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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

So it is that a new year has arrived, with the midnight madness of fireworks, toasts and resolutions, the anticipation or anxiety toward the year ahead. I’m not much of a New Year’s Eve person. I never do resolutions, preferring not to set myself up for disappointment, instead feeling that each new day, with the first one of the year or the last one of any week, holds opportunities, much to be grateful for, sadness to hold in my heart and for joy to ripen like summer fruit into gratitude . . . on and on as each day goes.

Our Christmas was on the quiet side, with Christmas Eve church services and a Christmas Day meal at our daughter and son-in-law’s house with cherished family. Burrata and pesto slathered on crusty bread from Heather and Andrew and an amazing frittata from Suzanne whetted our appetites and was a recipe/tradition of her grandfather’s. Jennifer, always daring in her menus, served us the most succulent of meals: duck comfit with a pickled raisin sauce, lentils, potatoes and smashed Brussels sprouts. It took her days to prepare it – and mere minutes for us to consume.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Vase appeared, as did holiday cookies, pastries and Jason’s crullers – another family recipe.

 

Gatherings with others and quiet time, as well as moments of pure delight and those of poignant memories. Elegant meals as well as simple suppers, my mountains of Christmas books and the cheerful cards that came through the mail – it was a meaningful and lovely Christmastide.

My Antler Man and I dined in for New Year’s Eve – we usually do. A rare treat of steak and potatoes to celebrate year’s end, and some Belgium chocolate gelato for a wee desert. I baked and baked and baked some more this year. I don’t know where the flurry of flour activity arose from, but, it did and I will confess that it is rather nice to end the year, any year, on a “sweet” note. My pièce de résistance was a most delectable pork tenderloin on New Year’s Day. Gently stuffed with spinach and Swiss cheese, I topped it with cinnamon apples, baked in a very hot oven and ate with wild abandon. (Well, not exactly wild abandon, but, we did eat well 🙂 ).

So it is that a new year has arrived – and with it gratitude for each and every one of you that visits here on the Cutoff. I appreciate all of you and am humbled that you take the time to read my ramblings.

Thank you, one and all, and best wishes for a healthy, happy New Year!

Penny

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The morning was bright and clear with dashes of sunshine stroking my life. Decorations were scattered about our rambling abode; angels rested on high, books stacked within reach, and there were even a few batches of cookies stored in decorative tins. A rare December day with no meetings on the calendar, a tank full of gas and a list of wonders that I wanted to see, so, off I went with a purpose in mind.

My first stop was to see an exhibit about one of my favorite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life,  at the Elmhurst History Museum. Alas and alack, I arrived to discover it would not open for several more hours, so . . . I promptly reversed my plans and headed, first, to the Wilder Park Conservatory. The Conservatory is an oasis of growth and warmth, history and soulful nourishment nestled into an award-winning park in the western suburbs.

Opening the door, a couple I have known were exiting, two charming grandsons toddling out with them. These two youngsters informed me that there were “fishes” and “elves” inside.

Well, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but, elves here and there and everywhere in the conservatory, along with this poinsettia tree and a cheerful display of the plants all around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In need of a “cuppa” of something warm and a bit of bite to eat, I headed to the north end of town and Brewpoint Coffee and Roastery where I had a tasty blueberry scone and a hot mocha (called Sacagawea).

As luck would have it, on a day filled with good luck, a perfect parking spot awaited me smack dab in the center of town. Like many suburbs around Chicago, parking is at a premium, so I quickly signaled my intent to park, claiming my curbside cradle. My first stop was The Pink Elephant, a well stocked charity shop. I chatted for quite sometime with a woman I did not know as we good-naturedly tried to talk each other into buying something we did not need. Do you ever do that? As a result, this caroler sang her way into my arms and followed me home.

I stopped at a new store, Bread and Butter, where I had purchased a darling pair of earrings a few weeks earlier. It is such a cute shop and the owner, a enterprising young woman, is as delightful as her products. I left with these cute stocking caps meant for bottles that Rudolf absconded with to keep his antlers warm.

My final stop, which was my first on what became a delightful circuitous route, was a tour of the exhibit at the Elmhurst History MuseumIt’s a Wonderful Life. Posters and “stills” from the movie lined the museum’s wall with informative narratives describing scenes, props, biographical information and other tidbits of knowledge about a beloved movie.

Included in this exhibition are photos and information about Elmhurst’s own Christmas traditions and photos of the city around the time depicted in It’s a Wonderful Life.

I did not take many photos, in part to maintain the integrity of the exhibition, and in part to lure you into the museum if you live in the area or are visiting. It is truly worth the visit and is within a short walking distance of not only the conservatory, but, of the renowned Elmhurst Art Museum.

Here are two characters from the movie, the original Bert and Ernie, and another character you might recall, Toots, with her earrings dangling and her infamous red coat.

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As often happens, holidays bring the loss of a loved one to the forefront. It was particularly so for me this year with Greek Orthodox Easter. It isn’t that Dottie and I celebrated together every year. We didn’t. It was missing the unique, shared experiences that siblings hold. I miss her.

Memories are precious.

This is a re-blogging of a post from six years ago.

 

Harry, Sam and Us (from April 16, 2012)

After greeting each other on Sunday with Christos Anesti, followed by Alethos Anesti, Dottie and I quickly rolled into a phone conversation ranging from Greek Easter bread, which I had just put into the oven, Easter eggs dyed red in the Greek tradition, favorite pastries and how I was making pastichio. One comment lead to another and soon we were recalling the long ago morning we first learned the ancient hymn sung by Orthodox Christians in the early morning of Easter and for the next forty days.

As often occurs with siblings, we each recalled different aspects and had different points of view; how old we were, what room of the house we were in, what time of day.

Dottie and I had been attending Greek school, learning to read and write the language. We had also been attending Sunday School and knew the story of Holy Week and Easter, but we had never attended the Easter Sunday Agape service.

That Easter morning, my mother and grandmother were busy preparing dinner; lamb and potatoes were roasting, the bread was sitting, a red egg in the center, waiting to be sliced, and pastries were hidden from eager young mouths. My father called to us and said he was going to teach us a song. Our cousin Teddy joined us.

We sat upon my parents’ bed as Daddy explained the sacred hymn sung only at Easter. He was going to teach us and then we were going to church for the Agape service. We would hold candles and sing the chant; Christos Anesti. Christ is Risen. He said the words in Greek and we repeated them and then he sang them. We followed suit until we mastered it, which we quickly did., except for the very last line.

Dottie asked me, her voice rising, “do you remember Harry, Sam and Us”?

I did, I exclaimed! One of us, or was it all us?  We couldn’t remember who couldn’t quite master the phrase, just my dad trying to help us through it and finally saying “Haa-ree Sa-a-a-menos. Say it like  Harry, Sam and Us”.

Harry, Sam and Us!

We laughed as we remembered my father’s way of teaching us and we reflected on how lucky we were to have had a father who spent so much time with us and our cousins as well. We remembered that service, our first time in participating in it, so rich and beautiful, the Gospel being read in four languages, the candles and sense of community that comes of faith. We talked, as we often do, of how lucky we were to have the parents we did and the childhood we lived.

We celebrate two Easters here on the Cutoff. Somewhere along the years they have taken on the names of Regular Easter and Greekster. Sunday was Greekster. Our table was laden with traditional food, our talk was lively, and I smiled to myself as I recalled the memories of a long ago Easter morning.

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If-truth-be-told, we are often out-and-about in separate cars, yet, somehow, we usually manage to find each other by the time we reach the end of the road.

So it was on Friday that we arrived in separate cars. Tom needed to be at church earlier than I did, to help set up for the Good Friday service. He also brought the cross, which he meticulously crafted for our newly established satellite church location.. It was a labor of love and an act of humility from the wonderful carpenter Tom is.

I had a busy day doing household chores, running errands, checking table coverings, picking up ingredients for Sunday’s Easter dinner. I would arrive a bit later than Tom did, serve as a greeter, then, side-by-side, the two of us would worship together. It was a moving and meaningful service, both contemplative and experimental, solemn yet hopeful.

The evening air was rather pleasant as pulled out on to the road. A wispy veil of clouds floated above, hinting, then giving way to a moon that pretty full.

 

Kezzie’s Moon!

It is a sweet story, told here on the Cutoff a time or two, especially her first, full moon, which you can read about here.

Eight years have passed since that special night. While on our long ride home, the day after our granddaughter was born. Tom and I (in the same car 🙂 ) stopped at a tollway Oasis to stretch our legs. As we got out of the car, there, just coming up on the horizon, was the moon. It was big and bright and brilliant and I declared “it’s Kezzie’s  moon!”- and so it was and is and will be forevermore.

It warmed my heart when I later learned that Kezzie, way up north where she lives, was also watching the moon rising, and that she proclaimed that it was her moon, Kezzie’s moon, which gave me pause and a moment to reflect on how wondrous it is that we can also manage to find each other by the light of the late March moon.

 

 

 

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The traveling vase has been resurrected!

The vase been sitting on the chifforobe since Christmas, patiently gathering dust. It was last filled with flowers when my daughter, Jennifer, made a festive Christmas floral arrangement.

Last week, my friend Bev shared photos of some clever Easter arrangements using –

wait for it –

jelly Beans and Peeps!

I was up for the challenge.

I already had a bag of jelly beans sitting on a kitchen shelf and Marshmallow Peeps are readily available this time of year. My friend Marilyn suggested placing a jelly jar inside the vase; the jar to hold the flowers and to act as a barrier between the Peeps and Jelly Beans.  A jelly jar to keep Peeps in line and hold jelly beans in place!

I ended up putting a shot glass inside the jelly jar to hold some daffodils. Daffodils are toxic to other flowers in an arrangement, but, I knew I wanted to pick some from the garden to add to the spray roses and Hypericum berries I had purchased. Glass inside of glass allowed to use the flowers I chose.

Daffodils are putting on a sustained performance in our garden, now that Spring has finally arrived.

So it is that the traveling vase has once again traded hands, hopping down the bunny trail to Jennifer’s house. Who knows when it will return or what will hold, but, I know it will be special. Very special, indeed.

The story of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Vase begins here.

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. . . and other sweet treasures.

I couldn’t find the recipe. It wasn’t in my recipe files, nor was it in a small notebook with Hollie Hobbie on the cover, a gift from a student a long time ago. Inside it are old, faded favorites with tell-tale splatters.

No luck!

The recipe for Fruit Pizza was given to me by my friend, Linda, who first brought this delectable delight to my family many moons ago. Jennifer liked it so much that I asked for the recipe. Maybe it was in the Field School Cookbook. Linda’s children attended the same elementary school as Jennifer and Katy, so I thought it might be in there.

No luck!

I love these recipe books that come from PTA’s, women’s auxiliaries, civic organizations, etc. I call them church lady cookbooks, and I keep them, even if there is only one recipe in them that I use. These are the best of recipe books, for no woman puts in her worst recipe, does she (or he)?

At any rate, I could not find the recipe for Fruit Pizza, even in the school cookbook, but, I did come upon my friend Donna’s recipe for Lemon Sherbet! Donna served us this refreshing and sweet delight as desert for our book group’s annual Christmas Book Discussion in early December.  The tartly sweet frozen sherbet, along with a tray of Christmas cookies, was a perfect complement to her dinner. Then and there, I decided to make sherbet for our Christmas Eve dinner. This young lass helped me. The Lemon Sherbet accompanied not only our Christmas Eve deserts, but, our Christmas Day festivities as well.

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Ezra and Kezzie (and Papa) also frosted Ethel Cookies, an old family favorite. Our kitchen became a confectionary lab for young hands as we slid on a floor covered with powdered sugar and sprinkles.

Both children awakened before their Mommy and Daddy on Christmas morning. Kezzie was eager to make Pinch Cake, a Christmas morning tradition ever since our own daughters were young.

pinch-cake

teakezzie

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Unable to find the recipe for Fruit Pizza, it occurred to me that it was one of our Jennifer’s favorite treats and that I must might have put it in a cookbook I made her – and I had! She brought it over on Christmas. We made it later in the week to bring to Aunty Jenny’s.

It is always a joy for me to bake with our grandchildren. It is rewarding as well; not only for our taste buds, but, the for the ritual of baking for them, showing them how we prepare the food we eat, and, of course, eating the things we make.

The first step in making fruit pizza is to make the cookie crust. It is basically a sugar cookie base patted and rolled onto a pizza pan and baked.

Kezzie was quite the young expert at rolling out the dough and patting it in the pan.

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When the cookie dough was done, we let it cool while we made a cream cheese frosting.

Then, like any good pizza, it needed toppings. Kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries were carefully placed around the pizza, with both children topping if off. Ezra LOVES fruit. It seemed the perfect kitchen activity for him (and it was).

Round and round the pizza they went with circles of fruit marching along in a palatable parade that made for a perfect desert at Aunty Jenny’s and Uncle Jason’s Gnocchi Night!

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Do you have a church lady cookbook (or more)? How about a fun fruit desert? Are you doing anything to bring in the New Year, and, lest I forget, Happy New Year to all!

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” . . . No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instance. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy! Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty . . . that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it, that is all! . . . And so I greet you, with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.”

“Letter to a Friend” by Fra Giovanni, 1513

img_1916I bid you peace at this holy time with the warmest of wishes for a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and joy today and always.

Penny

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