December 31, 2005

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Why Go Through Life Waiting For "Someday"

A few years ago a furniture store near us ran an ad campaign, the slogan for which was, "Why go through life waiting for "someday?" Well, I didn't dash right out and buy a whole houseful of new furniture that I may want "someday," but that phrase really did stick in my mind. Good question there! Why go through life waiting for "someday?"

All of us have some hidden fears we're going to conquer... someday. Or some whimsical wish we're going to make come true. Or some derry-doing Walter Mitty-ish deed we're going to accomplish... someday.

And yes, we all have many practical, prosaic tasks to get to someday too. Poring through the
family photos and labeling them! Rebuilding the old stone wall out back. Sorting those boxes of stuff you've saved since the kids were little,or the boxes of Auntie Alice's stuff you haven't touched since she died.

But, some "somedays" are intrinsically more important than others because they touch the life of another. And because they often are the very things for which there comes a time when "someday" is no longer possible.

"One of these days, I want to stop in at the nursing home and just say 'hello' to Kate."

"I'd really like to take a day off sometime and just take the boys on a long, leisurely hike.

"I know it's wrong to be feuding with family and someday I really do hope we can straighten this out.

"Honey, someday, we'll have a weekend to ourselves. No kids. No phones. No hassles. Just us."

But in too many instances, saying "someday" to yourself is a good way to feel virtuous because you really do plan to get to it, but for now, you may bury a nettlesome "should do" in the bottom drawer!

So what is it we need to keep in mind when we're trying to decide if "someday" might not just be this day. Simply put, while perspective is certainly looking back and knowing that "this, too, shall pass," perspective is much more importantly the long look ahead with an open heart toward those attitudes and actions with enduring value.

But then we can be so easily overwhelmed by very neediness of this world: our family, our friends, our community and of course, the wider world. What can we, ourselves, personally, do about war and poverty and hunger, the countless tragedies, natural and of man's own making? It's easy to despair and wonder just what one person can do. How can any two hands hold back the surge of a tsunami? Can anything, any little thing I'm able to do actually make a difference?

So, I ask you: What can possibly be is sadder than the person who does nothing because they can only do a little. As Mother Teresa said, "There are no great deeds, only small deeds done with great love."

So, as we look to a new year, I'm not making resolutions about losing weight, saving more money, organizing the family photos, rebuilding the stone wall out back or sorting through the kids' stuff. Nope, I'm going to make this a year of "somedays," by not by any heroics, but through small, very small, intentions, attentions and actions that will matter ten years from now!

I will not be too busy to visit with a friend, play a game with a child, or share my garden's bounty of flowers and veggies with someone who'd enjoy them. Every single day this coming year offers opportunites for small kindnesses, those small deeds done with great love. I hope I can meet the challenge of those opportunities...

My very best wishes for your new year. Mary

December 22, 2005

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Nuts! Last, Last, Very Last Minute Goodies...

Yes, yes, it really is the 22nd and Christmas is only a very few days away, as is the beginning of Hanukkah (the 25th) , and Kwanzaa (the 26th). And there are still a few people you want to remember. Oh, maybe not with a big store-bought gift, but with... something. This is when we head for the kitchen as people must eat, and most generally folks appreciate something homemade.

Nuts have gained new cachet as a health food over the past few years, they're very quick and easy to fancy up, and of course, eating them is often addictive!

Let's start with the nuts themselves. Most commonly available, and used in confections and mixed nut treats, are peanuts, walnuts, pecans, almonds and cashews. You'll find them throughout the grocery store... peanuts with the snacks, walnuts, pecans and almonds with the baking supplies, and cashews in the produce department. I'v found that the bags of (shelled) nuts in the produce department tend to be more expensive per pound than the ones in the baking aisle; but even more important I think, those in produce tend to be pretty heavily salted, the others not at all.

You can take any nuts and make clusters by just mixing them with melted chocolate (white,milk or dark) , butterscotch or mocha chips, and dropping by spoonfuls onto cookie sheets to set. That's about as simple as it gets!

But the nut mixes are fun too, and if you're headed to a party, they make a wonderful take-along. The mixes seem to fall into two categories, sweet or snappy. I'll give you a recipe for each with a note at the end about the endless varieties you can try. As usual, these recipes don't require a candy thermometer as many glazed nut recipes do.

Sugar and Spice Nuts

1 large egg white
3 c nuts
1 1/2 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cloves

Whip egg white lightly, add remaining ingredients except nuts, then stir in nuts, mixing well to coat evenly. Bake at 300 for about 30 minutes stirring two or three times. Cool, separate into pieces and air dry throughly to crisp coating.

Mexican Spicy Nuts

1 large egg white
4 TBSP brown sugar
1 tsp chilli powder (or to taste)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
2 tsp salt, kosher if you have it
2 cups nuts

Whip egg white lightly, add sugar, spices and salt, then stir in nuts mixing well to coat evenly. Bake at 250 for about 45 minutes, stirring two or three times. Cool, break into pieces, and air dry throughly to crisp coating. Especially good made with cashews.

I have many other recipes for coated nuts such as teriyaki almonds, curried cashews, and minted walnuts. You can take any kind of nuts, use the one egg white, then experiment with seasonings as you wish. Very yummy!

And now... my kitchen callls... Mary

December 20, 2005

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Red-Tailed Hawks and Homemade Fudge...

I was driving out from Portland yesterday, and watching as usual for red-tailed hawks sunning themselves in the trees along the way. On this stretch of road there's an estuary, prime hunting ground for the red-tailed, the rough-legged, and the marsh hawks that live nearby.

Checking the trees on the sunny side of the road, especially in the late-morning and mid-day warmth, it's easy to spot the buff-colored chests of the red-tails basking on a high branch. One day last week, I counted five hawks, a rare treat, and I wondered, as usual, how many people just zoom past and never notice them.

And now, on to homemade fudge. Those last minute gifts from your kitchen may well include some fudge, a perennial favorite. Fudge has an interesting history, something we'll look at another day, but I'm sure most of us have tasted that grainy, spoon-soft, first attempt at fudge-making. For me, it's the candy-thermometer thing! So, of course, I only make fudge recipes that don't require a thermometer, such as cream cheese fudge.

The following peanut butter fudge recipe will look strange at first glance, with flour as one of the ingredients. This is a foolproof recipe, yielding a big batch of richly flavored, smoothly textured candy. It is kid-doing easy, with supervision of course, and the light-colored pieces make a wonderful checkerboard pattern in a box with your usual chocolate fudge. If you're feeling downright extravagant, add a white fudge with cherries and almonds.

Peanut Butter Fudge

4 cups white sugar
2 sticks butter/margarine
1 cup milk
1 cup peanut butter (I use extra chunky)
1/2 large jar marshmallow
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour

Mix the sugar, butter and milk and boil 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the pb and marshmallow, then stir in the vanilla and flour. Pour into a 9" x 13" pan and let set.

The next time we get together let's look at nut mixes since nuts are enjoying new popularity as a health food. And don't you just love all the research on the health benefits of dark chocolate!


December 17, 2005

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ahhh, Those Ice-Encrusted Winterberries...

How they are sparkling this morning! We ended up with that wintry mix of snow, sleet, freezing rain, plain rain and general YUK yesterday. Lost power for three hours around suppertime, and again sometime during the night. But, this morning, it's just glorious out there! Especially beautiful are the clumps of vibrant red winterberrries, just glistening, so, so beautiful!

Lots of errands to run today as tomorrow looks like the first ice-fishing outing of this season. Although the ice is definitely only spotty-safe in places, we know it's plenty thick where we often fish, in the Belgrade Lakes area. Now to find some bait...

On Monday, we'll look at several more money-saving, gifts-from-your kitchen ideas. It's hard because we know America's overweight, we know that just about everyone says they're trying to lose weight, and yet we still give - and get - so many tempting treats at this time of year. And we do NOT resist them, do we? Now don't laugh, but one of my holiday favorites is the dreaded fruitcake... I've seldom met one I didn't like!

Have a wonderful weekend. Mary

December 16, 2005

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Soup and Snow Day!

The predicted storm has arrived, and with the snow driving out of the northeast, this storm just may live up to its advance billing. It's definitely a day to stay inside, which for me means cooking and baking.

When my kids were growing up, I loved snow days. All the kids in the neighborhood ended up at our house where, fortified with fried dough, popcorn, and hot chocolate, we played board and card games until the weather settled enough for sleds and snowballs. One thing we always did that still somewhat puzzles me - we always had spelling bees (of all things!), and they were always hilarious.

Later on, after I became a middle school teacher, I loved snow days. Bert and I had this deal... If I had a no-school day, he'd bring me home coffee and a chocolate croissant from the coffee shop where he meets his buds every morning. As a teacher, snow days were soooo treasured... serendipitous!

Now I work as a residential real estate appraiser, our office just steps from the back door. AND, I still love snow days! I may snuggle down and read of course, but I'll also cook. Earlier this morning I set a crockpot of vegetable soup to simmer. Starting with a quart of tomatoes, I added a small amount of leftover cooked wild rice, leftover cooked carrots, chopped, a can of black beans, some spinach and some three-cheese tortellini I'd been wanting to use up. Lots of oregano and basil, too. I'll add 3-P Dumplings later, little mounds of soft dough flavored with parmesan, parsley, and paprika, all added to my regular dumpling recipe. Colorful and delicious!

I think I'll go brew a fresh pot of tea and finish decorating the tree. I hope that you, too, have a cozy and peaceful day! Mary

December 15, 2005

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Children's books and beyond...

There are a gadzillion wonderful children's books on bookstore shelves, and choosing just the right one for a certain child can be a challenge. Let's just look at one category of books today - cookbooks for kids, and yes, both boys and girls!

A good cookbook for kids should have many of the same features you'd look for in a regular cookbook: a lay-flat binding, good index, clearly listed ingredients, and especially for kids learning to cook, very explicit directions. For kids under, say eight years old, look for basic recipes for things they already eat and like such as pizza, smoothies, and to encourage a little broader taste, variations on that basic hamburger. Check that there's a balance in recipes for healthy foods and sweets and treat. Consider a specialty cookbook... I wish I could remember the title, but a few weeks ago I saw a beginning Mexican cookbook which included Spanish words for many of the ingredients.

For kids over eight, consider a regular cookbook, perhaps one of the basics such as Fannie Farmer or the Joy of Cooking. Even a few years ago I might not have suggested this, but consider... Some kids really enjoy watching the Food Network and the very idea of celebrity cooks is appealing to them. Many kids just love mess around in the kitchen and their cooking contributions to the family's hectic supper hour are often really appreicated. Kids can become more aware of good nutrition and learn much better eating habits through their own cooking. And, many schools no longer offer any kind of home economics classes at any level, leaving many kids even more at the mercy of the fast-and-fattening.

You'll notice I haven't recommended any specific titles as you really need to puruse any possiblities yourself. BUT, every budding cook should have either a blank book or notebook with plastic filler pages to start their own collection of recipes for family favorites and such. Maybe you could put the first recipe in it yourself!

Anyway, big storm predicted for tomorrow... snow, rain, sleet, freezing rain.. a great day to stay in and cook! Mary

December 14, 2005

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Seven deer in the moonlight...

It's sounds like a children's book title, and children's books are what we'll look at today. BUT, let me tell you first about the seven deer who visited us last night. It was a gorgeously clear night, very crispy cold, with almost-full-moon brightness. At first I only noticed one doe under the apple trees, and then another doe, and then...

We have a handful of semi-dwarf apple trees in our side yard with a granite bench under the branches of one tree for summer sitting. Although we don't feed the deer supplemental grains and such, we do leave apple peelings, the winter-stored squash with a soft spot, maybe even a few celery tops on the stone bench.

We ended up watching the three does and four young ones for close to 45 minutes. Sometimes the kids were just playing, nudging and nipping at each other with youthful silliness. The whole group wandered across the back of the house, not 20 feet from our watching window, and ended up under the birdfeeders, scratching in the snow for any spilled seed. It was truly magical...

Ahhhh, children's books, one of my greatest loves in this whole world. First let me recommmend a website, Started by a children's literature professor here in Maine, it's a useful site for book recommendations and more, a good place to start if you've been away from kids' books for a while.

Although we'll come back to this subject many times I'm sure, I do want to share a particular idea for this gift-giving season. Especially if you have a brother/sister combination on your list. For the sister, The Brothers Grimm, that beloved book of wonderfully traditional fairy tales. And for her brother, The Sisters Grimm, two books of detective stories based on the Brothers Grimm tales! Lots of fun...

And so, I think I'd best go start my day... Hope yours is a good one! Mary

December 13, 2005

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Narnia's Greatest Temptation Treat - Turkish Delight!

Have you seen the new Narnia movie yet? Are the special effects as spectacular as the reviews say? My kids and I read the seven books again and again when they were growing up; we even named our beloved collie Aslan! I'm way wicked psyched to see the movie!

The Turkish Delight recipe I found in an old candy cookbook in the early '70's is basically a very sturdy, orange-flavored gumdrop coated in confectioners' sugar. No candy thermometer is required, and with supervison, this is a kid-making easy recipe. For the recipe, please go to our website (There is an underline mark _ between turkish and delight)

Another terrific recipe (to make, to eat, and to give) for kids (of all ages) is the oven baked caramel corn in The Frugal Family's Kitchen Book. This caramel-coated popcorn-and-peanuts mix (yes, similar to Cracker Jacks), is simple to make, makes a big batch, and needs no candy thermometer! (If you're getting the idea that I don't like to use that candy themometer, you're right!)

The very best thing I've found to pack this caramel corn in is the white cardboard boxes with the wire handles, such as Chinese take-out food comes in. But no matter what you put it in, don't forget the prizes! I always made this with the boy and girl scout troops I had, and they had such fun doing it! Email me at if you don't have the cookbook and would like the recipe.

Well, this has definitely put me in mind of good children's books, so let's look at some ideas tomorrow. If you have a brother-sister combo to gift, have I got a great idea for you! See you tomorrow. Mary

December 12, 2005

Monday, December 12, 2005

That old Christmas conundrum... time/money and homemade gifts

Those December magazines offering gorgeously illustrated articles on "last minute presents you can make" and "gifts from the heart... homemade" always amaze me! Are they NUTS!

Homemade gifts have historically been valued as (often) the only gifts possible...think Little House on the Prairie and homemade dolls. Later homemade gifts were seen as a way to save money. Then, they were seen as a way to truly honor the recipient with, not only the gift itself, but also the gift of your time that went in to making the present. And in the most recent past, homemade has become a statement against crass consumerism. (Don't get me started on this one!)

But, for most of us, we're already using at least some of our time to save money on everyday expenses. So, while we may make homemade gifts, we usually plan ahead to do that, right? (I'm still working on a sweater for Tim's birthday...last May! Although to be fair, the yarn I wanted to use (a fabulous alpaca/silk blend) was back-ordered and I didn't get it until late September...) But, one kind of homemade present we often do leave until the last minute is goodies from our kitchen.

Before we start looking at specific ideas and recipes, I have a question for you. Do you putter around the kitchen making wonderful gifts, congratulating yourself on the fine flavors you've created, the time and money you've saved ONLY to drive yourself beserk looking for just the perfect containers for those goodies?? Please, please tell me I'm not the only one who does this!!

Over the next few days, we'll talk about a number of delicious and inexpensive gift goodies you, or even the kids!, can make. AND, I promise good container ideas too. If you have a copy of my cookbook ( , you already have recipes for those fancy coffee mixes, and more. But, tomorrow, we'll look at Narnia's Great Temptation Treat - Turkish Delight!

December 11, 2005

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Gifts for the book lover...

After our usual Sunday morning coffee and bagel, we took a walk on the beach about 7:30, as the tide had just turned and started out. There was quite a bit of sea smoke across the marshlands, and several clumps of trees where ice-shrouded, positively aglow in the slanting early morning sun. There was a distinct bite to the breeze, but it was so nice to be out...

I thought today we'd take just a few minutes to look at some gift ideas for book lovers, and I don't mean books themselves as that list would be endless! (And of course my Frugal Family's Kitchen Book would be right at the top, right!?)

I saw an article in a local paper recently that I thought was a terrific idea: a website for cataloging your home library! I'd absolutely love this! I have bookcases chock-full of book all over the house, but there's no rhyme nor reason to the shelving. I'd really like to know what I have, and if I could sorta' somehow code the bookcase or room where any particular book lives, it would be fabulous. And what a great tool for estate planning purposes, espeically if there are valuable books intended for a specific recipient some day.

Check out the website: You can catalog your books in all different kinds of ways, and up to 200 books the service is free. (If you love books, you probably have a whole lot more than 200!) But the best part is that over 200 books, you can use this service for $10/year or very best of all, $25 for life. Great idea, huh?

Do you know some kids who love books, and perhaps even at a tender age, have started their own collections? I love bookplates but they can be expensive, and time consuming to have printed. I found some wonderful fancy labels ready for the computer, and made each Baxter and Katie a sheet of their own saying, "This book belongs to Katie" or This is book is well loved by Baxter" and the final sheet for both of them, "This book has been read again and again by Baxter and Katie"

Finally, a third thought is a Book Book. You can buy these of course, but starting one of your own for someone is great fun. In the last one I made (using a pocketbook-sized notebook), I titled the first two-thirds, Books I Think You'd Enjoy... and the last third Authors Might Want to Check Out... THEN, I invited mutual friends of the intended recipient to write a short review of a book they'd read recently and thought Jenna would like. This was a birthday gift, and I was surprised at how much Jenna really liked it. She often hands it to people and asks them to add a review (which she says her reading friends love doing!), and she always takes it to the library with her.

The next time we talk let's look at that holiday conundrum of time/money, the homemade gift.
Keep warm! Mary

December 10, 2005

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Chickens in the snow...

Well, we did get snow yesterday, and how! I had let our chickens out to free-range in the morning as usual, and even as the snow piled up I didn't give them another thought. I should have!

We have a dozen hens, seven Rhode Island reds, three barred rocks and two aracunas, the ones who lay the colored eggs. Or at least they're supposed to, anyway! End of the day, with the snow winding down, Bert started the snowblowing. I walked down to check that the girls had gone into their house for the night. Eight had, four were missing. Oh-oh.

One barred rock was huddled on the back doorstep and I was able to herd her down to the house. One aracuna was perched on top of a planter on the deck where I captured her and carried her home. The second aracuna was on top of a bird feed than hangs from a six-foot pole. I foundered over, caught her and carried her, too, back home for the night. I counted, then counted again. Nope, still one RI red missing.

I searched under the arborvitae, in the old turkey pen, and finally under the back deck where I found her shivering. She wouldn't come out when I rattled grain so I crawled under and shooed her out. But she panicked and tried to fly away only to land in the foot of soft new snow, completely immobile, terribly cold, and very scared. I was able to get her and once more trek down to the chicken house.

As of this morning, none were the worse for the first serious snowfall of the season. BUT, from now on, we'll only let them out into their pen for the day!

Back to Christmas present ideas the next time we visit, okay! Mary

December 8, 2005

December 8, 2005

Give now, pay later, AND save... Honest!

Over the next couple of weeks, we'll talk about some ways to save on that Christmas spending. One of the best ways is to spread it out. Of course that may mean you pay off your credit cards (with their new higher minimum payments) over the coming months. Or it may mean you opt for one of those "No payments due until 2007" deals (be careful here!). But in both those instances, you're going to pay to use (borrow) someone's else's money.

What do I mean by spreading out the cost of Christmas? Let me digress a little bit before I answer that. Over the years, I've found that we give fewer things for the holidays. If I go for example to the Old Port area of nearby Portland, with all its neat little shope and unusual offerings, I'm overwhelmed. I want it all and I want it now!!

And if I get something for one person, that old fairness thing kicks in, and I think well, I really should get one for.... or, maybe I should get a little something more for... and WHOA, serious shopping escalation has set in!

So we tend to look for other kinds of present to give. Tickets for events. Classes. Experiences, especially experiences to share. Let me give you some examples and you'll see how it spreads the expense. Last year, a daughter gave Bert an hour (shared with her) at the local archery range. They didn't go until October (when she actually paid for it), but they had it to look forward to. This same daughter has in the past given him deep sea fishing for the following summer.

(Personally, I'm a BIG fan of present for after Christmas...) This year we're giving Hannah and Greg a weekend trip to their choice of Quebec or Montreal, including babysitting for two grandchildren and one grandpuppy. It's more than we could easily afford with everything else at this time of year, but we'll pay for it when they make the reservations, probably in May or June. And we'll be giving Ward a cerificate for a knife-making class at the nearby art school in April and May. Bert's planning to take the class too and we'll pay for both in late January-early February.

Start thinking about this kind of thing , and let's talk about many more, even more frugal, ideas in the next few days.

Have a wonderful Thursday... we've got 6" of snow predicted for tomorrow! Mary

December 6, 2005

December 6, 2005

On Being Frugal...

Four of us were having coffee together recently when the conversation turned to very concept of "frugal." By turns serious and silly, we first brainstormed all the "frugal" words we know...

And then from our more learned members, parsimonious and penurious!

It didn't take long to see that most, if not all, of these words have negative connotations. (Hmmmm.... and we wonder why Americans save so little!) Of course we also noticed that we couldn't think of as many words for "generous."

We finally settled on the idea that "I'm frugal and you're thrifty, but she's stingy!"

So, what's your idea of being frugal? Does it apply only to your money? Or to your time and energies too?

We had gotten together to exchange money-saving Christmas present ideas, and then wondered if the term "frugal Christmas" is in itself an oxymoron! The clash of seasonal generosity with the
post-seasonal need for...prudence. Let's talk about that the next time you stop by. In the meantime, it's a goegeous sunny day here on the coast of Maine. I hope it is where you are, and in your heart! Mary