Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I'm not Irish, but I love this day and wish I were just a tiny bit not German so I could claim some of the fun. I love the legend, the green and mostly the food! Today, since we took the boys to the Louisville zoo, we made the corned beef and cabbage in the crock pot -- some carrots in first, then the beef, then the wedged cabbage on top and cover with water. Pretty good method when you're away from the house. (Last year, we were in Akron for St. Patrick's Day, and made dinner for Grandma Shirley, who, despite her Boston roots, had never had corned beef and cabbage. She loved it, but then she loves a boiled dinner -- maybe that's a French Canadian thing?)

When we got home, we peeled potatoes and I made Irish Soda Bread, with help from Sarah and the boys. It turned out extra delicious this year, so I thought I should blog the recipe here so I am sure to do the same thing again next year. I found a recipe I liked many years ago, but have made changes. I bake it in our trusty cast iron skillet, just like my mom always made cornbread, so I'm going to call it

Farmgirl Irish Soda Bread
4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
2 c. raisins
1 T. caraway seeds
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/4 c. milk plus 1 t. apple cider vinegar stirred in
1 c. sour cream

Preheat oven to 350, and put a 10" cast iron skillet in the oven while it heats up.
In a large bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients; stir in raisins and caraway seeds. In a separate bowl, stir together eggs, milk and sour cream; pour into dry ingredients and mix just until all is moistened and you can't see any dry flour mix. Take the skillet from the oven and plop in 2 T. of butter. When it is melted, whirl it around the the skillet and pour the dough in.
Bake for an hour; the bread will have a nice firm crust and will sound hollow when you give it a tap. Let it cool a few minutes, then turn out onto a rack. It will cut better if you let it sit another few minutes, and it's extra good for breakfast the next morning.

Clay made black and tans (Guinness + Harp = downright lethal for a woman whose recent beer of choice has 64 calories and no kick) and then we made homemade shamrock shakes with fudge ripple ice cream, a smidge of peppermint extract and green food coloring. Delicious, like a Girl Scout Thin Mint. But, after the boys went home, we made another batch of milkshakes, but this time with a couple of shots of Irish Cream. Slainte!

And peace.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Not Much Better Than This

Yesterday, my college friend, Sue, posted on Facebook that "Active bloggers (those who have written in the last 30 days) are 23% more likely to enjoy being the center of attention." And she added, "keen grasp of the obvious. . ."

I understand that. I read a lot of blogs. But I'm probably more in the 77% camp. It is nice when friends read my blog and like what I have to say, but I am not so good at promoting it. I don't have any ads or my own link buttons for others to "grab". I just like writing about the stuff in my life, interesting or not to other folks.
I have, however, started posting my entries on FB, and I included the link here in my signature on a Readers/Writers board I have started visiting, which is a huge step forward for me.

To me, blogging is like journaling or scrapbooking. Mostly for me to remember what I did and why. Ideas for things to do later. Things I want (and I want my kids) to look back on and be happy.

So, in that spirit, I wanted to share this video clip, which is from the 25th Anniversary Les Miserable Concert. It reminds me of going to see Les Mis for the very first time at the Auditorium at IU with my mom. She was embarrassed by the lovely ladies of the night, but loved the show. It reminds me of when Clay and I saw it together, and how we love to listen to the soundtrack on long car trips and sing along. It reminds me of seeing it in Louisville at the Palace with my friends, and explaining the show to a bunch of ladies in the bathroom at intermission -- one little older woman said, "Oh thank you, dear. I knew it had to be good, but I just had no idea what was going on. They sing so fast!"
Plus, if it's here on my blog, I'll always know where to find it when I need it. Because, you know, sometimes you just need a little Jean Valjean.

Oh. I forgot to add. Alfie Boe, the Valjean who comes in last and changes the key and makes goosebumps, has officially made it onto my "Top 10 British Boyfriends" list. Today, he might just be #1.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday

or as we call it in our house, National Tuna Casserole Day. I make tuna casserole just once a year; I don't need a recipe, I just sing Garrison Keillor's Tuna, Food of My Soul (to the tune of Whispering Hope):

Only a small can of tuna,
Mushroom soup, celery and peas,
Mixed with a quart of egg noodles,
Sprinkled with chips and with cheese . . .

Tuna casserole, oh how dear to my childhood,
Tuna and noodles and mushrooms and chips.

We play Whispering Hope almost every week at the Lutheran Home; it's one of Arno's favorites. Of course, when he sings "whispering hope," I hear "tuna casserole."
I offered to make some nice fish for supper, or our extra delicious macaroni and cheese, but Clay asked for the regular. Lent is so much more than tuna casserole, but tuna casserole is Lent.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Stories - Ordinary Days

On the liturgical calendar, this is the last ordinary day we'll see for awhile, as Lent starts tomorrow. We're already preparing for the most beautiful Mass of the Catholic year -- the Easter Vigil. I've cantored this Mass for many years, but with so many readings, psalms, sprinklings, chants, confirmations and litanies, it's almost overwhelming. I was overwhelmed at my first Vigil Mass, 27 years ago when I joined the church. When it was all over, I remember thinking, "What just happened, and what in the world have I done?"

As much as I love the special feasts of the Church year, as a musician, I like Ordinary Time best -- nothing fancy, just worship, with the same familiar flow at Mass every week: 3 hymns, a psalm, a Gospel acclamation, 5 mass parts. After pounding out the joyous Gloria every week at the start of Mass since Christmas Eve, this week I have to remember not to launch into it after the Kyrie. I know that probably doesn't sound too difficult, but I'm a creature of habit, and usually once during the Lenten season I play the first notes of the Gloria only to hear a subtle throat clearing by the priest, or hear him launch into the "Let us pray" so that I get the clue and stop.

When I think about our family stories, I realize that most of the good ones center around special feasts, as well: the major holidays, birthdays, reunions. But for me, like the church feasts, those events are times of intense preparation and high stress. Give me an ordinary day, with ordinary things: work, school, taking the dog out, feeding the cat, making supper, reading books, some laundry and maybe a little TV. It's the ordinary days when we can enjoy the peace of our home, and the company of each other. We can relax and renew our spirits. I don't think it's a coincidence that the liturgical color for ordinary time is green -- the color of life and renewal.

Tomorrow, we turn purple. Intense. Deep. Solemn. I'll try to keep to my Lenten fasts and promises, for as Father Sheets said every Ash Wednesday, this may be the last Lent we get. (!) But I'm not much of an intense and solemn girl; I'm a pretty ordinary girl, and I'll be looking forward to the ordinary days to come.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Not a Story, Just Some Books

I was working on a pithy little blog post about some topics I've been reading about on other blogs. However, I realized this evening that thinking about/writing about/arguing about volatile topics is not so good for my spirit. It absolutely amazes me that at one time I thought I would go into some sort of politics -- that is so, so far from where I am now, and I am thankful for that.

So, I'm going to blog, instead, about 2 books that I am currently loving. First, And I Shall Have some Peace There: Trading in the Fast Land for My Own Dirt Road by Margaret Roach. OK, I know I have never lived in the fast lane; I've never really had a career other than mom and professional volunteer. I guess I am living a little vicariously through this book; Margaret had a job much like the job I always thought I would have -- she started out writing for a newspaper. Of course, she ended up as the editorial director of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. (That's a hell of a word, isn't it?) But after 30+ years, she left the corporate world to live on her little farm in upstate New York.
She writes much like I would guess she talks to her friends, with lots of asides and quips and jabs at herself. I think what I like best about this book is that it doesn't pretend everything is perfect. So unlike everything that comes from MSO. So like everything that comes from me.

It's that lesson it's taken me so long to learn -- life doesn't have to be perfect to be good.

On Saturday, I had volunteered to help at a 4-H crafts workshop at the library -- a little cross-stitch, a little knitting, a little crochet. Linda, the dear woman who organized the afternoon, is a Knit Night friend, and I was pretty excited to help. She put together little kits of needles, hoops, yarn and floss, had stations all set up and ready and even had door prizes. Unfortunately, only three 4-Her's showed up for the workshop. I was one of five volunteers there, and after chatting with the other volunteers for a while (and realizing I wasn't really needed because the terrific Jr. Leader there is a better knitter than I am), I headed upstairs to find another sock book, since these socks of mine really aren't "soaring on two circular needles" like Cat Bordhi tells me they should. (I've got holes, just like every other time I have tried socks.) I didn't find another sock book to help me out, but I did find Gifted: Lovely Little Things to Knit and Crochet by Mags Kandis. She designed the Modern Quilt Wrap, a pattern I love, started, ripped out and have been planning to knit again for several years. This book is just beautiful, and is full of sweet little patterns I would like to try.

As for the sock, I'm resisting the urge to rip it out and use the yarn for a bunch of mitered squares. Even if a sock isn't perfect, can it still be good?