Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas At Our Casa

Christmas here was pretty quiet, and it usually is. After all of the planning, hosting, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and "churching" that the holiday always entails for us, it's so nice to do nothing on the actual day. We all look forward to a day on the couch in our pjs, and we all wonder why we don't do that any other day of the year. It is just so much easier to stop when everyone else stops, too And it actually takes a lot of work to stop. I spent the entire day in the kitchen on Christmas Eve cooking. (Honestly, this is not much different from any other day. Do I ever really leave my kitchen?) This was extreme cooking though, so that I wouldn't have to cook for at least the next two days - coffee cake, breakfast casserole, beef stew, cornbread, salad, and three pies - whew!

After a delicious brisket dinner (traditional Oklahoma fare, which made me miss traditional Texas fare - tamales!) at friends, Ryan and Christie's house, we had a wonderful candlelight service at church where the above photo was taken. It was a time of reflecting on the hard work of the incarnation, which I had been thinking a lot about in recent weeks - especially after reading this post. (Thanks, Jenn.) Needless to say, it could not have been a pleasant experience for the God of the Universe, but He did it anyway - "set His face like flint," proceeded because of His love for us and the "joy set before Him." (Those verses are about the cross, but I think they apply here, too.) I've had such a case of weariness and "I don't want too....I'm done" in the last year, that His perseverance in coming, in spite of those same sentiments, has encouraged me. We truly "do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses." (Heb. 4:15) And thank Him that He also did the hard work of the cross. It means I don't have to "work" for my salvation, which is a true gift that I unfortunately and vainly still try and "earn" on a regular basis. I think that a big purpose of this year has been to try and convince me of that - finally. And I'm getting there....
And speaking of gifts....we came home and opened one gift which is always a new pair of pajamas - polka dot for Kayla, camouflage for Kory, and sports themed for Coop. Then we read the Christmas story out of the Book of Luke, prayed, and went to bed. Well, some of us went to bed. Robert and I stayed up watching It's A Wonderful Life while finishing up the cooking, drinking our hot tea, and transporting the gifts from our bedroom to the tree.

Kayla got the Fancy Nancy Doll she had been pleading for for months, as well as Frenchie, her dog, and a pair of Nancy's pajamas. ("Pleading is a fancy word for begging.")
The boys each got a new NFL comforters for their beds: Chicago Bears for Coop, and San Diego Chargers for Kory. And Kory got Cooper the Madden 10 football game for his PSP. All three also received a new game (Banangrams, Taboo, and Guesstures), a new book (The Blind Side, The Mysterious Benedict Society, Harriet the Spy), new winter gloves, new socks, undies, and other clothes, too.
After lunch, Robert, Kayla, and I went for a little winter walk - not a run, an actual walk! Actually, we strolled while Kayla rode her bike with Frenchie in the front basket. Having planned ahead, we were greeted with a fresh pot of coffee which we enjoyed together before our "international guests" arrived from Switzerland via Barbados! We had been looking forward to Romy and Backie's arrival for months! (Romy is an incredible "planner.") This was the couple that was married in Switzerland two summers ago forcing us to travel there so that Robert could perform the ceremony. (Someone has to do it.)

They arrived with tanned faces, having just come from a wedding in Barbados, and bearing new Sigg stainless steel water bottles for the whole family! (I look at them all of the time, but never let myself buy them!) And part of the reason they came to stay with us was that we all had another wedding to attend in New Hampshire the following day. (And somehow they managed to pack very lightly for all those climate changes. I was impressed!)
So Robert left on Saturday for the rehearsal, as did Romy and Backie, but I didn't join them until Sunday, so as to prevent the need for overnight babysitters. The wedding was for a former Mercyhouse member as well as fellow Mt. Holyoke grad of Romy's - Tori, and her Frenchman Pierre! It was wonderful, and a fun reunion with lots of folks. The salmon and chocolate mousse weren't so bad either. Yum. (Not together, of course!)

The main reason we didn't want to leave the kids overnight is because we plan to leave them with sitters for three nights this week, so that we can travel here:

But not necessarily for this:

More like this:

Which probably confirms that we are "nuts." But, turning 40 calls for a memorable (crazy) event of some sort, and this is the chosen adventure. (With a few shows, shopping, eating, and museum-ing, of course!)

Hope yours was a Feliz Navidad....See you in 2010!
(Tamales AND Brisket next year.....)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Gluten Free Saturday - Meaty Minestrone

Last Sunday we hosted a staff and volunteer lunch at out house to say thank you to the many folks who pour out so much of their time and hearts to serve at our church. We've done this nearly every year that we've been here, and I 'm not sure why, but I always end up with a semi-Italian themed menu for the occasion. Minestrone soup is usually the main course, and I think I've used a different recipe every time. This year, I used one with Italian sausage in it. I thought I'd have tons of leftovers, (since there was also french bread pizza!) but the soup disappeared, and even my kids helped make that happen!

Meaty Minestrone

5-6 cups chicken or veggie broth
1 lb Italian sausage
2 cans stewed tomatoes, chopped
1 potato, chopped
1 onion, chopped
olive oil for sauteeing
1 package frozen spinach
2 Tbsp Italian sausage
1 can cannelini beans
1 package frozen corn
1 zucchini
salt and pepper to taste

Brown sausage in skillet and drain. Saute onion in oil in bottom of soup pot. Add broth, tomatoes, Italian seasoning, sausage, spinach, and potatoes. Simmer 15 minutes. Add beans, corn, zucchini, and simmer 10-15 more minutes.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Krum's Fun Christmas Read-Alouds

Reading aloud is my favorite thing to do with my kids. We almost always have a book in progress, and Christmas provides some really wonderful material. We even put all of the Christmas books away in the attic with the decorations each year, and you wouldn't believe the anticipation and nostalgia it provides when the season rolls around again. Our collection grows each year: Barnes and Noble Membership Card + After Christmas Sales = several new additions to the collection each year = one satisfied book addict Mama. (For a few days, at least.)

This year, though, I did indulge and purchase myself a book before Christmas. (It was on sale already!) The cover drew me, and then the author's bio caused me to be even more curious - mother of four, missionary to Russia for 8 years. It became my "read for 10 minutes before you fall asleep and then forget what you read the next night book." I did finally finish it, was delighted by it, and decided to share it with the family. I say family, because even Robert has been able to join us for most of the story so far.

Clam chowder, church ladies, marriage, high school football, a church Christmas tea, a ten foot trout, an almost empty nest, surrendered expectations, sacrifice, and the true meaning of Christmas all make The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren a delightful and simple, and yet simply profound book. I found myself relating refreshingly to Marianne as she found herself in angst over the holidays, consumed with making sure her youngest son had a great football season, struggling with her expectations of family and friends, and also the expectations of others toward her.

It's not Charles Dickens, but it's a modern and humorous look into one family's journey through the holidays - just the light, fun, and encouraging read I was in need of!
(By the way, have I told you that I'm related to old Charles? It's true! My great-grandma, Elsie, was a "Dickens" - in more ways than one! She could tell you how he fit in to the family - a very great uncle to put it simply. She could also tell you how to drink Vodka, smoke like a chimney, and what your horoscope was for that day. Quite a character, my Nana.)

And speaking of fun, yet profound......

"Get away from the baby!" she yelled at Ralph, who was Joseph. And she made the wise men keep their distance.

"The wise men want to honor the Christ Child," Mother explained, for the tenth time. "They don't mean to harm him, for heaven's sake!"

But the wise men didn't know how things were supposed to be either, and nobody blamed Imogene for shoving them out of the way. You got a feeling that these wise men were going to hustle back to Herod as fast as they could squeal on the baby, out of pure meanness.

They thought about it, too.

Kory had to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson for his final reading assignment for his Challenge I class. A far cry from The Scarlet Letter or Billy Budd, but a nice way to end the semester and enter the Christmas season! After he read it (in about half an hour), I decided it would be good to read this one aloud to everyone again - we've read it before.

You simply can't read this account of an annual church Children's Christmas Pageant without laughing out loud, and it provides such a wonderful reminder of just who the gospel is for - all of us Herdman ragamuffins - whether we can see it or not.
(A bit of a nudge to the church to acknowledge our own need and our equality with those we deem unseemly and unsightly.)
It's simply a Christmas must read!

"Hey! Unto you a child is born!"

Monday, December 21, 2009

Gidget's Great Giveaway!

Just HAD to let you all know that Gluten-Free Gidget is giving away a
Cuisinart Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream and Sorbet Maker
on her blog!

I have left my comments, and am waiting with anticipation for the Christmas Day announcement of a winner! Hurry over there and enter for yourself - and be inspired by all of her amazing dairy-free and gluten free ice cream/sorbet concoctions!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Gluten Free Friday - 8-Layer Mexican Dip

Seems like I've been mass producing these things in the last few weeks due to various Christmas parties and events. Definitely nothing new or original. Honestly, nothing I do is new or original - just copied or borrowed from somewhere or someone else. This recipe is borrowed from the Texas recipe archives of the 1980's, I think. It was quite new and original then, bringing lots of ooohhhs and ahhhhs to the bearer at the potluck gathering. So, I guess one benefit of being officially middle-aged, is that sometimes you can wow people again by reviving 20+ year old recipes!
8-Layer Mexican Dip

1 can refried beans
1 - 1 1/2 cups guacamole (I use the pre-made Trader Joes variety - mostly because it's easy and much cheaper than buying avocadoes in New England @ $2 each!)
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp chili powder
1 Tbsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 cup salsa
1 cup grated cheese
1 small tomato, chopped
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1 small can chopped black olives

Layer 1: Spread entire can of refried beans onto serving platter. (I use about a 14-inch circle glass platter usually)

Layer 2: Spread all of guacamole on top of beans. I like to make a smaller circle of the guac than the beans, so you can see each layer. Fancy stuff, I know!

Layer 3: Stir together sour cream, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper, and spread on top of guacamole.

Layer 4: Spread salsa gently on top of sour cream.

Layer 5: Sprinkle grated cheese on top of salsa.

Layers 6, 7, and 8: tomatoes, then green onions, then chopped olives.

Serve with tortilla chips

Monday, December 14, 2009

"Christmas Cookies and Holiday Hearts....."

"..... that's the way the holiday starts. Christmas cookies and holiday hearts, yummy, yummy, good, good, good!"

I've been humming that song ever since Kayla's Christmas tea party on Saturday, but I can't even remember how I know that song or where it comes from. (Leave a comment if you can help me out with that!)

Kayla had 10 girlfriends over on Saturday morning for her 4th annual Christmas Tea Party. This year she requested a pajama party, and everyone indulged her (including her mom) by wearing their cutest pjs and bringing a teddy bear or other stuffed animal. I know I've mentioned it before, but I am so thankful that Kayla has such a sweet group of girls to be friends with, and I remind her often that it is a rare gift.

We had lots of fun with painting ornaments and pillow cases, decorating gingerbread houses, reading Christmas stories, discussing Christmas traditions, playing games, and having tea! (Choice of peppermint tea or hot chocolate plus lots of other goodies!)
And Kayla not only has "little girl friends", but "big girl friends," too - Rachel is a grad student at UMass and Kayla's Sunday School teacher, Virginia is a senior at UMass and also helps out with the kids at church, and Jenna is an engineering professor at UMass. All three top our kids' list of favorite kidsitters and made the tea party extra special by being the story readers, music players, nail painters, art consultants, and dish washers!

And the tea party marked the beginning of a coming craziness that is called the week before Christmas. I really have found no way around the absolute insanity of this week in the past few years. I will not be doing this again, but still there is a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time: last day of Classical Conversations tomorrow complete with mid-terms and parties, last day of ballet for a while, home Bible study group Christmas party, homeschool group party and caroling at the nursing home, wrapping and sending the Texas shipment of Christmas gifts, dentist appointments, church volunteer lunch here on Sunday, etc!

My heart is more at peace than usual, though. (At least I think it is.) I don't feel quite as crazed and out of control as I have in the past. It has been a year of needed healing and growth for me, yet so much more to learn, embrace, and surrender. All credit for me still standing today goes to the Lord who has truly been "the strength of my heart and my portion refuge." Ps. 73: 26-28

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gluten Free Friday - As Promised....Brunch Casserole!

Very much a comfort food, and naturally gluten free, I've taken this breakfast casserole to a few gatherings, and it always seems to get lots of rave reviews. I'm thinking of having it ready to go in the oven on Christmas morning along with our traditional "Sara's Coffee Cake!" (Thanks, Sara E!) The potato crust just makes this dish! Enjoy!

Brunch Casserole

1/2 cup butter ( 1 stick)
3 medium baking potatoes, grated
2 pounds bulk pork sausage (I use Jones - All Natural)
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
8 eggs
1 cup milk

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Put butter in 13X9 glass baking dish and place in oven. Leave baking dish in oven until butter is melted completely. While butter melts in oven, grate 3 baking potatoes (I actually used red potatoes). When pan is ready, spread grated potatoes evenly in bottom along with butter and sprinkle salt over potatoes. Bake again at 450* for 30 minutes. While potatoes are baking, brown the sausage and drain. Layer sausage over browned potatoes. sprinkle with the two types of cheese. Combine eggs and milk and pour over top of sausage and cheese. Bake again at 350* this time - for another 30 minutes. Serves 15-20.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kombucha, Hot Chocolate, and WATER!


Well, the kombucha is not doing as I'd hoped. It definitely smells like a fermented drink at this point, but no "mother mushroom" is really forming. Don't know what went wrong. Maybe I didn't use enough of the pre-made kombucha in my batch. Maybe it wasn't a warm enough atmosphere. I searched high and low for our heating pad when I first made the batch, but couldn't find it. This may have helped, although the cabinet I kept it in is above our frig and stays very warm from the heat given off by the frig. The heating pad has been found now, so maybe I'll add that to the recipe next time. In the meantime, I've spent about $16 buying kombucha at Whole Foods - a little less than one a week. I'd like to not spend ANY money on it at some point! Will give it another go in the the new year!
Hot Chocolate:

We had so much fun participating in the Northampton Hot Chocolate 5K Run this year. Cooper ran this year as part of his "Quest" or the series of activities and tasks we challenged him to meet before he turns 13 in April. He was nervous that he had not trained enough, but he ended up doing great. At the end, he said it was so fun and easy that he'd like to do it again next year "just for kicks."

(Rocky theme song starts)
Here are Coop and Robert making their way through the streets of Northampton - past the Edwards' Church, around the back of Smith College, and then back down main street to the finish downtown. This is my third year to run it, and they have changed the course every year. It benefits our local domestic violence shelter called Safe Passage, and this year the race raised $90,000 on its behalf. LOTS of folks from our church ran it as well which made it extra fun.

and WATER!

The very next day, our church held a celebratory baptismal service. Each December and May, those who have received the gift of Christ's forgiveness and salvation are invited to declare it publicly through baptism. What an amazing gift to the Krum family to have witnessed this over 20 times in the 10 years we've been here. In the service, each person who is being baptized has their "story" read to the congregation. Each one always brings me to tears as I listen to the unique ways the Lord has worked in each person's life. He is redemptive in ALL of His ways, and it is never so evident as on these occasions.
What a privilege to be a part of it.

Congrats to Tabby, Greg, Agya, and Kristen!

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
Colossians 2:8-14

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Oh, the weather outside...

Last week, I was glad for it to be snowing in Texas and NOT here. Well, that situation lasted all of about 2 days! We got a bit of snow on Saturday, and then about 5 or 6 inches today. Actually, I was secretly hoping that winter in New England would only last for the three weeks in January that our family will be in Texas, but I sorta knew that dream would not come true.
It is fun to see the first big snow, though - and a white Christmas is even better!
(But after that my winter & snow quota is satisfied.)

The kids absolutely love the snow, and Kayla came bounding into our room early this morning, opened our blinds and excitedly relayed the news of the abundant amount. We thought there would only be a couple of inches, but there was much more than that and when we turned on the news, we discovered that all of the local schools, and some businesses and organizations were even closing for the day.

Kayla was out in it by about 7:30am and Cooper joined her soon after. They went straight to the trampoline and jumped on the layer of accumulation there. Previously, they had been wondering if the trampoline would freeze and if any jumping would cause it to shatter. Today they discovered that it still worked normally. (Though I'm not so sure it's good for the trampoline or very safe for children!!??)
And here's Buddy, who has always been fascinated with sledding. He looks as if he's waiting his turn, as that is the spot where the kids start off on their sleds to ride the slight incline to the back of our yard. One year, we actually caught him with his front paws on a sled heading right down the same incline that the kids use.

And speaking of sleds, we ended up getting out the ones we were hiding as Christmas gifts so that everyone would have a whole working one. (Our collection has been made up of flimsy tag sale ones or jagged, half-eaten-by-Buddy-ones, who is an adult dog, but still has many puppy tendencies.) Fortunately, I was able to get some last week before they were all gone! EVERY year I put off (denial, probably) buying new snow gear, and by Christmas the store shelves are completely wiped out.

I was even one of about 3 people in Target this morning buying the last pairs of snow pants for Coop and Kayla, whose old pants made them look like they were going fishing, not sledding!

And now I'm off to make hot chocolate - had to buy that at Target, too. I live with 3 hot chocolate freaks, but I'm holding out for a 3pm coffee rendezvous with the hubby!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Gluten Free Friday - Flour-less Peanut Butter Blossoms

After filling 24 Advent bags for the days leading up to Christmas, I had about half a bag of Hershey Kisses left over. When Wednesday rolled around, and I was preparing some food for our mid-week couples Bible study, I decided to use the rest of the bag to make these yummy treats! I make flour-less peanut butter cookies ALL of the time for the kids, so I basically used the same recipe, made a smaller ball of dough for each cookie, put a thumbprint in the middle instead of a criss-cross, and stuck the "kiss" in the thumbprint when they came out of the oven.

While I was baking them, I was remembering that these particular cookies have a specific name, but I could not remember what it was. After racking my brain, I was thankful when Jeff - one of the husbands - said, "Peanut butter blossoms - they are so good!"
That's it! Peanut Butter Blossoms! Thank you, Jeff!

Here's the recipe I used, which is sort of a double batch. It will make about 5 dozen cookies - great for your cookie exchange, holiday entertaining, or gift giving!

Peanut Butter Blossoms

2 jars natural peanut butter
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking soda
4 eggs

bag of Hershey Kisses

In a large bowl, stir together all ingredients until thoroughly combined. Roll dough into small one inch balls. Place on cookie sheet, and press thumb into center of each ball making a shallow indention. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 350*. Remove cookie sheet from oven, let cool a couple of minutes, then press one "kiss" into each cookie. The kisses will melt, but they will keep their shape and harden again after thoroughly cooled.

P.S. If you look closely, you can see that the above pictured "blossom" (not my photo!) has also been rolled in white sugar. After you roll each piece of dough into a ball, then roll it again in a small bowl of sugar until it is completely covered. Place on cookie sheet, and then make the indention with your thumb!

My dear friend Lois ALWAYS rolls hers in sugar which makes them extra-yummy!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

It is Good to Give Thanks....

It is good to give thanks to the LORD
And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning
And Your faithfulness by night,
With the ten-stringed lute and with the harp,
With resounding music upon the lyre.
For You, O LORD, have made me glad by what You have done,
I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands.
How great are Your works, O LORD!

Psalm 92: 1-5

We've had a wonderful week of Thanksgiving preparations - preparing food, decorations, and most importantly our hearts. We also had a great Thanksgiving Day with a houseful of friends from church.

The kids got especially excited about our Thanksgiving exercise this year. We tried to make our "leaves" last several nights - each night after dinner writing a few things we are thankful for. They kept asking to write things down during the day and pretty soon filled up all the leaves I had cut out. Robert and only got 5 leaves each! What follows is a list of things we are thankful for this year, and wrote down on our "thankful leaves."

A warm's love for animals...homeschool...Friday night movies...Chicago planting...The Today bonding time...our cocoa...trees and plants...the magic of birth...doughnuts...home cooked meals...the Bible...God's forgiveness...Prudential Tower Bible...snow and pets: bunnies, chickens, and Buddy...sunsets...fried student friends...Kory's maturity...dates with Mel...a husband who loves, serves, and helps backyard...Cooper's fun-ness...Kayla's thoughtful, helpful, and kind spirit...Kory's strength, wisdom, kindness, and maturity...Cooper's music, humor, kindness, and forgiving animal babies!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Livin' in the Land of the Literary (and the Historical, and the Political, and the Financial)

So said Hester Prynne, and glanced her sad eyes downward at the scarlet letter. And, after many, many years, a new grave was delved, near an old and sunken one, in that burial-ground beside which King's Chapel has since been built. It was near that old and sunken grave, yet with a space between, as if the dust of the two sleepers had no right to mingle. Yet one tombstone served for both. All around, there were monuments carved with armorial bearings; and on this simple slab of slate - as the curious investigator may still discern, and perplex himself with the purport - there appeared the semblance of an engraved escutcheon. It bore a device, a herald's wording of which might serve for a motto and brief description of our now concluded legend; so sombre is it, and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow: -

"On a field, sable, the Letter A, Gules."
The Scarlet Letter, Chap. 24
Elizabeth Pain's Grave in the King's Chapel Burying Ground

As the curious investigator may STILL discern????
I first read The Scarlet Letter for a high school English class. Recently, I read it again in preparation for the Challenge 1 Classical Conversations class I'm teaching. I could not believe all of the references to Boston and locations that I have had the privilege of visiting many times. But, had I made all those trips to Boston in the last 10 years and never realized that Hester Prynne, of Scarlet Letter infamy, was buried in the graveyard next to the King's Chapel??? I've visited the chapel at least 20 times taking Texas tourists for Freedom Trail strolls! But, should I really be surprised? After all, in the last ten years, I've been able to visit the homes of Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Robert Frost, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and last, but not least, Emily Dickinson. (I actually used to live on the same street as Emily!) I've also walked around Walden Pond several times, and recently visited Salem's House of Seven Gables about which Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote in 1851 -the year after The Scarlet Letter was published.

While at the House of Seven Gables back in August, I asked the museum docent if Hester Prynne was really buried next to Arthur Dimmesdale in the King's Chapel Burying Ground. Well, it turns out that Hawthorne really had me going with that "curious investigator" thing!

"No," she said. "There is no actual Hester Prynne, but there is a woman buried there who some think may be the woman upon which the character of Hester is based.
Her name is Elizabeth Pain."

Well.... I would be sure to check that out next time I'm in Boston!

And my opportunity came very soon after that. My dear friend Kelly (a.k.a Miss Riggs) and her husband Jack came for a visit a few weeks back, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking them to Boston. (I really love Boston and never tire of taking and touring folks around that amazing city!) As we approached the King's Chapel on the Freedom Trail (a walking tour of the major historical sites in Boston), I greatly anticipated looking for Elizabeth Pain's headstone and grave. I walked into the chapel and noticed right away that they sell copies of The Scarlet Letter in the small gift shop area. I asked for directions to Elizabeth's grave, and easily found it in the burial ground outside the above pictured headstone. It is thought to possibly be the grave of the woman whose story matches Hester's because of the coat of arms that adorns the headstone. It seems to match the description in the final line of the novel: "On a field, sable, the Letter A, Gules."

Of course, there are many theories about who this woman was - and who the beloved, yet guilty minister was. I have since read several of those ideas and will spare you the details, but let me tell you...they completely fascinate me! And to think...they were real people, and it happened right here. Amazing.
Mrs. Mallard and her Ducklings:
Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack

And do you recognize these little guys? They are the ducklings from Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings. The story takes place right in the Boston's Public Garden which is directly across the street from Boston Common. You can even still ride a swan boat on the pond there - which the kids and I have done many times.
Kelly and Me in front of the Old South Meeting House

Another book the students and I read this semester was Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. It takes place during the time leading up to the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The book is historical fiction, and so I found myself again wondering how much of it was true. Like, did Johnny really go and listen for a secret phrase spoken by Samuel Adams in a rally at the Old South Meeting House?

"Now, Johnny, you are to listen to what Samuel Adams says next. Look you. If Mr. Adams says, "Now may God help my country, " come back here. Then we will take off our disguises and each go home and say nothing. But, if he says, "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country," you are to get out of that crowd as fast as you can, and as soon as you get into Cornhill begin to blow upon this silver whistle."

Johnny Tremain, Part 6, chapter 6

Well, when we visited the Old South Meeting House on that Boston trip, we walked inside, and there was Samuel Adams (in cardboard cutout) holding a sign that read,
"Do you know my secret phrase?"

So, it was true - the signal to go and dump the tea into the harbor - and I'm standing in the very place it happened!

Samuel Adams' Grave in the Granary Burying Ground

Samuel Adams and Paul Revere are also major figures in the book (as they were in the Revolution!) and they are both buried in the first burying ground you come to as you walk the Freedom Trail. John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin's parents are buried here as well.
View from the Prudential Building Observation Floor

A few weeks after that trip to Boston with Jack and Kelly, I had the privilege of going back there on a field trip with my students and showing them the things they had just read and written essays about! Our day in Boston began with a trip to the Federal Reserve Bank where they participated in a wonderful program on economics, received a package of shredded money, watched a video on the Federal Reserve System ( I could hear Ron Paul's concerns running through my mind all the while!), and competed in an investment game complete with real historical investment scenarios. This was a wonderful opportunity for them, as one of our subjects this semester is economics, and they've been working hard to invest a pretend $10,000 in the stock market, collect weekly articles on economic current events and report on them in class.

After the Bank tour, we hit the Freedom Trail and took note of the above mentioned sites, completing a fill-in-the-blank worksheet at each historical place. We finished up our day with dinner and shopping at the Prudential Center which boasts every restaurant and hip shopping venue you can imagine.
And here are the students who got to participate in the hands-on literary, historical, political and financial field trip to Boston - Brianna, Megan, Britta, and Kory.
(I know. Poor Kory. In a class with his mom and three other women!)
Of course, they don't know how blessed they are to live in the place where American history and literature began, but this native-Texan-turned-perpetual-New England-tourist does, and I just LOVE sharing it with them!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gluten Free Friday - Praline Sweet Potatoes

I can hardly believe Thanksgiving is next week! We will be having our usual gathering of a few families and any folks who can't travel to their own homes for the holiday. It is one of my kids' favorite days of the year - lots of guests and lots of food and lots of football - like heaven!

If you've ever eaten Mexican food in Texas, you know that you can't leave the restaurant without being tempted, on your way out, to buy a praline, which is a candy with lots of butter, sugar, and pecans. They are delicious, and this recipe adds their sweet - candy-ness to top off a wonderful Thanksgiving side dish. Inspired by an old Austin, TX Junior Forum cookbook called Changing Thymes, this recipe is one of Robert's favorites. I think I left it off the menu one year and he pouted, so it has now become a forever traditional Krum Thanksgiving dish. It is easily made gluten free and dairy free if you tweak just a few things. This morning on the Today Show I even saw a sweet potato dish that used coconut milk and a bit of curry! So, go ahead and substitute the milk with coconut or almond or rice, and the butter with something like Smart Balance if you need a dairy free dish!

Praline Sweet Potatoes

6 cups mashed sweet potatoes
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1 stick butter

Praline Topping:

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup GF flour

Mix (I use a hand mixer) together mashed sweet potatoes, brown sugar, vanilla, milk, and butter. Spread in a baking dish.

For topping, stir together butter, brown sugar, pecans, and GF flour until crumbly. Sprinkle on top of sweet potato mixture. Bake at 350* for 30 minutes. Topping should spread out a bit and may even be bubbly. Serve warm.

*A couple of times, I've added GF oatmeal, cinnamon, etc. to the topping to make more of a "crisp" topping. Yum!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gluten Free Friday: Out-of-Town + Sick Kids = Recipe Rerun

We just returned a couple of hours ago from an annual denominational meeting in Maine. When we left we were fairly sure Kory was getting over his 2 days of low-grade fever, and that it would be fine to leave all the kids with two of their favorite kid-sitters: Rachel and Virginia. (Thank you so much ladies!) Well...Kory called us this afternoon upset about how sick he was feeling, and it was pretty obvious that he had taken a downward turn with whatever bug he has. Then Coop got on the phone to say that he was starting to feel badly, and I was getting anxious about being 3 hours away and leaving them with college girls who don't have time to be sick! Fortunately, Kayla went to spend the day with one of her favorite friends, and has been feeling fine. We finally made it home around 8pm, and then it was Kayla's turn to start coughing! So...we now have 3 with fevers, coughs, sore throats, and congestion. Swine Flu? I have no idea, but I do know that this thing is so rampant - and it's only November. I was getting the heebie-jeebies this week just hearing people talk about how sick they or their kids or their husband or their neighbors are or had been.....washing my hands every hour and stocking up on Zinc, Echinacea, Vitamin C, etc. Actually, when I went to Whole Foods to purchase these things, they were almost completely sold out of ALL of it!

So pray for my kids to recover quickly. I hate it when they're sick, but I have always loved the opportunity it is to really nurture and serve and love them. It seems that tomorrow I will get ample opportunity for this - blankets, movies, hot tea, and some homemade soup! As, I made a batch of homemade chicken stock this week and put it in the freezer, I had a feeling it might not be there long, and I was right! Tomorrow I will thaw it out and use it to make this soup. I posted this recipe almost 2 years ago after making it for my sister's family who had the flu. It was inspired by one of those recipe books that shows you how to "sneak" veggies into your family's meals - hence the steamed and pureed cauliflower, onions, and celery! Don't be afraid to use 4 or MORE freshly pressed garlic cloves into the soup! It makes it taste great and contributes to the healing benefits with its anti-microbial properties.

"Creamy" Chicken and Rice Soup

1 whole chicken
1 carton GF chicken broth
1 cup rice, uncooked
1 lg. onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, sliced
4 carrots
1/4 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves
1 small head of cauliflower
salt and pepper to taste

1. Place chicken in large pot of simmering water. Let simmer until done. Set aside to cool. Save broth.

2. Cook rice according to package instructions. Set aside to add to soup before serving.

3. Cook/Steam cauliflower until tender. Drain and place in blender or food processor.

4. Saute' onion and celery in olive oil until tender. Add to blender/processor with cauliflower.

5. Blend cauliflower, onions and celery until it looks like creamy white mashed potatoes. Press 2 cloves of garlic into this mixture and blend some more. This will be the "cream" part of the soup and a sneaky way to get some veggies in!

6. Remove cooked chicken from broth and debone. Pour out some of the broth from cooked chicken. Skim some of the fat and particles off until it looks clear. Add carton of both to this.

7. Add carrots and chicken pieces to broth.

8. After all of chicken has been added, pour in the "cream" and the cooked rice and stir.

9. Press 2 more cloves of garlic into simmering soup, stir.

10. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes about 6 quarts. Serves 10-12

And for those brave enough to eat the green stuff, I would add fresh or frozen peas and some fresh kale!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Gluten Free Friday - Cheese & Pesto Straws (and a kombucha update!)

My little (big!) girl has turned into quite a chef lately. She has always loved to help in the kitchen, and has even been known to purchase cookbooks with her own money. (A smoothie cookbook that she uses regularly!) For her 9th birthday, we bought her DK's Cookbook for Girls, and recently she has made several things from it. In fact, in the last week, I think she's cranked out about 5 different items!
But, the cheese and pesto straws have been everyone's favorite. The only gluten free substitution we needed was the flour - everything else is naturally gluten free. We even had the handy pesto pops in the freezer, which saved a trip to the grocery store for jarred pesto. These are wonderful with soups, salads, or just as a snack by themselves. They are not difficult to make; in fact, Kayla completed the entire process by herself!

Cheese & Pesto Straws

1 1/2 cups GF flour
pinch of salt
1/2 cup chilled butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup Gruyere or Cheddar, finely grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 whole egg, plus one egg yolk
2 Tbsp pesto

Sift flour and salt in a mixing bowl, and add butter working it into the flour with fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in 3/4 cup of the cheeses. Beat together whole egg and egg yolk, and stir into flour along with pesto sauce. Mix until it resembles dough. Roll it out onto a floured surface, and cut into narrow "straws." Transfer straws to a cookie sheet, and sprinkle the remaining cheese on the tops of each straw. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 350*. Let cool on a wire rack. Yum!

P.S. The kombucha is still sitting in the cabinet above my frig. I see bubbles around the rim of the container, as well as gatherings of bubbles on the surface of the tea. So...something is happening, but it might be another week or so before the "mushroom" forms. Stay tuned.....