Recipe: Christmas Treats, Diabetes and Aunt Ida’s Swedish Rye-Crisp Crackers

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I have written several blogs reminding bakers and cooks to be aware of food allergies. However, it is just as important for all hosts and hostesses to remember people who have religious food restrictions, or other health concerns…such as diabetes.

Co-worker, friend, or family member, I’ll bet most of us know someone who has been affected by diabetes.  Just recently my Cousin Sylvia, who is in her late seventies, told me about the day her mother, my Great Aunt Ida, discovered that a second child in their family had this dreaded disease.

Sylvia remembers the exact day and moment when her second sister was diagnosed.  Aunt Ida was working in the kitchen and asked Sylvia where her younger sister was?  Sylvia told her that her little sister was sleeping.  Aunt Ida instantly became upset and told Sylvia to go and wake her immediately…no matter what! Then, bring her down to the kitchen.  Sylvia did as she was asked.

The first thing Aunt Ida did, was to get a urine sample from her small daughter.  Then, using the home testing kit she had for her older diabetic child, she tested the urine sample.  Sylvia remembers her mother boiling something in a test tube, adding something to it, the solution turning blue and then Aunt Ida just stood there crying.

For over 2000 years humans have been recorded as suffering from diabetes. This disease was first mentioned in an 1500 B.C. Egyptian manuscript.  The ancient writer described it as “Too great emptying of the urine.”  About that same time physicians in India also made note of this disorder. They called it Madhumeha or “honey urine” after noticing that ants were attracted to the urine of the patients. About 500 B.C. it was observed that this condition occurred most often in the obese.  In 250 B.C. Apollonius of Memphis, a Greek physician, named the wasting disease diabetes, or siphon, to describe its effects on the human body as it “Melt down the flesh and limbs into urine.”

In ancient times diabetes was diagnosed by establishing that there was sugar in the urine.   Before 1100 A.D. “water tasters” would drink the urine of people who were suspected of having the disorder to determine if it tasted sweet or not.   I am pretty sure that “water tasters” were probably not members of the nobility. It was at this time that the Latin word for honey, Mellitus, was added to describe diabetes.

Physicians early on could diagnose the disease, however, without any real treatment options they could only watch their patients waste away and die. Doctors did try a variety treatments, such as: roses, dates, raw quinces, viper flesh, almonds, nettle blooms, broken red coral, and, of course, the ever popular and anemia producing…bleeding.

In spite of the doctors best efforts, prior to the discovery of insulin just a century ago, a diabetes diagnoses meant death. Children would die within days of the disease onset.  The average lifespan for an adult with diabetes was one to two years.

As doctors learned more about diabetes treatment options were developed. The first was exercise. It was believed that exercise, especially horseback riding, would help stop the excessive urination.  Then, during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), a French physician named Apollinaire Bouchardat noticed that his diabetic patients improved during war-time food shortages.  He developed diet treatments.

Once patients food consumption began being monitored, it was observed that sugar in the urine increased when people ate starchy foods. Patients were directed to consume high fat and protein foods. By the late 1700’s dietary restrictions extended diabetes patient’s lives another year or two.  In 1916, diabetes expert Elliot Joslin wrote the textbook “The Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus.”  His guidelines for diet and exercise are still used and taught today.

The great breakthrough in the treatment of diabetes came in 1921 when Dr. Frederick Banting and his student assistant Dr. Charles Best extracted insulin from a dog pancreas.  They then injected the insulin into a dog whose pancreas had been removed.  The animal’s blood sugar levels decreased!  The diabetic dog was kept alive for 70 days.

Doctors quickly worked together to refine insulin.  An insulin for human use was developed and given to a young boy dying from the disease.  After the first insulin injection his blood sugar fell into the normal range within 24 hours.  One of the first children to be treated with the new wonder drug insulin was Elizabeth Hughes. She lived to the ripe old age of 74.

Within just two years of Dr. Banting’s discovery commercial production of insulin began. Patient treatment results were nothing short of miraculous and Dr. Banting and his supervisor Professor J.J.R Macleod were awarded the 1923 Nobel Prize.

Today diabetes costs our world an estimated $612 billion per year, about $245 billion in the United States annually.  Worldwide an estimated 415 million people, just over 8 percent of the entire adult population, suffers from this chronic, incurable, but treatable disease.  Chances are someone you know has diet restrictions due to diabetes.

Aunt Ida’s children were some of the first to be treated with insulin. Her older diabetic daughter, Idella, born in 1936 passed away at thirteen years of age.  Idella was buried wearing her mother’s confirmation gown.  I have seen the picture, she was a very beautiful dark-haired little girl. The younger diabetic daughter lived a long life well into her seventies.

Aunt Ida was a great baker and her sweets were always well received whenever they were served.  I have shared several of her recipes on this blog.  This recipe was very precious to her, because it was one of her, “diabetes” recipes. During our frequent visits, she would get out an old tin molasses can that would be filled with these delicious Swedish Rye-Crisp crackers. Then, we would commence engaging in the long lost art of…visiting.

Aunt Ida’s Swedish Rye-Crisp Crackers
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cracker Dough
2-1/2 cups flour (half rye, 1/2 white)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 stick butter
1 Tablespoon butter
pinch of salt
3/4 cup cold buttermilk

Topping
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a small bowl mix sugar and cinnamon together. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix butter and dry ingredients together with a fork until they form into pea-sized crumbs. Add buttermilk and mix until dough forms. Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill for an hour.

On a lightly floured counter-top roll dough out thin. Thin like Lefsa.  Be careful to use very little flour when rolling out. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and prick all over with a fork.  Lightly sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon mixture.  Roll over with rolling pin to press sugar into the dough.

Bake for about 8-10 minutes until the cracker just starts to brown.  Remove from oven and cool completely.  Break into serving size pieces and store in an airtight container.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What is On My Mind Today? Keeping Children Entertained

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Waiting for your plane?  Not enough toys at Grandma’s?  Forgot the bedtime books at home?  When it comes to keeping children entertained, look no further than Grandma Pat.

There are nine original tales in this comical series of stories for children about the ingenuity and adventures of a boy named Thor. If you are looking for online fasted -paced stories to keep children entertained check them out!

I hope you and your children enjoy Thor’s Stories. I wish you all safe travels and a wonderful holiday season.

Below are links to all of Thor’s adventures and a brief description of the story line.

Thor Saves Christmas.  Thor and the leprechauns come to the rescue when Santa’s elves all come down with Blue Snot Flu.

Morton the Squirrel and the Great Chicken Race.  Thor and Morton begin their battle for supremacy of the backyard when the rascally squirrel goes after the boy’s chickens.

Morton the Squirrel and the Mighty Explosion.  Grandpa Walter saves Thor from an overwhelming squirrel attack.

Thor and Grandpa Walter Find Blueberries and Bigfoot.  Thor and Grandpa Walter find more than just blueberries in the woods on Minnesota’s North Shore.

Thor and the Rooster Pirate King. This story tells about how leprechauns came to own the magic feather they keep in their hats.

The Midnight Dinosaur Rhubarb Rampage. Do your children know how to write in secret leprechaun code?  Thor will show you how in this tale of ingenuity and backyard mayhem.

The Dog with Magical Eyes.  Leprechauns sometimes can be just plain handy, especially when your dog is suffering from magical eyes.

Thor and the Troll Toll.  The King of the Leprechauns has no tolerance for bullies, especially troll ones.

Thor’s Halloween Story: Ghost Cat Trapping  Learning Grandmother’s rules for good behavior and how lure, trap and set free nasty old ghost cats. 

Thor Stories: Thor Saves Christmas

Thor had to think fast and his backyard friends had to work hard to help Santa save Christmas when all of the elves came down with the flu. Will Thor’s arch enemy Morton the Squirrel finally get off Santa’s naughty list?

The Swedish Farmer's Daughter

295a8z94ty52pnlixjmfx34h8.1000x666x1Thor Saves Christmas

Thor woke up and stretched. What a great day! It had just snowed, it was the day before Christmas and he’d been extra good this year. He’d protected his mom, dad, chicks and the backyard from trolls, Morton the squirrel, leprechauns, rogue roosters and dinosaurs and saved Grandpa Walter from a Bigfoot. He knew for certain that Santa was coming and he was going to get lots and lots of presents.

Today was the day that Thor and his mom were going meet his dad for lunch, then go to see Santa and tell him what he wanted for Christmas.

His dad was hungry as a bear and ready for lunch when Soren and his mom arrived. To get to their lunch destination, they had to walk through the mall. That was when Thor saw him, a very sad looking old fellow with white whiskers and a green and…

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Recipe: Baking With Grandma…Spritz Cookies A Holiday Favorite

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Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Grandma Esther’s Spritz Cookies. I have wonderful memories of baking many different types of cookies with my grandmother, but making spritz cookies for the holidays was special.

I remember going to grandma’s house to help her make these small almond flavored cookies. The process began by putting on aprons for wearing apparel protection.  Next long hair would be restrained by being tightly pulled back into a pony tail and held there with a rubber band extracted from the used plastic bag drawer.

Once the baking crew, of various levels of expertise, had been organized and was properly attired, the ingredients for the bake would appear out of cupboards. Flour and sugar in canisters, milk in an old quart Mason of Ball canning jar, sticks of, “Made in Minnesota” Land’O Lakes butter or as we called it “creamery butter” and eggs fresh from the hen house in a bowl resting on a clean flour-sack-cloth dish towel.

For a woman who only completed four years of formal education, Grandma Esther was a great teacher.  Many children quickly learned about mathematical fractions at that old kitchen table baking with grandma.  It wasn’t too long after you started baking with her that you knew that two 1/2 cups equaled a cup, a 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup equaled 3/4 cup,  and that four tablespoons equaled a quarter cup. Baking was and still is a great way to teach children math and fractions.

Baking with grandma was just plain fun. There was the sifting and leveling.  It was delightful to put snowy white flour into a sifter and create your own mini-blizzard inside of a big mixing bowl. There was real satisfaction to be gained by using the back of a table knife and employing a quick swipe to smoothly level off ingredients in a measuring cup.

Once everything had been measured and dry ingredients sifted, the real work began.  Grandma did not use an electric mixer, we creamed our sugars and butter with an old hand-held rotary beater.

beater

A rotary beater has a handle on top, two inter-mingled beaters on the bottom and a crank handle attached to a fly wheel that makes the beaters spin. To use a rotary beater the operator latches one hand onto the beater’s top handle as their other paw frenziedly wheels the beater’s turn crank around with all of the might they can muster. Many a little elbow painfully protested as it grew increasingly weary from turning the beater’s crank handle.

Often, grandma’s little helper, while standing on a chair, would become so focused on efficiently operating that old beater that they would lean into the task until their shaggy little head almost disappeared into her old brown pottery cookie-making bowl. As they determinedly tried to make the beaters spin faster and faster as visions of setting new Olympic and world speed records for rotary beating danced in their brain, grandma would calmly remind them to, “Keep the beater blades in the bottom of the bowl or we’ll have cookie dough sprayed all over us and the kitchen!”

Then, with a twinkle in her eye and a slow shake of her head, grandma would mutter something about this is why aprons and Windex window cleaner were invented before she began adding the eggs.

As the youngster kept those beaters whirling at the speed of light, one by one grandma would add the egg yolks.  With each addition of those bright orange egg yolks the dough would become a richer shade of gold.

After the eggs, sugar and butter where combined and the child exhausted, grandma would grasp a very old hand-carved wooden spoon and gently fold in the dry ingredients.

Quality control is always important and before any cookie dough ever went onto a cookie sheet, it had to be taste tested.  Cookie dough tasting in grandma’s kitchen was just that…a taste.  Just like licking out the bowl consisted of…a lick.  Whether it was a taste or a lick, the sample was always a lesser amount of dough than needed to make a cookie.  Waste not, want not.  That was her motto. A hard lesson she had learned surviving the 1930’s depression and two World Wars. A lesson shared.

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Spritz cookies are molded, so a cookie press must be used to get the desired holiday shapes of trees, wreaths and poinsettia flowers.   It takes considerable hand strength to push cookie dough out of an old manual cookie press. I still use her cookie press.

Grandma’s old arthritic hands with bent fingers could scoop just the right amount of dough out of the mixing bowl.  Into the press it would go, then the lid would be screwed on using the palm of her hand. It can be tricky to get spritz cookie dough out of the press and stuck onto a cool ungreased cookie sheet. With spritz cookie baking, experience matters. I believe that is why all of my grandma’s cookies were perfect.

Once the dough entered the cookie press, but before it landed on a cookie sheet, the exhausted young helper was revived with a drink of Kool-Aide. As grandma placed the dough neatly on the cookie sheet, it was the helper’s job to decorate them with a variety of colored sprinkles.

Grandma was very particular about sprinkles.  Not too much, nor too little.  Neatness counted!  The sprinkles were to land only on the cookies, not on the cook, child or cookie sheet.

cookies on cookie sheet
This type of sprinkling fiasco would have failed a grandma sprinkle inspection.  Aim this poor could result in a trip to the eye doctor for a vision check. 

After each cookie passed sprinkle inspection by grandma, it was time for them to go into her electric oven. At this point in the baking process she always complained that “her electric” never baked as good as her old wood stove.

As soon as the cookies came out of the oven, Grandpa would sample a few and declare the decorations the best ever! Then, we would package them up to freeze in reused plastic bags or containers to be given away to neighbors or elderly relatives as a much anticipated and loved holiday treat.

The day would end with a happy, cookie-filled, tired child that did not care in the least that her hair had formed an absolute rat’s nest around the rubber band in her pony tail and would have to be painfully removed before a much needed bath, because her day of cookie baking with grandma had been magnificent.

One of my most precious treasures is my grandma’s old brown cookie-making bowl.

Grandma Esther’s Spritz Cookies

In a large mixing bowl combine thoroughly:
1 cup soft shortening (mostly butter)
2/3 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon almond or vanilla flavoring
2 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour

Once the dough is soft and well combined, put it into a cookie press to create desired cookie shape. Press onto an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake at 375 degrees until set, but not brown. Makes about six dozen c

 

Christmas Riddles

These Christmas riddles are fun. Enjoy!

The Swedish Farmer's Daughter

Santa Claus

As a former preschool teacher, I have quite a collection of Christmas riddles and as we all know Christmas is the time of year when everyone gets a little Santamental.

I hope you enjoy sharing this holiday humor with your little folk and your not so little folk. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Riddles

Did you hear that one of Santa’s reindeer now works for Proctor and Gamble?
It’s true….Comet cleans sinks!

How do sheep in Mexico say Merry Christmas?
Fleece Navidad!

How would you fire Santa?
Give him the sack…

If athletes get athletes foot, what do astronauts get?
Mistletoe toe!

If Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus had a child, what would he be called?
A subordinate Claus.

If Santa rode a motorcycle, what kind would it be?
A Holly Davidson.

The 3 stages of man: He believes in Santa Claus. He doesn’t believe in Santa Claus.
He is Santa Claus.

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What is on my mind today? Ghostwriting for Governor Jesse Ventura

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What is on my mind today? The woman of many voices.

I spent many years working in government as a ghost writer.  Often, it is the task of a communications writer to be the written voice of others. Throughout my career, working in various state agencies and at the Minnesota State Capitol, I have found myself writing letters, press releases and speech talking points for elected officials.

As a constituent services writer for the House of Representatives, I wrote for all of the members that received constituent mail regarding my committee assignments. Then, of course, when I was a Senate staffer, I did the writing for my senator.

At times, I have been the voice to the citizens of Minnesota for several Constitutional officers; such as Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, Governor Tim Pawlenty, Govenor Mark Dayton and my favorite voice of all….Governor Jesse Ventura.

That’s right, I was once upon a time the voice for Jesse Ventura.  This opportunity for professional growth occurred when I was a staffer at the Department of Human Services. Our department received the letters sent to Governor Ventura from folks who had health and human services questions or comments. Usually more commentary than inquiry as I recall. Anyway, on occasion, I would be selected for the honor of drafting the “Governor’s Response.”

The one letter that comes to mind that always makes me grin, was when a prostitute wrote offering her services to the governor in exchange for a tax break. I do recall there being a picture.

Naturally, I had to give this one some thought. After considerable mirth control and a bit of reflection, I wrote something to the effect that he had decided to kindly decline her thoughtful offer and that everyone has to pay taxes.

The wheels of  government tend to move slowly.  It took quite a while for any letter, even one of such importance, to travel up through the chain of command that is government management. During a missive’s journey, the writer had no input on how many changes were made to the original draft by the higher ups. Rarely, did the person who drafted the response get to see the final result. However, one day, I received a copy of the Governor’s signed letter from the commissioner. It was exactly what I had written with the commissioner’s comment of “Good job, Pat!”

Beware and Be Warned: Food Allergy Alert!!!…Peanut and Nut Contamination in Cookie Sprinkles

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Food allergies can be and are sometimes fatal.  They are a life-threatening health problem for millions of people and must be taken seriously.

As a person with severe allergies myself including a peanut and nut allergy, I always read labels.  When I began my Christmas cookie baking this morning, to my surprise, many of the decorative cookie sprinkles, some brands I have used for years, now carry a nut warning.  Yes, a “tiny”  exposure to nut-contaminated sprinkles could be life-threatening to the severely allergic!  This includes multi-colored round beads and all of the sugar sprinkles made by Wilton and several off-brands.

 

As you bake and decorate goodies this holiday season remember the 1,2, 3’s of food allergy safety:

1.    For a food to be in fact “safe”, it cannot contain, been manufactured, prepared with or come in contact with other foods that contain the allergen. That, would include a person distributing  treats having their hands touching candy or cookies containing the allergen, then providing an allergen-free treat without first thoroughly washing their hands. This includes just touching the candy wrappers.

2.   A treat is not “safe” if it is packaged with “unsafe” treats.  Safe treats cannot be in the same package or combined in the same bowl with unsafe treats.  For example, if you purchased a bag of miniature candy bars and separated them into bowls of those with nuts and those without nuts, you have failed in your mission to provide a safe treat. They were potentially contaminated when packaged and are unsafe for the allergic person.

3.   Read labels!  Excellent label reading skills have prevented many a trip to an emergency room or worse.  When purchasing or baking a treat, if the label says , “Made in a factory with nuts,” even if the food item itself does not appear to contain nuts, it cannot be safely consumed by anyone with a nut allergy, and that includes peanuts. Never be offended if a guest, family member, friend, child or parent asks to see a label or recipe. They know what they are looking for and are only interested in enjoying their time with you and avoiding a health emergency.

4.   Know what is in the treats you are distributing and any foods you are serving. This rule applies to both home and professional cooks. Many baking ingredients, such as chocolate chips, are made in factories that also process nuts.  Even some frozen pizzas come with a warning that they may have been contaminated with nuts.  Also, check out what types of hygiene products you provide for your guests or customers. There are nut oils in many lotions, shampoos, hair sprays and soaps.

5.   Ask!  Waiters, waitresses, chefs, hosts and hostesses need to ask if their guests have any allergies to food. Pay attention and take it seriously. Remember that not only are they allergic to the food itself, but anything that food has touched…your hands, pots, pans, utensils and counter tops.  Dishes and silverware used for someone with food allergies should be washed separately from those that for example have peanut butter residue on them.

6.   Your best friend…is your Epi-pen!  Anyone that has a severe food or bee sting allergy needs to keep their Epi-pen with them at all times!  It does absolutely no good, to leave it at home.

7.   When in doubt….do not eat it!  There is not food product on this earth that is so delicious that it is worth risking your life for it.  If you do not KNOW that a food item is safe, DO NOT eat it.

Nobody wants to kill or be killed by Christmas cookie.  Well, maybe if they are of a murderous intent to begin with, or have no self-control and take overindulgence to an entirely new level, but definitely not from Anaphylaxis.  I hope that everyone has a happy, safe and food allergy reaction free holiday season!

For a more detailed blog on food allergy reaction prevention read:
Cooks Take Food Allergies Seriously!