Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Flute Lessons

      I’ve started flute lessons again for the year and am glad to be back to it.  :)

     Last year there was a time where the music wasn’t really fitting my mood, I wanted something lively and fun.  Finally we found a book that I absolutely love; in just one song there are three sections: fun, lively and jazzy. :) I was so excited this year too because they came out with a second book.

      As long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to play the flute.  I don’t know what it was that attracted me so much but it did.  If I haven’t been playing for a while my fingers just itch to be put to those shiny keys and make beautiful music again.  But then I get caught up in things and it’s another long while before I actually start playing again, but when I do it feels so good.  I have to say, though, that my family has been very patient with me over the years because I’m sure it isn’t always nice on their ears.  A lady came up to me at one of my recitals and told me that I made her cry when I played.  Now, I don’t mean to make people cry but it’s always nice to hear someone say they enjoyed your playing.  

      My flute teacher is a nice and warm person to be around.  I love the friendship and teaching she has given me.  It’s not just a teacher/student relationship with us.  We tell each other how our weeks are going, I tell her what’s been happening with me and she tells me what’s been happening with her, too.  In fact the first time they bred their dog she asked me if I wanted to be there for the birth.  I’ve been there for every single birth since then. All three!  :)
      There’s another thing to thank my family for.  If they weren’t willing to drive me I wouldn’t have been able to see these wonderful deliveries.  (But I’ll have to save more about puppies for a whole new post. :)

      It’s so amazing to look back at my lesson book and remember when that particular song looked so scary and I thought I would never be able to do it.  Now it’s easy.  But not everything is easy and there’s still a lot for me to learn yet.  It will be fun (and scary at the same time) to see what my teacher finds for me when I’m done with my current lesson book.
(Hopefully nothing with more than four flat’s and sharps)
      Although for some reason five sharps seems more natural than flat's.............Don't tell Irish Rose. :)  Usually we flutist's like flat's much better that sharps.  Here's another thing we like that OTHERS don't; we count 6/8 time like it is a slow 2.  My sisters can't understand that. :)

      Maybe next year Irish Rose will take me to camp with her and I can learn some more things from the flutists there.  I don't know if I would get to play with them but I think that would be OK.  Plus I don't know, a week is a long time away from home.  Sometimes something new is both scary and exciting, but you never know which one is better until you've done it. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gluten Free Gingerbread

      I've been craving gingerbread for the last couple weeks.  I like gingerbread, but there are so many things I like more that I don't usually crave it.  Blame it on the cooling weather.    I browsed my current list of gluten-free resources, but didn't find anything that struck my fancy - or fit the ingredients that live in my pantry.  Almond flour sounds like a really lovely thing to work with, but its expensive; and I really didn't want to have to grind half a cup of six different flours just to make a snack.  I'm willing (occasionally) to admit it: I'm lazy.  So I grabbed my kitchen notebook - that I should have been recording gluten-free experiments in all along - and decided to try adapt the gingerbread recipe I tried earlier this spring.  Would you like to join me?

     Here we have our assembled cast of characters . . . . minus Sugar and Boiling Water.  (Sugar was late that day and Water was too busy working at boiling to grace us for the Cast Photo.)  My kitchen notebook was hosting the party - one page full of the original recipe from The Fanny Farmer Cookbook, and one page ready for all my experimental notes.
  Grease (I opted not to flour) one 9 inch baking pan and we were set to get our two bowls out: one for the dry ingredients and one for the wet.  We'll start with dry, since they are far less complicated.

      Since I'm stubbornly sticking to the whole gluten free theory (which occasionally shows up in my dreams - not good!) I changed the 2 1/2 cups of regular flour for the same amount of an all-purpose gluten free mix.  Which I am waiting for permission to post here so y'all know what that is.  But for now, we'll keep going.  On top of the flour I dumped:
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp powdered ginger
approximately 1/4 tsp fresh grated ginger, just because I could

      Originally the recipe called for 1/2 cup butter.  But we only just restocked that lovely ingredient (there are so many things that just taste better when made with butter) and I was a bit gun-shy of running out again.  So I used 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup coconut oil.  (Shh!!  Don't tell Sharpi or Chickadee!)  That went in the bowl and I moved on to the next ingredient, which was our late Sugar. 
Whoa Nellie!  It calls for a cup??  For that small pan?  Phfff!  Forget that.  One of the on-going debates in my house is neatly labeled "How Much Sugar is Too Much", and the lines that have been drawn in the proverbial sand are deep and immovable.  Sharpi and Chickadee  have what I consider Liberal Views on the subject; they view my opinions with suspicion, especially when I started  griping that milk tasted too sweet and stopped drinking it.  (It was suggested that somebody was pouring sugar into the milk pitcher in an attempt to sabotage the no-sugar rule, but I wasn't the one who said so.)  I'm not completely anti-sugar - yet - but a cup definitely seemed like a ridiculous amount.  So I cut it back to 3/4 cup.  (I would like it known that I wanted to cut that silly cup in half, but I didn't in the interests of diplomatic relations.  Points please!)

      Here we beat that sugar and butter/coconut oil until light and fluffy.  Once that is done we add two eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Next: pour in 3/4 cup molasses . . . feel free to lick the spoon of lingering yummy-ness when you're done. 
      Now, if you looked closely at the cast of characters, you might have noticed an additional ingredient that one doesn't usually associate with Gingerbread.  Unless your mum buys black-strap molasses, like mine does.  Black-strap molasses is pretty strong and would have no trouble covering up the spice in this cake, so I thinned mine with some brown rice syrup (I think the ratio was about 1/4 cup rice syrup and 1/2 cup molasses - I was kind-of making it up as I went).  Once you get the molasses beat into your mixture, very carefully add 3/4 cup of the boiling water.  I would really recommend using a hand whisk to mix that in - an electric mixer has a tendency to spit that hot molasses tainted liquid all around the kitchen . . . . ahem, lets move on, shall we?
      Once you get all that mixed up, you can dump in your bowl of dry ingredients and mix it up until well blended.  This is the part where it would have been really helpful to have someone mixing a batch of normal (read gluten inclusive) batch of this recipe with me.  I knew from previous experience that whole wheat flour absorbs water differently than white flour; and through the gluten free experiment I'm seeing learning that the same rule applies for various whole grains - rice doesn't absorb the same amount of liquid as, say, sorgum or oatmeal.  So when I mixed in my all-purpose gluten-free flour mix the batter was really, really runny.  But I plowed on.  Or poured on, if you prefer.

      Halfway through my pour the little voice inside - aka, the Baker's Conscience - started vigorously waving a little red flag that said, "Too much batter for that pan!"  And I listened.  I've had several baking efforts result in reeking, charred messes in the bottom of our oven because the batter Vesuvius-ed out of its baking tin.  And I have no desire to repeat those epic failures.  So I filled my pan halfway and poured the rest of the batter into paper lined muffin tins.  Which begs the interesting question: the recipe originally specified a 9 inch square pan, and I'm pretty sure round versus square won't make half-the-batter difference.  Did pans have taller sides when The Fanny Farmer Cookbook was originally published?  I digress . . . .
      I slid the pans into an oven preheated at 350 F and sat back to wait.
      The smaller pan sizes meant I had to adjust bake-time, but it seemed to work fairly well.  After about ten minutes in the oven the batter was rising nicely; after fifteen minutes it was starting to look like normal gingerbread.  At 22 minutes, the mini gingerbreads were done: at 27 the cake was done. 

   Looks fairly normal . . . . . smells fairly normal.  I think this might have worked.  Wooo-hoo! Smiley   
      Taste tests also proved quite satisfactory, though I don't think anyone would have gone so far as to say, "perfect gingerbread - don't do anything different next time."  The texture was very nice - moist and flavorful, but a little too light.  It made for a little crumbling in the 9 inch cake, so I think if I repeat this experiment, I'll add a little chia meal to the flour as a binding agent.  For some reason the minis didn't have the crumby factor, so they were closer to what I wanted.  Though I still would like a denser cake.

      It isn't quite perfect, but it came close.  And it tasted good, which isn't as easy as it sounds in the world of Gluten-Free.  Mmmm . . . that was tasty . . . .
      Any favorite gingerbread tricks or spice combinations you want to share for my next experiment?

Monday, September 26, 2011

You Know You Must be Weird When . . .

  People won't even park at the end of your driveway for more than 30 seconds to talk on their cell phones . . . . while you are standing there . . . . in the dark. . . . . . gazing at the sky. . . . .

   Yes, I am serious.  We were enjoying the rare show of Northern Lights and the guy must not have really noticed we were standing there until after he pulled over. He pulled away again and we just assumed he'd finished his phone call and continued on his way - until we discovered that he had simply driven down a few driveways and parked there! :)  Had he been lost and trying to find directions he really missed out, we were right there, after all, and might have been able to answer the most pressing question of his life - it's not like we're dangerous looking or anything . . . . . are we?

Umm, guys? . . . Are we? . . . . .


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Good and Unexpected Gifts

           Once upon a time, a young man met a young lady.  Like so many happy stories, they got married - even though at the time the young man somehow never got around to actually proposing.  (He spoke to the lady's father, who told her mom - who casually said at supper that spring evening, "Well, I guess we have a wedding to start planning for."  Oh.)  They live a real life full of joy, trials, adventures, laughter, tears . . . and eventually five children.

      Our parents celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary this year.  It has been really fun to watch them during this last year: all day mum looks forward to having coffee with dad when he gets home from work; dad has taken to leaving cute little notes for mum on her desk in the morning.  So besides really admiring how God has been working in their lives and how He has shaped their marriage, we just think they're really cute.  :)  And we weren't really surprised when our dad got a twinkle in his eyes about a month ago and confided to us that he wanted to do something special for mum in honor of their anniversary.  He wanted to take her on a surprise trip - and we got to help keep it a secret!  Dad picked the destination and asked Sharpi to make reservations; from then on we researched the area when we could (read "when mum wasn't likely to walk by and look over our shoulders") and would report back when we found something that looked interesting.  Dad also enlisted us to pack for mum.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to pack for your mum?!  (As a side note: ladies, it might be a good idea to have a basic packing list written down somewhere, preferably where your family can find it.  Just in case. )
  We've kept secrets from our dad before, but this was a little different (but oh so fun!) - it is way harder to keep secrets from our mum!  But eventually The Day arrived.  Dad got home from work and invited mum out for coffee  . . . . which was his sneaky way of getting her out of the house so we could . . . umm . . . FINISH PACKING!!!  There are some of us who are convinced that as soon as dad pulled out of the driveway the three of us scrambled in about eight different directions.  Which doesn't add up mathematically, but at the time it felt possible.  It's the only way we can explain the fact that in 20 minutes we:
completely packed mum's suitcase - partly from scratch, partly from what we'd commandeered on the sly
filled the water-cooler
had to go hunting for a bungee cord to strap the water cooler in (otherwise it tips and leaks)
threw as many "might be necessary" items in mum's everything bag as we could think of
put various bags and water bottles in the van
remembered mum's purse
stopped to breathe between closing the van hatch and waiting for dad's phone call to "move to phase 2"

   Whew!  It was a fast 20 minutes.  And wouldn't you know it, when dad did finally call to let us know they were safely in the restaurant, the UPS truck pulled into our driveway.  Ahhh!!  I don't think the very short delay would have frustrated us on any other day, but by that time the adrenaline had kicked up a few notches and we had butterflies on a caffeine high buzzing in our tummies.  Dad had thoughtfully parked his vehicle around the corner from the restaurant's front door, so no matter where they sat it was out of view.  I'm pretty sure that, had the staff taking their break not known who we belonged to and just how weird we already are (since they had seen us kidnapping our dad from this very restaurant last year) they probably would have called the police - wouldn't you if you saw three girls pull up in a parking lot, move a vehicle down five parking spaces and park their van in the recently emptied spot . . . . only to run like mad for the original vehicle and leave??  I have no doubt it was very entertaining to watch.  Right before we left Chickadee popped her head in the door to give a subtle wave to our dad - which mum almost saw - and then (to borrow a quote from our favorite comedian Ken Davis) we, "buggethed out of there". 
      Long story short - and we'll skip the part where mum laughingly called us "traitors" - our parents had a wonderful time at a place that could be considered our state's equivalent of England's Lake District.

And he proposed too:)

   We had a good time too, doing all sorts of sister-bonding things.  Our parents would periodically call us, and we would occasionally call them; they'd send us photos of where they were and the amazing places they were seeing.  And in four short days it was all over and they were driving home.  We girls cleaned up most of our mess (its amazing what a mess writing and editing can make) and figured once they were home and we'd seen the pictures and heard the stories that would be the end of the adventure . . . . . 
      But it wasn't.
      After unloading the van and conspicuously squirreling packages into obscure and forbidden corners in mum's closet they both emerged with grins spreading across their faces and twinkles in their eyes. They had something for us and couldn't wait any longer.
      Our parents had enjoyed their holiday so much that they wanted to share it with us.  So they booked us a hotel room at the lodge they'd stayed at.  They were so excited when they told us we had two weeks to get ready to go on our own adventure.  That moment was a mix of a lot of things: overwhelming surprise, excitement, joy . . . 
  Since then we've been on our grand adventure and are now getting back into the grittiness of "normal" life.  There are stories and photos that we want to share with you.  But for the moment, as we look back, we'd like to say "Thank you" to our parents.  The trip was a very generous, hugely undeserved gift.  What you did for us was a perfect picture of what God does for His children: He specializes in giving undeserved gifts, whether it is the next breath we take, the health we take for granted, the families who love us and the friends who He uses to encourage us - most of all the redemption and reconciliation through His Son's blood that gives us the most undeserved gift of eternal life.

Now unto him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,
Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.
Ephesians 3:20-21

Taking joy in the good and unexpected gifts we have been given,

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gluten Free Update

    With August well behind us and September more than half over, who would have thought there would have been a gluten free update?  Umm . . . me, I guess.  :)
      When the original 31 day trial period was up, I decided to stick with the gluten free project for a little longer - slightly modified - out of curiosity.  I didn't notice a definable change in how I felt when I wasn't eating gluten and refined sugar, but I didn't think a month was going to affect some of the health glitches I'm hoping will clear up.  Most of my family said they didn't notice a big difference - so I think it is pretty safe to assume that none of us has Celiac Disease.  But . . . .
      I was pretty surprised when I noticed a definable difference when I added sugar back into my diet at the beginning of this month.  Not in large amounts, mind, and not every day.  Part of my modified eating rules allowed refined sugar in stuff - like home-made jam, home canned fruit and sauces.  That sort of thing.  The day we had brownies and ice-cream for breakfast (giggle!) I noticed that I didn't feel great, but I wrote it off as probably due to some of the other ingredients that are used in commercial ice-cream.  It took a while to notice that there was a definite pattern to when I feel a bit off.
     Since the brownie/ice cream breakfast, we've been on holiday and had a harvest pot-luck at church.  And every time I eat any amount of refined sugar I end up feeling like I'm starting to fight a cold.  This does not bode well . . . I'm willing to limit sugar, but I haven't quite reached the point that I am ready and willing to give up things like brownies, home-made jam, home-made ice-cream and really good cookies!
      The few times I've had something containing wheat I haven't noticed a huge difference, though I think it does contribute to the head-cold symptoms.  I'm still learning.  :)  I've started a list of my favorite resources, which I'll be posting as soon as I finish sorted it out.  There is so much information . . . . I'm not quite so overwhelmed as I was at the beginning of August, and I'm starting to understand a little more how this business of eating gluten-free works.  Funny thing is I can't quite decide if that is a good thing or not. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

We're Back!

Just a quick note to let you all know we made it back safe and sound from our amazing trip!
Will do a post soon complete with pictures and anecdotes from our experiences:D

We Three (Just until we get another siggy made to match this blog profile:)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Irish Rose drops in . . . .

      I was under the impression that once I finished the Mass Edit project, I'd have a lot more time to write for the blog.  Somehow (obviously) it hasn't turned out that way and I'm not quite sure why.  Canning season could have something to do with it I suppose.  :)  The good news is that Sharpi has read through Part Five to make sure the new bits mesh well with the old (I was encouraged when there were only two highlighted bits that needed fixing) and dad and I have talked about when to launch the next evaluation phase.  We've found a local printer who will give me a better rate per page than our local library (yay!).  So once we decide just how many copies we're going to hand out for this evaluation we should be just about set.  The printer said once I get the manuscript to them it will only be a couple days before I get the hard copies back.  It is a bit nerve-wracking to think about this story - which has been pretty much family contained since day one - being let loose into the big, wide world . . . . . To borrow a quote from Fiddler on the Roof: "But on the other hand . . . ." its just a tiny bit exciting, too. 

Ah . . . . have to love technology.  Here I am, sharing my thoughts with friends who I'm sure have better things to do, and my laptop battery is telling me to hurry up and finish.  (Who serves who here??)
Small heads-up before it dies - we girls are getting ready for one last adventure to celebrate summer, and we're going sans technology.  So don't be surprised it it feels like we dropped out of the blog world for a while, because we are.  :)  We'll have stories and photos when we come back.  And in the meantime, I hope you are enjoying the extra lovely days God has been giving us.  :)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gluten Free Bread

   Now I don't mean to knock gluten free bread - but it is hardly worthy of the title 'bread'. At least the recipe's we tried haven't been.
   We are sharing this recipe with you because it was the best of the ones we sampled and figured if you were interested you could try it out and decide if you liked it yourself. 
   To be fair I thought it made excellent toast, but as sandwich bread it isn't extremely palatable because the texture is quite dry. (If you know what would make it that dry please tell us because it was a good recipe otherwise.)
   The positive points for this recipe are:
1. It isn't as crumbly as the first recipe we tried.
2. It is pretty good fresh out of the oven but becomes dry after that.
3. The recipe has directions for both hand mixing (or bosch) and bread machine.
4. Is also dairy free for those sensitive to dairy products.

Tweaks to the recipe might improve it but we're not familiar enough with gluten free to try adjust proportions.

Delicious Gluten-Free Bread Recipe

This gluten-free bread is tender, fragrant, dairy-free and rice-free, and easily egg-free with proper leavening. Though most gluten-free bread recipes rely on eggs for texture and rise, this recipe is also delicious baked vegan, without eggs (though in all honesty, two whipped egg whites will make it rise higher). I use Ener-G Egg Replacer to make it egg-free.
First- whisk together your dry ingredients and set aside:

1 1/2 cups sorghum flour
1 cup tapioca starch or potato starch (not potato flour!)
1/2 cup millet flour
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/ 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 packet rapid dry yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons

You'll need sesame seeds for the top; set aside for later. Or omit.

For the Breadman bread machine:

Pour the liquid ingredients into the bread machine pan first:

1 1/4 cups warm water (at 110 to 115 degrees F) 
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey- or raw agave nectar to keep it vegan
1/2 teaspoon mild rice or white wine cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
1 tablespoon Ener-G Egg Replacer whisked with 4 tablespoons warm water till frothy

Gently pour the mixed dry ingredients on top of the liquid.

Set your bread machine program for 1.5 loaf medium crust. I used the gluten-free cycle on the Breadman; if you don't have a gluten-free cycle, a rapid rise cycle will also work.

Check the dough after a few minutes of kneading- it should be closer to a muffin batter than bread dough, soft, but not cake batter wet. Adjust dry to wet ratio with a tablespoon of flour or warm liquid, as needed. Humidity influences the dough. As does temperature (your bread will rise higher on a hot day).

If you like a crusty loaf (or your past experience results in a gummy center/fallen top) remove the bread from the pan and place it in the oven at 350 degrees F for an additional 10 minutes- keep an eye on it and don't let it get too brown. It should be a light golden color.

Cool the loaf before slicing for best results.

Enjoy fresh from the oven- the first day (as with most gluten-free baked goods) has the best texture and taste.

Freeze leftover bread as slices, wrapped in a paper towel and bagged in freezer bags. Thaw to room temperature.

Baking time:1 hour

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cocoon Progress: The Hatching

The day has finally come - your caterpillar is about to burst into the world as a beautiful, velvety orange and black butterfly. 

Depending on when you noticed it going dark you may find yourself sitting and staring at the seemingly unchanging shell above for a lengthy amount of time.  (We sat around an hour and a half for this one, practically staring holes in the cocoon before it actually came out:)
If you look really, really, REALLY closely you may begin to see small patches that look wrinkled and papery. We think this means that the butterfly is beginning to flex and try break out. Sometimes you might even be able to see the cocoon wiggling.

Now comes my favorite part! :)
It happens so fast it is over in the blink of an eye - but it is such an amazing thing to see!
The bottom of the cocoon will split and be pushed open by the butterfly as it strains to pull itself out.

Doesn't look much like the butterflies you see floating on the breeze does it. The next part is truly fascinating. . .well, the whole thing is fascinating; but I realize at each step of the process how amazing the whole thing is:)
As the butterfly hangs there, holding fast to the empty cocoon they gradually pump the fluid out of their body and into their wings. As this happens their wings slowly unfold and begin to dry.

Sorry this is sideways, I can't figure out how to rotate once it is uploaded to the blog.)

Holding a newly hatched butterfly is one of the highlights of summer:)

Once their wings are sufficiently dry (or we need to go about our own work and don't want to have to worry about losing them inside) we take them outside and place them on a bush until they are comfortable enough to take off and discover the wide open world:)

We hope you have enjoyed taking this journey with us and that you will also get to experience this wonder for yourself.

P.S. - We finally found the two that went missing - thank goodness!

Friday, September 2, 2011


   We did it! We survived an ENTIRE MONTH of going gluten/processed sugar free!!!
   No doubt there will probably be a follow up post letting you all know how it went and we'll most likely share the recipes we ended up deciding were good. (The pudding recipe will not be included.)
   Other than the cravings, lack of bread, pasta, and chocolate it wasn't too bad an experiment. Our sugar cravings were held at bay pretty decently by some healthy candies that Irish Rose adapted to fit our diet.
   Even so, I thought I'd share what we had for breakfast on September 1st.

Mmm:) We decided that we were going to go off our diet in style!
This is a salmon/spinach/cheese omelet with a side of brownie (toasted french toast style) and Turtle Track ice cream. 

Cocoon Progress: Day 11-13

  Sorry for the delay of this post - 
 After about a week and a half after your caterpillar has spun its cocoon it would be a good idea to start checking it every day for any change in coloring.

  One morning we checked our cocoons and noticed a few darker shades near the top; a couple dark spots. We made a mental note to check later and headed out to go pick tomatoes at a friends'. 
Later that evening the cocoon was checked and we were shocked to find how it had changed in just a few hours.

 Notice the fairly even coloring of the cocoon? It is beginning to get a little more opaque but it is still really green.

 Here it is beginning to change color, this is when the cocoon itself somehow looses all color and becomes clear.

 This is several hours after we first noticed it was changing.

And THIS was that evening!  So it does not take much time at all for them to change.  When they reach this stage you want to start checking them pretty often.  Ours went and changed to this transparency right before bed (of course) but they did the polite thing and waited until the next morning to actually come out:)
Macbeth was really, really, REALLY clear when we got up the next morning and we watched him really closely until we went about our usual morning tasks of getting breakfast, cleaning up, etc. . . . We missed him hatching.
When they start hatching it goes by really fast so if someone doesn't notice it you will probably miss the whole thing. (It has happened enough to us where we finally get tired of sitting there, leave for three minutes, come back and there she is!)

TO BE CONTINUED . . . . . . .