Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy Birthday Lucy Maud and Mark!

November 30 is a very literary day; it's the birthday of two beloved writers - Mark Twain (b. Samuel Clemens in 1835) and Lucy Maud Montgomery (b. 1874). Montgomery is known for her children's books set on Prince Edward Island, including Anne of Green Gables and Chronicles of Avonlea. The popular television show Avonlea was based on her books and is a great series - well worth adding to your Netflix list. It was originally shown in the US on the Disney Channel, and the guest stars are an indication its quality (Christopher Reeve, Diana Rigg Faye Dunaway, Madeline Kahn, Meg Tilly, Stockard Channing, Treat Williams, Micheal York - just to name a few!).

And we all know Mark Twain's works, but here's a little Christmas snippet from him. It's a letter he wrote to his daughter Susy. Enjoy!

The Mark Twain House, Hartford, CT

Mark Twain's Letter from Santa Claus

Palace of St. Nicholas
In the Moon
Christmas Morning


I have received and read all the letters which you and your little sister have written me by the hand of your mother and your nurses; I have also read those which you little people have written me with your own hands--for although you did not use any characters that are in grown peoples' alphabet, you used the characters that all children in all lands on earth and in the twinkling stars use; and as all my subjects in the moon are children and use no character but that, you will easily understand that I can read your and your baby sister's jagged and fantastic marks without any trouble at all. But I had trouble with those letters which you dictated through your mother and the nurses, for I am a foreigner and cannot read English writing well. You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters--I went down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all myself--and kissed both of you, too, because you are good children, well trained, nice mannered, and about the most obedient little people I ever saw. But in the letter which you dictated there were some words which I could not make out for certain, and one or two small orders which I could not fill because we ran out of stock. Our last lot of kitchen furniture for dolls has just gone to a very poor little child in the North Star away up, in the cold country above the Big Dipper. Your mama can show you that star and you will say: "Little Snow Flake," (for that is the child's name) "I'm glad you got that furniture, for you need it more than I." That is, you must write that, with your own hand, and Snow Flake will write you an answer. If you only spoke it she wouldn't hear you. Make your letter light and thin, for the distance is great and the postage very heavy.

There was a word or two in your mama's letter which I couldn't be certain of. I took it to be "a trunk full of doll's clothes." Is that it? I will call at your kitchen door about nine o'clock this morning to inquire. But I must not see anybody and I must not speak to anybody but you. When the kitchen doorbell rings, George must be blindfolded and sent to open the door. Then he must go back to the dining room or the china closet and take the cook with him. You must tell George he must walk on tiptoe and not speak--otherwise he will die someday. Then you must go up to the nursery and stand on a chair or the nurse's bed and put your car to the speaking tube that leads down to the kitchen and when I whistle through it you must speak in the tube and say, "Welcome, Santa Claus!" Then I will ask whether it was a trunk you ordered or not. If you say it was, I shall ask you what color you want the trunk to be. Your mama will help you to name a nice color and then you must tell me every single thing in detail which you want the trunk to contain. Then when I say "Good-by and a merry Christmas to my little Susie Clemens," you must say "Good-by, good old Santa Claus, I thank you very much and please tell that little Snow Flake I will look at her star tonight and she must look down here--I will be right in the west bay window; and every fine night I will look at her star and say, 'I know somebody up there and like her, too.' " Then you must go down into the library and make George close all the doors that open into the main hall, and everybody must keep still for a little while. I will go to the moon and get those things and in a few minutes I will come down the chimney that belongs to the fireplace that is in the hall--if it is a trunk you want--because I couldn't get such a thing as a trunk down the nursery chimney, you know.

People may talk if they want, until they hear my footsteps in the hall. Then you tell them to keep quiet a little while till I go back up the chimney. Maybe you will not hear my footsteps at all--so you may go now and then and peep through the dining-room doors, and by and by you will see that thing which you want, right under the piano in the drawing room-for I shall put it there. If I should leave any snow in the hall, you must tell George to sweep it into the fireplace, for I haven't time to do such things. George must not use a broom, but a rag--else he will die someday. You must watch George and not let him run into danger. If my boot should leave a stain on the marble, George must not holystone it away. Leave it there always in memory of my visit; and whenever you look at it or show it to anybody you must let it remind you to be a good little girl. Whenever you are naughty and somebody points to that mark which your good old Santa Claus's boot made on the marble, what will you say, little sweetheart?

Good-by for a few minutes, till I come down to the world and ring the kitchen doorbell.

Your loving SANTA CLAUS
Whom people sometimes call "The Man in the Moon"

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Guess Which Old Favorite is On Tour Now?

Are you thinking of The Rolling Stones? Or Gloria Gaynor? (You know this is the 30th anniversary of her fabulous disco hit 'I Will Survive'?) Here's a hint: he was loved by millions of young people and he's on the small side and rather hairy. At the risk of going down an entirely wrong road in trying to work that out, I'll just tell you. It's the Poky Little Puppy!!

That's right, everyone's favorite Little Golden Book character is coming to a town near you! At least his picture is coming - as part of a traveling exhibit celebrating 65 years of Little Golden Book art. What makes Little Golden Books so popular?

When they were first published in the 1940s, they were amazingly affordable - just 25¢. (Compare this to other children's books that sold for $2 and up!) But, children didn't love them because they were inexpensive - they loved them for the marvelous illustrations that brought the characters to life.

The publishers of Little Golden Books had revolutionary ideas about publishing and marketing books for children that made these instant best-sellers (three printings within months of the release of the original 12 books). The real genius, however, was in printing the books in full color and hiring top-notch illustrators - including several Disney studio artists, a young Richard Scarry, Garth Williams (of 'Little House on the Prairie' fame), and many immigrant artists who brought an exotic flair to their drawings (think of the Three Bears as drawn by Feodor Rojankovsky). What was your favorite Little Golden Book or character? If it was the Poky Little Puppy you're not alone - it's the best-selling children's book ever. My favorite, Scuffy the Tugboat, comes in at number 8. But, he does have his own Facebook page!

The vintage books are very collectible and are easy to find in antique stores and on eBay. But, if you want to see 60 pieces of the original artwork - check out the exhibit. Currently it's at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. In 2010 it will be in two Illinois locations: Lake County Discovery Museum and the Chicago Public Library. Check the schedule for 2011 and beyond - and note that you can get the exhibit for your library or museum as well!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Bunting We Will Go, A Bunting We Will Go . . .

Heigh-ho, the Dairy-o, a Bunting We Will Go!

Okay, are you thinking of Elmer Fudd? The 'Huntin' We Will Go' song always me think of him. And while singing it a few minutes ago I realized two things: I don't know the rest of the lyrics, and, this tune is the same as 'The Farmer in the Dell'! Did you know that? But, all this aside let's talk bunting!!

For about a year, I've been in love with bunting! The British magazines always have pictures of charming rooms with the cutest bunting hanging casually overhead. So, I decided to embark on a bunting adventure of my own. Instead of using different fabrics, I chose a single fabric that has many designs - it was purchased for a roman shade project last year and I liked it so much I purchased extra yardage, just in case . . .

A few weeks ago I decided to make two strings of bunting - one for a friend who was having a milestone birthday and one for me (to use on the porch next summer).

There were three basic things to decide before beginning: 1) the flag size (or whatever you call the fabric points?), 2) how to finish the edges (by hemming the sides, or pinking the edges and leaving them unstitched, or pinking the edges and stitching the top side leaving the raw edges exposed, and, 3) how to attach the flags.

I decided on large flags - roughly 9" x 10" due to the large pattern of the fabric. The second decision I came to regret - hemming (and, therefore, turning and pressing!) the flags. As for stringing these together, rather than using the typical bias tape as a string, I used more of the fabric. As you can see in the photo above, I just ripped strips of fabric for the 'string' - for those of you who do proper sewing, you'll know I should have cut this on the bias, but this way was so much faster. Plus, the beauty of this type of sewing is that it doesn't have to be perfect. (A word to the wise - if you're a perfectionist, don't choose to hem and turn the flags - no matter how much you trim, getting perfect points is too tedious for words!!)

So, this is my bunting story - I was pleased with the end result and am thinking of doing another string of bunting with different fabrics (this time just pinking the edges and top stitching!). Think of the cute options for Christmas . . .

Happy Crafting!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Four Freedoms - Thanksgiving Blessings

We're all familiar with the paintings and illustrations of Norman Rockwell - and at Thanksgiving we often see some of his most famous works. Although he's sometimes considered too sentimental, I think there's something real about his characters that can still speak to us. What about the lucky newlyweds above? The label tells us this turkey is a gift from Aunt Mary and Uncle Bill. I hope they're coming for Thanksgiving dinner, because the turkey looks pretty big!
And what about the glutton above? Is he punishing himself or being judged by others? He's a rather thin glutton by modern standards, but many of us will share his chagrin after that second helping of pumpkin pie!

By far the most famous of Rockwell's Thanksgiving works is 'Freedom from Want' as seen above. What you may not remember, is that this is part of a four-painting series inspired by FDR's 'Four Freedoms' address to Congress in January 1941. In a nutshell, the four freedoms that FDR outlined and Rockwell so movingly captured are: 1) Freedom of Speech & Expression; 2) Freedom to Worship God in your own way; 3) Freedom from Want; and, 4) Freedom from Fear. And while we could debate the success of spreading these four freedoms to people "everywhere in the world", I think Americans largely enjoy these freedoms and that, (in addition to our personal blessings of family, health, etc.) Thanksgiving is our opportunity to collectively give thanks for these.

Wishing you a great holiday!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What's Your Cookbook Quit Rate? + the Tip of the Iceberg

Here's the tip of my iceberg - lettuce, that is! We had three heads of iceberg growing very close together, so this morning I trimmed two as seen below. The third now has room to expand and the two that were cut will get new growth if the weather doesn't get really cold. This is a great trick that I just learned in the spring - instead of pulling up a whole lettuce plant, cut the leaves and you'll get new growth! There's a bonus as well, the new leaves grow much faster due to the established roots. If you're only familiar with the white balls of iceberg from the grocery store, try growing your own - it's green and leafy and really flavorful!

And speaking of lettuce, are you familiar with Quit Rates? (No, the two things are not related, but it cracks me up when people use that technique in conversation - you know they've just been waiting for an opening to bring out a new topic.) But, back to Quit Rates - this is a term usually applied to employees - it measures how many are willing to leave their current jobs without having other jobs. While looking through a pile of cookbooks last week, I thought of a new application for the term. I'm applying it to my cookbook stash. How long will I keep a cookbook that I don't use - or perhaps even never used? Do I wait until I get a new cookbook to replace it (Quit Rate of 0)? Or do I toss it now since my cookbook shelves are overflowing? If it has one good recipe should I keep it? Logic says no - copy the recipe and get rid of the book.

It's harder than one would guess to purge cookbooks, however. I love cookbooks - not just for cooking, but for reading. Over the years I've gotten rid of quite a few cookbooks, including the worst - a self-published Nouvelle Cuisine guide that was a housewarming gift from my realtor (isn't that one of the worst gifts ever? it's right up there with giving your child's teacher a photo of the child in lieu of an actual present). As the holidays quickly approach, I'm going to take a hard line with my cookbooks!

In addition to the keepers in the photo above, here are two old favorites I couldn't do without:

Tastebuds was written by three ladies from my hometown - one gardener, one cartoonist, and one cook. What makes it great is that it's chronological - there's a section for each week of the year with appropriate gardening info and recipes. What a great idea! It's been out of print for years, but could be the inspiration for an updated version. Any of you have a group of friends who could collaborate? The second book, Square Meals, is by Jane and Michael Stern. If you're familiar with their work, you'll know why it's a keeper. It was a gift in the late 1980s (when all my cookbooks fit on one small shelf!) and I think I read it cover to cover in one sitting. The subtitle says it all: Taste thrills of only yesterday - from Mom's best pot roast and tuna noodle casserole to Ladies' Lunch and the perfect living room luau. There's an updated version that might make a great present for the cook on your list!

I'd love to know your Cookbook Quit Rate and which cookbooks you just have to keep! As for me, I'm off to wash my lettuce . . .

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Red Alert! Put the Kettle On! ~ Monty Python

Even if Monty Python's humor is not your cup of tea, you can appreciate this funny quote from a Pepperpot Ladies sketch. And, of course, if you're a tea lover like me, you like a nice cup of tea even when you're not under a Red Alert! This past week I've been trying a variety of teas from the Two Leaves and a Bud tea company and can highly recommend their sachets of organic teas.

There is a caveat; I'm not a professional tea taster, and I don't even play one on television! So, these are the thoughts of someone who loves tea (hot and cold) and drinks several cups each day (sometimes even several pots!). Even though I have attended a few tea tasting seminars, I will not attempt to use the lingo as it would probably just reveal how much I don't know! But, here's my opinion of the seven teas I've tried thus far:

Peppermint (Herbal, caffeine free) - Any fan of peppermint tea will love this! It's a light golden color with a heavenly minty fragrance and it leaves just a hint of a peppermint bite on your tongue. This is just the thing to pep you up when you're tired - very refreshing and energizing! Stock up now to get you through the holidays . . .

Darjeeling (Afternoon Tea) - I'm partial to Indian teas and always enjoy a nice Darjeeling. Did you know it's grown in high-altitude Himalayan foothills? If you're interested in different tea regions, check out the map at Two Leaves and a Bud - it's interactive and you'll be able to see where your favorite teas are grown. But, back to the Darjeeling - it was a beautiful golden color as seen below, with a nice, clear taste. I would be happy sipping this every afternoon!

African Sunset (Red Tea) - I wish I'd taken a photo to show you how beautiful this tea is. It's red (!) and tastes more organic than black or green teas - kind of woody or shrubby and a bit lemony. It's very nice and I think you could get hooked on it!

Mountain High Chai (Spiced Black Tea) - This was my least favorite of the seven. It has a great spicy fragrance, but the flavor was a bit diluted (I steeped it for 3 minutes as suggested, perhaps a minute or two more would have helped). I don't typically add milk to my tea and I suspect this was the problem and that Mountain High Chai would be great with milk (like the Chai you get in Indian restaurants). So, while I would not pick this as a favorite, you should try it for yourself (with milk, of course).

Pomi-berry (Herbal, caffeine free) - This is a nice Chamomile tea blended with pomegranate, apple, lavender, hibiscus, and lemon grass (and, no, I couldn't distinguish all those flavors on my own - I checked the TLAAB website). I really do not like Chamomile, but I liked this. It's sweet and fruity and the pomegranate balances out the Chamomile flavor.

Tamayokucha (Green Tea, light caffeine) - This tea is a beautiful light green/brown color with a subtle flavor. I liked the taste very much, but the fragrance was a bit grassy - keep in mind that I much prefer black tea to green . . . If you're a green tea fan, I think you will be quite pleased with Tamayokucha!

Assam (The Original Breakfast Tea) - Loved it! I start most mornings with either an Assam or Formosa Oolong and this Assam was perfect. It was a dark golden color with a nice robust flavor - just what I needed to wake up, but not at all bitter. If you like breakfast tea, you'll love this!

To steal a line from Dorothy Parker, who famously reviewed Katherine Hepburn's performance by saying she, "ran the whole gamut of emotions from A to B" - these Two Leaves and a Bud teas run the whole gamut from excellent to just . . . very good.

Check out the Two Leaves and a Bud website for lots of great teas, info, and tea gifts!

Disclosure: I received free tea samples as described above to review. Two Leaves and a Bud did not compensate me for reviewing their product beyond providing me with samples.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What's Pink and Green in the November Garden?

Our crazy Loropetalum! Several years ago we planted six loropetalum bushes - very small ones. The plan was to use them as fill-ins with a bit of early spring color as a bonus. Well, all six have been transplanted at least once as we looked for a good spot for them. Two of them are now in a bed on the east side of the house and they are huge! One is over 15 feet and is eye-level with our bathroom window (which is upstairs!). It blooms several times during the year and we will probably have to remove it next spring as it is just too big - we can't prune it often enough to keep it under control.

The remaining ones are planted in a different bed and are a normal size . . . we think there's something strange about the soil where the giant ones are planted because there's also a lantana there that's almost 6 feet high (it's about 6 years old). We never fertilize or amend the soil - it's a kind of 'Little Shop of Horrors' area . . .
But, if you're looking for a carefree bloomer, this is it. The picture above was taken this afternoon - November 21! It is full of blooms, and you can really see how it gets the nickname 'fringe flower' and why it's a favorite of gardeners in this area. It's hardy in Zones 7 to 10, so give it a try if you're looking for great color (perhaps in three seasons). Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Garden 2009: Lessons Learned

This gardening year is winding down and it's time to take stock and see what worked and what didn't and to present a few awards. I have to start with this picture, taken on a beautiful June morning. My battles with the local deer gang overshadowed every other aspect of gardening this year - you can see how brazen they are . . . walking through our yard in broad daylight, pausing to nibble the grass along the way.

Lesson #1 - So, the big lesson learned here is that you can't ever let your guard down. We've found deterrents that work, but only when you consistently use them. The biggest heartbreaks in this department were the night they devoured our whole garden and discovering that they love Knockout Roses, thorns and all. (And on a personal note, next year I will NOT yell and throw things at them - at least not while the neighbors are at home!)

Lesson #2 - Vines are wonderful. This one was particularly fun as the hummingbirds loved its tiny flowers - and it grew from the ground to the top of our upstairs porch, and then kept going by spreading over the ceiling. I've already harvested seeds from it!

Lesson #3 - You can never have too much compost!

Lesson #4 - Stop planting tulips. Accept that daffodils are the only bulbs that will survive the squirrels. You will never have tulips like these Biltmore beauties. Repeat. Stop planting bulbs!

And now for the 2009 Garden Awards!

Best Dressed - the hands-down winner is 'Miss Huff' - a lovely lantana that's full of color from late May until October. She requires no water, no fertilizer . . . and the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds love her!

Most Whimsical - this award goes to this adorable cucumber tendril!

Most Likely to Succeed - the clear winner is this caged hydrangea. It lived in this not-so-attractive cage throughout the spring and summer and is now thriving, unlike its un-caged counterparts who were chomped to the ground by you-know-who! Next year it may win Best Soundtrack with the hit "I Know Why the Caged Plant Blooms".

That's it for the garden. We're on to winter color now - lots of berries and birds and a few trees that are holding on to their leaves.

On a different note - here are the latest teas I'm tasting: Pomi-Berry (which is a caffeine-free chamomile blend), Mountain High Chai, White Peony, and a Tamayokucha, a green tea. Check back this weekend for full details on these teas from Two Leaves and a Bud!

Happy Friday!!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Things for People Who Don't Like Things

Airline Travel! Obviously for people who don't like either airplanes or travel. Think about the phrase air travel, it conjures up images of a peaceful, relaxing trip to an exotic locale. Perhaps a little glamorous: well-dressed people sipping complimentary drinks while a friendly flight attendant tosses a fresh Caesar salad in the generous aisle; well-behaved children quietly playing with non-electronic, silent toys that keep them so entertained they don't even think of kicking the seats in front of them. You get the idea . . . and you also know this hasn't been the reality for decades!

As the holidays approach, I'm happy that our families are within easy driving distance. Only the bravest and cheeriest people can arrive at their destinations in a festive mood after being wanded, patted down, charged $5 for a bottle of water to replace the unopened one discarded in the security line, held in a grungy waiting area at a gate with seats for less than half the passengers, stuffed into a plane with no food service and bacterial tap water, given a "pillow" that has been drooled on by passengers from the previous 25 flights, and shuffled off to baggage claim where your luggage is the very last to come around the carousel and it's ripped (which doesn't even upset you because you're just so happy it made it at all!). Even Marlene Dietrich couldn't look cool after that!

This might be giving you the wrong idea - I love to travel and I love to fly. I know the air industry is struggling and can't offer even the pre-9/11 level of service, but do things have to be as dreary as they are currently? I think not! And, to avoid breaking one of the cardinal rules of business communications, this will not be just one long complaint - I'm also offering some solutions! Well, perhaps solutions is a bit pretentious, one little non-travel blog can't affect the industry - so what's the plan? You know that saying, "you can't change the behavior of others, only the way you react to them"? Let's apply that here - what little things can we do to make our flights less gloomy?

When I was a 40-week a year traveler, my favorite trick was to arrive at the airport early (that, and to work for companies that flew business class!). This optimizes your chances for: upgrades; switching to the best seats on the plane if you can't upgrade (use Seat Guru to help beforehand); having your luggage arrive with you; and not losing items at security. Always have the airline's phone number handy so you can call them directly if your flight is delayed or cancelled - many times I've gotten myself on a new flight this way while standing in the re-ticketing line. Oh, and avoid any connections on American Airlines through Chicago/O'Hare!

What else can you do? Bring a little fun with you - start with fun luggage tags and a lock that's TSA approved (these were purchased at a local shop that's sadly out of business, but google 'fun luggage tags' to find similar ones).

And, if you're a worried about the cleanliness of the seats, try these Plane Sheets (isn't that a clever name?):

I haven't tried the Plane Sheets, but Tori Spelling is apparently a fan - so let that be your guide! I'd love to hear your tricks for surviving air travel - or perhaps you know other great items every traveller needs . . .
You're free to move about the blogosphere!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Word Up! Please don't unfriend me just because I'm intexticated!

No, this isn't a blogosphere tell-all about Facebook friends who turn on each other. Rather, it's a cheery tale about a word who struggled all year and was finally rewarded. The word? Unfriend. The reward? Being selected as the New Oxford American Dictionary's Word of the Year! If you're one of the 115 million monthly visitors to social networking sites, you already know the definition of unfriend. For the rest of us, it sounds rather ominous - like something that might be pasted onto a blank page and slipped through the letter box on a dark night:

Actually it's a verb meaning to remove someone as a social networking friend. There were other great words in the running for the Word of the Year. Here are some of my faves:
  • intexticated - distracted while driving due to texting
  • funemployed - turning your unemployment into something fun
  • tramp stamp - tattoo on a woman's lower back

I didn't make these up - these are real words that have been added to the dictionary. Who knew? Thinking back to school days - can you use these new vocabulary words in a sentence? There are some nice possibilities . . .

On the tea front, yesterday I mentioned that I am trying different varieties of tea from Two Leaves and a Bud. Today I'm going with a Red Tea (a la The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency) and a Peppermint Tea (because I'm feeling a bit tired). Over the weekend we'll chat about the teas I've tried thus far.

Hope you discover a few new words this week - maybe one that will become next year's WOTY!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Civilization in a Cup: A Tea Journey Begins

There is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

So, guess what's in my tea chest? Lots of organic tea from Two Leaves and a Bud - the Colorado tea company with the see-through tea sachets. Over the next few weeks, I will be reviewing a variety of teas from Two Leaves and a Bud and will move out of my Black Tea Comfort Zone to explore green teas and herbal teas. This must be how Marco Polo felt . . .

Today I'm starting with two familiar teas: Assam and Darjeeling. But, before the kettle is even going you notice the unique packaging. Obviously these are not the dusty tea bags found in many office breakrooms - these are tea sachets enclosed in a see-through envelope. If you haven't tried tea in a sachet you must - the sachets are made of a silky fabric and are constructed so that the leaves have plenty of room to expand. Again, very different from the flat, compact bags your grandmother used! Not all sachets are created equal, though, and one very exciting thing about TL&AB is that the tea in the sachets is the same premium, organic tea offered in their loose tea cylinders.

So, I'm off to enjoy a yummy cup of tea and will leave you with some tea inspiration: Paul Gauguin's Still Life with Teapot painted in 1896 and now found in the Metropolitan Museum's European collection.

Disclosure: I received free tea samples as shown above to review. Two Leaves and a Bud did not compensate me for reviewing their product beyond providing me with samples.

Monday, November 16, 2009

It's the Great Pumpkin [Bread], Charlie Brown!

If you were Linus sitting in that pumpkin patch waiting and waiting for the Great Pumpkin, what would you be thinking? I would be thinking about all the yummy things that could be made with a patch full of pumpkins! (Actually, I might be too afraid to think . . . the pumpkin patch at night can be a little frightening . . .) So, what's your favorite pumpkin dish? Pie? Toasted seeds? At our house, pumpkin bread wins easily. It's moist and a little spicy and is great with tea! I don't always like breads/cakes made with vegetable oil - they often taste like oil, but this recipe is really good and the flavor is all pumpkin and spice. It's a great busy-day baking project as it takes only 10 minutes or so to prepare (obviously longer to bake . . .).

This recipe makes two 9x5" loaves - or one 9x5" plus three or five smaller loaves (depending on the pan sizes). In other words, you will have more than enough to share. It makes a great gift because you can give away the large loaf and one or two small loaves, and still have a little loaf to keep (much better for you than making a layer cake or pie as a gift which leaves you as empty-handed as Linus).

Pumpkin Bread

  • 3 cups sugar (don't panic! this makes many, many servings)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1 (16 ounce) can pumpkin (just plain unsweetened pumpkin, NOT pie filling)
  • 3 1/2 cups self-rising flour*
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2/3 cup water


  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour baking pans (or use Baker's Joy).
  2. In mixer, or by hand, mix sugar and oil.
  3. At low speed, add eggs and pumpkin. Mix well.
  4. In separate large bowl, blend remaining dry ingredients.
  5. Alternately add dry ingredients and water to pumpkin mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.
  6. Pour into prepared pans and bake 40 to 50 minutes - possibly less with small pans, or more with large pans. Bread is done with the sides pull away from the pan (you can also test with a toothpick/cake pick as you would for any cake).
  7. Place pans on cooling rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely.
Leah's Notes: I often make this without using an electric mixer - it's easy to whisk by hand. If using glass baking dishes, lower the temperature to 325. If using silicone pans, increase the baking time by 10+ minutes. While this is yummy all by itself, it's very good with pumpkin butter or turn it into an honest-to-goodness (emphasis on goodness!) cake with cream cheese frosting.

* If using all-purpose flour, add 2 teaspoons baking soda, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon baking powder.
On final thought on the pumpkin bread - it makes your house smell festive!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Old Teapots Never Die . . .

You probably expected some clever end to that phrase, but there isn't one. Teapots don't lend themselves to puns as well as old soldiers . . . the best I could do was they just steep away or they just break away. Perhaps you can think of the definitive ending, if so please pass it on!

So where is this leading? To my old teapots and their new home - high in a mulberry tree! As an avid tea drinker, I love teapots and tea sets. Despite normally being a 'never-breaks-a-dish' girl, my teapots have a higher-than-average break rate. (And I should qualify that last statement by saying the only one of our dishes I've broken was the gravy boat - of course, it wouldn't be a bread plate, would it?) It's hard to say what my problem is with the teapots. It's usually the lid that chips or breaks, which is odd because you would expect it to be the spout. Once it was the spout (and that was on a Brown Betty, known for its sturdiness!) and once it was the whole pot. But, twice is was just the lid and my husband thought of a very clever way to use the lid-less pots: as bird houses!

I love this idea because I was very attached to these teapots - one was a wedding present and the other was purchased in England and brought safely home in my checked luggage (you'd be amazed at the things that have traveled in my checked bags over the years . . . but that's another story).
The pots have been hanging in the mulberry tree for almost three years now; we clean them at the end of the season with the other birdhouses. They're very pretty during the winter months when the tree is bare. And, for some strange reason I haven't broken any pots since we put these up - one of those weird coincidences like never getting a red light when you want to apply lipstick . . .
I'd love to know what you do with your broken dishes . . . just in case my new gravy boat has a mishap at Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Can I Get My Own Invisible Fence?!

As Robert Frost famously quoted, "good fences make good neighbors" - and though his fence was really a stone wall, the same can be true of any fence, even an invisible one.

Several dogs on our street have invisible fences and as someone whose heart pounds when an unknown dog races toward me barking like he's a rabid wild thing, I think it's a fabulous idea. It's so simple - an underground wire transmits a warning beep to your dog if he tries to cross the "fence". It's a win-win for you and your dog - he gets to frolic freely and you know he's not roaming the streets getting into mischief, plus your neighbors aren't afraid to walk past your home. So, why do I want one? I don't even have a dog . . .

What I want is a reverse invisible fence, a perimeter around me that keeps people out. I would feel much more neighborly towards strangers if they were not so close! Perhaps I should call my new fence The Invisible Personal Space - of course, I have an invisible personal space already . . . we all do. The problem is that not everyone respects it - so my idea is to have an invisible one that sends a little warning beep to Members of the Public who try to cross this line. The generally accepted distance for personal space (in the US) is an arm's length. If you want to get technical, there are four different levels of personal space, but the one called 'Social Distance' is 4 to 12 feet. That's right - four feet is the minimum!

This means the following behaviors are not allowed:

  • close talking (remember Aaron from Seinfeld?)
  • bumping the ankles of the person in front of you with your grocery cart (wow! does that hurt)
  • breathing on people as you push them down the airplane aisle in your haste to deplane
  • touching babies who aren't yours - no matter how cute!
  • standing closer than you have to on public transportation
  • sitting so close your legs/arms touch the person beside you, unless the seat is extremely crowded
  • etcetera, etcetera, etcetera (to quote Yul Brynner)
Now, if you're the King of Siam you can keep people out of your personal space - perhaps just by glaring at them. For the rest of us, it's a bit more difficult. Obviously my Invisible Personal Space idea isn't fully developed - the tricky part will be convincing strangers to wear the collar and transmitter! Until I can work this out, maybe I will just purchase one of these and stand behind it:

I hope your weekend includes plenty of personal space!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What's Cheery on a Cold, Rainy Evening?

Hot Chocolate, of course!
It's been a chilly, rainy, yucky day here as the remnants of Hurricane Ida blew through town. After weeks of sunny fall days, this little winter preview was a bit of a shock and I, for one, will be happy to see the back-side of Ida! But, it's not all dreary tonight - our Hot Chocolate Pot has come out of its summer hiding and we're ready for some yummy, chocolaty hot chocolate. Did you think the phrase 'chocolaty hot chocolate' was redundant? Well, not really because not all hot chocolate is really chocolaty. I'll admit I am prejudiced against any food that begins as a powder - especially if it ends with a quick hot water stir. But, even staunch hot chocolate mix supporters will be converted once they try homemade hot chocolate.

Take a look at this recipe - it's from the reprint version of the Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book. It's an exact copy of the original 1953 cookbook, age-yellowed pages and all. If your mom or grandmother had this book, you'll enjoy this clever edition - and not just for the recipes.

The Breakfast Chocolate recipe is, however, one your whole family will love. It's very much like coffee-house hot chocolate, especially if you have a frother like the one in our chocolate pot. We've had this Williams-Sonoma pot a few years (it was a gift!) and use it often during the winter. If you love hot chocolate, check out their latest version here: Williams-Sonoma Hot Chocolate Pot.

And even though these marshmallow pirates were seen here recently, I wanted to share them again (in case you missed the peg leg the first time around). After all, no hot chocolate discussion is complete without at least a hint of marshmallow.

Related Posts with Thumbnails