Saturday, December 4, 2010

National Cookie Day

Today is National Cookie Day. A day I can truly get behind. And what better time to slip you a few of my favorite cookie recipes - new and old - just in time for Christmas baking?


Sugar Cookies. This is my go-to recipe for sugar cookies. It's the recipe I use to make all my cut-out cookies. I do sometimes switch it up. For the snowflake cookies pictured here, I actually stirred vanilla bean seeds and a little organic vanilla chai tea into the batter before rolling out. Yum. Yum. Yum. No matter what how impatient/unskilled/pressed for time you are, this cookie dough makes the quickest, lightest, most tender cookie. They melt. (Honestly, if I had a daughter, this is the first recipe I'd teach her.) Add these to your holiday baking, and I guarantee it will become an heirloom recipe.

Peanut Butter Cookies. I tried Deb's recipe three years ago- the week she posted it- and was immediately converted. Make these, only skip the chocolate chips and double up the peanut butter chips. And, if you can, use crunchy peanut butter. I always use crunchy. Divine.

White Chocolate Pomegranate Cookies. These are amazing. A smidge fancy, a ton delicious. In fact, I'm even adding... um... lime zest... (don't tell) to these to make them red, white and green. Totally Christmasy. These make wonderful gifts!

Lace Trumpet Cookies. If you've never tried this southern favorite, do. Please do. Everyone will thank you. These pretties are fun to make and lovely up a holiday spread in no time. I first made these for a holiday cookie tasting party in 2004 and they were a big time hit. Big time.

Oh. I could go on and on. (And maybe I will, later.) I truly hope you enjoy these. And please, if you have a favorite or family recipe of your own to share, please leave a link or note in the comment so we can all enjoy!

Now if we only could figure out how to do a virtual, National Cookie Day, cookie swap... -Brin

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How To Dry Corn

Farmer John (that's really what he goes by), was selling the last of his corn crop from the bed of his pickup last week. I had to stop.

Corn, as any historian, commodity trader, or foodie can tell you, is... necessary. Experts speculate over 4,000 products in our grocery stores have corn or corn products as an ingredient. And the more corn we relegate to ethanol production, the more scarce and expensive corn is getting.

The Story of Corn is getting wild. Which is one reason why I shook Farmer John's hand and gave him a heartfelt thank you.

Yes, the price was too good to pass up. But what is a girl to do with 10 pounds of fresh, kernel corn? (I already have some canned. I already have a bit more stored.) Well, I'll tell you: channel my inner Pilgrim and Indian and dry it.

Here's how:

Set a large pot of water on to boil. Wash your kernels to remove any silk and sediment - especially if the corn's straight out of the garden. Once the water is boiling, blanch the corn (let it hang out in the boiling water) for about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain. (For me, that meant dumping it all out on a bit of cheesecloth, gathering up the corners, and letting it drip out over the sink. Of course, I dumped a bunch in the sink. A colander would be helpful here.)

Spread your blanched corn on parchment lined cookie sheets and pop it in the oven at 200 degrees F for roughly two hours. Maybe more, maybe less. In truth, mine took about 4 hours and I had to stick a wooden spoon in the oven door to prop it open and vent the steam. But it was a chokingly humid day. This is Texas.

Remove corn from oven once it's shrunken and leathery-crisp. It will have reduced dramatically in size as the moisture evaporates. Let cool and store in sterilized, airtight jars or plastic bags. (I vacuumed sealed most of mine.) Stored in an airtight, moisture-free, dark environment, this should keep at least five years.

To use, rehydrate one cup of kernels in two cups boiling water. Use in casseroles, soups, and side dishes. Make Cheddar Corn Chowder. Grind to cornmeal and make cornbread, stuffing, or polenta. Yum.

Wishing you and yours a bountiful, meaningful Thanksgiving. -Brin

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
-Psalms 100:4-5

Monday, November 22, 2010


I went for a walk yesterday over chilled, spongy hills. Grasses, the color of Thanksgiving, leaned in the foggy wind. They seemed alive, somehow, marching in from the four corners of the hills to huddle together, a congregation united.

As it turns out, another job - one I'd been hoping for, actually - materialized before I'd ever lost the one that's kept me stressed since January. I finalized the deal on Friday. I'm in the oil and gas brokerage business; in short, I find land and mineral (oil and gas) owners for domestic oil companies and help smooth out the legalities so the two can ink an agreement to drill. It requires endless travel, endless complications. I dislike it in the way a child dislikes the home he wants to run away from: you want to leave, but where would you go?

I'm off to Kansas after Thanksgiving. Instead of grumbling that I'll be in a hotel, miles away from home during the holidays, I'll be thankful: I have a job. God is good no matter where I am.

I was thinking today of all the folks who are out of work, who aren't finding jobs despite long, ego-beating searches. And I was thinking that I want to hear their stories. I'm not the compassionate God - I can't shoulder your burden - but maybe if we all huddle together... if we trudge up the hills from the four corners and congregate together... together we can help lighten loads.

So here's the deal: if you or someone you know is really struggling financially, I want to hear about it. We want to listen, to encourage, to pray. Everyone, please pitch in. This is my front porch, and we'll all rock and share and have a good cry and come away, lighter than before. Comment here, anonymously if you'd like. Tell your story; share your burdens. And in two weeks, we'll meet back here and read through the stories and figure out a way to stand together and brave the wind.

Blessings- Brin

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How To Make Vanilla Extract

Been down the baking/spice aisle lately? Seen those prices?

(Know how deadly heart disease is? I believe sticker shock has contributed to more cases of heart disease than we realize. Someone should look into that.)

But back to the baking/spice aisle. Did you know you can make your own vanilla extract at home for... considerably less than you pay for those tiny bottles in the store?

You can. Here's how.

First, know this: vanilla extract is essentially vanilla macerated in alcohol. That's fancy talk for "you float vanilla beans in vodka, let it sit, and call it vanilla extract". And that's what you do. Take alcohol (vodka or rum, usually), add vanilla beans, let it age in a cool, dark place, and you're set.

Yes, it may seem like you're ending up with a lot of vanilla. So bottle some up in little bottles and give it away for Christmas. Or better yet, bake tons of goodies with it and give those away for Christmas.

Just think of the lives you may save and friends you may make.

How To Make Vanilla Extract

3 cups alcohol (vodka or rum)
6-8 vanilla beans (depending on size)
Jars or bottles with tight-fitting caps or lids

1. Sterilize jars, if using. Or use the bottle the alcohol comes in, as I did here.

2. With a sharp knife, beginning about an inch from the top, split the vanilla beans lengthwise in half.

3. With clean hands, stuff vanilla beans in jar or bottle, taking care to cover the beans completely with alcohol.

4. Give the jar a good shaking, then place in a cabinet in the coolest part of your kitchen.

5. Let the vanilla beans do their thing for about 6 weeks. Shake your jars or bottle every week or two. Vanilla will be ready to use in 6-8 weeks. Yay you!

Now some facts: Assuming you use sterilized jars and fresh beans and store your stash in a cool, dark place, your vanilla extract should be good indefinitely. Do not try to can this, as alcohol is extremely flammable. When you start running low, simply add more beans and alcohol to your bottle and keep going. If you can taste the alcohol after 6-8 weeks, allow your jar to cure a few weeks longer... the alcohol taste will evaporate. And no, you can't use water in place of vodka or rum; alcohol acts as a preservative and takes care of any contamination worries.

Happy holiday baking! -Brin

Still More...

 ...going up in that jumble sale of fantastic-ness in the name of ordering my cabin kit. I'll continue posting treasures - like this Kelly Rae Roberts print! - through tomorrow.

Dang. The Farmer's Egg Crate from Anthropologie. I did really want that... :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Making It All Add Up

I've added a jumble of beautiful things to be auctioned off, cheaply - ridiculously cheaply - for the last few dollars I need for the cabin kit. Gulp. It's for the exterior only... all the interior will be left up to me. Gulp again.

 Some things from Freeman House are up on the auction web floor. Things I adore but won't have room for. Freeman House? Giant cocoa mug. Cabin? Doll tea cup. I'm saying goodbye to lots of things...

 But hello to a flower meadow. And a brook. And a cherry tree.

The sale's over here if you're interested, and I'll be adding to it through Wednesday. 

I'm back tomorrow with pre-Thanksgiving baking secrets that will astonish you. Can't wait. -Brin

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Window Into My... Brain

My habits (obsessions) of late: making my own cheddar cheese. Sewing thick quilts for the cabin. And reading everything I can find on the reality of quantitative easing.

I'm an exciting gal, eh?

Guess that's why today has me so nervous. Quick, somebody hand me some homemade cheese to gnaw on...

I look at this Laura George piece often. Isn't it fabulous? Only I want one the way Jesus put it: when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Secret of Contentment

I know what it is to be in need,
and I know what it is to have plenty...

I have learned the secret of being content
in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,
whether living in plenty or in want:

I can do all this through Jesus Christ
who gives me strength. -Philippians 4:12-13

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Word From Millie

 Millie here. I put my chew down to come tell you that folks flooded us with emails (I heard over 80 in the first two hours alone) about the preparedness stuff.  Now Brin's all worked up trying to make the list cuter and fancier with more links and information. She'll get it out soon.

In the meantime, I say that if you have pets, don't forget about us. Be sure to get us extra food, water, and medicine, too. Just sayin'.

Gotta run. I have things to bark at and a bone to defend. -Millie

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bread and Wool

I'm in this head place where I'm longing for things that are real. I'm considering more carefully before buying. I'm asking myself: would this last in a tiny cabin, miles from electricity? Where did this come from, and what's it's future? I'm making subtle switches. Hardcover books, not digital words. Oil lamps, not light bulbs. Mason jars, not plastic tubs. Flour sacks, not paper towels.

And my latest obsession: hearty bread and sturdy wool.

I'm in love with Shelter, Jared Flood's 100% American wool yarn. To say that I actually teared up when I unwound the first skein and found a blade of grass amongst the fibers is not an exaggeration. Shelter starts with beautiful, shaggy Wyoming sheep and ends spinning through a historic mill in New Hampshire. Go take a look-see. It's American and it feels so... real, somehow. Like something Ma Ingalls would have knit if she had her pick of any yarn on the prairie.

It's that amazing.

I put it down only long enough to plan my next loaves of pumpernickel rye bread. Last year I ate many a meal with this bread, only instead of growing tired of it, I've grown to love it more. It feels... real... to my kneading hands and hungry stomach. I like this recipe best so far, although I've adapted it for my own tastes. I feel a completed recipe coming soon.

Bread and wool talk, to be continued...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Found It!

My camera was in... my laptop/camera bag. All neatly tucked inside with the USB cord perfectly wound, right beside it.

What's more pathetic: looking for two days before finding something... or being utterly shocked when it's right where it's supposed to be?

I've lived out of boxes since moving out of Dallas in 2004. (With the constant renovating at Freeman House, boxes were scooted from room to room. Only the kitchen was ever unpacked!) To say I'm looking forward to my Little Cabin of Organization is a laughable understatement.

Pictures coming soon!

(For those who asked, the pictures in the last post are ones taken in 2008 at the Daingerfield State Park - my favorite spot in Texas.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Long Mountains and A Wood

It's dark today. Foggy. Woodsy. Misty. Mossy. A good day for pulling on tall socks, making soup thick with mushrooms and cream, and reading Edna St. Vincent Millay.

All I could see from where I stood/Was three long mountains and a wood....

Monday, October 18, 2010

Note to Self

I can't find my camera. I can't find my camera. I can't find my camera. I can't find my camera!

You know those people who have four dishes, four spoons, four shirts and four skirts? Those who know where the stuff they aren't using or wearing is at all times?

Me neither.

I'm in two storage buildings, a "rental" house and an RV at the moment. No wonder I can't find anything.

Must consolidate. Must downsize. This weekend.

Must find my camera. Must find my camera.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

End Chapter.

God cannot give us happiness and peace
apart from Himself because it is not there.
There is no such thing.
-C.S. Lewis

That was my mistake, you know. Thinking God was a hobby and not the whole.

We could talk for hours. I could blow your mind with the stories, sadness, and salvation that has been my life. I stop and look over my shoulder at the past four years and can hardly believe where I've been. I can't believe, quite honestly, that I made it through. It's only by the hand of a God Who never gives up. Who never lets go. Who never turns away. Who knows just how much you can take.

And mercifully, as you glimpse the lights of How Much You Can Takeville from where you are, He steps in. He turns your mourning into dancing.

I've lost considerably these past four years. And I'm not a "bounce back" kind of person. It takes me forever just to process things. Then I have to start dealing. I listed it all the other day... my losses... and sat and stared at the page. I stared and stared and felt my eyes burn hot. And somewhere down deep, I felt a small cry, flickering like a flame. I felt it snap and burn until it exploded, rushing its way out of my heart, up through my throat and out of my trembling mouth. It was the most gut-wrenching, mournful scream I've ever heard. I screamed and screamed... and when the scream finally turned to shouted, hardly coherent words, all that tumbled out was: We survived this. You saw me through.

It took me an hour to stop shaking.

I know sin. I know disobedience. I know rebellion. I know discipline. I also know redemption.

And now, because of His grace... I know a new day.

How about turning this page with me to the next chapter?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Land of Trees and Pies

I think about my little place all the time.

Today I thought about trees. About all the trees I wanted to pass on my morning walks with Millie. I thought about all the fruit I wanted to see glistening in canning jars. I thought about all the nuts I wanted roasting over a hearth fire.

So I went to the Arbor Day Foundation Tree Store and ordered arbor beauties to plant later this fall. If you saw the picture of my new place (before I got paranoid and zapped it), you know that hazelnut, cherry and plum trees (above) will go nicely. At least until they can be joined by peach, apple and pecan.

My land... a land of pies, waiting to happen. -Brin

Friday, October 1, 2010

My Little Secret

I've been sitting on a little secret that I dared not spill until this week: I've bought land. With a brook and a rocky dirt road.

Next comes the DIY cabin. The fun we're in for! Think we're up for this?

Happy happy happy happy happy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wanting.... get engrossed this weekend in a slow, melancholy book set on the sea. On a chilly coast. A Weight of Water or Memory of Water type novel, only better. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Expect hope to be rekindled.
Expect your prayers to be answered in wondrous ways.
The dry seasons in life do not last.
-Sarah Ban Breathnach

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pay Day

Today's pay day. What are the odds I can grab my check, hit the door, rush "home", bake cookies and watch movies all rainy afternoon?

Yeah. Didn't think so.

Oh my gosh. Did you see these today? Quick, step aside as I fake illness and limp to the door.  *cough*

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


By all these lovely tokens September days are here,
With summer's best of weather
And autumn's best of cheer.
-Helen Hunt Jackson

I'm knitting this week. And making spiced honey. I might even try to take off one day to gather firewood and pick apples.

Ah, autumn. Welcome! Long have I awaited your return...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Best Wishes (and Cake) Ever

My brother is getting married this weekend. They're having pie at the reception instead of cake. My family has this love affair with chocolate pie that knows no bounds, so it's only reasonable that we'll pie with our nuptials. (grin)

Just in case anyone misses cake after the happy couple jets, I think I'll sneak in this: the Best Cake Ever. EVER. I mean... ever. I've been making it off and on for the past couple of years and nothing beats it.

Best, incandescently happy, chocolate-pie-and-cake wishes to the lovely couple. -B

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Little Thought #3: Unrelenting

A thing to know about God is that He's unrelenting. His love doesn't let up. His mercy doesn't give out. His pursuit never ends.

I was walking through the airport a few days ago and passed a girl sipping a Bud Light, deeply absorbed in The Shack. I kept walking. I wasn't a fan of that book, God. What do You think of us down here trying to know You... picture You... describe You and define You? What do You think of our searching?

It thrills My heart. I felt those words pulse through me, along with an overwhelming feeling of love. As if my blood had turned to liquid love and gushed up and down my veins. Now go back and tell the girl with the book. Tell her I love her.

I argued for a minute, then wheeled my suitcase back down the terminal toward the girl. She was still reading.

How do you approach a stranger in the airport and tell her of God's love? The way the conversation unfolded was surreal. I knew, before opening my mouth to talk to her, that she was 23. A student in the medical field. The youngest of her family. I knew - without any way of knowing - that something awful had happened in her short life. Tell her she's not to blame. Tell her it wasn't her fault. Tell she's loved with an everlasting love.

I looked at this girl and wondered what it was like to be reading in an airport, unknowingly pursued by a loving, purposeful, unrelenting God.

Irena is 23. The baby of her family. She's in dental school. And almost three years ago, she was sexually assaulted. Luke is still in diapers.

We talked quietly. She cried. I had to assure her twice that I'm not psychic; that God knows her... knows everything she is and everything she's been through. He'll use anyone around to make sure we know.

Does God love everyone? she asked, quietly. I mean, everyone?

I nodded. Yes, everyone. He loves me. He loves you. He loves that lady over there selling newspapers. A well-dressed man rushed by, berating someone at the other end of his cell phone. Irena raised her eyebrows and tilted her head toward him. Yes, especially him.

You're the second person to talk to me about God, she confided. A co-worker talks about Jesus. She told me to read this book.

Hmm. What's it like, I asked her, to be sitting in an airport, knowingly pursued by a loving, purposeful unrelenting God?

What's it like, she countered, to know Him the way you do?

You won't relent until You have it all. My heart is Yours. -Brin

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Little Thought #2: Hanging in for Harvest

And let us not grow weary of doing good,
for in due season we will reap,
if we do not give up.
-Galatians 6:9

Don't give up. Keep going. Don't give up.

Especially when it's hard. Especially during dry spells. Especially in times of mourning. Especially during times of testing... times of learning... times of questioning.

Find your faith. Put it in your pocket. Remind yourself you have it. Remind yourself it's real. Pull it out when you need to; examine it. Patch it up when it's battered. Ask for more when it's not enough. Then take it and keep going.

What we're doing today matters. Because in due season - tomorrow, next year, eternity- there will be a harvest. Good or bad, there will be a harvest. There will be bounty. Where there were hard times, there will be triumph. Where there was lack, there will be plenty. Where there was sorrow, there will be joy. Where there was weariness, there will be rest.

The harvest is coming. Can't you feel Him stirring even now? Don't you see Him getting His sickle ready?

Don't give up. I'll hang in here with you until then. -Brin

(Update: There's more from me on this - click Comments below to read. :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Little Thought #1: Learning Hebrew

I am learning Hebrew. Did I mention it? I think so, but it's been awhile.

In order to speak Hebrew like a native, I'm learning that you have to be okay with spit. And choking. I'll admit - my practice sessions sound more like an MP3 of an angry, choking mule than an American girl trying to learn a new tongue. I'm okay with that. For now. But by Christmas, I want to sound like Moses.

(The one in the Bible. Not Gwyneth Paltrow's son.)

Special toda to Rosetta Stone and my new pal Michael, the most awkward and endearing Hebrew teacher ever. You're right, Michael. If God wrote more than half the Bible in this language, it must be special to Him.

Shalom, dear ones.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Freeman House, Winter 2008

Today I'm dreaming of snowfalls. Of scarves and blankets and roaring fires and bubbling stews. And when I saw this beautiful craft idea, I started crying.

I think it reminded me of Freeman House.

I think it spoke to the comfort I'm yearning for today.

I think I'm going to stock up on candles and jars and make a few of these this week. ...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I watched the sun set from above the clouds this week. Have you ever watched from 32,000 feet as the sun sank to other kingdoms? It stays with you, always.

There's so much on my mind and heart to share with you. So much I've seen the past few months. I try to put words to it all but end up sitting, overwhelmed, in front of the computer. Tomorrow, I tell myself, logging off the internet. Or maybe this weekend.

Or maybe the next.

Happy weekend.  -Brin

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dreaming About Heaven...

When all this is done - the striving, the longing, the hoping, the waiting- I'd like a corner in heaven that looks like this.

Or maybe that. I'll wake each morning to the sound of fluttering angel wings, my Grandfather's laugh, and snatches of melodies from the Throne.

I'll make my bed and walk across the moss, past loved ones and new friends, until I find Jesus... my Savior and my One. Will you take a walk with me? I'll ask, blushing.

And He'll wink. And wrapping His nail-scarred hand around mine, together we'll set off....

(Funny how we don't spend much time thinking about eternity, isn't it, considering it's infinite while our lives here are but a vapor? Photo credit/dream photography by the talented Ditte Isager.)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Photo: Preemptive Love Coalition
(Sob. Laugh. Grin. Wipe eyes. Laugh again. Sob.) Leah is home. Read it and weep.

Again, thank you. -Brin

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

We live, in fact, in a world starved for
solitude, silence, and privacy;
and therefore starved for meditiation
and true friendship.
-C.S. Lewis

Solitude, silence and privacy - today those words sink into my depths like sparkling rain drops into a puddle. How refreshing that would be today- solitude, silence and privacy. I must be burned out.

God, in this dry and weary land, my heart seeks after You. On days I feel numb... on days I'm listless and I'm tired... remind me You're here. Tell me again You never leave. Give me moments, God, to be in that still, simple, quiet place with You. Touch all of these longings that crave meditation... that yearn for true friendship. Reach for us, God, and meet us where we are today. ...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Leah's Out!

Check on her here.

Another No (Way I'll) Bake Dessert

Stop what you're doing and make this. If you have to leave work, all the better. The sooner you get this in the fridge, the better your day will be. This is that good.

The recipe, tagged "Family Favorite" in August's Martha Stewart Living, is one I can see myself making when I'm 70. It's a keeper. Heat cream, melt chocolate, layer it all in plastic wrap, and forget it in the fridge. When three o'clock hits... when the doorbell rings... when supper plates are cleared, pull it out. Then prepare to cry. This is that good.

I changed up the recipe a little. Instead of using all milk chocolate, I used 11 ounces of milk chocolate chips and 3 ounces of semi-sweet. Not being big on banana, I thinly sliced a small one lengthwise and was skimpy with layering it in. Substituting cinnamon graham crackers for plain seemed a no-brainer. And Cool Whip and chocolate shavings had to top it off. The result? Tears. This is that good.

Yup. No way I'll bake anytime soon...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

No (Way I'll) Bake Desserts

I don't do much baking in July. I mean, have you ever been to Texas in high summer? It's a huge oven. With grass.

No bake desserts are the only way to go. The colder the better. The jucier the better. The lighter the better. The less time you have to spend away from the air-conditioning vent, the better.

Hello, Watermelon Cake! Have you picked up the August Martha Stewart Living? Buy or borrow it. I'm keeping my copy forever, it's that good. For this "cake", all you need is a seedless watermelon. And a knife. And a spoon (or a melon baller). Hack out a slab of watermelon, cut it into slices like cake, and top with scooped out balls of more watermelon. Refrigerate until ice cold.

I'm taking this to everything that requires food for the rest of the summer.

I also made the no-bake chocolate pudding/banana/graham cracker thingy. Only I slathered peanut butter between the layers, too. (I'm incorrigible.) It hits the table today. Will definitely report back on that.

Ah, summer. We'll conquer you yet.