Tuesday, February 23, 2016

_The Hancock News_ Column--February 17, 2016

“Cock-doo-doo p-Pod!”

Our toddler was so excited to tell us that his big brother was playing his second favorite song (first is “Ee-i-ee-i-oh”), and we loved hearing his new baby words. We responded so he knew we understood him.

“You like to listen to “Katmandu” on the iPod?”

“Huh?” he replied. “No, not youPod, mePod!”

That little tyke isn’t the only one in our house to be a little confused when it comes to all the technology filling up our lives. Sure, I like email and reading blogs, but I get overwhelmed by all the rest. I don’t “do” Facebook, and I don’t text. I don’t even have a cell phone.

If you want to know how downright old-fashioned I can be, I still write letters and send cards. In fact, if I had more time, I’d probably write a letter a day. I even write letters to strangers and companies.

Why? I’ve always been obsessed with good old snail-mail. I remember tagging along eagerly after my mother into the post office and begging her to let me open the box. It wasn’t the plain gray kind of nowadays that opened with a key. No, it was brassy-looking and ornate, and you had to twist the knobs to work the combination. Opening the box and pulling out the mail, regardless of what it contained, was like uncovering buried treasure for me.

When I visited my grandparents in Washington, every afternoon I waited for three o’clock to roll around when I’d trot down that steep hill to check the mailbox. I can’t explain why I felt so proud and useful to be bringing the mail back to the house.

And I had pen pals. For starters, my Oma and I wrote back and forth on matching stationery, a yellowish paper with a mother and her baby koala. I wrote to friends from church camp and Miyoshi, my pen pal from Japan. I wrote to Stacy, the girl I met at vacation Bible school at Oma’s church; she was special because we were born on exactly the same day.

Then there were the stamps--oh, the wonderful stamps! I didn’t collect them, but I loved when the worker at the post office would pull sheets of them from the drawer and spread them on the tall counter for me to choose. I even liked tearing off each stamp, licking the back, and positioning it just-so on my envelope. I tell you, I never quite got over the change to self-sticking stamps.

Yes, I revel in the mail and all things postal. I’m not certain why, but maybe it’s because somebody cared enough to take the time to go through all those steps--the note, the envelope, the stamp, the mailbox, just to share a bit of themselves with me.

You might think I’m crazy to hold onto something as ancient as our postal system, but I just dare you not to smile or let your spirits rise the next time you see your name hand-written on the outside of an envelope.


Cool Valentines Boxes--Yes, that's King Tut.

Our family had fun this afternoon at our little Valentine’s Day party. The children made boxes for their valentines, and they delivered their own little greetings to each other. They opened the valentines and little gifts over tea, heart-shaped cheese slices, and these gluten-free muffins. You see, our doctor recommended one of our children try a gluten-free diet for a month, so the rest of us are on that journey with him.

Even if you’re not on a gluten-free diet, you will enjoy these little gems. I was pleasantly surprised by the texture and taste of these grain-free chocolate and peanut butter muffins. My husband and I think we’ll try this recipe again sometime without the chocolate and serve them with jelly for a twist on the classic peanut butter and jelly.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Muffins (gluten-free)

2 cups peanut butter 
1 heaping cup mashed bananas
4 eggs
4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup brown sugar (if you like things really sweet, you might try 1/2 cup)
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup dark chocolate chips, plus extra for the top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 16 muffin cups with cupcake liners.

Put the peanut butter, bananas, eggs, vanilla extract, salt, and sugar in a food processor. Place the baking soda on the top and pour the vinegar on top of it to make it fizz. Next, puree it all until smooth and creamy. Transfer the puree to a bowl and stir in the chocolate chips with a spoon. Fill the cupcake liners up nearly to the brim with the mixture. If desired, add some extra dark chocolate chips to the top of each muffin. Bake for 17-20 minutes, until puffy and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. If the toothpick hits chocolate, try again in a different spot. Let the muffins cool for 10 minutes before removing them from the pans.

*Thanks to JES at Strangers & Pilgrims at Home for the recipe (to which I added my own comments).

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Fat. Fat Tuesday

I'm writing this late, but things have been busy around here. We've been doing school (of course), appointments, and life. But life is a little different around here because we're going gluten-free for a month. This requires more planning on our part. The children were not super keen on the idea, but it was doctor-recommended for one of the children.

However, you might say we had one or two or three last hurrahs with our friend wheat before we started.

First up was my mother's birthday. We actually celebrated several weeks late because snow and funerals kept us apart on the actual day. For her birthday meal, she chose bombushka (a meal with lots of wheat in the form of bread rolls). Instead of cake, I chose to make something I'd been wanting to try for quite some time--whoopie pies. These had mint filling because I used some of the leftover frosting from a birthday for party mixed with marshmallow fluff.


Somewhere in there was butchering and the accompanying pies.

Next up was Fat Tuesday. It's been our family tradition to make doughnuts the day before Lent begins. This year I really wanted to try a filled doughnut. I attempted maple long-johns with maple cream filling and maple glaze.

Rising and slightly wrong in shape

Frying. The hard part.

You will notice no completed doughnuts pictures because the camera had been put away by then and the finished product wasn't so amazingly stunning to require a picture. They were yummy, but I won't make that recipe again.

To top it off, this was to be our last day before gluten-free, and we'd just done butchering and had pon haus in the fridge, so we decided to see how it was deep-fried since the oil was hot.

New deep-fried fair food?

It wasn't horrible-horrible, but we won't be doing that again. Regular pan-frying is better.

And now we are gluten-free with potluck looming (tomorrow). I'm not positive how we're going to handle that, but we'll make it through!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Muffin Pan (reprise)

Not too long ago, I let you all know about my wonderful birthday gift.

Well, I just had to show you some more recent pictures of some muffins.

First, muffins in the conventional pan.

Holding on tight! 

To be fair, a few of those clingers did fall out after my husband whacked the pan on the counter.

BUT look at that messy pan!

Roll up your sleeves; it's time to scrub.

Now. Watch what happens when the new pan is barely tilted:

The Muffin Tumble!

And most important. . .

No crumbs!

Put these pans on your Mother's Day list. Or birthday. I guess it's not too early to shop for Christmas. And remember, I'm not paid for this because you're probably the only one reading it. I just want you to be this happy. :)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Superbowl Wrap-Up

Football is followed in this household, and the Superbowl is a much-awaited event. Other than some sickness among us, the game was enjoyed. I jotted down a few comments plus our favorite commercials.

First, our children are not up on popular culture, so they had no clue who the pre-game/halftime performers were. They also are not real tuned-in to concerts and such. Here are the comments:

"She's kind of sparkly." (of Lady Gaga, by the 6-year-old girl)

"It's like a whole bunch of zombies wants to eat them." (of the fans gathered about the stage at half-time, by the 10-year-old boy)

"This is so stupid." (of the half-time show, in general, by multiple boys)

"I don't see why they think that's so cool because I can't understand a word they're singing." (of half-time show again, by 8-year-old boy)

And now, for our favorite commercials, in no particular order:

*Hyundai commercials--the dad and date one and the bear one

*Doritos--the baby/ultrasound and the dogs/grocery store ones

*Prius 4- the first one, with the bank robbery (the cop car Prius commercial was not liked)

*Subaru--with golden retrievers driving puppy to sleep (because we have a cute golden)

Calvin in the clover.

*Honda Ridgeline-- sheep singing Queen

I'm not sure which was my favorite, but let's just say that if we should be so blessed to have another child, my husband will be required to at least try the Doritos trick.

I would also like to share with you one of my favorites which many of you probably didn't see as it was a local one. You can watch it here; it is for a place that sells gas fireplaces. It is a worthy commercial.

And the Most Disturbing Award goes to. . . the puppy-monkey-baby commercial. I don't even remember what it was selling.

***There were a few commercials that some liked and some didn't. I call them runners-up, but I am way too tired (and also one of the sick ones) to spend any more time typing them. Just wanted to let you know there was some disagreement amongst us judges.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

_The Hancock News_ Column--February 3, 1016

I loved my grandparents-- Grandma, Grand-daddy, Oma, and Opa. I still love them. They’ve been gone for over a decade or two, but sometimes my heart just aches to watch one more game of solitaire, to bounce in the farm truck over the rutted, dirt roads once more, to guess one more Wheel of Fortune puzzle, and to knead one more batch of bread with them. Just once I wish I could proudly lay one of my babies in their arms.

So when I married my husband, I thought it was so cool that three of his grandparents and one great-grandparent were still alive. Sure, they weren’t my grandparents, but they could be the next-best thing.

Well, two passed away before I could get to know them much, but we were lucky to be able to visit more frequently with Grandma Mary and Grandpa Bill. My children have been blessed to know their great-grandparents (something I certainly didn’t have a chance to do), and I have been given a second-chance to have beloved grandparents.

As the years have passed, I’ve been able proudly to lay seven great-grandchildren in their arms. We’ve enjoyed cider-making, weddings, and a trip to the zoo with Grandma and Grandpa. Once when they visited from Ohio, we went on a bit of an adventure traipsing about the Frederick County countryside in search of the Stottlemyer roots in cemeteries, churches, and even an old homestead.

But last week, as the white snow began to fall in a thick blanket here, in Ohio Grandpa Bill took his last breath and settled into his final sleep.

We were plowed and shoveled out in time to load up our van and head west to the funeral. We left early Wednesday and returned late on Friday; everything in between was a chaotic whirlwind of activity.

From viewing to funeral to graveside service to church dinner to family get-togethers, we were surrounded by Grandpa’s family-- his sisters, Grandma, the four children, the 23 grandchildren, and the 13 great-grandchildren plus all the spouses. Memories of scoldings, Grandpa’s routines and crazy drives through the mountains filled our ears as we looked at pictures both old and new of Grandpa, with and without his caps and cigars.

Sadness welled up and tears spilled over, but all that family blended with the comforting words of scripture and hymns to make a balm like no other for our aching hearts. Grandpa’s funeral and accompanying activities were truly a celebration of his life. Many of us somewhat guiltily noticed that this funeral was fun because we were able to connect with the entire family.

I learned last week that the Stottlemyer roots aren’t really found in crumbling stone markers in cemeteries or in old houses or on genealogy websites. Our roots are still alive and nourishing a living family tree with branches and leaves, and beneath those leaves, in our time of grief, we found shelter and comfort and love. I hope your family tree is much the same.


Speaking of roots. . .we picked up these potatoes back in September, and they made lovely soup!

We spent way too much time in our van last week, but it was so much fun as the children piled in to hear them bubble over in excitement about Cousin Such-and-Such and Uncle Who’s-it, people they’d not had a chance to know before.

Traveling with children can be tricky. Of course, kids are always hungry, so we make sure to have plenty of snacks on hand. Unfortunately, that means our vehicles are not perfectly clean because kids do spill.

One of our biggest spills happened when we made one of Grandpa Bill’s favorite soups--potato soup--to take to him and Grandma. I can’t remember how it happened, but half of that huge pot of soup was spilled in our vehicle and on the ground. What a mess!

I adapted this potato soup recipe from one given to me by my sister-in-law. It is creamy and delicious by itself, but for a variation, try topping it with shredded cheese, bacon, and chopped green onion.

Potato Soup

7 1/2 cups potatoes, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
6 cups chicken broth
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 Tbsp. salt
3 cups milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup flour

To a large pot add potatoes, celery, broth, pepper, and salt. Bring this to a simmer. After simmering for 20 minutes, add the milk.

In a small bowl, blend melted butter and flour until smooth. Add about 1/2 cup of the broth from the potatoes to the butter-flour paste and mix well. Add this mixture back into the potatoes and stir until it is blended in. Simmer all together for another 20 minutes.

*This post has been shared at The Art of Home-Making Monday at Strangers & Pilgrims on Earth.