Thursday, April 30, 2015

North and South

One hundred and fifty years ago this month, the American Civil War came to a close. As such, I thought it fitting to focus this post on my "North and South" quilt and to share some of my own reflections on this period in history. 
As my family will tell you, I am a bit of a history geek. I have always been particularly fascinated with 19th century American history, especially with regards to the Westward Expansion and the American Civil War. These interests also carry over into my quilting preferences. Although I enjoy multiple types of quilts and quilting techniques, the prairie style quilts and Civil War era quilts are the ones I love the most. I'm also fascinated by the stories behind these quilts and the women who made them.
As I already mentioned, this posting features the "North and South" quilt that I began a little more than four years ago and finished about three years ago. I found the pattern in one of our local quilt shops and immediately decided that this was one I definitely wanted to make. Although not all of the fabrics in the quilt are Civil War reproduction fabrics, I tried to be as true to the era as possible with my fabric choices and the shades of blue and gray represented in the quilt.
The designer named the seven identical blocks running through the middle of the quilt the "Mason Dixon" line with the blocks above it representing the North or northern battle sites and the blocks below the "Mason Dixon" line representing the South or southern battle sites. Here are a few up close pictures of my favorites.
This block was designated as "Philadelphia Pavement." Although no Civil War battles were fought in Philadelphia, this city was the site of the first abolitionist society in the United States.
This next block is titled "Harpers Ferry." John Brown's failed raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry was one of the key antecedent events to the Civil War.
The "Washington Sidewalk" block represents the capital city of the United States. Ironically, perhaps, the Confederate capital of Richmond, VA, was only 110 miles to the south.
The "Kansas Star" block represents the state of Kansas, also known as "bleeding Kansas" during the years leading up to the war because of the series of conflicts between pro- and anti-slavery groups in relation to its admittance to the Union.
The "Road to Missouri" block represents this border state that remained part of the Union although it permitted slavery. Over 1,000 military battles or skirmishes took place in Missouri during the Civil War.
Although the "Gettysburg" block appears below the Mason Dixon line in this quilt, this battle that marked the turning point of the war occurred in Pennsylvania.
At the same time that Lee's army was turned back from Gettysburg, the city of Vicksburg a strategic port city on the Mississippi River surrendered to U.S. Grant. The "Mississippi" block represents this state.
Over the past four years, I have faithfully followed the Civil War Today app for the iPad sponsored by the History Channel. This app gave day-by-day accounts of key events for each day of the Civil War. My favorite section of the app was the diaries, featuring first hand accounts from individuals whose lives were affected by the Civil War. These were individuals such as:

  • Horatio Nelson Taft, an examiner in the US patent office, whose boys often visited the White House to play with Tad and Willie Lincoln during the early years of the war.
  • Judith White McGuire, a loyal Confederate, who was forced from her home in Alexandria, Virginia, during the early months of the war. Her diary speaks of the challenges of finding affordable lodging, obtaining employment, and caring for wounded soldiers. In one of her entries, she speaks of reading accounts of the battles between the Israelites and Philistines from the Bible to a soldier and encouraging him to pray in faith and that God would hear them. The soldier answers, "… but the Philistines didn't pray and the Yankees do; and though I can't bear the Yankees, I believe some of them are Christians and pray as hard as we do."
  • Alexander Downing, a farm boy from Iowa who joins the Union army in the summer of 1861 shortly after his 19th birthday. A few months later, he would be involved in the battle of Shiloh, including taking part in burying the dead. Later, he would take part in the Union siege at Vicksburg, march across Georgia with Sherman's forces, and continue the march northward through the Carolinas until the war came to an end.
  • Bartlett Yancey Malone, from the 6th North Carolina. Although his literacy was limited, he maintained a personal diary even while in a Union prison camp. His entries relate what he had to eat, including opossum. He also relates scripture passages from the chaplains such as, "And the 28 day was clear and warm and Preacher Miller of Company C. preached for ous in the evening and his text was in 126 Psalms and third virse the Text was this The Lord hath done great things for us: Whereof we are glad."
  • Spencer Kellogg Brown, a 21-year-old spy for the Union who would be arrested and executed by the Confederacy. Even while in prison, he remains steadfast in his faith and writes, "I cannot refrain from writing, this morning, how good my Savior has been to me. … come life, come death, I can trust in His love."
In reflecting over this period of history and the perspectives of these diarists, I am reminded of a recent sermon addressing the differences between peace keepers and peace makers. Peace making is an active process whereby the individual seeks to bring about restoration and reconciliation. Perhaps that is why it is the peace makers who are deemed "blessed." I will close this blog post with this simple verse from the Psalms that is as relevant for us today as the day it was written.
Seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:14 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

"Go to" desserts - Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars

If you're like me, you enjoy having a few (or possibly more) "go to" recipes that are both crowd pleasers and can be put together rather easily. If you have a recipe that will work for a larger crowd, that's even better. 
Over the past few years, this recipe has become one of my stand by or "go to" desserts for a number of different potluck events. This is, in part, because these peanut butter oatmeal bars are really quite easy to prepare. They also tend to be very well received, meaning that I won't end up with a lot of leftovers.
Peanuts and products containing peanuts can get a bit of a bad rap because of food allergies, however, peanuts actually are very nutritious. Here's a little background on the history of peanuts and peanut butter.
Although peanuts are often eaten as nuts, they actually are a legume, similar to beans and peas. As you can see from the picture to the right, the pods containing the peanuts actually grow underground. Peanuts are believed to have been first cultivated in Bolivia, and the origins of peanut butter can be traced back to the Aztecs. 
The patent for peanut butter in the United States was issued in 1884 to a Canadian named Marcellus Gilmore Edson. Edson's patent described his process for milling peanuts into a paste and adding sugar. His idea was to create a staple food for people who were unable to chew solid food. His product initially sold for six cents per pound.
Here's how to make peanut butter oatmeal bars. This recipe will fit a sheet cake pan.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars
Ingredients and instructions:

Cream together the following: 
1 cup butter or margarine

1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar

Mix in:
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2/3 cup peanut butter (you can use either smooth or chunky - most of the time the type I use is dictated by what is available in the pantry)
1 tsp vanilla

Stir in: 
2 C flour
2 C oats
1 tsp salt
1 tsp soda

Spread on greased baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees. When adequately baked, the "bar cookie" will be pulling away from the sides of the pan, and the top will spring back when lightly touched.
Remove the pan from the oven, and sprinkle a 12 ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips over the top. 
Once the chocolate chips have softened, spread them over the top of the bar cookie. Allow to cool completely.
Prepare peanut butter frosting by combining: 
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter (again, you really can use either smooth or chunky)
6-8 tbsp milk
Spread the frosting over the chocolate, and cut into bars.

On occasion, I have been known to have a peanut butter oatmeal bar for breakfast. After all, oats are very healthy for you and peanut butter is a great source of protein. That makes them pretty much the same thing as a granola bar, right?