Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

     We have a family tradition. At dinner, we go around the table and state our "Highs and Highers." It used to be "Highs and Lows," but the lows lent a negative aspect to our conversation. One Lent we started the new version, for example, substituting "I need to pray for the kid who wants to pick fights in school," rather than, "So-and-so picked on me again," and it stuck. When there are visitors the tradition is explained and they are welcome to join in or pass. Most join in.

     Bobby is from Thailand and is Buddhist. His Highers are thought provoking. Some of our little boys will say things like, "Jesus told me to listen better." We smile. Jim, two, just likes to say, "In my heart!" We all coo and he hugs whomever is closest. Many times they'll say that they want to be more thankful for family, or for all that they have. Bobby said the other day simply, "It is better to give than to get." Today his Higher was, "We need to remember the reason for our celebrations...and that giving is better."

      Tonight the older children are going to a Benedictine Abbey for Christmas Eve. They will be invited back to the Monk's private dining room for homemade cookies and eggnog. The monks will share their food and laughter and will break into song. Their lives are full of prayer and work and giving. "Ora et Labora."

     Bobby ran out of the house this morning, with flipflops and no coat, into the new-fallen snow. He's never seen a snowfall before. He's almost sixteen but he looked like a five-year-old with sheer delight. It was a treat to watch. We have been blessed with really great foreign exchange students. It is true what Bobby said in his Higher, about giving. It was said thousands of years ago by someone whose birthday we celebrate today. One who taught us that in giving we receive treasure from Him, and peace and joy on Earth.

     May God bless you. We pray especially for those whose loved ones are deployed, or who have passed away, and those who are lonely, sad, scared or suffering. May you know God's comfort and peace.

Merry Christmas,

from the Abbey Farm

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


     When I was fifteen my friend Bev and I worked for a summer in Canada. Her sister had done it before and we were super excited. We were hired as cooks for an elderly couple who vacationed every summer on a huge lake. They were from the South. For decades some wealthy families had traveled up to Canada to escape the heat of the Bible Belt. Bev and I both came from big families and had learned how to cook early on; nothing gourmet, but we could get good meals on the table without too much fuss.

     We drove with Bev’s sister about 13 hours north to a little town called Magnetawan. It was very quaint along the main street on Ahmic Lake. An old Post Office, a gas station and “June’s” store were the local hangouts. We met our new employers and loaded into their circa 1930’s wooden motor boat. The boat would be our means of transportation for the next few weeks. Buzza, as our elderly gentleman was nicknamed, taught me how to handle her…piloting around the lake, docking, and gassing her up. We were a few miles into the lake by boat, with no road or car. The sprawling log home and boat house had been built years before when the lake was completely frozen in winter. Every day we took the boat into town for supplies and mail and milkshakes.

     We had an amazing summer for two teenaged girls. There was a distinction between the locals of Magnetawan, the wealthy summer vacationers, and the cooks. The teens and early twenty-somethings all partied together, but we knew our places. We spent weekend evenings in the cozy lofts of boathouses, listening to James Taylor, Pure Prairie League and melodic jazz; the water lapping and boats knocking softly in their docks below. Some of us could play the guitar or sing, and sometimes we listened to a stereo phonograph. Other evenings we conspired to meet somewhere on the lake and, in the dark by boat light and lanterns, we hitched a dozen or so boats together and played more music,  laughing and talking until midnight.

     We looked forward to the weekly square-dance. Everyone was there and we hoped to be in some formation or to dosie-doe even for a second with one of the handsome young boys. Bev and I would return home by boat, and though summer, huddle under blankets and freeze on the ride back. There were canoe races (came in 3rd) and sailboat races (dead last, capsized), water skiing (could NOT get the hang of dropping a ski) and swims from one island to another (amazing how gullible I was to shrieks of “Shark!”). Great memories.

     We did cook. Breakfasts, lunches, dinners. We made and ate what Buzza and his family liked. I had grits for the first time and blueberries with heavy cream. We learned to bake “Butter Tarts,” a favorite of the town. The family’s grown children and grandchildren visited while we were there and were all gracious to me and Bev. It was a wonderful experience. I did not return until years later, married, and a guest of one of the wealthy vacationers. It was fun to revisit the lake and town. I was no longer a part of the younger culture and at that time it was OK. If I could go back in time, though, it would be to that summer when I was  fifteen.

     We weren’t asked back. Maybe the couple got too old or didn’t go back for a few summers. I doubt it. They probably found better cooks. Or it could have been because we almost burned their house down with a kitchen fire. Bev and I made some great chicken, but that night one of us forgot to turn off the broiler, and the other returned the pan full of meat drippings into the oven and closed the door. Halfway into the meal Buzza’s wife jumped up, eyes wide with fear and shouted, “OK, Buzza!!” We all turned to see smoke billowing from the kitchen. Buzza grabbed a fire extinguisher and gallantly put out the flames while we rushed in to save things. Luckily, the only thing lost was the stove. It could have been worse. Bev and I were in the doghouse for only a brief time before we were allowed back in. Our employers were gracious Southerners, forgiving Christians.

     When we were homesick or just needed to be mothered and cooked for, we boated across the lake. Osa was the cook for one of the oldest vacationers. Slightly stooped but full of spice and energy, Osa took care of us. She could really cook. We loved her lasagna and her butter tarts. I’ll include the recipes below. Maybe someday we’ll return to Magnetawan. I’ll bet it’ll still be magical. But I think most of the magic will be sparkling in my eyes as I remember that summer.

Coming in third, me in center

Me in Magnetawan. Uh, I think Bev wasn't aiming at me.

 Osa's Lasagna

2 Tb. Olive oil
1 lb. lean ground round
4 c. tomato sauce
4 Tb. chopped Italian parsley
3 ½ c. ricotta cheese
1 c. chopped spinach, cooked & well-drained
¼ c. grated parmesan cheese
1 Tb. oregano
¾ tsp. nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 lasagna noodles, cooked
3 c. shredded low fat mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add ground beef. Cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat and drain oil. Add tomato sauce and 2 Tb. of the parsley.

In a bowl, mix ricotta, spinach, parmesan, remaining 2 Tb. Parsley, oregano, nutmeg and pepper. Place 2 c. tomato meat sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Place 4 lasagna noodles on top, then ½ the ricotta mixture, then 1 c. mozzarella. Repeat layers once more. Top with remaining sauce and 1 c. cheese.

Cover loosely with aluminum foil. Place dish on cookie sheet and bake for about 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 10-15 minutes before serving. Makes about 8 servings.

Osa's Butter Tarts 

2 c. brown sugar
2 Tb. Butter
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
piecrust dough (bought or favorite recipe)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix all ingredients with an electric mixer until very smooth. Roll out piecrust dough and cut a dozen 4 to 5 inch circles with a bowl. Press each circle into 12 muffin tins. Pour brown sugar mixture evenly into tins. Bake until pastry is done and tarts are browned and bubbly.

I hope you’ll get the chance to try these. I hope you’ll get the chance to visit Magnetawan someday. You'll be blessed.

The Abbey Farm

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Suffering and Real Love

     I mentioned in a previous post the documentary “The Human Experience." I was thinking about the film as I was moaning about some ache or pain which was real and annoying but in the scheme of things, minor. Why do I let things like that bother me so? I cannot imagine the real suffering that some endure. An article was written about our Mary Pat in the National Catholic Register by Laurie Ghigliotti, dated December 19, 2010. We suffered over her disabilities when she was born, and for months if not years after. But there was always a knowledge--a reality--of God’s presence with us. I am sorry that some do not know the peace that He gives at times like that. Mary Pat is a miracle and a gift beyond measure. I know that others suffer worse...and have no beautiful Mary Pat to hold or to smile at them. Is their suffering in vain?

     Whomever Jesus is in your belief system, He is a well documented historical figure and what He said is cross-referenced and supported through history. Jesus taught us to go beyond ourselves and love others despite inconvenience and our own suffering. I remember when I was a little girl, hearing in church “It is better to give than to receive,” and “No greater love hath man than this, to lay down his life for a friend.” Jesus gave all that He had, down to the last centimeter of flesh and the last drop of blood. His suffering was endured even for people who wouldn’t know Him or love Him or acknowledge Him, yet He willingly died. “God forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He could still love them, and die for them. For us.

     We all get wrapped up in ourselves. Me, to a fault. I’m thankful for God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, and for new beginnings. A beautiful Christian friend visited a few weeks ago. Nadija glows. She is so full of joy. Her life has had plenty of suffering, but she loves God and she loves every human being. She said, “I’m not trying to be as good as someone else. I’m trying to love like Jesus showed me.”

     A loving Creator wouldn’t set a ball in motion and sit back to see what happened. He also wouldn’t manipulate every detail in a robotic type world. He would create us with free will and love us more deeply than we love our children. He would come to the Earth as a little baby and experience all there is to be human. He would create us with free will, but would pay the ultimate price for it. He would be overjoyed with every bit of love returned, every example of love modeled and with every reconciliation. Through His Resurrection He would make it possible for us to be with Him forever.

     So I’ll keep returning to Him. When I have the days where I’m so wrapped up in me I’ll strive to pray for others. I’ll make my way clumsily, eventually and ardently back to Him, to the source of me, of us all.

I pray that you always have hope and that you know His love.

The Abbey Farm

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mrs. Bennett

     Matchmaker. Idealist. In love with love. The girls accuse me of being a Mrs. Bennett.  “Oh,  Mom!” I hear a lot.  I’m not as bad as the Mom in Pride and Prejudice--not as giddy and ditzy. I like her character, though, and the relationship with her husband. In the newest motion picture, I love the scene that pans  the outside of the old house, peering in through the windows lit with candles, allowing us to see the private moments of the family and the love of the parents. Mrs. Bennett is goofy, but she is adored by her husband. She wants that happiness for her girls. It’s not that she wants them out of the house. She treasures every moment they have been there. Because she is so in love with her husband, she wants the same for her daughters:  to be honored and treasured and loved.  I think my daughters get a kick out of my hopes for them. My Mom was like that with me.  I understand it now.
      I’m going to be a Mother–In-Law and I quite like it. Emily was engaged this week.  She and Jason have been dating for a couple of years now and we can see how much they adore each other.  Emily has been my stepdaughter for ten years, but I have never thought of her as anything but my daughter. She was barely a teen when Bruce and I married. I loved her from the moment I loved Bruce.  It is beautiful to see the woman she has become. We are very proud, and hopeful for a wonderful future for them.
      I have five more daughters, and so I will continue to act a little Mrs. Bennett-y. It is fun. I may still worry. There are heartaches and difficulties in life and we cannot protect them from all of them. I do pray that they will have an easier time than I did, but I feel extremely blessed to have lived through challenges, by the grace of God, and to be Bruce’s wife. I pray for that kind of love for them.
      My favorite scene of Pride and Prejudice is of Mr. Darcy coming through the dawn mist. Requited love! I want that for my daughters, but more importantly, I pray that they will first feel the awesome love of God, the intimate relationship with Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit. That they will love all of God’s creation and know that only man was made in God’s image. We are responsible for the care of the Earth and for the upholding of the sanctity of human life. We will, in heaven, love our neighbor more than we ever loved our spouse or our children while on Earth. That is pretty heavy to contemplate. But we don’t have to wait to love as Christ loved.
I pray that you know His love,

The Abbey Farm

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Heartfelt Prayer

For our busy days and our moments when we are unsure of direction, a prayer from Bruce's Bible Study this morning (thanks, Eric!):

Lord, today I let go of my expectations and accept what is and isn't in my life. I accept all that You choose to send and to bloom where You have planted me. Forgive my foolish desires and wants. Help me to accept the life You have given me and if I find my corner of the world a bit dark help me to become a light for it. To shine for You and live my life pleasing to You. That is all that matters. Amen

God bless you,

The Abbey Farm

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Foxhunting and Safety

For many years I worked at a boarding school for girls. Faculty and staff were expected to wear many “hats.” A teacher or administrator might also be a dorm parent, a coach, or the head of a club. My favorite hat was being in charge of foxhunting. There was a beautiful stable and riding facilities at the school. Some girls even brought their horses with them. Not all of the riders had ever foxhunted, so it was my job to teach them about foxhunting etiquette and to be sure they were ready and safe on the field.

     Horse people know about early mornings. If an event started at 7 or 8am, we not only had to be up in enough time to get there, but also to get the horses ready. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to ask the girls to meet me at the barn at 4:30am. They were so excited that no one was ever late. Despite cold temperatures, rain, darkness or snow, we were not deterred.

     Entering a barn at that time of the morning had an ethereal quality. The horses were asleep in their stalls, steam rising from their breath. The light was switched on and their eyes would blink questioningly with long-lashes. They’d stretch out their front legs and waft up on all fours, shake the straw off their bodies and walk over to their stall doors. Horses say hello by breathing into each other’s nostrils. We imitated this with them. The feed and hay and grass gave them a sweet, earthy breath. Saying hello in this manner invited a smooth rub on your cheek from a luxuriously soft muzzle.

     The girls arrived and the quiet was shattered. The nervous giggling and chatter of the events of the night before would wake up the last of the horses, and the nickering for breakfast would begin. They were fed, tack was placed in the trailer, and horses were loaded. Safety was paramount. These 1000lb-plus creatures had to be maneuvered around each other, backed into narrow slots and secured with chest bars and halter ties.

     I had driven horse trailers for years, but this gooseneck, six horse model, pulled with a diesel dually pick-up was challenging. Only once was there a problem. On a very muddy day we had to be pulled out of a valley by an old Ford 8N tractor. I learned, then, to scope out our destinations beforehand. I admit that I rarely wanted to back it up. Even the McDonald’s parking lot became negotiable; we were hungry after hours galloping and jumping fences. We had one horse, Hercules, who loved to stick out his long soft tongue and flap it at people. We came out of the McDonald’s after one hunt to see him with his head sticking out of the trailer window, performing for a group of laughing people.

     I’m at the age now where the memories of past experiences are very satisfying. I feel blessed to have lived through what I did, and thankful that I was kept safe despite my mistakes. I watched an episode of “Star Trek Next Generation” where the main character, Captain Jean Luc Picard, was given a chance by an immortal, omnipotent being named “Q” to change an event in his past which caused a terrible injury. Assured that major events in history would not be altered and no one would be hurt by his change, Jean Luc agreed to it. He changed a key event and stopped himself from being a cocky, arrogant young man. Later, we find that “Q” has not been completely honest. When zipped back to the future, Jean Luc is no longer Captain of the Enterprise, but a science officer who has “played it safe” his whole career. At 50 he has no chance of a command. I disagree with the show on the point made that it was essential that Jean Luc make his mistakes. The show could very well have ended with a alternate positive outcome. It is not good to be cocky and to make trouble, to do wrong and to sin. But we are human and we will make mistakes, and we will need to deal with the consequences.

     We should strive to do what is right. We do need to consider safety and not be fools who rush in, disregarding all warning signs and wisdom of previous generations. I’ve heard some parents refer to their teens’ poor choices: “Well, look what we used to do!”, or “I did it, I guess it’s inevitable that he will, too!” Poppycock. Our mistakes may have contributed to who we are, but they should compel us to protect our children from making the same ones. Their futures have not been written. They can be saved the major mistakes that we made and be much better for it.

     I am thankful for all of the wonderful experiences of my life. I regret the mistakes I‘ve made and I will strive to scope out where I need to travel, or park my trailer. I may still need a Ford 8N from time to time. But I hope to call a spade a spade and to ask forgiveness of anyone I’ve offended, and from God. There is no “Q” or “Ghost of Christmas Past,” or “Clarence,” perhaps, but we can be entertained and moved by the stories, discern any nuggets of wisdom, and  mend our ways.

Here’s to your safety and wisdom and blessings,

The Abbey Farm

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hospital Day

At the hospital longer than we thought. Good stuff for Mary Pat. She saw her doctor, had a flu shot and an X-ray, met the man who helped us with her wheelchair and walker, and had her ankle braces adjusted. She was an exemplary patient!

Last night I made the third recipe I shared in yesterday's post. It looked the most complicated but it's not. I tripled it and pressed it into a rimmed cookie sheet. Bobby, our foreign exchange student, walked into the family room and said, "What is this? This is, like, the best thing I have eaten in my entire life! It melts in my mouth!"

On the way home now. Thankful for all our blessings, and the little shortbread
moments, too.

God bless you,

The Abbey Farm

Monday, December 13, 2010

Shortbread and Tortoises

     Guests tonight! What to fix? It’s Bruce’s class and it’s after dinner, so that means cookies of some sort, easily passed, no utensils or mess. By this time I usually have tins of Christmas cookies put up. But there are none. The boys are eating a lot more than they used to. I could make a batch of Toll House Cookies every day and there wouldn’t be a crumb left. Our foreign exchange student has a high Asian metabolism and is trying to bulk up with weight lifting; he could take an IV infusion of cookies, no problem.

     I still have my Christmas baking lists from 1987. It was quite a tradition. I usually baked about 10-20 varieties and gave them as gifts. My parents did that when I was a child. My Dad baked, too. He was a Renaissance man. He played for the Cincinnati Reds in the 50’s. It was a brief career, prematurely ended with a hook slide into 2nd base and a shattered ankle. He went into banking, but he continued to paint and cook and bake. My Grandfather taught him how to butcher meat, too. I can remember “helping” him with my butter knife. He’d buy a huge portion of a side of beef and process it for Mom’s freezer. I got to play and pretend with the fat. Fun! Mom and Dad canned sauerkraut and ketchup and the vegetables that grew in the garden. They even knew how to reupholster their own furniture. To have those skills!

     I can bake. So…I think it’ll be shortbread. That was one of Dad’s favorites. He used the recipe from Betty Crocker, which is serviceable. I like to try others, though. When I was 21 I backpacked through the UK for a month. In Edinburgh I picked up a great shortbread recipe. Jean Torrence was an elderly friend. I was supposed to stop and meet her, then continue into the Highlands. Jean was so special, and Edinburgh so interesting that I never made it further north. Edinburgh is gorgeous. Jean had a beautiful walled garden and her pets were two large tortoises. She called them in a high, crackly voice, “Tor-toys!” and they would come running. Well. They looked enthusiastic. They liked her shortbread, and so did I. I’ll give you her recipe, but I’ll give you Dad’s, too. Bon Appetite!

Jean’s Scottish Shortbread

4 ounces each of:
Self-Rising Flour
Plain Flour
Caster Sugar ("Superfine" works well)
Corn flour (I used corn starch not knowing what the American equivalent was...maybe Masa Harina. I tried cornmeal and it was way wrong!)

"Rub fat into dry ingredients. Cook in sandwich tin just below centre of slow oven for about one hour. Cool a little, then cut into pieces and sprinkle with sugar."

I didn’t know what a sandwich tin was so I baked it in one of those neat stoneware shortbread molds.  A “slow oven” is about 250 to 300 degrees. 4 ounces are roughly ½ cup. Have fun trying the recipe, but if you prefer something more surefire:

Arnie’s Scotch Shortbread

¾ c. butter
¼ c. sugar
2 c. all-purpose flour

Mix butter and sugar thoroughly. Work in flour with hands. Chill dough. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough 1/3’ thick. Dad used small geometric and Christmas cookie cutters about 1-2” wide. Sprinkle with colored sugar for Christmas or decorate with fancy sprinkles. Bake about 15 minutes until just golden around edges and on bottoms only. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

     Oh, I can’t help it. One more. I like this recipe from a cookbook called “Better Than Store Bought,” from 1979 by Witty and Colchie and published by Harper & Row. It’s a fun cookbook. I don’t know if it is still in print.


1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ c. plus 1 ½ Tb superfine sugar
1 ½ c. all-purpose flour
¼ c. cornstarch (I’ve also substituted rice flour…gives it a slightly crumblier texture)
1/8 tsp. salt (Omit if using regular, salted butter)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In the small bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until it is light. Add the ¼ c. sugar and beat until pale. Combine flour, cornstarch and salt in a separate bowl, then with mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Beat just until the mixture forms small, crumbly particles (I actually do this step by hand). Do not try to make a smooth mass.

Press the mixture firmly into a 9 ½ inch fluted tart pan that has a removable bottom (I’ve used the stoneware, a 9X9’ square pan, and have baked it freeform in a circle on a cookie sheet). Press with the tines of a fork around the edge to make a regular design, then sprinkle the surface with the remaining 1 ½ Tb. sugar. Cut the shortbread into 12 even wedges, using a very sharp, thin knife and cutting all the way through to the pan. With a skewer or some other rounded, pointed instrument, make several deep holes in each wedge.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until it is just barely colored an ivory-beige. Do not let it brown. Cool for 10 minutes. Remove the rim of the pan, but keep the bottom under the shortbread and cool it completely on a rack. When cooled, cut through the wedge markings again, divide into pieces, and store in an airtight tin.

I usually double or triple the recipe and press it into a rimmed cookie sheet (no removable bottom). I set the oven about 25 degrees lower and I don’t score the shortbread before baking. I do make fork tine pokes with the plan of cutting the shortbread into squares or fingers…kind of like “Walker’s” brand.

Guess I should get baking. I’ll tell you which I baked and how it turned out, tomorrow!

God bless you,

The Abbey Farm

Sunday, December 12, 2010


     There are children everywhere in our house today (that is, more than usual). Teens on Wii and teens playing “Settlers of Catan.” In the morning, a quadruple recipe of pancakes after a huge sleepover, the car stuffed like a sardine can on the way to church. Later, the happy sounds of toddlers on the floor with trains, and schoolboys with Legos. It is the third Sunday in Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete…"Rejoice!"

      Edith Stein was a Jewish woman who lived in Germany in the early 1900’s. She became a Catholic and then a nun: St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She died at Auschwitz in 1942. She truly loved souls. She wrote that, whether we have children or not, when we are open to life in a spiritual sense, we beget life by inspiring others in love and faith.

     I have recently reconnected with a friend from High School. She was in a terrible car accident in our senior year and was disabled. She still has pain. She marvels at her path toward Christ and is openly thankful for His mercy. Her messages of hope and encouragement and love on her Facebook page are beautiful and inspirational. She truly loves God’s creation, His plan, and His souls. She has such joy.

     Last year I saw a documentary called “The Human Experience.“ The filmmakers, two young men, traveled around the world to some of the saddest of places: a leper colony in Africa, an orphanage in South America, the streets of New York where the homeless sleep in cardboard boxes on freezing nights. They wanted to know what kept these people going. What they found was remarkable. The movie is now out on DVD. It is beautiful.

     We are all here on this Earth, but living in many different circumstances. I pray for joy wherever you are. For love, hope, acceptance, and faith. Gaudete!

The Abbey Farm

Saturday, December 11, 2010

White Bread Roots

     My Grandmother Susanna had a sister named Katherine. They were very close. The sisters lived near each other after they were married. Above is a picture of them before they came to America. Katherine (Tante Klein, as we called her) is on the left and Susanna is on the right. Below is the bread I mentioned yesterday. Grandma baked it every few days. My mother baked it once or twice a month. I have a written recipe, in Katherine’s hand. The instructions are cryptic and interspersed with German, so I elaborate below, especially for first time bread bakers.

                                               Tante Klein's White Bread

3 c. very warm water (about 110 degrees Fahrenheit)
¼ c. vegetable shortening (I use canola oil)
4 ½ tsp. yeast (2 envelopes)
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tb. salt
6-8 c. all-purpose flour (I love “King Arthur” brand, but it is more expensive. Try to used unbleached flour. Bread flour is fine, too)

Preheat oven to the lowest possible setting (usually 180 degrees Fahrenheit) , and as soon as it reaches that temperature, turn off the oven. Check the temperature of the 3 c. warm water by dropping a little on your wrist. It should feel very warm but not hot. Warm a 1 c. glass measuring cup and a large bowl by holding them under a warm faucet. Put ½ cup of the very warm water into the 1c. glass measure and the rest into the bowl. To the glass measure add the yeast and the sugar. Stir to start it dissolving. Let it sit for about 5 minutes. The yeast will proof (rise) and it should be very bubbly and approaching the top of the measure.

To the bowl, add the shortening/oil, 2 c. of the flour and the salt. Stir well with a wooden spoon. Once the yeast mixture is bubbly add it to the bowl. Stir well. Continue stirring, adding a cup of flour at a time until the dough leaves the side of the bowl. It will go from being sticky to just moist. At this point, turn the dough out onto a floured counter or surface. Knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes by folding the dough in half toward you, and then pushing it flat and away from you with the heel of your hand. Turn it a quarter turn and repeat.  When you have kneaded the dough for 5 to 10 minutes it will feel very soft and more pliable. Small broken blisters will appear on the surface. At this point, oil the bowl that the dough was first mixed in and place the dough back into it. Turn the dough over once to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and place in the warmed oven. If the rack still feels hot, place the bowl on top of a cookie sheet or potholder. Too much heat will cause the yeast to stop rising and will dry the dough.

After about 1 ½ hours the dough should have doubled in bulk. Take the bowl from the oven and remove the covering. Punch firmly with your fist into the center of the risen dough. Kids love this part. The dough will deflate. Give the dough a couple squeezes to get more air out and let the dough rest on the floured surface for about 5 minutes. Knead the dough again for about a minute, then divide into three equal parts with a knife. Knead each part separately a few times and then flatten it into a rectangle about 8” x 10“. Roll the dough up, from the short side and pinch the ends and seam closed. Repeat with the other two loaves and place into greased loaf tins (4'x8"). Once again, cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and place on top of the oven for about ½ hour. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. When the dough has risen above the level of the pans, place pans in preheated oven. If you like a crusty top you could brush the surfaces with a little water before baking. If you like a softer crust, brush lightly with milk or oil or butter. I prefer it crusty like my Mom and Grandma made it. Bake for about 30-40 minutes until golden brown on top and when it sounds hollow when you lightly knock on the top of the loaf.

Remove from the oven and cool in pans for 5 minutes on cooling rack. Then turn out the loaves by rapping the side of the pans sharply as you turn the loaves out onto the rack or towel covered counter to cool. I like to let them rest on their sides while cooling. The bread can be eaten after it cools about 15 minutes. Cut with a serrated or bread knife. I like it best the next day, toasted with butter! My daughter Susanna (whose birthday is today!) loves this bread. It can also be baked into little freeform rolls (her favorite). Shape lemon-sized portions of the dough into little mini-loaves and place seam side down on a cookie sheet. Place them a few inches from each other to allow for rising. Rise as for the loaves, and bake, but only for about 20 minutes. They are done when golden brown.

Happy Birthday to Susanna!

God Bless you today,

The Abbey Farm

                                The Gelsinger family in Austria-Hungary, about 1908
                                                        Katherine at far left, Susanna at far right

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mawdash Soup

     My Maternal Grandmother was from Europe. Susanna Elizabeth came over in her teens after her family’s lands were seized in the Crimean War. They had to start again in America. It was a bit of a shock to her Catholic family that she would fall in love with Joseph. He was a Protestant and a Butcher. Their love flourished, though, and they married and had nine children. Tragically, her first son died when he was seven and her first daughter when she was only months old. Life was so much harder then. When I was a child, I could not imagine what my Grandma and Grandpa suffered, but now as a mother of ten, my heart breaks. Though some cannot understand loving so many children, it is so easy. One child of ten is loved as much as an only child or a child of two or three. My mother was the second youngest of the seven who lived. Grandpa made a good living as a Butcher during the Depression and the children were well fed and very, very loved. 

     Grandma baked bread every few days. She cooked wonderful German and Hungarian meals. Very little was written down. When she would teach us, it was all by memory. Sometimes I would try to write things down, but her measurements were in “teacupfuls’ and ‘soupspoonfuls,“ balls the size of “walnuts,” and the like. We had many favorites. I recently made the recipe I’ll share here. My brothers and some friends asked for the recipe, so here it is. I never wrote it down, so bear with me about measurements and descriptions. Soup is very forgiving and is one of my favorite things to make. Go ahead and adapt it to your own liking. You can even leave out the beef dumplings...but then, it won’t be Grandma’s wonderful “Mawdash” Soup!

“Mawdash” Soup
Austro-Hungarian Beef Soup with Beef Dumplings

Serves 6-8
2 lb. boneless roast, nothing too expensive or fatty
3 Tb. oil (I use canola or olive)
2 onions, chopped coarsely
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
1 ½ to 2 lb bag frozen mixed vegetables (use what you like)
1 lg. can diced tomatoes
1 lb. ground beef
2 c. all purpose flour
3 eggs
2 slices white bread
Salt and pepper
2-4 beef bouillon cubes, optional

Cut beef into bite-sized cubes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 3 Tb. oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven on med-high and brown the beef on all sides. Turn off heat. Add the chopped onions and can of tomatoes, juice and all. Add about 2 quarts of water. Bring to just a boil over med-high heat, then reduce heat and simmer two hours. Stir occasionally to prevent burning, and skim any fat that comes to the top.

While the soup is simmering, prepare the dumplings. Mix the ground beef in a bowl with about a teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper. Add one egg and the sliced bread which has been moistened with a little water, and torn into small pieces. Mix well and make into mini-hamburgers, about the size of flattened golf balls.

Prepare the dumpling dough: In a medium bowl, put the flour and a teaspoon of salt. Mix, and make a well in the center, sort of like a volcano. Crack the 2 eggs into the well and add about ¼ cup of water. With a fork, beat the eggs and water (imagining that the flour is the bowl). When the eggs are well broken up, start to make your stirring strokes a little wider and wider, gradually incorporating the flour into the eggs. Add small amounts of water to keep the dough from becoming too stiff. This dough will start out sticky and wet and will look like it is almost stringy and clinging to the bowl. Beat hard. This stretches the gluten in the flour. Finally, add a bit more flour until the dough is a consistency that could be rolled out. It will pull away now from the sides of the bowl. Let the dough rest about 5 minutes. The gluten in the flour will relax and it will roll better. Sprinkle some flour liberally on the counter or flat surface and your rolling pin. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/8” thick. Let rest again for a minute. Roll a final once over, then cut with a knife or pizza cutter into about 3” squares. Place a flattened beef ball on the center of each square. Pull the corners of the dough up and over the beef, pressing at the center and sides to seal the beef within the dough. Set dumplings aside.

After the broth has simmered 2 hours, taste it. If there is not enough beef flavor, I add 2-4 cubes of beef bouillon. If it is beefy but needs salt, I add that. If you have some favorite herbs or garlic, you could add them to taste. Increase the heat and bring the soup to a gentle boil. Add the carrots and the frozen vegetables. After the boil returns, adjust the heat so that it boils only very gently for about 15 minutes, until carrots are beginning to get tender. Now increase the heat a bit more. Carefully add all of the dumplings. When the boiling returns watch to keep it just barely boiling. The dumplings are finished when they float a little higher in the soup and you cut into one and the meat is well-done.

The soup is ready to eat! Be sure each person gets a dumpling. Complete the meal with a crusty loaf of bread. It really is delicious! Tante Klein’s White Bread recipe next time! Prost!!

God Bless you all,

P.S. I have no idea what "Mawdash" means. Maybe it's the name for the dumplings?

The Abbey Farm

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Unexpected

     This week has been full of unexpected occurrences. Illness, broken water pipes, no water for a day, even a stray horse on the property. Yes, horse. It’s happened a few times. They are actually more welcome than the stray dogs. Dog drop-offs happen too frequently. Runaways, too. It seems they all like to come here. The worst time was when a stray actually killed one of Marie’s goats. I was furious. I’d called four different authorities in the area who all pled, “Not Our Responsibility.” The sheriff told me that the dog would actually have to be in the act of hurting a human before he could do anything.

     I loaded the blood-stained dog into the car and took it into town to leave it at the (“too full of dogs”) Humane Society. I must have been a picture. Blood on my hands and trousers as well as the dog. I was told I could take it to the veterinarian who would euthanize it; they would call ahead. I have to admit I felt bad for the dog. It was pretty nice to humans. But in my head I could hear the sound of Marie’s voice as I saw her running over the hill toward the little goat she’d kidded just a few months before. Mother’s fury returned. I took the dog through the doors of the facility and asked if the Humane Society had called ahead. A pretty girl behind the counter perked up, “Oh, you’re Sharon’s Mom! I worked with Sharon. Oh, hey, that’s the Pastor’s dog! We know him!”

     It took a few seconds to register that this was the dog of our new neighbor who was in the process of building a church at the end of our road. “We have to get the Pastor’s permission first,” the pretty girl informed me. I left the dog and headed straight for his old church. I was praying. I didn’t want to cause a scene. I’m actually not great with confrontation. The Pastor was there. He was counting the many Saran wrapped pies that must have been for a bake sale, lined on tables just inside the door. He reached out his hand with a friendly smile. Conscious of the impact of my appearance, I told him in a calmer, almost apologetic tone about the gory details. I asked him to allow the vet to euthanize his pet. I was really upset on so many levels. I had a picture in my head of the Pastor and Fido sitting before a crackling fire, Pastor with his pipe and Bible, Fido with his squeaky toy on the braided rug.

     The picture of Marie and her goat returned. The Pastor was understanding and sorry and offered to pay for the goat. “No, no, not necessary.“…I couldn’t wait to get back in my van! To tell the truth I hoped the Pastor had a friend in another state with a fenced yard who would take the dog. Whenever I passed his home and new church site I felt discomfort. I knew he was a good man. I also knew that what I had asked for was not out of the question. The discomfort dissolved when the dog showed up on our road a month later. Bruce called the Pastor. He’d given the dog to someone. Unfortunately, that someone was working on his church and bringing the dog with him. Mother’s protective instinct came back full force and I jumped in the car and drove to the site. I think God must put pretty young girls and Pastors and even elderly little old ladies between me and making a complete fool of myself.

     I had to help a little elderly woman up the slope to get to the construction site. She was sweet and excited about the first visit to her new church. I calmed. The confrontation was not bad. I asked the man to please keep his dog tied or not to bring it with him because it had a history with our goats. He was nice and proceeded to tell me it was a sweet dog with people. But then he told me he’d found out that the dog had been bred to fight and had even killed some other dogs. Oh, great.

     Such is life in the country. Marie did better than I with the episode. She understands life well for her age. Thankfully, we haven’t seen the dog since. So…a stray horse is no problem, even if it’s a stallion with his mares (that has happened, too). God allows these annoying thorns in our lives. Seems they come pretty regularly, here. But we are here for Him. Growing up we learned the answer to the question “Why are we here?” It is: “To know and to love and to serve God in this life and in the next.” The thorns build character and virtue for His plan and His glory. I pray that pretty girls and Pastors and little old ladies are thrown liberally in my thorny path.

God bless you,

The Abbey Farm

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

God In The Plans

     East Coasters usually have one image of Kansas…from The Wizard of Oz. The sepia hued black and white part. Dust. Flat. Wind. The last thing I imagined when I first saw Kansas was the beauty of the steep hills along the Missouri River. We crossed into Leavenworth in June of ‘01 and the limey green, new leaves were lush on the hackberry and oak trees. Fort Leavenworth was beautiful. I was taken aback by the ponds, the hills, the trees, the horse stables and the century old brick buildings. This was not what I had envisioned. I was relieved!

     In a few weeks this widow with two little girls would be marrying again. Bruce was a gift from heaven. If my late husband Bob was asking God for what I needed, He couldn’t have come any closer. This tall, faith-filled Lieutenant Colonel had melted my heart. The move, though, was not without pain. I would leave a home, my work as an RN, my family and old friends. I knew that God was in the center of it all and I was beginning a new chapter with an expanded family. Old friends and relatives would stay emotionally close, and home would be where my husband and children were. It did help that this part of Kansas reminded me of Maryland.

     A month or so later we moved into our quarters, a large 1909 brick duplex. A year earlier you couldn’t have convinced me that life would be so different. Within that year I had lost my husband and my mother. Mom had come to live with us when Bob died. She was my rock. My friends supported me, God led me, but Mom nursed me along minute by minute, day by day, until I could once again take over. As she saw my improvement, she humbly stepped back. Before her unexpected death, she was able to get to know Bruce and see that another miracle occurred in my life.

     I mentioned that the move had its bittersweet notes. My heart broke for Bob’s Mom.  I was blessed to have a saint and rock of a mother, and I was doubly blessed to have a mother-in-law who loved me and taught me so much about living. "Grammy" was raised Protestant, and became Catholic later in life. She loved Jesus and she loved His Mom, the greatest example of motherhood we could have. Grammy’s faith was solid. She lived through the depression with 10 other siblings and lost a brother in young adulthood. She lost sisters and brothers-in-law as the years passed. Now she had lost her son, and I was remarrying and taking her two little granddaughters a thousand miles away. Though I knew it was right, it was not without her suffering. But she trusted God. Years later, as each of Bruce’s and my children were born, she welcomed them as her own. She would tell me how much she loved Bruce and ask me if I knew how blessed we were.

     Grammy, at 80, flew out to be at our sides in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit when Mary Pat was born with life-threatening defects. Grammy’s arthritic, numb hands could barely hold Mary Pat for long but she insisted. She reminded me regularly how very bonded she felt to our dear Mary Pat. Last year, as Grammy lay in a hospital bed dying she reached out to hold baby Margaret. With tears in her eyes she cried, “Oh, this beautiful baby! Oh!”

     Today would be her birthday. December 8th. I find it no coincidence that in the Catholic liturgical calendar it is the day on which the conception of Jesus’ mother Mary is celebrated. Grammy wasn’t a “glass-half-empty” person, but she wasn’t a “glass-half-full” person, either. Through joys, through physical and emotional suffering, she was thankful that she had a glass. She had the grace and the wisdom to see that through the life of her son, God brought her two precious granddaughters. She also saw, profoundly, that through the death of her son, God continued bringing new life. Maybe not the way she would have dreamed, but in His plan. One that brings life from death.

     Kansas is a good state. It’s far from where I was raised, but it has its beauty, Midwest charm and people. It has been good to us. In the decade since moving here, world wide communication has become astoundingly fast and easily accessed. We stay in contact with loved ones and visit every year or two. I miss my East Coast family and friends. I miss my loved ones in heaven. But we trust in God, and He continues to bless us and give us what we need. My family is here. My place is here.

God bless you on this Feast of the Immaculate Conception,

The Abbey Farm

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


     Mothers can relate to the joy we feel on our children’s birthdays. Every memory comes flooding back. We retell the events yearly. Our daughter Marie turns sixteen today. I won’t write about the day of her birth. She knows I’ll tell her about it sometime today. Marie is a strong person physically, mentally and spiritually. From her infancy through early childhood, I would jog the back roads of rural Maryland with her in the baby jogger. She’d comment on road kill…”Poor deer”…”Poor cat”…and she’d construct elaborate stories about what their lives must have been like. It gave us the opportunity to talk about the “Circle of Life.”

      Marie didn’t ask for anything for her birthday this year. Three years ago she begged us for months to allow her to sleep “under the stars.” We gave in for her thirteenth birthday. She had it all planned. Then a snowstorm hit the day before. I knew I wouldn’t sleep a wink worrying she’d freeze. Nevertheless, at 5pm she dug a cave not far from the house, dressed warmly, bundled up in a sleeping bag and settled in with three large dogs and a dozen cats. To my relief, she returned at 10pm. She had fallen asleep and was surprised it wasn’t later, but she smiled with bright pink cheeks, exhilarated!

     She is very imaginative, and she loves learning about the environment. She rescues injured wild animals and is successful! I envision that someday she’ll have a home filled with domestic and wild creatures --sort of like the beautiful lady in “Thomasina” (a must-see Disney movie from the ‘60’s). Last year when we traveled back to the East Coast for our “family“ vacation, Marie stayed here with friends and relatives in order to manage the farm. She was milking three dairy goats and would not be convinced that someone could it for her. It was really hard leaving her, but she was safe and content. The second day she called with the news she’d jumped into the pond to save a baby deer. Never one for cell phones, but obedient to carry one at all times while we were away, she drowned the phone…but saved the fawn. She actually did well with it, having taken care of baby goats. She was disappointed to learn that it would be illegal to raise it with her goat herd. Dutifully, she did as she was instructed and, with the help of the local game warden, hid it in the grass beyond the pond a few nights later. She was still within the window of time in which the mother would search and search and listen for her baby’s call. The fawn wasn’t there the next morning and Marie was satisfied.

     Our oldest daughter has graduated from college into the “real world.” Emily is successful and we are extremely proud. I cried the day we took her to college. Time had passed too quickly since I became her stepmom. I wanted more years. I asked Bruce if he was sad. He thought about it and replied, “You know, this is what I always wanted for her, how can I be sad?” Our second oldest, Sharon, is away at college and it hasn’t been any easier, but I was more prepared. I am thankful for the years we had her under this roof. I am extremely thankful that she has grown into such an intelligent and wise young woman.

     I joke with Bruce that we won’t really have to experience “empty nest syndrome” because we’ll probably have many grandchildren by the time Margaret hits her college campus. I try not to take these days for granted, and try to enjoy every moment. Today we’ll celebrate Marie’s unique and wonderful life. Perhaps someday when she leaves for college I’ll have sleepless nights, listening for her call. I won’t find her warm and close like the doe found her baby fawn. But, like Marie with her fawn and Bruce with Emily, I’ll feel satisfaction and pride, and most of all, humble thanks.

Happy Birthday, Marie!

God Bless you all!

The Abbey Farm

Monday, December 6, 2010

"St. Chocolate's Wort"

Had mine tonight.

It amazes me that I can be exhausted, yawning, feeling low and pondering how I’ll get through the evening…and a couple of chocolates brings about a remarkable improvement in energy level and mood! What is it about the stuff?
Theobromines--or is that coffee? I had that, too.

The day had gone pretty well; it was a little busier than usual. My three year old, Mary Pat, was home sick from her special pre-school. My fifteen year-old, Marie, needed input on her homeschool plan for the week. The farrier showed up and Marie and I took turns holding horses and tending to three preschoolers…the list is quite long. I got really tired by the end of the afternoon, and over-reacted when our thirteen year old sprang a “mandatory school activity” on me 20 minutes before its start time.

Earlier in the week a friend remarked on her Facebook that it puzzled her how she can hold it together through a stressful day and then a seemingly insignificant event sends her over the edge. The post produced wonderful comments of support and understanding. Truthfully, it made me feel better. I didn’t think at the time to recommend “St. Chocolate’s Wort” to her.

The aforementioned thirteen year-old, Susanna, was responsible for my “medication,” though we had chocolate in the house. My Austrian grandmother, Susanna’s namesake, had a tradition in her family of celebrating St. Nicholas’ feast day. It is really fun: the children leave their shoes out the eve of December 6th and in the morning find them filled with chocolates and little gifts. We revived the tradition in our family when Bruce and I married. It’s a wonderful opportunity to teach the children about the real Nicholas of history, who was present at the Council of Nicea, fought the Arian Heresy, and became a great bishop. St. Nicholas…St. Nick…Santa Claus…one in the same. The Coca-Cola Company had something to do with his additional attributes around the turn of the century, and a new legend was born complete with a sleigh and reindeer and a North Pole. I grew up with that, too, but there is something really satisfying about teaching the children about the real man. A generous man who loved Jesus and gave just about all he had for the good of others.

I felt rotten about acting out like a two year-old toward Susanna; later, she was the one who came home early from the school event with a box of chocolates for her family. A warm hug and apology at her homecoming soothed my soul like the chocolate soothed my psyche.

Maybe I could medicate myself three times a day. Hmmm. Maybe not good for the weight. Moderation in everything, I guess. And plenty of hugs and giving and forgiving.

Happy St. Nicholas Day,
from the Abbey Farm