Sunday, March 30, 2008

Home Cooking

I was recently at a potluck style dinner with several families and lots of good food. I always like these types of affairs, partly because I love the thought of all the women spending the day busily preparing all the food. It's nice to think that for one day, a group of women are all busily working together to make the dinner a success.

The dinner had a theme of old fashioned recipes. Some of the dishes were even native to other countries. Everything was made from scratch. It was very nice and everything was delicious.

However, throughout the evening I heard more than one lady proclaim that they were so glad they didn't cook like that all the time. That they preferred basic, easy foods as opposed to something a bit more complicated or homemade. That our foremothers were to be pitied because they must have spent their whole life in the kitchen.


Now I understand that we all lead very busy lives. Even more so if you homeschool. Everyone's routine and task list is different, so please know that I take that into consideration with this post. I am not passing judgement on anyone and I say these things to myself just as much (if not more so) than I do anyone else.

I think that a lot of women have a bit of a mental shut down when thinking of cooking from scratch every day. Before even considering it, their reaction is ~ I can't do it! For this reason, or that reason, or any number of reasons.

Just like I profess with housework, just s.l.o.w.d.o.w.n. Relax. You won't spend your life chained to you kitchen counter. I promise. Just like all other home keeping tasks, cooking good homemade meals can be worked into your day. And if you do it on a regular basis, it will become normal to you.

Everyone will have to look at their lives and responsibilities and determine where their values are concerning this subject. Do you want your families to have home cooked food that is not full of artificial ingredients? Do you want your children to grow up with fond memories of mom's meals? Will they leave the nest with some long treasured family recipes to incorporate into their own lives? Or are your evenings so harried and stressed that feeding the family is an afterthought? Is there no time to fix even a simple, convenience style meal much less a from scratch one? Is a large part of your budget dedicated to keeping the fast food chains in the black? (And perhaps you in the red?) If you answered yes to any of those last four questions, then perhaps it's time to reassess what is important to you.

We will all have certain evenings when we do not have as much times as other nights. But if you have made home cooking a priority, then these nights will not be a source of stress as you will have already planned for them.
First you must spend some time planning your meals and the contents of your freezers and pantry. You will need to have your basics stocked. Basics will mean different things to different people, depending on your cooking style. To me, some basics are;
*flour (all purpose, self rising, bread flour)
*sugar (white, brown and confectioner's)
*assorted pastas
*different seasonings and gravy mixes
*biscuit mix (I make my own from scratch.)
*a variety of canned vegetables and fruits
*some canned meats as well as different types of meat in the freezers
I could go on, but each lady will know what is right for her. When time is of the essence, if you have your basics stocked you will still be able to pull together a good meal in an acceptable amount of time.

Now, let's talk about the other nights. The ones when you are not rushed and calmness reigns. (I hope this constitutes the majority of your evenings!) I find that when I am calm and not rushed, cooking is such a joy. I think the picture of the lady of the house busy cooking a meal for her family is a beautiful thing. The time that it takes is time that you are blessing your family. I know of a lady that tries to always start thinking of her evening meal six hours before her dinner hour. Six hours! This gives her plenty of time to work on the meal throughout the day without ever being rushed. Now, I'm not professing that everyone who wants to cook homemade meals start six hours ahead of time. I know that some could not do that. But ever since I heard this lady say this, it has been something that I have pondered on quite a bit. I must say that I admire her and have made an effort to start my meal preparations much earlier in the day. It does make the evenings go much smoother.

I do hope that someone reading this will give some thought to perhaps putting home cooked meals higher on their priority list. You won't regret it. After all, who ever heard of a grown child saying with contempt, "My mother always cooked us homemade meals from scratch! How could she?" Lol, see what I mean?

Now I would like to share with you some of my favorite cooking links. I'm sure there is something here you will like.

*Baking Bites scroll down just a bit to see all the catagories

*Cooking by Numbers

*The Fresh Loaf

*Top 100 recipes of 2007


Bless you ~ may the Lord bless your homes and families through your efforts!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Extending Grace & Mercy to our Children

Today I would like to talk about extending grace and mercy to our children. As Christian women, we know that showing grace and mercy should be something we extend to all. But I believe there are certain ways that we can forget this, without meaning to, with our own children.

Let me try to explain. As mothers we are called to "train up" our children. We know how important it is for them to learn any number of skills that will serve them well later in life. And at times there seems to be so many things that we need to teach them that it can become overwhelming if we do not keep our perspective.

It is during these time that I believe we can "forget" to extend grace and mercy to them.

Is it important that they learn how to keep their room or area tidy? Yes. Does this mean that we never go in with them and help out? Fluffing a pillow here, hanging up a shirt there? No. Do they need to learn how to do basic things like make a sandwich or pour their own drink? Yes. Does this mean that after they have mastered these things that we never more do it for them? No.

I'll give you an example from my real life. My daughter is older than my son and so there have been times when she has become frustrated that he receives more help with certain things that she. I've always explained to her that when she was his age she received the same treatment. That she is older and therefore more capable. One thing we would have this discussion over was the making of their beds. She was to the point she could do it herself, but my son still basically needed me to do most of it with him helping as he could.

She came to me one day with the why-does-he-get-lots-of-help-making-the-bed conversation. I explained it all to her again. She understood but I noticed as she turned to walk away, such a slump in her shoulders. Did she possess the skills to make her bed? Yes. But did I think she was in need of a bit of extra grace and mercy being extended to her that day? Yes, I believed she did.

I quietly sent both children to the living room. Then I made both of their beds. After that I took two small pieces of paper. On the first for my son I wrote ~ I (picture)heart U. (He couldn't read at the time, but I knew he would be able to make that out.) Then I wrote in a pretty cursive for my daughter ~ I Love You.~~ And I laid the notes on their beds.

I went my way and didn't say a word. In a little while, both children headed back toward their rooms. My daughter was actually going in to make her bed. My son's room was the closest so she saw him go in and look at his made bed and she saw his note. Bless her heart, those little shoulders slumped even lower! Poor baby. But then she walked into her own room, saw her own bed and her own note. Her eyes lit up and she was happy and she felt loved. She still has that little note tucked away in a "safe place." It was a small thing, but it meant so much to her.

Could I have just sent her to her room with the command of "Get that bed made?" Of course I could have. But instead I chose to extend an extra dose of grace and mercy. And it gave her a smile and made her day. Was there any harm done to her bed making skills because I did it for her? No, not at all. I am quite certain she will be an adult who knows exactly how to make beds, lol.

Do you see what I mean? Sometimes in our earnest attempt to help our children become one day self sufficient we can also become harsh. We should always be on guard for this. Let them have happy, sweet childhoods while learning and mastering their skills.

I would also like to share a little about writing notes to our children. It only takes a moment, but they can be lifetime keepsakes. I started this years ago. My daughter and I were going through a particularly stressful time between us. My heart was heavy as was hers. I decided to write to her. She was young but an advanced reader so I knew she could read whatever I wrote. I sat down and simply started making a list. I don't remember all of it, but a few things were...

~ I really appreciate the way you've been going into the living room and opening the curtains in the morning. I know you may think that I don't notice things like that, but I do.

~ You've been washing your own hair in the mornings. This saves me time and it means a lot to me that you can do it and you are doing it on your own.

I just tried to find the little things that she was doing and let her know that I was noticing and that I appreciated it all. I laid it on her bed and left it for her to find. I saw her lying on her bed on her tummy reading it that night. It broke the ice and helped us to both feel better about each other and get through that difficult phase. She still has that note.

Forget not to show them grace. To show them mercy. To be the ~mother~

I hope you are each blessed as you spend your days blessing those you love.~~~~~

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Hospital-i-Tea Blog-a-Thon

I am taking part in the "Gracious Hospital-i-Tea Blog-a-Thon." This week's subject is "Litera-tea" or sharing about tea from the perspective of literature.

It wasn't hard for me to figure out what to write about, because I love a good "Cozy Mystery." If you don't yet know what the cozy genre is all about, follow the link or google it yourself and I can guarantee you a very cozy world awaits!

There is an entire tea shop mystery series by Laura Childs that I just love. These books blend the love of tea and the wonderful atmosphere of cozy books all into one. Reading is one of my two favorite pastimes (needlework being the other) and these books definitely fit the bill for a relaxing weekend read.

I heartily recommend books that fall into the cozy genre for several reasons. One, of course, is the amount of detail they generally give about the characters and their surroundings. They are quite an inspiration when it comes to cozying up your own surroundings! But also, as a mother with children who are growing fast and getting older ever day, these types of books are something you can proudly put on your bookshelf and not worry that there may be something in them inappropriate. Of course, judgement and discernment will still have to be used, but for the most part I have found them to be safe.

I hope you find something in the above links that you will find enjoyable and that will add to your quiet pleasures!

"The Good Wives" by Louisa May Alcott

I know that the majority of us are familiar with Louisa May Alcott's book "Little Women." But did you know she wrote a sequel to it called "The Good Wives?"

I highly recommend this book, especially if you liked the first one. You can even read it for free online at Bibliomania. It picks up with the girls at the point of Meg's wedding. It is such a good read, full of homemaking inspiration.

It treats the husband as head of the family as a given:

"To outsiders the five energetic women seemed to rule the house, and so they did in many things, but the quiet scholar, sitting among his books, was still the head of the family, the household conscience, anchor, and comforter, for to him the busy, anxious women always turned in troublous times, finding him, in the truest sense of those sacred words, husband and father."

Meg's upcoming wedding is at the forefront at the beginning of the book:

Meg had spent the time in working as well as waiting, growing womanly in character, wise in housewifely arts, and prettier than ever, for love is a great beautifier. She had her girlish ambitions and hopes, and felt some disappointment at the humble way in which the new life must begin. Ned Moffat had just married Sallie Gardiner, and Meg couldn't help contrasting their fine house and carriage, many gifts, and splendid outfit with her own, and secretly wishing she could have the same. But somehow envy and discontent soon vanished when she thought of all the patient love and labor John had put into the little home awaiting her, and when they sat together in the twilight, talking over their small plans, the future always grew so beautiful and bright that she forgot Sallie's splendor and felt herself the richest, happiest girl in Christendom."

John had set up a small house for them and the ladies gave it the name "Dovecoat." All the March females were aflutter making everything "just so" so that when John and Meg retired to the house after the wedding festivities, it would, indeed be a home. Here are some of my favorite passages:

"It was a tiny house, with a little garden behind and a lawn about as big as a pocket handkerchief in the front. Here Meg meant to have a fountain, shrubbery, and a profusion of lovely flowers, though just at present the fountain was represented by a weather-beaten urn, very like a dilapidated slopbowl, the shrubbery consisted of several young larches, undecided whether to live or die, and the profusion of flowers was merely hinted by regiments of sticks to show where seeds were planted. But inside, it was altogether charming, and the happy bride saw no fault from garret to cellar. To be sure, the hall was so narrow it was fortunate that they had no piano, for one never could have been got in whole, the dining room was so small that six people were a tight fit, and the kitchen stairs seemed built for the express purpose of precipitating both servants and china pell-mell into the coalbin. But once get used to these slight blemishes and nothing could be more complete, for good sense and good taste had presided over the furnishing, and the result was highly satisfactory. There were no marble-topped tables, long mirrors, or lace curtains in the little parlor, but simple furniture, plenty of books, a fine picture or two, a stand of flowers in the bay window, and, scattered all about, the pretty gifts which came from friendly hands and were the fairer for the loving messages they brought."

I love the part about "good sense and good taste had presided over the furnishing, and the result was highly satisfactory." A simple lesson we should all keep in mind.

They even discuss the difference in being a wife to a poor man like Meg's John as opposed to Sallie Moffat's rich husband:

"If she only had a servant or two it would be all right," said Amy, coming out of the parlor, where she had been trying to decide whether the bronze Mercury looked best on the whatnot or the mantlepiece.

"Mother and I have talked that over, and I have made up my mind to try her way first. There will be so little to do that with Lotty to run my errands and help me here and there, I shall only have enough work to keep me from getting lazy or homesick," answered Meg tranquilly"

Marmie answered,"Sallie isn't a poor man's wife, and many maids are in keeping with her fine establishment. Meg and John begin humbly, but I have a feeling that there will be quite as much happiness in the little house as in the big on. It's a great mistake for young girls like Meg to leave themselves nothing to do but dress, give orders, and gossip. When I was first married, I used to long for my new clothes to wear out or get torn, so that I might have the pleasure of mending them, for I got heartily sick of doing fancywork and tending my pocket handkerchief.

What wonderful advice is packed into that small paragraph!

This next is one of my favorite passages. It is the one I always remember when thinking of this book. It has stayed with me since I first read this book almost ten years ago.

"Do you know I like this room most of all in my baby house," added Meg, a minute after, as they went upstairs and she looked into her well-stored linen closet.

"That's a housewifely taste which I am glad to see. I had a young friend who set up housekeeping with six sheets, but she had finger bowls for company and that satisfied her," said Mrs. March, patting the damask tablecloths, with a truly feminine appreciation of their fineness.

"I haven't a single finger bowl, but this is a set-out that will last me all my days, Hannah says." And Meg looked quite contented, as well she might."

I heartily recommend this book to all ladies, young and old alike, but most especially to young wives. It is a treasure trove of womanly advice, much if not most of which is very much applicable to the life of Christian wife and mother.

May the Lord bless each of you as you attend to the quiet pleasures of your home!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On Our Easter Table

Easter plans are in full swing at my house, as I'm sure they are in many others. I thought it might be fun to share with my readers what will adorn our menu for Easter Sunday.

I love planning a menu for a special meal. It really is half the fun. I've found great joy in it since I was a young bride. First there is the time to find a quiet spot with a stack of adored and well used cookbooks. Then the pouring over them to find what will be *just right* for this particular occasion. And then making out a list to see what ingredients are already on hand in the pantry. Then planning a trip to the market to pick out the other needed items.

I really do feel sorry for the woman that wants to hurry through these *rituals* ~ for that is truly what they are. How poor is the family that is not thought of in the way of fixing of a special meal for a special day. I know I may sound redundant, but if we do not do these things then they will not be handed down to the next generation and then they will be lost. Very sad indeed.

But let's get back to the menu at hand, shall we? In addition to the following two recipes, we will also be having deviled eggs, corn on the cob, yeast rolls and white cake for desert. For my deveiled eggs, I don't quite have a set recipe. It's just one of those things I work with until it looks and tastes just right. We prefer ours more zingy than bland. So I use a mixture of mayonnaise, mustard, chopped pickles (and a little bit of the pickle juice), black pepper, dill and sometimes even a splash of Thousand Island dressing if we REALLY want it to zing!

In our home, we generally have a tradition of having Cornish hens on Easter Sunday. Different from the expected ham, yes I know, but it makes us happy. However, this year I am going to be doing something different. We will be having good, old fashioned roasted chicken. I have two birds at the ready. The following recipe will be the one I am using. It can be found on the Food Network website.

Fantastic Roasted Chicken
2 pounds chicken
1 large lemon
8 slices prosciutto or Parma ham, thinly sliced
1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 good handfuls fresh thyme, leaves picked and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces softened butter
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

Preheat the oven and an appropriately sized roasting tray to 425 degrees F. Wash your chicken inside and out and pat dry with kitchen paper. Using your fingers, part the breast skin from the breast meat. It's important to try to push your hand gently down the breast, being careful not to rip the skin. With a peeler, remove and chop the fragrant yellow skin of the lemon, keeping the peeled lemon to one side. Chop prosciutto and add to the bowl with the lemon skin, garlic and thyme. Season, with salt and pepper and then mix it all into the butter. Push this into the space you have made between the meat and the skin -- rub and massage any that's left over in and around the bird. It's all tasty stuff. I could tell you to tie the chicken up but I've decided it's not worth it in this case. Slash the thigh meat to allow the heat to penetrate a little more, which makes it taste better. Cut the peeled lemon in half and push it into the cavity. Then put chicken in the hot roasting tray and roast in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, parboil the potatoes in salted water for 10 minutes and drain. Remove the chicken from the oven, by which time the tasty butter will have melted, flavored and cooked out of the chicken into the bottom of the tray, awaiting your potatoes. Normally I put a fork into the cavity of the chicken and lift it off of the tray for 20 seconds while I toss and coat the vegetables in the butter. Put the chicken back on top of the vegetables and cook for around 40 minutes. Leave to stand for 10 minutes. Once the meat and vegetables have been removed, a little light gravy can be made in the tray with a splash of wine and stock, a little simmering and scraping.

The following recipe is one I got from another blog. She has a wonderful blog and you can visit it here.

Crockpot Macaroni & Cheese
8 oz pkg macaroni, cooked & drained
2 tablespoons oil
1 can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp salt
3 cups Velveeta Cheese, diced
1/4 cup butter, melted

Toss cooked macaroni in oil. Add all remaining ingredients & stir well. Pour into a lightly greased Crockpot. Cover & cook on low 4 hours. Stir occasionally.

I hope that you all have a lovely Easter Sunday. I hope that the weather is agreeable ~~ there is nothing better than a bright, clear, and sunny day for Easter. I hope that you all show your family how important they are to you by fixing them a wonderful home cooked meal. I hope all your little ones have giggles and laughter. But most of all I hope you have a blessed Sabbath and that your Spirit is fed by the Lord's Word!

Blessings to you as you attend to the quiet pleasures of your home!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Teachers of good things

Titus 2: 1-5
But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine:
That the aged men be sober grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.
The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, *teachers of good things;*
That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.


"teachers of good things"
It struck me today while reading this passage that the small part of the sentence in verse 3 could, in reality, sum up the rest of the passage directed toward ladies. When one thinks on it, those four little words are heavy with meaning and responsibility. Really, the entirety of our lives are to be such that we are teachers of good things. Our homes, our attitudes, our habits, our appearance, the ~very essence of who we are and how we live~ should to those close to us and to the casual observer alike teach good things.

Ladies, the girls and young women emerging into adulthood need us more now than ever before! I know there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9) but the enemy has had women and the home targeted these past 2-3 generations in earnest. If we are to become a people that once again holds the home up as the Lord would have us to, we must take the responsibilities given to us in Titus 2 to heart.

Just as women have been taught by the secular world that they are to find their fulfilment outside of the home, we must wholeheartedly teach that they can/will find their fulfilment within the home and family that God has blessed them with! Some young ladies are not raised by mothers who will teach them these things. If they then cannot look to Christian women to learn these lessons then whom, may I ask, is going to teach them?

For some women certain things come naturally. I daresay the to the majority of women mothering is one of those things. To others, household chores and cleaning is their specialty and it comes as easily as breathing. But these things do not simply come to some young ladies and all things certainly do not come easily to anyone. We all have areas we struggle with. This is why it is so important that the skills of homemaking, mothering and Godly council are taught to girls and most especially to young wives.

I have heard so many times that we are to teach and learn these things by example. And yes, that is so true. But honestly, in our time women cannot learn by example as effectively as in times past. Let me explain what I mean. There was once a time when most families lived either with each other or within close proximity to each other. Extended family was all around and a part of everyday life. If a young wife wanted to see what a Godly marriage and home looked like as an example to model her own after, she needed only to look across the room or next door. She could learn by example every day of her life! However, in our time, a lot of families live very far apart and our neighbors are strangers. How then is a young bride to learn by example only? See my point?

Of course, the ministry certainly should begin in our homes with our own daughters. But there will also be times when we have the opportunity (...duty?) to reach out to others! Whether this is through your church, your neighborhood or even the Internet matters not. What matters is that when given that opportunity to reach out we recognize it for what it is and seize the teachable moment!

There are so many things one can give a young lady to add to her arsenal of knowledge. Lessons on Biblical womanhood can include things such as; making time for daily Bible study, teaching children Bible lessons, time management, menu planning, cleaning & organizational methods, cooking, pantry stocking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, book suggestions, budgeting, the list could go on and on.

Every teachable moment does not have to be a formal 'sit down while I impart my wisdom' event. There are many ways to make things fun. One of my favorite things for a new bride is a Pantry Shower. It's like a wedding shower but (in my opinion) much more practical. Everyone invited brings a pantry staple item (or more - however many they want to bring!) Since these things are generally not expensive, most people don't mind getting multiple items. These can include spices, flours, dry goods - any and all pantry staples. In addition to these, everyone also submits ahead of time some of their favorite recipes. Alot of people will choose to purchase the pantry items needed for the recipes they are giving. The hostess will collect all the recipes and put them in a book for the bride. By the time the shower is over she will have a cookbook full of recipes with a pantry full of everything she needs to make them!

That is just one example of how to impart some homekeeping skills in a fun manner. But however you decide to do it - please, please do it as the future of our homes depends on the next generation of women learning these skills! We must impart the joy of the quiet pleasures of home. We must be "teachers of good things."

May God bless you all as you bless your households.