Saturday, November 30, 2013


We're halfway through the long Thanksgiving weekend. It's been so relaxing, even with the work of cooking a big meal. It's just the four of us and it's quiet and restful. Thursday was the main event, of course, with lots of food. The Bear and I cooked the turkey between us - every year, he cuts it into parts and gives me the breast to roast in the oven. Then he puts the rest in the outdoor smoker, with applewood chips. Both kinds are delicious. I also cooked mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, cornbread dressing and roasted Brussels sprouts. The Bear baked our old favorite No-knead Dutch-oven bread. He made us a playlist which included Cracker, Grateful Dead, Gin Blossoms, Toby Keith and Old Crow Medicine Show, which got us working. I had made whole-berry cranberry sauce (and pumpkin pie) the day before to save time. I didn't make huge amounts of anything, but it was still a lot of food and we ate it again for lunch and dinner Friday. There's still a bit to eat for lunch today but most of it's gone now. That's how I like it, though: I like to get the leftovers eaten up quickly.

It's just nice. There have been lovely roaring fires, glasses of wine and sparkling cider, chocolate and cookies. Yesterday we put up our Christmas tree. We always do it on Thanksgiving weekend. I like having it up for the whole month of December, especially since we had our children. Our tree is artificial (please, no rotten tomatoes). Nature-lover though I am, I just don't enjoy the upkeep with a real tree. And after having a real tree with a spider infestation and a creepy fungus, I threw in the towel for good and we bought a lovely fake one. Our Christmas style is eclectic; we have lots of faux-vintage glass ornaments in a retro style, some Victorian and some mid-20th century along with many items handmade by adults and children alike. We've got plastic things from the dollar store too. It's all good: Christmas decorating shouldn't be stagey or fussy, in my opinion. Put up bright, happy things that you like, embrace a cheerful patchwork style.

I love being at home during the day with the Christmas tree. We have ours in the living room, which is at the front of the house. We spend most of our time at the back, in the kitchen and family room. The Christmas tree brings us to the living room more. I like to sit in there on winter afternoons anyway, because it has southern exposure and the sun streams in warmly. But when the tree is up, it's even cozier and I can lose myself for a good long time just staring at the tree. It's always been that way for me, since I was a small child. I used to fall asleep lying under the Christmas tree, staring up through the branches at the lights. This weekend, I've been cross-stitching. It's so incredibly relaxing. I used to cross-stitch a lot, before I mastered crochet. I've finished the LB's afghan and it looks good. It's very boyish, which is new for me from a crochet perspective, but I'm happy with it.

Today: a trip to Lowe's (I broke the plastic fitting on the shower sprayer while cleaning it this morning...I clean with vigor), a stop at the grocery store for milk, another stop at Papa Murphy's for take-and-bake pizzas to eat for dinner tonight (enough turkey already) and possibly a visit to Starbucks. You can't stay at home all the time. But I'll be glad to get back, (slipper-socked) feet up in front of the fire, needle in hand, music on the stereo (we're listening to The Nutcracker Suite this morning). I'm really far behind on blog-reading at the moment but I hope you're having a wonderful weekend, whatever you're up to.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

First snow

This weekend we had our first snowstorm of the season. The storm left about an inch of snow on Saturday night, and a half-inch on Sunday night. It does snow in the desert, which some may find surprising. We live in what is referred to as the "high desert"; we are at significant elevation here, about 5500 feet above sea level, so it can get very cold in wintertime. The mountains nearby receive lots of snow in the winter but we typically experience smaller amounts - usually only a few inches at a time.

I don't mind snow; I've lived in much snowier places before. This climate is pretty extreme and it often feels like we only have two seasons, summer and winter. But we love our adopted home and we appreciate the fact that we have a little bit of everything here - short but pleasant springtimes, hot summers with impressive thunderstorms, splendid autumn color and moderately snowy winters - not to mention the stunning mountain views and painted skies.

This weekend's storm brought just enough snow to lure the family outdoors on Sunday morning for an investigatory walk through the snowy yard followed by a snowball fight. The LB is getting really good at making and throwing snowballs. He and the Bear each got a few good hits in. The GB doesn't really participate yet, but she likes to stand nearby and offer noisy support. I mostly took pictures but they did hit me once or twice, always low to protect my camera, which was very kind of them.

The sun appeared while we were outside and the snow began melting fairly quickly. It was still very cold out but the sun is strong here. Snow-play always winds down when there's more mud than snow in the grassy part of the backyard. Back indoors, we hung up coats to dry them, put mittens and gloves in the laundry (they were muddy), changed into dry pants as necessary, put on the kettle and piled some more wood on the fire. It was warm and everyone was satisfied by their time in the snow.

Today is another cold one and the small Bears and I have stayed indoors so far. Their schools are closed today for the holiday break. I've been working on Thanksgiving tasks; I baked a pumpkin pie and cooked whole-berry cranberry sauce (the easiest thing in the world; I was thrilled to discover it and will never go back to the canned type). They played nicely in their bedrooms together all morning while I puttered, cooked and cleaned. I've also crocheted (I'm working on the border of the LB's granny stripe; I will be done for Christmas! I'll share it soon). I'm thinking about a walk later this afternoon, a little exercise in advance of tomorrow's feast.

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate! I hope your holiday is full of warm and happy moments with the ones you love. And excellent food, of course.

Monday, November 25, 2013

52 Weeks of Happy - 47/52

Joining in with Jen, here are four happy photos from the past week.

I saved myself money and a trip to the shoe store. The velcro in the GB's sneaker wouldn't stay closed anymore. She was constantly walking out of her shoe. I decided to try fixing it myself, by sewing some velcro tape right over the old stuff (the loopy side onto the strap, the hook side onto the shoe). I needed to use a thimble to get the needle through all the layers. Now the shoe's closure is good as new.

The GB and I had a tea party. It was a long week because the Bear was away, the weather was not very good and I had low-level cold symptoms which never amounted to much but annoyed the heck out of me for days. She suggested the tea party; she knows how much her mother loves tea.

Oh, you know, the children just lie peacefully under a blanket together all day long. Yeah, sure. But they were doing it very nicely this particular day, when they dragged afghans into the GB's room to play "camping" on her bed. The game mostly seemed to consist of lying under the blanket but they enjoyed themselves, with hardly any squabbling.

I've broken out the slipper-socks. I've had them for years and they're so warm and comfortable. I often put on leggings when I get home because they're much comfier for lounging in, and I love the way I can pull up my slipper socks right over them. No part of my leg can get cold this way, which is completely happy-making.


Hello and welcome, new readers and followers! I'm really glad you're here. Thank you to everyone who wished me a happy birthday. We had such a nice weekend. It did snow on Saturday night; we had about an inch, I think. That isn't much but it was enough for snowballs in the morning. We spent Sunday at home, with a nice fire again, and I puttered, crocheted and roasted a chicken. It snowed Sunday night too, another half-inch or so. Today, I'm getting last-minute things done for Thanksgiving later in the week. It will just be the four of us at home, nice and quiet, but I love cooking for this holiday. I've read somewhere that Thanksgiving is "the Super Bowl for home cooks" and I think it may be true. Though I love cooking for the Super Bowl too...

I want to say a special thank you to two of my blogging friends who took the time to request my address so that they could send birthday cards to me in the mail. Linda of Woke Up, Got Out of Bed... and Gillian of Tales From a Happy House both sent me beautiful birthday cards with lovely messages written inside. I was very touched to receive these cards, from two countries other than my own. They really satisfied my desires for mail from distant places! As always, I am thrilled and humbled by the kindness of this community which has welcomed me with open arms over the past year. My birthday was made all the more special by the comments, wishes and cards from you lovely people.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My birthday

Today was my birthday and it was pretty much perfect. Well, the weather wasn't so good; we're under a winter storm warning until midday on Monday. We've had terrible weather most of the week, actually, and we woke up to sleet this morning. It's somewhat early for us to have this kind of weather in our neck of the woods, and it makes us a little concerned for the winter ahead. It was very cold and windy all day, and there were on-and-off snow flurries too. Tonight should bring heavy snow, they say, with a few inches' accumulation possible.

We went out this morning, though; the small Bears had their weekly Saturday morning music classes and we had birthday cake-shopping to do. I decided to get my beloved Berry Chantilly cake from Whole Foods after all; it's the best bakery cake I've ever had. We stayed home all afternoon. For lunch, we had cashew-carrot-ginger soup (from a carton) and a crusty baguette spread with Fromager d'Affinois. Then we lazed as much as possible in front of a roaring fire. The GB had a rest right after lunch and the other three of us snuggled and watched the fire. She joined us when she got up. We relaxed - talking, playing games, listening to music.

Around four I opened my presents, which are lovely. I've got a new watch (with a cool berry-purple fabric strap), a big straw basket for my yarn (I'm going to sew a fabric liner for the inside), a Purl Soho crewel kit (with a goldfinch and thistles!), a stainless-steel pie-crust shield, a small Cath Kidston haul (four mugs, two nesting tins, a manicure set, a key fob and a set of bowls), and two wonderful crafty books - Doodle Stitching: The Motif Collection by Aimee Ray and Sewing Clothes Kids Love by Nancy Langdon and Sabine Pollehn. I did drop hints to the Bear about some of these items, but never made direct requests. This guy knows me so well. After presents we braved the cold for dinner at a seafood restaurant nearby, then back home for cake. Now it's just the two of us in front of the fire again, listening to the wind blow across the roof. It's supposed to begin snowing in a little while. The small Bears are in bed and we're stuffed and cozy. What a wonderful day.

I'm in the second half of my thirties now. That was fast. It occurs to me that I have to check off a new age-bracket now when I'm filling out a survey. Is this the earliest part of middle-age, then? Oh my. I do see more gray hairs all the time but I don't really mind; I feel like I've earned them. I used to wonder what people meant when they said that but I think I understand it now. I've enjoyed my thirties so much more than I did my twenties. I can honestly say that most things in my life are only getting better.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cool Twist Cowl

I'm a scarf person. I feel that any outfit can be enhanced just by throwing on a scarf. Consequently, I have a fair number of scarves. Most are simple woven-cotton ones, which I wear to compliment an outfit. I love these scarves but they aren't practical for wintertime. They just aren't warm enough. I have several fleece scarves that are warm but not very stylish. With all the crocheting I do, it's probably surprising that I had not yet made myself a scarf. I'd made them for lots of other people - men, women and children - but never myself. I decided to remedy this for the coming winter, especially since I've been so happy with my new Slouchy Daisy hat, which I made in September. There have been lots of beautiful cowl designs around Ravelry and Blogland lately and I really like them but wasn't sure how I felt about wearing one. I decided to start crocheting and see what happened; maybe it would stay a scarf, maybe it would become a cowl. In the end, it's a cowl with a twist, and I'm liking it very much.

My cowl is simple. It requires very basic crochet skills. I crocheted a piece in long stripes of half-double (hdc) stitches, using Bella Dia's Vintage Vertical Stripe stitch pattern, which is easy and makes such an interesting fabric. I made this piece about 36 inches long and eight inches wide. I wanted it to be warm and cozy without being bulky. I happen to live in a place where the brutally cold days are pretty few and far between, so I didn't feel I needed a very wide or bulky cowl, but this is so easily adapted to anyone's taste, so make it as wide or narrow as you like. Then I made one twist in the center of the piece and sewed the ends together with the long tails of each stripe. If I were doing this again, I would weave in all the tails at one end of the scarf before sewing the ends together. I left them all unwoven because I wasn't sure how many tails I'd need to make a good join. One end's worth would have been plenty.

It's not the neatest join ever but I think it works. It's only minimally lumpy and it lays pretty flat, which is good enough for me. I would recommend leaving your tails quite long, about 8 inches or so, to be sure you have plenty of length for sewing together. Of course, you could crochet the ends together instead of sewing them.

For my cowl, I used Stylecraft Special DK acrylic yarn and a G (4.00mm) hook. I was tempted to dip into my stash of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, but for my first try I decided to go with more utilitarian stuff. I have so much of this yarn now after collecting it for over a year that my color selection is vast and I was able to put together a palette I really like. For this item, I used the following colors: Graphite, Gray, Silver, Grape, Pale Rose, Violet, Bluebell, Lavender and Wisteria. They're placed randomly and I tried to keep similar colors spaced a bit, but I also wanted a blended look here and there and I think it was achieved. I chose my colors with both my usual wardrobe and my new gray slouchy beret in mind. I wear lots of grays, blues and purples; bluish-purples are my favorite colors of all. My favorite jacket to wear in cool weather is soft black pinwale corduroy, slightly fitted with gently puffed sleeves, big black buttons and a hint of peplum. I love the way these cool tones look with black. Cool colors plus a twist = Cool Twist Cowl.

I'm happy with it. It's warm and soft and doesn't feel bulky. It's easy to throw on over a sweater or I can tuck it inside a jacket's collar for more coverage. It worked out nicely, I think. I'm really enjoying getting better at this craft, the stitch techniques as well as the execution of visions for projects. This cowl is a very simple idea and it's certainly not original or unique, but I spent years feeling very frustrated by crochet and believed I'd never master it (even shamefacedly dropping out of an adult-education crochet class in my early twenties) so it's pretty thrilling to be able to bring an idea into creation. You might say I'm hooked; I have grown to truly love crochet.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Magic Cookie Bars

I bake relatively often, usually once or twice a week. My baking is fairly predictable: cookies, quick breads, tea loaves, Bisquick-based creations such as cheddar-garlic biscuits. I like to bake completely from scratch whenever possible, but I don't think there's anything wrong with taking help where you can get it. Years ago, when I still worked and there was more money to throw around, we had cable television and I fell in love with Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade Cooking on the Food Network. Now there was a cooking style I enjoyed emulating. I liked the way she used just a few prepared foods in a dish but still made it her own.

I don't cook this way often today (fresh, natural foods are cheaper and healthier), but once in awhile, a recipe like those will sneak in. There's a reason people like them: they taste good and they might have nostalgic connections, from a time when people cooked this way more often. I used to have a great cookbook which I found on the bargain table at Barnes & Noble, called The Best Recipes from the Backs of Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Jars. It was published in the early 1980's, and it contained hundreds of those recipes, many of which we would all find familiar. One of them was for Magic Cookie Bars, which appeared for years on the label of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk. I remember these from my childhood; they were the kind of thing that might be contributed to a school bake sale, or brought to share at a Girl Scout meeting. They're simple, made with just a few ingredients. What I remembered best about them was that they were very sweet, but not exactly cloying - there was just a bit of saltiness cutting through the sugar, which had a browned flavor. They were chewy but crispy at the edges. They were best eaten cold, because they fell apart easily. I tried the recipe as soon as I saw it in the book and it was just as I remembered.

I don't have the book anymore; a couple of years ago, I finally let it go after weeding through my burgeoning cookbook collection. You get to a point where you have more cooking resources than you can ever use regularly enough to justify keeping every single one. Or at least I do, and it happens every few years. I have to let go of the ones I'm not using often. And since I'm trying not to rely on canned or boxed foods for my family's diet, this book was a natural choice for dismissal. I've been able to find most of the key recipes online anyway, including Magic Cookie Bars. They're still tied to Eagle Brand milk, though any brand will work fine. I used Great Value brand - shhh, don't tell Elsie.

Magic Cookie Bars

1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1 cup chopped nuts 

Heat oven to 350 degrees F (325 degrees for glass dish). Coat 13x9-inch baking pan with no-stick cooking spray. 

Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter. Press into bottom of prepared pan. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumb mixture. Layer evenly with chocolate chips, coconut and nuts. Press down firmly with a fork.

Bake 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool. Cut into bars or diamonds. Store covered at room temperature.

I like to melt the butter in my mixing bowl, in the microwave, adding the graham cracker crumbs to the melted butter. I think this tastes best with salted butter, personally. That's where the salty flavor I remembered came from, I think. The graham cracker crumbs have a slightly sweet flavor and I love the way this mixture tastes. I have to control myself or I'll eat it just like this.

After patting the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan, pour the condensed milk directly into your mouth over the crumbs. Do you love this stuff as much as I do? Oh my goodness. You know who else loves sweetened condensed milk? Martha Stewart. I'm serious. She said so herself on a recent episode of Martha Bakes, when she was baking a cheesecake. She said she likes to use the whole can if possible, otherwise she has to put the leftovers away in the fridge and she can't help herself from eating a spoonful whenever she walks by. I feel vindicated knowing this.

I decided to use unsalted peanuts this time. I have made these bars with walnuts and pecans but I didn't have enough of either on hand and thought the combination might be a bit too rich. But I had plenty of unsalted peanuts in the pantry. Oh, you know what I just thought of? Honey-roasted peanuts. Can you imagine? That would be terrific.

After baking, the whole thing is brown and the edges are darker and very crispy. Cooling firms things up very nicely. I personally like to put the whole pan in the fridge after it has cooled almost to room-temperature. This makes it easier to slice and they will hold together better for serving too. These bars get their name from the way the ingredients seem to "magically" work together as they bake: the sweetened condensed milk and chocolate bake together into a thick, chewy-but-creamy, nougat-like layer, while the coconut becomes a crisp topping. The nuts toast a bit, and become mired in the sticky milky-chocolate layer. The peanuts worked really well here; the baking brought out their flavor and it was a bit like having an extra layer of peanut butter (which would be awesome, I think...scribbles note to self).

After slicing into bars, I stack them in layers in a tin, with waxed paper between each layer to prevent them from sticking. I like to keep the tin in the refrigerator, to help the bars hold together. They can be a bit fragile when they get warm. They taste great either way, so you might need to experiment with your own batch to see what works.

Is there a recipe, or a food, which brings you sharply back to a certain place or time? I'd really enjoy hearing about it. These cookies do that to me. Suddenly, I'm nine years old. I'm wearing my Brownie uniform with glow-in-the-dark Keds, doodling unicorns in my catechism notebook and nursing a devoted crush on George Michael - as sure as if it were all happening today.

Linking in with Cosmos and Cotton's Weekly Bake.

Monday, November 18, 2013

52 Weeks of Happy - 46/52...and a winner!

Joining in with Jen, here are four happy photos from the past week.

I helped the GB with her first homework assignment, which was to decorate a "turkey feather" for her class's Thanksgiving bulletin-board display. The teacher hangs a paper turkey body and the children each design a paper feather. They list the things they are thankful for and a parent transcribes it on the feather. It's big, and it also contains her full name, so I don't want to share a full photo but here's what she told me to write: "I am thankful for my family, my food, my toys and my books, my house, learning how to read and good behavior."

Friday was "make-your-own-pizza night" at our house. These are the small Bears' pizzas. They did almost everything by themselves (the GB needed help with rolling out her dough and we handled the oven-related steps). They had a lot of fun. I love make-your-own-pizzas; I bring out every item that could feasibly taste good on a pizza and it's a good way to use up partial jars from the fridge - this night's selection included pesto, artichoke hearts and three types of olives.

The LB lost his ninth tooth on Saturday. Nine of them so far! He lost the first eight in fairly rapid succession, starting at five-and-a-half years old. Then there was a lull for about a year, and now he's losing them again. This was the first lost tooth of the second wave. This one was very loose for a long time and he was starting to get frustrated because it was difficult to chew, so he was very happy to have it come out. But then he lost it-lost it, i.e., put it down somewhere and doesn't remember where. The Tooth Fairy awaits.

I'm a simple kind of lady but I'm not completely without vanity. I'm not much of a makeup user but I try to do my hair nicely every day and I also like to keep my nails looking neat. I was a nail-biter until my early thirties and when I finally managed to quit for good, I realized that I liked having nice nails. I don't want to spend money on professional manicures so I do my own at home. I tried this Rimmel French manicure polish from Target and I really like it. It lasts forever too; I don't notice chips until about the fourth day of wearing it.


Hello and welcome, new readers and followers! I know that one of my recipe posts was mentioned on Alicia's blog Posy Gets Cozy over the weekend and I hope that if you came for the recipe that you enjoy it and that you'll want to stay to read more about life here at the Thistlebear home. I'd be so happy to have you along for the fun. Please feel free to say hello and let me know if you have a blog too so I can stop by and visit you.


My Birthday Giveaway closed over the weekend and now it's time to announce the winner!

The 45th comment on the giveaway post is Leanne of Today's Stuff! Leanne, please email me your mailing address so that I can get your prizes on their way to you as soon as possible. Sincere thanks to everyone who participated in my giveaway. There were 56 entries! I'm excited that so many people were interested in receiving gifts from my heart. I wish I could send something to each one of you.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Marion's cookbook

This young woman is my husband's paternal grandmother, Marion. The photo was taken in the early 1940's, when she was in her early twenties. We have better pictures of her, but I like this one. She's at home, chatting on the phone. She was a sociable lady who always had lots of friends. She is sitting at the dining room table in the house where my father-in-law and his brother were raised, in San Diego, California. She was still a bride here, and had not had her sons yet. The house was small - just two bedrooms, a tiny galley kitchen, bathroom, living room and dining room. It was built by her own husband just before their wedding, and she made it very cozy. She loved to crochet, knit, sew, cook and bake. It was a happy home and she was much loved.

I never knew Marion; she died before I met the Bear. But everyone tells me that I would have gotten along with her and I think they're right. I visited her house many times when we went to see the Bear's grandfather, who lived there until he died in 2009. One of the best things about visiting the house was the chance to look around and see evidence of her love of homemaking and mothering; her husband kept everything, sometimes to his own detriment. There were blankets, quilts, tapestry pillows, table linens, bed linens, kitchenware, handmade toys and holiday decorations and photos, photos, photos.

Their home, photographed when the Bear was a child.

I'm sentimental in many ways, but this may be the most inexplicable: sometimes I feel nostalgic for a time I've never lived in. When I look at old things - clothing, books, housewares - my mind races with ideas that feel like memories. But they're not memories - they're hypothetical ideas about the lives of people I barely knew, or never knew at all. As a teenager, I kept journals just for writing about this; I'd see an old item and I'd have to scrawl out a history for it. I couldn't not think about old things this way, it was a compulsion. I feel this way about things I've been given which once belonged to Marion. I have some jewelry and books and crocheted afghans and knitted baby clothes, all of which I treasure. My favorite item is a cookbook which was published when she was young and given to me shortly before I got married. It's old and brittle, so I don't take it out very often anymore, but I can't resist an annual reading just before the holidays. It's very special to me and I'd like to share it with you.

This is Sunset's Kitchen Cabinet Cook Book, originally published in 1938. Mine is an original copy from a later printing, and it was much loved by Marion. I love it too. I feel really lucky to have this book, not least because I'm an avid Sunset reader today. This book is well-traveled; it started out in California, then went to Utah for awhile when Marion's husband was training pilots during World War II. Then it went back to California until my mother-in-law took it with her to Colorado and later, Arizona. Then it was brought to me in New York, and eventually I took it to New Mexico.

The cover has a type of cellophane layer over the paper; the cellophane layer is the part that is illustrated. It's flaking off both front and back, so I try to be very delicate with it. The book usually lives in the top of the cabinet where I keep my everyday dishes; it's under a small stack of other books to protect it.

The book has a spiral binding but the cardboard is beginning to disintegrate along the edges. It has to be opened very gently because bits are breaking off here too.

This copy is from the fifth printing, in 1942. I have never seen another copy of this book, but I always look when I'm in an antique shop which sells old cookbooks. This book would have been published when Marion was 21, married for about three years. She was married a week after she graduated from high school. It's difficult for me to imagine, even though I married pretty young for my own generation. But it was a different time, and by all accounts, it was a happy and loving union. He was a friend of her older brother, several years her senior. I have her high school yearbook, class of 1939, and it's interesting to read the handwritten messages from her friends, wishing her well with her marriage. It doesn't seem to have been remarkable to them; in their time, when you finished school you were grown.

Each page has one recipe illustrated in comic-strip style down the outer edge. I like the stylized 1930's/1940's ladies very much. When chopping or sauteing onions, these delicate beauties shed tiny tears, as above in the "Hamburger Pinwheels" illustration. They wear pretty dresses and fetching aprons when they cook - can you see why this book captures my imagination? For the most part, the recipes are dated - people don't cook this way anymore. There is seemingly boundless use of organ meat and animal fats and many of the recipes seem needlessly complicated. But one of the best things about this cookbook is that it was reader-generated; every single recipe was submitted by a woman living somewhere in the Western US (Sunset's target readership area) and each includes a small tidbit about the recipe in her own words, along with her name (always "Mrs." with initials - maybe her husband's?) and her location.

Some recipes have handwritten notes. They make me so happy. I feel like it's a way to know her a little bit. I have some other recipes, in cookbooks as well as scraps torn from magazines and newspapers, with her notes on them. Some of them pertain to holiday meals cooked when my husband was a child; I really enjoy knowing that she planned a long-ago Christmas dinner with his distaste for beets in mind. It helps me feel closer to him too; I sometimes have trouble coping with the idea that I haven't always known him. He's older than I am to begin with, so this is obviously silly, but I can't help it. I want to know what happened before I got there. I'm insatiably curious about other people - okay, I'm really nosy.

Some recipes seem too fussy, I think. Here's a recipe for "Ham Ring" which has a diagram for serving and which specifies that one use "a huge green pottery platter" for it. You also have to cook a separate "potato ring" for the second round of the arrangement. So fancy and so kind of makes my head hurt.

This is easily my favorite recipe in the book, though I have never actually made it myself. It's a recipe for "Circus Dogs," which are comprised of "wieners" (hot dogs) stuffed into bored-out potatoes and baked in the oven - or better yet, a campfire. The woman who submitted this recipe said that it was one of her husband's favorite dishes, first experienced when he ran away with the circus as a boy. The traveling circus folk would cook this in their campfires wherever they were spending the night. The recipe entails boring the potatoes the long way, then putting a hot dog inside. That's it. I think they probably would be very tasty. I don't necessarily feel that one needs to dress up quite so much for a dinner involving hot dog-stuffed potatoes but this could be a reunion dinner with the ringmaster himself.

There are a lot of leering, well-dressed men in this book. The way to a man's heart is through his stomach and all that, of course. These men certainly seem very happy with the dishes set before them, if you know what I mean...

Some pages have a little note under the heading "It's a Good Idea," offering tidbits of advice to the home cook. Some are useful, and some show the way dining as well as cooking technique have changed since this book was published. A "meat course"? "The mechanical refrigerator"? Pickle relish/peanut butter sandwich spread? It's very dated but I personally love having the opportunity to peek into culinary history this way: real people wrote these recipes and offered their own tried-and-true cooking tips.

I've only tried a few recipes from this book myself, including a butterscotch pie baked for comfort in the days immediately after 9/11. I've also tried a broiled-tomato-with-cheese "snack" (described as being a good one to serve "some night after your and your husband and another couple have been out to the pictures"), a basic yellow cake and a casserole, among a handful of others. Some ingredients are difficult, if not impossible, to find today. Other recipes, as I mentioned, seem a bit too complicated for my tastes, or the flavor combinations are questionable. They were written for a different time, when the Great Depression was at its lowest depths, or just ending, and people had a different relationship with food. I respect that. I find it fascinating too, in the same way that I enjoy learning about rationing during and after World War II and the make-do recipes of that era.

I'm really glad to have this book because it's a glimpse into a time which captures my imagination, and a lifestyle that I often find myself striving to emulate. And it's heartwarming and informative. I expect to haul it out at holiday time for many years to come. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to thumb through it and think about the ways in which my life has changed since I was first given this book, when I was an inexperienced homemaker, a clueless cook, a soon-to-be bride, an idealistic teacher - and still years away from the then-terrifying role of mother. I'm much more confident now but I always want to learn more.

Marion, a few years before she passed away.

I feel inspired by Marion, even though I never got to meet her. I have evidence of her love for home and family all around me, especially in the grandson who cherishes his memories of her. She did important work in a small corner of the world and she did it with all her heart. I'm proud to follow in those footsteps.


Thank you for your kind words about the GB's illness this week. She's all better now and was back to school today.

Last call for my Birthday Giveaway! The entry period ends tomorrow and I'll announce a winner soon.
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