Saturday, July 30, 2011

When The Muse Calls . . We Bake!

Much like when those creative urges get so strong, that they can't, or at least shouldn't be denied, it is much the same when the Culinary Faerie sprinkles her dust over your head. .no matter how hot and sticky it is, you are compelled to bake! And that is how it came to be that in 90 degree weather outside, I had the oven on, inside. Thank the stars for air conditioning!

Today, I made a Chocolate Guinness Cake.  Word of warning. The wafting fragrance of this cake baking, will alert noses, that will hover around, anxiously awaiting for it to cool enough to eat. 

This is an adult cake, not overly sweet, and is SO GOOD with vanilla ice cream! It is such a straightforward recipe, I didn't take a lot of photos. I'm sure that you can follow along, just fine!

Put an oven rack in the middle position of your oven, and preheat it at 325 degrees F. Grease and flour the bottom and sides of a 9 x 3 inch round pan, or use that handy dandy cake release product that Wilton makes. (You can find it at JoAnn's, or other stores that sell Wilton baking equipment and supplies)

You are going to need:

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup cocoa powder (not Dutch processed. .you want a dark, rich, unsweetened cocoa powder)

1 3/4 teasp. baking powder

1/2 teasp. baking soda

1/2 teasp. cinnamon

21 Tblsp. unsalted butter, softened

2 1/4 Cups brown sugar,firmly packed

3 large eggs

1 1/2 teasp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups Guinness stout (do not include the foam in the measurement)

1 cup rough chopped pecans (lightly toasted)

Confectioner's Sugar for dusting

Spread the pecans in a single layer and place in the oven for 10 minutes or so. .check after 5 minutes, and be careful not to let them get too brown. They should just be fragrant and sweet smelling. Let them cool, then break into pieces.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon into a medium bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium-high speed until creamy. Gradually add the brown sugar and beat at high speed until very light and fluffy. Stop and scrape the sides, beater, and bottom of the bowl, if necessary.

One medium low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Reduce the speed to low, and add the dry ingredients in three portions, alternating with the Guinness, twice, and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix just until all ingredients are combined.

Add the pecans, and mix on low, until they are distributed through the batter.

Remove the beater, and mix through once or twice with the spatula to make sure that all of the ingredients are mixed in. Pour and scrape the batter into the pan, leveling it with your spatula. The batter will be thick.

Bake the cake for 70-75 minutes, or until a pick inserted into the middle, comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes.

Invert the cake onto the rack and cool completely. Transfer to a cake plate, and dust with confectioner's sugar just before serving with that home made vanilla ice cream!!

You can store it in an airtight container for up to a week, should it last that long!


Friday, July 15, 2011

Memories & Music

Music, melodies, and sometimes even just few notes, like fragrances and aromas, are quick triggers, not only creating an instant mood, but transporting us back to incidents in our lives, sometimes buried and forgotten, until we hear that song that meant so much to us then, or maybe a song that simply makes us “feel” something intangible, that touches us, yet we don’t quite know why.

Recently, before my Facebook account was hacked (by someone in England. .they had it pinpointed to the exact town too!, so I’m laying low for awhile over there),  I saw where people were listing by day a song that made them feel a certain way. .happy, sad, etc. And some days, I would mentally play along, trying to come up with a song in my own memory banks. Some were easy to think of, while others, I drew a blank. I guess my mind is just too over-wrought these days, filled with “must-do’s”, to think creatively.

Admittedly, I don’t listen to much pop radio these days, so my answers weren’t too relatively current.  My music choices have always been diverse, even when I was a child, then a teenager, listening to the top 40 with my friends, and thoroughly rocking with it, then listening to Broadway musicals, Classical, Folk, & Blues, with just as much enjoyment.  My answers were culled from my memory bank.

My Hubs and I have “our song” as many people do. One that is special to us, and we hear it every so often on oldies stations, and get to dance to it at wedding receptions. It always leaves me a little teary eyed. Not only because it fills me with an almost overwhelming love for him, but because it makes me realize how much time as gone by, and how I treasure those moments.  And now with him being  ill, time is even more precious.

Jump back a few more years. .play any Moody Blues, and I’m transported to pulling all-nighter’s studying for college finals, after returning to school, with toddlers hanging from my waist length hair, and granny dresses.

Go back a few more. .Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf makes me think of. . . .umm, never mind. . keep going back. .going back. . .

Even the first few notes of Dion & The Belmonts singing Run Around Sue, and I’ m in the backseat of my best friend’s boyfriend’s car, in the Fall of 1961, my Sophomore year. .first year at the High School, with my group of friends, on our way to the football game. And just as we got to the parking lot, the airwaves, be-bopping across L. Michigan, from WLS in Chicago, would start playing the #1 song of the week. And I would again endure another moment of good natured ribbing, not only because I was basically a shy, so NOT runaround Sue, but because it was a kick-a** song, and still is! If you want to listen to it, please click off the music below, and play this clip:

A few years earlier, Mr. Blue, by the Fleetwoods (no “Mac”), sends me spinning on the Octopus at the country fair, fighting with a huge pink poof of sticky cotton candy, the blending of the aromas and sounds of the midway. Snoozing in the hay in the horse barn, warm with the smell of leather, fresh hay, and yes, horses, all mingled together, warm and sweet.  And feeling the first stirring of Summer love.

Tripping further back along memory lane, another song that brings back fun, but poignant times, is another “Sue” song. When the Everly Brothers came out with Wake Up Little Suzie in 1951, it gave my Dad the perfect fodder for waking me up for school each morning. I still remember him coming in on those dark cold mornings, after he had gone down to stoke up the coal furnace, and singing the lyrics, intentionally off key, to start my day with a laugh and a smile. It worked. .for a while! 

Now, in a slight mind-bending time warp, coming back to present, about the same time as I’m seeing these personal trips through the musical vaults on Facebook, I hear a segment on NPR about a memory study, and how they have been recording what children remember, at what age, and how most of our earliest memories disappear from our consciousness as we get older.  I found the different stories from people to be very interesting, and some surprising, like the woman who can’t remember anything before her 14th year.  But most adults can remember incidents from their grade school years, and some remembering earlier moments.

It made me remember again, a number of things about the house that we lived in before I was a year old. .the layout, the furniture, how it was decorated, and routine daily events.  There are also some special moments too, and the one that stands out most clearly, and still affects me today, involves music.

Picture a warm, but not hot, late afternoon, in late Summer/early Autumn. The living room has a muted mustard wallpaper on it, with small flowers, causing the room to glow. The woodwork is a dark brown, and Irish Lace curtain panels are gently puffing in the cool breeze that is coming in from the West window, teasing the pattern shadowed on the floor into a lazy dance.  Dust motes are doing their own ballet on the sunbeams filtering through the fabric, and little Suzie is sitting contentedly on her Daddy’s lap, watching these movements with fascination, and listening to radio, in its tall wooden cabinet, while her Mama was in the kitchen, making dinner.

The notes start slowly, in a rhythm that seems to match the dancing dust and lacy tracings on the floor. .the notes. .the music. .the nuances seem to soak right in, and touch someplace deep inside of me, causing me a sweet anguish that I don’t understand, and certainly can’t verbalize. I’m not even a year old! 

Unbeknownst to me, I’m listening to George Gershwin’s Summertime, from Porgy & Bess, and as it plays it seems to become a part of me, or I, it.  If anyone ever wanted to do a study on how music affects people when they otherwise cannot express themselves, this is would be a prime example.  I wasn’t reacting to the words, but the music. I think that this song is the epitome of what a song should do. Touch your soul and make you feel it. .to breath it.

I am told that when the line was sung, “. .so hush now little, baby, don’t you cry”, right on cue, that is exactly what I did!  My Mom rushed in from the kitchen, asking my Dad what was wrong, what happened, and he, sitting there stunned, is uttering, “Nothing! I don’t know WHAT happened! She was sitting here content and quiet, and the next thing I know, she burst into tears!” It took a lot of cuddling to console me. (Ice cream would have worked faster, but I had no say in the matter).

It wasn’t until I was an adult, that I could sit through that song without crying, and was finally able to share my side of that event so very long ago.  My parents were fascinated not only that I could remember and relate what had happened, confirmed by their memories, but that I was so affected by Gershwin’s music.

 When I was little, and it came on the radio or televisionI found a way to leave the room until it was over. If I was in a car, I had to work really hard to concentrate on something else, and not get captured by the magic.  Even today, it is one of my favorite songs. I love the music so much, even though it makes me feel melancholy. Maybe that is what I love about it. .the depth that it makes me “feel”. It is almost tangible to me.

Through the years, I discovered that I was drawn to Gershwin’s other songs too, although I didn’t know that he was the composer at the time.  To my delight, my piano teacher brought me sheet music to Rhapsody In Blue, when she felt that I wouldn't completely make a mess of it. And then I began to tie in all of the other songs that I loved in those Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers movies. But while I enjoy them all, none of them have touched me in the way that Summertime has.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that George Gershwin and I share the same Birthdate!  I’ve wondered from time to time, what he would have thought if he had known how powerful his music truly was, that he could touch the heart of a little baby.

I don’t think that I’m alone in this phenomenon, and perhaps you have had some piece of music fill your soul, too.

I’m also interested in how far back you can remember any experiences. .how old were you?

Thank you for reading my story, now I’m looking forward to learning yours! Please share it!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Follow-up To Planting Veggies

I just found an organization, with chapters all over the U.S., called Food Not Lawns.  If you click on the link, you will reach their group page. Google it, and you will see listings of community chapters all over the country!

How encouraging!!

Off To The "Pokey" For Planting Peas!

She planted peas and tomatoes, not Marijuana or Opium Poppies. This is one of those cases where you have to seriously wonder if the municipal city planner is pressing charges, simply because he can’t make improvements where changes actually need to be made, (like in the crack neighborhoods) and will need some sort of “accomplishment” to add to his sad, lean resume when it comes time to run for office again.

Oak Park is on the other side of the state from where I live. It is outside of Detroit, and while all of Michigan is suffering from the loss of much of its industrial base, the East side residents have been hit particularly hard, due to the centralization of the auto industry plants, and the impact of their closings.  The state is continually making cutbacks, the various cities and towns are having to cut back too, and citizens are feeling a HUGE pinch!

So when Julie Bass, who lives not in a luxury gated community, where itemized by-laws are written into your mortgage, and you are handed a Webster’s Unabridged sized handbook of your “do’s and don’ts” along with your payment book, but in a nice middle-class neighborhood, decided to do something creative, but at the same time, practical, to help with her family’s needs. Help provide food for her table! Healthy food, without chemicals.

They recently had to have some work done on their sewer hookup, which tore up their front yard. Instead of spending the time and money to reinstall turf grass which has very little value to any form of wildlife, except landscapers, and companies who want to keep it looking golf-course green with chemicals that harm groundwater, beneficial insects, and any poor bird or small mammal that happens to venture into the mine field, they decided to spare themselves, and the city the expense of wasting countless gallons of water on grass, when they could be growing something beneficial. 

Several framed beds were built, with neat pathways surrounding the garden areas, and numerous herbs and veggies were planted. It all looks very neat and well taken care of.  The neighboring kids are not only fascinated by watching the food grow, but are learning something in the process too.  And, from some reports, most of the neighbors found Julie’s project intriguing too. .except for one rotten apple. .who called the city. .who then sent out an inspector.

The city planner bases his objections that all yards have to be similar, and claims that if you look up the word in a Webster’s Dictionary, that you will find that it means common. Sorry sir, but not in my copy!  

Her yard is certainly not a cookie cutter copy of every other yard on her street. It stands out from the long monotonous dried patches of faded green, separated by ribbons of concrete. Therefore it has to go! The city’s point is that their code states that a front yard has to have suitable, live, plant material. Don’t herbs and veggies fit into that category? 

What is suitable? Apparently, a court Judge is going to have to make that determination. The city first warned Ms. Bass, then fined her, and have now charged her with a misdemeanor. But the gutsy Julie is not backing down, wanting her day in court. It could wind up costing her 93 days in jail! 

Personally, having been a member of Wild Ones, a group who promotes eliminating turf grass, for beneficial native plants and grasses, and having a registered Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation of America, I’m familiar with the battles that people have had with local municipal governments, and their backward ways regarding what they view as acceptable for the area surrounding a residence.  And I agree. .unkept areas are an eyesore. .and even personally go one further. Everyone should do their best to eradicate invasive species, even the plants that are often sold by chain stores in their garden departments. Usually, in the case of native gardens, it is a matter of education, and learning the benefits. But the battles still do occur. It takes a lot of time and patience sometimes.

But a veggie and herb garden?  This story has now gone viral. Over the weekend, I read the article in some overseas newspapers, and the feedback is enlightening.  Especially from people who live in areas where planting veggies and other useful plants in their front garden is completely understandable. Most are shocked that we don't already use our precious soils in better ways, and their opinions of the city planner is not too complimentary, to say the least.

Julie's court date right now, is later this month. A growing public backing is having their say. Whether it helps her or not in the end, it is worth a try.

If you would like to read more about this event, sign a petition, send an e-mail to the city planner, please click on this link:  Julie Bass, Power To The Veggies!

Thank you for your consideration!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Follow-up To Cursive Writing

I am loving all of your comments, and you all make very valid points. I certainly don't want to eliminate learning keyboarding and computer skills from anyone's education, but I don't want to see cursive writing disappear, either. Like Jeanne mentioned, our whole system needs to be re-evaluated.

Last night, on an Indiana station, about 50 miles away, across the border, they mentioned this same story, following up that a large newspaper in the state had gotten a lot of feedback from parents, with the majority of them not happy with this decision. Perhaps they will put pressure on their individual schools to continue to include cursive writing in their curriculum. 

I think that parents are going to have to be even more vigilant in what their schools are teaching, than we used to be, because this is the first that I've heard of schools dropping this requirement, even though other states have already done so.

And on a side note, regarding math and calculators, recently, I've had encounters with two different sellers, one at our local weekly Farmer's Market, and other at their seasonal roadside produce stand that they've had open since I was a child (they told me that their farm is now into their 4th generation!).  Both women were complaining that they are having trouble finding high school summer help, who can not only figure out weights and total costs, but how to give change.  

The farm had to invest in not only calculators for the kids to use, but an expensive cash register.  And, when they recently had a power outtage, they had to close during the duration. .not because they couldn't open the cash register, but the kids couldn't do the math in their heads, or on paper!

And the couple at the Farmer's Market had to give up doing another market, on the same day, because both of them were needed to run the one booth. They used to have a high schooler at each of them, helping them out, but they can't find kids who can figure out change.  They say that the kids tell them that they either just trust a cashier to give them the right change back, or they use plastic.  I find this incredibly sad, and alarming.

Again, thank you SO much for your comments! I love the feedback and sharing of thoughts and ideas!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

First The Quill, Then The Fountain Pen. .and now Cursive Writing?

A few days ago, I caught part of a national news broadcast, informing the viewers that Indiana was no longer going to require their public schools to teach their eager young learners the art of cursive penmanship.  This puts the roster up to 44 states, I believe. They are leaving it as optional studies, dependent upon the guidance and whim of each school and/or teacher.

While I know that teachers have a lot more to cram into a school year, than when I was in those primer grades, and more basics are being dropped by the wayside each year, for some reason, this news left me stunned. It touched my soul so deeply that here I am, days later, still mulling it over, with the distress churning inside me.

The proponents of this move claim that teaching cursive takes a tremendous amount of time that could be better spent learning to use a keyboard in preparation for higher learning. This sends chills down my spine for so many different reasons, practical, and aesthetic. 

I haven’t been in an elementary classroom in years, so I may be way off base here, but when my kids were in school, they were taught how to do math. Without a calculator.  Later on, they were taught how to use a calculator, but first, they had to learn the principles. One doesn’t always have a calculator handy, plus I think that one should know what that machine is doing!

On one of the practical notes, I look at teaching cursive and learning to use a keyboard in the same way. First you learn the way to do it yourself, THEN you learn how to use that application.

And the biggest practical concern of course, is how these students, as adults, are ever going to be able to sign any documents, legal and otherwise, if they don’t know how to write their name? Not print, but write.  It wasn’t too long ago that it was a matter of personal pride when one could sign their name. Not make an “X”, and have two witnesses sign it, saying that you made your mark.  How will they be able to record their own “John Hancock”?

If educators think that children are going to learn cursive on their own, they had better rethink that theory.  They are much more likely to spend time on their computers, using that keyboard that the schools want to teach them to use, where in fact, they are already on their way to being quite proficient in its use.  Plus, we had typing classes in school. It was a perk to learn the proper use of the keyboard, but that didn't stop us from learning to write, too!

I can’t help but wonder too, if students can’t write in cursive, how that affects their ability to read it. So much of our history is written out, both national, like our founding documents, to personal, such as family recipes, old journals, diaries and love letters. I would like to think that these things will still be important to at least some of our future generations, but how will they gain the full importance of such writing, if they can’t read it?

When doing research on our Victorian home, I actually perused county record books, looking for dates of sales and purchases, each huge ledger page written. .not printed, but written with a fountain pen, back through the 1800’s. I could tell when some other clerk was filling in the information, just by the change of the very ornate writing styles. It gave me a thrill that the efforts of those people, taking time to write out each transaction, was reaching across the years, helping me in my search, in 2006.  It made it more real to me, seeing and touching (I wore white cotton lintless gloves) a person’s script, than reading it off a film, or computer screen.  But if you want to see just a taste of what I savored, go to and look at some of the old census records, all written by someone’s hand. It adds a depth of meaning to your quest.

On the aesthetic side, I can’t help but think that this is another chip in our efforts of self-expression.  Are we to all become a homogenized populace, dependent upon pre-printed fonts to define us? Yes. I find it ironic that I’m using a programmed font to share my thoughts with you, but believe me, I love to write, outside of using my computer. 

I used to practice my cursive, looking at it as an art form, long before I ever knew what calligraphy was, and wound up with two styles of handwriting. One that I used outside of school, and one that wouldn’t be marked as incorrect by my teachers.  I could hardly wait until the day when I could openly express myself, in my own true hand, without ridicule or worrying about what kind of grade I was going to get based on how the tails of my “y’s” looked.  BUT, they launched me into my own style, by teaching me the right way to begin!  And of course, by the time I was able to write freely, we were required to type all papers and reports. Except for in Advanced English class. We wrote essays. Sometimes, two a week. And she wanted them written in our own hand. She loved romantic, flowery language. This was back in the 60’s, and she was in the autumn of her years. An old fashioned woman who didn’t feel that type written pages were the proper setting for essays of emotion.

Cursive CAN be romantic, or express anger or whimsy. So many emotions can be wrought with the curve of the flow of ink. Not only in the words that it forms, but in the way that it is written.  Study a book of calligraphy, and you will feel emotions coming from each style. 
And if you should deviate from any set style, to form a very personal style of your own, there are handwriting experts who will delve into each crossed “t”, dotted “i”, and curlique, analyzing your deepest desires, and what makes you tick!

Whether you put any stock into such readings or not, your personal handwriting is a reflection of you, even if you don’t care about it at all! My Hubs, for example, has horrible handwriting, and could care less. He dashes off his name just because he absolutely has to, then promptly forgets about it, whereas I “feel” each letter as I move the ink, each one having a rhythm and flow of energy into the next.  He looks at it as something practical, and I look at it as art. Now how often to you find something that fulfills both needs so precisely, yet remains so personal, too?

Is this one change in today’s society the marking point of me being “over the hill”? And indication that something that I apparently have held much more dear than I ever imagined, is no longer useful? My stars, I hope not!
Hopefully, cursive will still remain a viable part of our communications, and live on, not only in the talents of calligraphers, but in everyday transactions, by ordinary people, who will continue to put their own personal touch in that moment in time, when they sign their name, or write out that envelope for a card or letter that they are sending to friend.

To those of you who have hung in here throughout my rant, I wish you a beautiful weekend, and say a simple,  

Friday, July 1, 2011

The North Wind Doth Blow. .and We Shall Have. . A Book Winner!

No. .we didn't have snow on June 30th, but we came close! This white stuff on the ground kept falling at a fast and furious rate, covering the ground before it turned to rain. .hail. .fortunately, and miraculously, it didn't damage any of the plants in my garden, but the street was littered with leaves from the trees lining each sidewalk.

For the past two days, we have had continuous storms, coming not from the West, or South as we get in Spring and Summer, but from the North, following the same pattern as many of our snowstorms do.  It thundered almost continuously, and lightning flashed like a strobe light. Our kitties grew so accustomed to it, that they came out of hiding, and were acting normally. Very strange. .and more storms are on their way, so I had better hurry along.

Even though I couldn't get onto my computer, I still had the drawing for the first grouping of mystery books.  Since the leaky cauldron was full of rain water, and was doing its "leaking", and since neither Hubs nor I wanted to risk standing out in the storm anyway, I substituted using my Lucky Hat, (saved me from being struck by lightning once!), indoors.

All of the names were typed out

And folded, then put into the hat

The Impartial Hand dipped into the hat, and stirred the name around,

And drew one out!

The Winner is.. . .

Pam! Congratulations, Pam!  I wish you many hours of happy reading!

Thanks to everyone who entered, and check back. .I'll be giving more books away very soon!