Wednesday, November 30, 2005

TIME on Books v. Movies

Here is a portion of a TIME article comparing recent film adaptations to their respective books. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is among those featured, and I have copied the related parts here:

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE
-- Winner: Book

CHALLENGES: Right off the bat, the screenwriters had to commit sacrilege by tinkering with a beloved children's classic. They also had to wrestle with a strongly Christian plot that flirts with Sunday-school didacticism and had to keep kids interested despite a noticeable lack of exploding spaceships.

HOW THE BOOK WAS BETTER: Director Andrew Adamson Hollywoodizes Lion with a dreary, rote chase scene and "punches up" C.S. Lewis' dialogue with a pair of tiresome beavers with Cockney accents who engage in sitcom-style banter.

HOW THE MOVIE IS BETTER: Whereas Lewis let World War II stay in the book's background, the movie opens with a stark, scary shot of Luftwaffe bombers pummeling London. It's a daring stroke that brings out the dark strata of loss and violence that lay beneath the story. Lewis also soft-pedaled the book's climactic battle between the forces of good and evil; the movie makes it the set piece readers have always wanted. "It'd be a crime not to show a fight between a centaur and a minotaur," says screenwriter Christopher Markus.

DEFINITIVE VERSION: Nothing will ever touch the subtlety, mystery, power and charm of Lewis' novel. But this Lion is still a noble beast.

I have to admit the bit about the "sitcom-style banter" of the beavers does leave me a bit uneasy. How typically Disney, although supposedly Disney has nothing to do with the making of the movie, just the distribution. I can stomache very few recent Disney cartoons, as recent Disney cartoons are usually driven by humor, not by plot. I prefer some meat myself. I do hope the beaver side-show proves to be miniscule.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Above Our Bonus Room Door. . .



I rarely darken the door of a movie theater, but I'll be at the December 8th midnight showing for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. We have our friends from TN coming down, as well as Ashley, and my brother Ben and his girlfriend Stephanie. Friends from KY and AL couldn't make it because of transportation issues, but it'll still be a good time.

Visit this Swedish site to see a 9-minute supertrailer of the upcoming movie.

I have hopes that this adaptation will best the old BBC version. The cartoon winged-horses just never were my style. Then there were the beaver costumes - or were those furry sacks of potatoes? I still enjoy the old BBC version occasionally for old-time sake, but it definitely would never win any cinematography award. I do love the theme music, though.

Speaking of the BBC version, they showed it a few years back on public television and completely took out the whole "crucifixion" and "resurrection" scene. Needless to say, it made for a confusing and very different story. That's close to (but not nearly as bad as) Jesus Christ Superstar, which didn't even have a resurrection. May I not recommend that movie? There are some movies you just wish you could erase from your memory.

But back to Narnia. . .

My sister is - How shall I put this? - rather fixated on Narnia. She's been in kind of a daze of anticipation for the last several months. She's been known to hug lampposts in public. The sign above our bonus door was her idea, as well. I consider her to be a Narnian traitor, though, as she subscribes to pre-wardrobe orderology. I know - shocking! She actually advocates and defends the practice of placing The Magician's Nephew before The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Being a post-orderologist myself, let's just say that we've exchanged some words on this subject. I still love her, though.

I'm just glad that they are releasing the movies in the traditional order. It is getting harder and harder to find a bookset with the correct order now. I had to find mine at a yard sale for $2 :-). I know, the sacrifice! I'm still on the lookout for another traditional set for Ashley. But then, even if I did find one, I just might have to hide it until she gets a traditional nativity set. . . none of that Epiphany nonsense ;-).

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Friends


My family had a great time over Thanksgiving break with long-time family friends. We started the tradition of spending Thanksgiving with them several years ago, after they moved to TN, and we've kept it up ever since. I always look forward to getting to spend Thanksgiving with the Zeglens and all 7 of their children :).

The middle 3 girls are my and Hannah's special friends, and we love to do fun things with them! This summer we had "Susan Garrison's Homemaking Camp" in which we sewed, baked, and cooked. We've done cake decorating as well, and plans are in the works for baking whole wheat bread in the future. We also enjoy watching our older brothers play with explosives - a standing Thanksgiving tradition :). This year featured two hot-air balloons and a flame-spurting potato gun.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Walking in a Winter Shoppingland. . .


We Can Have Christmas All Year. . .

>>>>Enter Nostalgic Christmas Music<<<<


Has anyone else noticed how the Christmas season keeps getting longer and longer? It used to be standard for stores to pull out Christmas decorations and merchandise the day after Thanksgiving. Santa Claus (more on him in a later post) appeared at the mall right after Thanksgiving, but certainly not before. The Christmas season was understood to reside after Thanksgiving Day and before New Year's Day. No more is this the case, however; after all, five weeks just isn't long enough to spend walking in a winter shoppingland. . .

Perhaps it's all a ploy to glaze over Thanksgiving, the only remaining holiday that has not been largely secularlized. It's hard for the secular community to embrace a distinctly Christian holiday like Thanksgiving, so they've managed to largely overshadow it with Christmas. After all, giving thanks implies a greater being to whom we are thankful - dangerous ground to tread. So now, as soon as Halloween (err, Reformation Day) is over, out come the Christmas decorations, the candy, the advertisements, the Santas in the malls, and the badly-done popular renditions of once-revered Christmas carols, broadcast over the loudspeakers in every store.

Before I continue, I would like to make clear that I love many things about Christmas. I look forward to the Christmas carols, the traditional decorations, Christmas letters and pictures, exchanged gifts, visited family. This time of year is a special time to remember the miracle of Christmas: the virgin conception and birth of Jesus Christ. That is the part of Christmas that I love; however, that is not what this post is about.

The shopping frenzy that will peak over the next month truly makes me ill. The stores all vie for the consumer's money while the run-down consumer frantically tries to buy presents for everyone on her shopping list. Making a list, checking it twice, gotta find out who likes marbles or dice. Consumerism is coming to town. . .

My favorite Christmas movie, bar none, is A Charlie Brown Christmas. I find myself identifying with Charlie Brown whenever I watch it. Just like him, I become disillusioned every Christmas season because of the pervading commercialism. Maybe I should just face the facts, like Lucy charged Charlie Brown to do:

Look, Charlie, let's face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial
racket. It's run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.

Then there is Sally (Charlie Brown's sister), the poster child for the American Christmas spirit:
Dear Santa Claus, How have you been? Did you have a nice summer? How is your
wife? I have been extra good this year, so I have a long list of presents that I
want. Please note the size and color of each item, and send as many as possible.
If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself: just send money. How
about tens and twenties?
The greed displayed by all - but especially kids - at this time of year is disgusting. As Sally told her brother: All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.

Too many kids actually think that Christmas gifts are a "right," not a privilege. Too many parents feel that in order for their kids to have a good childhood, they must lavish them with excessive gifts each Christmas. I have heard people honestly list as a major reason for two incomes the ability to buy a lot of presents for their kids at Christmas time. I kid you not.

I am not against gift giving, and I especially like exchanging gifts with people I love. I think it is appropriate (although not necessary) for parents to give their children a few gifts at Christmas, symbolizing the first Christmas gift, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is also a fun tradition for siblings to exchange gifts, if the stress is on thought rather than size of gift.

I don't have a problem with gift giving if it doesn't become "Let's see how much we can lavish on our children so they have good childhood memories and love us (and Santa) lots" or "Ho-hum; I know I need to get a gift for Sally since she'll give one to me, but I haven't a foggy clue what she would want as I hardly know her."

In my extended family, in the past we have drawn names for gift giving with cousins. That worked well, although it got out of hand when the gifts became $30, $40, even $50 gifts! It also became very rote and unmeaningful as the cousins grew older and it was harder to find a gift that would be both appropriate and appreciated.

Of course there are always gift certificates. . .

*****ENTER HARDCORE CYNICISM*****

Really, I would have loved to have been in on the business meeting of the first store that offered gift certificates.

Tom: Many people come into our store and leave without finding the right gift. How can we make them buy their gifts at our store, even if we don't have the items they want? Some of the customers are even talking of just giving their friends money for gifts. If that happens, then there's no way to make sure they spend it here.

Harry: I know. Let's make up little pieces of paper called certificates that give people shopping money to spend at our store. For example, a person can by $5 worth of our merchandise with a certificate that someone else bought from us for $5.

Tom: C'mon. That'll never work. Why would someone pay us money so their friend has to spend their money at our store? What person would want money that has to be spent at a certain place?

Harry: It might work. We just have to put the right spin on it. "
The gift that's always the right size" or something like that. What do we have to lose? Better yet, let's make an expiration date on the gift certificates, so if they don't get used by a
certain date then we get paid for nothing.

And the rest is history. . .

*Disclaimer: I have probably given gift certificates as gifts before, and I don't mind receiving them as gifts. If you have given me (or someone else) a gift certificate in the past, I hold no grudges against you, especially if the alternative was a light-up Rudolph nose. I am just trying to expose the illogic of this practice that advertisers have made popular. There is no logical reason why a cash gift is tacky in our society, but a gift certificate is not. I do think that one reason to give a gift certificate would be to introduce someone to a store of which they had never heard.

The following are a few modern-day scenarios that will likely result in a gift certificate purchase:

Scenario 1: You picked Bob the sales clerk's name in the Secret Santa drawing. You've spoken to him once since you started your job, and all you know about his personal life is that he's married and hates golf. What are you going to get him for a present?

Scenario 2: Your extended family has a tradition of purchasing gifts for all the cousins. You have a teenage niece who lives on the other side of the country. You've seen her once in the past 5 years. Last year she received bath products, the year before was a designer candle. What are you going to get her for a present this year?

Scenario 3: Your aging parents are comfortably retired in their dream home. They do not want for any material things. You have given them a fruit basket twice before. What are you going to get them for a present this year?

A century ago the idea of a gift certificate would have been laughable, but there are cultural reasons why gift certificates are so popular today. It is primarily because Christmas gifts today are often not meaningful gifts for people with whom one is well acquainted. It's easy to think of a meaningful gift for someone who is close to you, or someone who has great needs, but in our society this is not often the case. Americans are so wealthy, and many people honestly do not need any material possessions.

Handmade items, such as jams, jellies, quilts, pies, etc. are a lost art to many, and our instant gratification society encourages fast gift shopping as much as it does fast food eating. I don't think that handmade items are equivalent to thoughtful gifts, so please don't get me wrong. I do think handmade items are a nice (and often superior) gift, and I do prefer to give handmade gifts myself. I think thoughtful gifts can also be purchased from a store, though, and many of the best gifts are free. I delight in giving and receiving gifts that reflect thoughtfulness behind them. This is the purpose of giving gifts, to show loving thoughtfulness to another.

Unfortunately gift giving has become a chore in our society as it has become out-of-hand and distanced from personal touch. Sad that such a nice tradition has been so marred. The religious significance and the time-honored traditions of Christmas has been so overrun by the commercialism. It makes me want to break into a nostalgic tune.

I'm Dreaming of a Lite Christmas. . .

As a Christian, I give gifts as a small picture of The First Gift of Christmas. I've always thought it would be neat to place gifts in a homemade manger, rather than under a tree. I am not opposed to trees, but I think it would be neat to use a manger, maybe in addition to a tree decoration. The First Gift of Christmas was placed in a manger, so it would be appropriate to place gifts to one another in a manger, since these gifts are to symbolize The First Christmas Gift. It would help us remember why we are giving gifts in the first place.

This Christmas season, I will likely have the urge at some point(s) to shout as Charlie Brown did: Isn't there anyone out there who can tell me what Christmas is all about?

I am thankful that there is an answer to that question, and we aren't left to wonder. Thank you, Lord, for the Linuses in the world, who are there to remind us what Christmas is all about.

Linus:

Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you. Lights, please.

(A spotlight shines on Linus.)

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the City of Bethlehem, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men'.

And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Giving Thanks

I love Thanksgiving, one of the few holidays that has not been largely secularized and commercialized in America. Thanksgiving was instituted by the Pilgrims in thanks to God for bringing them through the first winter in the New World. Thanksgiving is still a time to spend with family and friends, fellowshipping together through the breaking of bread and the giving of thanks to the good Lord above for his provision over the years.

My family has spent the last several Thanksgivings with our long-time family friends from Chattanooga, the Zeglens. Our closest relatives are about 500 miles away, so we are thankful to be able to share this holiday with the Zeglens. We will be enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving meal with them, and plenty of fun throughout the day. They have 7 kids, and my sister and I always love spending time with the 5 youngest, ages 13 and under. I am sure several rounds of cards and a game of prince and princess hide-and-seek are on the agenda for tomorrow.

During this season of thankfulness, I am thankful for. . .

Forgiveness
Mercy
Liberty
Family
Home
Friends
Daily Bread
Health
Safety
Fellowship
Faith
Hope
Love

May I be thankful for this and much more, not merely on Thanksgiving, but all through the year.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Title Confusion

In the past year or so I've been pondering quite a bit the place and use of titles such as Miss, Mrs., Mr., etc. This is mainly because I am now at that age when I am an adult (and a college graduate), yet I still don't fully think of myself as one. If I meet anyone remotely older than me who is married, then I automatically call them by their last name, Mr. or Mrs. ______, yet more and more often I meet married adults who are 10 or 20 years older than me, and they ask me to refer to them by their first name.

My confusion has increased over the past semester as I am now teaching for a homeschool program that I have been familiar with for quite some time. Although I never attended there, my family has known the headmaster (and other involved families) for years, and I still refer to him as Mr. Meents; I would not feel comfortable doing otherwise. The other woman who teaches math for the program, though, is older than the headmaster, yet I call her by her first name when not in the presence of students.

But the saga continues. You see, I know several homeschool families who send their children to the program. One of my Algebra I students (obviously several years younger than myself) grew up with me in the same homeschool group, yet she now has to call me "Miss Garrison" instead of "Susan". Her older brother still calls me Susan and thinks it's funny that she now refers to me, even at home, as Miss Garrison. There was originally a strong possibility this year that two girls who I know very well - one I consider a friend, the other is one of my sister's friends - would be in my statistics class, which didn't end up garnering enough interest to materialize. That would have been even stranger to be in a position of authority over two girls with whom I have such a close acquaintance (and are closer in age) and to have them call me Miss Garrison. I know several other students in the program, but only the one girl whom I actually teach, two counting the sister of one of my sister's friends.

Then there is the tutoring I do on the side. Do I introduce myself to my tutoring students as Miss Garrison, as Susan, or just leave them to guess? I've been introducing myself as Susan, but I can see that it is strange or uncomfortable to some students.

And ah, yes, the Mrs., Miss, Ms. controversy. I avoid Ms. since it is a product of the feminist revolution :). In college all female instructors without a doctorate, even if married with their husbands' last names, were referred to as Ms. _______, pronounced "miss". A few wrote their name "Mrs.", but most opted for the elusive "Ms." in both writing and speech. I spent a good deal of time in the public schools last year observing and teaching, and never was a female teacher verbally referred to with the title "Mrs". The high school teachers, unlike the college instructors, did not mind writing their names "Mrs.", they were just never referred to by this title; it was always verbally "Miss", whether married or single. I'm not sure if this was from feminist influences or a product of southern culture. . .

I have found it very amusing to observe the differences in which my students and their parents refer to me in writing. I introduced myself to my classes as Miss Garrison and the same was written on my syllabus and all mass parent-student e-mails. All of my students verbally address me as "Miss Garrison". By e-mail, though, I have had students refer to me as "Mrs. Garrison" on numerous occasions, as well as the most popular "Ms. Garrison". Rarely (I hazard to guess never) has a student or parent addressed me in writing as "Miss Garrison", although I sign every mass parent-student e-mail with this title. To individual parents I often sign my e-mails "Susan Garrison"; some reply with Mrs, most with Ms, and one or two with Susan. To the two parents whom I have long known, I always sign my name "Susan", and they respond in kind.

What brought on this long meandering was the recent slew of progress reports I just e-mailed today. I individually e-mailed an Excel grade spreadsheet to each student, with grades and averages, and wrote a short personalized e-mail signed "Miss Garrison". One of the parents has already e-mailed back to "Mrs. Garrison", which I find amusing since in the e-mail to which she was replying I signed my name "Miss Garrison". Granted I am not offended, nor will I lose sleep over this. I really don't care if all my students and parents refer to me as "Mrs. Garrison" - though that is my mother's name ;). I just find the whole situation interesting to ponder.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Aaaaahhhhhh!

Thanksgiving is 10 days away and I've been seeing Christmas decorations for weeks, since well before Reformation Day ;). I'm going to scream! It's all part of the vast consumerism plot. Look for my post on consumerism coming November 25th. . .

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Cooking From Scratch, Part III: Whole Wheat Flour and Honey

Read Part I: Beef Stew and Cooking from Scratch here.
Read Part II: Cream Soups and Broths here.

For those looking for healthy choices when cooking from scratch, try using whole wheat flour and honey (or other natural sweeteners) in place of white flour and refined sugar.

From my first post on cooking from scratch:

The overwhelming problems Americans have with their health today is
largely due to poor eating habits. I'm not just talking about Big Macs and Coke
(term used generically in Atlanta for any soda) here. Just look at all the
chemicals listed on the back of most food packages today. Processed foods
contain so many by products. By putting unnatural products into their body
systems day in and day out, Americans are eating themselves into a plethora of
health problems and an early grave. For example, 40% of all cancer is caused by
lack of fiber, easily treatable with a well-balanced, natural diet.
Lack of fiber is mainly due to the current American diet, full of white flour and other fiberless foods. We need an adequate amount of fiber in our diet to maintain a healthy digestive system. One of the best ways to get fiber is to eat whole grain foods such as baked goods made with whole wheat flour, cornmeal, bran, etc. After wheat kernels are milled, they rapidly lose nutrients, so the whole wheat flour one buys at the store, while superior to white flour, is still far inferior to fresh ground flour.

My family has a Whisper Mill that grinds wheat kernels with electric power. Any flour we do not use immediately, we store in the fridge in a ziploc bag. Storing it in the fridge helps the flour retain nutrients for an extended period of time, and prevents the wheat germ from becoming rancid. We used to store our flour in the freezer until I read that freezing whole wheat flour destroys most of the vitamin E.

We often replace part of the flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour so the texture of the food is not drastically altered while still providing some fiber. When I make homemade pasta (with a machine) I usually use 1/2 white flour, 1/2 whole wheat. I've varied results with my attempts at pasta, but when it works it is tasty, healthy, and economical.

Mr. Baggins said:
On the cancer issue, researchers have found that the number one cause of cancer
is sugar: white, processed sugar. The solution? cook with honey. Of course, you
have to use less (says my wife), but it is much healthier. And get the raw
uncooked variety from a local apiary, not the processed honey you get in a
grocery store. It tastes soooo much better, not to mention being much healthier
for you.
We also use honey as sweetener in many recipes, either as a replacement or as part of the sweetener for the recipe. If you do use honey as a substitute, you need to use less honey than sugar, as Mr. Baggins' wife said. I use about 3/4 cup of honey to replace 1 cup white sugar. It varies for each recipe, though. Molasses and brown sugar are also good alternatives to white sugar. We've never bought unprocessed honey, but my sister and I would like to try some soon. I've heard from many people that it is superior to the store variety.

Breads, rolls, and heavier cakes and cookies are good foods to start with when trying whole wheat flour and natural sweetener. Don't try making an angel food cake with whole wheat flour and honey - it's not going to work!

It's difficult to find good recipes that don't sacrifice flavor for nutrition. I've tried some recipes that are supposed to be so tasty, but in all honesty the food tasted more like horse food than people food. Two cookbooks I have for whole foods recipes are Whole Foods for the Whole Family and Whole Foods from the Whole World, both published by La Leche League. I've had varied success with their recipes. Some are really good and some are really bad. My favorite healthy recipes are mostly ones I've adapted from a regular recipe.

Here are a few healthy recipes my family enjoys:

Whole Wheat Bread

8 c warm water
1 c honey
2 1/2 T salt
3 T yeast
approximately 24 c wheat flour

Before I make this recipe I grind two full loads of flour in our mill. This will make enough for the bread, with some to spare to store in the fridge for later use. Add honey, water, 1/2 of the flour (one load), and yeast to mixer (we have a Bosch with dough hooks). Mix on #1 (low). Add flour until sides are clean. Add salt. Knead on #2 for 8 minutes. Knead some by hand. Form into 1.5 lb loaves or into rolls. Let rise until almost twice height of pan (the rising time varies quite a bit for us). Bake at 375 for 22 minutes. Bake any rolls for 10-15 minutes.

Oatmeal Cookies (my sister and I had fun creating this recipe)

3 eggs
1 1/2 c raisins
1 t vanilla
1 c butter, slightly softened
1 c brown sugar
1 c honey
2 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 t salt
2 t baking soda
3 t cinnamon
3 cups rolled oats

Beat eggs well, add raisins and vanilla, let stand 1 hour to soften raisins (optional). Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and raisins. Whisk flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon, and add gradually. Add oats. Chill in refrigerator for firmer cookies (recommended). Spoon dough onto lightly greased cookie sheets and bake at 375 degrees for 7-9 minutes.


Oat Muffins

1 c water
1 stick butter
3/4 c honey
2 c oat flour (grind rolled oats in blender)
1/2 c whole wheat flour

1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 t cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c buttermilk

Combine water, butter, and honey in 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil; remove from heat. Mix dry ingredients together. Add to honey mixture; mix well. Add eggs and buttermilk; mix well. Spoon into muffin pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Top with cream cheese frosting if desired.

Cream Cheese Frosting (this was surprisingly good!)

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
2-4 T honey
1 t vanilla

Beat cream cheese and butter in bowl until fluffy. Beat in honey to taste. Add vanilla; mix well.

Cooking from Scratch, Part II: Cream Soups and Broths

Read Part I: Beef Stew and Cooking from Scratch here.

I hope to post on cooking with honey and whole wheat flour tomorrow, Lord willing. For now I'll address cream soups and broths.

Mrs. B asked:

Is there a particular cookbook that you like that has SIMPLE home-style recipes? (Alot of cookbooks these days have weird stuff in them).

I haven't found many cookbooks that I really like, and I would love any recommendations others can give. I mainly find my recipes online or get them from other people. I have greatly enjoyed one cookbook I picked up at a yard sale last year. It is called Old-Fashioned Home Baking, published by Better Homes and Gardens. Oodles of recipes from scratch: different breads, breakfasts, desserts, etc. The apple ladder loaf in the book is so good! The Joy of Cooking is also a good staple to own. I have a collection of cookbooks from yard sales and usually find one or two good recipes per book that I end up trying and liking. I figure a few dollars for one or two recipes is well worth it.

I have not experimented a great deal with substituting other products for canned cream soups, as I mainly find new recipes instead.

Mrs. N suggested using a white sauce (recipe found in any basic cookbook) as a substitute for cream soups:
It is very easy and economical to substitute a basic white sauce for cream of
mushroom/celery/chicken soup. It is just flour and milk cooked together until
thick. You can make it by first making a roux which is equal parts butter and
flour cooked together in a pan (usually 2 Tbs each) and then whisking milk into
it. Most of the time I don't go to that much trouble and just thicken the milk
with flour and add my favorite seasoning. Easy.

White sauce is actually what was used for centuries before The Great Campbell's Soup Takeover. Some of you ladies who took home economics in middle or high school may remember being taught how to make a white sauce because it is "the base for so many dishes". Only thing is, most people don't make those dishes anymore, or just make similar ones with canned soups. A classic cookbook like Joy of Cooking still has recipes with white sauce.

I have used a recipe for chicken flavored white sauce in a recipe for enchiladas, and it was delicious. The lady who wrote the recipe said the sauce can be substituted for an equal amount of undiluted cream of chicken soup. Here is the recipe:

Chicken Flavored White Sauce

3/4 c butter
3/4 c flour
4 c chicken broth
1 t salt (if broth is unsalted)
1 c dry milk powder (optional)

In saucepan melt butter. Add flour and stir. Add broth, salt, and milk powder. Stir with wire whisk. Cook until thickened.

Chicken broth is an excellent addition to recipes like the one above, and gives flavor without sacrificing health. I started experimenting with homemade chicken broth 3 years ago, at the same time I started buying and cooking whole chickens. My first attempts were very weak at best :(. I learned the hard way that ingredients like carrots, celery, onion, and herbs and spices really were helpful for achieving a tasty broth.

When I make chicken broth, I normally put two large chickens (5-6 pounds) in a large stockpot and cover them with water. Turn the burner on (eye for those in the South ;) ) to high. Meanwhile cut up a few stalks of celery (leaves are especially flavorful) and a few carrots and add to broth for flavor. Onion is also a good addition. When the water comes to a boil, skim off the scum that rises to the top and turn burner to medium low. Add various seasonings or spices: salt, pepper, thyme, nutmeg, parsley, bay leaves. Salt really adds flavor, but don't overdo it. Thyme is good, but can be overpowering if used in excess. Nutmeg is definitely my favorite flavoring for any chicken dish.

I let the chickens cook until they test done with a meat thermometer. I remove carrots, celery, bay leaves, etc., and take the chickens out of the broth and debone the chicken, saving the meat for future use. After cooling and deboning the chickens, I return the carcasses to the broth for extra cooking. I think this extra simmer really helps add flavor. I have also found that simmering uncooked chicken (broth) gives better flavor then simmering a chicken carcass (stock), although both is preferred if possible. If the broth is too watery it can always be reduced by cooking it down to a lower volume. Obviously with 2 chickens I get a lot of broth in one go-around, so I freeze most of it in gladware for future use.

Here is one of my favorite from-scratch recipes. I found this chicken pie recipe on the internet, titled "Rachel Lynde's Chicken Pie." How fun, since I love Anne of Green Gables :). It has become a family favorite. The sauce made for the filling could easily be used for other recipes as well, perhaps in place of cream of chicken soup. The sauce is made with a basic roux (fat and flour, cooked together) with chicken broth whisked into it. This chicken pie recipe is genuine comfort food :). Mmmm, good.

Chicken Pie

Filling:
4 c chicken broth (I use homemade)
3 carrots, cut into bite size pieces
2 potatoes
2 cut-up ribs of celery
2 1/2 c cubed cooked chicken
1 onion, chopped
3/4 stick butter

6 T flour
1/4 t each, thyme and nutmeg
parsley to taste

Biscuits:
2 c flour
2 1/4 t baking powder
3/4 t baking soda
3/4 t salt
6 T butter or shortening
1/2 c grated cheddar
2 eggs
approximately 1/2 c milk

Filling Directions: In a saucepan, bring broth to a boil, add vegetables and cook on med low uncovered for about 20 minutes, or until tender. Transfer vegetables to large bowl with slotted spoon, reserving broth, and add chicken to vegetable bowl. In separate pan cook onion in butter over med low heat, stir in flour, and stir 3 min. Add 3 c reserved broth in a stream, whisking. Bring mixture to boil. Add thyme, and simmer sauce, stir occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in spices, then pour sauce over chicken mixture, stirring gently until just combined. Transfer to greased 9x13 glass baking dish. Filling may be made 1 day in advance if covered and chilled, or further in advance if frozen. My family likes to double or triple the filling, and freeze the extra in ziploc bags.

Crust Directions: Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in shortening to resemble coarse meal. Add cheddar and toss mixture. Into measuring cup, break 2 eggs and add enough milk to measure 3/4 c total. Beat mixture with fork. Add egg mixture to flour, stirring to form dough. Roll out on floured surface. Cut out rounds and place over chicken mix. Bake at 450 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until filling bubbles and biscuits are cooked and golden.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Beef Stew and Cooking From Scratch

Stew is one of those foods that belongs in the fall and winter :). I love a good homemade stew, especially during the aforementioned seasons. My family enjoyed a tasty homemade stew tonight with homemade bread and biscuits. Mmmmm, good. The bread was made with fresh-ground whole wheat flour and honey, so it was healthy as well as good. The biscuits, well, let's just say they tasted good :).

I love cooking and baking, and I especially love to find recipes that are all from scratch. I have long fought against the tide of prepackaged, processed, "meals in a box." I avoid recipes with cream of mushroom soup like the plague. Have you ever taken a look at the quantity and quality of ingredients listed on a can of cream of mushroom soup? And who needs chicken buillion cubes when one can make chicken broth from scratch; oh, so much healthier, and the flavor will actually be chicken and vegetables instead of sodium. Run-of-the-mill canned chicken broth actually sets my heart racing from the high salt content.

Cooking from scratch is becoming a lost art in our society. Sad. I heard of one homeschool mom who, when communicating that she cooks for her family every night, was asked by other homeschool moms if she was Amish. I've known people to be surprised to find that I actually make foods like cake, gravy, and lasagna from scratch, rather than from a box or packet. Then there are my experiments with homemade pasta, admittedly varying in success and definitely a waste of time in the eyes of most people. When it works, though, it is far superior. There is also a sense of satisfaction from making a food or a whole meal with basic ingredients, rather than pouring some water over powder, stirring, and popping it in the oven.

Now, I am not above occasionally using processed food of some sort, but if it was up to me it would be limited to very little or none. I admit that brownies from a mix are often equal in taste to the real deal, albeit less healthy - but then who's going for health with brownies anyway? Few other foods can be matched, though, by processed or boxed imitations.

The overwhelming problems Americans have with their health today is largely due to poor eating habits. I'm not just talking about Big Macs and Coke (term used generically in Atlanta for any soda) here. Just look at all the chemicals listed on the back of most food packages today. Processed foods contain so many by products. By putting unnatural products into their body systems day in and day out, Americans are eating themselves into a plethora of health problems and an early grave. For example, 40% of all cancer is caused by lack of fiber, easily treatable with a well-balanced, natural diet.

Ironic that a chocoholic is writing this. . . But then, I'm also a carrotholic. Three pounds of carrots in one day is my record :). Some day I'll be able to see in the dark. . . and I'll have very healthy teeth.

I have not even touched on the toll America's fast-food lifestyle has taken on family life. For most people, daily family meals are all too scarce today, replaced by individual heat-and-go meals as members of the family run from one event to another. The family table was once the hub of American family life and the focus of each evening. I'm thankful and blessed that my family still enjoys dinner together more often than not. If you are feeling inspired to cook a little from scratch, may I suggest the excellent beef stew that my family enjoyed tonight?

Beef Stew

1/2-3/4 cup flour (I used whole wheat)
2-3 t salt
1/4 t pepper
2 lbs beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 T oil
4 c water
4 cups cubed potatoes (I leave on the skins)
1 t parsley
1/2 t thyme
1 bay leaf
3 carrots, cut into small pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 stalks celery, cut into small pieces (about 1 cup)
1-2 onions, sliced
frozen peas and corn

Mix flour, salt, and pepper and use to coat beef. Heat oil in stockpot until hot; add beef and remaining flour mixture. Cook and stir until beef is brown. Add water. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 1 1/2 hours. Add remaining ingredients except peas and corn. Cover and simmer 1-2 hours, adding peas and corn 10 minutes before serving. Remove bay leaf before serving. Enjoy!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Thirty-Twos


I love autumn :). Isn't it wonderful that God made our world full of color? The leaves are starting to turn here (though this picture originates farther north) and are absolutely gorgeous.

A few years back someone in my family was looking out the car window admiring the autumn colors, exclaiming "pretty trees" over and over. Someone else in my family mistakenly heard "thirty-twos" instead and was rather confused by the exclamations. The term has stuck, although I can't remember exactly who the involved parties were.

The above picture of thirty-twos was taken from the back porch of my aunt's house. Imagine having a view like that. Any guesses as to where the picture was taken? The water in the background is part of a well-known body of water in the U.S. and the bridge (and surrounding town) recently were featured in a little-known film (named after the town) that starred two actors who have each separately played a major role in a blockbuster movie. The town is small and little-known except for the film and the sport around which the film centered. Two of my aunts live with their families there, and my mom's parents live in the neighboring town where they grew up.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Square Dancing


Bow to your partner way down low; bow to your corner too. Circle left around that ring, circle left you'll do. Left allemande your corner, come back and do-si-do, left allemande your corner, and do a right and left grande. When you meet her, swing and promenade. . .


My sister and I had the privilege of learning some square dancing this past month, over the span of 4 two-hour lessons. I am acquainted with several families from the church near us that hosted the lessons. I met them through a series of providential events, and am thankful for the blessing of occasionally fellowshipping with these like-minded believers. I have long wished to learn square dancing, but never thought I would have an opportunity like this. The lessons this past month were in preparation for the church's Reformation/Thanksgiving celebration this weekend, and tonight was the square dancing. My sister unfortunately had to miss the event because of a previous engagement, but I was able to go and had a great time.

Square dancing is so much fun! Western Square Dancing, which is the type I learned, is kind of confusing at first because of all the different moves, but it gets easier with time. It was easier to learn square dancing with a group of people that were also new to it, so I didn't feel completely alone in my mistakes and confusion :). Growing up, my brother was known for making comments connecting me with the Klutz company, but we won't go there. . .

Square dancing is also great exercise - one of the few forms I enjoy, in fact. I love to walk and play basketball and volleyball, but that's about it in the exercise category. I will not start in on my hatred of other forms of exercise, particularly running ;).

Square dancing is great fellowship as well. Just as David danced before the face of God, so we, as Christians, can use dancing as a form of worship. It is sad that dancing has been ignored or rejected by so much of the Christian community today. Such a beautiful thing has been lost! Unfortunately dancing can be greatly misused and corrupted, but let's not throw the baby out with the bath water! Dancing was created by God as a means to worship Him, and it is also a way of covenanting with fellow believers, bonding as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Unfortunately men are all too scarce at such events, not merely at this particular square dance gathering. In the case of this event, I think the problem was more due to the male/female ratio at the church, which is rather low. I am aware from others, though, that a shortage of male dance partners is a general problem. Our society has duped our men into thinking dancing is a dumb activity, not to be participated in by "real men." Real men don't dance. Sad that our men have bought into this. It was once considered to be a duty of men to attend and offer themselves as dance partners at social functions. Consider the two opposing examples of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley, both Jane Austen characters.

. . . Prepare yourself for something very dreadful. The first time of my ever
seeing him in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball -- and at this ball,
what do you think he did? He danced only four dances! I am sorry to pain you --
but so it was. He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to
my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a
partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact.

- Lizzy, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 31.


I was thinking of a much more precious circumstance of Mr. Knightley's coming
and asking me to dance, when Mr. Elton would not stand up with me; and when
there was no other partner in the room. That was the kind action; that was the
noble benevolence and generosity; that was the service which made me begin to
feel how superior he was to every other being upon earth.

- Harriet, Emma, Chapter 11.
I was pleased, throughout the lessons as well as the dance tonight, with the willingness of the other women to rotate in and out of the dances so all of us could have the opportunity to dance and learn the steps. We were able to make the most of a lack of partners, due to everyone's willingness to make sure no one was excluded.

I was even more impressed, though, by the willing and cheerful attitude displayed by the men, and their willingness to remain in the dances even after they began to tire. For those unfamiliar with the stories of Pride and Prejudice or Emma, it is important to note here that neither Mr. Darcy nor Mr. Knightley like dancing; however the latter willingly made himself available in an act of chivalry, while the former preferred to wallow in his pride and contempt.

Keep in mind that the majority of the "men" who attended the square dance lessons and dance were under the age of 15. How many boys that age do you know that would not only come to a square dance but willingingly spend the night dancing with girls and women of all ages, some they don't even know? It makes me smile when a gentlemanly young man of 12 or 13 years steps up to me and says, "Miss Susan, do you have a partner? May I have the honor of this dance?"

Now that is my idea of a well-bred young man :).