Saturday, March 29, 2008

Benefit Auction

We spent the morning today at the Casey County Benefit Auction (the 14th annual). Run by the local Mennonite community, to help a family with medical expenses or in other insurmountable need, the day-long auction includes all manner of vehicles, farm tools, household goods, plants and livestock (Bertha over at the Cupcakes would have gone crazy with all of those chickens!).

There was also an excellent bake sale, chicken barbecue and soft vanilla ice cream churned by a horse on a treadmill (imagine if they had such a thing for humans ~ we could earn our ice cream by burning it off first). Probably one of the most bizarre contraptions I've seen--but just as humane as having a horse pull a plow, I suppose.

The auction was held at the corner of interstate route 127 (famous for its huge yard sale the first week of August each year) and state route 501, the road into the heart of the Mennonite community in Casey County, Kentucky. It is a small but prosperous community with several businesses and is what brought us to the area for the first time two years ago (that and the Bread of Life Café, run by the Galilean Children's Home). Fortunately, it is not touristy and kitschy like Holmes County, Ohio and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania have become. We shop regularly at all of these businesses and it certainly beats having to drive into Somerset to deal with traffic and big box stores.

The best part for us--we did not bid on any animals because we are still not set up to have them (next year!)--was just milling around enjoying the atmosphere and seeing many people that we've met or befriended, do business with, and are beginning to know. It made us feel all the more a part of things which is always a good feeling to have in a new place.

The bake sale was packed with pies, breads, cakes, whoopie pies (oatmeal and chocolate) and these lovely little mini-pies, which, at 60 cents were a steal, I thought (so I wouldn't take any change). I have only tried a butterscotch but it was melt-in-your mouth. We also got apricot, apple, and lemon (and a larger cherry pie). Temple picked out a sponge cake (which came on its own plate to keep!) and some whoopie pies. The chicken just fell off the bone and made a great early lunch. The kids loved the ice cream, too.

We were also glad to learn, quietly, that one of our friends, who has suffered medical hardship, and his family will be the recipients of the proceeds this year. The Amish and Mennonite communities pull together to help their own in times of need and that was gratifying to see in action. While there are some old order Amish around, mostly Mennonites have settled in Casey County. Their clothes are a bit less plain: different hats, no beards for married men, and more jolly prints and colors for the women's dresses.

You will note that I have discreetly photographed a few gatherings of Mennonite people. Out of respect to them I did my best to conceal their identities.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

Yesterday I opened a box which had been waiting for me since returning from New Hampshire. I hadn't seen it in the reshuffling that occurs with the assimilation of a full car load of stuff. It was apple butter from a blog reader, Debi, who was in touch with me several weeks ago about White Lily flour after she posted on the Bountiful Biscuits entry in late January.

As we're both from New Hampshire, I offered to bring up some flour for her but it didn't work out. However, we got to talking about apple butter and Gould Hill Orchards in Contoocook and how they have our favorite, hard to find heirloom varieties. So I was delighted to receive a jar of homemade apple butter, something I learned to like as a small girl when my father enjoyed it on cottage cheese. I learned to make it just to send some his way each year. [Winesap apples, pictured above, are included in Debi's apple butter, and are one of few apple varieties that they sell at Nolt's Bulk Foods in Liberty. Truly a culinary "sign" that we were meant to move here as they are my favorites.]

Yesterday we were also blessed by strangers. On the way to town to do some errands and try out a new café, a man in a truck motioned to us to pull over. Initially we thought he was trying to pass and then didn't and figured him to be a lane hog. When we finally pulled over after his gesturing he wanted to tell us that our back rear tire was low and likely ready to blow out. We had been going 70 miles an hour on the parkway. Not only did he take the time to let us know, he stayed to change the tire with us and then another person stopped to make sure everyone was alright.

After changing the tire and heading on our way we got to the café and it was packed, being as it was the first week of opening (and the only non-fast food place to eat in downtown Somerset). A man by himself at a table for four motioned for us to come over. He offered us some seats at his table. What was initially kind, but awkward, became a great conversation over lunch. When my husband was waiting in a long line after lunch to pay our bill, a Baptist minister, with whom he had struck up a conversation, even offered to pick up our check! [But we didn't take him up on that.]

By the way, the name of the café? Life is Sweet Bakery & Café. It certainly can be. Across from the café on Somerset's town square is the new location of God's Food Pantry which helps feed over 500 families a month in Pulaski County. In one week, the café, food pantry, and new and beautiful main branch of the Pulaski County Library all opened within a short walk of each other. Each is an enterprise I will regularly support or be involved with in some way.

There is a Bible verse [Hebrews 13:1-2] that I often think upon, especially in a world where we need to be cautious of strangers, but where we always need to be open to possibility and hope:

"Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

We have so often found this to be true in our lives. Since moving here we have found most people to be honest and sincere and kind. One woman, another blog reader (and longtime blogger herself) and now a friend (hi Cat!), has been an angel in her welcome, and gifts, and bits of knowledge and complete embracing of our family. After only meeting me once at the Kentucky Book Fair last November, she invited me to join a Bunco group that she was forming. We live 45 minutes away from each other but she has become a neighbor in the truest sense.

Yesterday gave us pause to remember these kinds of blessings and how we should always keep watch for angels unawares. I am learning, also, how the blog community is full of angels and friends both new, and old. Thank you all.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ric Rac or Bust!

YRic Rac ~ a new paradigm for the 21st century.

Visualize World Ric Rac
. It can happen.

Over at the Cupcakes, Peaches is designing an apron with ric rac for an upcoming photo shoot that we hope she will describe--and illustrate--in full detail. But it got us all talking about ric rac. I've always wanted to sew and to sew well. But the process is too complicated for me. I jam the machine. The bobbins break. I'm not patient.
I scream. My head spins around and I vomit straight pins. If you want to test an idiot proof sewing machine on someone, I'm your person. I'll prove you wrong every time, even when I made my first (and last) sewing pattern in the early 1970s on my miniature Singer sewing machine: it was a simple apron. Hah! And as for "Simplicity" patterns, forget about it. We all have a knack for something: sewing is not my "knack".

But that doesn't mean I can't love fabric and dress patterns. Yards and yards of yummy fabrics. And notions, especially ric rac. It is so vintage, so appealing, so meandering. Such a simple design and yet so brilliant. It is something I pick up here and there at yard sales or in antique shops, even new packages of it. I've crafted occasionally with the boys using ric rac (like one Valentine's Day we had a lot of fun) but I'm not that crafty, either. I'm a sewer-crafty wannabe, but not really. Maybe I should just enjoy my status as appreciator of fine craft and leave it at that.

Here is a blog devoted to vintage sewing at Primrose Design and another to aprons called "Angry Chicken". There are also many books, recently, on aprons. They've made a firm comeback and have even starred in exhibits. EllynAnn Geisel started the trend with her traveling exhibit "Apron Chronicles" and has written a yummy little charm of a book,
The Apron Book: Making, Wearing, and Sharing a Bit of Cloth and Comfort.

There is something comforting about an apron and easily collectible. Available in shops for $5 or more, they are a piece of domestic history. I collect vintage aprons as well as newly made Amish and Mennonite aprons (in many of those yummy colorful fabrics). For women in those orders, especially the Mennonites who allow a bit more variety in fabric and color, the apron is one of few outward forms of self-expression and joyous individuality. And yet it is highly functional. When I put on an apron I feel empowered: like super domestic diva ready to multi-task around the house in a single bound.

Down here we've discovered King's Department store in Liberty, Kentucky near the town square. They have an old-fashioned fabric and notions department. I love to go in and just wander and ogle the designs and colors. Surely they think I'm nuts. The other day I was happy to find a selection of reproduction 1930s feed sack cotton fabric. Oh my! The aprons I've envisioned. [I did buy several yards of red gingham oil cloth for my pantry shelves a few months ago, but I just cut that to fit. And my husband is delighted with their denim and barn coat selection in the clothing store.]

So for now I will continue to be an aficionado of aprons and appreciate the handiwork of others.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Morning is glad on the hills...

Tree on Hopeful School Road, Pulaski County, Kentucky

Morning is glad on the hills.
The sky sings in blue tones.

Little blue fleurs are early blooming now.

I do so like blue.

It is glad everywhere.

When I grow up I am going to write a book

about the glad of blues.

The earth sings in green.

from Opal by Opal Whiteley
[Opal's journal arranged and adapted by Jane Boulton, Macmillan Publishing Co, Inc.: 1976]

We are reading this enchanting book, compiled from bits of journals and blank verse that Opal Whiteley wrote as a young girl, with the Cupcakes this month. When I opened the book this morning, my first book selection on my new library card from the new Pulaski County Library, it fell upon this passage.

It has been a busy few weeks and many "must blog" moments have gone unrecorded. Spring is coming to the ridge and that is always hopeful. I will try to blog more frequently here now that I am settled again (but sometimes my interest is divided between blogs!).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Food for A Week

I received an e-mail today that is truly one of the most fascinating "global" e-mails I have received (in more ways than one). I do not know the original source of this photo essay but has a more extensive listing of photos and countries (and information) than I received (but they are not the original source). If any reader knows the source (and photographer), please let me know and I will credit it here.

Each family is pictured by size of family, diet of that country, and availability and cost of what is eaten in one week. Here is but one of many examples. As both a foodie and a voyeur as to the question of "what's in your pantry?" I find this an intriguing study.

Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11

I wish I had time to post all of the photographs and captions but if you can, take the time to go to the link for a revealing look at what the world eats (and doesn't eat). It is interesting to compare food selection and diets between countries--whether it is by choice, custom, or availability. It is also not difficult to notice, by comparison, that "we are what we eat" or what we choose--or can afford--to eat.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Linen Presses and China Closets and Larders~Oh My!

The tidy linen closet of my dreams...

Over on the Cupcake Chronicles blog, there has been a lot of talk of laundry recently, thanks to Edie who has been obsessed with the idea of clotheslines and laundry (and it's catchy). This morning Peaches asked about linen presses so I thought I'd blog my answer as I am learning about them, too. As a linen press is much like a pantry, I thought I'd blog it here.

In the Mrs. Washalot laundry blog, a must for anyone with a passion for laundry or at least the idea of it, there is a fine entry on the linen press, including the vintage image, above, from a 1928 House Beautiful. A linen press can be a freestanding cabinet or a built-in cupboard. For our 1813 Federal home built for two brothers, in the specification of rooms to the contractor (which is in the New Hampshire Historical Society archives), several linen presses were stipulated. I believe two of these are in the original kitchens of the main house and two are upstairs in two of the bedrooms. They are shallow built-in cupboards, with a door that gave them the appearance of a normal closet or doorway from the outside, but inside only allowing depth enough for sheets or small linens. [Of course, we use them for anything but their original use.] Closets were scarce until the Victorian period and a linen press allowed preferable storage, keeping linens flat, viewable and at the ready.

Several years ago while scouting places for The Pantry, I photographed an image of a linen closet in the service ell of a New England farmhouse. It was likely from the Colonial Revival era, built in the first decades of the 20th century, but it may have been earlier. With sliding glass doors and cupboards below, and with continuous light from a north window, it seemed perfect. I have always fancied an entire walk-in linen closet like this--a laundry "pantry"! My Ohio grandparents had one but it was in the domestic wing of the house where we grandchildren were not permitted, down a long, inviting hallway. I only glimpsed of it from the top of the back stairs, when the door had been left open. It was a narrow and deep walk-in closet.

When I last saw my Grandpa, I slept in that area of the house because the night nurses had taken over the guest rooms. For the first time I was able to explore that secret realm which had intrigued me for twenty years. I found the linen closet, much of its contents depleted through staff theft at the time. Fortunately, of the linens that remained, I inherited some from my father and still use them to this day: fine cotton percale sheets that are always crisp and cool when you climb into them, monogrammed towels, table linens.

Of course, a linen press sounds right out of 19th century England or from a novel written by Jane Austen. In England a linen press was more likely a large freestanding piece of furniture, as at left. In a letter written in 1814 to "Cassandra" Austen wrote:

Mrs. Driver, &c., are off by Collier, but so near being too late that she had not time to call and leave the keys herself. I have them, however. I suppose one is the key of the linen-press, but I do not know what to guess the other.

In Shirley, by Charlotte Bronte, written in 1848, one of the characters also mentions a linen press--and in the same passage a china-closet and a larder, too. Oh my! A character after my own heart:

Right, mother! And if my Master has given me ten talents, my duty is to trade with them, and make them ten talents more. Not in the dust of household drawers shall the coin be interred. I will not deposit it in a broken-spouted tea-pot, and shut it up in a china-closet among tea-things. I will not commit it to your work-table to be smothered in piles of woolen hose. I will not prison it in the linen press to find shrouds among the sheets: and least of all, mother' - (she got up from the floor) - 'least of all will I hide it in a tureen of cold potatoes, to be ranged with bread, butter, pastry, and ham on the shelves of the larder.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Cupcakes R Us

This week I could not believe that among Henry's spelling words is "cupcake". The rest of the words are also composites of two different words. Again, we had fun (OK, well I had fun and then read it to him--next time I'll have him write one, too) putting the spelling list words into a story. They have a spelling test each Thursday and if they get 100% they don't have to retake it on Friday. [As a parent, and a writer, I am greatly relieved to see an emphasis on rote spelling again. "Whole Language" has created a generation of poor spellers.]

Here it is:

Some WORKMEN who recently built a SKYSCRAPER in the city were now renovating my BEDROOM. One hot AFTERNOON they wanted to play FOOTBALL and BASEBALL in our BACKYARD. My mother watched them from the DOORWAY, in a DAYDREAM about a wintry SNOWSTORM. A BUTTERFLY flew past her and then she heard the DOORBELL. It was our next door neighbor, Shirley, with chocolate CUPCAKEs for EVERYBODY. Mom rang the COWBELL and then we ate them all up--OUTDOORs!

For the above cupcake recipe (Ina Garten's Coconut Cupcakes from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook), please see my Cupcakes for Bunco posting at our Cupcake Chronicle blog. You will note that I am cross-cupcaking this week as I'm not sure which blog posting is better suited for where!