Cardinals in the Snow

“Cardinals sit like bright gift bows on snowy branches and bring cheer to colorless winter days.” c.e.hollis

Loving Winter

Not a leaf is left on the sky-reaching branches of the sycamore tree outside my family room window. The cardinals love the debarked limbs and the seed feeders hung like Christmas tree ornaments in its branches. They are winter birds that stay here for the duration and enjoy the cold weather. I counted four pairs this morning and in coming weeks more will move in until we have ten or twelve couples.

The sycamore reigns over the farm. It has grown taller now than any of the oaks or pecan trees. My children used to love climbing and playing up in the branches amid the dinnerplate sized leaves. The tree shades my porch and makes the side yard a nicer place for sitting on a hot summer’s day. In the fall we light our patio fire pit, wrap ourselves in blankets, and sit out on the porch swing evenings to listen to the farm.

There is the sound of our cows, the mamas bawling at calves, the mooing, and contented lowing at the “brother-herd.” There is the sound of the wind rattling the clusters of dry leaves in the big oak. It sounds like an African rain stick, almost like fine but unsteady rainfall  on a tin roof. There is the sound of dogs barking and occasionally a pack of coyotes howling at the night. Often we hear owls: screech owls whinnying, great horned owls laughing, barking, yipping, and who-who-who-who-whoing back and forth  to one another from the creek banks and the screech of spook-faced barn owls.

The cardinals songs are varied and musical whistles with tweets and churrs thrown in. They are happy sounds in the dreary wintertime. Their color on a drab gray day or on a snowy day sends a message of hope––beautiful, sweet hope amid the troubles and trials and the harsh parts of life.

Cranberry Pecan Pie is Christmas Special

PecansCranberry-Pecan pie is great for Christmas events. Yummy sweet paired with tart cranberry makes it special. Make two or a honey-pecan at the same time. My family love’s both of these pies!

Here’s how to make the pie crust. (Have no fear. Pie crust is easy-peasy!) I make two crusts using lard which I think makes the best crust. My daughter uses real butter instead. Combine two cups flour with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cut in 2/3 cup lard or butter and mix until the dough is crumbly like cornmeal. Gradually add 7 tablesoons of ice cold water and form into a ball. Knead lightly and divide for two pie plates. Roll out on a floured board and fit into the pie pans. Crimp the edges. (Don’t worry about getting the crimping perfect. Imperfection shows the crust is homemade.) Remember the more you fuss and work on pie dough the tougher it will get.

For the Cranberry-pecan pie filling: mix together two cups of fresh cranberries, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cup pecans, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Pour into the crust. Now beat together 2 eggs, 1/4 cup melted butter, 1/3 cup graulated sugar, and 3 tablespoons flour. Mix this well and pour over the cranberries. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 30 minutes longer. Center should be set.

The other crust can be used for a honey-pecan pie. Here is the recipe for honey-pecan pie: Cream 1/2 butter with 1 cup granulated sugar. Add 3 eggs and beat after each egg. Add 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey, 3 tablespoons light corn syrup, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of baking soda. Stir in 1 cup pecan halves and pour all into the waiting crust. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the center is set.

Apples and Apple Pies

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My dad loved apples just about as much as anything. Dad was a forester and he worked out on tree farms of Michigan inspecting and marking trees for a living. He often visited with the land owner and sometimes came home with a bushel basket of apples.  He knew where the best apple orchards were to go for Cortlands, Gravensteins, winesaps, and Jonathans. He also knew who pressed cider and always bought us some in the fall.

Dad loved all the textures, colors, and varieties of apples. Certain types like Northern Spy and Romes were best for pies and others like Macintosh were best for eating fresh. Dad carried an apple with him most of the time and crunched away at its sweet juiciness while he drove or worked.

Of a winter evening, Dad loved to slice a couple of apples into a skillet with some butter and brown sugar and eat that with ice cream. It was pie without the crust, but pretty yummy.

I have inherited that love of the fruit from Eden. I love a fresh crunchy apple. I love an apple pie, but I want homemade crust and hot juicy filling. I prefer a few slices of sharp cheddar cheese melted on the top to ice cream. I do love cheese. I do.

My Dad taught me so many things and so many are connected somehow to his love of trees.  He raised Christmas trees and sold trees many years. He knew the names of most all American trees. He brought home sacks of black walnuts from the woods and dried them in the basement on the floor behind the furnace.

Apple season always makes me miss him more._DSC0101

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Pie Pumpkins aren’t always Orange

fullsizeoutput_7ad1This pretty white pumpkin isn’t orange at all, but will make at least 4 fine orange pumpkin pies! I never knew there were other colors of pumpkins until a few years ago. Pumpkins come in all shades of orange and tan, and even white, gray, blue, and purple. Yet most are orange meated.

The pumpkins we grew up seeing were round and bright primary orange. The rounded orange ones usually for sale around Halloween are thin-walled and easier to carve so they are just right for the season. The squatty tan pumpkins have thicker meat and are good for pie baking. I have tried all colors even the blues.

I like a pie made from the fresh pumpkin instead of the canned pumpkin. Why not try it?

Pumpkin Pie

Plan for two pies. Make two crusts and place those into pie plates and crimp the edges.

Crust recipe: 2 cups flour, 3/4 cup of lard, shortening or butter. 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cut the shortening or butter into the flour until crumbly. Add 7 tablespoons of ice water. Stir into a ball. Knead until mixed well then divide in two balls and roll out.

Cut up and clear the seeds and strings from inside your pumpkin and place it in a stock pot over boiling water to steam for about 30 minutes. Then cut out the soft pulp. You will need three cups for two pies.  Add the cooled pumpkin pulp to 2 cups of sugar and 4 egg yolks and 2 cups milk. Mix together. Add spices: 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon cloves, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Beat the egg whites until fluffy and then fold them into the pumpkin mixture. Pour into the two pie crusts and place in preheated oven (350 degrees) for 40 minutes.

This makes a wonderful couple of from-scratch pumpkin pies with a nice custard and flavor. Freeze one for later. Serve with whipped cream.

 

Dahlias in October

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Dahlias in October.  What a lovely surprise!

The day was cold and rainy but I could not resist pulling my camera from the car trunk and entering by the rustic gate into the community garden. Kale and other greens were thriving. These dahlias and zinnias were blooming. Peppers,  gourds, and tomato plants were still producing. These dahlias drew me along a muddy path and I was amazed at their vibrant colors and unique shapes. What a cheery surprise for a cold day!

What do you find beautiful on an autumn day?

Late Lingering Summer

12d46-cows030This is what my Oklahoma looks like in the late, late summer  when fall waits just around the bend in the gravel road. Cows graze in overgrown pastures, squared off with barbed wire fences and littered with yellow wildflowers, sunflowers, sneeze-weed, and goldenrod. Honeysuckle vines, trumpet vines, wild roses, and blackberry’s prickly bushes sprawl along the fence tops, smother posts, and climb telephone poles.

The land is flat enough here to see for a long ways over the stubbly field where corn stalks and soybeans dry to the hazy low-lying hills in the distance that surround us.

You may only see one cow in this picture but Oklahoma’s countryside is full of life. There are pastures of cattle––black and white Holstein, Texas Longhorns, red and white Herefords, milky white Charolais,  Black Angus and red, and the humpback Brahmas. Bison, like shaggy brown ghosts from the past, graze here. Sheep and goats fill smaller enclosures. Mules, donkeys and Sicilian donkeys, act as herd guardians. Horses race across the pastures, their tails flying behind them in the wind, or quietly graze––their tails lazily swatting at flies.

Herons stalk in the farm pond and egrets flollow the cows. Crows strut along, caw at the world, all of which they seem to be at odds with. Owls perch in trees that grow along the meandering creek beds. They wait for the darkness to settle in to call.

Sparrows, martins, meadowlarks, doves, quail, and prairie hens, blue birds, mockers and hummers––innumerable birds sit on fence posts, builds nests, swoop through the air, searching always for their food from God. The eagle nests in solitary craggy old trees. The hawk draws his lazy circles, not unlike the buzzard who circles searching for the dead and the dying.

The air, the grass, the flowers and the trees are full of buzzing honey bees, bumblebees, ants, cicadas, flies, gnats, ticks, wasps, worms, spiders, and hornets. Furry caterpillars creep and crawl and busy themselves about becoming moths and butterflies.

Coyotes slink across the pastures and field and down along the creek beds, like the guilty creatures they are. They wait for night to gather and howl in the moonlight––a joyous, raucous and amazing noise! Rabbits, armadillos, skunks, rodents,  bobcats, mice and rats, otters, beavers, lizards, snakes, and frogs all have their places, their spaces in this world.

Children, birds, and cowboys have stopped to gather blackberries on fence rows, Now the berries are eaten or presrved for winter cobblers. The wild plum thicket at  the ungrazed edges of pastures has long since been emptied. Wild pears and black walnuts too. Farmwives, deer, raccoons, and possums have gathered persimmons, wild grapes, pecans, and the last of garden produce.

It is not lonely or desolate––this land––it’s teeming with life, every square foot of it.

The sun that baked the land all summer now sets earlier every day sinking in gold and purple and cerise behind the humble hills. It is enough to make you want to sing out loud to the wonderful sky!

 

 

 

 

 

Buttonhole Attitude

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Begonia

The begonia on my porch is showing her true colors this week. As each tiny bead of a bud pops itself open; it uncurls into a tiny pale pink bundle like a baby girls’s soft crochetted bootie found in the cradle’s end––a tiny soft wad. Then the sun beams on it and it unfolds and becomes a whirly swirl of deep pinkness. The center is splashed with white and the stamens support pollen heads of gold.

My younger brother used to choose a flower every morning to pin to his shirtfront or pull through his buttonhole. He hoped to garner smiles and start conversations. He loved to meet new people and chat with them. He hated television which he felt robbed people of the pleasures of friendship. He longed for the days when folks sat out on their porches and greeted passersby––neighbor, friend, or stranger with a wave, a bit of talk, a “Good day”, or a tip of the hat.

I dare say one of my begonia blooms would have made him happy.  His buttonhole flower habit helped him remember that life was good and that he should enjoy every hour and every day. It reminded him to be friendly wherever he went. We could all use a vase of buds or a blooming plant around to remind us that friendliness, like my begonia, is bright with promise.