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Archive for October, 2009

Trick-Or-Treat

This was taken in August at Penny Newkirk’s Country Garden Cuisine on the outskirts of St. Charles. It was a wonderful day learning about her bountiful gardens and cooking school, soaking up local history and being inspired as we watched her cook in her impressive kitchen. We then had the pleasure of eating the fruits of her labor in her historical house. Penny had an impressively sprawling pumpkin patch that harbored this beauty, all for her grandchildren to enjoy come Halloween. 

Do you remember your childhood Hallowed Eves? For many like myself, times were simpler. We wandered about in large groups with grocery bags or pillowcases and only came home for a quick bite to eat – or, more likely, to empty our bags, now too heavy, and go out for more. An older youth was usually  in charge and, as we treated about, we’d run into other gangs of cowboys and princesses, ghosts and goblins, and we would exchange useful information, such as where the best treats were or what houses were really haunted.

One year a neighbor, who had a dutch door and was dressed as a witch, cackled away, the bottom door closed, just like the witch in Snow White. She handed us caramel apples, leaving the imprint of her long pointed ruby tinged fingernail in the gooey coating – her mark, so they said, as we hurried away, not quite sure. 

Another year, I was a witch, with a long black robe and a floppy, pointed hat that blocked my vision. This was the 50′s, folks, and there were lots and lots of kids roaming about our neighborhood. My mom was with, so, I was still pretty young, and I was longing to be big enough to go without her and bigger enough still to cross the expressway to the vast unexplored land to the south where even more treats awaited.  I floated that year in my costume of crone, a little bit spooked as a black cat followed us. I was, shall we say, an impressionable child, and so spooked by that cat who was trailing me that while queuing up at one house, allegedly stocked with Hershey bars, I tumbled off the porch, onto the bushes (note, onto not into), my robe ’round my knees, my hat slightly askew and my dignity bruised – an eerie foreshadowing of a life full of tumbles.

The black cat followed me home that night.   Do you have a scaredy-cat story?

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If you read yesterday’s ramblings, you know I was moved by an equine visitor, who passed by our home as we worked on fall chores.  It is one of many pleasures that pass our way .

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While watching the leaves tumble and twirl to my idle delight, I noticed this lone sycamore leaf clinging to a barren Rose of Sharon. It reminded me of O’Henry’s short story, The Last Leaf, first read in high school.  I pulled it up on this wonderful tool we have called the internet and read it anew this morning. Have you read it? You should.  

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The Last Leaf

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A Box of Forrest’s Chocolates

I need a box of chocolates. 

I am having a Forrest Gump sort of day and I need a big box of chocolates.

Tom was out on the riding mower, mulching leaves and raking some onto a tarp to haul back to the makeshift compost pile. I was up front, trimming back hosta leaves, now limp and brown and no longer the golden hue they were a week ago. I would like to say it was quiet, but,  a foundation was being laid down the road and a helicopter was circling overhead. We don’t have the airplane traffic we had in Elmhurst, but, every once-in-awhile we hear the chop, chop, chop of a copter. A few times we have heard its distinctive clip only to go outside and discover one hovering directly over our house. As I said, it seldom happens and is really no big deal, except for today. I wanted today to be quiet. We don’t always get what we want.

An inner resolve to focus on the beauty around me grew and as if by magic, I was almost instantly rewarded as a rider on a magnificent white steed emerged, strutting at a healthy clip down the cutoff and into the secret forest path. 

Back to work.

Raking and cleaning up. Still so much to do. The ground was wet as well as the leaves with even more raining down upon us as we worked. It felt good to be outdoors – we haven’t had many days of late that weren’t laden with rain and holding us captive inside. We have our work cut out for us for awhile.

So, with all this work, I just stood there. Clippers in one hand, one glove on, one glove off, watching. I stood there. Just watching. Small leaves and large leaves, maple and walnut, a melting pot of color and texture painting the driveway and borders and beds. I just stood and watched and as I watched, my excitement grew, like the Grinch’s heart, it built and grew and I smiled a little. The sycamore was shedding its leaves in a perfect and synchronized way. One by one,  each and every leaf put on such a magnificent performance, breaking loose from a branch and swirling down from the very heavens above;  floating and twirling and spinning in abreviated motion, cupping itself to catch the breeze. I was mesmorized by the simple beauty playing out before me.

I thought of Forrest Gump, sitting on the bench, waiting for the bus, a lady or man beside him, telling us all that life was like a box of chocolates, you never knew what you would get, with a single leaf slowly floating by. 

The leaves will be there on our lawns and steps and driveways and eaves. They will make a mess and stretch our backs as we rake and haul and compost and toil.  They will all be there, waiting for us to rake them up and make things neat and tidy, but, take a moment, that’s all it takes, to watch a few fall down, clothed in all their majesty, to our waiting earth.

Now. I’m going out for a box of chocolate.

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Chopsticks

I went to Japan last night.

It was an adventure to Tokyo and Kyoto, Hiroshima and the Japanese Alps, tastes and textures and cultures and even the rejuvenating Japanese baths. I ventured thousands of miles away travelling through the prism of a dear friend’s eyes in her comfortable, suburban livingroom.

Marilyn, a gracious host and always a teacher, had just returned from her latest worldly adventures, which included an extended trip to Japan with schoolyard friends and new acquaintances from her childhood home of Hawaii. Always enriching the lives of others, she entertained several of us last night and once again expanded my view of the world.

We nibbled on appetizers and drinks as she shared pictures of friends and places both commonplace and exotic on the island of Japan as we browsed books of Japanese woodcuts, artwork and even pages from her traveling journal, each of us learning something new in our own way, and collectively enjoying Marilyn’s experiences – and each other’s presence.

We delighted in gifts of bookmarks, each as beautiful and graceful as the culture they represented, and reverted to schoolgirl glee in making our choices. I knew Marilyn was enjoying the gifting as much as were enjoying the gift.

A Japanese dinner followed at her serenely appointed table, where we were first instructed in the graceful art of not only using chopsticks, but, in making a “boat” out of the paper wrappers on which to rest the implements when not in use.  We all made it through the salad course, chopsticks in hand, and I was inordinately pleased at my simple success.

Dessert was a continuation of tasty delights as our hostess took us back to Hawaii and Father Damian’s canonization to sainthood.  Marilyn spoke with reverence about this priest, the “Apostle of Lepers” with a servant’s heart , her experience of visiting Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka’i, and her ancestral history there. I am certain that as she goes forth to speak to classes about Father Damian and his ministry in the late 1800′s that children will be awakened to yet another of all of our collective history and if even one heart is touched it will move our world to be a better place.

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Sweet Autumn

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Tada!

These little friends are resting on our porch.  Aren’t they cute? This was a picture taken the first autumn we were here. I wanted to experiment with adding photos to the blog. I won’t tell you how long it took me to figure this out, but it was long. Very, very long and I squealed with delight when I accomplished this simple task that is second nature to most of you. These things don’t come easy for me. I’d rather be nestled in a book than using technology,  BUT,   I do love a challenge and thank you for allowing me to experiment on you.  

I’ll write again soon and tell you all about my trip to Japan.

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The Great Mocha Pumpkin

I should never, ever attempt to check my emails when I have an early morning meeting. I know I shouldn’t, I swear I shouldn’t, I really shouldn’t, but, like the cat curiosity killed, I did. I awoke with plenty of time, but a full agenda, and I still peeked. Of course, this morning’s inbox was full, and it wasn’t the early morning junk mail I usually have waiting. I shouldn’t have looked, but, I did, and there I was, with an early morning meeting followed by another, and  suddenly late!

A mad hatter rush ensued as I showered and dressed, bolting out the door with wet hair and shortbread stuck to my teeth. It was the last possible moment I could leave and still make it on time. This rush left me of course with no time at all to brush the bevy of new fallen leaves glued to my car.

My car is being punished. Left out in the cold. Banished from the shelter of the garage where piles of wood sit in great anticipation of supporting an arbor that is currently being built. Our first grade neighbor can’t quite figure this latest development out and refers to it as “Penny’s Arbor House”.  (Maybe he knows something I don’t know. Maybe my car isn’t the only thing to be left out in the cold. Hmmmm. ) 

Penny’s Arbor House, though a work in progress, is already beautiful. It compliments the dormers on the barn and the back entryway and is another work of art designed and built by Tom. It needs to be large because it will lead us to “the back 40″ and be a pleasant distraction from the busy world beyond. It will have seats and plenty of room to read and reflect and will provide support for enterprising vines to adorn. For now, however,  it looks like the promising skeleton of a ship, ready to take us away on a briny adventure. 

Well, with no time to lose and looking like the Great Pumpkin in black pants and an orange turtleneck, I tumbled into the car and rolled down the driveway, leaves plastered to every last inch. I was, in effect, camouflaged. A camouflaged pumpkin, tumbling down the drive in a leafy latte colored VW with mocha interior (would I kid you on these colors?) and out onto the cutoff, leaves scattering about, evoking Chevy Chase’s hilarious character in Funny Farm as I picked up speed – the Great Pumpkin Penny, rolling along in another fine mess.

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Trembling taste buds

It has been a busy day for me – catching up on paperwork, letters, filing, and such. It is raining here and cool. A gloomy sort of day that is just perfect for a pot of homemade chicken soup. I also caught up on some phone calls and discovered that my friend June was also making chicken soup. 

I found myself missing my friend, Sharon, today. She is off with her husband on a river boat cruise down the Danube. I am sure she is seeing spectacular sites and is eating some delectable cuisine and I know she is having a good time, because Sharon has a good time wherever she goes. I love that she is experiencing this new adventure that I can’t wait to hear about. I was missing her specifically today because she and I share so many recipes and cooking tips. It was from Sharon that I learned the trick of dipping a baby spoon into cold water before scooping out dough for dumplings. They slide right off with the greatest of ease!  She and I don’t make our dumplings the same way and mine aren’t really dumplings. I not really sure what they are, just that they are a comforting sort of egg noodle that I improvised as I traveled along the life of cooking in my kitchen, with Tom trying to explain years ago something his mom put in her potato soup. I don’t know if mine are like hers, but, they are pretty good anyway,  if I must say so myself, and it is just the sort of day for my chicken soup.

How about you? Was kind of day leads you make a pot of soup, chicken or otherwise?  How do you make your soup? Is it from a can, bouillon cubes, chicken breast or beef bones?  What makes your taste buds tremble and your tummy warm on a gloomy fall day?

Time to make those dumplings.

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Jack-O-Lanterns

We had such a delightfully delicious time yesterday at the home of my dear friend Kathryn and her accommodating assistant, aka hubby Mark, at their soon-to-be-famous “fall fling”. What would otherwise have been a dreary day became a sunny feast with several varieties of chili and a host of toppings, decadent desserts, and a chance to converse with new folks.  I’m still smiling.

 

Kathryn is a watercolorist extraordinaire. Several of her paintings grace our walls and it is with anticipation that I open cards from her that are often crafted from her pictures. The invitation for their chilifest came several weeks ago, adorned with a grinning Jack-O-Lantern. How could we not accept? 

 

Jack-O-Lanterns bring me to this recipe, mentioned in an earlier blog, that several of you have asked for. It came to me many years ago as a complimentary handout from a fabric shop that used to sit across from the tracks in Elmhurst and was called Fabrics Etc.  The shop gave lessons and sold lovely material, patterns, notions, sewing machines, ETC.  Those who know me well know that sewing is not one of my gifts.  Though I have made a few Halloween costumes, a quilt, and craft projects over the years, I was eventually shamefully banished to the scrap pile for stapling Katy’s badges to her Brownie sash.  I think she’s finally forgiven me.  At any rate, here goes…

 

Jack-o-Lantern Tea Loaf

325 degrees

 

Mix in large bowl

2 2/3 c. flour

3 c sugar

2 t baking soda

2 t cinnamon

1 1/2 t cloves

1 t allspice

1 t salt (I use kosher salt)

 

Mix together in another bowl

4 eggs

1 c oil

2/3 c water

1 c chopped pecans 

2 c canned pumpkin (one 15 oz can)

1 c raisins (I use golden raisins)

 

Combine wet with dry ingredients and mix until well blended.  I use my electric mixer. Bake in a large greased Bundt pan for 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean. I’ve baked this in three different ovens over the years and it always takes at least 10 minutes more. 

 

You can also bake in loaf pans and will make 6-8 mini loaves for gift giving or several dozen muffins.  Bake according to time for muffins or loaf cakes.  I find it makes a nice presentation in a Bundt pan.  This holds up well for several days, tastes better the second day, and muffins and loaves freeze well.  

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Now the fishies have a sun!

We both awoke early. Tom always wakes early – I just joined him today. We sat, warm cups of brew in our hands,  and watched our picture window painting change from dark to light as the day broke, thankful for another chance. 

It reminded me of one of the “things to do” in Door County. Finding the perfect spot to watch the sunset is part of experiencing the Door. It is a fun and inexpensive activity and we have some wonderful memories of doing it with our girls when they were young.  

We found a perfect little spot through the woods and up a few steps with a bench or two at a little lookout that was peaceful and serene, but still had some room to wander while awaiting nature’s display.  

I can remember one enchanting evening driving through the dark woods to our favored clearing, parking the car and walking up to the guard rail, looking for pinecones and finding the most intricate spider webs along the way.  A handful of others also laid claim to this lakeside overlook; a few families with small children, an elderly couple, some teens.  The sun was magnificent and the lake was calm.  A sailboat skimmed by in the distance and a cloud or two added some drama.  

We all watched in awe as our sun eased into the water, oohing and aahing in reverent delight. It was magnificent!  It is always magnificent!  

One little girl was full of questions as little girls, and boys, are apt to be, and I think she was having a hard time understanding what the fuss was all about. Her mom gently told her that the sun went to bed and had dropped into the water, to which the little lass proclaimed “Oh.  Now the fishies have a sun“!   I have always remembered that sweet reply and smile anew when it comes to mind.      The fishies have a sun. 

Sunsets are beautiful and dramatic and sunrises hopeful and forgiving as we arise and  get a stab at another day.  

At the risk of a chorus of Fiddler on the Roof, do I dare ask, which is your favorite? Sunrise or sunset?

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A Golden Harvest

I wish you could see our house today.  Someday I will figure out how to attach pictures, but, for now, I’ll try to paint a word picture.

Our deck, which is just outside our kitchen and diningroom doors, is carpeted in leaves.  An orange and gold patterned blanket covers the chaise, where it drapes, slightly askew, as if someone had been reading, reclined, just a few minutes ago.  The pots once filled with herbs, annuals, and tomatoes hold an icing of color and sycamore leaves sit on the table and make a romantic table setting. 

Elsewhere, the trees, the grass, the drive are all a glorious, golden mess. Leaves still cling to trees, but, they are thinning out, much like an aging rock star. We can see nests that weren’t visible just a few days ago. I thought a small nest had been built in our Royal Frost and laughed when I realized it was a walnut that must have fallen from the tree nearby – or else the work of a squirrel.  It is too high for me to reach – I’m sure Antler Man will come to its rescue.

It is too wet here on the cutoff today, with predictions of more rain to come, so, the raking and cutting and putting the gardens to bed will wait for a drier day. The leaves will take a great deal of time and effort to clean up.  We usually haul most of the ones in the front to the street, where the city trucks come by, mulch them, and take them away.  Huge drifts adorn our road and are really quite impressive.  The rest are deposited in a makeshift compost pile in the way back. Wherever the destination, all are amassed into piles and hauled on sheets or tarps. The resident herd must watch in wonder from the places they hide. 

I know the leaves are golden, but have been overwhelmed in what to do with them.  They are rich and organic and worthy of a fate more useful than mere roadside decoration. When a friend emailed some information about classes with a local garden and landscaping expert (whose garden, home and lifestyle are worthy of a story of its own) I jumped at the chance to attend a class at her home/business on composting.

I was Vickie Nowicki’s only student yesterday and was amazed that she kept the class going just for me.  She broke down the art of composting in a meaningful and appealing way before showing me the garden, which takes up the entire property.  I went knowing I needed to do something with the rich material we have here –  just overwhelmed with how to go about it.  I spent a rainy morning sipping apple mint tea harvested from the massive suburban garden, which sustains them throughout the year, taking notes, learning about the soil food web, exudates, predatory nematodes –  and how to build a compost pile.  I learned of wonderful new uses for Antler Man’s harvest of tree limbs and have practical, rather easy ideas for containing our golden autumn windfalls that will improve our soil and help us to give back to this wonderful property that pleases us in oh-so-many ways.  

I am always so excited to learn new things and grow and stretch outside the box. Thank you Vickie, for your great tutorial and example of how we can live a better life and be kinder to our good earth,  and thank you, Rosalie, for letting me know.

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