“Sitting inside the warm, pleasant kitchen while icy rain beat against the window, I felt the wordless contentment of a horse in a stable or a wren in a birdhouse,” author Gretchen Rubin wrote. I can so relate. And of course while in the kitchen I cooked and baked this long weekend. Some for Dean and I, and some for others needing an extra dose of love. “The people who give you their food, give you their heart,” Latino civil rights leader, Cesar Chavez once shared. “Cooking has nothing to do with the ingredients, but everything to do with love,” author Dominique Browning commented. I make-do with the ingredients in my well-stocked kitchen, but I beg to differ with Dominique that the right ingredients can make foods taste better. Muir Glen’s organic tomato sauce is the best for a rich red sauce contrasted with a from-scratch white sauce for spinach cannelloni. I happen to pick up a couple of cans last week. Of course, everything is done with love when it comes to cooking, even the acquiring of ingredients. That’s where my organic gardening comes in. Slow cooking, fresh, from-scratch and homemade reigns. “Through cooking, touching, feeling, preparing, and savoring good, real food made from real ingredients, I get to fully inhibit my kitchen; heal my body; connect with friends, family, the Earth, and the larger community where I live,” quoting Mark Hyman, MD. I had a fun weekend in my warm kitchen!
Ice hit the concrete sidewalks and streets last Sunday morning, like many other wintry mornings in Missouri. Looking outside the red twig dogwood glistened. Dean and I waited a bit for temperatures to increase, and then managed to get to church. It is an oxymoron, winter’s warmth. It is what winter does for us. Brings us indoors after weathering the cold, ice, and snow. Much like life. The warmth of home lures us back to comfort and simplicity. “Sitting inside the warm, pleasant kitchen while icy rain beat against the window, I felt the wordless contentment of a horse in a stable or a wren in a birdhouse,” Gretchen Rubin writes. Another author Dominique Browning contemplates, “the banal moments of the day are the most seductive to me. It is in the lighting of a fire on a cold morning, or in the pouring of wine and the pulling up of chairs to read together at the end of an afternoon of errands, that love really exerts its magic.”
I miss a fireplace or wood stove to snuggle to in our little cottage, but have little niches in every room of our 4-room dwelling that seduce me. My favorite room is the kitchen. “So let’s dish out saucy praise for the place of crazy salads, spicy endearments, whispering souffles, sweetmeats, tender loins, and sticky fingers. That whirring, blending, mixed-up, soul-stirring, juice-dripping, hot-hearted room (the kitchen),” Dominique Browning writes in her book Slow Love. Kind of spicy, you say. That is what cooking in the kitchen does for my heart. Another weekend snow has developed this afternoon. Mini cheese-stuffed meatloaves, sweet potatoes, and banana-oat bread will grace our table this evening. Tomorrow I will chop fresh veggies to saute with Italian sausage for Italian stone soup accompanied with fresh-from-the-oven bread sticks. A casserole dish of homemade mac & cheese with a bowl of buttered edamame will be Sunday’s dinner.
I have plenty of library books to peruse and a jigsaw puzzle to piece together for this long weekend of winter warmth. Besides Dean and I have each other to keep the fire going …
Our 2018 is coming to a close very soon. Where did the year go?! Filled with memorable days with many of you, & for others not enough time together.
Our travels started with a February trip to Louisville, KY where we went to the “show of shows” for military & gun collectors. Foodie joints, the Louisville Slugger tour, & downtown were a part of the trip. Dean & I visited the St. Meinrad Archabbey. The architecture & gardens are stunning. Mother’s Day weekend included a combined mothers trip to Pella, IA to view the late spring tulips, a windmill tour, & indulge in Dutch fare. Memorial Day weekend Dean & I visited the Lincoln Museum & Home in Springfield, IL. Late June, we gathered up my Rachel’s three, & took a 4-day trip to Branson, MO where the go-carts reigned. Such fun with the grandkids! We had a short few days in Minnesota. It definitely was not long enough, but happy to relax & visit with in-law family in the Twin Cities and family friends on Island Lake part of the 4th of July week. Over Veteran’s Day weekend, we holiday & antique shopped in Branson.
Our big news for 2018 is our purchase of a small 1940’s home in historic St. Charles, just one Missouri River town closer to St. Louis metro. The weekday commutes to our offices have been easier, & the quietness of this older neighborhood so refreshing. Dean loves the WWII era, & his “man cave” basement. “Deanna’s Cottage” is a “work in progress”; new kitchen flooring, unveiling the hardwood floor under carpeting in the living room & our bedroom, new or no awnings (depends on if you ask Dean or Anna!), new fencing, taking down at least one huge tree, & building a “garage plus” in the big back yard are envisioned. It is a quaint 4-room dwelling, under 800 sq-ft love nest. We went small on purpose. We love visitors, but really love our empty nest! The comfy guest bedroom takes you back to the whimsical Edwardian era. It has been a blast finding 1930-40’s furniture pieces & 2nd-hand decor to decorate Deanna’s Cottage. We recently listed with Airbnb for the St. Charles festival weekends only. Being 7 blocks from historic Main Street makes our place an ideal hideaway for travelers. On those weekends while guests are at our cottage, we stay at our 4-bdrm St. Peters house, which is being rented to my daughter & son-in-law. Dean & I have experienced some Airbnb suites as guests before we opened up our home as hosts. The concept seems rather novel, but in past centuries many travelers stayed in common people’s homes. This century we are using electronics to facilitate bookings for lodging. Although not a traditional bed & breakfast, I will always leave some kitchen-made goodie for our guests, as I still love to bake & our guests gladly indulge. For any naysayers about the size, pace, venue, or avenue, it is Dean & I’s dream. Deanna’s Cottage will grow. We are building our dream one step at a time. More in the years ahead …
Our grandchildren continue to flourish. Dean’s granddaughter, 2-year old Elise has developed into her own person. Loves art, music, & hands-on anything! My youngest grandchild, Eli shines in math & finally had a buddy move in his neighborhood. Ella needs to stop growing! Such a kind, pretty young lady she is. My oldest granddaughter, Hannah, is in her last year of homeschooling. Another artsy one. The last I heard she wants to be a tattoo artist, but had thoughts about nursing. Either or both paths are the right one for her. I understand that pull in vocational choices based on gift areas. Libby is thriving in her 1st year of high school, active with choir, & quite the artist as well. What is it about our girls & art? My Brendan is the other one that needs to stop growing! He excels in his height along with sports & academics.
Our beloved, Midnight passed away in June just before Father’s Day. The memories we had with him during his puppy, young & older adult doggy years I will treasure forever. Dean & I had him his last 5 years after my father passed away. Though I hesitated at the first, Dean embraced being Midnight’s new master when the need was brought to our attention. This Labrador brought so much liveliness & love to our home & our extended family. We miss our Midnight. Another doggy will come into our home later, maybe when we retire. Our feline, Celine stays at the St. Peters house. She is getting too old for another change. We have granddogs & grandcats always in plenty.
The growing season was shorter this year. This spring I missed the window of opportunity to sow my greens like arugula, lettuce, & spinach because it was winter up until mid-May. Summer came 2 weeks later! In our screen house we again had monster tomato plants produce some delicious cherry tomatoes. I still have a few of those green tomatoes picked before Jack Frost came that are turning red in a bowl set in the kitchen window. Boone Hollow Farm where the screenhouse/greenhouse seats is still a serene place for Dean & myself to hide away during a workweek evening or weekend. Just 30 minutes of the country quiet & picking weeds or vegetables can restore my blood pressure & sanity to normal.
Dean continues to serve & learn from the clients that come into the research room at the National Archives. The stories the researchers & employees uncover are quite entertaining. Throughout the year we go out for happy hours or dinners with his clients. My work with the employee wellness program at St. Louis County was nationally recognized by the American Heart Association this year, after 10 years of creative efforts & hard work. In 2019, I along with other wellness professionals in the St. Louis region will address diabetes & glucose issues. I can personally vouch that regular physical activity keeps those numbers in line. I was walking 10,000 steps a day this year, & am now challenged by the cold temps. Our basement will be put into use over the winter months just like the underground tunnel at work.
Advent season sets the stage of waiting in hope & a readiness for the Gift. The Gift of Jesus is there to embrace any day & any time. Our hopes are birthed in Him. One of our children has a hope for healing of chronic health conditions of degenerative disc disease & arachnoiditis against the current medical odds. Conventional medicine has harmed more than helped, so alternative therapies are sought for pain management. Missouri joins the legalization of marijuana, a miracle in itself. Another one of our children is waiting & has a hope for having a child. Dean & I continue to pray for our daughters & sons. And for each of us who have a hope whether tiny or big, impregnate our whole being, let the joy of knowing that our God reigns, He cares, He loves us right now just as we are. Look to Him for security. “Hope as an anchor” is what I pray for you & our loved ones this holiday season & long into 2019!
The “F” bomb will be coming to our neck of the woods soon enough. I am starting to think about improvisations to ensure a daily diet of greens. My palette has grown accustom to fresh organic arugula and lettuce since May. I think a fresh pot of microgreens seeded every 3 or 4 weeks throughout the colder months will do it. I have the ceramic tile floor in the kitchen to put my pot(s) with the patio door to provide light. My herbs feed me nutrients also. Smaller terracotta pots of herbs will be seated in the kitchen window. The 480 square-foot room addition extending the kitchen into a family room and a small guest bedroom will give a new place for my green friends. There is always a place for green life in my home. How about yours? Where do your green friends stay in your home?
In my last post I shared some French influence in the culinary arts. That same evening I threw together an overnight blueberry french toast which turned out deliciously, and we have eaten on this dish the past couple of mornings. The kitchen is not the only room where the arts have a French flavor. The artistic style of the French poet and painter Jules Breton now resides in Dean and I’s bedroom. Last year Dean gave me a print of Breton’s painting “The Wounded Seagull”, a replica of my favorite painting at the St. Louis Art Museum. A thoughtful gift. The original was created in 1878 when the World’s Fair was held in Paris. We had this print matted and framed, and now resides over our headboard. When Breton painted it, this was a time in history when “naturalism” was replacing “romanticism” in the arts, artists portraying the daily lives of everyday people. It is thought that Breton romanticized a common peasant girl in this painting. The wounded seagull looks up to her while she appears to be in a far away thought. Sea life was not easy, for the seagull or the girl. I think this painting tells the story of so many I know and love. We care and love each other a mist turmoil. The conflict and contrast continue.
So what do lent, love, eagles, and presidents have in common? They share this 4-day weekend in February! And Dean and I shared these 4 days with my five grandchildren. The kids took turns with video games, movies, building with Lego blocks, and cooking in the kitchen. I prepared cheese tortellini with a garlicky white sauce for our first Lenten Friday dinner this season. Our parish hosted a 3-hour mini retreat on prayer Saturday morning. A much needed spiritual renewal for me. Saturday evening Hannah and I made chicken and dumplings which filled everyone’s belly and we had an extra portion for the “Souper Sunday” mission trip fundraiser. Overnight french toast and maple sausage welcomed our Sunday with Ella’s assistance. Church-bound this snowy, sleety Valentine’s Day. We are warmed by God’s love. Then gifts of hand-made palm crosses, sweetheart candies, flowers, and Italian cuisine fill this day of love. Red and white sauces, heart-shaped pasta, meatballs, cheesy baked bread, and pizza. The star chefs are my granddaughters, Hannah, Libby, and Ella.
On President’s Day Libby led her cousins in making chocolate pancakes. The Lincoln Museum is a bit far for us, so in the afternoon we took a drive north of our hometown to the Mississippi River scouting for bald eagles. We saw a bald eagle perched in a tall bare tree across the mighty river, as well as gulls and a blue heron. We meandered down the country highway to the Our Lady Of The Rivers shrine in Portage des Sioux. A few more eagles were seen high in the trees along the way. This warmer afternoon had the ice and snow melting to a slush. Perfect for snow balls! Not sure who threw the first one, but it became a free-for-all for a good 20 minutes under the Blessed Mary’s statue. Libby wondered what Mary must have thought. I think Mother Mary rather enjoyed seeing us all having fun this winter afternoon! A few wet shoes and stinging fingers, we warmed up with hot chocolate and marshmallows when we got home. A wonderful weekend to share with the younger generation.
I have had little energy the past few days, turning into bed early hoping to feel better the next morning. Extra glasses of water and hot tea are being consumed. Tuesday into Wednesday I awoke with my throat on fire, and needed to prop up on double pillows in order to breathe. The seasonal allergy snuffles definitely became a bacterial infection. My Dean seemed to feel worse than I with his croupy cough. We stayed home from work, and visited our doctors in the morning. Antibiotics were ordered treating a sinus infection for each of us. The January blahs indeed. Naps and cooking shows filled the day. Bone-in chicken breasts simmered all day in the crock pot, and made a healthy, tasteful stock for homemade chicken & dumplings. I had heard years ago, homemade stock made with real bone-in meats makes a health-filled potion. Adding vinegar, wine, or beer brings out the collagen from the bone marrow. I always add a bottle of beer or a glass of wine to the crock pot. I coached my granddaughter, Libby with the dumpling recipe and shared with her my secret ingredient, a pinch of nutmeg. Warm, comfort food filled our dinner bowls by evening.
I do not bake much as the sugar and calories are not needed as I age. Though I have been so inspired by the CutThroat Kitchen episodes I watched this week as well as the German influences while in Hermann, Missouri last weekend. In my memory bank, is an old favorite this morning, blueberry-almond kuchen. While in this rental house I have limited kitchen appliances and spices, as well as my recipe box is still at our home. By memory, I create a blueberry-vanilla kuchen. No almonds or almond extract in the rental house pantry. I substitute with a home-brew vanilla extract and use vanilla yogurt instead plain yogurt. A hand beater and muscles rather than my stand-up KitchenAid cream the low-fat cream cheese, yogurt, eggs, and sugar. Nutmeg goes in the butter crumb topping for a nutty flavor rather my standard cinnamon or cardamon left at the house. Sweet baking aromas fill the air this Sunday morning. Warmth filled our tummies once again.
This last day of January begins with a spectacular sunrise. Another unseasonably warm day is in store. Dean and I are feeling much better with a few rounds of antibiotics. I cleaned and finished up laundry yesterday while Dean worked on one of the vehicles. With the weekend chores completed, we have this Sunday to attend Mass and go play. An afternoon walk around the displays at the Train Show will help me burn off that serving of Blueberry-Vanilla Kuchen I indulged in this morning.
This time of year the work day is eased into analyzing aggregate reports, research on other wellness programs, event planning, and networking for the year. I like the slower pace which last about 4 – 6 weeks in December into January. It is when I finally have the employee wellness events booked on the calendar. Yes, forecasting at least 9 months ahead. It is much like a teacher and his/hers curriculum planning during the summer for the next school year. It will be another busy year at St. Louis County, the busyness starting next week with several meetings and a health fair.
Much the same as with the farmer, his/hers planning for the spring and autumn crops is done during the frigid cold months. My father was a tree farmer, and the winter was filled with book work and ordering of a new stock of plant liners. My siblings and I would plant 100’s of plant saplings through the spring; lots of hoeing, weeding, and watering in the summer; and autumn a few more plantings and prepping the pines for the holiday harvest.
I cannot say Deanna Greens And Garden Art has quite the planning of a full-time farmer. The greenhouse is a hobby of Dean and I’s while we work full-time. Our part-time organic herb and vegetable growing is fragrantly and deliciously rewarding while the beautiful geranium blossoms are pleasing to the eyes. During Dean and I’s Nashville mini-vacation in December, we toured the Belle Meade Plantation. Each room in the historic house was festively decorated with period Christmas ware, with the kitchen set in the 20’s. The kitchen is my favorite room. And there set a terra cotta pot of red geraniums in the windowsill, again another favorite of mine. A vintage flower.
The subzero wind chill has me hibernating today. I wanted snow, but not this frigid cold stuff. God forgives my absence in church, and He knows my severe allergy to the cold. Early morn I went outdoors in my pjs, robe, socks, and slippers to let our Labrador into the fenced yard, not realizing just how cold it had gotten over night. It dropped 30 degrees in less than 12 hours. My joints have been screaming about it since 7:00am. The daily antihistamine did not take much of an edge off the symptoms, so I took an extra dosage this afternoon. Drinking lots of hot herbal tea while I watch cooking and gardening shows, write, and read …
Life did not bring me silken gowns,
Nor jewels for my hair,
Nor signs of gabled foreign towns
In distant countries fair,
But I can glimpse, beyond my pane, a green and friendly hill,
And red geraniums aflame upon my window sill.
The brambled cares of everyday,
The tiny humdrum things,
May bind my feet when they would stray,
But still my heart has wings
While red geraniums are bloomed against my window glass,
And low above my green-sweet hill the gypsy wind-clouds pass.
And if my dreamings ne’er come true,
The brightest and the best,
But leave me lone my journey through,
I’ll set my heart at rest,
And thank God for home-sweet things, a green and friendly hill,
And red geraniums aflame upon my window sill.
by Martha Haskell Clark
The dabbled gray sky has turn white this morn. A welcome sight. Big heavy snowflakes. Midnight heard me say “snow” while hunkered in his bed next his master’s side of the bed. Up he arose, click-clack on the wood floors, stretching before reaching the back door. Our Labrador was excited to go outdoors to see the white spectacle. We sure welcome this snowy Saturday.
Dean and I visited the house again today. Renovations are coming along nicely. Drywall and mud have been completed. The painter is working over this Saturday. Splashes of our new color choices were on the walls yesterday. Today the whole walls are cool hues, such a contrast to the gray sky. A shade of teal and blue in the kids’ room. Two shades of grayed blue in the 2nd bedroom. The master bedroom is “kissed blossom”, just a touch of lavender-pink. The bathroom is “bungalow white”. The living room has “pillow mint” suggesting a restful room. The adjoining kitchen ‘s”sweet mint”is a tinge deeper shade, reminds me of our garden herbs. Such a cool palette.
Dean and I finished a few Saturday errands, pet food and wild bird seed at the old town country store and a few other items at the crowded grocery store. The sky lightened for a bit, but soon the gray returned. A table lamp and cup of hot peach tea bring warm comfort into the house as I write. I anticipate more snow before the night is over. Temps are dropping and will dip down in the teens overnight. White bean chili and sweet potato muffins will bring coziness to the dinner table tonight. Might find a jigsaw puzzle to busy myself with this evening while the cats curl in their furry balls. Snuggle time with a warm throw, maybe Dean and Midnight to join on the couch.
I begin this blog post with the verse in Jeremiah, reminding us each you are set apart for God’s purposes. “I knew you before I formed you … I set you apart.” This year has been a full one once again, full of people, projects, places, overflowing blessings, as well as trials and destructive floods. I still believe most people are good, and if working together we can build a barn quicker than alone. I believe the blessing jar is overflowing as the year ends, and dreams can stay alive as we share what we have been blessed with.
This time of year we each get a full course of people in huge portions just as the holiday foods. An upset stomach, headache, and exhaustion can result. Behaviors such as insecurity, jealousy, backbiting, plotting, exclusion displayed throughout the year will come about during the holidays, sometimes in bigger portions. Difficult encounters can be embraced with a smile and words of grace and truth. Ask for God’s grace! I do. Unless feelings are addressed by each person, little chance for reconciliation in relationships. I still believe in miracles. And I believe in dreaming. I believe a bigger home or second home will come about for Dean and I in 2016. What blessings overflowed for you in 2015? What are you believing for in 2016? I’d love to hear.