Monday, October 29, 2007

I'll get you, my pretty!

Saturday we hosted a Halloween party for 20 of our sweet friends and their kiddos. I think it will have to be the first annual.

I made lots of sweet treats and watched our home fill up with witches and lions and monkeys - oh, my!

It was one of those warm, sweet autumn days...

Even though I feel as if I have a thousand irons in the fire, I took a singular pleasure in throwing this little party. No pressure, and it was such a scrumptious way to start off the holiday season.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Giving and Receiving

We've just returned from a long weekend in WV. We went because my friend Beth was having a baby shower and since my mother is in CA we had the pleasure of staying with my grandparents, who live next door to the home in which I grew up.

There's no place on earth as comforting to me as my grandparent's sweet house. Although my family life has largely not turned out as I thought it would, my grandparents and their haven in the woods have stayed constant. I'm one of the very few and fortunate people who have a set of idyllic grandparents straight out of a movie. They're among my favorite people on earth, and the only people that these days I can spend time with and feel utterly cared for. I've been needing that kind of connection and tenderness for a long time.

Their home is sacred ground to me, not only because I practically grew up in it, but also because I was married there. See that rhododendron bush in the background behind the little statue? We were married right in front of it.

My grandmother is 4'11" tall and I am nearly 6 ft, and although we are a completely mismatched pair we are alot the same on the inside. Except she is infinitely gentle and kind. Mammy is a gifted cook and certainly the reason I have such an affinity for the kitchen myself. When I think of the tastes of my life I inevitably come back to her food: hot rolls, roast beef, apple pies, biscuits, stewed apples, creamed tomatoes. Many years ago I began to ask her to teach me how to make her food and she would spend hours guiding me through pie crusts and yeast breads. It is painful beyond words to think of my own children not knowing her they way I have, so I'm nearly obsessed with filling their memories with the tastes and aromas of her home so they can always have a connection to her.

Check out her pantry. Pete and I just crack up:

I finished up the quilt just in time for the shower and I think Beth really liked it.

I'm curious.... Does anyone else sometimes struggle with giving handmade gifts? I'm just asking because I feel that my spirit of gift-giving changes if I've actually made the gift. When I make something for someone else I usually don't have feelings that I want to keep it, but what I do struggle with are the expectations I have of the recipient. It's really so unfair, because so much of the crafter goes into a gift, what is an appropriate response? This really isn't about this particular gift because she was totally tickled with the quilt, but any time I give a handcrafted gift, I really do give a bit of my heart away with it. And I suppose in gift-giving, as in love, you need to be careful who you give your heart to. I guess I'm fortunate to have lots of sappy friends who love sentimental stuff as much as I do.

The Handmade Market is in just 2 weeks and I am really working furiously to try to get everything completed in time, so please forgive me if I am Bad Blogger for the next little bit. I'm also hosting a Cut-the-Pumpkin Party for the neighborhood kids on Saturday and haven't even planned a daggum thing. But what could be bad about even a lame Halloween party? Absolutely nothing.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunday Fair

There's something so old-fashioned about a state fair. So Rogers and Hammerstein. I just love them.

I'd never been to the NC fair before but was so delighted by our morning there.

We saw the sweetest little animals. These piglets remind me of the one that my sister had as a child. Don't be fooled: they are strong and loud. We lived in a nice residential neighborhood and before the pig got too big my sister would put a fuchsia and rhinestone leash on it, don high heels, and walk that swine around the block. As it got older it would get out of its pin and folks would leave messages on our voicemail saying, "Uhmmm...there's a pig in our yard, and I'm thinking it might be yours... ".

This is I.M. That's his name. His owner told me that he is a stud donkey and that he has 12 girlfriends. What a job. I told him I thought I.M.'s name should be Hef.

So of course the best thing about a fair is the crap food, and Pete and I ate our fair share of tubular meat and funnel cakes and apple cider.

The fair has a sweet, Mayberry-type feel to it. We were there on Sunday morning so there were gospel sings.

I think these are mules. Such docile creatures, and so content.

It does. It really does.

Friday, October 12, 2007


In an unfortunate turn of fate, we lost our internet connection sometime Monday night. When I woke up Tues morning to persistent "cannot find server" messages I thought I was going to be sick and hysterical all at the same time and went around the house screaming, "But it's my only contact with the outside world!!!!".

So for three days I have soldiered on, trying to imagine how I got through my life before the days of the WWW. Several times a day I would frantically check - has it come back on? Nothing. My name is Jill and I have an internet addiction.

But then this afternoon - a miracle!! It's fixed!! My hands literally shook with glee as I bopped from one site to another, barely daring to believe it's true. My son, who has never watched a TV program was allowed 30 minutes of all-access Thomas the Train viewing on YouTube. It was the virtual equivalent of the scene in Willy Wonka where the gluttonous children are allowed to gorge themselves on the edible world. That was me - the fat kid from Germany.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Workin'. Sorta.

There's come to be a running joke in our house that by the time the market rolls around in early November, my hands will be so gnarled and arthritic from incessant crocheting that if anyone wants to buy an item I will have to wrap it up with my toes and have them place the money between my teeth.

I did manage to step away long enough this weekend to have a lovely visit with one of my BFFs, Kerri, and her cute kiddo. I wish I'd gotten some pictures, but it's hard to balance a camera when you have a glass of wine in one hand and a honkin' slab of flourless chocolate cake in the other. And the girl brought me homemade apple butter. Bless her.

Thanks for all of your generous congrats about my job. I decided to take down the post I wrote last Friday because even though I don't like to be my own worst censor, I do try to be conscientious of the energy contained in a post. I was feeling crabby and funky when I wrote that, so I kicked it to the curb. But I did save your kind words - y'all are just the nicest.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

You Asked for It

too. much. wine.

must. sleeeeeeep.

But before I do, here's the recipe for the cake, taken from Martha's Baking Handbook. I'm sure I'm violating tons of copyright laws by publishing this, so copy it quickly - or better yet, buy her book. You won't regret it.

Apple Spice Cake with Goat-Cheese Frosting

1 3/4 cups plus 1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 lbs (about 4) McIntosh apples, peeled cored and cut into chunks
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter at room temperature
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp all spice
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup honey
4 large eggs
Cream Cheese Frosting


In a medium sauce pan, spread 1/3 cup sugar in an even layer, cook over medium high hear, without stirring, until sugar begins to turn golden and melt around the edges (3-4 min). Using a wooden spoon, slowly stir until meted and mixture is a translucent golden amber. Add apple chunks and lemon juice, and stir to coat apple pieces with caramel. Cover and cook over low heat until apples fall apart, 6-8 minutes. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches the consistency of applesauce and generously coats the back of the spoon, about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using butter wrappers, grease 3 6-2” round cake pans (or 2 9-2” pans); line bottoms with parchment paper. Butter parchment, and dust with flour, tapping out excess; set aside. Into a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and nutmeg; set aside. In a small bowl, combine milk and vanilla; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, remaining 1 3/4 cups of sugar, and honey on medium high speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition, until smooth.

With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the milk mixture and beginning and ending with flour, beat until just combined after each, being careful not to overmix. Add cooled applesauce; mix to combine, about 1 minute.

Divide the batter among prepaired pans. Bake, rotating pans halfway through (don’t think you can get away w/o rotating the pans, until the cakes pull away from the sides of the pans and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean, 35-40 minutes (40-45 min if using 9” pans). Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 20 minutes. Run a knife or offset spatula around the edges. Invert cakes onto the rack; peel off parchment paper. Reinvert cakes and let them cool completely, top sides up.

Frost with Goat Cheese Icing . You can use all cream cheese if you want, but the goat cheese was delish.

Goat Cheese Frosting

12 oz. goat cheese, room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Put cheeses into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until smooth. Reduce speed to medium-low, and mix in sugar and vanilla. Raise speed to medium-high, and mix until fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes.

Monday, October 1, 2007

So much to say so little. And cake.

You know when something happens that is humiliating or embarrassing and everyone takes that opportunity to remind you that one day you'll laugh about it? So not true.

In October, 1996, my college BFF, Kerri, and I decided to, on a whim, audition for a production at our small college. Typically these productions were the near-exclusive purvey of the theatre department, but we went to the auditions with relative confidence because we'd gotten it on good authority that the "real" actors - those souls brave enough to declare a theatre major - weren't interested in the show and therefore wouldn't be auditioning. We knew most of those folks socially, a few even a bit more than socially, and neither one of us wanted to make fools of ourselves with an audience. It was only under the condition of their absence we even considered it - we were sensible biology and psych majors whose only interest in college theatre up to this point was trying to score a little play with the actors themselves. (Bad pun, and really it was only me - Kerri knew better.) We'd just go for fun, we decided, because who wants to be in a play about Pentecostal snake handlers anyway? This would just be good practice in case we ever really did want parts in a show. Like My Fair Lady.

Long story short, we end up auditioning and - surprise! - were joined in said audition by every single member of the theatre department. It was an open audition and so, so embarrassing, and Kerri and I were going about it all kind of half-assed and badly, and all these cute theatre boys we were friends with and kind of liked (again, I guess just me) were staring at us like we were nuts and I went through the motions thinking, Oh my God - I just want to be home studying mitochondria.

People - they made us sing. Alone.

After that debacle she and I left the theatre clutching our abdomens in pain and embarrassment and I think I even threw up a little. Eleven years later the memory of that evening still causes bile to rise in my throat. It was so bad, it just never got funny. Kerri agrees.

My close friend Bo - front and center - was always the star of these productions (weren't 'cha, Bo? Don't deny it.) and true to form he was to play the Star Snake Handler. In quite possibly the worst consolation prize of all time, the stage manager asked me (after decidedly not being cast in the show) to be assistant stage manager. The show was quite dramatic, and at in one scene Bo had to violently destroy a wooden crate (you know - the kind they keep snakes in at your church. They do keep snakes in wooden crates at your church, don't they?). Taking one for Team Theatre (and we all know what team that is), he ended up squishing a finger which quickly turned a deep shade of aubergine. Ever crafty, I knit him a bright red finger cozy to hide his disfigurement. A bright red finger cozy. Beat that, Martha.

All of that to say that when Bo joked on my last post that I needed a finger cozy, he was so right. My middle finger on my left hand is agonizingly tender and callused after 3 straight days of crocheting pieces of fruit and flowers the size of my thumbnail. But aren't they cute? Norma Lynn gave me permission to recreate them and I'm donating the proceeds from them to an animal charity in her honor.

I made this cake as well over the weekend. It's the same one Kerri made for us a few weeks ago, and I spread the wealth to my visiting grandparents. It was prettier in life, and absolutely heavenly. You just can't beat a homemade cake.