Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday giving: Popover kit!

by June

Who doesn't love eggs fresh from the hens? And all the better if they come with warm holiday wishes and the makings for popovers.

One of our great pleasures is sharing food we love. For the holidays, we often try to pack up a mini-meal in a basket. Time is scant for everyone, and if we can give friends a tasty meal—and also help them shift a few minutes toward relaxing by the tree—well, that's two kinds of nourishment, isn't it?

Christmas breakfast is one of our most anticipated meals of the year. (We'll show you why tomorrow.) It delights us when we can contribute a little something to another family's holiday morning. Last year, when our hens were in the full vigor of laying (as they are not this year), we made popover kits.

We mixed a cup and a quarter of flour into a treat bag with a quarter-teaspoon of salt.

We nestled three eggs next to a sweet loaf of apricot-orange-cranberry bread (for nibbling while the popovers baked).

We added lemon curd (from Amy's yummy recipe) or our cherry-pie jam and tucked it all in a tin with instructions  (see below) for how to mix up the popovers and bake them.

Holiday-morning Popover Instructions

 In addition to the kit you will need…

1 ¼ cup milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into dabs
a muffin tin

 Preheat oven to 400 degrees and set rack in the middle.

Butter or spray the muffin cups with oil.

Pour the dry mix into a blender. Add the three eggs and milk. Blend a minute or two – until the batter is bubbly and about the same consistency as heavy cream. (You can do this the night before, but let it come to room temperature before you use it.)

Stick the EMPTY muffin tin into the oven for two minutes. Then place a small dab in each muffin cup, return to oven until the butter melts and begins to bubble, about ONE MINUTE.

Fill each cup half full with the batter and bake 20 minutes, then reduce temperature to 300 degrees and continue baking 20 minutes. (Watch carefully toward the end.)

Makes 12 popovers. Serve with butter, jam, and spreads like lemon curd.

ENJOY…with love from all of us at Four Green Acres, including our flock of chickens.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The work of their hands

by June
Elves are busy here. Our daughters enter into the merrymaking with verve, and that's a very good thing. They have taken over most of the cookie baking (and the washing up). They untangle the lights and feed them up to me as I circle the tree on the stepladder. They wrap packages, pack them into boxes, and weigh the boxes for shipping. They sew gifts for one another.

I cherish watching them work. Their hands are beautiful in this mother's eyes. Their fingers are graceful and careful. I remember when those fingers first gripped a fat crayon; now they can maneuver through delicate stitches. It is this season that provides important markers of their passage through childhood. Each year they manage more on their own.

Homeschooling is especially dear to me in these crazy-busy weeks, not just because it gives us the flexibility to stop the crazy-busy and go sing-along with "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" at Longfellow's home church. The tree is twinkling as we do math, and I get to hear their first impressions of Truman Capote's exquisite prose as each of them wraps up her first read of A Christmas Memory.

Fern's gift for mama last year
Blossom's gift for mama last year

 This is the season when I feel how far they've come in the last year. We take the official, state-required measure of their progress each spring, but it's when the girls are planning and executing their Christmas surprises that the progress makes itself felt.

Fern's surprise from Blossom, Christmas 2009: Doozie the Hen
They are growing up, our Blossom and Fern. But on Christmas morning they still have the giddy delight of the littlest children. It is delight not only in receiving but especially in giving what they have made with their own hands. I love to watch their hands do the work, but, on Christmas morning, it's their faces I watch. Oh, the joy.

Blossom loves Pickles the Polar Bear, made by Fern
Christmas 2009; hat also by Fern

Saturday, December 4, 2010

'Tis the season for great expectations

by June

December is the month of making—presents, food, memories. My wish is always to make gifts that light up my dears. Last year I set about my work and ended up making myself a gift that I will treasure forever. It was the gift of a lesson learned the bleary-eyed, head-achey way.

About October, I set out to make a Disappearing Nine Patch quilt top for each of my daughters.

I cherish the family quilts I have been given through the years. One was made by my great-grandmother (the original Blossom!). Another was made for my beloved Great-aunt Ella to celebrate her marriage. My mother has given me several. I wanted to share the beauty of quilting with my daughters.

My idea was that the girls and I would spend the winter months quilting together. I set Birch to work on quilting frames, and I gathered fabric from dresses and jammies and blankets I had made for Blossom and Fern when they were babies. I cut pieces out of their crib sheets. I clipped squares from Birch's old shirts and from scraps of my wedding dress.

Night after night, I cut blocks. Then I sewed them together and began cutting them apart and rearranging them into the quilt blocks.

My hours got later and later. I enjoyed the work less. By day, I would shut myself in my cubby. I would hear the rest of the family laughing. And I would want to be with them instead of crouched over my crotchety sewing machine.

 Then the girls needed the machine for their Christmas projects. I worked as their assistant, and we talked as the needle thrummed. I ripped out seams that went wrong and told the girls about my mother ripping out seams for me. "Always have someone nearby to help with mistakes," I advised them. "You don't want to be alone with a mistake. You want to be with someone who loves you." The girls beamed as their projects took shape. They would plant kisses on my temple as I deployed the seam ripper. We giggled about our foibles.

It was about then I realized that these moments were the very ones I had fantasized about when I came up with the quilting-by-the-fire gift idea. We were already having the gift—spending time together, passing along family traditions.

That's when I decided enough was enough. For Christmas, the girls would get the quilt blocks, and then the three of us would sew the blocks together. Someday we'd get to the quilting-by-the-fire part.

I down-sized my great expectations. But since I still wanted Christmas morning to have sparkle, I made the girls quilted stockings, a variation on the ones I made for Birch and me when we were newlyweds.

Those quilted stockings will be a reminder to the girls every Christmas of their lives. Their mother loves them. Those stockings will also be a reminder to me. Slow down. Enjoy what you are doing this moment. This moment is the gift.