Small Town Christmas

Small Town Christmas

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Snowball Cookies

Sometimes, they are called Russian Teacakes. Sometimes they are Mexican Wedding Cakes. And this time of year, their moniker may be Snowball Cookies.

No matter what you call them, they can be a delicious addition to a holiday cookie tray or a fancy-looking offering for a cookie exchange.

I've been making this cookie recipe from a Betty Crocker cookbook since I was a teenager.  I think it's the only cookie recipe from that cookbook that I still use. It may be an oldie, but it's also a dependable "goodie."
I made a batch in November to go on a cookie tray for a South Central Community Foundation grants award ceremony. I always think a reception deserves some "fancy" options that dress up a table.
While my cookies for that event were more fall-themed, the white little cookies are the perfect "ornament" for a Christmas holiday cookie tray, too.

Snowball Cookies
aka Mexican Wedding Cakes or Russian Teacakes
From a Betty Crocker cookbook
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup finely-chopped pecans
Powdered sugar

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla. Combine flour and salt and add to creamed mixture. Stir in nuts, incorporating well, until dough holds together.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. (I used a cookie scoop.) Place about 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets. Bake until set but not brown, 10 to 12 minutes.

Roll in additional powdered sugar while warm; cool completely. Roll again in powdered sugar.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

If you don't want to include nuts in a cookie because of allergies, you may substitute mini chocolate chips in this recipe. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Splicing Life Together

Life's just a perpetual piecing together
 of broken bits.
Author Edith Wharton

The spliced electric fence caught my eye as we were building fence.

I thought about how that fence could be a metaphor for living life. Things break. Relationships break. But we build fences between people. We splice together relationships. We find a way to fuse the old and the new.

As Randy and I worked on the fencing project, he talked about doing the job with his dad. Those miles of wire we have stored on spools are reused until they are too rusty to splice. So for several years after Melvin's death, Randy would come across splices in the electric fence wire that had been put together by his dad. Melvin had his own way to twist the wire together that made his style distinct from Randy's handiwork. As a left-handed helper, I have my own signature style, too.

Those splices in the fence represent a place that was broken. But when the wire is wound together in splicing, it can create something stronger than the original version.

We seem to find those connections that bind us together - whether it's family or church family or friends. At church, I typically sit near a family with three elementary-aged kids. Our prayer hymn this past Sunday was "Jesus Loves Me."

From a couple of rows behind, I heard the crystal-clear voice of a little singer belting out every word. And I again thought about the things that tie us together.
Photos from a church Christmas program back in the 1990s
That little singer's Mommy was in my Joyful Noise choir with my kids at church years ago, and I taught her those same words. Now she's teaching those words to her own kids and other children at church. More years ago than I like to admit, when I was a little girl, my own mom led the group singing in the basement of the Byers United Methodist Church. Her mama had taught her the words years before. And the legacy winds its way backwards and forwards, connecting us all.
A poster on the wall in the Byers UMC nursery
Sanctuary, Byers UMC, Photo taken June 2011

The same sense of connection strikes me every week as I hear those children recite The Lord's Prayer, word for word, just like Christ followers for generation after generation.
Sunday afternoon, as I decorated the Christmas tree, the connections felt more secure than some of the ornament hangers.
The oldest ornament on my tree is one my Grandma Leonard made when I was a little girl. This little choir boy has lost his hanger thread and he seems to have a permanent crick in his neck, but I always nestle him among the branches in a prominent place so I can see him and remember my grandparents.

I have more ornaments than space to hang them these days. But I made room for another special little angel, too. My late mother-in-law made it one year. The little angel might be having a bad hair day, but she's still beautiful to me. Even though Marie never had the opportunity to meet her great-granddaughters, Kinley and Brooke will sit under a tree decorated with some ornaments hand-fashioned with her crafty skills long ago and look at wonder at the nativity set she made in a long-ago ceramics class.

My house doesn't look like the ones on HGTV. And that's OK. I'd rather have the memories than perfectly matched holiday finery. It's these little bits and pieces that help us to splice together the memories of holidays past and strengthen these present days - kind of like links in a paper chain wrapped around a Christmas tree.

This interconnection in life has been a recurrent theme in my world in the past few weeks. Just yesterday, these words were in the epilogue of a book I'd been enjoying: 
There is a river that runs through time and universe, vast and inexplicable, a flow of spirit that is at the heart of all existence, and every molecule of our being is part of it. And what is God but the whole of that river?
From This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

It's those things that splice our lives together ... and make us strong for our journey.

P.S.: I recommend the book. I also recommend Krueger's Ordinary Grace.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

All It's "Crackered" Up to Be

The request was simple enough: I was to bring a fruit-type salad and crackers as my contribution to a PEO salad supper.

I could have gone to the store and purchased crackers. Nobody asked me to make a homemade version - much less two. But when do I ever make things easy on myself? (Answer? Rarely.)

And did I mention I was already in charge of making "fancy" cookies for a South Central Community Foundation grants award reception the very same evening? And, if truth is told, no one told me I had to make "special" cookies for that either. I just think an event like that deserves a festive flair.
For recipes: Macaroons, Pumpkin No-Bakes, Mexican Wedding Cookies, M & M Bars, Scarecrow Bars
Do I ever make things easy on myself? Same answer as above.

Thankfully, I could make both the cookies and the crackers ahead of time. So, between helping move cattle, feeding cattle, working cattle, recording my radio reports, blogging, volunteering and assorted other tasks, I made homemade crackers.

My sister, Darci, shared a recipe she and her husband Andrew had enjoyed while they were visiting friends in New Zealand. When I was tasked with cracker duty, I remembered that earlier recipe via email. It required a trip to Glenn's Bulk Foods to get all the different kinds of seeds, but they turned out well. They were chock-full of flax, sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

I also remembered some cheesy crackers that were served at a local restaurant's Valentine sweethearts' meal several years ago. Since that restaurant is no longer in business, I wasn't able to track down her specific recipe. But Trisha Yearwood and the Food Network to the rescue. What's not to like about butter and cheese? The cheesy crackers are had plenty of both, along with flour and seasonings.

The PEO ladies didn't eat enough of the crackers.

Randy and I enjoyed some with homemade tomato and rice soup last week. I stashed most in the freezer and then used them as an accompaniment to two different kinds of soup at a Bible study Tuesday evening.

In the photo above, the crackers are pictured with a tomato rice soup that can be found at this link on my blog. On Tuesday night, I served the crackers with a Slow Cooker Potato Soup and a Slow Cooker Chicken and Rice Soup.

My church group also got the leftover cookies.
Sue's Crackers
From Wellington, New Zealand via my sister, Darci
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cup spelt flour or rice flour  (I used rice flour)
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup olive oil
Sea salt for sprinkling (opt.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix seeds, salt and flour. Add water and olive oil; mix.

Spread thin on a 16 X 12 inch baking sheet with lip. Sue's instructions say to divide into two pieces and roll between two sheets of parchment paper until 3 mm thick (that's 1/25th inch - so it's very thin. I probably didn't get it quite that thin.) I then just put the bottom parchment paper with the dough on the baking sheet.

Lightly sprinkle with sea salt, if desired.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden and crisp. Place on rack to cool. Break into pieces.

You can serve as crackers. The "crumbles" are delicious as a crunch element in a creamy tomato or potato soup.

Cheese Crackers
Modified from the Food Network
1 cup butter, softened
3 10-oz. bricks sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded cold, then left at room temperature
4 cups flour
2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Dash of garlic powder
Cooking spray

Note: Don't use already shredded cheese because it's treated with an anti-caking agent. Shred your own for this recipe.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Put the softened cheese and butter into the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer. Using the heaviest mixer paddle, beat until the mixture has the consistency of creamed butter.

In a large bowl, combine 3 cups of the flour with the salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and garlic powder. Gradually add the seasoned flour mixture to the cheese mixture, beating well after each addition. Add the remaining 1 cup of unseasoned flour a little at a time until the dough is somewhat stiff but still soft enough to be manipulated. You will likely not need to add all 4 cups of flour.

Use a 1-inch cookie scoop and scoop onto baking sheets that have been sprayed with cookie spray. (Or use parchment covered baking sheets.) Press down using a glass or you may use a fork. Bake until golden brown and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on your oven.

The original recipe made these into cheese straws. I don't have a metal cookie press, and I couldn't get the dough to push through the press I had, so I made them as explained above. However, if you have a better cookie press, here's the instructions for making them into cheese straws:

Lightly spray 4 cookie sheets with cooking spray. Put a portion of the dough into a cookie press fitted with the star tip and press the dough onto a cookie sheet into long strips that run the length of the pan. Repeat until the pan is full. Bake until straws are golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes.

With your hands or a sharp knife, break or cut the long strips into 3-inch lengths. Use a flat, thin spatula or an egg turner to remove the cheese strips from the pan. Allow them to cool on a wire rack. When they are completely cool, serve or store in a tightly-covered container.

This makes a lot! The original recipe said 4 dozen cheese straws. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Building Fence: A Link to Memories

I lifted my foot from the accelerator and did my mental, "one little second, two little second, three little second ... " all the way to six little seconds.

Randy and I were building fence. Well, Randy was building fence while I drove the pickup to carry the fencing supplies. My life on a farm truly has come full circle. I was probably 6 years old the first time I drove a pickup for fence building.
Kim - May 1965 - Almost 8 years old
My dad was the guy who hopped on the back of the pickup between fence post intervals way back when.
It was a bit like looking in a rearview mirror to see where you've been, I suppose.
During this latest fence-building expedition, Randy initially was telling me when to start and stop. But after awhile, I started counting the seconds between fence posts and we developed an unspoken rhythm for the work. (Hence the "one little second ..." chant.)
The fence building isn't just a deju vu experience for me. There's plenty of Randy's past tied up in the tools we use. That's especially true for the Ford 8N tractor.
These days, we have a wire winder on the back and use it for rolling out electric fence so we can move cattle to stalks for grazing.
The wire winder itself is homemade from a Model T frame, adding to the longevity of this farm workhorse.
 I think the rust is the only thing holding the tractor together these days.
But there is something about tradition. That tractor seat has been occupied with five different generations now. 
Melvin and Clarence bought the tractor back in the 1960s, when Randy was in grade school.
Clarence (Randy's Grandpa, seated), his Dad Melvin and Randy holding Brent in 1988. 
Clarence and Melvin used it to load silage for feeding cattle. Randy remembers using it to pull a two-row John Deere planter when they planted milo. He also cultivated milo with it when he was junior high age.
Now he uses it to roll out wire.

That wire also tells a story. There is about 1 1/2 miles of wire on each spool. At one time, Randy says they had 12 miles of wire and posts they used for temporary fencing projects.  Over the years, he's had to discard some of the rusty sections of fence that have fallen victim to inclement weather and age.
Randy says that he used to find splices in the wire that he could attribute to his dad. Melvin twisted the wire a bit differently than Randy does. So the farming legacy stretched between the two generations even after Melvin's death.
And who knows how long that tool has been called into service for fencing projects?
But all those tools - and yes, the aging people - are still getting the job done.
The fence went around sudan fields and milo stalks. Many years, we bale sudan. This year, the crop wasn't very abundant. Randy did swath the edges of the fields to make it easier to put up fence.
Last week, after the "ladies" got their OB/GYN checkups with Dr. Bruce, we moved them to the stalks for a little winter dining.
They were ready to check out their new "digs."
Now if only the deer would quit crashing in to the fence.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

I've Been Enlisted

I've been enlisted. No, not into military service. But I have been enlisted to drive the feed truck this winter. In its former life, our feed truck was an Army truck. We purchased the 1991 5-ton, 6-wheel drive Army truck and had the Kelly Ryan feed wagon box added to the back in 2014.
C. Melvin Fritzemeier, 10th Infantry Division, U.S. Army
Since Randy's Dad drove an Army truck in the Korean War, there's a bit of nostalgia there, too.

It still has its Army number emblazoned on the driver's side door. That first step is a doozy. So I use my handy-dandy ladder to get into the truck.
 Once inside, it looks a little like mission control. 
 With the gap between the windows and the frame, it's kind of a cold ride on nippy mornings! Randy "says" there is a heater. There may be a blower, but I'm not convinced it's heating anything.
Every morning, Randy uses the loader tractor to scoop out silage from the trench silo. The silage crop was rather small this year, so the silo isn't nearly as full as it sometimes is.
It takes several scoops to get enough silage to feed the cows and the calves.
Once I get a thumbs up, it's time to get the truck turned around and headed back to the corrals.
It's kind of a tight squeeze. My least favorite part of the trip is pulling in and out of the drive and the narrow gate.

To make sure I don't end up in Peace Creek, I have to pull into a driveway past the actual entrance into the pasture, back up and then come in from the north. I make my exit in the same convoluted way.
There are no guard rails on that wooden bridge.
Once I make the trek back to the farmstead, Randy augers some grain in the truck while I follow voice commands. (I turn off the blower first so I can hear him. It doesn't seem to make much difference in the temperature in the cab anyway.)

Then I become fence opener for our neighborhood Meals on Wheels delivery.
I like the warmer days ...
... better than the frigidly cold days. 
It doesn't seem to affect our diners much. They like the meal plan - no matter the weather.
Come to think of it, the cab of the truck is warmer than the outside temperature most days.
However, until the calves get moved to a larger lot, there's a lot of maneuvering involved. So gate duty it is!