4/18/2014

Lisa JohnsonFor as long as I can remember my grandma made Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday. I was raised being a part of the process and having them to eat – lots of them! My grandma didn't just make a few either. She made bunches and bunches of them. She would have trays set aside with little notes on them as to who they belonged to!

I remember her enormous enamelware bowl and the many different patterns of soft tea towels that were used to cover the buns while they were rising. The smell was fantastic. For me as a child it was so hard to wait. The process seemed to take forever, and it felt even longer because there was no batter to eat and no bowls to clean out! The icing was one thing that you could get a sample of. When there were Hot Cross Buns in the house, her red Pyrex refrigerator dish was in the fridge full of icing in case anyone wanted extra!

Hot Cross Buns

Usually I was more interested in playing or being outside so I never sat still to learn how to make them. My grandpa passed away in January 2001. I knew that it would be hard for her that year. I wanted to learn exactly how she made her Hot Cross Buns so we made plans that she would teach me. 

I took time off of work and made a special trip to Grandma's house. She showed me how she did every step. She used the same bowls that I remembered as a child. The kitchen was warm so that the dough could rise. The house was full of the smells and sounds that were always present on that day. She taught me well, giving me tips that she had perfected over the years to make the process easier and the buns better. At the end of the day, we were surrounded by baked goodness and were as full as we dared to be. During my baking lesson, I watched Grandma pull a square glass jar out of her cupboard. It was filled with powdered sugar. I had just started becoming interested in antiques and had noticed jars like this before. I asked her about it. She didn't stop what she was doing and continued to gather the supplies to make icing. A big glass bowl, her hand mixer and the vanilla. Her voice got soft and quiet and she said, "We got this as a gift at our wedding." I was stunned. Who has a glass jar and uses it regularly for more than 50 years?! That moment touched me because even though she hadn't said a word or showed in any way that she was missing my grandpa – he was in her thoughts.

I am so glad I took the time to spend that day with Grandma, just the two of us. That year, Easter was in the middle of April. She passed away the beginning of May. Since then, I have made Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday. My mom comes to help, and we make a day of it. I only use my grandma's recipe, and I only do it the way that she always did. I have the same hand mixer that she used that day. I use tea towels like she did. I don't make as many but I do share them with friends and neighbors. I keep extra icing in my fridge in a red Pyrex dish with a clear glass lid. And I have the glass jar that she had used for more than 50 years.

The day I learned how to make Hot Cross Buns didn't just teach me a family tradition. It taught me why family traditions matter. It links us with the people we care about and gives us a connections that we can continue sharing for many years to come. As I make Hot Cross Buns today, I remember seeing it done as a child. I treasure the day I learned how to do it from Grandma. And I get to share it with my family.



1/31/2014

Lisa JohnsonI love french fries.  Salty, crispy and yummy with some ketchup on the side! In my effort to eat healthier and do more cooking from scratch, I decided to try something this year. I have said that I don't want to eat from a specific fast food chain with my favorite salty, crispy fries. My husband laughed at me a little bit because I do like junk food. But I am going to try. So far, so good!

Growing up, I got my french fry fascination from my Grandma's Cafe. I could go there and have grilled cheese with fries anytime I wanted! We didn't have them at home, and we didn't eat out. My other grandma made potatoes but they were baked, mashed or sliced. She didn't make fries. After I was married, I discovered that my mother-in-law made homemade fries. Not the thick steak cut type (which always seem mushy and often uncooked to me) but nice regular-sized fries. They weren't soggy or greasy. They were light and just salty and crispy enough.  She only made them every once in a while because french fries really aren't the healthiest of foods. But when she did make them, it was an event that we didn't miss!

My husband learned how to make his mom's homemade fries. Over the years, he has done it about once a year. It is one of the things that he loves to do in the kitchen! I am happy to standby and help when needed.  He decided to make some the other day.

french fries 

Washington State is well known for its potatoes. So, it's kind of funny that it is hard to find Washington potatoes in our stores. Many of the potatoes sold here come from California. It just so happens that we have one store that sells Washington and Idaho spuds. We were able to get some big Russet potatoes that were grown in Washington. I washed them up while my husband gathered all the supplies he needed.  While the oil was heating up, I got the potatoes peeled, washed and set out to dry off. He cuts them up carefully, making sure to get them all fairly equal in size.  Then he drops them into the hot oil.  The oil sizzles and the raw fries bounce and float around.  As they start to get a bit of color to them, he turns them and watches them carefully.  When they are "just right," my husband fishes them out of the oil and places them onto a plate covered with paper towels to soak up the excess oil. It is best to sprinkle them with salt when they are hot.  So I turn them on the paper towels then salt them. Of course the first fry is always the one that burns my tongue a little bit because I just can't wait for it to cool! Then the process starts again and is repeated until all the potatoes are cooked.

draining fries 

There is just something wonderful and rustic about making french fries at home!  We can use potatoes that we know where they came from. This year I will be planting more Russets in the garden so that we can have homegrown ones! We can pick which oil we use and how much salt we add. French fries still may not be the healthiest of foods, but at least this way we know what we are eating. With homemade fries, I may just be able to stay away from fast food ones. We just have to make them more than once a year!



1/15/2014

Lisa JohnsonThere is a place on my farm where a warm wind blows. The sky may be the brightest of blue. Or it can be dark and gray with billowy clouds churning in chaos. The heavy clouds bring rain, lightening and thunder.  The wind can be gusting all around, cool enough to bring a chill to my skin. And yet, I come to this place and amidst the storm there will be a warm wind blowing.

Other times, the air can be still, muggy and moist or hot and dry. I reach this place and there will be a warm wind that is refreshing even on a humid day. This warm wind brings me renewal and refreshment.

On occasion, I will be busy with my chores. Getting done, hurrying to be somewhere and I will step into this warm wind. I stop, shut my eyes and smile. Taking the time to enjoy the warm wind as it blows by me. I feel grace and peace. It is calming to me. Just as quickly as it came upon me, it is gone. The moment stays with me through the rest of my chores and often my day.

Sky view from where the warm wind blows 

There have even been times when I will walk to this place on my farm, on purpose. Looking for and needing to feel that warm wind and what it brings to me. My mind may be spinning about something that transpired during the day, a frustration, irritation or sadness. Or I may feel overwhelmed, tired and weary. I walk to this place, up the slight slope that is covered with sweet smelling clover and tall grass on either side. The vast sky is overhead and towering trees are all around. As I stand there, I have hope. Hope that the warm wind will blow. Sometimes it blows and sometimes it doesn't.

The times that I do go there seeking the warm wind, I find myself thinking that it is silly to think that a breeze will blow "just for me". But the times that I have gone there and there is no breeze anywhere else and I feel that warm wind touch my skin I have rejoiced! It brings tears to my eyes and joy to my heart.

It is not the warm wind that causes this peace and contentment. The peace comes from my Heavenly Father. He created me. He knows me. He loves me. When I call on Him, all things are possible! Even in the form of a warm wind.

When I seek this place where the warm wind blows I think of a song that included a quote from Billy Graham. "I've seen the effects of the wind but I've never seen the wind." I cannot see the wind. But I can see the effects of it in the leaves of the trees as they flutter and on the tall grasses that sway gently. I can also see the giant trees with strong branches and thick trunks that stand so tall and majestic bow and break with the effects of the wind. I have watched eagles soar and play on the currents of the wind.

Mighty and powerful. Calming and peaceful. Chilling and scary. Cooling and so refreshing that it can take your breath away. So much from something unseen. But this place where the warm wind blows for me is a place where I can see and feel the glory of God! Do you have a place like this that brings you peace and causes you to slow down and enjoy a moment?



12/26/2013

The Living Christmas tree. That is what we call one tree on the farm. Years ago, I think it was 1995, we were looking for Christmas gifts for my in-laws, Ed and Mary. They were a hard couple to buy for! We were in a nearby Big R store and found some little trees in quart sized containers. The pots were wrapped in foil, and there were a lot of different kinds. As I was looking through them, one caught my attention. It was labeled South Dakota spruce. Ed was from South Dakota and he spoke of his boyhood home often, so we bought the little tree. It came with instructions for planting it after the holidays were over.

Mary wasn't one for surprises - she was always so excited to tell people. My Husband is a little bit like her that way!  We gave them the tree early. It was the perfect size for a table-top tree. It was trimmed with as many vintage ornaments as it could hold! Some sparkly garland, tinsel and a foil star finished it off. A colorful skirt was sewn to cover up the base of the tree and gifts were placed underneath. The little tree became quite a centerpiece.

After the New Year, the decorations were taken off. This left the little tree looking bare and plain. It was stuck in with the rest of Mary's large collection of houseplants. It blended into the background and got watered when everything else did. That spring, Ed took the little tree from the house and planted it the yard.  No special thought to the location, just a "this-is-a-good-spot" moment! By itself, the little tree looked so small. The surrounding evergreens towered over it.

Ed tended to that tree. He watered it when the weather got hot and put fences around it when the grass grew and the deer and horses grazed too closely to it. We always kind of chuckled about the tree. We really couldn't believe that it was still living. A lot of things that are sold to be potted at a later date don't actually survive. This little tree did! And slowly it began to grow. For several years, the little tree stayed secure behind the wire remnant.

Mary passed away and Ed began to do less and less outside. I had taken over doing most of the yard work. One day I gave that little tree a close inspection. The branches had grown and were pressed up against the fencing. The grass around it had gotten so tall that it was entwined in the evergreen boughs. I removed the fencing and started pulling the grass. Once the area was clean, I stood back and was a little surprised. The tree was about five feet tall, bushy and healthy.

The last Christmas that Ed was living in his house, he wanted lights on the tree. He had found some of their old Christmas decorations and he trimmed the tree again. He went so far as to cut the top of it so that he could reach to put the star on. I thought the tree would be stunted. Again, I was surprised when it grew despite its top being cut off. 

The farm chores became mine to do daily. The tree is now a landmark of sorts. I remember it as a table-top tree and looking so small in the yard. I also remember it with its stubby top. Over the last eighteen years, it has continued to grow and thrive. It stands out now, even with all of the evergreens around. I can no longer reach its top. It is our living Christmas tree.

The Living Christmas Tree



12/17/2013

Lisa JohnsonIn the Inland Northwest we get four actual seasons of weather. Each season is unique with its own traits. Spring is when our world begins to awaken and is revitalized with new life. Summer is a time of growth and abundance.  Fall is spectacular when the bushes and leaf trees turn shades of yellow, orange and red. Winter brings a time of quiet and rest.

Winter can bring with it extremes. There have been years where it will start to snow and it will just keep snowing. A couple of years ago, we were getting a fluffy snow and it was adding up to a foot a day. After several days of snow we were getting overwhelmed. Buildings were buckling from the weight of all the snow accumulation.  Threats of rain had people scrambling to get their roofs shoveled off. Businesses in the cities were taken by surprise when the flat construction of their buildings gave way to the weight of the snow and collapsed. Snow can be light and fluffy and can sparkle like glitter. But snow can also be heavy. I have heard people who've never been around snow say that they didn't think it would have any weight to it!

The snow provides a layer of insulation, which is nice when our temperatures start plummeting. Our thermometers can drop to the teens and single digits. Sometimes dropping below zero. Once it gets that cold out, everything freezes. When things get so cold and soaked, car doors will freeze shut and batteries have a harder time starting vehicles. Pipes in your home can freeze and burst. Animals do all they can to conserve energy and stay warm. It is a dangerous time for animals and people. One time my husband worked with a man who had moved to our area from California. This man was here during a winter when we had record low temperatures. He said that he had thought the minus sign in front of the degrees was a joke!

RiverWithIce

When you are prepared for it and have the automobiles, your home, yourself and your animals protected it can be a beautiful time. There is abundant beauty! Trees become sculptures with their frozen boughs and gnarled branches. Fences get coated with ice and snow. The river banks get icy and at times the surface can freeze over. Lakes freeze with smaller ones becoming nearly solid. Drops of water become long icicles that hang from the rooftops.

One thing that I always do in this type of weather is freeze my freshly laundered linens. Years ago, my mother-in-law told me about freezing her sheets. I laughed and thought she was kidding. She wasn't, she was serious and excited! She told me that when you wash your sheets and let them hang outside to freeze, a special thing happens. The sheets get an incredible smell. I still thought she was joking, but she told me to try it. I did and I was amazed. The smell really is incredible! It is like the smell of rain only better. Fresh frozen laundry!  Does anyone else do this or have you heard of it???



12/3/2013
Tags: Pie, Baking

Lisa JohnsonPie. Apple, cherry, pumpkin and pecan. All kinds of pies!  I grew up loving pies. My grandma was always making some type of sweet treat and in the fall especially, she would make pies. I remember the sights, sounds and the smells. But I never stayed in the kitchen long enough to learn the process. I was more interested in being outside trying to catch one of the new barn kittens or hoping for a chance to get close to a neighbors horse.

My mum made pies too. She made sure that I took part in it by helping her peel and cut the apples. By then, I had a horse of my own, and the apples kept my attention because I knew that I could take the peelings to him!

As a young adult, I still left pie making to my grandma, mum and aunties. Thankfully my mum had learned Grandma's pie crust recipe by heart.

In recent years, I decided that I wanted to learn to make pies. I needed to. I enjoy looking through cookbooks and watching cooking shows and many of them made pie crust seem like a challenge. I got the impression that some people are scared of making pies. I guess I was a little bit too. It seemed daunting.

Recipe

My mum was more than willing to come over and lead me through the process and teach me the same way that Grandma had taught her. My grandma had a recipe but didn't need to use it! Mum has an original copy of it. Years before, she had written one out for me. I was finally able to get it out of my recipe box and use it. It doesn't look anything like her copy. Mine is on a crisp white recipe card. All of the ingredients and the instructions can be clearly read. Mum's has the patina of many years of use. It is smooth and the once-white recipe card is brown. It has little spots and splashes on it.  The writing is smudged and a corner is torn away.

Mixing and measuring

The kitchen was prepared, the ingredients gathered and I was ready. I followed the recipe and listened to my mum's tips. That and a few baking techniques and I was doing it. What? That was all there was to it? What was so scary about that? Once I had a big ball of dough and I realized how easy it was, I had fun! I kept laughing to myself and at myself. What had I been waiting for?

Pie shell

By the end of my first pie making session, I had pies everywhere! Apple, cherry and a couple pumpkin. Plus some turnovers and pieces of dough with some sugar and cinnamon sprinkled over the top. The crust was flaky and tasted the way pie had always tasted in our family.

Pumpkin pie

Now I enjoy baking pies! I still hear people say that pie crust is hard or that they have never made pies. At a recent church event I offered to make pies and the lady was so glad. She said, "So many people don't like to make pies." If you are someone who is a little afraid, or haven't tried, you should! It is very rewarding and yummy! Talk to someone that you know that does make pies. They will have a tried and true recipe and can help you.

I have even made a "pie drawer" where I store all of my pie baking things. The recipe, pie pans (vintage glass ones from my grandma and mother-in-law!), pastry cutter, pastry brush and rolling pin. Everything is on one place and I don't have to search for items that I only use once in a while. Plus it is fun to open a drawer that holds so many great memories.



11/12/2013

Lisa JohnsonAs I drove up to the barn, I could hear the gravel crunch under the tires of my car.  The tall grasses were waving on both sides of the driveway and a row of shorter grass grew down the middle.  At one point in the road, there was a low spot where all I could see was the billowing grass, the lane in front of me and the blue sky above.  I stopped my car and savored the moment with a smile on my face, knowing that the barn was just up ahead!

Barn

I eased forward and there it was.  Standing so tall and stately.  Such a bright spot of color against the brown, green and golds of the surrounding area.  I began taking pictures before I even got close.  The main door had an old fashioned metal latch that protested with a squeek as I turned it.  But with a click and a tug, it popped free and allowed me access to the inside.  There were some things stored inside, but it still felt spacious.  The sun was shining and I could see its light through the windows and pouring through the loft openings upstairs.  The sun that was streaming in had a soft, hazy look.  It felt like time was moving slower in that moment.  In the barn, the air was still.  It was quiet except for the birds singing outside.  I walked around, seeing the ladder that led straight up to the loft.  The feeding trough that was built in and ran almost the whole length of the barn.  The old wooden paned windows that were painted white.  My footsteps were almost silent on the concrete floor.  I walked to the end of the barn to what looked like it had been used as a milking parlor many years ago.  Among some of the items stored in that space was a short, sturdy metal stool.  The surface was thick with several layers of paint.  The most visable being white.  The sides of the stool had punch work like what you would have seen on the old pie safe doors.  It stood out in contrast to the dim dusty corner that it was sitting in.  The sunlight streaming through the window lit up that little stool.

Milk-Stool

Standing there, I could almost see the Farmer bringing the family milk cow in through the big sliding barn door behind me.  I could imagine the metal runners sliding smoothly in their time worn tracks.  The cow going to her usual spot knowing there would be grain for her.  The little stool would be brought up next to her.  The person milking her would settle into their familiar routine.  Finding comfort and delight in the motion of milking and the sound of the milk streaming into the bucket.  A quiet moment during a busy day.  I moved back to the ladder and climbed into the loft.  As I clambered up, my excitement built!  The old wooden floor that was covered with a layer of dust reminded me of the barn that I used to play in as a child.  My Grandpa and his brother owned a dairy and when I couldn't hang out with the cows, I would explore the barn.  This one felt the same.  I was surprised with the feelings that it brought back.  It was empty and dusty but there was such a warm and welcoming feeling.  Calm and peaceful.  I just stood in one spot and looked around.  The ceiling was so tall above me.  The original pulleys were hanging in the loft openings.  I wondered what it would be like to pull hay from the ground level up into the heights of the loft.  I looked out a window.  The panes were dusty but I could still see the gravel road that I had drove in on.  The grasses were blowing softly in the breeze.  I thought about hay being stacked in that loft again.  The coziness that it would bring.  The cushion of the loose hay lining the floor.  The cats that would snuggle in its warmth and the kittens that would play on and around the bales.  I began to imagine the barn filled with life again.  The sounds of animals munching contentedly and the shuffling of their footsteps as they enjoyed the saftey of their barn.  I could picture chickens scratching around to look for any lost tidbits of grain or scratch.  I could almost smell the sweetness of the hay and grain.

Barn-Window

I climbed down the ladder and walked to the side of the barn that looked like it had once been set up for horses.  Both ends had dutch doors.  I couldn't resist and had to open one.  The latch was handmade and looked like it had been put on many years ago.  The barn red paint was wore around the edges from being exposed to the weather, used and chewed on!  So much history in one little piece.  The door opened to an enclosed paddock where an old water trough still sat.  An area any horse would love.

Latch

Even with the age of the barn and it looking like it hadn't been used in a very long time, everything was still so sturdy and purposeful.  My whole time in the barn had me near tears, happy tears!  I saw so many things that reminded me of my Grandpa there.  He had built things to function and last that were practical and had a purpose.  It also made me yearn for simpler times and ways of doing things.  That day, I had known that I was going to take pictures of a barn that I had admired for many years.  And I knew that I would like it!  What I didn't expect was that I would love it and feel so comforted by an old barn! 

An-Old-Barn






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