31 December 2008

German New Year's Pretzel or Neujahrspretzel

I never heard of German New Year's Pretzel until a couple of days ago. A friend on one of the foodie boards mentioned it, telling me her husband's family owned a bakery and they always made this at the end of the year. She explained this is a traditional good-luck custom in Pittsburgh.

The pretzel is made with a sweet dough that's frosted with a confectioner's sugar frosting. Before midnight slice the pretzel. Everyone eats a slice at midnight to insure good luck in the coming year. My family thinks this is a better food custom for good luck than blackeyed peas. My friend said her husband remembered theirs having a nut filling, but the recipe she gave me does not use one.

I chose to cut this recipe in half and adapt the dough to be made in the breadmaker. Once I turned it out, I rolled the dough into an approximately 30" long rope about 1 1/2" in diametre.

Here is dough, shaped into a pretzel and risen. Hmmm. I'm thinking the inside sides of this pretzel are looking a little close.

Out of the oven.

And on the serving plate. I'm now sure the inside sides of this pretzel are too close together.

Iced and topped with slivered almonds. It sorta looks like it's smiling at me. At midnight we will each have our slice for good luck in 2009.

German New Year's Pretzel
2 cups milk
1/2 cup butter
2 pkgs active dry yeast
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
7 cups unbleached flour
2 large eggs

1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup chopped almonds

Heat milk and butter until very warm (120-130°F.). Mix yeast, salt, sugar, and 1 cup flour. Slowly beat into warm milk. Beat for 2 minutes. Add eggs and 1 cup of flour. Beat for an additional 2 minutes. Add enough flour to form a soft dough. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.

Place dough in a greased bowl. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch dough down and let rise again until doubled. This should take about another hour.

Divide dough in half. Shape pretzel as follows: Roll dough into a rope about 30 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diametre. Cross the ends leaving a large loop in the center. Flip loop back onto crossed ends to form a pretzel. Repeat with remaining dough.

Place pretzels on greased baking sheets. Let rise 15 minutes more. Bake at 375°F for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire racks.

Mix confectioners sugar, water and vanilla to form a thin icing. Spread icing on pretzels and sprinkle with chopped almonds. Cut in slices and serve at midnight on New Year's Eve.

Makes 2 large pretzels.

1. We did not need two pretzels for the three of us so I divided the recipe in half.
2. Also, I chose to adapt the dough to be made in my breadmaker. That required cutting the amounts of the dough ingredients in half. I used the full amount of confectioners sugar and vanilla for the icing. And extra almonds on the top.
Put 1 cup milk, 1/4 cup soft butter, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp salt, and 1 egg in the breadmaker pan. Add 3 1/2 cups of flour, 2 1/4 tsp instant yeast and start breadmaker on dough setting. When dough cycle is finished, remove from pan. I did this part yesterday evening and put the dough in the refrigerator. It stayed in the refrigerator about 24 hours. Remove from fridge and let rest at room temperature about half an hour. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 30" rope. Shape into pretzel on greased baking sheet. Cover with damp cloth and let rise 15 minutes. Bake in preheated 375° oven for about half an hour. Place on serving dish; ice with confectioners sugar icing and sprinkle with almonds.
3. When my pretzel came out of the oven, there were no spaces in the centre. Next time I will make the rope longer and thinner.
4. I used more almonds than called for and used slivered ones, rather than chopping any.

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Ruling Day 6

31 December: Day 6 - Rules for June
The Forecast is for a high around 40° with sunshine and light winds from the north.
Sunrise 6:53 AM, Sunset 4:46 PM, Day Length 09:53
Moonrise 9:26 AM, Moonset 8:47 PM

AM: Blue skies, sunshine and cold. 36° at 6:00a. 13mph wind.
Midday: Blue skies, sunshine and 43° at noon. 15 mph wind.
Afternoon: Blue skies, sunshine and 43° around 3:00p. 13mph wind
Evening: Clear and 36° @ 6:00p. 6mph wind

June doesn't look like it will get much rain either, though it should have good breezes. It looks like I will need to plan to continue watering the the garden. Lots of summer sunshine.

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New Year's Meme

So I've lifted this from my friend Val (The Fluffy Pink Blog). I don't think she will mind.

1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before?
~ Went to Venice, Florence, Pompeii, Milan, Lake Como and other beautiful places in Italy
~ Took chemo drugs
~ Finally went to Woodstock

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
~ I rarely make New Year's Resolutions

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
~ No

4. Did anyone close to you die?
~ Yes, my father-in-law crossed earlier this month.

5. What countries did you visit?
~ Besides the US, there was Germany and Italy.

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
~ Good health

7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
~ 4 November. For the first time in many, many years I believe we elected someone to be president who is more interested in the good of the country than in his own agenda or self-aggrandizement.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
~ Taking DD#2 to two places she has always wanted to visit: New Orleans and Italy

9. What was your biggest failure?
~ Not getting rid of enough stuff.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
~ The MDS has really cranked up this year and I have been dealing with it pretty much full time since we got back from Italy at the end of June.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
~ Actually Mike bought it - a D90 so DD#2 could have my D50.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
~ I find it hard to relate to this question. My family has been wonderful throughout this health crisis that affects us all.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
~ The idiots whose actions have caused the economic mess where we as a country now find ourselves.

14. Where did most of your money go?
In no particular order:
~ Medical stuff
~ Travel
~ Mortgage
~ Groceries

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
~ Our whole family going to Italy and Mike & I celebrating our 30th anniversary in Rome.

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?
~ You're Still the One
Mike and I have been married for 30 years and he's still the one!

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
~ When comparing these three sets, I don't think I'm much different.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
~ Gardening

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
~ Sleeping

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
~ I'm sure my daughters would be thrilled to go back to DisneyWorld, but honestly I have no idea.

21. Did you fall in love in 2008?
~ No

22. How many one-night stands?
~ That would be NONE

23. What was your favourite TV program?
~ House, M.D.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
~ I can't think of a single person I hate.

25. What was the best book you read?
~ The United States of Arugula, or How We Became a Gourmet Nation, by David Kamp

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
~ Some of The Monroe Institute cds

27. What did you want and get?
~ All of The French Chef on DVD. I love Julia Child.

28. What did you want and not get?
~ Remission from MDS

29. What was your favourite film of this year?
~ I'm not sure I've seen a new film this year.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
~ I turned 54 and was in a bubble because of no white count.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
~ To have gotten a handle on this disease.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?
~ My uniform of a white girly t-shirt, blue jeans, Mickey crocs and jewelry

33. What kept you sane?
~ My family

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
~ Well that never changes. LOL. Robert Redford.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
~ The Presidential Election

36. Who did you miss?
~ My Papa

37. Who was the best new person you met?
~ Our tour guide in Italy. He was as much into history and food as I am.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.
~ I have a horrible disease. It might kill me. I might die in a car wreck on the way home. So in the meanwhile I go out and live my life without worrying or railing at fate. I have things to do and no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
*See The Desiderata

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
I am a very firm believer in positive thinking so I choose, Blue skies, smiling at me. Nothing but blue skies, do I see.

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The Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labours and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

~ Max Ehrmann
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Happy New Year's Eve

It's a beautiful sunny day here, but it is COLD! Just now hit freezing, but expectations are for the mid 40s. That's 20 something degrees colder than yesterday. Thank goodness I have nowhere to go today. Not a single appointment. So I am going to do some cooking and baking.

First on the agenda is a German New Year's Pretzel. I never heard of these before, but learned of them from a friend on a food board. Her husband's family owned a bakery and they made them every year. (She says they are a tradition in Pittsburgh. I wonder if it's a tradition elsewhere and will try to do some internet research today.) It's a large pretzel made of sweetened dough, topped with powdered sugar icing and sprinkled with chopped almonds. Everyone is supposed to eat a slice at midnight for good luck in the New Year. I made the dough yesterday in the breadmaker, so will go bake it shortly. Pics and recipe will follow later.

Second, I need to bake Ina's Savoury Palmiers. I got to choose the BRC recipe for this month's Barefoot Bloggers as the most traffic went to the blog from my site last manth. We were supposed to have baked these already, but between power outages and health issues, it hasn't happened yet here. As we're doing appetizers and champagne for New Year's Eve dinner, they will fit right in to our menu.

Third. The Christmas Cookie Bake-Along on one of our foodie boards started back in September and I chose the first recipe. It is a savoury cookie called Peppery Cheese, Nut & Cornmeal Cookies, from The Jimtown Store Cookbook, Recipes from Sonoma County's Favourite Country Market. My dough has been in the freezer all this time and I think they will also be part of our menu.

While I'm baking, I'll think of some other things for dinner. There are some ingredients in the pantry that are begging to be used: baby artichokes, Marcona almonds, mozzarella stuffed peppers I brought home from Italy. You get the idea. I also want to try out the Mango Pepper Jelly I made this fall.

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30 December 2008

Ruling Day 5

30 December: Day 5 - Rules for May
The Forecast is for a high around 60° with sunshine.
Sunrise 6:53 AM, Sunset 4:46 PM, Day Length 09:53
Moonrise 8:58 AM, Moonset 7:48 PM

AM: Blue skies, sunshine and cold. 31° at 7:00a.
Midday: Blue skies, sunshine and 56° at noon.
Afternoon: Blue skies, sunshine and 61° around 3:00p.
Evening: Clear and 55° @ 5:00p.

May should be a gorgeous month. It doesn't look like there will be much, if any, rain, so I may need to plan on watering the things that got planted in April. The first and last weeks will likely be cooler, but in general these are warmer temps than normal. Tomatoes should get a very good start, but might need a little protection some nights.

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Tuesday medical update

Saw my doc this morning. My counts are low, but not enough that I need transfusions today. On Friday I go back and get blood tests and see my doc again. He has me set up for platelet and red cell transfusions also. But I may not need them. We shall see.

The Home Health nurse has been out and changed my picc line bandage. She also flushed the lines today. Looking good so far.
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29 December 2008

Monday evening medical update

I am home. Oh bliss.

My platelets came right away this morning and they were from an 0+ donor. In the hospital their standard protocol is to give 50mg Benadryl by IV as part of the premedication. And wow, it really knocked me out today. I barely remember her hooking me up to the platelets. We left around noon and I came home and promptly crashed on the sofa. Trish was here cleaning in our bedroom, and I can sleep anywhere once they medicate me like that. Now I'm awake.

Tomorrow morning I have an early appointment with my doctor to see when he wants to schedule me for more transfusions. I also need to find out if he wants me to keep getting Vancomycin by IV. The last time we did vanco he had me on it for 10 days since my white count crashed. I'm guessing I will be OK with blood until Friday and will likely need more platelets then. Not sure about the reds. My neutrophil count (the part of the white cells that actually does infection fighting and the number they are closely tracking for me) was still 0.0 this morning. Keeping my fingers crossed that as the week progresses I can see some improvement there.

Thanks again to everyone who has been remembering me and hoping for improvement. Our positive attitude has worked this week.

And today was the Colly Birds day. :-)
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Ruling Day 4

29 December: Day 4 - Rules for April
The Forecast is for a high in the upper 50s with sunshine.
Sunrise 6:52 AM, Sunset 4:45 PM, Day Length 09:53
Moonrise 8:26 AM, Moonset 6:49 PM

AM: Blue skies, sunshine and cold. 33° at 7:00a.
Midday: Blue skies, sunshine and 52° at noon.
Afternoon: Blue skies, sunshine and 57° around 3:00p.
Evening: Clear and 43°. Humidity around 63%. Winds under 2mph.

April should be a gorgeous month. Spring sunshine, daffodils and other spring flowers everywhere. Ought to be able to get lots planted in my raised beds. The first week will likely be cold. Normally the last frost date is 16 April. That's probably not too far off track, though I may be tempted to push it this year.

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Oh HAPPY Day!!!

Yea!!! I get to blow this joint. My temperature has been normal for 48 hours. The bag of Vancomycin I'm getting is almost finished running. My platelets are low again, so I have to get a transfusion of those before I leave. That might be soon or it might take several hours. My nurse has gone to check. Platelets are often in short supply. But sometime today I will be home again. It's a blessing.

Thanks to everyone who has been sending me positive thoughts, prayers and good health vibes. I appreciate them all.

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Ho Hum... hospital food

It's rather boring in the hospital. At least in finding new things to blog about. Haven't seen a doc yet today, but I have had breakfast. We could talk about hospital food while my Vancomycin is running. I won't be going anywhere anytime soon. Two hours for the antibiotic and then I may still need to get a platelet transfusion.

The first morning I was here they brought me pancakes, which were actually good. Pancakes have not been a menu choice since. Too bad. These people just cannot do eggs. Blech! I should be grateful I have food to eat. I know that. But could we just teach hospital cooks not to scramble the eggs for 10 times longer than they need to be cooked. Tough, dry yellow crumbles are not something I really want to see on my morning plate. OTOH, the grits they brought this morning were OK. The oatmeal they brought yesterday was OK. If I am still here tomorrow, I think I will stick with hot cereal and just not circle anything on the breakfast entrée section.

Now in the hospital they bring you a menu one day to choose food for the next. I've discovered that these menus are like The Pirates' Code - merely guidelines. For instance, in bread choices we have a number of things, but I have chosen wheat toast for the last two mornings. I have yet to receive wheat toast. Yesterday there was a biscuit covered with gummy gravy. Today there was white toast.

And speaking of toast. Toast indicates taking a slice of bread, and putting it near or under a heat source to crisp and brown the sides. Toast = crisp. Toast should not equal soggy. But invariably the toast is put on the plate with the yellow crumbles and covered with a thermal plate cover to keep the food warm. I am on the 7th floor. From the time the food leaves the kitchen and gets to me it is probably 45 minutes or so. Toast under cover with yellow crumbles for that amount of time is soggy. Even the piece of bread before toasting would have had more structure.

I don't eat beef. This is on my chart. I don't choose anything beef on the menu. I write NO BEEF on the menu. Friday night and Saturday night, wanna guess what they brought me? Beef. Had to re-request dinners. Both of the specially prepared trays were much better than what was originally sent. Fresher, etc. One night they sent me a very good tuna salad on a plate with a huge pile of fresh spring greens. That may have been my best meal here so far.

And I have to wonder, why do I never see these fresh spring greens when I request salad? I get iceberg or romaine and one cherry tomato. Hmmmm.

Condiments are listed separately on the menu. One of the things on the list is lemon wedge. Now when I think of a lemon wedge, I think of a wedge of fruit. A piece of this:

But if you choose to order a lemon wedge here, what you get is a little plastic package of processed lemon juice. After the first day, I didn't bother.

Life is always interesting. I really am grateful that I have food to eat. I'm even more grateful when it's prepared well.
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28 December 2008

Ruling Day 3

28 December: Day 3 - Rules for March
The Forecast is for a high in the 50s with rain moving out and weather becoming much calmer.
Sunrise 6:52 AM, Sunset 4:44 PM, Day Length 09:52
Moonrise 7:50AM, Moonset 5:50 PM

AM: Heavy winds, rain & thunderstorms overnight. Still cloudy and 50° @ 6:00a
Midday: 47° and partly cloudy
Afternoon: Scattered clouds and 53°
Evening: 45° and some scattered clouds.

You know what they say about March. In like a lion, out like a lamb. The early thunderstorms moving to scattered clouds seems to bear that out for this year.

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Sunday health update

My doc just came by to see me. If I go 24 more hours with no fever and have nothing weird show up in my blood cultures, he's recommending for the doc on call tomorrow to give me more platelets and let me go home. Keeping my fingers crossed!
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They say you can never sleep in the hospital.

LOL. This is true. But they woke me up to take my vitals and I'm happy to report a normal temperature reading. Keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that I get no spikes as the day progresses.

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27 December 2008

Ruling Day 2

27 December: Day 2 - Rules for February
The Forecast is for a high of 70°F, breezy, mostly cloudy and a slight chance of rain.
Sunrise 6:52 AM, Sunset 4:43 PM, Day Length 09:51
Moonrise 7:09 AM, Moonset 4:52 PM

AM: Heavy cloud cover and 60°. Breezy
Midday: Mostly cloudy and 71°. Still breezy
Afternoon: Clouds dissipating, with some sunshine and blue skies showing through. Breezy and 77°.
Evening: 69° and a wind advisory. Gusts up to 35mph.

February should be quite warm and windy. Mostly cloudy the first two weeks, then clearer but more windy the last two weeks.

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Saturday afternoon health update

I'm trying really hard to stick with my belief that things happen for a reason. Even if I don't know or understand the reason.

This morning my temp spiked again. The doc has done a regular admit and I will be in the hospital for several more days. They don't want to let me go while I'm having fevers and a white count of 0.0. He wrote orders for me to have the Levaquin by IV and is starting me on Vancomycin by IV also. The fever tends to come and go. It will be normal for several hours and then out of nowhere spike up to 103°. Apparently this is not uncommon for people who are neutropenic (have no immune system).

So far I have to say the food has been much better than my last hospital stay. As a southerner I love my iced tea (NOT SWEET!). When the lady picked up my lunch tray, I asked were it possible to get another glass of tea. Not only did she bring me a fresh glass, she brought me a whole pitcher. That was really nice.

The Vanco just finished running and I will get Levaquin tonight. My temp is back up to 101° and my face is really red, but they think it's a reaction to the Vanco, rather than whatever has been causing the fever before.

Mike went home and got some things for me to make my stay better, including a venti bold coffee of the day from Starbucks. He also brought something I did not ask about - a peppermint Fiesta coffee mug. The cups here are all styrofoam or those thick plastic insulated ones. Not terribly pleasant for drinking. So he grabbed a couple of "good" mugs for us to use up here. Now is that cool, or what? I my spouse.

Since it appears I am in no danger of expiring prematurely, I told Mike he should spend the night at home tonight. When we found out I had to stay yesterday and everything was uncertain, we got Sally (my sister) to pick up DD#2 and take her to stay with them. If Mike goes home, he can take DD#2 back home, too.

Here's hoping we have a "brand-new, beautiful tomorrow!" (And btw, I'm most disappointed WDW is not keeping the Carousel of Progress.)
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Five Gold Rings, Four Colly Birds, and Mincemeat Pie

We all know the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. What you may not know is that the words commonly published today have been changed from the original. The song began as a secular love song, but days four and five had a different meaning than what is often assigned to them now.

The Twelve Days of Christmas
The first day of Christmas my true love sent to me
A parteridge in a pear tree. (Now "partridge")

The second day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Two turtle doves
And a parteridge in a pear tree.

The third day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Three French hens
Two turtle doves
And a parteridge in a pear tree.

The fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Four colly birds . . .

The fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Five gold rings . . .

The sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Six geese a-laying . . .

The seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Seven swans swimming . . .

The eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Eight maids a-milking . . .

The ninth day of Christmas my true Love sent to me
Nine drummers drumming . . .

The tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Ten pipers piping . . .

The eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Eleven ladies dancing . . .

The twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Twelve lords a-leaping,
Eleven ladies dancing,
Ten pipers piping,
Nine drummers drumming,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four Colly birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a parteridge in a pear tree.

In old illustrations that go with this song, five gold rings are not jewelry. They are golden ring-necked pheasants.

The fourth day's gift was Colly Birds. Four Calling Birds is due to a mix-up between the English language as spoken in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the English language as we speak it today. Colly or collie birds are blackbirds. In England a coal mine was called a colliery. Colly or collie is a derivation of this, meaning black like coal. In old illustrations the birds are the European Blackbird, which is related to our American Robin. As to why would a true love give blackbirds, they were a prized food in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. e.g. Sing a Song of Sixpence.

Notice that makes the first seven gifts all food. Eight if you count the milk the maids were providing. It was quite the thing to give gifts of food. Now why the sudden jump from food to people? I haven't been able to find documentation, but the last four gifts are all entertainments. That would also have been acceptable and expected gifts from one's true love.

Blackbirds have a specific tie to Christmas food in England - the Christmas Pie, now known to us as Mince Pie or Mincemeat Pie. Originally the Christmas Pie was a huge lavish dish that was the centrepiece of the holiday celebration. It was made with as many rich and luxurious ingredients as could be found, and this included blackbirds. In fact, any kind of meat and poultry could be minced together with fruits and spices for the concoction.

In medieval times, this was simply called The Christmas Pie, and would often be shaped into a manger or crib to reflect the religious significance of the celebration. All this changed when Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came into power in the seventeenth century. Every ‘abominable and idolatrous confection’ was outlawed, and thus the Christmas Pie was made illegal.

Luckily, as with many Christmas traditions during Cromwell’s reign, it went underground. The Christmas Pie became a traditional round pie and was called a Minc’d Pie, so as to avoid prosecution by the authorities. After Cromwell’s regime was removed in 1660, the Minc’d Pies remained in their new form, growing larger and more elaborate.

When England established colonies in what is now the US, the various minced meats were gradually omitted and replaced with suet, nuts, fruits, spices and syrups. (Supposedly this was due to the abundance of fruit trees found here, which also gave origin to the phrase, "as American as apple pie"). This mixture even today is still referred to as mince or mincemeat. (See Pear Mincemeat).

Not for the fainthearted! Looking online I found reference to a Christmas Pie baked in 1770 that contained the following:
* 7 blackbirds
* 6 pigeons
* 6 snipe
* 4 geese
* 4 partridges
* 4 wild ducks
* 2 curlews
* 2 ox tongues
* 2 rabbits
* 2 turkeys
* 2 woodcocks

The pie was huge and had to be put on a cart to be wheeled in to the celebration. I have to say I believe I prefer the smaller, sweet treat we have today.

And remember, when you are singing The Twelve Days of Christmas, it is colly birds, not calling birds.

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Life is always a surprise or Saturday early morning health report

Yesterday I had to get labs, see doc, etc. We expected I would need platelets. All my counts were very low - platelets 3, whites 0.0, reds I forget the number. I wound up needing to get two units of platelets and 2 units of red cells. As the blood centre I normally use was closed for the holiday, the transfusions required a 24 hour hospital check-in. I figured this would take longer than normal, but they said I didn't need to stay the whole 24 hours and could go home when the transfusions were finished.

Also, I have been not feeling well since Christmas Eve (earache and headache mostly) and running a low grade temp - between 99° and 100°. They put me on oral Levaquin for that.

Because I have no white count, they set up a neutropenic check-in to the hospital. I had a room already assigned, had to wear a mask and go directly from the doc's to the hospital room. Mike went down to sign me in at admissions later. So I was in the room before 2:00p and it was around 4:30p by the time blood products arrived. And that was with having the CBC and Type & Cross done at my doc's. IV Benadryl knocked me out for the platelets and most of the first unit of red cells. (They run red cells slower at the hospital, too. I normally get a bag in 2 hours, but they set these to run for 3.) It was after 10:00p when the transfusions were all done.

I noticed I was feeling cold and shivering and my temp was up to 100.4° when they started the second unit of red cells. By the time it was finished, my temp was 102.8° and I was having severe chills. This is not good. They called my doc, took blood for cultures and put me on IV Levaquin. Needless to say, I did not get to go home.

So here I am in the hospital (with a lovely city view, btw and I have my camera) waiting to see what the day brings. I feel better - like my temp should be back to normal. Soon it will be time for them to come around and do vitals, so I will learn more then. Not sure if they are planning to keep me here till the cultures grow something, or if they will let me leave if my temp is normal. Hopefully the latter.

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26 December 2008

Ruling Day 1

I'm going to try to be a little more detailed in tracking this year's Ruling Days, if I can be so organised. Typically I pay attention to temperatures during the Ruling Days to predict hot and cold weeks during the coming year. And I usually note the wind, sky conditions, and precipitation on Ruling Days. This year I will try to make note of these conditions 4 times daily.

26 December: Day 1 - Rules for January
The Forecast is for a high of 68°F, mostly cloudy and a 30% chance of rain.
Sunrise 6:52 AM, Sunset 4:43 PM, Day Length 09:51
Moonrise 6:22 AM, Moonset 3:57 PM

AM: Dark grey and very warm. 52° and cloudy at 7:30a
Midday: Lighter grey and warmer. 61° and fog on the mountaintops at 1:00p
Afternoon: Still grey and warm. 67° and fog farther down the mountains.
Evening: Right at sunset the sun came out for a few minutes from the west. Everything else grey and foggy. Still right at 60° at 7:30p. Pressure: 30 in and steady. Wind: From the SE (140) at 9 mph

Based on the above data, January will be a very grey overcast month that is much warmer than normal. The wormth will likely contribute to fog. There should be some sunny days toward the end of the month.

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Ruling Days

I am a gardener. I love growing flowers, vegetables, fruits and herbs. Some of my earliest memories are following along behind my grandfather in his garden, placing tomato plants in the holes he dug. When Mike and I bought our first house I asked my grandfather to make notes for me so I would know how to plant and take care of a lot of different vegetables. He would not do that. And with good reason, though I was a tad peeved at the time. As he said, his climate was different from my climate, his soil was different from my soil, etc, etc, etc. He said, "Honey, just keep planting." And that is so true. Thirty years later I still "keep planting".

The twelve days between yesterday's celebration and "Old Christmas" are referred to in planting folklore as "The Ruling Days". It's certainly part of southern Appalachian culture and in other areas of the South, but I don't know how widespread it is elsewhere. This is also the time of the Epiphany and Carnival season begins on 12th Night. Tradition holds that these twelve days will determine the weather for the next year. Plant folklorists will watch their local weather carefully for each day and record their observations in order to predict the weather for an entire month and thus for the entire year.

26 Dec = January
27 Dec = February
28 Dec = March
29 Dec = April
30 Dec = May
31 Dec = June
1 Jan = July
2 Jan = August
3 Jan = September
4 Jan = October
5 Jan = November
6 Jan = December

The Ruling Days are tied to a belief in the power of the moon and planting by the signs, something that is still practiced by many farmers today. The Old Farmer's Almanac is still a very popular publication. Until the last 6-8 years I did not track the Ruling Days, but since beginning to do so, have found them to be uncannily accurate for our neck of the woods.

As I am now blogging regularly, every evening for the next 12 days, I will post the weather and predictions for the current set of Ruling Days here. Then I will easily be able to come back and check them as the year passes.
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Boxing Day

I know there are lots of people out shopping today, but I am not one of them. Instead I have a doctor's appointment and labs at 10:30. If I need platelets, which is more than likely, I will have to do a 24 hour hospital check-in to get the transfusion. The blood centre I normally use is closed today and I've not done the hospital transfusion thing before. I won't have to stay the whole 24 hours, of course, but I expect this to take longer than normal.

Also I've had a pretty bad earache for the last couple of days and am running a very low fever. They'll likely want to give me something for that, too. No other plans for the day, other than having crackers to open at dinner tonight.
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25 December 2008

Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noël, Buone Feste Natalizie, Feliz Navidad, Mele Kalikimaka, etc.

To everyone who's stopped by and shared my blog this year, I wish you

This image is from a vintage December magazine cover and I have reworked it into a digital card.
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24 December 2008

drought, rain and Santa's yearly trip

The southeast has been in a drought for some three years now. This month it has been raining a lot and we have an 80% chance of storms for Christmas Eve. Our normal December rainfall is 4.15 inches. Currently we are at 11 inches with more expected. When we were at the farm yesterday we noticed the lake pond was completely full. Not a sight we have seen in quite a while. So far so good for Santa.

NORAD Santa Tracker

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Christmas Eve

T'was the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

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23 December 2008

Creamy Pralines

Pralines - the perfect candy from Louisiana. Pralines actually began life in France by the cook of a sugar producer in the 17th century. Originally they were whole almonds coated with a caramelised sugar. When French settlers brought this recipe to Louisiana, cooks in New Orleans substituted pecans for almonds, added cream to thicken the mixture, and created what became known throughout the South as the praline. And while we are on the subject, just as there is a correct pronunciation for pecan (puh-kahn, never pea-can), there is a correct pronunciation for praline: praw-leen never pray-leen.

My great-grandmother (1890-1965) made superb pralines. She was born, reared, lived and buried in Louisiana. Some of her recipes I know were handed down in the family. Others I do not know the origin. This is one that I only know from her. (I should ask my Mom if she knows more history of this recipe.) Online you can find all kinds of "authentic New Orleans pralines", all claiming to be the best, the original, or whatever. This recipe stands up to them all and I will always choose it first. My Mom loves these and as she is coming over this morning, I want to make a batch so she will have some to take home for Christmas goodies.

Start with the best ingredients. New pecans from Fresh Market, Land O Lakes butter, Neilsen-Massey vanilla, and Domino Brown Sugar. The recipe doesn't say whether to use dark or light brown sugar. I suspect my great-grandmother probably used whichever she had on hand. I have light brown so that is what I used today.

Cooling to lukewarm with butter

I put the pralines out on Silpats rather than waxed paper. It works even better.

Because of it being the holiday, I dusted the tops with edible gold glitter to give them a more festive look.

Normally pralines are more spread out and thin, but I made them smaller in diametre this time in order to display them on this vintage candy tree.

Creamy Pralines
1 pound brown sugar
1 pinch salt
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups chopped pecans

Stirring constantly, cook sugar, salt and milk to soft ball stage. Remove from heat and add butter without stirring. Let cool to lukewarm. Add vanilla and beat until creamy. Add nuts. Working quickly, drop by teaspoon onto waxed paper. If mixture begins to harden too quickly, add a few drops of evaporated milk.

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Sausage Cheese Balls

These seem to be ubiquitous during the holidays. Many people in my family just adore them, so I always make a double batch. If I double this recipe, I get about 12 dozen sausage balls. Sausage Cheese Balls only have three ingredients, so that puts them on the list of easy things to make.

As I was awake early this morning, I went ahead and made this year's quota. With these and the TV Tidbits done, I'm going to change to a sweet for the next holiday treat. Maybe my great-grandmother's pralines.

This year I decided to use the 6 qt Kitchenaid to mix the ingredients. It worked, but next time I will use the dough hook, rather than the paddle attachment.

First tray ready for the oven

Baked and ready to eat

Sausage Cheese Balls
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 pound hot bulk sausage
3 cups Bisquick

With your hands mix together the cheese, sausage and Bisquick. Shape into 1" balls and bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes.
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