Saturday, December 26, 2015

Some Christmastide books that we are enjoying

Some of my favorite books from the Christmastide half of my family's Christmas book basket...

 Jan Brett, The Twelve Days of Christmas.
Jan Brett, Tomie dePaola, and Trina Schart Hyman are my three favorite children's book illustrators. It was a very happy day when I found this book at the thrift store for a dime- but nothing compared to fellow Church Lady Mary Liz when she got to meet Jan Brett a few weeks ago.

Jan Brett, Gingerbread Baby.
A unique retelling of the classic tale. I appreciate how the dialogue is much less repetitive in this version than most.

Tomie dePaola, Christmas Remembered
In chapter-long reminisces, Tomie dePaola reflects on Christmas past, from childhood holidays in New England to time spent at a Benedictine abbey and life in the American Southwest. As a fan, it was interesting to learn more about his life.

Tomie dePaola, Tony's Bread.
A sweet story about the origin of panettone, an Italian Christmas bread.

"Merry Christmas" chapter from The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Last winter, my family listened to this book on CD while traveling to visit family at Christmas.  The Ingalls' family's hardships were incredible. At some points, the cost of groceries were inflated to the point of today's costs- nearly 150 years later. Yet Ma still managed to make Christmas Day special for her family.

Books were either purchased myself or checked out from the library.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

 For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Lk 2, 11)

Image source: Carlo Maratti, "The Holy Night," 1650s

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

O Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Image source: Bernardo Zenale, "Nativity"

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

O Desire of Nations

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Image Source: Carracci, "Christ in Glory," 1597-98

Monday, December 21, 2015

O Dayspring

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

O Key of David

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Image source: Raphael, "The Liberation of St Peter," 1614

Saturday, December 19, 2015

O Root of Jesse

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Image source: Geertgen, "The Tree of Jesse," 1480s

Friday, December 18, 2015

O Lord

O come, O come, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Image source: Guido Reni, "Moses with the Tablets of the Law," 1624

Thursday, December 17, 2015

O Wisdom

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Image source: Tiziano, "Wisdom" c. 1560

Monday, December 14, 2015

Some Advent books we are enjoying

Is there anything more cosy than a basket of Christmas books on a cold afternoon? My mother always saved the Christmas books for December and early January, so it was a special treat when they came out. Even though my kids are still quite young, we have amassed quite a collection of Christmas books, so I split our books into those better suited for Advent and those that can wait until after the feastday.

 The Advent Storybook by Antonie Schneider. My almost five year old loves this book- partly, I think, because he shares a first name with the protagonist. Each day, Benjamin Bear journeys one day closer to Bethlehem. The illustrations are very tender and engaging.
 Merry Christmas, Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola. Strega Nona and her assistant Big Anthony spend Advent preparing for the village Christmas feast- or so she thinks! Just before Christmas Eve Mass, Strega Nona discovers that Big Anthony has let her down- and that "Christmas has a magic of its own." 
 The Friendly Beasts by Tomie dePaola. This may be my favorite depiction of the Nativity story. The sweet words of the carol pair with Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem and the illustrations gradually reveal the Christ Child.
 The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola. I was surprised at how much my older son to this book, since he had previously shown no interest in the similar "Legend of the Indian Paintbrush," and "Legend of the Bluebonnet." Lucida is devastated when her mother is taken ill and can't complete their family's gift for Baby Jesus. But she learns the spirit of giving elevates the most humble gift.
Silent Night by Margaret Hodges. From the author of St George and the Dragon, Silent Night traces the history of the beloved Austrian carol from the evening it was composed to the modern day.

 Christmas in Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren. From the author of Pippi Longstocking, Christmas in Noisy Village follows the activities of Scandinavian farm children on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Peter Spier's Christmas. This wordless book about a British family's preparations for Christmas continues in Spier's trademark illustration style, with a keen eye to detail and touches of humor.

What are some Advent books that are being enjoyed at your house?

Books were either purchased myself or checked out from the library.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

St Nicholas Day preparations

This afternoon, we got things ready for St Nicholas Day.

The stockings were hung from the chimney with care, in hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.
(Since I have never been home on Christmas Day since my marriage, we use our stockings instead of shoes.)

It's amazing what you can find with a $5 limit per person. Candy canes for all, a thrift store sweater for Mom, an intriguing bottle from the clearance table for Dad, and Christmas tree ornaments for the kids (that they will take with them for their own tree when they leave home).

A Thanksgiving guest brought a package of spekulatius, a traditional cookie for St Nicholas Day, saving me from baking my own. Some years I have made gingerbread instead. We'll have these with tea before Vespers at the Abbey tomorrow afternoon.

"St Nicholas" and I also put together some care packages for neighbors, which we will deliver before Mass tomorrow. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Frugal Christmas: Frippery Pillow covers

Three weeks until Christmas. 

A few summers ago, I pieced a full size Frippery quilt (free pattern) entirely from thrift store fabric and outgrown clothes. The 16" block and large rectilinear made for quick piecing. As I looked at the incomplete quilt still in my sewing area, I thought to myself a few blocks would make great throw pillow covers. You can include the insert for local recipients or mail the cases alone. The project is a great stash buster, and I was able to whip up both cases within 90 minutes. I opted to use an envelope closure, as I fear my zipper foot and also to keep cost down.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Preparing for Winter

Copying country-bred Mr. Ray who always "put down" staple foods for the winter, Joe and Betsy stored in their basement a barrel of apples and baskets of potatoes, turnips, and onions.  But it was Aunt Ruth's idea to lay in a big sack of flour.  "In Butternut Center they used to say 'Uneeda loaf of Ruth Willard's bread,'" she told them roguishly.
(Betsy's Wedding, Maud Hart Lovelace)

I am the first to admit: with a butcher/corner grocery store three blocks away (who delivers!), I was not in the habit of keeping a lot of food on hand in my pantry.  After all, if I had no plan for dinner, I could walk down or phone the butcher for a whole chicken, a few sweet potatoes, as well as a head of broccoli, and have two night's dinners for $10. But with multiple little ones and the treacherous conditions of our cobbled streets after snowfall, I needed a better plan for the winter.

Although my 1883 Victorian house does have a root cellar, it is only accessible through a hatch in the backyard and runs a bit warm for perishable food storage. But I am fortunate to have a floor to ceiling pantry cupboard in my kitchen. (My only complaint is that it is too deep, since it was built the same width as the range. First world problems...)

I took the advice of Mr Ray, and buy a five pound bag of carrots, potatoes, and flour, as well as a few pounds of celery, onions and apples every time I do my staple grocery shopping (about every other week). That way, if weather intervenes to keep me housebound, I can still make a few days worth of nutritious meals for my family. I find that for four eaters, this is the quantity we can eat through before the produce stored at room temperature goes bad. I don't kept powdered or evaporated milk on hand; in our climate, storms don't tend to come up suddenly, and we have never been truly housebound. If you aren't prone to losing power in storms (we are) I would also recommend keeping a bag of frozen chopped spinach in your freezer- it adds a lot of freshness to dishes.

Here are a few favorite pantry meal combos:
  • Canned clams plus onions and potatoes= Clam Chowder
  • Dried beans plus canned tomatoes plus carrots and onions = Minestrone Soup
  • Dried black bans plus carrots and onions= Black bean soup 
  • Dried beans plus dried chiles plus canned tomatoes= Vegetarian chili
  • Lentils/beans plus pasta = Pasta e Fagioli
  • Dried chickpeas can be cooked into hummus, served with carrot and celery sticks
  • Dried chickpeas plus olives plus sun-dried tomatoes plus couscous = Middle Eastern dinner
  • Canned salmon becomes salmon patties, served with potatoes
  • Potatoes plus onions = Potato pancakes
  • Potatoes plus onions plus canned pimentos = Delmonico potatoes
  • Pasta plus canned clams plus canned tomatoes = Linguine with Clams
  • Pasta plus canned tuna or shelf stable smoked sausage plus capers, olives, and canned or sun-dried tomatoes = Pasta Puttanesca
  •  Apples are delicious for fresh eating, applesauce, and baked apples.
  • Flour plus vegetable shortening = biscuits or pie crust
What are some of your favorite pantry meals?

Monday, November 30, 2015

Christmas Novena

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
In which the Son of God was born
Of the most pure Virgin Mary,
at midnight,
in Bethlehem,
in the piercing cold.
In that hour vouchsafe, O my God,
to hear my prayer and grant my desires,
[here mention your request]
through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ,
and of His blessed Mother. Amen. 

To be recited 15 times a day between St Andrew's Day (November 30) and Christmas.

Image Source: Antoniazzo Romano, Nativity with Sts Andrew and Lawrence

Saturday, November 28, 2015

2016 Patron Saints

Happy New Liturgical Year!  As has been our custom, the Church Ladies have compiled a list of patron saints for 2016, based on the Holy Father's Jubilee Year for Mercy.  You'll see some well known saints, but also saints from around the world and across history.  To use with your family or church group, simply print the image above and cut into slips for selection.  We wish you the best for the upcoming year, and regret that due to other obligations on our time, we can no longer draw saints for individuals.

On the first of January a new calendar year begins. On the first Sunday of Advent the new year of the Church begins. Therefore, the Saturday preceding the first Advent Sunday has something of the character of a New Year's Eve. One of the old customs is to choose a patron saint for the new year of the Church... We always choose them according to a special theme. One year, for instance, we had all the different Church Fathers; another year we chose only martyrs; then again, only saints of the new world....During the war we chose one saint of every country at war. 
After our first gathering around the Advent light, and the singing of the first Advent hymn, an air of expectancy spreads over the family group; now comes the moment when the mother goes around with a bowl in which are the little cards with the names of the new saints. Everybody draws a card... This saint will be invoked every morning after morning prayer. Everyone is supposed to look up and study the life story of his new friend, and some time during the coming year he will tell the family all about it...But the custom has become very dear to us, and every year it seems as if the family circle were enlarged by all those new brothers and sisters entering in and becoming known and loved by all.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Frugal Gift: Repurposed Apron plus Thrift Store cookbook

Four weeks til Christmas. 

Good cookbooks are hard to come by at my thrift store. At thirty cents a pop, they get snapped up very quickly, so I keep my eyes open year round. I do have better luck with magazines- hardly a week goes by without a few ten cent treasures making their way home with me.

From a skirt with a pretty embroidered hem ($1), a coordinating half yard print (25 cents), and a few yards of ribbon (25 cents)  I was able to make two aprons. I separated the skirt into two halves and top stitched the side seams. I added a panel for the top and used the ribbon for the neck and arm sashes. Paired with a cookbook or a few magazines, this pretty pair will make cooking dinner a pleasure.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thinking ahead for your turkey leftovers

I don't know about you, but I love to spend Thanksgiving weekend curled up in front of the fire, playing board games or watching movies with my extended family. Here are a few favorite turkey based recipes for when you want a change from straight up leftovers. Most call for pantry staples, but I plan to pick up the more unusual ingredients for these meals along with my Thanksgiving groceries.

Turkey Soup (our archives)
Turn your leftover turkey bones into soup!

Slow Cooker White Turkey Chili (Williams-Sonoma)
What could be easier than a slow cooker full of chili simmering away while you enjoy time with your family and friends? I simplify this recipe by soaking dried beans overnight, and giving them a head start cooking in homemade turkey broth (3 hours on low) before adding the remaining ingredients.

Turkey Tetrazzini (The Satellite Sisters)
This comforting casserole with a homemade Marsala cream sauce has been a favorite at our house for over a decade. 

D'Amico and Sons Turkey with Dried Cherries Pasta
My kids' favorite lunch.

Turkey ala King (Food and Wine)
My husband's favorite dinner.

Pulled turkey
Cook leftover turkey (I think  dark meat holds up better) with a little water or broth in your slow cooker for a few hours until it shreds easily. You can use this meat as you would pulled pork- in tacos/enchiladas, mixed with bbq sauce for sandwiches, tossed in minestrone soup...

What is your favorite way to use up leftover turkey?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ the King

And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7, 13)

Image Source
Mosaic, Cathedral of Cefalu, Italy

Friday, November 20, 2015

Frugal Gift: Chai mix (plus thrift store mug)

Five weeks till Christmas. What could be more warming on a cold winter's day than a cup of hot tea? And among tea, chai is the favorite at our house. A jar of chai mix plus a pretty thrift store mug or tea cup can add a moment of beauty to a busy day. NB: It is more economical to purchase the spices in bulk, either from bins or an Asian grocery store.

Put the following dry ingredients in a clean jar:
3 T loose tea or 3 Darjeeling tea bags, torn open and bags discarded
3 cardamom pods
3 whole cloves
1 whole nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
1 T crystallized ginger (optional)
1 T sugar

Make the following label:
Bring 2 cups water and 1 cup milk to boil. Reduce heat and stir in jar contents.  Simmer for 15 minutes, then strain and serve.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Parish toy sale

Our parish school recently held its annual toy and book sale fundraiser. It was a banner year for books! I paid $12 for all these books, most of which are brand new (extras from a book fair). I can't wait to spend some cozy winter afternoons looking through these books with my little boys. This is really a nice event for the community- prices are quite nominal, and it's a great opportunity to trade-in books and toys your family has outgrown. Does your parish or school have an event like this?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A $9 pork shoulder, 6 ways from Sunday

It took me a long time to come around to the idea of a Sunday roast. My parents grew up without refrigeration, and as a result, even once we immigrated to the US, each meal was cooked daily with no concept of leftovers. My first "how-to" encounter with a Sunday roast was about 10 years ago in a Nigella cookbook, where the roast was accompanied by several labor intensive sides, leading me to conclude, "Sunday, the day of rest for everyone but Mom." While I appreciated the low effort of Sabbatarian baked beans, I wanted the Lord's Day to have a more special meal. Eventually, by cooking my way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I was able to get pretty quick at getting a braise underway. I came to realize that no thirty minute meal had anything on the Sunday roast and its trickle down effect making the rest of the week easier.

Pork prices have been low lately, and I bought a couple 7 lb bone in pork shoulders in COV for about $9 apiece. I consider myself a pretty frugal cook who doesn't waste food, but even I was surprised how many meals the roast contributed to for my family of four this week. (NB: We were supposed to have company over on the "roast" night, but they cancelled due to illness, so there was more leftover meat than planned).

1. Roast
This slow cooked pork shoulder recipe is about as easy as it comes and you wouldn't believe meat cooked for 6 hours could be so pink and tender.  Add a side of crockpot mashed potatoes and a cabbage slaw, and you would be hard pressed to find an easier Sunday dinner.
2. Pulled pork
I mixed half the remaining meat with homemade barbecue sauce for pulled pork sandwiches.

3.Pork fried rice
I used the remaining meat to make fried rice.

4. Pork Skin
There was a crisp pork skin on the roast that I used to flavor braised green beans, a side for the pulled pork.

5. Bone simmered into a stock
I simmered the pork shoulder bone with other kitchen scraps to make a couple quarts of stock for soup.

6. Fat rendered out 
When preparing the glaze for the roast, I skimmed about 2/3 cup of fat into a jar and refrigerated it. Just a spoonful has added a lot of flavor to sautees and refried beans, and has been the base for gravy.

So, to recap, a $9 pork roast provided the meat for three dinners and flavored several other dishes. Not too shabby.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

St Elizabeth of Hungary

Elizabeth was a lifelong friend of the poor and gave herself entirely to relieving the hungry. She ordered that one of her castle should be converted into a hospital in which she gathered many of the weak and feeble. She generously gave alms to all who were in need, not only in that place but in all the territories of her husband’s empire. She spent all her own revenue from her husband’s four principalities, and finally she sold her luxurious possessions and rich clothes for the sake of the poor. (Conrad of Marburg, her confessor)

Image top: The Charity of St Elizabeth, Bartolomeo Schedoni, 1611
Image bottom: The Prayer Book of St Elizabeth of Hungary, 1220

Monday, November 16, 2015

ISO: Pirate book recommendations for an almost five year old

A neighbor passed on this wooden pirate ship her children had outgrown, which I am planning to give my older son (almost 5) for Christmas. I'd like to give him some pirate or nautical books to go along with the ship, but would love any recommendations. The Little Fisherman by Margaret Wise Brown and The Maggie B by Irene Haas are favorites at out house; I checked out the Little Tim adventures from the library, but found them a but past his comprehension level. What are some books in this vein that have been enjoyed by your family?

Image source: The Salvation of Peter, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Some Thanksgiving books we are enjoying

Living in an agricultural community, my kids (ages 4.5 and 20 months) are familiar with the harvest, but this year I introduced the history of Thanksgiving. Here are some books we have checked out from our public library and enjoyed:

Hardscrabble Harvest (Dahlov Ipcar)
Fittingly, I first came across Dahlov Ipcar's work in the first book she illustrated, Margaret Wise Brown's The Little Fisherman. I was drawn to the book because the illustrations reminded me of the wonderful vintage Sanseau curtains in their nursery. From sowing the seeds in spring to the Thanksgiving meal, the rhymes follows the course of a year on the farm.

N.C. Wyeth's Pilgrims (Robert San Souci)
Full disclosure: this book is mostly for my benefit. NC Wyeth's murals for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company are amazing, but this is definitely a book for older children.

The Thanksgiving Story (Alice Dagliesh)
With charming woodcut illustrations, this book tells the story of coming to America from the perspective of the Hopkins children, which really brought the Pilgrim experience to life in my son's mind.

Sharing the Bread (Pat Zietlow Miller)
A sweet rhyming book about a 19th century family preparing Thanksgiving dinner.

Cranberry Thanksgiving (Wende and Harry Devlin)
For many years, we lived in Boston, and especially in the fall I get nostalgic about that part of the world. The Cranberry series have been a fun way to share some of that culture with my oldest son, who was born there. He finds the escapades of Maggie and Mr Whiskers hilarious, and I appreciate the subtle nods to collective memory, such as the singing of "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" at the Thanksgiving table.