • Don't use flash. Use a camera like the Canon S-95 that takes photos in low light.
  • Use a digital camera.
  • X-ray machines at the airport often ruin your film.
Then Johnny gave 10 rules for taking photos, which you may want to add to your own:
  1. Take a lot of photos all the time! Take your camera with you everywhere.
  2. Remember to recharge your camera.
  3. Rather than erasing your memory card, just replace it. When you erase photos, you may lose pictures that you wish you had saved. Memory cards are inexpensive enough to simply replace them. Be sure and put the used memory card in a safe place.
  4. Have two cameras with you, so that if one gets misplaced or lost, you still have another.
  5. Put your name or initials on your camera. If you're around other people, they may pick up your camera and think it's theirs.
  6. Don't show anyone their photo to approve. In the process, one of you may hit a button on the camera that causes you to lose pictures already made. Johnny said he's lost many photos that way.
  7. Beware of putting photos on the internet. Bad photos, or photos of friends that are not in good taste, or even photos of your children which may be fine for friends and family, may be taken and used by strangers on the internet. 
  8. Rather than using a zoom lens, get closer to your subject. 
  9. Use the highest resolution on your camera to make sure you get the very best photos.
  10. Black and white film is what Johnny uses for most of his photos. And he has some beautiful photos of polar bears and icebergs in black and white! I never thought I'd say this, but I'm beginning to think it's a good idea. I know that Kelly sometimes uses black and white film, and I complained about it, but she may be on to something. My Christmas card from her and Eric this year is a black and white photo of them with Omari. It's really good and I love it!
So that's it for today. I find myself waiting on others to take photos, when it's really the easiest thing in the world to do. It's an excellent way to give pleasure to friends and family, as well as yourself. The last camera I bought was a Sony at Jon's suggestion.  Jon was using one to take photos of his coins. I bought one on eBay to take photos of things I wanted to sell on eBay--mostly books and CDs. I still like this camera, but it needs a battery right now. Maybe this week before Christmas, I'll get one. 

I hope you've had a wonderful weekend, and that Monday has already been kind to you!


P.S. I talked to Kelly today--Dec. 23--and she told me that when she uses her small Canon camera, she finds that the camera moves and wiggles much more, so she can't take pictures as easily. She said this after I told her that I wanted a Canon S-95. Just wanted you to have this for your consideraton!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Do You Know Your Purpose? ~ 2

Good Sunday morning!  I'm sure you can see the analogy in this chapter. The rectory, which still looks lovely on the outside, is beginning to deteriorate on the inside for lack of proper life inside it. In fact, it no longer has a purpose. And the point is, many people are like the rectory: they have no purpose!
King Solomon found that his search for meaning came with a price. He said, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Which means he found so much in life that had no meaning. He named achievement, labor, accumulation, wealth, materialism, prosperity, power, and even wisdom to be meaningless. Why? Because these are things you can't take with you when you die.

Solomon wasn't saying that life is not worth living for its own sake. In fact, many times Solomon urges us to live life with gusto--to eat our food with gladness, to drink with a joyful heart, to "enjoy life with your wife, whom you love." And the best way to do that is to remember why you are here. It is to have a dynamic relationship with your Creator. As the apostle Paul put it: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." God is not sorry He made you. He has plans!

Your destiny is not simply to return to dust, even though we will all die. Your destiny is to return to God, who gave you mind, body, and spirit. You are destined for an eternal home! Living in a material world of sin and death, you are given the sublime hope of eternal life. This hope is God-given, and adds meaning to your life. When your life takes on its true purpose, you understand not only what this life is all about, but that you've been given a hunger...a yearning...for your eternal home!

Because God prepared an eternal home in heaven, death is not the end. And because Christ died on the cross and was resurrected, we don't have to fear death. Remember the apostle Paul asked, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" Those in Christ will live forever!

But we have been given something to do too. Solomon spent his life searching for meaning. Do you wonder what he said in the end? He said, " is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." Late in his life, Solomon understood his purpose. Do you know your purpose? 

Ask yourself what's really happening in your life. Are you a house or a home? Are you wasting a lifetime decorating your mind and body while ignoring your soul, which is the only part of you that will live beyond the grave? Do you know the purpose for your life?

And I quote Lagard: "If you've ever felt that your life is empty and without purpose, you should know that God has something special in mind for you. He wants there to be lights in your eyes and happiness in your heart. He's throwing a party just for you! All you've got to do is to let him move in and fill your life....God looks on the inside and knows how truly beautiful you can be--and already are!"

Jesus is always waiting to come into your heart. He's there to make your house His home. If you let Him be more and more at home in your heart, there'll be no end to life, love, and laughter!

Have a wonderful Sunday with your family and friends.