Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Thanksgiving Tradition

With Thanksgiving just a day away, like most of us, I'm taking time today to make dishes for our Thanksgiving dinner. Among the items on the menu are these rolls we affectionately call Vera's Butterhorns. They have been a favorite in our family for over 30 years.

If you have a copy of the second cookbook in the Among Friends series, Heart and Soul, you will find this recipe on page 24. The version is an updated one of the original first given to me by Vera herself when I was 10.

Vera was our landlady and neighbor when my family first moved to Missouri in 1975. She was one of those gems among people -- sweet, kind, hardworking and generous, an amazing cook and homemaker. I can still hear her soft voice as if she were standing next to me.

During the two years we lived next to her, Vera and her husband Orvis took our little family under their wing. Knowing we were far away from our home in Iowa, she always made us feel welcome and loved. Without fail, the Streeters would invite us to their family gatherings when we couldn't be with our extended family. On nearly every occasion, Vera would get up early and make these amazing rolls.

One Saturday morning, she invited me to get up early (6AM -- early for me) and help her. I'll never forget her kneading and kneading, then turning the dough over to show me how velvety it should look when it's ready to rise. She even took time to write off the recipe on a little scratch pad, which I have saved in my recipe file.

Though I usually use my stand mixer and dough hook when making these, last night I decided to mix them like Vera did... by hand. I even followed her original recipe. From the feel of the dough when I rolled them out, I think this will be the best batch yet. As moms and grandmas have known for centuries, there is something about kneading bread by hand that makes it come alive.

This year, I tried a new twist: I made and froze them ahead of time. I plan to thaw and bake them on Thanksgiving morning like the recipe from Although the butterhorns at are delicious made this way, I have never tried this method with our butterhorns. I'm guessing they will respond the same. We'll see how it goes.

This Thanksgiving, as you gather with your loved ones, consider asking a family member who might make a dish you enjoy, to write the recipe down in their own handwriting. It will be a gift you will treasure for many years. It may also help you remember details about the time you spent with them, as those memories can quickly fade. Good food made by loving hands has a way of helping us remember the important people in our lives, doesn't it?

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you are able to enjoy the day with those who mean most to you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Power of Momentum

The word momentum is a powerful little word. I never fully realized how powerful until recently. I knew it was something you needed when, say, running up a hill or trying to get to the top of a mountain pass or encouraging a group of people to unite for a cause.

It wasn't until I started to apply it in less literal ways that I realized its power. If you're familiar with Dave Ramsey's teaching, momentum is one of the hallmarks of his plan for paying off debt. He teaches Financial Peace University students to group their debts, smallest to the largest, and then pay off the smallest one first. It might seem counterintuitive. It's easy to assume that the best way is to tackle the largest debt first. But it soon becomes clear that the power of momentum is well worth taking smaller steps, completing those tasks, and spending a little more in interest payments.

It's true for many little things in life -- cleaning house, working in the garden, or tackling any goal. Sometimes completing just one little thing, then one more little thing, will give you the momentum to finish the entire task in record time.

It finally occurred to me how true it is for art. I have known for 20 years that I worked better with a pile of complete paintings at my side, but never understood why. It obviously bolstered confidence and calmed those nagging doubts. But I think it's more than that -- the act of completing something changes the way we think.

The inverse is also true. The first painting in a group -- whether it be a collection of greeting cards or the first of 12 paintings in a calendar -- is always the most challenging. One has the advantage of the excitement of beginning a new project, but it also feels like being a trapeze without a net or taking that first step up a long hill. I think, as artists, we have to recognize the little things that encourage momentum and to make sure we use them to our advantage.

I would be curious to know how other artists tackle extended projects. What gives you the momentum you need to complete a project?

copyright 2011 Shelly Reeves Smith