Thursday, December 29, 2016


   Before the clock ticks down to the dropping of the ball, sounding of the siren, or ringing of church bells to herald 2017 many will take their trusty pen and jot down a goal or resolutions to follow in the new year. It may be a mental exercise without an specifics to bind our actions. We know the most common: lose weight, be a better person, read a particular book, or just plain get in better shape.
   Getting in shape and losing weight are near the top of everyone's list though I know a few who would appear healthier if they gained a few pounds. I suspect some new faces at the gym are those that got a membership for Christmas. Take it from an expert, both fitness and weight loss are hard work that must be maintained on a consistent basis. Sadly, one sees some of the new faces disappear after a few weeks as they lose interest and give up on themselves.
   A better personal goal is to give yourself one free hour a day, even if you must get up an hour earlier than anyone else in your household. Create a place or "bolt hole" that you can retreat to where you can shut out the world.
   Reading a book -- the Bible is a good choice and there are several guides that tell you how many chapters to read to finish in 365 days. For the second year, in a row, Kentucky is having round-the-clock oral readings of the Bible in all 120 counties. They begin at midnight on New Year's Eve and continue for three days. If you can stay awake for the readings the entire time you can accomplish the reading of that book in one lump. Take several thermos of coffee.
   To be a better person is the most difficult task one can ever accomplish and there is always the question of: according to whose standards of behavior.
   I remember a boyfriend giving me the devil for getting out of my car and going into a service station alone. Wonder what he'd say today as there are no service people to fill your tank, clean your windows, and check your oil. Full service at the filling station now means "do it yourself." Needless to say that relationship soon cooled much to the relief of my parents.
   Being a cautious soul I make a few throw away resolutions like won't eat chocolate, have long conversations of the phone, or watch the birds at the feeder when I should be working. These I know going-in I will break, then I won't feel so guilty when I break or hedge on the big ones. It's sort of like the old custom of making a wish on New Year's Eve, writing it down on a sheet of paper, and throwing it in the fire at midnight. It's your secret and the thing about secrets is if three people know it then it's best kept if two of them are dead.
   Yes, we're making plans for the new year and intend to do our best to keep them. What will happen in 2017? Who knows - let's wait and see.

Nash Black, author of Legacy of Death.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Home for Christmas

 During the holiday season no matter what responsibilities you now have or where you are your thoughts turn to home. Not the one where you live now, but the one where you grew up to become the person your are today. 
   I know very few people who actually lived "early TV perfect lives" and memories tend to become colored with the passing years, both good and bad.
   The fact remains it was our home and holidays tend to make us want to return to our childhood with all the longing for glittering trees and wrapped packages. I don't think it mattered who the gift was for, it was the mystery of not knowing what was inside that was important.
   More than sixty years have passed since I left the home where I grew up in a four story pre-Victorian brick and even more since a fellow high school friend's grandmother was born it the same dwelling. It was built somewhere between 1860 and 1865 during the Civil War.

   Did it have ghosts of lives past? We thought so when my father put black walnuts out on the attic floor to cure and squirrels got in to replenish their winter food supply. We woke up to eerie thumps and bumps above our heads as the little creatures scurried with their bounty-rolling the nuts across the floor.
   That house has stood on its 22 inch thick limestone foundations through eight wars, numerous police actions, earth quakes, tornadoes, ice storms, and a collision with a runaway lumber truck. It is those foundations that I think of during the holiday season and the lessons I learned from people long gone. They were strong and enduring with beliefs that span centuries.
   Be thankful that we live in a country whose founders provided for beliefs and celebrate the season in your home as your forefathers did. In essence it is a privilege granted to few members of humanity that populates this planet Earth.
   Home for Christmas is a distant memory that floats through our minds. Would we return if we could? I don't think so, old memories are just those; of times past that will never come again. Today we live in a house that has become our home. We've lived here more than twice as long as we did in the house where we grew up, but still it is permissible to remember our other home for a few moments during our busy day.

   Have a wonderful Holiday Season this year and ever year.
Nash Black


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Coeur a la Creme

Several weeks ago I mentioned a classic French dessert I serve at Christmas that I make light to keep the calories down after a heavy meal. I gave it the wrong name, Creme Brulee.
   Coeur a la Creme is the correct name. It can be made in advance and improves with age. A number of readers have asked for the recipe, so here it is with my changes to light and fat-free ingredients.
   Coeur a la Creme is most frequently formed in heart shaped molds with drain holes in the bottom. I found a five-pointed shaped wicker basket at the Dollar Store. I scrubbed it and boiled it for ten minutes to remove any manufacturing residue so it would be safe to use in food preparation.
   Neufchatel cream cheese is used instead of the whipped or fat-free cream cheese because it gives a creamier texture to the finished product. It has 1/3 less fat than regular, but new research indicates we need a few fats in our diet. I think of them as lubrication for aging joints.
  It's like when cholesterol was first indicated as a problem in heart disease all foods containing it were considered it bad. More in-depth research has shown there is both good and bad, the same is proving true for fats, but the jury is still out on amounts, types, & kinds.

Coeur a la Creme
    Makes 6 small molds, 1 large or is easily cut in half for a small family

   2 8 oz. packages of Neufchatel cheese
   10 fluid ounces of fat-free half & half
   2 egg whites

   Set out ingredients and allow them to rise to room temperature. Line molds with cheesecloth and put aside until needed.
   Gently push cream cheese through a sieve or use a food processor. Add half & half, beat into cheese until it is thoroughly blended and the mixture is smooth.

  In a medium-sized bowl (copper or glass, never plastic) beat eggs whites until they form stiff peaks. With a metal spoon, gently fold stiff egg whites into the cheese mixture.
   Spoon the cheese mixture into the cheese cloth prepared molds. Place the mold or molds on a indented plate - soup bowls or berry bowls work well to allow the excess moisture to drain. Place in the refrigerator for 12 hours or overnight.
  To serve: Invert the mold onto a plate or platter. Gently remove the cheesecloth and decorate. Nash used Maraschino cherries with crushed strawberries for the sauce, but you can use any crushed fruit, nuts, ice cream toppings, or melted jams & jellies. They can be held in the refrigerator until time to put on the table and the decorating will keep children busy while finishing in the kitchen.
   PS: I deliberately left out 1/8th teaspoon of salt as there is enough salt in the ingredients. It isn't needed.
   Have a wonderful holiday with your friends and family from out home to yours.

   Nash Black, author of Legacy of Death

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

By the Side of the Road

Our mail box sits by the side of the road and meets almost all of the US Postal Services regulations as to distance from the pavement and accessibility. Since we live outside the metropolitan area our newspaper does not arrive until the next day so in terms of frog-hair-splitting we are reading history instead of the news, but we enjoy it just the same.
   During the holidays the mailbox takes on added significance when cards begin to arrive from far-flung family and friends. Many people don't write letters when an e-mail or post on Facebook will suffice, but they will include a note or printed sheet to catch you up on all their happenings during the past year with a holiday greeting.
   I'm not sure the current school age generation learns the fine art of letter writing in their world of texting. I can hear the groans across the miles when the young are confronted the chore of dropping a thank you note in the mail to a cranky old great-aunt who expects a response for a gift.
   It begins before Halloween when the mailbox is stuffed with a deluge of mail order catalogs. Many are from companies you've never heard of because once you did order something, even if it was 20 years ago. Your name and address go in computer files which are sold to other companies which are then sold ad infinitum. Catalogs are bread & butter to the postal service because someone out there is paying the postage to have them delivered to your box.
   Though I fuss & fume about the high cost of postage & handling every once-in-a-while I succumb to the lure of a catalog item. This time it was a much needed photographic accessory - a pair of mittens constructed with a flip cover that exposes partially covered fingers allowing me to operate the controls on my camera. I vow it is my last junk item order as the expenses of purchase were twice the cost of the gloves. I rationalized my purchase as being the only source I could find that offered the item I needed.
   Rural mail delivery is a time honored tradition. Going to the mailbox is a social occasion to meet your neighbors who are there for the same reason to discover what the mail person left for you. Driving through the country down rough back roads it is still possible to find rotting in the weeds the remains of a horse trough. Residents provided a source of water for the mailman's horse to take a drink before he plodded along the road to the next box.
   If someone was elderly and lived alone had not collected their mail for several day the postman was sure to go up to the house to check on them and notify their neighbors if they needed help. When my sister died the post office personnel already knew to stop her mail before I arrived to issue the request. The mail delivery person had passed on the road while the medical officials were still in the house.
  During the holidays people left small gifts or coins in their boxes as a token of their appreciation for the service. This was still true in the small town where I grew up. My mother always had a box of cookies and fudge for the mailman. Today I wonder what he did with all those offerings as everyone on the street was doing the same thing. He repaid her kindness one day when her puppy wandered away and got lost. He found the dog on another street, stuffed it in his mail bag, and brought him home.
   Going to the mailbox is a fascinating way in small towns and rural areas to learn the meaning of the holidays from family and friends when they remember you with cards & letters. So hang a wreath or tie a bow around your mailbox to salute the carrier who brings you gifts each day.
   The illustration is by Barbara Appleby, it looks as if she drove by and took a photograph of our box.

   Nash Black, author of Legacy of Death.  

Thursday, December 1, 2016


One of the delightful holiday traditions that is enjoyed by people around the world is caroling, which has an obscure history with frequent "it may have been" in the articles I've read. The one thing I do know is people enjoying singing and listening to music and that has a history which reaches back to the earliest days of human interaction.
   The word carol means a dance or a song and was associated with the breaking of the winter solstice when days become longer and darkness fades. Another word associated with the carols is noel. Noel is French and means Christmas song or hymn.
   The best I could discover is that singing stories of the Christian tradition may have begun in the 4th century, but the words or chants were in Latin, which was the language of the church. It wasn't until the 13th century when joyful music as opposed to the secular or more somber music because the spirit of the day, at least on the streets and in the homes of people where some of the songs we know today originated.
   The early street singers were called "waits" and strolled the streets on Christmas Eve. They were celebrating the shepherds who on "wait night or watch night" were the first to learn of the birth as they watched their sheep. In non-religious terms the singers may have been waiting to be invited in for a warm drink and little gifts from the householder in appreciation of their efforts.
   Strolling singers may have originated from an earlier custom of "wassailing." A troop of singers would travel from town to town singing songs in the regional languages which everyone could understand. They sang for their food, shelter, and a few coins before they moved on to the next village.
   Caroling from house to house during the holidays didn't become universally popular until the 19th century when the songs were collected and published so they could be enjoyed by everyone. New songs were written, some like the lovely "What Child is This?" was written in 1865 to be sung to the old folk tavern melody of "Greensleeves."
   My efforts at caroling was not singing, but with a small band of my classmates. We had a trumpet, two saxophones, a clarinet, and a drum. We visited homes (outside) and a residence for the elderly that treated us to hot chocolate and cookies. One night at the nursing home, unknown to us, there was a dog in the basement. When we started playing the dog began to howl. It continued through the entire concert, which we managed to complete despite time-outs for giggles.
   People ask us where we get the ideas for writing and sometimes I'm at a loss to give them a decent answer, but this article started from seeing a group of dolls in several sizes on the shelves of an antique shop. They were carolers with their mouths shaped in song, each dressed in 19th century clothing. I wrote the owner and asked him if he could take some pictures of some and send then to me because I wanted to do an article on caroling for the holidays. We thank him for sharing his collection and allowing us to use one of his photographs for this post about the traditions of the holidays.
   If you enjoyed the Byer's Choice dolls and would like to include some of them in your holiday decorations they are located at Jerry Sampson's Antiques and Books at 107 S. Main St., Harrodsburg, KY 40330. His phone number is 1-859-734-7829.