A Cake Walk

Cake was served in my honor today.  And it's not even my birthday.  I'm leaving a part-time job, only I'm not completely leaving for a few more months.  It's kind of confusing and an explanation would be boring, but, really a cupcake would've sufficed.  Instead there was a big sheet cake with--and as Dave Barry would say, "I'm not making this up,"--We love you, Town and Country Mom! (only it was really my first name; no one there knows I blog).  Seriously, the cake did not say Good Luck or Best Wishes, but We Love You!  I have to say it was kind of touching for me, a part-timer.  I just think everyone likes an excuse to eat a little cake.



My laptop is in the hospital, which I hope explains my lack of posts this past week.  Honestly, I haven't had too much to write about; but I have managed to read a few books.  One I enjoyed is Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado.  When I picked this up at the library, I had no idea that Mrs. Bullock-Prado was actress Sandra Bullock's sister.  Mrs. Bullock-Prado recounts her story of leaving Hollywood and opening a small bakery in Vermont, where she and her husband endure many of the same business ups and downs common to all small service-oriented establishments.  More interesting to me were her memories of her childhood in Europe and her German mother and their relationships with food,  particularly sweets. And, yes, there are recipes.



I'm not exactly sure why (serious lack of telephone orders, perhaps?), but Mrs. Bullock-Prado's memoir will be published in paperback and sold under the title My Life From Scratch, which is, admittedly, a lot less embarrassing to say aloud.


In the meantime, my favorite quick, not too sweet cake:

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 tablespoons instant espresso powder, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup evaporated skimmed milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Combine 1/2 cup sugar, flour, 2 Tbsp cocoa, 1 Tbsp espresso powder, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl; stir well.  Combine milk, oil, and vanilla; add to flour mixture and stir well.  Spoon batter into an 8-inch square baking pan.

Combine remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar, 3 Tbsp cocoa, and 1/2 Tbsp espresso powder; stir well.  Sprinkle over batter.

Pour boiling water over batter (do not stir!).  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until cake springs back when touched lightly.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

What is your favorite cake?


Images: Diana's Bakery, Amazon, Cooking Club of America

What, what is a weekend?

Terribly sorry I haven't posted this past week.  

You see, Lady Town and Country, er, I mean Town and Country Mom came rather late to the party at Downton Abbey, and she used all her usual writing time soaking up the brilliant Masterpiece Classic!  Really, waiting until September for the next episodes seems impossible!  Thank heaven for Netflix!



This wonderful clip features one of my favorite lines from the series.  No one but Maggie Smith could play Lady Dowager Violet Crawley. 


Actress Maggie Smith as Violet in front of Highclere Castle in Downton Abbey

No one.

The three Crawley daughters in front of Highclere Castle in Downton Abbey

And, what will become of the beautiful and cunning sisters, Syblil, Mary, and Edith?

Two of the Crawley women have a conversation on a couch in Downton Abbey

I think Elizabeth McGovern is delightful as Lady Cora Crawley, and Lady Cora handles her mother-in-law with true Yankee ingenuity.

Once I finished watching the seventh episode, I went straight to the PBS website where I found this interesting interview with the series creator  Julian Fellowes.

So, tell me, are you a Downton Abbey fan?

And, if you are, please tell me how you are getting your Brit fix between now and September!

Virginia is for lovers

Or so they say.  We’ll see, as the Mister and I set out for a weekend away.  Alone. 

shenandoah national parks traveler

Sort of. 

We’re heading to northern Virginia to cheer on Middle’s lacrosse team as they play one of the East Coast’s top teams.  So, that will be fun—unless it’s cold and rainy, but I’m thinking positive.red raider

We’re staying at a Starwood Resort, so that will be nice.  We’re planning to stop in Charlottesville for a look around, and we might visit Monticello, although we’ve both been before.

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So, dear readers, I’m looking for advice about what else to see in the Charlottesville area besides lacrosse.  circa

Do you know of any great antiques shops?feast

  And, of course, tell me your favorite place to get a bite!

Thank you in advance.  I can’t wait to hear your recommendations!

 

images:

National Parks Traveler, Red Raider Lacrosse, Monticello, Circa, Feast

Hope springs eternal

I’m kind of neutral about flying.  I don’t really fly that often, only a few times a year, which is probably why I don’t mind it too much.  On the downside, I’m slightly claustrophobic.  And, of course, there’s the food and re-circulating air and general germy-ness of the whole endeavor.  Here’s the thing, though, whenever I fly I am almost always seated next to someone incredibly interesting. 

Hoshino watercolor crop

A couple of months ago, on the way to Peru I had the dreaded “middle middle” seat in coach.  To my left, the Mister dozed companionably.  To my right, a charming Japanese grandmother, recently widowed, shared her story of coming to California in her 20s, marrying an Irishman from Boston, and raising a family in the Northeast.  We talked about food, about travel, about gardens, about our children, and our faith.  Even after 40 some  years in the U.S., her accent was thick, and, at times I wasn’t sure what she was saying.  And yet, we understood each other.

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As you might have guessed, in light of the tragic events of this past week, I can’t stop thinking of her, praying for her and her family, many of whom still live in Japan.

metropolitan museum of art 1

Organized by Samaritan’s Purse, a 747 cargo jet filled with 90 tons of emergency supplies, including heavy-duty plastic shelter materials departs for Japan tomorrow.  To help, click here.

Many bloggers are joining tomorrow’s Day of Silence for Japan.  I plan to do the same.

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Top image, courtesy nih.gov  Others from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Top O' the Morning Prayer



Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.  Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of Christ. May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

--excerpt from the Lorica, traditional morning prayer commonly known as the Breastplate of St. Patrick, although not attributed to him.

And one to grow on . . .

 The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been. -- Madeleine L'Engle

We celebrated Little’s birthday this past week. IMG_3635

She’s 12. 

Little, unlike her mother, has never had a wish list of things she’d like to have or see or read or taste.  Until this year.  In the past, Little has always asked for “surprises.”   Twelve, I guess, is different—or at least the beginning of different. IMG_3632

At 12, she wanted drums.  And graphic tees.  And iTunes gift cards.  And Starbucks gift cards—because “it won’t be too long until you’ll let me walk there and meet MC--and they have good hot chocolate.”  Um, no, I don’t see that happening.  Right now, I can only imagine her walking there with me following at a reasonable distance (20 feet seems about right).     IMG_3633 Birthday dinners around here are usually homemade, ranging from steaks or salmon on the grill to tacos to shrimp and grits, but we almost always end with a homemade cake.  But twelve is different.  Little wanted to go out, downtown.  And, so we did.  You don’t have to make me a cake, Mom.  We’ll just order dessert.red velvet cake

The Mister wisely suggested that Big might appreciate a homemade cake when he comes home for spring break, so we will celebrate his homecoming and Little’s birthday again.IMG_3634And we will use our traditional Happy Birthday tablecloth.

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And no one will be too greedy.

IMG_3612  Or tease.IMG_3613

And Big, Middle, and Little will get along just fine.

Because 12 is different.

But I don’t like it much so far.

Spring Forward!

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“Though many a flower in the wood is waking,

The daffodil is our doorside queen;

She pushes upward the sword already,

To spot with sunshine the early green.”

--William Cullen Bryant, An Invitation to the Country 

May we all wake an hour earlier tomorrow morning with a promise of spring by our doorstep!

 

In the spirit of full disclosure, the urn pictured above is not mine but rather a round-the-corner  neighbor’s.  In the spirit of exceptionally full disclosure, my neighbor told me that her neighbor fills her urns as a gift each spring.  In the spirit of ridiculously full disclosure, now I am jealous of both her urns and her neighbor!  And the Mister reminds me, “Comparison is the thief of joy!”

Island Life

As I mentioned several  posts ago here, the Mister and I recently spent a few days mixing business with pleasure in Saint Simons Island, Georgia.  We are blessed to be business partners with some dear friends, and we meet each year to make plans, review what’s working and what, unfortunately, isn’t, and well, have a business meeting.

After the daylong meeting, our entire group meets at the home of the company’s founders, B and C, for dinner.  This year, C made an amazing meal for us—before our eyes—that was reflective of his travels.  Please excuse the photo quality, but I was more interested in socializing and eating than in taking great pictures!

IMG_3590 On the stovetop, C prepared a sizzling combination of sliced potatoes and corn from Guam.  He began by slightly charring the corn and potatoes, and then cooked them at high heat with some tasty seasonings. IMG_3591

While we met at the offices and warehouse, two pork shoulder roasts were cooking in two slow cookers until they were fork tender.  C told me that he usually cooked the roasts in a low oven all day, but he decided to try the slow cooker method since he was away from home.IMG_3601 The roast and potato accompaniment were put on platters, and guests were invited to serve themselves by filling a soft flour tortilla with pork and then topping it with C’s amazing vinegar and red pepper slaw.  Oh. my. goodness.  No one had reservations about enjoying second helpings.IMG_3604

Regrettably I didn’t get a decent picture of the slaw or of the delicious Spanish bean salad that we also devoured.  The desserts, however, were American cake bites from Saint Simons’ top bakery, Sweet Mama’s.  After dessert, C and B offered a lovely light wine.  From there, it was a short trip to the Land of Nod, which was waiting for us only steps away in the beautiful and well-appointed guest house.

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The sitting area, which includes a marvelous teak table from Indonesia.

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The view from the guest house, which I can only imagine is even more lovely when the grass is greened up and the sun is shining.

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Two Murphy beds provide comfortable sleeping arrangements for a family. IMG_3607 When the beds are concealed behind the gorgeous Indonesian doors, the guest house becomes the perfect pool house.

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Many thanks to B and C for your incredible hospitality—the Mister and I are most grateful!

Where is your favorite place to travel on business?

Short Shrift for Mardi Gras

Keep your gaudy beads and boisterous crewes, your jambalaya and gumbo, and, by all means, have your cake with its plastic baby.  Yes, I’m giving King Cake short shrift because for the Mister and me and our little family, the only cake to have today is a pancake. 

Mardi Gras?  Not in our neck of the woods.  Around here the day before Ash Wednesday is known as Shrove Tuesday.  And there will be no etouffee or crawfish, only pancakes, in keeping with the tradition of emptying the pantry and buttery of the sugar, eggs, butter, and cream that have been historically off-limits during the Lenten season. 

The name Shrove Tuesday evolved from the practice of “shriving,” or confessing one’s transgressions or sins.  Although the term fell out of use years ago, it survives in the expression “short shrift,” which means to show little concern for another’s troubles or excuses.

shrove-tuesday-pancake-day-pancakes-can-make-skin-clearer

The T&C family spent many happy Shrove Tuesday evenings enjoying pancakes and fellowship with our local flock in Mount Dora, Florida, where the elder gentlemen of the parish fried sausage and kept three or four electric griddles full of golden batter.  Each year Big and Middle vied with their friends for the unofficial pancake-eating record, much to my embarrassment.

Sadly, our new church does not host a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, but we don’t let that stop us!  Thanks to my good friend MFB, we still enjoy our pancakes and our sausage, and I don’t have to stand in front of a hot griddle all evening.

IMG_3609

Pancake Bake

1 pound ground sausage, browned and drained

2 cups pancake mix

1 1/3 cups milk

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup vegetable oil

cinnamon sugar

Brown and drain sausage.  Mix pancake mix, eggs, milk, and oil.  Add sausage to batter and pour into a 9 x 13” pan, coated with nonstick cooking spray.  Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar over top and bake at 350 or 30 minutes or until lightly browned.  Serve with warm maple syrup.

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Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.  Psalm 34:8

Come Rain or Come Shine

Oh, that Spring!  Forsythia

She’s quite the flirt, flouncing around the Carolinas, tossing her billowy clouds and flashing her sunshine the last week of February and the first week of March.   Eastern-Redbud-tree

Then, just when she’s knows you’re interested, just when you think maybe I could have a relationship with the outdoors again, she’s gone, leaving nothing behind but chilling rain and a few blossoms strewn about like discarded tissues blotted with lipstick kisses.magnolia-jane

It’s enough to break your heart, all that cold and gray.  Again.

Here’s the thing about Spring, though--she can’t stay away.  She’ll be back, and when she sashays in, I’ll be ready for her. 

In this

persimmon trench or this.

navy check

Yes, when Spring finally gets here, I’m gonna love her like nobody’s loved her, come rain or come shine!

Shameless

So, our boy Middle is starting in the first home jv lacrosse game.  He is so happy, and that makes me so happy!  So, consider this shameless mommy blogging, and give me a pass.  Just for today.


Go Raiders!

Now, We're Cookin'!

Years ago, my name was proposed for membership in the Junior League.  Now this was back in the day when the Earth's crust was still cooling and a prospective League member had to have a capital S Sponsor as well as four, I think, additional Endorsers.  Each had to answer a multi-page questionnaire as to why her candidate would be a worthy member.  My endorsers must've been quite eloquent, for after successfully negotiating a traditional Southern garden tea, I was invited to join as a Provisional member.  I was new in town and, truthfully, I was honored.


The League, or the Plague, as we sometimes called it, turned out to be pretty demanding, but I did meet a lot of smart women, and--to some extent--I learned how to "get things done."   The first committee on which I served was Publications, more commonly known as Cookbook.  Our League had just introduced a new cookbook, Uptown Down South, which remains one of my favorites.


As a Cookbook committee member, I spent many Saturdays working a shift at a craft fair, festival, or other "women's event," extolling the virtues of the cookbook.  When I wasn't actively selling, I was baking pans and pans of Almond Crusted Torte, our signature sample item.  Our big selling point was that, in addition to each recipe having been triple-tested, the book was organized by menu (a feature I still find useful!).

I've had a soft spot for Junior League cookbooks ever since, so I was quite delighted to have won a copy of the beautiful  Savannah Style from the lovely and charming writer of  The Southland Life. Thank you so much!  I know I will love using it--there are so many delicious recipes, and I love that some tidbits of Savannah history are included, too.


A newlywed, a lawyer, and a new League member herself, this blogger writes thoughtful posts about her sweet Southern life.  Not too long ago, she posted her wedding weekend pictures, and they were simply stunning!  Please stop by and say hello!

And now, for old times' sake, Almond Crusted Torte, which may be baked in a pie pan and served in slices or in a 9 x9 or 9 x 13 baking dish and cut into bars.  Either way, it's different, delicious, and perfect with coffee.


Almond Crusted Torte from Uptown Down South


1 2/3 cups plain flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, melted
1/8 tsp salt
2 tablespoons almond extract
2 eggs, beaten
2.25 ounces slivered almonds
nonstick vegetable spray

Stir together all ingredients, except almonds.  Pour into a 10-inch pie pan or baking dish that has been sprayed with nonstick vegetable spray.  Sprinkle almonds over top and press lightly.  Bake at 350 for 34-40 minutes or until lightly browned.

Do you have a favorite local cookbook?
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