Sunday, January 31, 2010

What's Wrong With This Cake?

Are you the Miss Marple of cakes? Or perhaps the Sherlock Holmes of baking (he does live on Baker Street . . .)? If so, I need your help! Yesterday I baked a tried-and-true recipe - Lemon Tea Bread. I've made it zillions of times (okay, this kind of statement makes my husband raise an eyebrow, but I say a little hyperbole just makes your point). Back to the baking - it's an easy recipe that results in a perfect product. Except this time . . .

The center was sunken and I ended up overcooking it in an attempt to get the center to rise to a normal height. The result is this - it's too dark on the edges and dryer than normal, AND the center - well, you can see what's wrong with the center. On the bright side, it is still delish and looks a bit like a heart, so it could be an early Valentine attempt.

I think perhaps my butter was too soft. I didn't make any of the usual mistakes that cause a cake to cave (i.e., wrong amount of flour, over- or under-beaten, oven temperature wrong, etc.). And it didn't fall after it was removed from the oven, it was like this as it cooked. Plus, this is a simple recipe - not a sponge cake or other complicated type.

Having said all this, you might still like the recipe. It's a wonderful tea bread that's not too heavy and has a nice lemony flavor. Perfect with a cup of tea on a cold afternoon, and if you don't overcook it as I did, you can slice it thinly.

Lemon Tea Bread


1/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

2 tablespoons lemon rind, divided

1 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon granulated sugar


Beat softened butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add 1 cup granulated sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt; add to butter mixture alternately with milk, beating at low speed just until blended, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in 1 tablespoon lemon rind. Spoon batter into greased and floured 8- x 4-inch loafpan.

Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center of bread comes out clean. Let cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and cool completely on a wire rack.

Stir together powdered sugar and lemon juice until smooth; spoon evenly over top of bread, letting excess drip down sides. Stir together remaining 1 tablespoon lemon rind and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar; sprinkle on top of bread.

From Dorsella Utter, Louisville, Kentucky, as seen in Southern Living, October 2004

Maybe Dorsella, who developed this recipe, will read this and offer a suggestion! Have a great Sunday and good luck if you're baking . . .

Saturday, January 30, 2010

What's Cheery About a Snow Day?

Enjoying the snow when it first falls and is track-free . . .

Seeing the way it stacks up on walls . . .

Looking at this bird bath and remembering that less than 24 hours ago it was the favorite watering hole for blue birds (see yesterday's post), cardinals, and many other feathered friends . . .

Enjoying a nice, hot bowl of chili when you've had enough of the snowy cold . . .

Hope you're enjoying the weather where you are!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Blue Birds Do Bring Happiness!

It's snowing right now (!) and this afternoon as we were preparing for the predicted 8-12" the birds were busy eating and drinking. At one point we saw six bluebirds fly across the front lawn - it was so exciting. You can see why blue birds are the 'happiness' bird - you cannot be grumpy when you see one. On overcast days like today, the blue is almost electric. So, in the midst of covering the gardenias with sheets, I grabbed the camera for a few quick shots. On a side note - if you haven't discovered the joy of used fitted sheets you are missing out! My husband buys old fitted sheets at Goodwill and we use them for lots of garden tasks - they're perfect for protecting plants during snow/ice storms and for carrying weeds, leaves, and other debris away; the gathered corners make them much nicer than tarps and you can drag a huge amount of stuff in one (kind of like an ant with a giant crumb!). And they dry quickly (in the sun, not the dryer!) - unlike tarps and other plastic-y things sold for this purpose.

If you're accustomed to looking at photos of birds on other sites, please don't judge mine too harshly. I'm in the market for a new camera, but in the meantime my point-and-click does an okay job . . .

And to close, here's the only nice color in the garden right now - containers on the porch. The deer, squirrels, and cold weather haven't gotten them yet . . . we'll see how they fare during this storm.
Hope your weekend is warm and snugly!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

If the Moon's made of cheese, Pluto must be nougat

Okay, how did you learn the names and order of the planets? Did your 7th grade science teacher use the usual mnemonic device? Mine did, and that's still how I remember the correct sequence: My very educated mother just served us nine pies. Some people learned the 'nine pizzas' version - perhaps that was for kids living above the Mason Dixon Line? And one version has the educated mother just showing the pies to the kids . . . that doesn't sound very smart, and, in fact, it's rather mean! Anyway, we learned the planets thanks to whichever saying we used: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto! Then a few years ago, Pluto was downgraded leaving only eight planets.

The devolution of Pluto resulted in a new mnemonic: My very educated mother just served us nougat. Nougat? Really . . . nougat? Who eats nougat - besides the Italians and the French? Was that really the best word that starts with 'N'?

I'm hoping that the people who are trying to get Pluto reinstated will be successful - it has lots of supporters and in some circles is even being called "The People's Planet", so maybe we can drop the nougat and return to the nine pies! According to National Geographic, Pluto was demoted because "it does not dominate its neighborhood" and it has an "untidy" orbit. Perhaps with a bit of counseling, it can become more aggressive and sweep up some of the asteroids and comets in its path - then we can once again consider it a planet!

Until then we're stuck with nougat . . . and what two candy bars have nougat (I know, it's not real nougat, but it's close enough)? Mars and Milky Way! So nougat has a space connection after all and maybe it is a good choice for the the very educated mother to serve . . . what do you think?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Well, then . . . I must be chocolate!

A man is what he thinks about all day long. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I'm sure Emerson had something loftier in mind when he wrote this, but the main thing on my mind today has been chocolate! Do you ever have those days?

Did you know that many cities now have chocolate tours? What a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening? Here is a sampler of tours, but, there is a caveat . . . you'll need a chocolate fix after seeing these sites: Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and maybe a city or town near you. Or, what a great idea for a new business; you could start a chocolate tour in your hometown!

And here's an amazing concept - a Chocolate Spa! The Spa at Hotel Hershey offers a full range of chocolate treatments - how great would you feel after a Chocolate Sugar Scrub or a Whipped Cocoa Bath? Or, how about combining two great passions - jewelry and chocolate? That's right, Wendy Mahr has created chocolate jewelry. Wow!

According to their website, the jewelry can be worn several times and then eaten. You can even send the non-chocolate parts back to have a permanent piece of jewelry created. This is such a wonderful idea that I know you'll want to see the earrings, too.

Hope you enjoyed this little chocolate chat - I'm off to find that last, leftover Godiva Santa . . .

Monday, January 25, 2010

Add Panache to Your Kitchen with This Emile Henry Giveaway!

Huile d'Olive Bouteille Prix!

As January rolls into February, you might be dreaming of spring and thinking of sprucing up your nest. If so, you'll like this fun giveaway from the nice folks at You may be familiar with CSN's websites - especially if you're in the market for mailboxes or kitchen ware.

Our giveaway this week is from their kitchen site, I'm so excited about this item - I know you'll love it. It's an oil bottle from the famous French ceramics company Emile Henry (regular price $48 - if you can't wait for the giveaway, they're on sale for $36). I keep two of these right by my stove - one with regular EVOO and one with hot pepper/garlic oil (which I'll be making later this week - check back for the recipe!).

Emile Henry produces the highest quality kitchen ceramics - in fabulous colors. offers the oil bottle in several colors, so you can choose the one that's perfect for your kitchen!

Also, check out their beautiful cookware and dinnerware as seen below.

The giveaway is open to readers in the US and Canada and it's easy to enter. Just visit to see all the great color choices then leave a comment here telling me which color you'd like.

For additional entries, do one or both of the following and leave a comment accordingly (the comments will serve as your entries).
  • Blog about this giveaway, with a link to this post
  • Blog about CSN's moremailboxes site by mentioning the word mailboxes and linking it to CSN's website
The contest ends at midnight next Monday, February 1. Winner will be announced on Tuesday!

Disclosure: I have received no compensation or merchandise from CSN.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Portmanteau Words from the Brilliant LC

Did you snortle as you read the title of this post? Are you feeling like Scrooge after a burst of holiday spending? If so, perhaps you guessed the identity of LC? It's Lewis Carroll - who remains a favorite for so many reasons. Among his myriad legacies is this one: the Portmanteau Word. In Through the Looking Glass Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice that "slithy" means "lithe and slimy" and he gives these words that are created from two words the name portmanteau because the two meanings are packed into one word.

Carroll's contemporaries were accustomed to packing their clothes into portmanteaus - so this definition was more clever for them than it might be for modern readers. Many portmanteau words are familiar for us though: snortle, of course, is a snort/chortle which is really a second-generation Portmanteau because chortle is a combination of chuckle and snort.

Charles Dickens, who is known for his memorable character names, created Scrooge from 'screw' and 'gouge'. I love the painting below which imagines Dickens dreaming of his characters. It's unfinished which adds to the dream-like quality. Perhaps it captures the exact moment when a new portmanteau word is drifting into his mind . . .

Here's a brief list of some familiar portmanteau words:

Yowl = yell & howl (okay, this may not be widely used, but at our house it's heard pretty often!)
Docudrama = documentary & drama
Edutainment = education & entertainment (usually weighted toward the entertainment!)
Breathalyzer = breathe & analyzer
Tanzania = Tanganyika & Zanzibar
Smog = smoke & fog
Emoticon = emotion & icon :-)

Can you think of others? Perhaps you've coined your own? Must galumph away to watch a rockumentary that's simulcast in several countries - I hope it's not just agitprop!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Let's Go Retro: A Spitfire in the Kitchen

Here's a dilemma - imagine you're the owner of an engineering firm in England just after the war. During the war you made nose-cones for Spitfires and now you're left with surplus aircraft-grade aluminum and no market for it. What should you do?

As you might guess, this is not a hypothetical question - it's the position in which CSA Industries found itself. And it made a clever move. It turned its attention to the kitchen and engineered the first flexible kitchen system - cabinets made of the left-over aluminum that could be fastened together in endless combinations. They were marketed under the name 'English Rose' and were very popular - and very up-market.

Think how much fun it would have been to have the cheery kitchen shown in this advertisement - especially after the dreary war years.

The survival rate of the English Rose kitchens is a testament to their quality. Despite a decline in popularity from the mid-60s to recent years, many of these kitchens remained in use. And, now they're highly sought after, and one look at the kitchen below shows why. I first saw this kitchen in BBC Homes & Antiques - isn't it dreamy?

This lucky homeowner located original cabinets and look how beautifully they 'clean up'. I love the curved drawers - was there a reason for this shape?

Below is another kitchen that's been retro-fitted with originals (from Flickr). The English Rose cabinets mix perfectly with more modern elements.

If you'd prefer new cabinets with the retro look, John Lewis offers these replicas. They have great colors and they're ready to install - no cleaning, painting, etc.

And for those of us on this side of the Atlantic, check out these American Steel cabinets from the early 1950s. While not iconic like the English Rose, they look similar and there are a few for sale on the web. Perhaps someone out there has a beautiful kitchen full of refurbished ones?

As a side note, look at her dishwasher - is that Fiesta Ware? What's retro in your kitchen? Fiesta Ware? Thanks for joining me on this quick tour of vintage kitchens and happy Friday!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What's Cheery in the Mailbox Today?

Something very cheery arrived in my mailbox today! These cute teapot napkin rings.

A friend found these on eBay and sent them to me as a belated birthday gift. We don't usually exchange birthday presents, so this was very unexpected. Little surprises that pop up in the middle of an ordinary day are the best, aren't they?

And, what a great way to brighten the table during National Tea Month! I hope your week has a few surprises (only the nice kind, of course . . .).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pie Lovers Get Ready - Your Day Is Coming!

What's round and sweet and always yummy? Pie, of course. And if you're a fan of this delish dessert, Saturday (January 23) is your day. It's National Pie Day. Normally I might not jump on the bandwagon of a newly-created holiday, but as a lover of baking and eating pies, I am all for this one. The American Pie Council (who knew?) has lots of info about the big day.

I think the best way to observe National Pie Day is to bake your own pie(s) and share with a friend. If you've never tried making your own crust, now's the time . . . it's really easy and the more times you try the easier and better the results. And - how great will it be to have homemade pie each time you practice? And remember - regardless of the recipe you use the trick is to work quickly and have a light touch (always roll the dough out - never press down!).

Here's a link to the recipe for the fabulous Chocolate Pecan Pie served at Frontera Grill. With its mix of Mexican chocolate and KahlĂșa, it may become your go-to dessert for special occasions. And, if you're not a fan of Rick Bayless (Frontera owner/chef), check out his cooking show on PBS and you soon will be!

So, get out those cookbooks and check out your favorite cooking blogs - you're sure to find the perfect recipe for your own pie celebration!

And, one word of caution, don't confuse this with National Pi Day - that's March 14!

Photos from Southern Living. Search their recipes for 'pie' and you'll see lots of yummy ideas!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

'Nevermore' Forevermore?

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -

Only this, and nothing more.'

Don't you love the opening stanza of Edgar Allen Poe's 'The Raven'? In fact, once I read the beginning I'm compelled to read the rest - if you're the same, click here to see the whole poem and discover a great site devoted to All Things Poe. Why talk about Poe today, January 19? It's his birthday and something rather shocking has happened - or rather, not happened!

Since 1949, a mysterious stranger has visited Poe's grave in Baltimore between midnight and dawn on January 19 - leaving three roses and a half-full (or perhaps half-empty is the way Poe would see it) bottle of cognac. This year . . . no roses, no cognac, no note. As the identity of the 'Poe Toaster' is not known, we can only guess at the reason. Perhaps last year was the intentional finale - it was the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth and a nice, round number on which to end. Perhaps the Poe Toaster is in poor health this year? We may never know - or perhaps the tradition will continue next year . . . let's wait and see.

In the meantime, enjoy a Poe poem or take the Baltimore Sun's Poe Quiz or rent the creepy '60s adaptation of the Fall of the House of Usher, starring the King of B-thrillers, Vincent Price.

As for me, I'm off to check around my chamber doors, purple curtains, and window lattices to ensure no craven, ghastly grim and ancient ravens are lurking . . .

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lighthouse Fever - Day Two

What's on your travel agenda this year? You know where I'm headed with this as we're still on the subject of lighthouses, but, it may surprise you to know that you can plan a whole vacation around lighthouses. The obvious method is to visit one or more lighthouses while vacationing, but you can take it a step further if simply visiting isn't enough . . .

In Michigan you can actually live in the Tawas Point Lighthouse (above) for a week. Wow! You pay a small fee and agree to guide tourists who visit and spend the week enjoying the great views of Lake Huron. What a wonderful change of pace - well, unless you already live in a lighthouse. The link above will take you to the application form - hurry, you don't want to miss out . . . Other lighthouses in the great lakes area have similar programs for one or more night stays - find out more here.

Maine's Whitehead Light Station also offers rentals, including seven bedrooms. This historic light was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson in 1803 - so while Lewis & Clark were heading west, the first light was established here at the mouth of Penobscot Bay. Now your family can have its own adventure on this spot. Check out the variety of programs and rentals here and you could soon enjoy this view.

To search for the perfect lighthouse for your next holiday, check out this link. There are listings from across the globe - perhaps you're interested in Norway?

Or Germany's famous Roter Sand?

And if you're more of an armchair lighthouse tourist during the winter months, there are lots of great books that will satisfy you until the weather warms up. Just Google lighthouses or lighthouse keepers and you'll find lots of fun reads. Or, click here to read the story of a retired lighthouse keeper who's in the news today. Or rent the PBS special Legendary Lighthouses - it has a beautiful companion book as well!

Finally, watch this amazing footage of lighthouses withstanding some very rough waters. Warning: if you're planning an overnight stay in a light house, watch this afterward!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lighthouse Fever - Day One

I've always loved lighthouses; of course, you're probably thinking "who doesn't love them"? Well, I don't know who doesn't love them - this probably falls into Rumsfeld's 'not knowable' category. What is knowable is that lighthouses are loved throughout the world and many countries have lighthouse societies, publications, tours, etc. Lighthouses adorn everything from jewelry to clothing to home furnishings. I've been thinking about lighthouses after having a close encounter with one over the holidays and seeing the sad news about the recent vandalism of the Cape Meares Lighthouse in Oregon.

Is there a lighthouse in your neighborhood? I grew up in northeastern North Carolina and so had several great lighthouses within a two hour drive - the most famous being Cape Hatteras which was actually moved a few years ago. My mom was able to visit during the move and watch this amazing process.

The Cape Hatteras Light weighs 4.8 tons and the move was an engineering marvel - the lighthouse was actually raised and then rolled to the new location. According to How Stuff Works, it's the third largest building ever moved. But, Cape Hatteras wasn't the lighthouse I stumbled during Christmas. Rather, it was this lesser-known light shown below. Can you spot the problem with it?

Maybe this will help - it's a picture of the lighthouse when it was active (circa 1900).

As you can see, this design is more house and less light than most famous lighthouses. This gives us a clue to its original purpose - obviously it wasn't intended to warn large ships at far distances. Rather it helped mariners navigate the Albemarle Sound around Plymouth, NC. It's one of the last surviving inland waterway lighthouses in the state. It's known as the Roanoke River Light and the photo below reveals the problem today - it's not only in disrepair, it's in search of new digs.

After being decommissioned in the 1940s, it was barged inland and converted into housing in the mid '50s. When the owner/occupant died it was abandoned and subsequently suffered storm damage. Many feared it would be lost altogether, but it was rescued and in 2007 moved to its current location in the colonial town of Edenton where it awaits a facelift. Hopefully in the near future you can visit it when it's all spic and span and perched on new pilings!

If you're in the region in the meantime, stop by the Roanoke River Lighthouse & Maritime Museum to visit this lovely replica of an earlier Roanoke Light. Tomorrow we'll look at lighthouse vacations - now is the perfect time to book for summer!!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Giveaway Winners!

A big thanks to Two Leaves and a Bud for co-hosting such a fun giveaway - and thanks to all who entered. The winner of the grand prize is Deb! The winners of the sample packs are Suburban Prep and Milton! Congratulations to all three and I know you'll enjoy your wonderful tea - I'd love to hear about your favorites!

Hope your weekend includes a few nice cups of tea!
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