Saturday, October 31, 2009

Win Friends and Influence People

There are so many things to love about these pumpkin bars, it just makes me giddy. Makes a ton, cooked in a big jelly roll pan, simple ingredients, and ohhhhhh so good. Did I mention that they are out-of-this-world good?

I first heard of this recipe from my dear friend, Dawnelle, and have since seen it on some scrumptious recipe sites. It's worth sharing. Perfect for Friday night Bible studies, church potlucks, family gatherings ... plus it's a great way to make friends. Everyone will love you for bringing these.

Colonial Pumpkin Bars
Cream together:
.75 c. butter
2 c. sugar

Beat in one at a time:
4 eggs

Mix in:
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
2 t. baking powder
.5 t. baking soda
.5 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
.25 t. nutmeg
2 c. unbleached flour

Cover large jelly-roll pan with parchment paper (or butter & flour) and spread pumpkin mixture into pan. Bake for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Blend:
1 (3 oz.) pkg. cream cheese
1/3 c. butter, softened
1 t. vanilla

Add in gradually:
3 c. powdered sugar

Spread over cooled pumpkin bars. Let sit an hour or so to harden a bit. Lift out of pan by tugging on the parchment paper and slide onto counter, then cut into squares. Sprinkle with nutmeg and top with autumnal blueberry leaves from the backyard!

**I recommend trimming the edges with a knife before cutting into squares. Makes all of the pieces turn out uniform and pretty. And, uh, you and the kids can eat those scraps as a they'll-never-know treat!

Friday, October 30, 2009

84 Charing Cross Road

Watched a wonderful movie last night called 84 Charing Cross Road. Made in the 80's and starring Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, and Judi Dench, it's a story about friendships and books and all the love and quirkiness that comes with both. While the story ends in the late 60's, it begins in the post-World War II era, to which these actual photos are from.

Aren't they lovely? The silent character in the movie is the London bookstore, Marks & Co., and made me nostalgic for the rhythm and fervor of the small bookstore. My grandparents opened a sweet little bookshop over four decades ago and my folks closed doors just a few years ago. Between the internet, Amazon, and Borders, there was just no keeping up.

But times change, and that is okay. I love being able to search for a title online, order, and have it delivered right to my front door. It's a far cry from the days when I would spend weeks searching for a singular, obscure title for a customer. The methods? A simple utilization of catalogs, microfiche films, and chatting up publishers. A lot of work for a $12 book? Yes. But oh the glee in telling Martha Goldenstein ... "I found it."

This movie makes a lot of quiet statements and delivers some delightfully sharp one-liners. Nothing fast-paced about this film, but a steady development of understanding and heart. If you are a bit of a bibliophile, like myself, toss it in your netflix queue or your library basket. And don't forget the pot of tea.

And She Wins!

Much congratulations to Kelly (who entered on the 28th, at 5:32), who won the giveaway today. Can't wait to hear what you selected!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

To Run About, Just She and Me

Jane and I spent a lovely morning running errands. Sometimes an errand morning isn't altogether lovely, but today simply was. Lots of skipping, hand-holding, and giggles. We made some returns, stopped off at the grocery for our family harvest party supplies (more on that later), picked up some primer at the paint store, and rummaged the thrift store. Well, Jane mostly climbed through forests of clothing racks while sporadically popping her head out and startling poor unsuspecting shoppers ... so it was more of a one-sided rummaging.

Now it's time for lunch and perhaps a little hot chocolate. Jane informed me that if it's really rainy we need hot chocolate to warm up. Sounds good by me!

Don't forget about the Lisa Leonard giveaway! Names will be drawn tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Lady Charmer

Is it strange that I want to munch on deliciously cute babies? Auntie Anna had to restrain herself from keeping little M. naked all day so I could rub his belly and nibble his arms.

But really. Can you blame me?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Drippy Days, Cozy Meal

Are you familiar with leeks? They are really a lovely veggie. I'm always intrigued by their origami fan of leaf sheaths. Like an onion that wishes it was related to a well-sunned palm tree rather than those crazy elephant garlics.

And of course, leeks are wonderfully tasty. When cooked they are smooth, soft, a bit spicy, and almost buttery. A great base for soup when paired with good ol' taters. Since the weather is decidedly cold and drippy, not tropical and breezy, soups sound all the more enticing.

Leek & Potato Soup

Sautee in large pan:

• 3 leeks, sliced thin**
• 1 onion, chopped
• 2-3 T butter
**Use just white and light green parts of leeks. Slice in half vertically, then chop into thin half rounds. Rinse really well, as leeks will be sandy.

Add:
• 4 medium red potatoes, sliced thin or leftover baked/mashed potatoes
chicken broth to cover (about 8 cups)
**No need to peel potatoes, unless you don't like skins.

Cook soup, stirring and mashing up chunks to desired consistency.

Add:
• 1 cup condensed cream of chicken soup (canned or homemade) or 1 cup milk
salt & pepper to taste

Simmer over low heat, stirring well to prevent scorching. Top with chives or parsley!

** I never have figured out what to do with the dark leafy tops. Recipes always have you chop them off and I am left feeling a tad guilty as I scrape them into the garbage. Any ideas out there?

Post-Note: I don't know why I didn't think of it before! I followed your suggestions and added the rinsed leafy leek tops to my chicken stock. Perfect!

Monday, October 26, 2009

One for Me and One for You -- A Giveaway

I am a very lucky girl. So lucky, in fact, I somehow managed to win a giveaway over on Emily's friendly blog. Winning anything is always a thrill, since it seems to happen so rarely. But this handmade necklace? Just smashing!

This "Family Crest" is designed by Lisa Leonard and is just one of many lovely designs. She's developed quite a name for herself and it's easy to see why. I'm guessing you may have already seen pretty ladies sporting her "Teeny-Tiny Initials" design. Darling.

So would you believe the talented dear is offering a $25 gift certificate to one of you lovely readers? Good to use toward any item on her site. Toss your name in if you are smitten like I am.

Winner will be drawn this Friday, the 30th, at noon. If you don't have your own site for me to contact you at, make sure to leave your name under the "Name/Url" or in an "Anonymous" comment and check back in four days. Good luck, ladies. Let the swooning begin!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Vegetables Can Make You Happy

Here's a hearty one-dish meal that's a nice change from the ordinary. Pasta drenched in a balsamic vinaigrette and a lovely roasted veggie mélange. It's also a perfect dish for the eggplant, especially if some family members aren't sure they like it.

Roasted Veggie Penne

Whisk together:
.25 c. olive oil
1 pkg. onion soup mix
1-2 T. thyme

Add chopped (fresh) veggies and mix well:
3 carrots
1-2 zucchini
1 eggplant
8 oz. mushrooms

Spread veggies on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast at 450 degrees for 20-25 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes.

While veggies are roasting, boil and set aside:
8 oz. penne pasta

Mix veggies with pasta.

Whisk together:
.25 c. olive oil (a tad less would be fine)
.25 c. balsamic vinegar

Toss dressing over pasta and veggies. Sprinkle with pine nuts and Parmesan cheese if you have it.

**You could beef up this veggie dish with some crumbled bacon or sausage if your menfolk are grumbling!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Lingering Over a Meal

We have really enjoyed this past year of after-church family meals. I hope it's a tradition that "sticks." Of course, we love the meal and conversation, but what else is a key element to making Sunday dinners a smash hit? A dessert. We don't always have dessert during the weekdays, but we do on Sundays!

This past week we put our own spin on an applesauce cake. We ditched the raisins and tossed in the chopped dates we get in the bulk section at the market. The dates get all caramely and delicious and all that applesauce makes the cake spongy and moist.

Another plus? It's fast! I'll make it ahead of time then toss it into the oven to warm as soon as we get home from church. By the time we've stuffed our bellies with the main meal, it's good to go. 'Cause we all know, no matter how full you are, there is always more room for dessert!

Applesauce Spice Cake

Mix together and set aside:
2.5 c. flour
1.5 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
.75 t. nutmeg
.5 t. cloves
.25 t. baking powder

Beat together:
.5 c. butter
2 c. sugar

Add one at a time, beating 1 minute after each:
2 eggs

Add alternately:
2 c. applesauce
dry ingredients

Stir in:
.75 c. chopped dates

Turn into a greased 13 x 9 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Just an Illusion

I actually don't consider myself very crafty. I'm very good at thievery. I like to snatch bits of genius from other people and smoosh them together to claim as my own. I recommend it. Much easier than actually being brilliant.

I'm also not big on crafting because if often involves lots of bits and pieces, lack of a pattern, glue and special scissors. I shrink from the stall of panic I feel when looking at all of it and, I admit, I don't like cleaning up after it. I think that's why blogging is so perfect for me. It's my own ultra-tidy scrapbook and my writing is never crooked.

So when the girlies came in with handfuls of fall and wanted to craft, I really had to work at keeping a smile. We tried pressing them between waxed paper and ironing. Nothin'. I'm not sure what I was thinking would happen, but nothing satisfactory, that's for sure. I knew I had to act quickly because I could see the cloud of disillusionment drifting over my girls. "Perhaps she can't really do everything..." is what I was sure they were beginning to think.

I don't have very many years of keeping this facade intact so desperation led me to the much-avoided craft drawer. And there ... inspiration. Clear contact paper. "Mama! They look like jeweled leaves in glass!"

It was a close call, but I pulled it off. Lucette's going to pass me up soon (notice the beveled corners and autumnal additions to her piece?) and then the gig will be up. But for now, I'm just going to enjoy this season.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reflective Travel - III

Bird Sanctuary, Copan, Honduras

Doesn't he look at you rather imperiously? Like he knows something that you don't? He certainly did have a feisty side. He bit Pops' shirt button right in half!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reflective Travel - II

An uniquely still moment in our travels. A small cafe with a tiny outdoor garden in the back and a café au lait nothing short of perfection. The native textile, smooth milky coffee, chipped tea cup, filtered morning light.

And this, to me, is beauty.

Reflective Travel

Back from our weekend getaway where we did a whole lotta' nothin'. Just what we were hoping for. In fact, I took hardly any photos. Suppose you need a break from even the joys every now and then.

Today I've been sorting through Honduras photos and trying to upload pictures so I can finally make some photo books. These two stuck out to me. I remember arriving in Copan, a small Mayan city on the border of Guatemala. I can still hear the sounds of the street market and the juxtaposition of the locals and tourists. Here, you would begin to feel like you were on any typical vacation until you really looked into the eyes of the locals. We were the outsiders. With money. Tourist areas in Honduras are isolated little microcosms. And sadly, most tourists never venture out of the bubble.

I think this picture is lovely, but it makes my heart heavy. He was selling these on the streets with his grandmother. Look in his eyes. I wish I had bought his dolls. At the moment I just thought he was beautiful and surely those dolls would be crushed in my backpack. I smiled and wished him a good day. Though small, it was a missed opportunity to bless.

I'm back to the old patterns of being a privileged American. I am glad to be reminded, again, of those He loves across this world. A world that is so big, yet not so very.
You came near when I called you,
and you said, "Do not fear."
O Lord, you took up my case; you redeemed my life.
Lamentations 3:57-58

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Provision

Preparing for an unexpected holiday to the coast for just our little family of five. Plans for lots of board games, hot chocolate, windy walks on the beach, roaring fires, good books, a movie or two, and some more hot chocolate. With marshmallows.

We haven't done this since before Jane was born. I find I'm now longing for this excursion like it's a drawn bath on a cold day. You don't realize how much you've wanted it until it is provided. See you after a bit.

You gave me life and showed me kindness,
and in your providence watched over my spirit.
Job 10:12

A Nice Discovery

May I first say that I hope this picture looks yummy and not revolting. It tasted wonderful, but I'm not sure if it translated visually. Hats off to food photographers, 'cause it's a tricky deal.

So, taking my word for it, what is this tasty dish? Chicken and broccoli soup made from homemade cream of chicken soup concentrate. I was so excited to stumble upon a version of this on the internet, as I hate spending money on those canned versions loaded with MSG. Bluck. So, grab a bag of your frozen chicken stock and toss some together:

Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup

Boil in pot:
1.5 c. chicken broth
.5 c. milk
thyme, sage, marjoram, dash of nutmeg, parsley, dried onion, salt, pepper (just toss in a bit of each or substitute any other favorite herbs)

In bowl, whisk together really well:
1 c. milk
.75 c. flour

Add flour mixture to broth mixture, stirring briskly until it boils and thickens. Let cool and freeze in 1.5 cup servings. Use as you would canned mixture.

**Makes excellent pasta sauce, just add some pasta water to desired consistency.
**For soup, add water or more broth until nice and soupy. Toss in shredded chicken and steamed broccoli, or even corn, chilies, and potatoes. It's really versatile!
**Definitely double or triple this recipe if you can.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Rebirth

The Project is completed. Hurrah! My parents purchased this hutch in the early 70's and then passed on to me about a decade ago. A lovely little piece but my, that dark 70's brown felt dreary. However, a few coats of primer and some Antique White paint resulted in a whole new look. Not to mention help from the new hardware that I spent a small fortune on. Sigh. (But aren't they perfect?)



There are still some small imperfections (slightly wonky cabinet doors, scuffs and divots from the years, less than perfect paint job...), but I'm viewing them in favor of an "it lends charm" theory. I am debating whether or not to lightly distress the hutch. Maybe a little on the edges or leave it as is? Any thoughts?

See that little door on the side? The "rabbit door" was the genius of my father. When my folks first bought this hutch, they received a good bargain as there was a hole kicked in the side. So, why not trim it out and put a door on it?

The little door was magical as a child. There was always a recliner blocking it from view, so if you scurried behind you could open it in secret. And if you were really lucky, there would be treasure waiting. Usually, a box of butter mints.


All these year later, I have great affection for this quirky little hutch. I had such fun filling it and everything looks new and fresh against the creamy white. Isn't Grandma's soup tureen lovely up top? And while china and crystal seem to be outdated for brides these days, the women in my family all gathered up a set when they married. True, it mostly sits and looks pretty these days, but my mother assures me I'll be glad I have it in the future. I do still love it.

Overall, I'm quite satisfied. There is only one thing that I will have to remedy quickly ... a trip to the store to purchase some butter mints!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

To Which the Season Invites

This delicious gray sweater coat is going to get a lot of wear this year. It's like a robe you can wear in public! Brilliant.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

We Love it When You Come

 We had a visit from Grammy and Gramps today. In order for them to enter the house, delighted screaming and jumping must first commence. They entered with appropriate fanfare.

After the hugs and general arrival chaos had a chance to calm, Gramps looked at The Project and it's wonky doors. He then declared that the 35 year old hinges had to be replaced. Drat. Grammy french braided Lucette's hair (and then Jane's) and declared her to be beautiful. She is.


Coffee and pumpkin cookies in the sun. Giggles and wrestling. Episodes of Andy Griffith and many contented sighs.

And when they left for the evening, we stood outside and waved ... and screamed and jumped. We love it when they come.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Day for Pumpkins

Jane and I went to the pumpkin patch today. A stunning morning, replete with tractor-pulled hayrides, the perfect pumpkin selection process, a pint-sized seminar on farming, and a revelation that potatoes have "eyes."

Mom broke part of the stem off when it tumbled about in the van. But Jane assured me that Violet was okay. (Violet the pumpkin??) Good thing we picked a tough one. I'm sure it won't be the first time she gets roughed up a bit by a member of our family.

We'll find a nice dry patch for Violet to hang out until her day of martyrdom arrives. We'll just think of it as ... her coming day of transformation.

The Project is Almost Done

Can you hardly wait? I promise. I'll show you when it's done.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Monday, October 5, 2009

Pumpkin, How Do I Love Thee?

I have been suffering through a pumpkin famine these past weeks. All of our neighborhood markets have been completely out of canned pumpkin with only a shrug to offer as explanation. Quite a trial for me, considering how much I love fall baking.

But, all is well once more. Jane and I hit the pumpkin jackpot while doing the week's marketing this morning. They did, however, only have the giant cans, no smallies. So what's a couple of girls to do? A pumpkin baking marathon. Two batches of pumpkin biscotti, pumpkin date cookies, and a smidge of puree leftover that I think I can incorporate into the pancake mix.

The biscotti is a new recipe, but I think it will be a keeper. My new Grace Livingston Hill book and a cup of coffee will meet up with a plate of these darlings before the day is over!

They turned out a tiny bit soft at the center (not necessarily a bad thing!), but should crisp up by tomorrow if I let sit out over night. I'm also toying with the idea of dipping some of them in chocolate, as well. Any votes?

Pumpkin Biscotti

Combine and set aside:
.5 c. canned pumpkin
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 T vanilla

Mix together:
3.5 c. flour (I used a mix of white whole wheat & regular unbleached)
1.5 c. brown sugar (or 1 c. white sugar)
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2.5 t. pumpkin pie spice

Add pumpkin mixture to dry, stir to combine.
Flour your hands and a clean kitchen surface and lightly knead the dough. On a parchment lined cookie sheet, form the dough into a large, flat log (only about 1/2 inch high). Bake for 23 minutes at 350 degrees, until the center is firm to the touch. Drop temperature to 300 degrees.

Let the big guy cool for 15 minutes and then using a serrated knife, cut into 1 inch wide pieces. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes at 300. Cool on wire rack.
*Make into smaller, "two-bite biscotti" and cut the baking time by a few minutes.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Backyard Glory

I was wishing the rain would stop so I could finish off an outdoor project I had started. But then I put on my hooded jacket and my garden clogs...

... and I changed my mind.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mini Freezer Meatballs

The change in seasons has really motivated me to get the freezer stocked up. Schedules are busy but we are all still hungry!

My latest effort, with much thanks to our Martha Stewart and her lovely Everyday Foods magazine, is in the form of mini meatballs. I'm thinking these will be perfect for quick pasta dishes, a teriyaki slow-cooker meal, or simmered in some hearty soups.

Squash with your hands in a large bowl:
1 lb. lean ground beef
2 slices bacon, finely chopped (optional)
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley (less if dried)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 T grated Parmesan cheese
1-2 T breadcrumbs
1 egg
1/8 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper

Form into small balls by taking a scoop with a spoon and rolling into a ball. Place on wax-paper lined cookie sheet and freeze for 1 hour. Place frozen meatballs into ziploc bags and label:

•Bake frozen meatballs at 400 degrees for 15 minutes (or 'til cooked through).
•For use in soup or sauce, simmer frozen meatballs in liquid (cover pan) for about 10-15 minutes.

**Note: For hardly any extra effort, I quadrupled this recipe and was rewarded with over 100 small to medium sized meatballs!