Thursday, November 26, 2009

Creating Abundance and Grandma's Rolls

Last month at my grandmother's funeral, the most frequently used word by the speakers was almost certainly "frugal". Grandma was known for saving all kinds of things for re-use: twisty-ties, bread bags, disposable plastic cups, styrofoam trays used to package meat, wrapping paper. She was teased about it from time to time, yet all of us recognized she lived through a time when you didn't take throwing something away lightly. If it was useful, it got used.

As we talked together in the following days, Grandpa wanted us to really understand her Depression experiences that laid the foundation for frugality. Grandma's family was extremely poor. With no job and a large family, her father struggled constantly to make sure they were all fed. During high school, Grandma had just one dress that she washed and hung every night to dry for the next day of school, putting up with occasionally snide comments from other girls in new new matching sweater sets. She always knew college wouldn't be possible, due to lack of financial resources not academic ability. She learned to make do with what she had and to make other plans when necessary. She learned how to care of things and make them last. She learned the importance of high quality and always worked to create things of excellence. Frugality was part of survival.

A life like this, of altered dreams and doing without, could make one miserly and bitter, but that's not what happened. She chose something different. As the stories others shared and my own memories flood my mind, it is her generosity that stands out to me. She took her impoverished background and created abundance for the people in her life.
  • One son shared a memory of watching her willingly prepare and pack a full lunch for a local beggar, simply because he knocked and asked.
  • Neighbors told of times she brought over food when they were in need.
  • While home, we slept under a faux fur throw, a remnant of the many "softs" she made her children and grandchildren.
  • After the funeral, we flipped through photo albums she put together of reunion after reunion where her love for her grandchildren was shown through creating: sewing personalized aprons, leading rock painting activities, or running a family Olympics complete with opening ceremony parades.
  • I remembered one of her letters from when she was serving alongside my grandfather over a mission in Michigan. She told of the dozens upon dozens of Christmas care packages she made for each of the many missionaries serving with them, packages I knew from the many years she sent them to us.
  • Her daughter reminisced about her talents as a seamstress. She couldn't remember a single dress, blouse or skirt she owned as a child that wasn't made by her mother.
  • I shared the story of her careful work assisting on my junior prom dress when we were behind schedule. She sewed meticulously even when I wanted to rush because, um, my date was waiting while it was finished.
Amidst all of these stories and memories, one of Grandpa's comments said it all: her background made her empathetic to the suffering of others. When she saw some one lacking, she sought ways to share with them. When they were down, she sought ways to reach out a lifting hand. Within her family, she made consistent efforts to provide us the best of comfort, nourishment, creativity, beauty and enjoyment. While her life was not one of dramatic public accomplishments, the work of caring for the people around her will always be remarkable to me. I am honored to have known her and to have seen the ways she created abundance.

Today, it felt appropriate to attempt her family-famous rolls for the first time. Her Thanksgiving dinners were always delicious and these rolls were divine. I really struggled through this first attempt, not sure how to work with such unwieldy dough, and yet, I loved every minute of it. It felt like an honor to her legacy of creating bounty for the people you care about.

Hope you feel blessed with abundance this Thanksgiving, including good food.

Grandma's Parker House Rolls

Dissolve in a small bowl:
2 pkgs. yeast (4 1/2 tsp)
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

1/2 cup sugar
4 tsp. salt
1 cup scalded milk

When cool, combine mixtures. Add:
4 cups flour
2 eggs
1/4 cup veg. oil

Stir well, then add:
3 3/4 cups sifted flour

Mix well with large spoon, not a mixer. Let rise covered, until double (about 2 hours).

Melt several tablespoons of butter and set aside. Punch down dough with a spoon. Pour (yes, pour) about half of the dough onto very well floured bread board. Sprinkle generously with flour to prevent sticking. Roll to about 1/3 inch thick. Cut rolls with biscuit cutter, score gently with a knife and brush with butter along the crease. Fold in half, pressing the round edge together and transfer to a greased cookie sheet. Lightly brush with melted butter. Let raise until doubled again (about 1 hour). Bake at 400 for 10 minutes. Brush tops with unmelted butter.

The secret to these light rolls is not using too much flour and not handling the dough too much.

Her final, somewhat deceptive notes? "They are so easy to make - just stir them up - raise - roll out and bake. SO SIMPLE!" I think it should say "So STICKY! but worth it!" Mine need a bit of work to find the right balance, but I think I have a few years before I have to have them "Grandma perfect".

Monday, November 9, 2009

True Wealth

Every now and then, my dad calls to tell me how rich he is.

This is the same man who periodically reminds me that he's trying to figure out how to be born to wealthy parents so he'll be set for life, so you can rest assured he's not talking about an investment portfolio or bank balance. No, when my dad says he's rich, it usually means he has an abundance of some delicious food at home, often stockpiled in the freezer.

Maybe live crawfish mailed in from Louisiana, just for a crawfish boil with his daughters.

Or enough of the best Utah peaches (yes, he has copious notes from various taste tests to prove it) in his freezer to provide peaches on his oatmeal all winter long.

Or the first strawberries ripening on the variety he read has the best strawberry flavor ever, but can't be commercially grown because they deteriorate too quickly. (For best results, pop it straight in your mouth once picked.)

(His strawberry starters.)

Yes, when my dad says he's rich, it almost certainly means food, and lots of it.

So tonight, I feel rich to have lots of my favorite, favorite crackers (recipe here) warm out of the oven.

Note: Even with a double batch, I think they're going to disappear quickly. I may have possibly eaten half a baking sheet since starting this post.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Hiking the Hudson...

What I want to remember about today:

That I really wanted to go hiking and we made it happen, in spite of... having to bail on the early hike, missing the train to the later hike, rushing back home for our hiking book and nearly missing the next train, and then discovering that the last train to our hiking destination was the one we missed. Grrrrrr.......but I remember thinking "it's going to be ok" and it was better than ok.

Going up....and up....and up...

Breakneck Ridge

All of the people scrambling up the rocks with us. Everyone seemed to be out on this gorgeous fall day!

Watching the mile-long train across the river, (or was it only a half-mile? a lively debate ensued), while eating a morning snack of bananas and Oreos.

Lots of talking with husband-o, as always...then a bit of solitude on the wooded trail heading back. Nice to stop for a chat, a hug and a reminder to root for the home team!

Go team!

The lonely, lovely stone architecture left from an abandoned dairy, especially all the arches of what must have been a beautiful, large multi-story home.

The light on the stream, the sun shining through the trees, the layers of, mountain, foliage...

The sugar maple leaves in town. (Right, Alexis? Sugar maples?)

Hot chocolate in town before we headed home, tangy-sweet Ida Red apples with ricotta salata cheese and watching the sun set over the Hudson.

What do you want to remember about this weekend?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Craft Hope Quilt & Limitations

When I decided to make a quilt for Craft Hope's project 5, I knew I'd be working with limitations, if for no other reason than my quilting budget's on the skinny. Along the way, I was reminded that limitations can be great at sparking creativity!

I knew I needed to use mostly fabric I already had, so I pulled out a scrap bag and started with a collection of funky pastel string scraps.

When it didn't make enough blocks, what else could I use? Other backgrounds? Nope, sticking with the scrap bag white.

Could I cut those blocks in half to make them go further? spite of my flying geese love, like the squares better in this case.

Then, there's the "didn't measure twice and no more yellow fabric" limitation I created for myself.

That little strip of color made a big difference. I added it to the other "extra" blocks as well.

This morning, borders. I was quite sure I didn't have anything that would work. I've already been through my stash, but before I ran to the quilt shop, I looked again.

Odd. I tried this for one of the extra block in the middle and thought the color was wrong, but it works for the border.

Each step of the way involved experimenting, trying things out, searching through my stash. The limitations forced me to look at lots of options, come up with new ways to do things and then make decisions of what would be best for this quilt. I loved the creative process and the end result is turning out better than my original plans. I'm having so much FUN integrating a mix of fabrics, working with a balance a movement and stillness and finding new ways to use the focus fabrics! Who knew that limiting my options would improve both the process and the final design so much?

Hooray for quilting on the skinny, huh?