a "been-there" mom of six offers encouragement
to wives, young mothers, and those not so young,
and simple common-sense approaches to
the "ings" of life:
child-rearing (hints and helps), homemaking (all areas),
cooking (simple, cheap, and do-it-yourself)
making (toys and gifts), preparing (for the unexpected),
maintaining (sanity and peace in this increasingly crazy world) and more---
all aspects of making the most of making do on little---
and having fun in the process.

Friday, January 13, 2012

When "I Do" is actually "We Do"

Frequently wedding bells do not unite only a husband and wife. This may be the second or third walk down the aisle for at least one of them and children are often part of the dowry.

Couples in this situation usually spend a lot of time in their efforts to ensure the transition will be as smooth as possible in combining the two families. Friendships need to be made, emotional securities must be reassured, households must be rearranged, and chores, ways of doing things, and even traditions must be considered and reworked.

So much effort and attention is needed to smooth these immediate-family needs that extended families, especially if they live a distance away, are overlooked.Newly acquired grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are also a part of the package.

If the about-to-be-united families do not live close together, and/or if the children of this new marriage are not well acquainted with one another, a step can be taken to gain familiarity before the actual times of meeting. Even when this is a totally joyful occasion for everyone involved, there usually is some uncertainty and uneasiness about the first get-together.

Let a simple photo album/scrap book be the first introduction. The cost needn't be much and the contents can easily be tailored to fit the age of the receiver.

Photographs, with identification, can begin the getting-to-know-you process free of insecurities, fears or time pressures. If you write little descriptions about the pictures or about your family members, it will add even more. These books can be looked at over and over again.

The faces and homes in the pictures become familiar and familiarity raises comfort levels so when the individuals finally do meet, they will not feel like total strangers.

Along with introducing the extended family, you could include early pictures of their soon-to-be new stepparent, where they grew up, and their pets, etc. Maybe you could add pictures they drew when they were young, cards they made or examples of their hobbies----maybe a report card from when they were about the same grade as the recipient.

If you did not want to part with the originals, photocopies work well. If the children are young, the items could be enclosed in plastic sheet protectors to make the album very durable and up to much handling.

Want to do even more? Not sure what?
Simply put yourself in the recipient's shoes and think of what you would like to know if you were in their position.

What about a simple but favorite homemade treat or even just the recipe.  The following recipe was my mother's "trademark." She has been gone nearly 19 years but I will occasionally make them for our kids---who tell their kids about them.

My Mom's Favorite Cookies
(also known as Grandma's coffee can* cookies)

3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups white sugar (or one cup each white and brown sugar)
2 sticks margarine or butter
5 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

Sift flour with baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In separate bowl beat sugar, margarine and vanilla until creamy. Beat in the eggs. Gradually add flour mixture and nuts, mixing well. Divide into three portions and shape each portion into a long slender roll.

Refrigerate until well chilled, or freeze. To use, cut slices 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch. Place on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake approximately 12 minutes at 350 degrees or until lightly browned. Let cool slightly on baking sheet before removing.

* Grandma always stored the cookies in a large coffee can in her pantry---thus the name.

'til we eat again,
          Simply, Gail

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Haven't we gone overboard on Political Correctness?

My head covering is pigmentally challenged. I am numerically, aesthetically and calorically challenged. I am gravity challenged. How complicated sounding and psychologically wearing.

More simply put my hair is gray, I've lived more years than I have left, I'm plain-looking, overweight and saggy, and our budget is quite tight. None of which are really big deals.

Our society spends an enormous amount of time coming up with correct terms so as not to offend various individuals ----while there seems to be very little time or effort expended in reminding us of the simple overall need to just be accepting and kind and considerate.

Even teachers have been effectively bound, in many ares, with "rules" which prevent them from teaching personal integrity, morality, and caring. Political correctness and fear of repercussion even prevents teachers physically comforting a sad or ailing child. A hug might be interpreted as inappropriate touching.

In times past, a man's word was his bond and his handshake the finalizing of that bond. Today a handshake is more often just a meaningless formality---merely a complex combination of five-fingered gymnastics, while a man's bond is too often a complicated, many-paged, fine-print document with assumed loopholes.

Life has become unnecessarily challenging in many unnecessary ways!

We need to remember the simple yet profoundly important aspects of life. . .

From the Bible, we have the the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you; treat others as you would like to be treated.

From Robert Fulghum's "All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten": share, say please and thank you.

From an unknown person's Rules of the House: If you drop it, pick it up: if you open it, close it: if you borrow it, return it; if you break it, fix it.

The family is a great place to find acceptance and receive great applause (even when teaching the acceptance and encouraging the applause is necessary). This is how self-esteem is developed.

It's often a cold and dreary world out there, and usually complicated. Home should be the warm and accepting place where family members can return to each day.

It's as simple as that!

Simple Kitchen S'Mores
Spread one graham cracker square with chocolate frosting. Spear one marshmallow on a long-handled fork and carefully toast it over burner of stove top. Gas works best but so does electric. (An option, though not the best, is a short zap in a microwave.)

Place soft and browned marshmallow on frosted cracker and top with additional graham cracker square, squishing it together slightly.

If your child is making this treat, be certain there is adult supervision.

This post originally appeared in the August 2003 Desert Saints Magazine.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Wad of Dough --- a step up from Biscuits

Still repeating: Making your own master mixes is a great way to save money, prepare quickly, eliminate extraneous ingredients/preservatives, and tailor the mixes to your own likes and dietary needs.

Amy Dacyczyn's book The Tightwad Gazette III, page 19, provides another way to make make-aheads.This time it's about rolls, not biscuits. I love the variety. I hope one of these recent posts "calls your name!"

After posting the two different master mixes from two of my stand-by cookbooks, I decided to turn some pages in one of Amy's books. I wasn't expecting to turn to "Save a wad of dough!" In this segment she talks about a multipurpose potato refrigerator-dough recipe that appeared in all pre-1986 editions of The Betty Crocker Cookbook.  She said that while the original recipe includes mashed potatoes, "to save time her husband gets out potato flakes and other required ingredients to make the called-for  mashed potatoes and adds those ingredients directly to the batch of dough."

Amy checked with Lloyd Moxon, author of The Baking Book and a microbiologist, who specializes in yeast biochemistry to find out the purpose of the mashed potatoes: "Mashed potatoes--or any pureed vegetable--is vital for refrigerator doughs because it preserves moisture in the dry climate of a fridge. A regular yeast dough would dry and become unworkable more rapidly."

I googled "pre 1986 edition Betty Crocker cookbook" to see what I could turn up----many
This one, from http://eatinonthecheap.com/2008/11/11/my-new-best-friend-refrigerator-dough/

Betty Crocker Refrigerator Dough
1 pkg. (2-1/4 T.) active dry yeast
1 ½ cup hot water
1 cup leftover unseasoned mashed potatoes or 
       instant mashed potatoes prepared to equal 1 c.
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup shortening (do not use oil)
2 eggs
1 ½ tsp. salt
6 to 7 cups all-purpose flour
Dissolve yeast in warm water in large bowl. Stir in potatoes, sugar, shortening, eggs, salt, and 3 c. of the flour. Beat until smooth. Mix in enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface, knead until smooth and elastic; about 5 minutes. Place in large greased bowl; turn greased side up. Cover bowl tightly; refrigerate at least 8 hours but no longer than 5 days.
From here you can make anything. Each time you pull the dough out of the fridge just punch down the dough and take out what you need. 
Here are instructions for all sorts of other kinds of bread made with this dough. Also feel free to substitute some whole wheat flour for all-purpose to make it healthier.
Brown-and-Serve Rolls: shape dough as directed in any recipe below. Let rise 1 hour. Heat oven to 275°. Bake 20 minutes (do not brown). Remove from pans, cool to room temperature. Wrap in aluminum foil and store in refrigerator no longer than 8 days or freeze no longer than 2 months. At serving time, pre-heat oven to 400°, bake until brown, 8 to 12 minutes.
Cloverleaf Rolls: shape ¼ of dough into 1-inch balls. Place 3 balls in each greased muffin cup. Brush with softened margarine, let rise one hour. Heat oven to 400° and bake about 15 – 20 minutes until golden brown. 1 dozen rolls.

Four-Leaf Clovers: shape ¼ of dough into 2-inch balls. Place each ball into a greased muffin cup. With scissors, snip each ball completely into halves, then into quarters. Brush with softened margarine. Let rise one hour. Heat oven to 400° and bake about 15 – 20 minutes until golden brown. 1 dozen rolls.
Crescent Rolls: roll ¼ of dough into a 12-inch circle on a floured surface. Lightly spread with softened margarine. Cut into 16 wedges. Roll up tightly beginning at rounded edges, stretching dough as it is rolled. Place rolls with points underneath on a greased cookie sheet, curving slightly. Let rise one hour. Heat oven to 400° and bake about 15 minutes until golden brown. 16 rolls.
Pan Biscuits: use half of dough recipe. Roll dough into 13X9 rectangle on a well-floured surface. Place in greased, oblong pan (13X9X2). Cut dough into rectangles, each about 3X2 ½ inches. Brush with softened margarine. Let rise one hour. Heat oven to 400° and bake about 25 minutes until golden brown. 15 rolls.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Biscuit Master Mix-----using regular on-hand pantry items

Repeat: Making your own master mixes is a great way to save money, prepare quickly, eliminate extraneous ingredients/preservatives, and tailor the mixes to your own likes and dietary needs.
Eating Never Goes Out of Style
The following recipe for biscuits made from a master mix
is from Make-a-Mix Cookery listed recently as one of my old standby favorites. It has been duck-tapped together and  the cover pages are missing but it is pre-1980.

The recipe I posted yesterday used dehydrated products to make "just add water" mixes. Today's is using "traditional" pantry items in the master mixes and adding perishable ingredients at the time of making the individual recipes.

Again, I am providing the biscuit recipe. As was the case with yesterday recipe, this basic mix is the start for a wide variety of baked goods---32 are listed!

Quick Mix
8-1/2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon salt
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1-1/2 cups instant nonfat dry milk
2-1/4 cups vegetable shortening

In a large bowl, sift together all dry ingredients. Blend well. With pastry blender, cut in shortening until evenly distributed. Mixture will resemble cornmeal in texture. Put in a large container. Label. Store in a cool, dry place. Use within 10-12 weeks. Makes about 13 cups Quick Mix.

Variation: Use 4-1/4 cup all-purpose flour and 4-1/4 cups whole-wheat flour instead of 8-1/2 cups all-purpose flour. Increase baking powder to 2 Tablespoons.

If using Quick Mix at altitudes above 3500 feet, increase flour about 1/2 cup for better results.

Karine's Drop Biscuits
3 cups quick mix
3/4 cup milk or water
Preheat over to 450 degrees. Combine quick mix and liquid in medium bowl, stirring until just blended. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto greased baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes, until golden brown.

Variations include cheese/herb biscuits, buttermilk, biscuits, country dumplings, orange biscuits, and fruit cobbler.

Never-Fail Rolled Biscuits
these light biscuits separate into layers
3 cups quick mix
2/3 cup milk or water
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine mix and liquid in medium bowl. Let dough stand 5 minutes. On a lightly floured board, knead dough about 15 times. Roll out to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut with floured biscuit cutter. Place about 2 inches apart on un-greased baking sheet. bake 10 - 12 minutes until golden brown.

Variations include cinnamon rolls, pizza, meat pinwheels and pot pie.

'til we eat again,
          Simply, Gail

Monday, January 9, 2012

Make Your Own Just-Add-Water Master Mixes

Making your own master mixes is a great way to save money, prepare quickly, eliminate extraneous ingredients/preservatives, and tailor the mixes to your own likes and dietary needs.

You can:
  • use powdered shortening, butter, margarine, milk and eggs to make "just add water" mixes, similar to their commercial counterparts.
  • reduce the salt in the recipes or substitute equal amounts of powdered flavoring for the salt in the mixes. It is reported that orange flavoring is good in breads and rolls and butterscotch flavoring works well in cookies.
  • reduce the refined sugar in recipes by substituting fructose, using only 1/3 to 1/2 as much sugar as is called for in the mixes, or check out the many other available sugar-substitutes.
  • reduce the oil in recipes by substituting equal amounts of applesauce for the oil---a great calorie reducer with minimal changes in many recipes.
  • substitute flours if you you have an allergy to wheat. It is reported that rice flour works well in muffins and some cookies, but not breads.
  • do a "google" search when you need help finding substitutions for almost anything
There are numerous books and a vast number of Internet sites addressing these mixes. One of my recent favorites is the Mix-a-Meal Cookbook ---- "old fashioned taste...new modern mixes." by Deanna Bean and Lorna Shute.  My old standbys include Make-a-Mix and More Make-a-Mix by Karine Eliason, Nevada Harward and Madeline Westover, and Make your own Groceries by Daphne Hartwig.

I favor the internet sites that offer reader ratings, comments and suggestions.

For back-to-basics, down home, and common sense there is much to learn from Amy Dacyczyn's series of three books The Tightwad Gazette I, II, III, ----"the last word in promoting thrift as a viable alternative lifestyle." Zillions of hints and helps from Amy and her followers.

I will be posting items from each of these sources periodically. I usually check out the books from the library before I buy them.  

In Wednesday's post about my handy dishwasher pantry, I mentioned a master biscuit mix as one of my pantry staples. This mix is from the above mentioned Mix-a-Meal cookbook. One of my favorite things about this book is each mix has a mini-recipe so you can try it before making the large quantity.  This mix calls for all dehydrated/powdered items. If you are not already using these, there is some initial expense involved but the overall savings is great --- a #10 (one gallon can)  goes a long way, both the products and the mixes store well increasing your on-hand storage, they mix up simply and quickly, and I usually make several different mixes at once, cutting down on the bother and mess of preparation and washing of measuring utensils!

While, so far, I have only made the biscuits, the authors state the following: "This biscuit mix can be used in any recipe calling for a commercial biscuit mix and it works well with Dutch Oven recipes also." Their book also list recipes, using the biscuit mix, for pot pies, three pizzas: traditional, Mexican and breakfast, six varieties of crackers, tempura and fritter batters, braided dinner roll, breakfast cake and cream puffs.

Biscuit Mini-Mix
 2-1/8 cups flour
5 T. dehydrated shortening or margarine
3/4 cup powdered milk
1/2 cup dehydrated whole egg
1/4 cup baking powder
1 T. salt
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda

Drop Biscuits
Combine 3 cups mix with one cup water. Stir vigorously until blended and drop by spoonfuls onto greased baking sheet. Make at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Rolled Biscuits
Combine and stir vigorously (about 20 strokes)
2 cups biscuit mix and 1/2 cup water. Lightly flour a board with dry biscuit mix and turn all the mixture onto it. Knead to a ball and roll out to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut with a knife or a cutter dipped in flour. Place 2" apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Biscuit Master Mix
Combine thoroughly and store in covered container.
8-1/2 cups flour
1-1/4 cups dehydrated shortening or margarine
3/4 cups powdered milk
1/2 cup dehydrated whole egg
1/4 cup baking powder
1 T. salt
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda

I make a label (often just a strip of masking tape) stating the contents, the date made and (for things this simple) the directions for the biscuits.

'til we eat again,
          Simply, Gail