Category Archives: Around home

Old-Fashioned, Home-Town Date Bars

Larry and my husband were close friends from such early days that Alan can’t ever remember not being friends. They lived across the street from each other, rode the school bus together, and roomed together during part of college. Larry and his wife, Kari, even ended up at the same university where Alan and I were in grad school one year, and Kari and I used to swim together and dream about what our babies would be like, since we were both pregnant with our firstborn (sons) at the same time! Now, years later, we’re living in the same community again—also with my closest friend from school days, Brenda (and her husband Tom), which is super fun!

Often when we get together, Kari brings some delectable dessert, but a few weeks ago Kari was at a medical meeting and couldn’t make it to our dinner party, so Larry brought a dessert that had been a favorite when he was growing up. The recipe is so old he hasn’t a clue where it came from, but Alan also remembered loving date bars when he was little (growing up in the same rural community), and Tom (Brenda’s husband, also a farm boy growing up) remembered them from his childhood as well. I loved the salty, sweet, buttery flavor, so I thought you might too! Thank you for sharing, Larry!!

Old-Fashioned Date Bars

For the date filling:

  1. In a medium sized sauce pan, mix 3 cups of cut up dates, ½ cup of sugar, and 1 ½ cups of water.
  2. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture is thickened.
  3. Set aside to cool.

For the crust/crumble:

  1. In a bowl, mix together thoroughly ¾ cup butter (softened) and 1 cup of brown sugar.
  2. Sift and stir in 1 ¾ cups flour, ½ teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of salt
  3. Stir in 1 ½ cups of rolled oats.

Place half the mixture on the bottom of the baking pan and pat the mixture down (9” x 13” pan if you want thin date bars or 8” x 8” or so if you want thick date bars.  I think I used a 6 ½ “ x 9” pan and it seemed a bit too thick to me).

Spoon the cooled date mixture onto the crust/crumble in the pan and spread evenly.  Then spread the remainder of the crust/crumble mixture evenly onto the date filling.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Psalm 100

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.” Happy Thanksgiving!!

Marilyn’s Creamy Chicken Enchiladas

Marilyn has been a dear friend since junior high school days, which is about 56 years! (This photo was taken at our 50th high school class reunion last summer.)After college she married Lorin, and they’ve been living in Texas ever since, so she’s become a fan and able cook of Mexican food. While they were visiting a few weeks ago, I discovered that Marilyn has developed a recipe for chicken enchiladas that’s been written up in their church cookbook and is a perennial, always-eaten favorite when she brings it to potlucks. I asked if she’d be willing to share it with us, and she is! Thank you, Marilyn!

Marilyn’s Chicken Enchiladas

Two 10 oz cans chicken breasts in water, drained – I like Sweet Sue Chicken brand white breast meat
2 cans Cream of Chicken soup
Two 10 oz cans mild green chili enchilada sauce
One 4 oz can chopped green chilies
½ c mayonnaise
½ c sour cream
1-2 c shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
12 flour tortillas
Tortilla warmer
Parchment paper
       Break drained chicken into smaller pieces. Add one can of soup, green chilies, mayonnaise, and sour cream. Blend well. In a separate bowl, blend one can of soup and the two cans of green enchilada sauce for the topping. Line tortilla warmer with parchment paper, place a few of the tortillas in warmer, and heat for 30-40 seconds in microwave. Continue heating until all twelve are heated. Pour about 1/3 of topping into a 9 x 12 inch pan and spread evenly. Fill each tortilla with about 1/3 cup of mixture, roll, and put into pan. When all 12 are filled*, pour remaining topping over enchiladas making sure to completely cover them. Bake uncovered in oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Turn off oven, top enchiladas with cheese and return to oven for about 5 minutes to allow cheese to melt.
*You will have some filling left.
       I have found it better to not heat all of the tortillas at once, so I divide them up and heat in microwave 30-40 seconds. They will be hot! Also, when I place them in the pan, I make sure that some of the sauce is between them. Otherwise they will tend to stick together. If rolled fairly tightly, all 12 should fit in a 9 x 12, but if there is more filling and they are not tightly rolled, you may have to put the rest in an 8 x 8 pan. The last time I made them I used up all the filling, but in the past I have had some left over. And I make it easy by using the canned chicken breast, but you could use a rotisserie chicken if you prefer.        Marilyn says she’s never taken a photo of it, so I ordered chicken tortillas last week at our favorite Mexican restaurant, El Burrito. They serve them with refried beans and a salad crowned with sour cream and guacamole. Hope you enjoy them, however you serve them. I’m planning to try them next time my son-in-law (who has some Mexican heritage) comes to visit, and I’m betting he loves them!  🙂
(If you want a recipe for fresh guacamole, I wrote about it here:

 For through him [Jesus] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” (Ephesians 2:18-20. Isn’t it wonderful that through Jesus we have equal access to God the Father and can all become part of God’s family regardless of our ethnicity? May we celebrate our unity and learn to love others the way God loves us!)

 

 

Nana Time and Time Outs

I know that all grandparents thinks their grandchildren are the sweetest, most clever and most fun children in existence, proving their undying devotion by carrying around photos (mostly on their cell phones these days), and making smart remarks like, “If I’d known how much fun grandchildren were going to be, I’d have skipped being a parent the first time and just gone straight to being a grandparent.”  I assume that means that it’s much easier to “love ’em and leave ’em,” or—when a grandchild pitches a fit or needs a diaper change, you can hand them off to their parents…enjoying all the benefits without any of the responsibilities.  I’d been enjoying the luxury of such easy relationships with my grandchildren until the day after Baby Marius was born. That night, Grace spiked a fever, and the next day Michael took her to the hospital, where she remained for three days. Because the baby wasn’t born at the hospital, Grace didn’t end up in the Ob/Gen unit, so in order for Marius to be with Grace, Michael had to stay at the hospital with them to care for the baby.  This left me actually responsible—HOME ALONE— with the four older grandchildren. I hadn’t been completely responsible for four youngsters since my first four were kids, which was 35 years ago. (Well, even if I think about the youngest four of my seven, that was still 27 years ago.)  Here they are:  Eowyn is an angel. If it hadn’t been for Eowyn, life would have been very trying! She’s only 10, but she’s a tireless helper, knows where everything is and how all the family routines go.  She would read to the smaller kids and has such a gentle, kind spirit. Eowyn used to write me almost every day, but she’s started writing more serious stories, so she passed the baton (cell phone) to Nycteris, who has become my Foreign Correspondent, sends me notes and pictures, and helps me feel like Michael’s family isn’t so far away…even though they are! (For instance, she recently gave me a walking tour of their new home in Belgium!) Nycteris is also an able helper and was especially good with Paladin when I wasn’t sure how to handle him.  Judah is very sensitive and sweet. He’s a builder/engineer type, plays peacefully by himself for hours if left to his own devices (as did his father), and takes a lot of abuse from his little brother with way more patience than I would have, had I ever been an older brother!  Paladin will be wonderful, I am sure, but at age three, he was not at all with the program. Having a new baby, losing both his mother and father to the hospital, inheriting a Nana whom he’s only met a few times, having the house in a bit of an uproar as they were packing to move, trying to survive 98°heat every day and about the same in humidity… It was a big challenge for all of us, but for Paladin, it was almost more than he could handle. So, instead of tucking under my wing and enjoying his doting Nana, he decided to act out by throwing rocks at his sibs or attempting to beat them with sticks…or whatever.  Now, if there’s one thing I hate, it’s having to discipline, but I was afraid he was actually going to hurt the kids, so when he’d fly into a fit, I’d grab him and hold him on my lap until he settled down. I would say (as cheerfully as possible), “You must need a Nana Time Out!”  At first he would struggle and try to bite me to get away, but thankfully, he was small enough that I could hold him on my lap and avoid his teeth. In a few minutes, he’d settle right down, and after a hug and a kiss, we’d be friends, and he’d be calm.  After about the third tantrum, he stopped picking fights with the kids, and we all got along very well the rest of our time until Mike and Grace returned with Baby Marius…all fine and well!  Whew! It was just great to have them back and relax into chief helper and side kick rather than needing to parent the kids. It reminded me again just how exhausting and challenging it is to be a parent. God bless all you parents out there! Thank you for hanging in there 24/7 to love and guide your children!  Also, it made me appreciate what a good parent my heavenly Father is, who also holds me in his mighty arms. When I was young, he often had to hold me tight when I’d pitch a fit, although more often nowadays, I just curl up on his lap for comfort!

“The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27)

The Ultimately Creamy Tiramisu: With or Without

Tiramisu has long been a favorite dessert in our family, especially when we eat Italian food, so my son Joel has been practicing this year and has it down to an art. He even tried making his own ladyfingers (although he says it’s a lot easier to just buy a couple of packages), and he’s perfected the balance of cream with the other flavors to make a memorable dessert that can last several days in the refrigerator and just seems to improve over time! Previously, tiramisu was a dessert I never really attempted to make, I think because I don’t like the heavy alcohol flavoring common in most batches. However, I was surprised but very pleased to discover that the tiramisu I bought for my son Michael’s family in Italy this summer had no alcohol whatsoever, so it emboldened me to work  out an authentic, non-alcoholic recipe that tastes great. You may wonder why I have such a vendetta against alcohol (some of my own kids do), but it’s because I have so many friends who have been hurt by the impact of immoderate alcohol consumption. Just this week, a report came out from the WHO (World Health Organization) stating that 1 in 20 deaths world-wide is due to alcoholism. That’s a shockingly high statistic to me when you consider war, accidents, and disease. Sure, alcohol is probably related to the majority of mechanical accidents, but alcohol is one of the few things in life that we absolutely do not need in order to carry on life (unless someone becomes addicted…which is what unfortunately happens all too often). Therefore, why take a chance with a non-essential substance that gives you a 1 in 20 chance of either killing yourself or someone you love? (And, if you’re in your 20’s, the chance goes to 1 in 7.)Well, I’ll get off my soapbox in a minute and share the recipe, but I also wanted to point out an article from The Washington Post entitled, “Americans Are Drinking Themselves to Death at Record Rates,” which states that 30% of Americans don’t drink at all.* So…if you don’t drink, please don’t feel like you’re the only one out there (which has happened to me a few times). There are a lot of fellow water or Pepsi totters, so the resistance movement is strong!

Ultimately Creamy Tiramisu

Custard:

In a quart-sized sauce pan, whip together:
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar. When well blended, add
2/3 cup milk
Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until it bubbles and thickens. Cool and refrigerate until well chilled. Then carefully whisk in:
1 pound mascarpone cheese until it’s all smooth and uniformly mixed. Refrigerate this mixture until you’re ready to assemble everything.

Whipping Cream:

Whip together until stiff peaks form:
1.25 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

Coffee mixture to soak the lady fingers:

5 tablespoons espresso coffee mixed with 6 tablespoons of “something.” Many recipes call for rum or amaretto, but you can also use:
5 tablespoons of white grape juice plus
2 teaspoons of almond extract

To assemble everything:

Lay out one 3-ounce package of ladyfinger (spongecake) cookies flat in the bottom of a 13X9″ pan. If they aren’t already split in half, split them. Drizzle half of the coffee mixture over the cookies, then add half the custard gently, spreading it carefully until all the cookies are covered. Next add half the whipped cream, spreading it over the top. Then, carefully arrange a second 3-ounce package of split ladyfinger spongecake cookies on top of the mixture. Drizzle them with the rest of the coffee mixture. Add the rest of the custard, and top with the rest of the whipped cream, making sure everything is level and covered at each step. Sprinkle liberally with sifted cocoa powder. Ideally, chill it for 4-6 hours at least before serving to let the flavors meld. (As a side note: soft ladyfingers are best, but if you can only find the hard kind, dip them individually into the coffee mixture to make sure they’re soaked before arranging them one by one in the pan. Also, use 6 tablespoons each of coffee and white grape juice instead of 5.) Tiramisu is best if it’s allowed to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving, and it continues to taste great for several days (although it never lasts very long at our house)!                                               Enjoy!! We sure do!  🙂

“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1)

*https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/12/22/americans-are-drinking-themselves-to-death-at-record-rates/?utm_term=.b105c5ec4cfd

 

A Little Boy and His Fish

Remember last Saturday when I mentioned that we’ve never caught a trout in our lake? Well, I do want to share one sweet fishing tale anyway!  Even though our kids didn’t grow up fishing, my daughter-in-law, Carleen, did, and she’s not only a good fisherwoman herself, she often responds to the appeals of her small sons and takes them fishing on our lake. This happens most summers when they come to visit, so I can’t believe I don’t have more photos to document their adventures, but not too long ago, their third-born, Reid Solomon caught a little blue gill. He was ecstatic and prevailed upon his mother to let him keep it. Consistent with her magnanimous heart, she gutted the fish and prepared a little fillet for him, which they cooked up together. However, instead of relishing his small treasure by himself, he divvied it up amongst the whole lot of us (and we’re quite a lot!) so we could all taste a bite. Who could miss his generous spirit or fail to see the connection between Reid’s unselfishness and that of the little boy in John 6? If you’ve never read that story, let me share it with you here:

 “After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world” (John 6:1-14).

Some folks believe that the people themselves were so touched by the little boy’s example of sharing that they all shared what they had too. The Bible doesn’t really say how it happened, just that it occurred. Either way, it was miraculous that multitudes of people had enough to eat with a lot left over, and it all started with a little boy sharing his simple lunch, which Jesus blessed and multiplied. Do you ever feel overwhelmed, like, “What can I do to help with such unending needs?” All we have to offer is what we have, but that’s all God asks. He’ll do the rest.

Grandma Alma’s Apple Pie

Last weekend we went apple picking at Robinette’s Orchard, and last night we went to Alan’s longest-standing and dearest friend’s home for a dinner party. Alan and Larry grew up across the street from each other, and they both loved Alan’s mother’s apple pies…which were famed throughout their little village. Early into our marriage, I asked my mother-in-law to teach me how to make apple pies. “Sure!” she responded cheerily. However, when I went to watch, I quickly realized that she did everything by look and didn’t measure anything. I practiced quite a bit, and Alan’s older brother was my best critic. “More sugar!” he’d announce.  “More butter!” Eventually, I got the hang of it, but Alma’s pies were magical. It was a sad day for us after she died and we found one last apple pie in the freezer, which we all shared in sober grief mingled with joy (because Alan and I knew she was with Jesus in heaven). From then on, I had to become the family pie lady, and I do still love to make pies, although I’m never quite sure they live up to her immortal gold standard!  To the best of my ability to measure it out, here’s her recipe, now passed on for posterity:

Grandma Alma’s Apple Pie

Preheat oven to 425°F.
Prepare the pastry for two pie crusts:

                                       2 Crusts for 1 Ten-inch Pie:
2 and 1/2 cups flour
2 sticks (1/4 pound each, or half a pound altogether) butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup very cold (refrigerated) water (more if needed)
Mix in blender until a soft ball forms (but then stop immediately, even if a few crumbs are left; it’s really important not to over-process the mixture). Set in refrigerator while making the filling so that it’s cold when you roll it out.

Apple Pie Filling:

6 large pie apples peeled, cored, and sliced (These are Macintosh, which was Alma’s favorite, although now there are a number of great pie apple varieties.)1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamonMix together until all the apple chunks are well coated.Divide the dough in half, and roll out one half between sheets of plastic wrap.
Peel off the top wrap, place dough in pie plate, and peel off second wrap. (Save plastic for top crust.) Fill the pie with the apple mixture. Don’t worry if it’s really high; be glad!  🙂 Slice up another stick of butter into thin pieces and dot the entire top of the pie.Repeat rolling out the dough with the second half and place over the top.  Seal the edges. If you’ve rolled it out thin enough, you’ll have enough to flute the edges. I didn’t this time. 😦  Sprinkle the top with a light coating of sugar and cinnamon, then bake for 20 minutes at 425°F. Reduce the temperature to 350°F and bake another 40 minutes. Cool on a rack and serve with vanilla ice cream, preferably while still warm! By the way, I am thankful for every day that I can enjoy such a wonderful feast as we shared last night, but there is a better feast coming in heaven, and as aging mortals, it becomes clearer to me every day that we need to be living with a profound appreciation for life and the gift of eternal life, which is offered to us in Christ. As a youth, I didn’t quite understand this verse: “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Now I think I understand. We will all die, so it is better to allow ourselves to mourn over the death of loved ones and turn in faith to God for salvation, then to simply enjoy a feast today with no thought of preparing for the next life.

Epic Changes

Over the past few months, we’ve experienced some epic changes, not only around our home, but in our family and at Alan’s office. I’ll work backwards, since the first epic change occurred at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, where Alan works. After months of intensive planning and preparation, the entire hospital system (which is now one of the largest free-standing psychiatric hospitals in the U.S.) switched over their medical records to Epic Systems Corporation, a software company that holds the records for some 64% of all the patients in America. It was truly an “Epic” change…hugely expensive, hugely difficult, but also hopefully hugely helpful in better caring for their patients.  The second (although tiny) epic change was the addition of a new baby in our family! Little Marius joined Michael and Grace’s family at their villa in Italy in July. I was blessed to be with them during this precious time, made particularly epic for me because I ended up caring for their four older children solo for a few days…a first for me in my 12-year grandma-ing career. Grace ended up back in the hospital for several days (she is fine now), and in Italy they wouldn’t allow the baby to stay unless Michael also stayed to care for him!  The last epic change I’ll report (although there are still more) is happening as I write: the addition of a new sun room onto our home. Talk about digging and grubbing in the dirt! The view out the window is thrilling and intimidating…so much so that we gave up an opportunity to have our son Jon’s family visit for fear of their three little girls getting inadvertently injured by falling into the pit or being run over by some monstrous machine. One day there was such a thunderous impact from workers removing concrete abutments that a music box fell off the mantle inside! Lots of jolts and jars…concrete and mud sprayed all over our music gear in the basement when a plastic drape fell, etc! Beyond these changes for us, we have two close friends who are in epic battles with cancer right now…one friend who was in the hospital for three weeks, and another couple who needed to move from their (his) home of 60 years into a condo. It feels a little the earth is quaking under my feet, not just in my home, but in my heart!     How are you doing? Are you also experiencing epic changes in your life?  If so, may I comfort you with this prayer by Henri J.M. Nouwen? “Dear Lord, Today I thought of the words of Vincent van Gogh: ‘It is true there is an ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea.’ You are the sea. Although I experience many ups and down in my emotions and often feel great shifts and changes in my inner life, you remain the same. Your sameness is not the sameness of a rock, but the sameness of a faithful lover. Out of your love I came to life, by your love I am sustained, and to your love I am always called back. There are days of sadness and days of joy; there are feelings of guilt and feelings of gratitude; there are moments of failure and moments of success; but all of them are embraced by your unwavering love. . . .”  “O Lord, sea of love and goodness, let me not fear too much the storms and winds of my daily life, and let me know there is ebb and flow but the sea remains the sea. Amen.” (—from A Cry for Mercy).Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength” (Isaiah 40:28-29). (I just spent 5 weeks in Europe, partly in Michael and Grace’s “castle in a cave,” and partly on a 3-week cruise of the North Sea, Iceland, and Norway. Hopefully, next week I’ll start recounting tales from these wonderful weeks of adventure! Meanwhile, God bless you! I pray for everyone who reads my blogs, that you will find all your needs met in God, our heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ, our Lord!)