Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mini Mint Cream Cupcakes

Besides the dishwasher I received for my birthday, I also got a much-wanted mini muffin pan! Thank you, mom-in-law! :-)

I wanted to christen my mini-muffin pan with something a little out of the ordinary...and, after drooling so much over Rhiannon's Mint Meltaways, I came up with these fun little guys:

Mint Cream Mini Cupcakes
Mint Cream Mini Cupcakes
Mint Cream Mini Cupcakes
Basically, I used a plain ol' chocolate cake mix and made mini cupcakes. Once the little pretties cooled, I whipped up a simple mint cream filling.

FILLING:
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 to 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
3 drops green food coloring (if desired)

Beat together all filling ingredients until smooth and creamy.

I put the mint cream filling into a plastic bag fitted with a small cake decorating tip. I shoved the tip into the center of each mini morsel and squeezed just a bit of minty goodness into each one.

I then made up a little chocolate glaze to dollop on the top of each cupcake.

CHOCOLATE GLAZE:
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
6 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened

In a microwave safe bowl, combine chocolate chips and butter. Microwave for 60 seconds and stir until melted and smooth.

After spooning a small amount on each tiny cake, I then placed the Mini Mint Cream Cupcakes in the fridge just long enough to set the glaze.

One cake mix filled my 24-cup mini muffin pan and one 12-cup regular muffin pan. The mini muffins were better, in my opinion, because the filling to cake ratio was higher. ;-)

And, because the Mini Mint Cream Cupcakes were sooo good and I could feel myself reaching for another and another and another, I sent them (minus 2 or 3, give or take a few) with my husband to work and left the big cupcakes at home to enjoy.

The Mini Mint Cream Cupcakes were a hit...and, I love my new mini muffin pan!

Recommend: YES

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Buttery Rolls

Freshly baked rolls, tender and soft, warm with butter can always make me smile.

And, these rolls made me grin! They were fantastic!

I think the milk and extra egg helped make these rolls so soft and tender.

Even a quick 20-second trip in the microwave the next day brought back the hot-out-of-the-oven texture. Those of you from my college days, missing Ma Richardson's rolls...these reminded me of hers!

Yummmmm!


BUTTERY ROLLS

1 cup warm milk (70 to 80 degrees F)
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 cups bread flour (I used all purpose)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast

In bread machine pan, place all ingredients in order suggested by manufacturer. Select dough setting (check dough after 5 minutes of mixing; add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water or flour if needed).

When cycle is completed, turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 24 portions; shape into balls. Place in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-in. baking pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 15 minutes (I let them rise for close to an hour and then brushed with an egg wash - 1 egg, slightly beaten with 1 Tbsp water). Bake at 375 degrees F for 13-16 minutes or until golden brown.

Recommend: YES

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Friday, September 25, 2009

My Birthday - a GIVEAWAY for you!

Yesterday was my birthday! In celebration of my *ahem* many years, I have a giveaway for YOU! In case you missed yesterday's post, don't forget to enter to win a copy of Janette Oke's Love Comes Softly! It is one of my favorite books!

My husband decided to take our kids shopping for my birthday. For a few weeks now, I've been prepping my 3 year old on my birthday list:
  • Chocolate
  • Candle
  • Dishwasher
The "dishwasher" was added one day when the sink was piled high... :-)

Little Miss will now, when prompted, recite mommy's birthday wishlist:
  • Chocolate
  • Candle
  • Dishwasher
Before the kids went to bed, they proudly gave me their gifts. I got exactly what I asked for:

Lindt chocolate - Candle - Dishwasher
My husband thinks he's so funny...! :-)

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

GIVEAWAY and Review: Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke

Janette Oke - Love Comes Softly
Truly some of my favorite books!! I am almost sure that Janette Oke's Love Comes Softly series was one of the first "grown up" books that I read as a young teenager.

I rarely reread books -- once is usually plenty for me. However, I have lost count of the times I have reread this particular set of books. Oke's Love Comes Softly series is like an old friend to me. I feel like I know and love the characters.

I almost know the words by heart! :-) Yet even though I know the plot and storyline, I STILL laugh and cry in the same places.

Love Comes Softly follows the lives of the Davis family. The story begins with Marty, recently widowed, who marries widower Clark Davis to become a mother to his young daughter. Promised train fare back East in the spring, Marty endures her circumstances, anxious for spring to arrive. Thus begins a journey to love and family...

The books are well-written and I just love them!

Now as for the movies that have also come out based upon Oke's books: Hm!

If you want to watch a clean, family movie, then they're okay. But, based on the books?! Hardly!! Remember, I said I know the books almost by heart?!! About the only thing true in the movie that holds to the book is the character NAMES of Clark and Marty.

I didn't think the acting was all that great either...

Most people I have talked to have greatly enjoyed the movies; however, I don't think they love the books as much as I do... :-)

Eh, it's my personal review! You READ THE BOOKS FIRST...then, watch the movies. Decide for yourself!!

GIVEAWAY ALERT!
And, I'm going to give you a chance to read the book first! I'm giving away a copy of Love Comes Softly.

To enter (and qualify for other entries), leave a comment on this post telling me what your favorite book or who your favorite author is! Be sure you leave your email, or have email enabled in your profile, so I have a way to contact you if you win!

Additional entries (must do above to qualify):
  • Follow me or subscribe via email, and comment telling me so!
  • Blog about my giveway, and comment with a link to your post!
Entries will be accepted until October 22.

Recommend: YES

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Homemade Brownies vs. a Boxed Mix

I have an ugly little secret.

I don't like homemade brownies.

I've tried to give them a fair shake.

These Frosted Fudge Brownies were ok...as long as they were frosted!

Disney's (supposedly) Boardwalk Brownies were pretty good (IF frosted) and IF you like that storebought packaged texture (like Little Debbie brownies).

I've tried Baker's One Bowl Chocolate Brownies and the recipe in my Betty Crocker cookbook...not impressed. I've had my eye on any other brownie recipe that promises fudgy, chocolately results.

No recipe delivered what I was looking for: the taste and texture of a boxed brownie mix.

And, then I stumbled across Kara's post here. That could have been ME writing that! And, since she admitted to the entire cyberworld that she prefers boxed brownies and then gave a homemade recipe that was to be "the one," I HAD to try it.

*sigh*

I have finally been impressed by a homemade brownie recipe.

I can no longer say that I don't like homemade brownies...as long as the homemade brownies I'm making are these!

Crinkly tops...moist, fudgy middle.... mmmmmm! Very, VERY close to a boxed mix.

chocolate brownies


I tested these twice. The first time was a bit of a flop... I followed the recipe exactly (ok, except for a handful of extra chocolate chips into the dough - because that's how I make boxed brownies!!), and even though it seemed that a 25 minute baking time was plenty long enough for an 8x8 pan, the middle was GOOP.

But, the taste and texture seemed RIGHT to me, so I tried the recipe again. This time, I used a 9x13 pan and baked 20-25 minutes... PERFECT.

Finally! A homemade brownie that I can whip up and won't disappoint when the brownie craving strikes and, horror of horrors, no sign of the Pillsbury Dough Boy is in my pantry.

So, for all of you secret-boxed-brownie-mix lovers, here's the recipe (which is also much simpler than most homemade brownie recipes)!

Brownie Mix Brownies

1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp oil
2 Tbsp water (hint: substitute coffee for super flavor!)
1 1/2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Bring sugar, butter, oil, and water to a boil. Remove from heat. Add chips and stir until melted. Cool slightly (so eggs don't scramble - eww!). Add eggs and vanilla and stir until smooth. Stir in dry ingredients and nuts (this is where I added 1/2 cup of additional chocolate chips). Pour into a greased 9"x 13" pan. Bake at 325 for about 20-25 minutes.

Recommend: YES, finally!

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Postcards from Pullman series by Judith Miller

Judith Miller
I just finished the last chapter in Judith Miller’s Postcards from Pullman series.

The books focus on Olivia Mott, living in the seemingly idyllic and perfect town of Pullman, Illinois, at the turn of the century.

Book one, In the Company of Secrets, begins with Olivia, a scullery maid, along with Lady Charlotte, daughter of wealth and privilege, leaving England and arriving in America amidst a pile of lies.

With a glowing false reference, Olivia lands a job as the assistant chef at the Hotel Florence. Lady Charlotte unsuccessfully plays the role of Mrs. Hornsby, a grieving widow.

As the books continue, each woman must set aside the many lies their new life is based upon and learn to live in truth, despite its difficulty and possible repercussions.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Olivia… I enjoyed the characters of Fred, Mrs. DeVault, Mrs. Priddle, and Matthew. However, some of the scenes involving Fred and the Pullman worker strike lost my interest.

Judith did a wonderful job researching the town of Pullman, as well as the strike. In fact, I’d love to take a visit through historical Pullman! I just tend to zone out a bit when chapters involve big meetings with important men (I do the same thing in WWII books when Hitler and his cronies get together).

My absolute favorite character was Chef Rene. I’m not really sure why, I just felt drawn to him and liked him. And, although he was French, I couldn’t help but picture him as identical to (Italian) Chef Pisghetti in the Curious George cartoon! :-)

Chef Pisghetti
Two other things I really loved: I loved the title of the second book, Whispers Along the Rails. Oooh…intrigue!

Judith Miller Judith Miller


And, I loved the ending in An Uncertain Dream. Judith took a twist I didn’t expect…and, did I mention I liked Chef Rene?!

As in any book, I know that not every character’s story tends to be resolved; however, I longed to finish Charlotte’s story… and, I wouldn’t have minded another book hearing a bit more about Chef Rene’s future…

Postcards from Pullman was an enjoyable series that I think you’ll enjoy if you like books in turn-of-the-century America.


Recommend: YES

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Plain Promise by Beth Wiseman

Beth Wiseman - Plain Promise
From the back of Plain Promise:

Young Amish widow, Sadie Fisher, leads a simple life in the quiet countryside of Lancaster County – selling Amish goods to a steady stream of tourists. Though it is a good life, lately she’s wondered if it is God’s will for her to remain without a husband and a family.

Winters can be brutally cold and lonely in Pennsylvania, so Sadie rejoices when a renter signs up for a three month stay in her guest cottage. But when wealthy, impulsive
Englischer Kade Saunders arrives, she isn’t sure she wants him around that long. Sadie feels the stress of the bishop’s watchful eye, expecting her to act in accordance with the Ordnung, the understood behavior by which the Amish live. To complicate things, Kade is soon surprised with sole custody of a child he barely knows – his five-year-old autistic son, Tyler.

I’m always so disappointed when a book doesn’t meet with my expectations; when a publisher’s recap makes the book sound interesting to me…but the actual story has so many more facets that it’s just not what I would normally read.

By the end of chapter 4, I was already wondering what kind of a review I was going to write. I was uncomfortable with some of the subject matter and didn’t like the feeling of worldliness that came across while I was reading.

Turns out that Kade is a VERY wealthy man, even appearing on covers of well-known magazines…but, by the end of the book is seriously considering joining the Amish, (supposedly) not for the love of Sadie, but for a better “connection” with God.

I liked the idea behind the story – a woman’s struggle between the man who seems all right and the man who seems all wrong – the classic plot in many books. But, I just couldn’t get past the edginess and feel-good doctrine that made the book wrong for me.

I still appreciate Beth and Thomas Nelson for giving me the opportunity to review this book, but I only keep books on my shelf that I would someday feel comfortable letting my daughter read. I’m afraid Plain Promise will not be one of them…

352 pages by Thomas Nelson.

Recommend: NO

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Old Mother Hubbard Taco Soup

Ok, my cupboards weren't really BARE...

...but they were certainly getting there, and that's how I ended up with this soup.

It was a chilly, rainy day and a crockpot meal sounded perfect. I only had ground beef, canned tuna, and canned chicken to choose from, protein wise.

We'd had ground beef the night before... hm, tuna in the crockpot? I'm sure there's a recipe... didn't sound good to me. I browsed allrecipes and kept seeing taco, tortilla, mexican soups pop up in my search results.

Ahhh, I thought! I have many of those ingredients! Let's see what I can dump together...

I found:

1 can cream of chicken soup in the pantry
2/3 jar of Sam's Choice garlic and lime salsa in the fridge
1 can whole kernel corn in the pantry
1 large can chunk chicken
1 box of chicken broth (I used 1/2 of it)

I mixed these together in the crockpot... and added (guesstimate) 1 teaspoon each of chili powder and cumin powder and about 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder.

Turned on low for 4-6 hours. Oh, man...it smelled good!

Taco Soup
Near the last hour, I realized I wanted to add some rice. So, I cooked some in my steamer and added about a cup (cooked) right before serving the soup.

Old Mother Hubbard Taco Soup was delicious!!! When I was eating it, I said to my husband, "This is my kind of comfort food!"

The soup was warm, hearty, filling, and just a bit spicy. I had to blog about it, just so I can remember the "recipe," and make it the next time I don't think I have any food in the house... :-)

Golden Sweet Cornbread Muffins are the perfect "bread" to go with this soup!

Recommend: YES

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pink Sugar's Mini Oreo Cheesecakes... YUM!

***Please note:***

Rhiannon has moved her blog and the NEW link for her Mini Oreo Cheesecakes recipe is HERE at Hey Gorgeous!

*******************

When Rhiannon posted this recipe for Mini Oreo Cheesecakes, I KNEW I would make them!

My picture falls flat once you see Little Miss Baker's gorgeous food photography. I attempted to take a picture of my drippy beaters with my computer in the background (which was, of course, on Pink Sugar's Mini Oreo Cheesecake recipe page).... believe me, that picture was goofy. So are most of my food pictures! :-)

I'll leave the food photography to Rhiannon and others more talented!


But, as for the Oreo Cheesecake recipe...THAT I could handle! :-) They were absolutely positively deliciously scrumptious!!!

The hardest part of the recipe: waiting for these babies to chill. I made them at night, then had one for breakfast! :-D

I cut the recipe in half (it made 17)...but bought ingredients for the full recipe. Do you know what that means?!

Mmmmhmmmm! I'll soon be making another batch of 17.... YUM!

You MUST stop over to Rhiannon's blog and say hi, drool over her amazing pictures, be inspired by her super looking cupcakes, and then get the recipe for these fun little cheesecakes!

Oh, Little Miss Baker! You don't know how many times I've contemplated buying a passport just so I can taste one of your fabulous sounding Mint Meltaways!!!

Recommend: YES

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...?


We have several chestnut trees, and they are currently dropping their fruit.

Lots of chestnuts! LOTS. OF. CHESTNUTS.

Our yard is full...and I can hear more dropping as I type!

I've never eaten a chestnut, let alone cooked with one.

Does anyone have a dummies guide to chestnuts?


What do I do with them?? What nut does a chestnut taste most like?

Seriously, I have no clue...

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Perfect Pumpkin Bars

These were truly perfect.


PERFECT PUMPKIN BARS

3 eggs
1 2/3 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups pumpkin puree
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt

1 tub cream cheese frosting (or make your own!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt. Stir into the pumpkin mixture until thoroughly combined.

Spread the batter evenly into an ungreased jellyroll pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in preheated oven until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.

Cool before frosting.

Recommend: YES

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese


I just made more macaroni and cheese last week. I love homemade mac & cheese, don't you??

This time, I doubled the recipe and grated a quarter of a fresh onion. I really think the secret to this particular super cheesy, ultimate comfort food recipe is the worchestershire sauce!

Steph's Mac & Cheese

¼ c. flour
1 tbsp. dried minced onion
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
¼ c. margarine
¼ tsp. worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. mustard
¾ to 1 c. chicken stock
1 c. milk
2 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese (the sharper the better!)
½ box elbow macaroni

Prepare macaroni according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together flour, onion, salt and pepper. In a saucepan (I use the same pan I cooked the noodles in…saves dishes!!) over low/medium heat, combine margarine, worcestershire sauce, and mustard until margarine is fully melted and lightly bubbling.

Add flour mixture and whisk until smooth. Cook about a minute or until mixture begins to bubble. Slowly add chicken stock and milk, whisking to combine flour mixture. Increase heat and whisk continually until mixture begins to boil/thicken. Reduce heat and let simmer for 2 minutes or until thickened.

Add cheese gradually, stirring to melt. Once all cheese is melted, add cooked macaroni to cheese sauce and stir to combine.

Pour mixture into a lightly greased casserole dish. Sprinkle with paprika, if desired.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until top is golden brown and bubbly.

Recommend: Mmmmhmmm!!

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Look to the East by Maureen Lang


Look to the East by Maureen Lang is the first book I chose to review for the FIRST WildCard group. FIRST is a group of bloggers who review Christian books and post the whole first chapter to give you a free sneak peek!

I chose Look to the East because of the setting: a small, poor French village caught in the middle of the First World War.

Maureen’s story kept me turning the pages to see if the men trapped behind enemy lines would be discovered, if those villagers putting their own lives in danger for the sake of those men would also be caught, if the silly town feud would end in the midst of war, if Julitte and Charles would be together…

Maureen’s descriptions enabled me to picture the small village with its cobbled streets and town square and the neighbor’s peeking out of their small cottages in curiosity and fear. I could smell Uncle Guy’s bread and hear the thudding of the German’s hobnailed boots. I could feel the terror of guns at my back and booming cannons in the distance.

I empathized with each villager that had to choose: love or hate? Food or betrayal? Trust or suspicion? Work or death?

As I finished the last chapter, I was wishing that Maureen’s next book in her Great War series was already in my hands. Ahh, I will have to wait until its release next summer.

I really enjoyed Look to the East. And, although I believe it is quite historically correct that a small village such as this would have had a cure (or priest), I did not agree with many of the Biblical positions or applications.

Charles prays for faith… and then is portrayed as “saved” throughout the rest of the book. Julitte sees “light” every time someone dies. Sometimes the light is brighter for certain people.

Other than that, the story was wonderful. I’ve mentioned before that I like the whole would-I-could-I hide people in this kind of situation? That’s why I will almost always read a book set in the Civil War and WWII. I'm not sure I've ever read any books in The Great War era, and Look to the East was a great read!

Now, here’s your chance to get a glimpse into Look to the East! The first chapter:
_________________________________________________

Briecourt, Northern France

Julitte Toussaint sucked in her breath and shut her eyes, as if by closing off her own vision she, too, might become invisible. Stuck high above the ground where someone so grown, just turned twenty-and-two, should never be caught, she shot a fervent prayer heavenward. Please let neither one look up!She clutched the book-sized tin to her chest and went death-still in hopes of going unnoticed.

“. . . those days may be behind us, Anton. At least for a while.” She heard his voice for the first time, the man who had come to visit the only château within walking distance of her village. The man whose blond hair had reflected the sun and nearly blinded her to the rest of his beauty. The perfect nose, the proportionate lips, the blue eyes that with one glance had taken her breath away.

Now he was near again, and her lungs froze. She feared the slightest motion might betray her.

“You’ll go back, Charles? Join this insanity, when you could follow me the other way?” She recognized Anton Mantoux’s voice without looking. He was the closest thing to aristocracy the town of Briecourt knew. Though Julitte had never spoken to him, she had heard him speak many times. Whenever the mayor called a village meeting, M. Mantoux always held the floor longest.

Charles . . . so that was his name.

“Who would have thought I had a single noble bone in my body?”

M. Mantoux snorted. “You’ll follow your foolhardy king, will you?”

“Much can be said about a man—a king, no less—who takes for himself the same risks he asks others to bear. I should never have left Belgium. I know my sister never will. How can I do less?”

“Ah, yes, your beautiful and brave little sister Isabelle . . . What is it you call her? Isa?”

“Careful with your thoughts, Anton,” said the man—Charles—whose voice was every bit as lovely as his face. “She’s little more than a child.”

“A child, but not much longer. And then you may have me in the family!”

Feeling a cramp in her leg, Julitte wanted nothing more than to climb down the tree and scurry away. Let them move on!she silently pleaded to God. Send a wind to blow them on their way before—

As if in instant answer to her prayer, a gust tore through the thick leaf cover of the beech tree in which she hid. In horror she watched the tin, dampened by her perspiring hands, slip from her grasp and take the path designed by gravity. She heard a dull thud as it bounced off the perfect forehead of the taller of the two men below, grazing the blond hair that so intrigued her.

A moment later both men looked up, and she might have thought their surprised faces funny had she planned the episode and been a bit younger to get away with such a prank.

“I thank you for the answered prayer of the wind, Lord,” she whispered in annoyed submission, “but not for the result, as You well know.”

“You there.” M. Mantoux’s voice was as commanding as ever, and it set her heart to fear-filled pounding. “Come down at once.”

Giving up any hope of dignity, Julitte shook away the cramp in one leg, then shimmied back along the thick branch until reaching the trunk that was somewhat wider than the span of her arms and legs. Her foot found the knothole she knew so well, and in a moment she stood on the ground, pulling at her skirt to cover pantaloons and the single petticoat she owned, a hand-me-down from her adoptive mother. From the corner of her eye she saw the towering blond man bending to retrieve her tin, a look of curiosity on his handsome face.

M. Mantoux stepped in front of Julitte. “What were you doing up there, girl? Who—”

Enlightenment reached his eyes before his voice faded away. Of course he knew who she was—everyone in and around her village knew she was the étrangère, the outsider. Not only because at least half of the village wouldn’t have welcomed an adopted child of Narcisse Toussaint, but because she had been born far away on the Island of Lepers, off the coast of Greece. Though Julitte had lived among the French villagers for nearly fifteen years, some still whispered of her heritage to this day, to passersby or children too young to already know.

“Come here, Julitte Toussaint.” He pointed to a spot a few feet away. “Stand there, not too close.”

M. Mantoux had an angry look about him, but she knew he always seemed that way from the curve of his nostrils to the arch in his brow. Even when he laughed—and she had seen him do that once—his face held the edge of ire whether with intent or not.

Intent was there now.

She obeyed his order and stopped where he’d told her, at the same time reaching for her property. The man holding the tin started to extend the item but took a moment to study it before completing the motion. His thumb traced the amateurishly tooled design, fashioned by her adoptive brother. Then he shook it and the items inside rattled. But he did not open it, for which she was silently grateful.

Both had to bend forward to pass the tin between them. Heplaced it, about the size of one of his hands, into both of hers.

“What were you doing on my property and what have you there?” M. Mantoux’s intimidating manner was the same he’d used when her cousin had lost one of his pigs and found it burrowing holes in the Mantoux Château garden. Only behind his intimidation today was a tone familiarly aimed her way—distaste mixed with a hint of the fear common to those who knew only her background and not her. “And why did you accost my guest?”

Julitte wanted to raise her gaze to M. Mantoux, to stare him down as she stared down her brother when he teased her the way brothers could. But M. Mantoux was not her brother. And standing in the handsome stranger’s shadow had stolen her courage.

Gazing downward, she mustered a respectful tone. “I was in the tree to retrieve the tin and decided to stay there until you passed by so to escape notice. The breeze whipped the box from my hold.” A quick glance at the blond cavalier revealed that his eyes stayed on her. Perhaps he was not so gallant, after all. What sort of man stared so boldly? Despite such thoughts, she knew what she must do. Keeping her gaze downcast, she turned to the handsome man she’d unwittingly troubled. “I offer you all my excuses, sir.”

“Accepted.”

The single word was issued softly and with a smile. Julitte let her gaze linger, welcoming his ready forgiveness. Her rapidly beating heart took a new direction.

“My friend is more magnanimous than needs be,” said M. Mantoux. “You are aware, Julitte, that this tree is on my property? If you fell and hurt yourself what should I have done?”

“I expect it would have been entirely my own fault, monsieur, and I would blame neither you nor the tree.”

“In any case, you’re far too old to be climbing like a waif. Narcisse shall hear of this.”

“I’m afraid he sent me on my mission before he left once again for the sea, Monsieur Mantoux.” She held up the tin. “This is my brother’s, you see, and I was told to fetch it and tell him to find another favorite spot to whittle. Closer to home.” She didn’t mention she had been the one to introduce her brother to this particularly dense and knotty tree.

The stranger—Charles—patted M. Mantoux’s shoulder. “There you see, Anton, it’s all perfectly understandable. Why berate the girl?”

Girl. But then, what else should he have called someone dallying about in a tree? Suddenly a vision of having met him under other circumstances filled her head, of her offering a brief and graceful curtsey and extending her hand for him to kiss. They would be formally introduced and have an intelligent conversation, about books and history and faraway places. Oh . . .

Instead M. Mantoux dismissed her as the peasant she was, unworthy to be presented to any guest of his noble household. And the two were already walking away.

#

Charles Lassone glanced back at the girl from the tree, unable to resist one last look. He could tell from her dress—clean despite her foray up to the branches—that she was a peasant from the village. For a moment, he wished circumstances were different. She was lovely, peasant or not. Her hair had shades of red and gold softened by strands of bronze . . . like a sunset. And her eyes were as dark as a black ocean reflecting the night sky. He’d caught himself staring but somehow couldn’t right his manners even when she’d noted the lapse.

Charles shook the reflection away, tagging such pointless thoughts as a premature product of war. He hadn’t even signed up! Yet. Now was most definitely notthe time to become entangled with a women, peasant or otherwise.

He was leaving France, returning to Belgium and to the side of King Albert. Rumor had it the king was leading his troops to battle. Charles just hoped he wasn’t too late.

#

Julitte walked the half-mile to the village, growing thirsty in the heat. Soon the cobbled square in the center of town came into view. Beneath the shadow of the church’s tall brick bell tower sat one of the two pubs in town. It ceased to be a stark contrast to the place of worship since the proprietor had at the behest of his wife stopped partaking in spirits—and consequently stopped serving them. He’d even rolled the piano out of his door and into the church, since so many of the songs sung in the pub no longer seemed the same without the local brew or some other liquor in hand.

Those in the de Colville family had protested the loudest since it was one less place their spirits were served, the one area to which they did not have to smuggle their goods.

Julitte was surprised to see a cluster of women and children gathered in the square. There were a limited number of huddles Julitte could join, even among women. She was restricted to those of the same Toussaint name or to those linked in some way. Even among Toussaints, she had to be careful.

Toussaint or de Colville . . . to be born in Briecourt was to be born into loyalty to one or the other. It was a simple fact no one questioned.

Ignoring her parched throat, Julitte circled the square until she found Oriane Bouget, Ori as she was called, who was with her grandmother Didi.

“What’s happened?”

“There . . . see for yourself.” Ori pointed with her chin to yet another bunch off to the side. There were the men of the village, near the town hall. The grand two-story brick structure would have fit any fine town, but here it sat in Briecourt, as out of place as a gem among pebbles. It housed the mayor’s office and garde civiquesquarters, the jail and the postal services all in one. A table had been brought outside and a man sat behind it taking down names, then sending the men one by one into the building.

“What is it?”

“They say we are at war,” Grandmother Didi said in her loud way, “and all the men must go and fight.” The tone of her voice accommodated her own lack of hearing, but just now it had quivered.

“War! With who? Not the English again?” Her father had told her about the many wars between the French and the English.

“No, the Germans, so they say.”

“Again?” It wasn’t all that long ago that France had feuded with their neighbors to the east, too. Julitte stared at the line of men, all of whom she knew. Including her adoptive brother.

“Pierre!” She left Ori’s side to rush to his.

“Have you heard the news?” A wide smile brightened his youthful, handsome face. Brown eyes as sweet and guileless as anyone as naïve as he, and here he was lining up . . . for war?

“What are you doing? Papa only left two days ago. Without his permission I don’t think—”

Whether it was her words or alarmed tone, Julitte caught the attention of men on both sides of Pierre. She had sat in schoolrooms with many of those in this line and knew the majority were best fit for harvesting—the sum of most dreams, the same as their fathers before them.

“Leave him be, woman!” Though his words were firm, the face of her long-ago classmate was lit with exhilaration, as if it were a holiday when anyone could be forgiven anything. “We’re off to be heroes the likes of which our town has never seen. Soon this very square will be filled with statues to our bravery.”

She lifted one brow. “Statues or bodies?”

“It would be a privilege to die for our country!” Pierre joined with his friend to recite the words, making Julitte believe they repeated whatever pronouncement they might have heard to form this line to begin with.

“Julitte,” Pierre whispered, pulling her aside. “I must go, don’t you see? Every man between the age seventeen and thirty is being called to service. I have no choice. And I wantto go.”

“Seventeen—but you’re not seventeen until—”

“Tomorrow is close enough, so he said I must go.”

Julitte found no words to counter such incredible information. How had this happened? Briecourt minded its own business; why couldn’t the rest of the world do the same?

“I will go, Julitte.” His words, soft but firm, left no room for doubt or argument.

She shook her head, wishing words to convince him otherwise would fall into place. None did. Instead of speaking, she handed him the tin she’d retrieved, full of his favorite woodcarvings that were little more than toys. How could it be that he should be signing up for war when that box proved he was still a child? Such thingswere not the stuff of soldiers.

Turning away, she headed to her cottage, ignoring Ori’s call. No one was home, with Narcisse at sea and her adoptive mother long since gone to heaven. But Julitte could go nowhere else just now. Her prayer corner was here. Her spirit, weighted with fear for her brother and all those in line, longed for the reassurance of knowing none were outside the boundaries of God’s loving concern.

She needed to pray.

#

“Arrête! Arrêterez votre véhicule ici.”

The French poilupounded the butt of his rifle on the pristine hood of Charles Lassone’s Peugeot. He had enough sense to hide his annoyance with the soldiers who’d set up this roadblock—that seemed the wisest choice when facing the barrel of a rifle. The blue and red clad officer spoke rapid French, motioning at the same time for Charles to exit the vehicle.

He did so, skyscraping above the agitated soldier who couldn’t have been more than five feet tall. Another soldier, this one taller but still not equal to Charles’s six foot one, came to stand before him, both of them waving their rifles in Charles’s direction.

“What is this about?” Charles inquired in perfect French. Though his mother was American, his father was Belgian and a Walloon at that, so Charles had grown up speaking at least as much French as English.

“We regret to inform you, monsieur, that you may go no farther in your motorcar. You may take your personal belongings, and then take yourself elsewhere.”

Rifles or not, Charles lost his hold on hiding annoyance. “What do you mean, take myself elsewhere? With my motor, of course?”

“No, monsieur. Without your motor.”

“Listen here, I have dual citizenship between Belgium and America. France has no claim to me or to my possessions.”

“Necessity outweighs all laws of any country, monsieur. Now please empty the vehicle of your belongings and then be off.”

“I will not.” Grabbing the handle of his motorcar door, Charles moved no farther until the tip of the soldier’s rifle grazed his temple.

“All motors are being requisitioned for service, monsieur. If not here, then several miles down the road, by your own Belgian government. We are now united against a common enemy, and whether you donate the motor here or there makes no difference. You see?”

Charles did not see at all. If his motor had to be requisitioned, he far preferred to surrender it to a Belgian soldier. But as one could not be found, there was no point in arguing.

He retrieved his bag and jacket from the rear seat, then watched with a heart nearly as heavy as the motor itself while yet another French poiluresumed Charles’s seat behind the wheel and drove off, the crunch of crushed stones sounding beneath the little-worn tires. No doubt the 1913 blue Peugeot would be in the hands of a French officer before nightfall.

“Can you direct me to the nearest train station?” he asked of the remaining soldiers. They had regrouped into the same circle they had been in when Charles spotted them alongside the pile of logs they’d set up as a barrier on the old Roman gravel road leading to the Belgian border.

A snicker here and there gave him little hope of the easy answer he sought. One, the man who had first pounded on the hood of the motor, faced Charles.

“A station will do you no good, monsieur. All trains between our two countries have been requisitioned. They are now used exclusively for troops.” He lifted one of his feet and tapped a dusty boot. “A hike is in store for you.” Then he laughed along with the others.

Without a word, Charles started walking. At first his steps were slow, but after a moment he picked up his pace. Maybe he should be grateful only his motorcar had been impressed into duty.
_________________________________________________

368 pages by Tyndale House.
List Price: $12.99
ISBN-10: 1414324359
ISBN-13: 978-1414324357

Also reviewed on Amazon and Christianbook.

Recommend: YES

Many thanks to Maureen and her publisher for allowing me to review Look to the East!

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Simple Lemon Pie Filling

This is a super easy Lemon Pie Filling. I like this filling better than homemade, because I can usually taste too much "eggy-ness" in the homemade.

I usually pour this into a baked pie shell, but you'll see in my pictures that I used a square baking dish...and a graham cracker crust. Both ways are delicious! Filling little tart cups or mini cakes would also be YUM! I'm sure you could come up with many great ideas for this filling!

Place 1 package of cook & serve vanilla pudding and 1 package of lemon jello into a small saucepan.

Add 2 1/3 cup of water and 1/3 cup of lemon juice, whisking to combine.


Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Cook and stir 1-2 minutes longer or until thickened.


Cool slightly. Pour into desired "pie" vehicle! :-) Place in fridge to cool and set.


Once set, top with cool whip...


Cut, serve, and enjoy! :-)


If you like all things lemon, check out Kim's scrumptious looking Pink Lemonade Cupcakes!

Recommend: YES

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