Paladini Potpie

Adventures within The Crust!


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Christmas Card Prayers

I always stick our Christmas cards up on the dining room wall with sticky-tac or poster putty. They’re one of my favourite decorations!

One Christmas season about twenty years ago John was looking at them and he noticed one he hadn’t seen yet.

“I didn’t know we got a card from these guys…” He was so happy to see it!

 He began to wander along the wall, looking at other cards; and we realized he had missed several Christmas greetings.  How sad! 

 So a new Paladini tradition was birthed.

 When the Christmas cards come in the mail I don’t open them. I save them till dinnertime, and set one or two by each plate as I set the table. I go “clockwise” around the table, divvying them out.

Some days we only get one or two in the mail, but at the height of the Christmas season we might have several by each plate.

 After dinner we stay at the table, and take turns opening our cards and reading them out loud.  We pass around enclosed pictures and read the enclosed newsletters.  And then whoever opened that card prays aloud for the person or family who sent it.

We’ve found that it’s a sweet and really meaningful way to stay connected as a family – and it’s a good way to feel connected to our extended family and friends.

 But as I say that, I realize we’re already feeling pretty well connected with most of the people who are dear to us.  There’s much to be said for e-mail and cheap phone calls and facebook.

 Things are changing. 

And as far as that goes, things are changing in our little empty nest too! This year it will just be John and I gathered around the table reading Christmas cards aloud. But we’re looking forward to it and I have my new package of sticky-tac ready to go!


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Our Christmas Tree Burl Chain

We call it our Christmas Tree Burl Ornament, but we should call it our Christmas tree memory chain.

I got the idea from a Mother Earth Magazine the first year we were married. Mother Earth: I guess that’s how the burl idea got planted and rooted so firmly in my mind. (okay – no more puns in this post. I promise.)

The dictionary says a burl is “a hard, woody rounded deformity in a tree, often due to an injury to the bark.” (Think burlwood coffee tables and decoupage art…Mother Earth…) Our “burls” are just slices of tree trunk.

John slices a circle from the trunk of our Christmas tree when he levels it to put it in the stand. And then we store it away to dry completely. (The burl, not the tree.)

The following year as Christmas approaches we pull out the burl and pictures from the previous year. I glue a picture from that Christmas on each flat side of the circle. We usually put a picture of the kids on one side and a picture of John and me on the other. Then we put an eye-screw in the top and the bottom of the circle, and connect them with fishing swivels.

Now, after twenty-eight years, we have a long chain of Christmas burls. Hanging down both sides of the doorway between the dining room and living room, the circles range from two inches in diameter to the size of a dessert plate. The smallest burl has a picture of chubby cheeked toddlers, reminding us of the reason we had such a tiny tree set high up on a table. The one with the biggest diameter pictures mighty hunter children who went in search of “…the tallest tree we can find – one that touches the ceiling!”

One of the pictures shows our oldest son, Matthew cutting down the pine tree that grew too big for our front yard. And the burl is from that same tree. One of them shows the kids in Christmas pageant outfits, and one of them pictures three very pale sick kids…

“This was the year such-and-such happened…”  We gather around and look at the pictures and turn them over and remembe all the Christmases past.

Our Christmas Tree Burl Chain heralds the season. It’s the first ornament I hang up at Christmastime, and I believe today is the day!


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Seven Score and Several Years Ago

Seven Score and several years ago, our president brought forth this proclamation of  Thanksgiving.  Today is a good day to read it, and to take measure of where we are in our national life and personal lives.

It’s a good day to give thanks to God and recall his promise in Second Chronicles 7:14 – “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

A Thanksgiving Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln   Date: October 20, 1864

It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with his guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad, and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps, and our sailors on the rivers and seas, with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while he has opened to us new sources of wealth, and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards. Moreover, he has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions.

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may be then, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid, that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust, and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the great Disposer of events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased him to assign as a dwelling-place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.

In testimony whereof, I have here unto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this twentieth day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-four, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-ninth.


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Sugar and Thankfulness

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  I woke up early and had some quiet time…a cup of coffee…a little maintenance work on my book business… And it was still early. Not even 8 o’clock! My favourite kind of day stretched ahead of me – yummy smelling candles, a fire in the fireplace, the first Christmas music…spending time in the kitchen making rolls and pumpkin pies and key lime pie.

Which should I do first? I surveyed my domain…and then it hit me!  I used up the last of my sugar yesterday.

Rats! 

I wandered over to the window and looked out into the bleak, foggy morning. It was a perfect day to be snug and warm in the house, baking and listening to music. I did not want to go to the grocery store!

But Thanksgiving is coming; I had no choice. 

Then it struck me.  Thanksgiving! A time to give thanks! I was wearing a warm jacket as I left my cute, cozy house.  I was climbing into my nice clean car, that always starts. (In my life I have owned cars that did not always start.)

I would drive a few blocks to the grocery store, and it would be no effort to pull out $3 and buy a bag of sugar.

 Not everyone in the world is so blessed.

Not everyone in my town is so blessed.

Thank you Lord.


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Humming with Hummus

Two post in one day?  What can I say? It’s Babette season! I’m in the kitchen, and loving it!

Hummus. It’s a Middle Eastern paste or dip made from ground garbanzo beans, olive oil, garlic and sesame seeds. Don’t pronounce it like “human” – that would be humus.  Humus is good for the garden, but who wants to eat dirt?

This recipe is hummus. Pronounce it like “hum” …and you can hum a little tune while you make it, because it’s wonderfully healthy!

The following recipe only has 162 calorie in ¼ cup. It provides 4.7 grams of protein and is rich in calcium and iron. (¼ cup of hummus has twice the iron as ¼ cup of raisins.)  

Hummus

1 can garbanzo beans

1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)

10-12 cloves garlic

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3  cup lemon juice

½ tsp cayenne (more or less)

Salt to taste

Eat it with crispy fresh veggies for a yummy guilt-free holiday snack!

Blend oil, lemon juice, salt, cayenne and garlic cloves till smooth.

Add tahini.

Begin to add garbanzo beans a few at a time and blend till smooth.

Chill.

Serve with veggies or flatbread.


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Andrena’s Olive Tapenade

I will not be “cutting a caper” in this post. In fact, I’m going to cut out the capers. I used to have a jar of them in the fridge but I got so much grief from my family that I decided to toss them. 

“What is a caper anyway?”  I was asked over and over again.  “They look gross!”

Okay. A caper is a plant from the Mediterranean region. In Provençal the caper plant was known as tapeneï and its little edible bud was the tapeno.  

Tapeno buds have been eaten since as early as 1200 B.C. They were preserved in olive oil in pottery jars, and apparently got mashed into a kind of paste. 

And that has eventually became what we know today as tapenade.

So the name comes from the main ingredient I’m leaving out of my recipe today.  If you decide to add them – which I have done, but they don’t really make that much difference – you can add 2 tablespoons. 

(Some recipes call for anchovies also, but I have never put them in. I’d be the only person in my family who would eat it.)

So…sans the namesake tapano, here is my delicious recipe for olive tapenade.  I guarantee it will be one of the favourite hors d’oeuvre you serve this holiday season!

Ingredients:

3 cans black olives

2 cups kalamata olives

1 cup green olives with pimentos

1 bell pepper

½ cup olive oil

1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice

Directions:

Drain olives well and pack in cup when measuring

Run olives and pepper through a food grinder (do not puree)

Stir in olive oil and lime juice

Mix well and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving

Serve with crackers or bruschetta.


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Cranberry Relish with Orange and Pineapple

I’ve talked about how much I love go wild in the kitchen, and what a heroine  “Babette” is to me.  Well, I’m looking forward to one of those Babette weeks as we prepare for our family Thanksgiving Feast on Thursday! 

Today I made Cranberry Relish.

After you try this I’m pretty sure you’ll never buy a can of ordinary cranberry sauce again! It’s so easy and fast and so so good!

Ingredients:

12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries, rinsed well

1 orange with half peel removed

1 cup sugar

1 can crushed pineapple

¾ cup pineapple juice (add water to make full amount if needed)

 chopped walnuts (optional)

Directions:

Chop orange, including peel, removing seeds

Wash cranberries

Place all ingredients (except walnuts) in a heavy saucepan

Mix well.

Bring to a boil

Lower heat to medium and cook for about 8-10 minutes, stirring.

You will hear the cranberries pop and the mixture will thicken as it cooks. 

Add chopped walnuts if desired.  Refrigerate.


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Dried Fuyu Persimmons

 

I’ve always thought of persimmons as that bitter or slimy fruit we use to make nominally good cookies once or twice a year.  They are sort of plump and heart-shaped.  Before they’re ripe they’re too bitter to eat; and after the first frost they ripen to a golden slime.

 You scoop out the pulp to make persimmon cookies.  I’m not a huge fan, but the cookies are okay…

 

Then a few years ago I discovered the Fuyu persimmons, also called Japanese persimmons.  (Note the difference in appearance of the two varieties.)

 Unlike “regular” persimmons, you don’t have to wait for Fuyu persimmons to freeze before you can use them.  They ripen in the fall and you can pick them off the tree and eat them like an apple. They’re sweet and crunchy and tasty! 

 

The problem – just like with most fruit – is that they all come at the same time.  What do you do with a hundred ripe crunchy Fuyu persimmons? 

Last year we came up with the idea of drying them, and discovered a yummy treat that will keep for a long time.

This is how we did it:

Wash and slice the persimmons.  You can slice in any direction but if you slice them horizontally you’ll see a pretty star shaped design in the center.

Lay the slices out on a cake cooling rack, and place in the oven at the lowest setting. (My lowest is 170°.)

It will take about 2-3 hours for them to dry completely.

Check as the persimmons dry, they will shrink in size and you can move them closer together on the rack, and add new slices to dry.  Remove the slices as they become completely dry and crisp.

Allow them to cool completely at room temperature.

Store them in an airtight container.  They will keep for months and they’re a great nutritious snack!


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Butter Night Part 2 – How We Make Butter

Butter Night has been a family tradition for more than 20 years. Every year we set aside a night to pour heavy whipping cream into quart jars and sit down to watch a movie while we shake the cream into butter.

You can read about how this tradition began in my last post, but today I’m going to tell you about the process of making butter.

You will need:

1 half gallon of heavy whipping cream (sometimes called manufacturing cream)

1 tsp. salt (this is optional – but we are all salt fiends)

Jars with tight fitting lids

Water, ice, a big bowl

FYI – A half gallon of cream makes about a pound and a half of butter (6 sticks) and you’ll have about a quart of skim “buttermilk” left after the fat has been taken out of it.

Pour cream into the jars, so they’re no more than halfway filled.  The less cream you put in the jar, the easier and faster it will turn to butter.

Close the lid tightly and start shaking the jar.  That’s all there is to it.

Be sure to close the lid tightly.

Once, years ago, we had butter night at my friend Robyn’s. Robyn and I home-schooled our kids together so we decided to watch “Squanto” and make Thanksgiving butter.  I was engrossed in the movie when Robyn’s little girl, Amber, came over and handed me her jar.  “How is this coming along?” she asked.  I didn’t take my eyes from the TV, but I took the jar from her and gave it a shake…not noticing that she had taken the lid off!  The mess was everything you can imagine.

We usually check the progress by the sound of it, rather than how it looks. When you first begin to shake it there is a thick glugging sound. There comes a point when it stops making any noise because the cream has turned into thick whipped cream… You can stop here if you want, and bring out the pumpkin pie and skip the rest of the steps…

But if you choose to continue to butter, just keep on shaking.

It will really be hard to shake, and it will feel like nothing is happening.

Persevere through this stage and you will suddenly hear a “thunk” and a “slosh.”  That is your chunk of hard butter bumping around in thin sweet buttermilk. (This is not the sour cultured kind of buttermilk you buy at the store.)

At this point we pause the movie and take our jars into the kitchen.

We’re very silly about our “traditional roles” in this part of Butter Night.  One or more of us usually bursts out singing “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof.

It’s the mama’s job to pour the buttermilk out of the jars and  into the original cream cartons to drink later. And then to plop the  chunks of butter into a big bowl of ice water in the kitchen sink.

It’s the papa’s job to squeeze the butter with his hands to get all the milk out of it.  Milk solids in the butter will cause it to spoil too quickly or become rancid.

We have to change the ice water a couple of times until it remains clear when you squeeze the butter.

Then we salt the butter.  I sprinkle the salt and John mixes it in.  Even after 21 years we ask ourselves, “How much salt do we put in?” We joke that it’s a tradition to not remember how much salt we use.  For our taste it’s about 1 teaspoon for ½ gallon of cream.

David’s “tradition” is to put the washed and salted butter into a smaller bowl and carry it from the sink to the counter.  He takes this job very seriously.  For many years he used the same red Tupperware bowl; and to this very day he carries bitterness in his heart because I threw it away.

Never mind that it had a big melted gouge on one side on the rim – it was his traditional butter-bowl!

 

 

We mold our butter in a little cast-iron muffin pan, but you can mold it in just about any kind of mold.  Or you can just let it harden in a little serving dish.

If you use a mold you’ll want to line it with plastic wrap so the butter doesn’t stick.

We take our little heart shaped butter patties “over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house” for our contribution to Thanksgiving dinner. The family loves it, and they dutifully assure us that home-made butter is so much better than store-bought.  I’m not sure it really tastes any better but it’s a lot more fun!


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New Technology Leading to a Slippery Slope: Butter Night Part 1

 Throughout most of our kids’ growing up years we didn’t have television.  I like to think that’s part of the reason they grew up to be such bookworms. We liked to play games, but reading was our main family entertainment.  

However…the kids sure made the most of TV when we went to visit friends or relatives!

And, I must confess, I found myself paying rapt attention to things like commercials with dancing raisins! (Important, fascinating things.) I remember thinking it was as much for my own good as for my children’s that we didn’t have a TV.  How easy it would be for me to get sucked into watching things I didn’t really care about!

There were some good programs for sure – but so much junk.  John and I agreed that, for the most part, TV was a time-waster; and not worth the time wasted

Sometimes John said he wished we had a TV…so we could stop watching it and have more time.

 Then the early eighties brought The VCR, and the whole new concept of being able to choose what to watch on a television set. Video stores began to open up around town. 

 Our firm resolve was a little shaken.

 It would be fun to watch movies at home… I sort of vacillated on the whole idea. If we did have a television we could actually make choices about what to watch. We wouldn’t be limited to the networks and HBO.  But most of the time we really didn’t want one.

 And then, one fateful day, a friend got a new TV and offered us his old set.  We were pretty excited, truth be told, but I insisted we keep it stored in the garage except when we were going to watch a movie.

 In those days, you could rent a VCR player at most video stores, so it was very easy to watch movies right in the comfort of your own home! 

 All we had to do was carry the eighty pound television set in from the garage, and find someplace to set it up; and then drive to the video store and rent VCR player and a movie.

It seemed as if the Paladini family was poised on the brink of high technology.  Oh how I resisted!  I wanted my children to keep their love of reading. 

I wanted them to love old fashioned values… 

Old fashioned!  I had a brain storm!

We could have a special yearly movie night, and make butter for our Thanksgiving dinner!  We could shake the cream in quart jars just like the first Pilgrims did. That way my children would learn how cream turns into butter, and we could watch a movie at the same time! (“And not be wasting time sitting vacantly in front of the boob tube!” I added self-righteously to myself.)

Thus was born Butter Night!

 

Next post…Butter Night…the slippery slope continues…