Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Warm fuzzies

Well, Autumn is officially here, with chilly evenings & breezy days.

The perfect time to take out a scarf. Or two.

Or, perhaps, the perfect time to make a new one!

I'll be the first to admit I lacked more than a little self-control last year in the yarn aisle. Anything soft, brightly colored & on sale was fair game! I ended up with a bountiful collection of skeins just waiting to be balled up & knitted into something special.

I also managed to amass a nice collection of various sizes of knitting needles. The bamboo ones are my favorite. They just feel, well, nice.

I've told myself I am not allowed to buy any more yarns until I use a few in the stash. (Believe me, the ones pictured are barely a glimpse of what lurks in the closet!) I had to repeat this little mantra a few times this week. Once, when I got the notice that the mohair blends in the new fall color trends were on sale. Again when I realized I hadn't found the perfect shade to go with that great leather jacket I picked up on clearance.

And yet again when I realized that, while some people eat for comfort, I tend to go shopping under stress & find things that make me feel good. And soft, snoogly things certainly make me feel good!

There has also been talk of adding to the Maine Coon collection. The two resident cats seem to understand & are not terribly pleased with the idea. Although they do like the yarn basket!!

I should also make a point to continue on with the afghan.

Colder nights are coming, and I've got quite a ways to go!!!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Autumn Images

Inspired by "20 Things I Love About Autumn", here are some pictures of the neighborhood:

When the ad screen comes up to cover the pics, click on the almost hidden "X" up in the right corner & the slide show will resume. I can't seem to pull that out of the coding.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Don't sit under the old pear tree.....

I know, I know.

The song is supposed to go: "Don't sit under the APPLE tree with anyone else but me."

But growing up, the only apple tree in the yard was a dwarf Jonathon, & not even the dog would fit under it to sit comfortably.

We did, however, have a 100 foot tall Bartlett pear tree smack in the middle of the back yard.

Ok, it was probably only 30 feet at its tippy top, but when you are a very small child (who grew into a petite adult), it certainly seemed gigantic!

I loved that tree.

In Spring, it would burst forth with spicy white blossoms. I would tear off a small branch every year & smuggle it up to my room to breathe in the perfume.

In Summer, I would climb up & sit in the lower branches. I was a tom-boy wanna be. Afraid of heights. And always scraping my knees. The pear tree had a branch just low enough for me to scoot up without a problem. I would also spread out my blankie underneath its shade & have picnics with Pooh Bear. Pretend picnics, with delicious invisible tea.

And in Fall, that pear tree would be laden with the most beautiful, wonderful, fabulous pears in the entire world. Golden yellow, full of juice, & sweetened by the summer sun. In good years, there were thousands of them. (Remember, I thought the tree was 100 feet tall too!) Oh, it was the BEST time of the year! Pears everywhere! The tree would drop them just as they ripened, so the challenge was to find the perfect pear just after it fell, race inside to wash it off, & cut it into halves to eat.

You never, ever picked a pear straight off the ground & bit in.


We were an "organic" family before it was cool. And you could bet that the majority of pears had been sampled at least a tiny bit by something that YOU didn't want to sample in return. You know that old joke: What's worse than finding a worm in your pear? Finding half a worm.


Traditionally, the pear harvest started in late August & lasted until the first frost. We had pears for weeks.

And weeks.

And weeks.

As the youngest, it was my job to pick up the fallen pears every day. When they first started, it was a joy. I would skip along (really, I would) with my little basket, carefully picking the pears up by the stem, checking for damage, & gently placing them in the ever growing pile. I would sort them as instructed: green, turning, yellow, bruised & worm-holed. This was an important role. You couldn't mix up the stages. Being borderline OCD, I was perfect for the job.

As Fall turned out in her full glory, the job became more of a challenge. Soon you had to fight the yellow jackets for the pears. I only got stung once. But I got that pear. I remember singing that "Bringing Home a Baby Bumblee" song with my revised lyrics every year. And there were ants. If you were good, you could shake each & every one off with a single flick.

Let me tell you, I was good!

And for all my hard work, I got pears. Lots of pears. Pears for breakfast, pears for lunch, pears for dinner.

Mom would peel & can quarts & quarts of pears.

She would cook them up, run them through the Foley Food Mill (long before we had food processors, we had our Foley!) and make pear sauce.

We would give bagfuls to the neighbors (my job again, pulling the little red wagon up & down the block), & deliver them to the kitchen at church.

But not once did my mom ever think to put those pears into a pie.

Not once.

I grew up, moved out to the country, & had a yard full of glorious, old oaks.

Oh, how I missed that pear tree!

But every year, I would receive bags & bags of pears.

More than even I could eat.

So one day, I set out on a mission. Sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, I searched cookbook after cookbook for a pear pie recipe. (Oh, the sad days before Google!)

I found....one. One single recipe. One lonely little recipe.

For Fresh Pear Crumble Pie

And it looked delicious. I embellished, of course, adding extra cinnamon & ginger. Lots of ginger. And I used my Pastry Pie Crust recipe.


The house smelled wonderful.

It became a Fall tradition, that pie. I took it to gatherings, I made it for Thanksgiving, I made it for no reason at all except to savor those wonderful pears.

And the reaction was always the same. No one had ever thought to make a pear pie.

I'm glad I did.

The tree from my back yard was cut down oh so many years ago. I am forced to beg for pears, or buy them at the grocery store in a pinch. No pears will ever match the ones from my memories.

But at least I don't have to fight the hornets anymore!

Monday, September 22, 2008

20 More Things I Love About Autumn!

After my initial list of 20 things I love about Autumn, I just couldn't stop thinking about all the wonders the season holds.

And after reading so many great lists at The Inspiried Room, I decided to just keep going!

So, here are 20 MORE reasons to love this time of year!

1. Cattails. The lake down the hill is filled with them, as are all the marshes that line the road into town.

2. Turkeys. Wild Turkeys. Wandering through the back yard. This year's flock is down a bit from last year's turkey brigade when we had 11 every day. They drove the cats bonkers!

3. Marching Band! Yay, band!! I just keep wondering why those guys in tight pants are chasing that ball around the marching field?!

4. Squirrels busily gathering Black Walnuts for Fall; scampering across the road with winter stores.

5. The sound of Canada Geese & Sandhill Cranes.

6. Sunrise. The black velvet cloak of night giving way to the rosy shades of dawn, often with the moon & a planet (or two) still lingering.

7. Chai. Warm, spicy & inviting.

8. Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting Yum!

9. The Alba's Annual Halloween Party

10. EPCOT's Food & Wine Festival

11. Burning Bushes in all their glory.

12. Deer. With full racks of antlers. Standing regally by the side of the road.

13. Indian Summer.

14. Scented tea lights flickering.

15. Ring Neck Pheasant. They just LOOK like Autumn!

16. The morning mist that makes everything seem like it is lost in Faerie world.

17. The Oireachtas. The Regional Irish Dance Championships held at Thanksgiving. The dresses, the dancing, the excitement. I miss the months of preparation & friendship getting ready.

18. English Toffee. I need to dig out that recipe!

19. A Vanilla Latte slowly sipped on the patio of Alterra on the shores of Lake Michigan in the crisp morning air.

20. Walking through the park, crunching the leaves underfoot, picking up acorns. Finding Queen Anne's Lace & leaves to press between pages.

And I probably will think of 20 more things as I drive into work today!!!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Why do I love Autumn?

Let me count the ways.

Or at least let me provide a list of 20 things I love most about Autumn, because after reading Maven's blog The Good Life this morning, I couldn't resist whipping up my own little list & joining the fun.

And, as luck would have it, I needed to drive into the sleepy little town we live near to drop off a panful of Lemon Bars for the Choir Booster booth at the Fall Festival. The sights & sounds helped me remember the countless reasons why I love it when Autumn rolls around.

My 20, in no particular order:

1. The crisp "snap" in the air; warm enough to lift your face to the sun & glory in the warmth, but cool enough to need that jacket you couldn't pass up from the latest sale.

2. Fresh Pear Crumble Pie with the smell of ginger that fills the kitchen. This brings back the memories of the HUGE Bartlett pear tree that towered over my childhood back yard.

3. Boots. You can never have enough pairs of boots. Soft, supple, go with anything, boots.

4. Caramel apples. "Designer" caramel apples. Cut into wedges, with a generous topping of homemade, buttery caramel, warm fudgey chocolate sauce and pecans.

5. The changing colors of the leaves; the waves of colors on the hillside as you drive into town. The rich reds, golds, oranges and browns with a smattering of green still holding on to the memories of summer.

6. Comfort food that takes hours to simmer: stews and sauces, filled with the goodness of "fresh from the field" produce.

7. Bonfires. Complete with S'mores.

8. Snoogly sweaters pulled from their summer slumber.

9. A nice cup of Earl Grey while curled up on the couch with at least one of the cats after a long day.

10. Soups. I could live on soup. And a crusty French baguette.

11. The Full Harvest moon that seems to take over the entire sky.

12. Migration time. For birds & monarchs alike. Just the other morning, as I drove past the corner stables, the horses had gotten a bit frisky & were chasing a flock of blackbirds around the pasture, racing up & down the hill, not letting them land for more than an instant before they needed to take flight again.

13. The first night that it is chilly enough to light a fire.

14. Stargazing, as Orion begins to take its winter place to watch over me.

15. Hot apple cider. Fresh apple cider, warmed with cinnamon, ginger & cloves.

16. Sleeping with the window open & the blankets piled up.

17. Wooly bear caterpillars.

18. Farmer's markets. With the sights, sounds & smells that surround you.

19. Back to school. Even though I have been long gone from having to report for classes, I still pick up something new to learn.

20. Preparation for the Holidays.

And I could probably list another 20 more!!

Go to The Inspiried Room to make your own list!

How the peppers got unstuffed.

When I was growing up, my absolute favorite food was Stuffed Peppers.

Only....it wasn't.

My mom would spend a day in the kitchen, the counter full of vegetables fresh from the gardens (yes, we had several), chopping & dicing & cooking up a storm in between canning & freezing. She would have a big pot on the stove, simmering for hours. It contained a magical concoction of tomatoes, onions, garlic, seasonings & beef. At the proper point, she would add cooked rice & continue simmering.

Then, the crowning glory.

Fresh green peppers.

Huge green peppers.

Green peppers that grew in abundance in at least two of the gardens. And by "abundance", I am talking a couple bushel baskets full each & very year.

Mom would wash & core the peppers & carefully fill each one with the rich saucy blend. Then she would gently submerge each pepper in the huge pot of remaining sauce and the simmering would continue. The house was filled with the savory smell of Mom's Stuffed Peppers.

We would sit around the family table & mom would ladle out our dinner. Each waiting plate would receive a huge, filled green pepper & an extra scoop of sauce.

Perfection. Well, except for the added shake of salt it always needed.

I would dig into that pepper, removing bite after scrumptious bite of that wonderful filling. I would dig around that pepper, making sure not to miss a morsel.

Until all that was left was the pepper.

A huge, lonely pepper.

Devoid of any sauce.

Sitting there.


Waiting for me to eat it.

And, oh, how I dreaded that part; having to consume an entire green pepper, all on its own. No sauce. No nothing. Just a huge....green....pepper.


Dinner would then drag on for hours as I stared that pepper down, hoping it would just go away. But it never did. I would lose the battle & choke down the pepper.

But I loved that sauce!

And, come the next year, at birthday time, I would beg for stuffed peppers.

And the ritual would begin all over again.

Huge, empty "unstuffed" pepper & all.

Then, one day, I grew up, had a kitchen of my own, & realized I had the power to change things.

Big things.

Like green peppers.

And, I decided that you didn't need to fill a pot with green peppers. You could use 2. Cut in half. And fill those & let them simmer.

And I wasn't a mean mommy.

If my kids didn't like the green pepper, they didn't have to eat much of it.

And an entire green pepper would be put away with the leftovers.

So, guess what?

You didn't even need to use 2 green peppers.

You could use one.

Cut into pieces.

And simmer those in the sauce.

And no one would have to choke down anything.

"Unstuffed" Peppers

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Another chapter begins

I've been blogging for a long time over in that other "space", but there is a whole 'nother side to me that seldom reared it's pretty little head.

Maybe it is because I have cultivated my own little MS image. Maybe it is because, as a study in contrasts, there are so many facets of my life that don't always gel well together, & like me sometimes, didn't really fit in.

Maybe, just maybe, it is because I had forgotten about the inner domestic goddess I used to be.

You know, the one that used to bake fresh bread to go with dinner; the one that worried about whether or not you could actually eat off the floors, not that you would, but if needed...; the one that everyone made fun of by calling "Martha Stewart" (prior to the messy scandal) or Mrs. Cleaver.

The one that had a recipe for everything, who knew several secret uses for a glue gun, & who could whip up a pair of faerie wings in a snap!

So, inspired by Maven, I decided to set up a little corner here to let the muse run amok.

Amok, amok, amok, amok!