Amish Art

Posted August 31st, 2014 by Ellen and filed in Birds, Family, Garden, My collections, Travels

Bird House, Det.

Bird House, Gourd

This beautiful, hand-painted gourd birdhouse was a gift from my baby sister, Patty Cramer.  It was purchased in Pennsylvania Amish Country (in the oddly named Intercourse, Blue Ball and Climax area).  We think it’s perfect in our new kitchen.  Patty has excellent taste, and has sent us several bluebird themed items over the years.  Don’t you just love the pretty  gourd shape with it’s jaunty stem and perky handle?

Thank you, Patty!

Kitchen Renovation

Posted May 29th, 2014 by Ellen and filed in Family, Personal, Vintage

We’ve lived with a mostly 1926 kitchen for decades.  I suppose we could have continued that way (after all, it did have a lot of character) except for the grandchildren.  After all, what are another few years added to the 42 in which we’ve “made do.”  But we wanted the little ones to have a space that was new and sanitary.  So we took the plunge!

An amazing amount of work has been accomplished in just a day over two weeks.  Demo, new electrical, new plumbing, HVAC, floor removal down to the original oak hardwoods, and I-beam installation.  Insulation (there wasn’t even a dust bunny to keep out the cold) will probably happen tomorrow followed by drywall next week.  Things will move very quickly after that.

I’ll post before and after pictures once I’ve had a chance to breathe.  Here’s what the 18′ x 18′ space looked like this afternoon:

Kit 5:29Southwest corner of kitchen.  Breakfast room wall was removed – see floor.  A pantry was also eliminated.

Kit 5:29 2

 South wall.  Our sink will be placed  under the center window.

Watch this apace!


Back to the Basics

Posted April 29th, 2014 by Ellen and filed in Family, Personal, Recipes

Biscotti Done

For over 15 years, my husband has enjoyed cooking dinner……every dinner.  Breakfast and lunch (more often, blunch) are catch as catch can.  As a result, I’ve found I no longer know how to cook!  When I found myself having to check a cookbook for how long to boil potatoes, I decided to do something about that.  I’m in the process of once more teaching myself to cook.

My Mother was an excellent cook;  my aunts were too, my three sisters and I were all in 4-H, and my older sister is a home-economist.  All the ladies at the Grange excelled at baking and making Swedish coffee, in a big white porcelain coffee pot.  An egg is mixed in with the grounds, resulting in a coffee which is clear and delicious.  I was never successful at brewing it that way.  Back in the day, everything was made from scratch.  Our neighbor, Agnes Lindgren, at the next farm down the road, was from Denmark.  Her pastries were unbelievable.

It’s not as if I never learned to cook.  But it requires a certain familiarity with ingredients to turn out a good product.  The knack of knowing when a pie crust is just right, knowing from “how it feels” whether or not to add more flour to bread dough.  One has to stay in practice.  My goal is to build a library of “go-to” recipes. Real food, not just baking (which really is my specialty and love).  After all, we’re redoing our kitchen beginning May 12.  I need to be ready!

Parmesan Chicken was Sunday night dinner.  I’m a huge fan of Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, and used her recipe.   It was divine!  I especially liked the lemon viniagrette dressed salad served atop the warm chicken.  DH preferred his on the side.  Last night’s dish was macaroni and cheese, made with noodles (we were out of macaroni).  I used a mixture of sharp cheddar and parmesan cheese.  To me,  a midwesterner, macaroni and cheese is an entree’.  To my southern husband, it is a “side.”

Next attempt?  The Peach Bellini   Will I need little paper umbrellas?

For the Birds

Posted February 12th, 2014 by Ellen and filed in Birds, Family, My Photography, Recipes

Bluebird duoBluebird Buddies

Bluebird, LoneLone

Chickadee PuddingChickadee Pudding

Chickadee Pudding FormedFormed into a Cake

Woodpecker SuetPackaged suet can be found  in the pet section of larger stores.

It began snowing about 9:30 this morning.  Snow two days in a row – in the south?  Well, I never.  At first the snow was a fine mist, barely discernible.  As the morning wore on, the flakes became bigger and the wind began to blow.  Soon, everything was covered with at least five inches of new snow.  And the temperature was dropping fast.  Brrrrr.

Lots of birds were hovering around our feeders, especially the suet.  With ice pellets forecast for tonight and fearing a loss of power, we decided to have a big breakfast which included bacon. Yum!  The birds were eating animal fat to keep warm, so why shouldn’t we, we reasoned.  As we ate, I worried about them. Each bird looked puffy, with its feathers fluffed out against the cold wind.  I wished I could do something to warm them in the frigid air.

Years ago, I bought a cookbook at the Charlotte Nature Museum which had a wonderful chapter titled:  “Feeding Wild Animals.”  In it was a recipe for a home-made bird treat.  The birds love “Chickadee Pudding”  Using the bacon fat and things we had on hand, I made a batch of it this morning.  It firmed up quickly outside. In just minutes birds, including slate colored juncos (a bird almost never seen here),  were flocking (no pun intended) to it.  Love!

When I was a kid, my sisters and I were not allowed to sit down for a meal until we’d fed our animals.  “Have you fed your animals? They can’t feed themselves,” my father would ask.  “Get up and go take care of them.  They eat before you do.”  We didn’t just have a dog like we do now.  We had rabbits, cattle, sheep, horses and chickens to take care of.  Our father was a very wise man who taught us a great lesson.   I thought of that today as I mixed the special treat for our birds.

Chickadee Pudding (fromThe Nature Museum Cookbook)

Mix together a handful of each of the following:  dry rolled oats, bird seed, cornmeal, ground bread crumbs, dry cream of wheat and some cut up raisins.    Add a spoonful of peanut butter to melted bacon fat.  Let the peanut butter soften. Add to the dry ingredients and stir to moisten.   Put in a flat container, on a pine cone or in a tin pie plate.  Let harden before placing outside for the birds.   Note:  I used what was available, including dry grits, chopped cranberries and nuts.  It looked good enough to eat!

Snowbound or a few days?  Try doing this with your kids:  Make a piece of toast, cut out a shape with a cookie butter and make a hole for hanging.  Slather the toast with peanut butter then sprinkle with bird seed.  Hang outside for your feathered friends.

Stay warm and safe!

All photos are clickable.


Summer Getaway

Posted August 27th, 2013 by Ellen and filed in Family, Garden, My Photography, The steel Wheels, Travels

You can see why the mountains are called The Blue Ridge

Delicious Basil Rolls from Thai Basil in Black Mountain

Scenes around The White Horse

Jasmine Lamar and Roy Wiseman shelled a whole mess of shelly beans, well known to southern cooks.

Roy Wiseman is a descendent of one of the oldest families on the mountain, for which Wiseman’s View is named.  The view, which  overlooks the Linville Gorge, is said to be the best location for viewing the Brown Mountain lights.

Shelly (or shellie) beans.

Roy Wiseman shares photographs from the early 1970s of some of the best known musicians, such as the Arthur Smith Band, Roy Acuff and Lula Mae Wiseman.

To one born in the beautiful state of North Carolina, there are many things which tug at the heart. For my husband, the Blue Ridge Mountains top the list, followed closely by a love of bluegrass music.   I have come to love the mountains too, having lived here for most of my adult life.  We spent two days in that beloved place recently.

We drove up early Friday,  then spent the day visiting the new Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor’s Center, the fabulous Folk Art Center (a must see) and browsing galleries and shops in Black Mountain.  We met up with our long-time friend Ann at Thai Basil, where the cuisine is divine!   It was then time for the highlight of our trip, a concert by The Steel Wheels which was sold out at  The  White Horse Tavern.  The Stray Birds opened, to the delight of many.  The Steel Wheels performed with such energy that I was exhausted at the end of the incredinle show!

Saturday was spent on the parkway.  The weather was crisp and clear and warmed up nicely in the afternoon.  One of DH’s favorite, Crabtree Meadows, was closed due to the sequester. Be sure to check on whether it’s reopened prior to planning a visit.  We then drove to The Orchard at Altapass. I’d heard about it for years, and was finally seeing it for myself.  The area is indeed surrouded by orchards.  One can find tons of merchandise, from local pottery, jams and jellies, ice cream, fudge, books about NC and more.  DH told me, “You MUST get some of the fudge.  It’s wonderful.”  I bought a bit of chocolate with walnuts, but somehow got home without it.  I may have set it down somewhere, as my hands were full with a gift I’d purchased, my camera and the ever present overflowing tote bag.  Someone must have known I did NOT need to eat fudge.

There is a large covered area out side the main area where one can purchase food.  We chose NC BBQ with slaw for our lunch.  Yum!  We struck up a nice conversation with Jasmine Lamar and Roy Wiseman, who were just finishing shelling a bean called shelly beans.  The pods are very long, yielding variegated beans in cream, pinks and purples.  I’d meant to ask for the empty pods, thinking they might make a nice natural dye for fabric.

Half of the red Orchard building is devoted to a stage where live bluegrass music was being played that day.  Most of the audience was there to dance, specifically to clog, on a plywood floor sprinkled with cornmeal.  Clogging looked like so much fun – and a real cardio workout.  I’ve always wanted to learn to tap dance, and studied the somewhat similar moves of the cloggers.  I’ll try to upload a video I shot to youtube soon.

Our trip was brief but lovely.  We hope to go “up the mountain” again when the leaves turn.