Sunday, December 29, 2013

Winter Blessings

 The sky often gives us a peek at the coming weather a few hours or a day before it arrives.  Clouds roll in off the ocean and the sun struggles as the day progresses, peeking out for short periods and waning like an old moon by days-end. 

This was the case yesterday as we set off for a walk in the unseasonably warm temperatures. 

The Mallard Ducks and the Canadian Geese practice posing for still-life photos, their images reflected in the slate zen-like lake.

Occasionally, the sun pokes out for a moment or two, lending a sepia tone to a photographer's palette.

The wild wetland grasses manage to capture a bit of golden light before the sun fades into the clouds for good.

 This is why I go for a walk - to see this light, if only for a moment, caught in the feathery embrace of last summer's "weeds."

Today the 'weather' arrived.  The rain has poured down for hours and hours and as the moody sky gives us a winter storm.  We don't complain though, knowing it could have been snow.

Instead, we curl up with the Sunday papers, a steaming cup of tea and spend the afternoon watching our newest grandson sleep peacefully as the rain taps out a lullaby on the roof.

We count the ducks and geese......the lovely grasses..... even the gray rain - filled sky and, especially .....our new grandson..... among our winter blessings this year!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Past Mingles With Christmas Present

My mother-in-law loved Christmas.  She shopped all year for presents and if one looked, one could find wrapped gifts stashed in the corner of every closet in her house, even in July. 

 All during the month of December, she baked the best cookies I have ever tasted.  Her house was decorated with an entire winter wonderland village.  And she relished  fixing Christmas dinner for the whole family. 

 I think she enjoyed Christmas almost as much as her grandchildren did. She has been gone for fifteen years and I miss her most at Christmas.

She made this nativity for us in a ceramics class one year early in our marriage. It has been a part of our Christmas every year since. Some years we set it up on a table and some years it is nestled under the tree.

As soon as her first grandchild was born, Mom began making or buying ornaments . Our tree is covered with these handmade gems loaded with memories.

 Now that our girls are starting their own families and Christmas traditions, I plan to pass the ornaments on to them.  Perhaps a bit of 'Nana' and her child-like joy  of celebrating Christmas will get passed along to her great grandsons.

 One year, she gave us a table sized carousel as a Christmas gift.  With the flip of a switch, it turned, lights flashed and it played about 10 different Christmas songs.  My children were teenagers when she gave it to us and so neither I nor they were especially impressed with it at the time.

It wasn't until MY first grandchild stared at it with wondrous eyes, that I began to appreciate it.  And every year since then, I have whispered a thank you to my mother-in-law for this wonderful gift, the gift of seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child.

This Christmas, I have a new grandson, a wide-eyed five month old boy.  My mother-in-law would be delighted to know that he is named after her son, my husband. How she would have loved to watch him stare at the carousel and the lights and then hear him squeal with delight! 

We celebrate Christmas to recall the moment when God came to be with us, indeed, becoming one of us. Perhaps the only way we can ever approach such an extraordinary happening, is with the innocent wide-eyed stare of a child. And once the wonder of it dawns on us, we, too, can squeal with delight!!

Merry Christmas!!!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What a Difference A Week Makes!

I took some photos in my garden during the first week of December and discovered, if not a blooming parade of summer flowers, at least some quiet snippets of  late autumn beauty.

 The sage was still quite green and the skimmia had tiny flowers on it!
 I leave many flower heads in the garden for two reasons.  The birds visit from September to November to feast on the seeds and I enjoy the golden sculptured look of the spent flowers.

 The leaves remain on the beds all winter too.  They keep my perennials warm and  eventually break down  into compost.  If they are still around in spring, we rake them into the compost.

 The euonymus is covered with berries at this time of year - another food source for the birds.
 My rhododendron has set buds for next year already.  Now if only they can escape the notice of hungry squirrels in mid-winter.
 This week we woke to a lovely snow shower which dumped an inch or two of snow on us, turning the world outside my window into a white sculpture garden.

 The sage wears a white fur coat this week!

 The snow clings to the seed pods in new and ,sometimes, dramatic ways, creating some unusual patterns.

 St Francis stoically remains a fixture all year round. (I think the birds come to visit him, not me)

So while everyone else is searching the malls for the latest toys and the biggest bargains, I wait with quiet anticipation for the gifts of December to come to my garden - family, celebrations, a new season of cold and snow and a new season of renewal of the heart - with the retelling of the ancient story that still has the capacity to make hearts leap with joy! The Christmas Story.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Time For A Big Pot of Soup!

  The weather is turning, inevitably, to bluster. The skies and the weathermen are threatening us with the white stuff.  If you are getting ready for Christmas, then you are probably busy.

    This is the perfect time to make a big pot of soup to warm our bellies the first night and  then warm my heart in a few days when I can pull out the leftovers for a quick meal on a night when I am too busy to cook.

    I like to eat lightly in the weeks before Christmas, both because it is Advent and because I know that no matter how hard I try, a few pounds will show up on the scale come January 2nd!  A comforting vegetarian soup fills us up but doesn't feel decadent, like all the foods we will eat when the family descends.

    This may be my new favorite black bean recipe! It was quick and easy and the flavors are perfect to warm a cold wintery night.

                                  Black Bean Vegetable Stew

1 Tbs. olive or canola oil
1 large onion , chopped
1-3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1-2 tsp chili powder (to taste)
2 -3 tsp ground cumin
2 cans black beans (15 oz)
1 can kidney beans
1 can of Red Pack tomatoes (28 oz)
28 oz. vegetable stock or water
1 cup frozen corn
salt and pepper to taste
1 -2 cups chopped kale (optional)
fresh cilantro and sour cream for garnish

Saute the onions, carrots, red pepper and garlic in the oil for a few minutes on medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven or soup pot.  Add cumin and chili powder. Cook for one minute.  Blend the can of tomatoes and the drained can of kidney beans in the blender with the stock.  Add to the vegetable mixture.  Add the drained black beans and cook for 10 minutes.  Add corn and kale and cook for  another 4-5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Serve topped with a spoonful of sour cream or plain yogurt and fresh cilantro.  The leftovers freeze well.

I love this soup with corn bread and my favorite cornbread recipe is an oldie but a goodie from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook (the original)

Mexican Corn and Cheese Bread

1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup yellow corn meal
1 egg lightly beaten
2 Tbs. honey
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1/4 c olive oil
1/2 cup minced onion
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 c grated sharp cheddar cheese

Saute the onion in the olive oil.  Mix the flour, corn meal, baking powder, salt together in a small bowl. Beat the egg, milk and honey together. Combine the milk mixture and the flour mixture and mix until well blended. Add corn, sauteed onions and grated cheese.  Spread into a well buttered 8 inch square pan,  bake at 375 for 25 to 30 minutes or until top is firm and browned. Serve warm.  Freezes well!


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