Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Value of Sheep Droppings & You ~ 2

Usefulness is a good word to contemplate when you aren't sure about your own value. We're looking at chapter 21 of Meeting God in Quiet Places: the Cotswold Parables by F. LaGard Smith. And the first concept to grasp is that if sheep droppings are valuable, so are you!

We live in a society that compares one person to another constantly, giving prizes and awards to those deemed fit for the honor. But it's a skewed view of who we are and how valuable each one of us is. You can change that perception by finding gifts which God has given to you and you alone. It could be that we take too many of them for granted. So I appeal to your honesty in evaluating your gifts, which are so badly needed by others. I say this because God needs you wherever you are, doing what you do best!

To help you find your personal gifts, let's look at the example of Moses when the Israelites were in a battle with the Amalekites. Moses' job was to hold aloft the staff of God. And as long as he held the staff high, Israel would win, but if he dropped his hands, Israel would begin to lose. In our society, we'd all look at Moses and say how wonderful, brave, strong and super he was. And we'd ignore the two men who helped him save the day. Aaron and Hur saw that Moses' hands were dropping. And the story goes that "When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up--one on one side, one on the other--so that his hands remained steady till sunset." Perhaps we're too proud to hold up someone else's hands, but if you've ever needed support, you can appreciate the value of Aaron and Hur. Because of what they did, the battle was won. Is there something you can do to support someone in trouble, or someone who's hurting?
Yes, we love our super heroes! But in the end, who was more useful in winning the battle? There were soldiers and generals in the field with bravery and courage. There was Moses with the staff of God, leading his nation. And there were the two men whose only job was to hold up the hands of Moses. I think we can agree that they were all important and all played a part in winning the victory. If any one of these men had neglected his part, the end could have been disastrous. Think about this when you find yourself feeling useless and without purpose. Sometimes "holding up hands" is the most important job you can do!

Even your body is a lesson in usefulness. Every part of your body has a purpose--big or small, each part is vital. Think about this: "If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?" In the eyes of God, "those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor." Just because the values in our society are upside-down doesn't mean that we can't turn ours right-side-up. In heaven, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The point is: No matter what your gifts are, they are important--maybe even vital! 
God has given each of us a mission, and whether you visit the sick, comfort your neighbors, or share God's message with someone, everything you do is of value. Who doesn't enjoy remembering the way Esther saved her nation by bravely approaching the king under threat of death? And, like her, who knows but that you have been brought into the kingdom "for such a time as this"?

LaGard says: "Whenever I start to think that I'm useless, or that my life is a total waste, I remember that 'the whole duty of man" is to 'fear God and keep his commandments'. If I did nothing more than worship and serve the Creator, my life would be worthwhile." Hold on a minute...I bet you hadn't remembered that one! So simple and yet so profound. Make that one of your affirmations this week!
And if you should forget again that you have great value, think of sheep droppings. They will reassure you that your Maker doesn't want any part of His creation to go to waste--especially you!

Have a wonderful Sunday!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Value of Sheep Droppings & You ~

You are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:31

In chapter 21 of Meeting God in Quiet Places: the Cotswold Parables  by F. LaGard Smith, we're exposed to the world of the Cotswolds, where sheep droppings and other manures are sold because of their valuable properties. There is no lack of manure in the Cotswolds from sheep, cows, pigs and horses, and there are even "connoisseurs of animal manure." So, the discriminating manure buyer has several options before him--choices which are perfect for his specific purpose. And these manure options are the reason for the ever-present "Wellie" boots, which all Englishmen living in the country wear for protection. It turns out that manure is many things to many people: veterinarians use it as specimens, farmers and gardeners for fertilizer, and for those who don't appreciate its value--it's a four-letter vulgarity.
So how do you think of manure? Or maybe you don't think of manure. But for the purposes of this lesson, LaGard asks you to think of manure--not as contemptuous or loathsome, but as something as natural as anything can be. LaGard says: "It is of nature. It is part of the natural order, with heavy emphasis on order. When the sheep leave their droppings, the droppings fertilize the ground, which gives life to the grass, which the sheep eat, which in turn gives them life-sustaining nourishment--and then the cycle begins all  over again. It's a mini eco-system!" 
It's NOT what many people refer to as waste--either human or animal--but a valuable contributor to the cycle of nature! Manure is often described as waste, as if it had no place or function or purpose. But that is the exact opposite of the truth. What we see as ugly is transformed. And when it decomposes, it renews life!

And if someone said, "I feel like sheep droppings today," you would know exactly what they mean. But here's the kicker from LaGard: "If sheep droppings can serve a noble purpose, what reason could I ever have to think that God won't use my life for something worthwhile?" Are you beginning to get the idea? we go! The bottom line for all of us is that we wonder about our destiny: "Do we really have anything special to contribute, or are we just rather ordinary? Ironically, how we answer that question may just answer that question! How we feel about our own usefulness to God can be a self-fulfilling prophecy." Hmmm...sounds serious, doesn't it? It is!!!

Do you remember the parable of the talents? The master went on a journey, leaving his property in the hands of his servants. He gave his servants money--to one 5 talents, to another 2 talents, and to still another 1 talent. While he was gone, the servant with 5 talents invested them and earned 5 more in interest. The servant with 2 talents also doubled his money. But the servant with only 1 talent was afraid, and hid his talent in a hole. And his master gave him a sharp reprimand upon his return. Which will you receive from Jesus upon his return--a "well-done" or a reprimand?

Tomorrow there will be more thoughts on being useful. For now, think about the way God is using you. And have a wonderful weekend with the family!


Friday, January 28, 2011

How to Look Great & Feel Amazing at Any Age ~

Victoria Moran, who is a life coach, calls this "The Charmed Monday Minute." I subscribed to this and what she says is: "Looking great and feeling amazing call for a strong sense of self-worth & a strong commitment to self-care. Amazingly, this does not make you self-ish, but rather puts you in the perfect position to be able to be a light to everyone around you."
  1. See yourself as the STAR of your life every day of your life.
  2. Stand up straight: you'll look slimmer and feel more in command of any situation.
  3. Make your first drink of the day hot water with an ample squeeze of fresh lemon.
  4. Eat breakfast: it's one of the habits centenarians have in common.
  5. Half the time, do dry skin brushing before bath or shower (brushes are sold at natural food stores.)
  6. The other half, precede bathing with abdyanga, self-massage with warm sesame oil.
  7. Treat yourself to a professional massage every 21 days to keep your immunity up to par. Massage schools have bargain prices. If you live in a city served by, they often have low-cost massage offers as well.
  8. Invert yourself with a yoga headstand or shoulderstand or by lying on a slantboard.
  9. Use creative sun protection: a hat, gloves, barrier (i.e. zinc oxide) sunblock properly applied, avoiding the midday sun.
  10. Buy yourself a juicer that's powerful and easy to clean. Fresh vegetable juice is an infusion of vitality.
  11. Keep a pitcher of water on the counter, a bottle in your bag, and hot water easily accessible.
  12. If you wear makeup, get a lesson every year or so--and remember to lighten up with some concealer just inside the eyes.
  13. Get your brows shaped: it can be like a nonsurgical eye lift.
  14. Exercise four to six days a week and include weight training at least two days every week, upper and lower body.
  15. Adopt a pet; you'll be saving a life, and people with companion animals live longer.
  16. Have role models, women you know or have heard of who've grown older with elegance, grace, and style.
  17. Whether you're turning 30 or 80, see maturing as a gift to appreciate. And let yourself grow older the way you want to do it.
  18. Live for something bigger than you are. Explore your spiritual nature.
The Ageless Acronym: M-E-N-D


Helpers: A great juicer - I like the Breville Juice Fountain. It's basic, easy to clean, and juices greens as well as any mid-priced juicer out there. If you get really serious, take a look at the Greenstar - it's big, powerful, pricey (around $500), but it juices everything bone-dry and even has an attachment for making wheatgrass juice.
                                                                                                         Victoria Moran
Green Goddess Juice
1 head romaine (celery can substitute if you're out of romaine)
4-5 stalks kale (another dark leafy green can substitute, but kale is mildest)
2 apples
1 lemon
Juice. Drink daily or almost daily.

A decent blender - I get by fine on top-of-the-line Cuisinart, but connoisseurs of blending swear by the high-powered VitaMix or Blendtec. Legend has it that these can almost blend rocks. You'll use your blender for green smoothies and yummy pureed soups. To learn more about green smoothies, read Victoria Boutenko's Green for Life. She also has a Facebook page called "I'm part of the green smoothie revolution." To make a green smoothie, add mild greens (spinach, kale, romaine, celery) to your fruit smoothie. If you want to use a protein/nutrient powder to supplement your smoothie, the most complete and health-promoting brand I know of is Vega, developed by triathlete Brendan Brazier.

Good knives - A chef's knife and a paring knife, kept sharp, are essential for salads, cruditees, etc. To make a kale salad that is actually yummy, try this:

Magnificently Marinated Kale Salad                                                  
Kale (or mix kale and collard greens)
Red bell pepper, chopped
High-quality oil (olive, hemp, or flax)
Mineral-rich salt (Celtic sea salt or Himalyan earth salt)
Lemon juice and/or apple cider vinegar

Strip kale (and collard if using it) leaves from the stems. Roll them like a cigar and chop finely. (You can also chop in a food processor. The point is to get finely chopped greens.) Then mix the oil and lemon/vinegar (I got with 3 parts oil, 1 part acid) and salt to taste. Mix into the greens and massage the dressing into the greens for a few minutes, really squeezing the greens. This will tenderize them so they'll be yummy to eat. Add the chopped bell pepper and black olives. If you can, let the salad sit for at least two hours so it can fully marinate. Keeps in fridge up to two days.

Supplements to Consider

Check with your doctor or nutritionist to see if you might benefit from:
Vitamin B12 - If you're a vegan, you need to get this supplement form.
Vitamin D - Most Americans are deficient.
Omega 3 - I like the "V-Pure" brand of algae-derived EPA and DHA - easy to swallow and no fishy aftertaste.

Good books --
Crowley, Chris and Henry S. Lodge, M. D.
Younger Next Year for Women: Live Strong, Fit and Sexy Until You're 80 and Beyond
Read this book and you'll never miss another day of exercise.

Kelder, Peter.
Ancient Secret of the Fountain of Youth  (Harbor Press, 1998)
This is a very unorthodox series of exercises that supposedly come from Tibet and have remarkable rejuvenative properties. Check with your doctor before doing these if you have any cervical injuries or dizziness problems. In fact, there is a section in the back of the book with caveats from an M.D. on each of the exercises. All that said, people from Dr. Bernie Siegel to actor Martin Sheen swear by these.

Krupp, Charla.
How Not to Look Old: Fast and Effortless Ways to Look 10 Years Younger, 10 Pounds Lighter, 10 Times Better (Springboard Press, 2008)
These are strictly cosmetic suggestions (makeup, clothing, hair styles, glasses) but they do what they say they will.

Moran, Victoria.
Younger By the Day: 365 Ways to Rejuvenate Your Body & Revitalize Your Spirit (Harper One, 2005) The only daybook for growing younger.

Zavesta, Tonya.
Rawsome Flex: Beautifying System of Facial Exercises and Raw Foods (BR Publishing, 2008)
30 facial exercises, illustrated.

So it's up to you now! These are just a few suggestions that you might consider doing to help you through your life. I hope something sounds appealing to you! Have a great weekend!


Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Daily Dialogue--A Conversation For Your Journal

I have a new blogging friend, Elise, who creates handmade journals. She  is dedicated to making one new book every day this year. So far, she's keeping to her schedule. These two pictures are from her posts.                                    
Go to to see some of her creations.  She's 25 years old and is busy with school and work and life in general, so she might enjoy some attention from you.

Sarah Ban Breathnach explains, in Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, the purpose for writing, and asks you to experiment with writing out your thoughts. Sarah says that because she writes all day long professionally, she had passionately resisted keeping a personal journal most of her adult life. Neither the effort nor time seemed worth it. But while writing Simple Abundance, she became aware of all the conversations in her head. She began to realize how noisy her mind was, and how the mind grabs hold of a single thought and won't let it go. One day she took a sheet of paper and began writing down all the conversations going on in her head. Whether it was "the cat looks sick, the couch needs a new cover, the airport may be snowed in, or what's for dinner," she found that by putting her worries in a book, she could forget them for the moment and go on with her day. And it wasn't long before she realized that writing in her journal was a centering and therapeutic exercise. 
I have been writing in my Cozi journal more faithfully than any other, because I'm at the computer first thing in the morning. And I jot down a few things without feeling that I have to do anything more than start a new session. Later on, I may come back to it and add more things that I've thought of or want to remember. On bad days, I may type quickly, filling up the page over and over, but the important thing is that it allows me to spill my feelings and frustrations onto a page that is for no other purpose. In a few days, I may not feel the same at all...hopefully, I'll have moved past the problem. But if a problem is still unresolved, it helps to go back and re-read what I wrote earlier.

Oddly enough, writing on the computer doesn't give me the same satisfaction as writing thoughts down in a physical journal. I've loved stationery, books, and paper of all kinds all my life, and so naturally I also love pens and inks, as well as the many other nice writing instruments on the market. I keep them mostly all together, so that I can enjoy using them often. I've told you about all my journals in another post, but will describe the paper as being smooth and high quality, which allows the ink to flow easily on the page. The sensation is very pleasant and adds pleasure to my day every time I write.

A few years ago, one of my daughters gave me notebooks and pads with exceptionally high quality paper in them for my birthday. It is one of my favorite gifts ever, and I've added other items from the same store--one of them being blotter pads. It is the oddest sensation to use a blotter,  and feel yourself connecting with writers of much earlier times, when blotters were indispensable on the desk.

These gifts came from an online shop: The Pear Tree Pen Company. They sell lots of writing paraphnalia--many different brands of ink, including scented ink from Germany, and many different brands of ink pens. They even have empty ink bottles that are beautiful, and handmade glass dip pens. And I've just learned that they sell cycling hats for women, because they love cycling and sponsor a women's team. If you're inclined toward fountain pens, see what they offer. 

Sarah Ban Breathnach says not to use a fancy, pretty journal for your daily dialogue because it's too intimidating and you'll want it to be perfect and profound rather than putting down the complaining you will automatically begin to write! A spiral notebook or any one of the pretty journals that aren't expensive will be fine.
Going back to Sarah's daily entry, she says that checking in with her consciousness clears her head and calms her restless spirit. One method of solving problems is to write down everything you can in the morning, and come back to your entry in the evening to see if the problem has been solved. Now I hadn't thought of that, but I'm sure that has happened to me without my noticing.

Remember...Sarah's always moving you toward your authentic self--the wiser part of yourself. The person you are, not the person you think you are. I sigh when I think of the difference. The conversation in your head is looking for this wiser part of yourself--a part that is often dismissed. Putting your thoughts on paper should bring the two of you together.  

I suppose it isn't my place to keep encouraging you to write down your life when you don't really want to do it, or take time to do it. But I believe that it can ground you in a way that you can't see right now. Try keeping a Daily Dialogue in your journal for 21 days--the right number of days to form a habit--and then evaluate it. Are you more aware of what's going on in your life? Do you understand why you've been unhappy or sad, or why you've been happier than usual? When I look back at what's been going  on over the last week or month, I say, "No wonder I've been so confused!" And so I believe you'll find that keeping a journal will collect your worries onto the page,  rather than having them run wildly around in your head. The difference may be a  life more in hand and controlled, leading to more happiness and contentment. And isn't that what we're all wishing to achieve?


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Best-Laid Plans ~

I'm sorry to say that I haven't been doing very well this week, but I went to the doctor today, so should be feeling much better soon. Not wishing to leave you on your own too long, I decided to give you a page from Victoria Moran's book Younger By the Day: 365 Ways to Rejuvenate Your Body and Revitalize Your Spirit. I give it to you with the thought that it's exactly how I feel. I hope you take something from it for yourself.

The Best-Laid Plans

One reason midlife disappointment is all too common a syndrome is that we sometimes reach the point of having our plans play out, and we don't like what we see. Someone may have liberally (to her thinking) given her children lifestyle choices A, B, and C, only to find that as adults they've chosen D, "none of the above." Someone else may have done everything right: worked hard on her job and in her marriage, saved regularly for a blissful retirement, and then found herself widowed, or caring for a partner with a debilitating disease.                                                    

Such things happen because life on earth is not a sure thing. We can do our best, hedge our bets, put unassailable actions behind well-conceived plans, and still find ourselves the exception to the rule. What do you do in a case like that? First, feel what it feels like--probably rotten. Sit with the feelings. Write about them. Talk about them. But don't reach for them when they start to subside. They're meant to go, and you're meant to go forward.

Going forward means acquiring the kind of flexibility that can make something lovely out of Plan B. It's seeing the big picture, that you're a soul on a path, rather than the little picture of you as a woman alone, or one whose retirement savings half vanished at the whim of the stock market. It's making beauty out of the available ingredients, the way you can make a nourishing soup out of last night's leftovers plus an onion and a few potatoes.                       

And it's the stalwart commitment to continue making plans and doing the work to fulfill them. If you make them, they might not turn out. If you don't, they will not. Give yourself the best odds for the best life. Work with what you've got--that onion and those potatoes--and concoct something warm and comforting and delicious.

Revitalize Your Life With Words: If one plan is derailed, I have a dozen to take its place.

Victoria Moran has written many books which can help you have a better life. And she has a website that you might want to look up. In any case, I hope you can give her words of wisdom some thought.


Monday, January 24, 2011

In French, Bonheur--In English, Good Time ~

The North Wind Blows ~
This afternoon--feeling the sting of some painful personal trials, forced to the surface today by a program I watched on television and a phone call--I thought I'd ask if you have days when life seems to hit you in the face. And I don't mean gently, as in a soft summer breeze...I mean hard, like a wind from the North Pole. Relentless, unforgiving, freezing. At first, we fight it and try every way we can think of to get rid of it. But as I's relentless. So we give in, and on this kind of day, we move with a heaviness and sadness that isn't relieved by any method to be contrived. And eventually, all we can do is to ask when it will end, and whether it will leave anything of value behind.

The most we can hope for is a new consciousness--a new awareness created out of the chaos. And this new awareness will be a kind of guardian against mental malaise and stuckness. And I'm thinking that what we see in others is so often what is actually going on in ourselves--our lives, our minds, our hearts--not someone else's. We sit arrogantly within our own little lives, thinking that we're doing the right thing, the best thing, the only thing required of us. But in reality, we're living a lie in so many ways...kidding ourselves (certainly not others) and thinking (without thinking) that we're getting by with it. It's scary.

And in the interest of your mental health, I'll give you a tidbit from Mireille Guiliano's French Women for All Seasons. She lists some French words with an explanation of their meaning; you probably won't realize this, but her thoughts are connected to all the things I'm expressing.

Bonheur: French women know happiness is not a matter of luck; it's what you make of your life. This word for happiness is literally "good time." The French way of connecting feeling with time is telling. It suggests something to be cultivated in the course of our hours and days and months and years, how we live in relation to them. The English word happy comes from the archaic word hap, which means "luck." Interesting distinction.  

Words are so important in our lives, but what has happened to them? With all the sound bites and abbreviations for them in texting and commenting...I'm not sure there will be anyone literate around in fifty years. But I like to think that the pendulum will swing wide, and words will again become significant in our lives. Melodramatic...probably. But it comes with the mood.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Insight Out of Darkness ~ 2

    The Lord turns my darkness into light. 2 Samuel 22:29
How does the Bible fit into your life? Do you ignore the word of God until your life's gone wrong? Do you  feel  the presence of God  when you're in trouble? Do you curse God because you don't believe  He's there for you? Giving this some thought, you may soon realize that it's actually the person in trouble who isn't close to God, not the other way around.

 Having lived without connecting to God, you may not find Him--or feel His presence--when you're in trouble. The reason there's no light upon your path  is that the right path hasn't been  followed. Scripture shines the light of truth on your path in life when the words aren't only written in the pages of the Bible, but also in your heart.

Having stored the words in your heart, they are there in times of trouble. How do you experience spiritual darkness? For many of us, it  manifests itself in some kind of temptation, or in an overwhelming loneliness, or maybe in a bout of fear. But if God's word is a part of who we are--our essence--it will be a familiar guide to us through all of our dark troubles.

In this chapter of Meeting God in Quiet Places: the Cotswold Parables, F. LaGard Smith says that after his father died, he could still hear his words in his mind. But LaGard says: "Of course, there is an important difference between my earthly father and my heavenly father. My heavenly Father's voice is not just a memory. Through his Word and through his Spirit, he speaks to me every day. He is literally with me at every moment. Never am I without his involvement in my life. Far greater even than being in the grip of the familiar, I am in HIS grip!" Shouldn't that be true for all Christians?

We're all familiar with Psalm 23, which reminds us that King David felt the same way: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me." David walked with God throughout his life, and because of his relationship with God through good times and bad, he wasn't afraid to die.
What was in David's heart when he wrote: "If I say, 'Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,' even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you."

Was David talking about dark nights in the fields as a young shepherd boy? Or dark nights because of his moral sin? We may not know what he was thinking, but we understand what he expresses:  God shines the light of truth on everything we do. We cannot escape it.

Darkness represents our despair, our need, our times of loneliness and lostness. It's all about trusting God in the darkness, whatever the darkness may be. The Creator of light wants to guide us with His true light throughout our lives. While groping along our earthly path, we need light to take us in the paths of right living. And, in the end, we need light to lead us safely home. So many of us live in darkness most of the time. Why not choose to live in the light?

I hope your weekend was a good one with your family. Have a good week! 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Insight Out of Darkness ~

 The Lord turns my darkness into light. 2 Samuel 22:29

The weekend is here again! I watched a period drama set in the late 1800s on Masterpiece Theatre last weekend. The story involved a cousin, part of the middle-class, and a stranger to the  family, suddenly becoming the heir to their great estate.

As a guest at dinner, the new heir was questioned by the Lord of the Manor about having time to get familiar with the estate and the people working on it. His answer was that  he would have plenty of time after work (the family was apalled because gentlemen didn't work) and on weekends. The dowager mother looked puzzled and said, "What's a weekend?" This middle-class heir was creating difficulties for those who were part of the upper class, and who were a hundred times more sophisticated. It was hard for the family to bear.

To us, who see the upper class family's attitude as unenlightened, and who take weekends for granted, the question sounds funny. It's funny because we've looked forward to weekends all our lives. And we were enlightened to equality a long time ago, and have all reaped the rewards of enlightenment. It is this thought that brings me to the topic for today's lesson, which is from Chapter 18 of Meeting God in Quiet Places: The Cotswold Parables. While experiencing a literal dark night walking over the hills of the Cotswolds, LaGard Smith found insight into the dark night of the soul. As you know, we do live in a dark world. So the question for you to answer today is: Do I have the light of God's word to guide me through my dark nights?
Now I'll give you the scenario: Having taken a walk every day for years, LaGard set out one evening for his hour-long walk. He stopped to talk to neighbors for a while, and then to talk to a newcomer. Time had passed quickly, and it was suddenly dark and hard to see. As the mist wafted in, he began to realize that no matter how fast he walked, he was still making his way home in total darkness. And as he crossed a familiar field, a familiar gate, and walked a familiar path, he wondered how someone who was unfamiliar with the area would fare. Walking along in darkness, it came to him that it was only his familiarity with his path that made it possible for him to keep going. Familiarity was his light.

And as LaGard made his way slowly toward home, he was able to see how God's revelation works in his life. The psalmist's words which came to him were: "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." Then LaGard says: "The Bible is not simply the story of human existence, but that upon which I can depend in times of trouble. It is the light in my darkened world of 'lostness.' No matter how adverse the circumstances, somehow it always gets me through."
What a comfort to know that whether we are filled with God's word right now or not, we can begin this very moment to fill our hearts and minds with the light of  His word. Let His light shine on the path of your life and accept the guidance He offers. Become so familiar with God's path for you that you pass through every trouble safely. You will be on the true path...the path of truth.  

More tomorrow. Have a happy weekend!


Friday, January 21, 2011

Triple Treat ~ Doughnuts, Doughnut Holes & Doughnut Muffins

Yesterday I gave you an introduction to sugar maple time in Vermont from the King Arthur Flour Cookbook, a season which brings about the making of fresh, hot doughnuts or doughnut holes to dip in maple syrup. Today I'm going to give you three recipes from King Arthur Flour. The first recipe is for a cake doughnut, and the second is for doughnut holes, the third is for doughnut muffins. These doughnuts sound like the perfect dessert for a winter's day.
The last paragraph of that introduction gave us a little information about the cake doughnut:
Cake, or baking powder, doughnuts were developed in New England many years ago. They were originally shaped like nuts, hence their name. (The Pennsylvania Dutch added the holes.) Combining these with pickles and "sugar on snow" is probably one of the oldest traditions in America....

Doughnuts for "Sugaring"                                                               

2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup brown or granulated sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup King Arthur Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour
3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Beat the eggs with the buttermilk until light. Add and beat in the sugar and melted butter. Mix the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices together. Blend with the liquid ingredients, mixing as little as possible.

The dough will be sticky so turn it out onto a well-floured board. With a rolling pin, also well-floured, roll out the dough until it is between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick.

Cut the doughnuts with a doughnut cutter and allow them to rest while you heat a frying pan of lard (traditional), vegetable oil or shortening to 365 degrees F. It should be deep enough so the doughnuts will float. (See information below for frying Vermont Doughnut Holes.)

Fry the doughnuts, giving them enough room to expand, until they're a golden brown on both sides. Remove them to a paper towel to drain. Try dipping a doughnut in warm maple syrup.

King Arthur Flour's web site says: Never mind the doughnut--this recipe is an easy way to make only the holes, crunchy little nuggets perfect for dipping into maple syrup. There's no finicky rolling or rising involved. Instead, simply stir up a stiff pancake-like batter and drop it by spoonfuls into a shallow (3/4") bath of hot oil. Four minutes later--golden brown, ultra-crisp doughnut holes, golden and tender inside, ready to sprinkle with cinnamon sugr or confectioners' sugar, or dunk in maple syrup or honey. Step-by-step photos illustrating how to make these doughnut holes are available at Baker's Banter, our King Arthur blog.

Vermont Doughnut Holes                                                      

For frying
4 1/2 cups (30 ounces) vegetable oil

Doughnut Batter
1 cup milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter
2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, King Arthur White Whole Wheat or combination
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons (4 1/2 teaspoons) baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Pour the oil into a 10" skillet that's about 2 1/2" deep; an electric frying pan is a good choice here, especially since its adjustable dial makes it really easy to heat the oil to the correct temperature. If you don't have this size skillet, use whatever similar-size pan you have, using enough oil to fill it 3/4" deep. Start to heat the oil to 350 degrees F while you're preparing the doughnut batter.

Whisk together the milk, egg, and melted butter in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring to make a thick batter/soft dough.

When the oil has come up to temperature, use a cookie scoop (or a spoon) to drop balls of batter into the hot oil. This recipe will make 2" doughnut holes using a tablespoon cookie scoop and dropping in balls of dough about as big as an undersized ping pong ball; or 1 1/2" holes, using a teaspoon cookie scoop and dropping in balls of dough about as big as a chestnut.

Fry the doughnut holes for 2 minutes on the first side, or till they're deep brown. Some of them may turn themselves over; that's OK, just use a pair of tongs to turn them back. After 2 minutes, turn the holes over, and fry for an additional 2 minutes (for the larger doughnut holes), or 1 1/2 minutes (for smaller ones). Transfer the doughnut holes to a baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain and cool.

Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with sugar and/or dipped in maple syrup or honey.
Yield: about 2 dozen larger doughnut holes, or 4 dozen smaller ones.

And I couldn't resist this recipe for muffins...doughnut muffins! They look easier than doughnuts and are baked in the oven, so these could be on your table tonight.

Doughnut Muffins                                                                                  

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 to 1 1/4 teaspoons ground nutmeg, to taste
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup milk

3 tablespoon melted butter
3 tablespoons cinnamon sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly grease a standard muffin tin. Or line with 12 paper or silicone muffin cups, and grease the cups with non-stick vegetable oil spray; this will ensure that they peel off the muffins nicely.
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, cream together the butter, vegetable oil, and sugars until smooth.
  3. Add the eggs, beating to combine.
  4. Stir in the baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, salt and vanilla.
  5. Stir the flour into the butter mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour and making sure everything is thoroughly combined.
  6. Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared pan, filling the cups nearly full.
  7. Bake the muffins for 15 to 17 minutes, or until they're a pale golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the middle of one of the center muffins comes out clean.
  8. Remove them from the oven, and let them cool for a couple of minutes, or until you can handle them. While they're cooling, melt the butter for the topping (easy in a microwave).
  9. Use a pastry brush to paint the top of each muffin with the butter, then sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar. Or simply dip the tops of muffins into the melted butter, then roll in the cinnamon-sugar.
  10. Serve warm, or cool on a rack and wrap airtight. Store for a day or so at room temperature.
Yield: 12 large muffins. Reviewers said that these are pretty filling and made smaller muffins.
Please feel free to go to the King Arthur Flour website to see what is offered there or to use these recipes from their online blog. Since you must read over a recipe to see if you want to cook it, I give these recipes mainly for that purpose. Whether you bake a lot or a little, I think you'll enjoy eating all of these doughnuts.

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sugar Maple Time in Vermont ~

The sun was warm, but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.

I have taken this poem from King Arthur Flour's 200th Anniversary Cookbook because I found this page earlier today and like the information it gives. The introduction to making doughnuts continues by saying:
There are no better words than Robert Frost's in Two Tramps in Mud Time for conjuring up that sharp, sweet and temperamental season of early April in Vermont. One of the most exciting changes of this quickening season happens both unheard and unseen. With longer, warmer days but still freezing nights, those lifeless looking maple trees that dot the northeastern landscape turn into gigantic pumps, pulling gallons of water out of the thawing ground, mixing them with nutrients and sugars and sending them up and out to nourish buds that have been waiting patiently in a dormant state through the long New England winter. 

Along with the new life pulsing throughout the North, you'll see "sugar houses" punctuating the hills, steaming away and transforming the precious spring sap of the Sugar Maple into maple syrup.

For those of you who have ever tapped a maple tree, you know what an exciting event this is. To drill a hole, hammer in a tap and watch those first drops of sap well up and spill out into your bucket make one look in wonder at all the trees in the landscape, knowing that, even though you can't see it, something quite miraculous is going on.
The taste of the first syrup is sweet and exciting. The traditional way to prolong this pleasure is to make and eat "sugar on snow." To create this once-a-year indulgence, we boil down a pan of fresh syrup until two or three drops form a ball when dropped in a cup of cold water. Then we pour it over fresh snow or crushed ice and watch it stiffen like taffy. We eat this chewy sweet with sour pickles (put up from last summer's garden) and homemade doughnuts while sitting and savouring the early spring sunshine. 

Cake, or baking powder, doughnuts were developed in New England many years ago. They were originally shaped like nuts, hence their name. (The Pennsylvania Dutch added the holes.) Combining these with pickles and "sugar on snow" is probably one of the oldest traditions in America and a sweet finale to this section.

Now I ask many cookbooks do you own that are worded in such a  beautifully picturesque way? I use maple syrup all the time...for coffee sometimes, and for sweetening my yogurt, or for making my hot milk taste really good. And I'm remembering that my husband gave me a book by Noel Perrin titled Amateur Sugar Maker. Perrin eventually married Anne Spencer Lindbergh...or should I say she eventually married him, as he was her third husband. As a fan of Charles and Anne Lindbergh and Noel Perrin, this fact caught my attention. 

Tomorrow I'll give you the recipe for Doughnuts for "Sugaring." I'm going to lunch with Alice today. Her husband is in the hospital after having a heart attack and undergoing quadruple by-pass surgery on Monday. She's sneaking away for a little R & R with me...just an hour or two. God bless her and her husband Mike. 
Everybody have a good Thursday!


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Woman You Were Meant to Be ~

Sarah Ban Breathnach outside her beloved Newton's Chapel
I've mentioned that one of the books I'm reading daily is Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. And I want to share one of the ideas that was an entry in January about "The Woman You were Meant to Be." When I was in my twenties, I read a book with the title The Woman You Want to Be by Margery Wilson. And that idea stuck with me throughout the years as I went through all the grown-up years of my life. Oddly enough, it must have stuck with many women, Sarah in particular, because she has just released a new book with the title Peace and Plenty, and she talks about Margery Wilson's book. I'm going to give you some ideas and information from Sarah's new book, but I have to read it first!

So today, I want to present you with the idea set forth in a Simple Abundance entry: being your authentic self. You may not even  realize that you aren't being "the woman you want to be." But that doesn't mean you can't begin today to become more authentic.  It is Sarah Ban Breathnach who has written at least 10 books to help you get there. I've come to believe that it's basically a lifelong journey, and perhaps isn't one that will be completed on this earth. But I am willing to work toward becoming as close to who I really am, who God wants me to me, until the day comes that all my earthly work is over and done. Please think about the fact that women aren't supposed to be simply REactors to what happens to them in life, but the quality and ideals of our whole society depend on their being PROactors! I noticed many years ago that the women's faces I saw as I went through my day...whether at school or at church...were sad. And that's what called out to me from the page of this book...a line that describes this same condition.

In her introduction to her January 5th entry, Sarah quotes Emily Hancock, a woman who wrote The Girl Within. Her thesis is that women cannot mature unless and until they re-connect to the young girl they once were. Emily says: Many women today feel a sadness we cannot name. Though we accomplish much of what we set out to do, we sense that something is missing in our lives and--fruitlessly--search "out there" for the answers. What's often wrong is that we are disconnected from an authentic sense of self. 

Sarah goes on to say:                   
Has this ever happened to you? You are washing your face, and suddenly you do not recognize the woman staring back at you. "Who is this? you ask the mirror on the wall. No reply. She looks vaguely familiar but bears little resemblance to the woman you were expecting to see there....
But what's wrong? What is this sadness we cannot name? Here is a question that deserves loving meditation. Perhaps the heart of our melancholy is that we miss the woman we were meant to be. We miss our authentic selves. But the good news is that even if you have ignored her overtures for decades ("Wear red ...Cut your hair...Study art in Paris...Learn the tango...") your authentic self has not abandoned you. Instead she has been waiting patiently for you to recognize her and reconnect. Turn away from the world this year and begin to listen. Listen to the whispers of your heart. Look within. Your silent companion has lit lanterns of love to illuminate the path of Wholeness. At long last, the journey you were destined to take has begun. 

And Sarah has a whole book on re-connecting to your authentic self, beginning with  the simple process of remembering who you were as a young girl, then creating a collage to make your true self shine. Wouldn't you like to see the sadness of the women you know disappear? At the end of each day--even for me--I feel I've been in a battle to get it right, to get something done, to make a difference each day. And all of that may be well and good, IF I'm being my authentic self. Sit and meditate on the girl you once were. See if you can go back to the age of 10 and bring that happy spirit to the forefront of your mind. Write it down and add some pictures of that girl. This process is one that Sarah gives complete directions for doing in Something More. I'm just a blogger who wants you to think about who you've become in the years between birth and now. But my hope is always to get you to think about being all you can be...not just for yourself, but for your family. Even the effort will produce good effects.