Saturday, December 24, 2022

Dream, Dream, Dream

Of the joyous day to come.

Christmas Prep in the Arctic

Those of you with small children: Where do you store Christmas presents before they're put under the tree? I seem to recall them being in closets when I was a child. I suspect that with the prevalence of giant walk-in closets now, it has gotten even easier to hide them. And of course, with most of those giant closets being in master bedrooms, it's so simple to close the bedroom door and pull the presents out to wrap in the bedroom. Maybe with some Christmas carols playing.

How idyllic. 

But that's not how it happens at my house.

You know where I store presents? In our unheated and barely enclosed shop, that's where. I don't have anywhere inside my house where they wouldn't be ferreted out by my inquisitive children. So I keep them in the big boxes they're shipped in and stack them in a corner of the shop.

This year's tree awaiting wrapped gifts.

There's plenty of room in the shop, and the kids never look in there, but it makes it somewhat challenging to get them into the house undetected for wrapping. But I really wanted to do some of the wrapping last night, so I wouldn't be faced with a pile of things all to be done before I could sleep tonight. 

However, I put all the presents under the tree after the kids go to bed on Christmas Eve. I didn't want to bring them inside, only to have to bring them back out again, and then back in again tonight. So I thought it would be best to just bring them into A.'s office to wrap them, because that has an outside door that opens into the shop.

There were several downsides to this plan. One is that there is very little room in the office, especially with the two big dog crates in there at the moment. 

Another is that A.'s office also has a door leading into Calvin and Jack's room, and they weren't all the way asleep yet. So I had to be very, very quiet. Luckily, my going in and out was somewhat explained by letting the dogs in and out before settling them in their crates*.

But the biggest downside was the weather. It was nine degrees outside, and thus nine degrees in the shop. Maybe 40 degrees in the office. And I was going back and forth between them. So cold. So, so cold. 

Luckily, most of my "wrapping" involves sticking things in re-usable gift bags and re-labeling them. I decided anything that required finger dexterity, like wrapping paper and tape, could wait until tonight when I could bring everything into my bedroom.

I was only out there for maybe 25 minutes, but that was plenty long enough. My hands were stiff and numb, and my feet were blocks of ice, but I got most of the presents ready to go. 

Merry Christmas Eve to everyone, and I hope your final preparations happen in climate control. 

* What actually happened there is that I let the dogs out to go to the bathroom before they were in for the night, and they went out the door, stopped, and then huddled in some camping equipment next to the office door before I let them back in. They didn't even get three feet from the office door. That's how unpleasant it was.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Friday Food: Christmas Approaches


Short version: Sirloin steaks, oven fries, green salad with ranch dressing, leftover pumpkin pudding

Long version: This is what I would have made the day before for A.'s birthday if I had been home. Since I wasn't, it had to wait until the day after his birthday. Appreciated all the same.


Short version: Leftover steak, spaghetti with pesto, frozen peas, pureed squash

Long version: I have never managed to have enough basil in the garden that I can make enough pesto to not feel momentary regret for having used some in the winter. It sure is good, though.

Break for a Jasper action shot.

He leaps from windows with the greatest of ease!


Short version: Birthday spaghetti and meatballs, green salad with ranch dressing, chocolate pudding with whipped cream

Long version: Jack's birthday request. Well, actually, it was his second choice. His first was pizza, but since I didn't have any usable flour, I had to give him a raincheck on the pizza. He chose spaghetti and meatballs as the runner-up meal.

He hasn't had a cake on his birthday in some time. He always chooses something like pudding instead. As a matter of fact, almost all of my children prefer dairy-based desserts to flour-based ones. Good thing, given my lack of flour.


Short version: Leftovers

Long version: The younger children and I went to the church right after school to help decorate it for Christmas, so we didn't get home until almost 6 p.m. Good thing all I needed to do was heat up the leftover spaghetti and meatballs for the children.

A. had leftover steak and rice. Cubby had gone to lie down during dinner, saying he wasn't hungry. He appeared just after every last scrap of food had been eaten to announce he was feeling better and wanted to eat meat.

And because I am magic, I made some appear. He got about a cup of bull enchilada meat that had been in the freezer for awhile. I microwaved it with some cheese on top and he shoveled it down.


Short version: Meatloaf and baked potatoes; and then ham, scalloped potatoes, rolls, green beans, and lemonade cheesecake at school

Long version: I made the meatloaf and baked potatoes mostly to have leftovers for after work the next day, but they also ended up feeding Jack and A., who stayed home while the rest of us went to the school Christmas program. 

I also gave Jack the leftover birthday pudding. Poor guy. He was bummed to miss out on performing "The Gingerbread Dude" Reader's Theater his class was doing.

Poppy sang a seasons song and "Jingle Bells" with her preschool class. Calvin recited part of a sort of cowboy "Night Before Christmas" his teacher wrote, as well as performing the chicken dance and "Jingle Bell Rock." Cubby's job, as part of the FFA that was hosting it, was to set everything up, serve dinner, assist with the auction, and clean up.


Short version: Leftovers, cake

Long version: Oh man. I was so deliriously tired when I got home after work. Poppy and I had gone to the church to decorate the Christmas tree there, so we didn't get home until after 5 p.m. I heated up leftover meatloaf and potatoes, plus rolls from the school cafeteria and some of the posole that had been lunch at school. We also had baby carrots, because I came home with much of the fresh vegetables from the school salad bar. Then the kids had some of the chocolate cake that Cubby had bid on and won at the auction the night before.


Short version: Spaghetti with meat sauce, posole, carrots and bell peppers, molasses cookies

Long version: I found a bag of meat sauce in the freezer when I was cleaning them out that I think was some from the school cafeteria I froze awhile ago. I had two big, hard, tasteless tomatoes from the salad bar that I had brought home, so I diced those and microwaved them to get them soft, mashed them with a fork, and added them to the meat sauce along with garlic powder, more salt, and dried basil. That was for the children.

A. had more posole.

I had a salad with mostly things from the salad bar--spinach, pickled beets, carrots, cheese--plus the last small bit of meatloaf and some pecans. And I made the dressing with olive oil and the way too vinegary juice from my own pickled beets. I tried a new recipe for them this year that uses less sugar, but it made them almost inedibly vinegary. The brine is good for salad dressing as a vinegar substitute, though.

I don't know about at your house, but Christmas excitement is running high around here.

Poppy's drawing of our family with a Christmas tree reminded me of the Whos in Whoville around their tree.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Weathering the Blast

I have found it very amusing that in the past couple of decades, the weather has gotten very histrionic. Or rather, the weather hasn't changed so much as the weather reporting. This most recent "arctic blast" is a case in point. I mean, I know it's colder than usual, but the name is sort of ridiculous.


It's cold. And I know it's cold all over the place. Here, it was 3 degrees when I got up this morning, with a wind warning. Which meant our temperatures were forecast to feel like twenty below zero today. And that meant that the last day of school was canceled before our Christmas break began.


Of course, that resulted in an absolutely insanely busy day at work/school yesterday. But after we got through finals for Cubby; A. driving the school bus for the whole school to go caroling in the village; hastily arranged last-minute parties for the classes; helping the school cook close down the kitchen for two weeks; AND decorating the church Christmas tree after work . . .

Then I could come home and get ready for the cold weather. 

That included hanging a blanket over the drafty east-facing window in the living room that the wind was hitting full force. 

Moving the dog crates (and the dogs) into A.'s office temporarily. There are only a few nights a year they need to be in, and these two are some of them.

And today, my cold weather activities included baking molasses cookies for about two hours. I made a double batch of this recipe I posted last year, which means I actually made a batch similar in size to one that Grandma Bishop would have typically made.

Poppy insisted that some of them should be heart-shaped, "because Christmas is all about love."

Grandma Bishop's granddaughter--that would be the MiL--gave me a cookie jar for Christmas this year*. I asked for it, so I knew what had come from her. And I decided she wouldn't mind if I opened my gift early so I could fill it with her grandmother's cookies.

And that is just what I did.

In the recipe I posted, I noted that the original giant recipe was the sort of thing farmwives made to fill their cookie jars. That turned out to be accurate, as the whole recipe filled that jar, with a few left over for the kids to eat while they watched The Princess Bride.

Obviously, they're living their best arctic blast life.

So tell me: Are you being blasted? And if so, how are you weathering it?

* Thanks, MiL! I love it. And so do your grandchildren.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

A Very Handy Recipe

Maybe this isn't true for every household, but in ours, it's surprisingly annoying to be without bread. Thanks to my foul flour situation, we have been without bread for five days now, and it has made me realize how reliant I am on it for quick meal additions. Toast is a lot faster than fried potatoes in the morning.

I still had two cups of flour from the bit Ms. Amelia gave me to make Jack's birthday pancakes on Sunday, though. And while two cups wouldn't get me very far with sourdough bread--each loaf takes at least four cups--it is enough to make this quick bread. 

I found this recipe a long time ago when I was searching for a way to use up the large quantity of quick oats and white whole wheat flour that we kept getting from excess commodities. I really like it because it's not as sweet and cakey as most quick breads--banana bread, I'm looking at you--but it has enough honey and dairy in it to make it a stand-alone bread. It's delicious with butter and jam, but it can also be eaten by itself.

I've changed some things in the recipe (of course), including doubling it for two loaves and nixing the unnecessary oats on the top and bottom, so this is what I do.

Full-Fat Honey Oat Quick Bread


2 cups quick oats

2 and 2/3 cups white whole wheat flour

2 cups all purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2.5 teaspoons salt

2 cups full-fat plain yogurt

2 eggs

1/2 cup coconut oil or butter

1/2 cup honey

1.5 cups whole milk


1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees and grease two large loaf pans. (Use your butter wrappers!)

2. Melt the butter or coconut oil. I do this in a big Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave. Mix in the honey. Add the yogurt and eggs and combine thoroughly.

3. In a big bowl, mix all the dry ingredients.

4. Dump the wet mixture in the big bowl with the dry mixture and combine thoroughly.

5. Add the milk and stir until just combined.

6. Scoop half the batter into each greased loaf pan and smooth out the tops.

7. Bake about 50 minutes, until it's brown on top and a butter knife comes out clean when you poke it in there.

8. Slide the butter knife around the edges to loosen the loaves, then let cool most of the way before removing.


1. I usually freeze one of these, which is why I make two. So handy to be able to pull one out later without baking again.

2. I've never made these as muffins because I loathe cleaning my muffin tin, but I suspect this batter would be very good for muffins.

3. Because of all the dairy in it, I store this in the refrigerator. You can toast to heat slices, or use a microwave.

4. My children love this with butter and peach jam. It is, indeed, astoundingly delicious warmed in the microwave to melt the butter and then slathered with jam. Almost like cake. But way healthier.

I didn't take a photo of this when I made it yesterday, but here's one of Jack and Poppy enjoying a woodstove picnic, which later included a slice of this very bread.

Jack had a sore throat (the dreaded mucous season has definitely arrived), so I made them a fruit shake* and they drank it by the fire. Because the only way to drink something that cold in December is to be three inches from a heat source.

* For some reason, I dislike the word "smoothie." So I call them fruit shakes, which will probably ensure lifelong confusion for my children.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

I'd Like a Word

Not long ago, I found ten-pound bags of unbleached Gold Medal flour on Amazon for not too much more than I pay for the Sysco flour from the school. The Sysco flour is bleached, so I thought I would pay the nominal extra money to get unbleached flour.

And then it arrived. And it smelled like detergent. Which meant anything I made from it tasted like detergent.

I was very upset.

This is something I first started noticing maybe ten years ago. Sometimes the produce I would buy at the very small grocery near Blackrock would taste like perfume to me. Apples particularly had this problem.

I have also noticed it with crackers, cookies, and, as in this case, flour. Anything that is prone to absorbing odors will pick up this disgusting taste of chemical fragrance. Most of my issues with this have been with small grocery stores. My guess is that it happens when these items are stored in a warehouse or truck with cleaning supplies or whatever that have artificial fragrances in them.

I'm very sensitive to it, and it grosses me out. I can't ignore it. Which is why I was so mad that the FORTY POUNDS of flour I ordered was unusable. Particularly because I had no other flour on hand, and no way to get it easily. 

This of all weeks is not the week I can afford to be low on flour. This is one of the biggest baking weeks of the year. I use a LOT of flour in the week leading up to Christmas, what with the bread for teacher and neighbor gifts, the molasses cookies, and all of Jack's birthday requests. I had to borrow flour from Ms. Amelia to make pancakes for his birthday breakfast, and he had to choose a runner-up dinner because the pizza he wanted was a no-go without usable flour.

This was meant to be five loaves of bread for teachers, and Jack's birthday pizza.

Instead the chickens got all five loaves, and I baked the pizza dough in these pans for the chickens as well. Lucky chickens.

I will note that Amazon gave me a full refund on the flour without requiring me to return it. But still. Not cool.

Have you noticed this issue with flour or other foods in recent years? 

Update: I can't believe this, but I bought flour from the tiny store in the village yesterday, and when I got it home, it too was contaminated with artificial fragrance. (I couldn't exactly sniff it suspiciously in front of the store owner.) I was afraid it would be, because I could tell from the brand that the store owner got it from a dollar store, and sure enough, it too is unusable. It's a plague.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Snapshots: The Annual Tree Expedition

We have once again braved the wilds of the New Mexico range to cut our Christmas tree. Come along for the fun . . .

First we stopped to see this abandoned adobe house on the neighbors' property. 

It's owned by our post office lady, and she told us we should go see it. So we did.

It was only about 10 a.m., and the children were delighted to find that the dirt tank near the adobe house was still frozen enough to skate on around the edges. Their cowboy boots were excellent skates.

Jasper elected to stay off the ice and monitor their activities with me from a distance.

The road to the tree area.

I left A. and the children playing at yet another dirt tank and wandered over whatever the Western equivalent is to hill and dale, searching for a good tree.

Actually the western equivalent to hill and dale is cacti and rocks. It's a bit tricky looking for a tree while still watching my feet. I found one, though!

Destined for our living room.

The view standing next to the tree.

A. performed his annual tree-cutting duty.

With Jasper's enthusiastic assistance, of course.

And away we went with our (soon-to-be) festive tree.

A. got it in the stand, and I put the lights on, but the kids put on all the ornaments.

The star is also A.'s job, because he doesn't need to stand on a chair to get it on top.

Enjoying the fruits of their labors.

There you have it! Our Christmas tree, snapshotted.

P.S.: Today is Jack's 8th birthday. Yay!