Winter's back this morning --- or at least colder temperatures and a biting wind, rolling in between Sunday morning --- when a winter coat tossed into the back of the car just in case was sufficient --- and evening, when it seemed like a good idea to wear it. No snow, although there seems to have been more of that to the north.
Lessons & Carols at St. Andrew's went well --- a nice crowd, lovely music and far too much to eat after. Although the free-will offering basket at the start of the lunch line wasn't the principal purpose, we raised a good chunk of cash, too, for the Ministry Center's food bank and that was good.
I made "Hail Mary" bars (some call them "Hello Dolly" bars, but that just doesn't seem sufficient). It's a simple, quick recipe ideal for a lazy person and contains enough sugar to stun a mule. I'm told the recipe in its original form came off cans of Eagle brand condensed milk back in the 1960s, but don't know that for sure. Here's how it goes:
1. Melt a stick of butter in a 9x13 baking dish in a 350 degree oven.
2. Sprinkle a cup and a half of graham cracker crumbs into the butter and spread evenly.
3. Drizzle the contents of a 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk evenly over the graham cracker base.
4. Add in an even layer a cup and a half of chocolate chips.
5. Add in an even layer a cup and a half of chopped pecans.
6. Top with a cup to a cup and a half of flaked coconut spread evenly.
7. Press everthing into place firmly and bake at 350 degrees for about half an hour or until the coconut begins to brown. Cool, cut and serve.
Some also add a layer of butterscotch chips, but that seems like overkill --- so I don't. There's also debate about when to add the condensed milk. Some drizzle it over the top after all the other ingredients are in place --- that softens the coconut, which comes out a little crispy if it's the final layer.
Don't try this if you live alone and are not headed immediately for a potluck. And don't try it if you struggle in any way with sugar.
Between church and Lessons & Carols, I made a quick trip down to the South Chariton for brunch with my friend Mary Ellen --- and others. That's M.E.M. at the top standing behind the table, set for six --- a small gathering in relation to the countless she's hosted. But this was a pre-surgery brunch (Mary Ellen's answer to adversity is to throw a party) --- hip replacement --- and she was navigating on one good leg and a cane, something guaranteed to slow down even the most indefatigable just a little.
Ordinarily, her fall bash coincides with her birthday, but that was celebrated this year on board a ship navigating the Panama Canal midway along during a two-week cruise from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale.
Mary Ellen and I go back a long way --- to the Globe-Gazette newsroom and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of North Central Iowa.
So we feasted on wild rice sausages, sweet potato and apple compote, fresh bread and salad topped by Hy-vee's finest goat cheese. Plus varieties of dessert bars and shortbreads that she's been experimenting with. A little champagne, too.
It's was great to catch up with the assembled, but I had to leave too soon in order to get back to Chariton to help with final preparations for Lessons & Carols.
Mary Ellen's surgery will be this week at Wayne County Hospital in Corydon, which has developed an excellent reputation for handling this sort of procedure close to home, which is the case (and another selling point for southern Iowa) at most of our smaller regional health centers --- including Lucas County's.
In her case, it's a genetic predisposition toward joint disease that has made the surgery necessary (the other hip was replaced some years ago) --- plus the fact M.E.M. has never met a mountain she thought twice about moving before setting out to do it, adding physical stress.
Someone asked why she decided to have this done over Christmas. It's her slow season.