Sunday, March 18, 2012

Which Came First?

Today was my Sunday with Dad. I haven't had one of those for a while. I teach Sunday School during December, January, and February each year and that means I can't make the journey to Dad's on Sunday for three months. February also means syrup time, followed by two whirlwind weekends in March to help pull off the annual Maple Festival. So today was my first Sunday back and it felt good. Dad is doing better after a couple of months of dizzy spells, blackouts, and about a gazillion doctor appointments. He's itching to get into the garden, which is a sure sign he's feeling better.

About 30 minutes into the drive to Dad's there's a mystery that's puzzled me for a long time. It's a real conundrum. (Isn't conundrum a cool word?) I've passed it dozens of times and still, I always wonder which came first: the house or the tree. It's an old log house, weathered with age but not falling down just yet. And right beside the front wall - and I mean right beside - is what's left of a tree trunk A big tree trunk.

It takes a long time for a tree to get that big. And it takes a long time for a house to weather like that. And on the front the original logs are visible. All that adds up in my mind to a lot of years passing by with both the house and the tree right where they are now. But surely someone didn't plant a tree that close to the house, did they? And if the tree was there first, they wouldn't build a house that close, would they?

It's a neat old house. Today was the first time I actually stopped and really looked it over. The front door was boarded shut at one point, but I wonder how many folks passed through it before that.

I suppose there must have been a front porch too, since the door is so high off the ground. The upstairs windows are short, indicating that they're close to the floor and under the slant of the roof. We have two windows like that in our house and you have to either bend over or kneel to really see out of them. If there were children living here, I bet they watched out those windows for the arrival of grandparents, cousins, or friends.

Or maybe the full moon shone in on them as they lay in bed at night. But then again, if that tree was as big as the trunk shows it was, maybe they couldn't see much of anything out of those windows. Perhaps they snuck out of the house, shimmying down the tree and stealing off into the dark for who knows what kind of mischief.

I guess you can tell that I think about all kinds of things during the two-hour drive to Dad's. Sometimes my imagination gets a little out of hand. I do wonder, though, about this house. What do you think? Which came first, the house or the tree?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Welsh Cakes

Last Monday was a snow day, that wonderful, unexpected gift of a day off from school. I love snow days and much to my dismay, we haven't had very many this winter. This one couldn't have come at a better time. I finished gathering information for taxes, finished a big project for the historical society, and had time to make Welsh Cakes. Making Welsh Cakes was definitely the best part of the day. Haven't heard of Welsh Cakes? I'm not surprised. I haven't met many people who have.

Many years ago, I was a 4-H member in West Virginia. I spent ten years developing the four H's (head, heart, hands, and health) under the tutelage of dedicated leaders. 4-H was a huge part of my development as a person and I have very fond memories of all my 4-H adventures. One thing I did not experience, though, was being a 4-H exchange student to a foreign country. However, a friend did, and she spent six months in the British Isles, living with several families and soaking up the rich Celtic culture that runs through our Appalachian veins. One of the best things she brought home and shared was the recipe for Welsh Cakes. It came from one of her host mothers, who made these treats often. The recipe sounds like an old one, which in my mind, makes it all the more special.

Start with one stick of butter and two cups of flour.

Use your hand to "rub the fat into the flour." Then add a half cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Continue to mix with your hand. Next, add "a good handful of raisins."

Beat a large egg (or two really small ones) and add to the mixture. Work the egg into the flour with your hand until the dough forms into a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.

Roll the dough to about 3/8 inch thick. 1/4 inch is too thin; 1/2 inch is too thick!

Cut with your favorite size biscuit cutter. I've always used a 2 1/2 inch cutter, but this time I tried a smaller 2-inch cutter and I think I like the smaller size better.

When positioning the cutter, try to avoid raisins under the edge: they are difficult to cut through.

Place the discs on a cookie sheet.

Heat a griddle, iron skillet, or electric skillet to medium-low heat. You'll learn what setting works best for you after you've made a batch or two. Melt 2 or 3 tablespoons of butter in the skillet.

Fry the discs til they are lightly browned. Watch them closely! It doesn't take long and you don't want to overcook them.

Turn and fry til lightly brown on the second side.

Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool. Yes, you must wait. You don't want to bite into a hot raisin: it will burn your mouth!

And now you have Welsh Cakes! See, I told you they were simple. And so yummy. I could eat the whole batch in a day all by myself.

Welsh Cakes are especially delicious when paired with  a cup of hot tea and a good friend. Give them a try. I hope they make your day just a little sweeter!

2 cups flour
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
8 TBSP sugar (1/2 cup)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 large egg, beaten
A good handful of raisins
Rub fat into flour. Add sugar, salt, and baking powder. Add raisins, then egg.
Work into dough and roll to 1/4 inch. Cut into discs. Fry in butter over a slow
flame until golden on both sides.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

It's A Party!

A couple of weeks ago, when I got home from Sunday School, this is what I found in our driveway:

It seems we were having a party in the sugar house! It always happens at least once every sugar season, that unplanned gathering of folks who somehow sense that we're cooking syrup, hot dogs, and fellowship.

Your age, gender, or occupation don't matter in the sugar house. It doesn't matter whether or not you know everyone else, or anyone else. It doesn't matter what you wear, as long as it's warm. And it won't matter that you'll go home with bloodshot eyes and smelling like smoke.

It doesn't even matter if you're not human.

All that matters is making sure you're standing in the path of the steam from the evaporator and not the smoke from the fire under the kettle (where you get the red eyes and the smoky smell). This makes for a constant migration in and out of the sugar house, an excellent way to get to know and visit with everyone there.

Everyone can have a turn testing the syrup with Robin's grandmother's dipper to see if it's anywhere near ready to pull off the fire.

You can't leave without having a "maple dog" in the sugar house. Once you've tasted a maple dog, no other hot dog will ever measure up. They really do taste better than hot dogs cooked any other way, but maybe the ambiance of the sugar house adds to the flavor a bit.

Even if there's no snow on the ground, we can serve up the classic sugar house dessert. Clinkers are made by pouring hot syrup over clean snow, or ice cubes in a pinch. Clinkers are similar to taffy. They stick to your teeth and taste sooo good!

And no matter how hard you try, you won't get all the sticky off until you get home and take a hot bath.

A party in the sugar house does a body good. There's something about the syrup and steam, people and conversation, laughter and relaxation that soothes the soul. And when everyone is gone and the sugar house is dark and quiet, there's a jar full of sweet memories to enjoy all year long.