An Autumn Wedding: Blessings and Bouquets

The beginning of a new family is a momentous and holy event.  What great joy there is when two people who love each other choose to make promises and take vows. And not just for the happy couple. As family and friends gather around the mystery, the beauty, the hope all shine bright. Their presence at the wedding is their blessing. But sometimes the blessings are spoken, as well.  At the rehearsal dinner preceding the wedding, guests were asked to share a blessing or a Scripture if they so desired. We share some of them now with you along with photographs of the bridal and table bouquets.

The Bride loves sunflowers.
From the bride's aunt and uncle:
As you begin your new life together, invite God to be your partner.
May He be above you to watch over you, beneath you to support you,
in front of you to show you the way, close beside you to be your friend,

and within you to make you able for all things, and to reward your faithfulness with the joy and peace,

which the world cannot give nor take away.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be the glory now and forever.
Love and Blessings
The bouquets included dried grasses plucked from the groom's grandfather's pasture, wheat from the bride's uncle's farm, dried statice from my garden and of course, a variety of sunflowers, leaves, seedpods and other vegetation both dried and silk from Hobby Lobby.

A Puritan Prayer from the Pastor
“Oh, God of Love, you have established marriage for the welfare and happiness of mankind. Yours was the plan and only with You can we work it out with joy. You have said that it is not good for man to be alone, I will make a helpmate for him. Now our joys are doubled since the happiness of one in the happiness of the other. Our burdens are now halved. When we share them, we divide the load. 

Dear Father, we would ask that you would bless Jesse. Bless him as a provider of nourishment and raiment and sustain him in all the expectations and pressures of his battle for bread. May his strength be her protection, his character be her boast and her pride and may he so live that she will find in him the haven for which the heart of a woman truly longs. 
And dear Heavenly Father, we would ask you to bless Jessica. Give her tenderness that will make her great, a deep sense of understanding and a great faith in You. Give her inner beauty of soul that never fades. That eternal youth that is found in holding fast the things that never age.
Teach them that marriage is not living merely for each other. It is two uniting and joining hands to serve You. Give them a great spiritual purpose in life. May they seek the kingdom of God and Your righteousness and the other things shall certainly be added unto them. Loving You best they shall love each other the more and faithful unto You, faithful unto each other they will be.

May they not expect that perfection of each other that belongs alone to You. May they minimize each other’s weaknesses, be swift to praise and magnify each other’s points of comeliness and strength and see each other through a lover’s kind and patient eyes. Now make such assignments to them on the scroll of Your will as will bless them and develop their characters as they walk together. Give them a little something to forgive every day that that they may grow in the grace of longsuffering. Give them enough tears to keep them tender, enough hurts to keep them human, enough failures to keep their hands clenched tightly in Yours and enough success to make them sure they walk with God. May they never take each other’s love for granted but always experience that breathless wonder that exclaims “out of all this world, you have chosen me.” 

When life is done and the sun is setting may they be found then as now, hand in hand still thanking God for each other. May they serve You happily, faithfully together until at last one shall lay the other into the arms of Jesus. This we ask through Jesus Christ, the great Lover of our souls. Amen.”

The serene setting of the wedding. Yes, the guests sat at tables for both the wedding and reception.
From the groom's mother:
Once you were two, separate, apart
But what God has joined together is united in the heart.
Years of joy and laughter mixed with a tear or two,
These are the cherished gifts that I pray for you.

May your treasures be many, but especially these three:
Your commitment, your love and your time on your knees.
May you cling fast to Jesus as you cling to each other
On balmy days or in stormy weather.

May you bask in the warmth of acceptance and grace
As you grow and you flourish in your home's sacred place.
May you welcome the future with arms open wide
Your companion, your lover, your friend by your side.

From the groom's father
God has blessed me with a wonderful Christian woman and with three great Christian sons. For many moons we have prayed God would bring you two together as only He could. Now may He bless you both as God has graciously blessed us! May we always praise God for His grace and mercy.
Mason jars held bouquets with grasses and silver artemesia plucked from the groom's grandfather's pasture, statice from my garden and some silk flowers and leaves.
Scripture from the groom's grandparents:

We want to bless you with the Apostle Paul's prayer in Colossians 1:9-10. "For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God."
Each table held two bouquets, one or two candles in Mason jars and a jar of something to snack on.

Scripture from the bride's grandparents:

Words to live by: "He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor." Proverbs 21:21
Good advice! "Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife." Proverbs 21:9

Scripture from the bride's friend
"Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another, even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful." Colossians 3:12-15
Bridesmaid's bouquets placed on the table made a lovely centerpiece

From the groom's aunt, uncle and cousin

God bless Jess and Jess
With a happy marriage free of stress.

God bless Jess and Jess
With lots of kids to make a mess.

God bless Jess and Jess
With love and joy and peace and rest.

God bless Jess and Jess
And when the sin let them confess.

God bless Jess and Jess
With things we cannot even guess.

God bless Jess and Jess
'Cause we think they're the very best!

All photographs were taken by Monica Warren
Want to read more about our Autumn wedding? Click here.

Christmas Cookies: The Tradition Must Continue

Its the most wonderful taste of the year--Spicy Brown Sugar Cookies.  At least that's what my boys told me when we had "the talk" a few years ago. You know the talk. When you ask, "What Christmas traditions are really important?" because you know that you can't keep doing them all and be in any condition to truly celebrate the wonder of Christmas. And right there, on the top of the list, were these cookies. Are they a bit labor intensive? Yes. But they are indeed a wonderful, delicious way to celebrate a most holy and happy holiday. 

Several things have happened to make cookie making much more pleasant. One thing is my lovely assistants, a new daughter-in-law and another son's girlfriend. All that's said about sharing the load is true! I have to admit they are much better help than my boys ever were with their short attention spans, their desire to combine frosting colors and horrors! cutting a cookie out of the middle of the dough. As adults, they would probably be better help now, but their main interest is in the eating, not the making. The other thing that makes cookie making go more smoothly I will share along with the recipe a little later.
I always purchase my high-quality spices at Glen's Bulk Store.

When you think of Christmas Sugar Cookies, brown sugar and spices may not come immediately to mind, but these ingredients make simply an outstanding cookie. I usually roll out my dough fairly thick and the result is a soft, slightly crisp and buttery, lightly spiced taste of Christmas.  And when you layer on a heavy coat of cream cheese frosting, you do indeed have something very special.  

Begin by creaming together:
1 1/2 cups butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 egg

4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Mix together well. This will make a fairly stiff dough.

Now for my effort saving tip: For so many years I would refrigerate the dough and then use every bit of my muscle power to try to flatten that stiff dough between layers of plastic wrap with my substantial rolling pin. Cold butter in the dough makes it a challenge. This year I tried something new and I wish I had tried this years ago. This year I divided my dough into fourths and immediately rolled out the dough between layers of plastic wrap to about 1/4-3/8 inch thick. Make sure the dough is completely covered by the plastic wrap. Then slip your rolled out dough into a jumbo, 2 1/2 gallon slider bag (I used Hefty) and refrigerate. Since I make multiple recipes, I usually make my dough on one day and bake on the next, but I would think an hour or two of chilling would be enough. Now it is an easy thing to pull out a portion of dough and begin the fun part of cutting out the cookies.Pull back the top layer of plastic wrap, but leave the bottom layer while you cut the cookies. They are nice and firm and easily transport to a cookie sheet. Collect your scraps and re-roll between layers of plastic wrap. Since you are not adding flour in the rolling, it doesn't get tough and I keep re-rolling until all the dough is used.
Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes until just very lightly beginning to brown. Cool on racks. Frost as desired when cool. My frosting recipe follows. I prefer to frost each shape in the same color with the same kind of sprinkles, but you are under no obligation to continue my compulsion.

Relax and enjoy a cookie with a cup of tea and some of the people you love. Perhaps you will begin a new Christmas tradition. 

Cookies for everyone!!

 Spicy Brown Sugar Cookies
Click here for a printable recipe.

1  1/2 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 egg
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Cream together butter, brown sugar and egg. Add flour, spices and baking soda. Mix well. Refrigerate dough before or after rolling out (see above). Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes. Bake on a cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool and frost if desired.

Cream Cheese Frosting
(This is enough for two batches of cookies.)
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
5 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix together and whip until smooth and creamy.

I believe that the cookie recipe was originally in a collection distributed by Tupperware.

These cookies freeze beautifully. Make sure the frosting is dry and separate layers with plastic wrap. They thaw in a very short time and are soon ready for any holiday occasion.

Take Stock: Making Something Out of (Almost) Nothing

A good stock is the not-so-secret ingredient in many superb recipes. It takes "okay" a step higher to "really good." It allows you to make a delicious soup in minutes rather than hours. A good stock adds depth of flavor without adding needless calories. It takes the supporting role, never the starring role, in outstanding pasta sauces, pot pies and grain or rice dishes. 

Yes, you can purchase a can or box of the stuff and it does a good job. But look again. Is there any Turkey stock? And glance at the price as you pull it off the grocery shelf. Yikes! Especially when you can make it yourself out of almost nothing at a fraction of the cost using (can you guess?) that turkey carcass after your holiday meal. What? You just threw it away! Never do that again. True, you are going to invest some time and a little effort into this. But the reward will be the ease at which you grab a bag of Turkey Stock from the freezer and make something wonderful.

How long does it take to go from this... this? (Not very pretty, I know. I didn't say this was pretty. I said it was good.)
After you have removed all the meat from the turkey, use the remaining bones to make stock. You could place them into a large stock pot, but, because I make far too many kitchen decisions based on the number of dishes that require hand washing, I leave mine in the roaster. Before cooking the turkey, I usually set aside the giblets in the refrigerator and I retrieve these now. The neck and gizzard I add to the roaster, the liver I discard. I leave the wing tips and skin in the roaster as well. 
Every stock includes carrots, onions and celery.
 Now select one or two onions and three or four stalks each of celery and carrots. Wash, but it is not necessary to peel your vegetables. Coarsely chop and add to the roaster along with some parsley (optional, I don't always have), thyme sprigs and peppercorns. Throw in a bay leaf if you want to. Cover with water. Now, traditionally, you would bring to a simmer on the stove top. But, because I have left everything in the roaster which is too large to work well on the stove top, I tuck it into the oven.
Set the oven at 325 degrees and let it simmer for three or four hours. You want a gentle simmer and not a harsh boiling which could make a big mess in your oven and that wouldn't make anyone happy. I think you'll be fine at 325 degrees, just keep an occasional eye on it and turn it down a little if necessary. Get busy and let it go longer? It's ok. 
A wonderful scent will drift through your home as it cooks.  Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before straining. Strain through a colander into containers and refrigerate. I usually use my large gallon pitchers but it might be better to use smaller containers which may cool down faster. I have seen recommendations to cool containers in an ice bath before refrigerating to bring the temperature down quicker. That is probably a good idea since we're talking about a large quantity of hot liquid. Discard bones and vegetables. Refrigerate overnight.
Any fat will rise to the top and harden. It can easily be scooped off and discarded.


The stock will have a slightly jelled consistency. Ladle about two cups into quart sized freezer bags.  Place bags flat on a cookie sheet and place in freezer.
When frozen, they can be stored upright in baskets like a little file cabinet in your freezer.  To use you could of course remove from the freezer and allow to thaw in the refrigerator. However, I am not always one to plan too far in advance so I often grab a frozen bag to use immediately. Since it was frozen flat and thin, it is not difficult to rap the bag on the side of the sink to break and remove a chunk to a pan on the stove where it thaws fairly rapidly over the heat.

A Final Hint
Should you wish to reuse your freezer bags I have found that the best way to do this is to store them in the freezer. Washing out a bag and getting it dry and germ-free is a tricky proposition. However, if you remove the contents while still frozen and pop the bag back in the freezer immediately, then it is a simple thing to rinse and reuse, particularly if you are putting something directly back in the freezer. I am not sure if the Food Police would approve of this, but I am quite sure that the Recycle Queen would't complain although there may be some raised eyebrows when a stash of empty bags is discovered in your freezer. 

How to use your Turkey Stock
  • Replace part of the water with turkey stock when cooking rice or grain.
  • Add to canned spaghetti sauce for less "tomatoey" taste.
  • Soups, of course, even chili or cream soups
  • Replace part of the milk with turkey stock in a cream sauce
Turkey Bones, neck and gizzard if desired
1-2  onions
3-4 carrots
3-4 celery stalks
3-5 parsley stalks, optional
3 sprigs thyme or 1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
7-9 peppercorns, could use ground pepper
bay leaf, if desired
Water to cover (I used about 1 1/2 gallons)

Leave bones, neck and gizzard in roaster. Wash and coarsely chop onions, carrots and celery. Add parsley, thyme and peppercorns as well as a bay leaf, if desired.  Cover with water. Place in a 325 degree oven for 3 to 4 hours. Cool slightly and then strain into containers. Discard bones and vegetables. Refrigerate stock overnight. Remove fat which has hardened on the top. Stock can be used or frozen for later use. Makes at least a gallon of stock.