Friday, September 28, 2012

Fall Poetry: Wild Peach Orzo Salad

From Blossoms
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat. 

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach. 

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
- Li-Young Lee

I ordered three bushels of peaches through my magical fruit lady a few weeks ago, and when they came and I removed the lids, you should have seen these peaches!!! They were the size of a baby's head. I swear to you, I have never seen peaches as big as some of these. Now why would I order that many peaches? Let me think... Peach pie, peach preserves, home bottled peaches, frozen peaches for winter smoothies, OH and Wild Peach Orzo Salad.

My Mother in Law (An avid foodie, cooking class instructor, bakery owner, you get the picture...) served this at her wedding, and I have loved it ever since. It is so fresh and lovely. It would be an amazing side dish for pork loin. Who am I kidding, it would be a great side dish for dirt. It is seriously so good. And I eat it on it's own as a main dish. So here you go!

Wild Peach Orzo Salad
Courtesy of my MIL, with a few modifications. We can't all have raspberry vinegar on hand, Martha Stewart!!! (Also, I didn't use the peach salsa. Because seriously? Who has that? Oh, my MIL does... ok)

1 16 oz. container Orzo pasta, cooked according to package instructions
3 Peaches, chopped
6 Green onions, chopped
1 Red Bell Pepper, chopped
1/2 C chopped Pecans
1/2 C Cilantro, chopped
1 C Peach Salsa
1 Lemon, Juice and Zest
2 TBSP Honey
1/3 C Olive Oil
1/4 C Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tsp. Salt
Pepper to taste

Cool your cooked orzo, whisk the last 6 ingredients together in a bowl, toss everything else in there together and mix it all up! 

As a side note,  a small little baby in this household sacrificed her thumbnail for this salad. Her older sister slammed the sliding door on it while Mom was out picking citrus off the tree. But several hours and one hospital trip later, I gave this to her for dinner and she thought it was totally worth it. Also, in running her to the hospital, I may have left out the pecans. Oh well, still delicious.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Fall Poetry: An Autumn Home Tour

Autumn Offering
I shall be Autumn
this Halloween,
with leaf draped skirt,
and folds of
boysenberry velvet wine
flowing to the ground.

Brown stained face,
eyes rimmed in gold,
nails dripping sunset,
a crown of twigs
to cover my head.

You may gather from me
the spring of my youth,
my summer of maturity,
and hold onto with me,
the solace of these days
of remembering
before the frost. 

~ Judith A. Lawrence

I have no proof, but I am certain my home was born in autumn.  When autumn comes, it is like the walls take a deep breath and settle into their happiest and loveliest rhythm.  
Even my kids can tell the difference.  
Not one, but SEVERAL of my children pleaded with me this week to decorate for fall.  

(And this is coming from boys who have no qualms with wearing soiled socks on their feet or food on their face.)  

So I did.  I decked the walls and the windows and the cupboards and the counters with flourishes of fall.
But I couldn't stop there.  I decided that while I was hauling leaves and pumpkins and ribbon up from the basement, I might as well haul up the owls and spiders and skeletons, too.
Now our home is a full-fledged autumn showcase with just a hint of the haunted.
And I know it sounds a bit crazy, but when I stood back to look at the finished product, I could swear I felt the corners of the house raise a bit---like the contented smirk of a jack-o-lantern on Halloween night.  
Here is a brief tour of my Autumn/Halloween home . . .
After passing through our front door, you'll find banisters draped with harvest fruits . . .

and counters spilling over with gourds and berries.

Pumpkins fill baskets and urns in every room . . .

and some even line the wooden mantle.

Witches hold their brooms close . . .

while spiders dangle from the windows and chandeliers.

Wreaths adorn the mirrors and doors.  They may even host a creature or two.

As you leave our Halloween/Autumn home, a little owl will you wish you well, and a smiling skeleton may just give you a parting wink.

Happy fall decorating to you all!
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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fall Poetry: A Success Story Wreath

Pied Beauty
Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

~ Gerald Manley Hopkins

I was starting to feel self-conscious.  It seemed like everyone in the blogosphere had a garage-sale-or-thrift-store-"You'll-never-guess-what-I-found-today-for-a-steal-of-a-deal" story . . . 

Except me.

That is, until today.

I was driving past an affluent neighborhood on my way to an appointment when I saw a sign for a garage sale.  I was a few minutes early for my appointment, so I decided to take a peek.  Besides, I soon realized that this "garage sale" was two houses down from Donny Osmond's house and somehow feeling that neighborly with Donny was an opportunity I couldn't turn down.  

But I digress.

After perusing the offerings that were assembled on the driveway of the multimillion dollar estate, I realized I was WAY out of my league.  I saw designer couches for a small fortune, draperies and linens for hundreds of dollars, and a shiny sports car on sale for more than my annual income. 

As I went to leave, I caught a glimpse of a teetering pile of silver on a back table.  It was a stack of fifteen hors-d'oeuvres trays in different shapes and sizes.  I was relieved to discover that they weren't real silver because it meant I might have a chance of taking them home without having to take out a second mortgage on my home. However, the trays were thick and sturdy and embossed with beautiful designs, which didn't bode well for me.  I braced myself for the total as I asked the hostess about the price.

"Oh, those are my neighbor's," she said.  "She uses a caterer all the time and the caterer lets her keep some of the trays.  I'll give them all to you for 5 dollars."

I'm not sure which boggled me more---the thought of having a "regular" caterer, or the idea of tossing away beautiful servingware knowing that you would just get more of it at your next soiree.

I grabbed my wallet and handed the woman my meager 5 dollar bill and ran past the designer sofa and convertible sports car to my Toyota minivan before she could change her mind.

I then waved at Donny's house, and drove off.

After I got home, I picked one of the oval trays from the stack and decided that it would be the perfect addition to a fall wreath for my front door.

I wanted to put a plaque of some sort on my wreath to celebrate autumn, but I didn't want to go through the hassle of painting anything with chalkboard paint or stenciling letters.

So I went the easy route.

I took a bottle of fabric craft paint and wrote a little greeting on the tray.  (This is the same paint I use when writing on potatoes.)  After letting it dry for an hour or so, I simply wired the tray onto the wreath and hung it on the door.

Blessed Autumn indeed.

My only regret is that I didn't have room on the tray to write about my garage sale success story.   And how it all happened down the road from Donny.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fall Poetry: Pumpkin Spice Syrup

Among the Rocks
By Robert Browning

Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth,
This autumn morning! How he sets his bones
To bask i’ the sun, and thrusts out knees and feet
For the ripple to run over in its mirth;
Listening the while, where on the heap of stones
The white breast of the sea-lark twitters sweet.

That is the doctrine, simple, ancient, true;
Such is life’s trial, as old earth smiles and knows.
If you loved only what were worth your love,
Love were clear gain, and wholly well for you:
Make the low nature better by your throes!
Give earth yourself, go up for gain above!

So one day, I was making a bunch of syrups- coconut, peach, buttermilk, orange, and dutch honey. (I will post those soon) And I wanted to make some apple cider syrup, but I was out of apple cider/juice/concentrate. So I thought to myself: I bet pumpkin syrup would taste great! Well, I was RIGHT! I just messed around and made up a recipe. It is so yummy and spicy, and it turns this into THE ULTIMATE Fall breakfast! Trust me, you will be looking around for a turkey and cranberry sauce when you finish this, because it just feels like Thanksgiving. I will definitely be pulling this one back out for our Thanksgiving breakfast.

Pumpkin Pancakes with
Pumpkin Spice Syrup,
Maple Brown Sugar Whipped Cream,
and Toasted Pecans.

I know. I am drooling too, and I just finished eating! Here are the recipes:

I used my Mom's pancake recipe (Click here) and added a cup of pumpkin, and a half teaspoon of freshly grated ginger, cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp fresh nutmeg. I also had to add a little more milk, but that's something you can just eyeball until your batter is normal pancake consistency.

Maple Brown Sugar Whipped Cream:Take 2 C of Heavy whipping cream. Add 1/4 tsp Maple extract and 1/4 C Brown sugar. Whip to stiff peaks.

spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 until just fragrant. You do not want to burn pecans. They are no bueno, trust me.

Pumpkin Spice Syrup:
1 C Corn Syrup
1 C Sugar
1/4 C water
1 C Pumpkin
1 tsp. Freshly ground ginger (I freeze mine and grate it on a microplane)
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Nutmeg, freshly ground
1 tsp. Vanilla
Heat corn syrup, water, and sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and add all other ingredients except vanilla. Boil for 3-5 minutes, stirring, and being careful not to burn. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Syrup will thicken upon cooling.

And here's a printable tag for your jar of syrup :) Circular frame courtesy of The Graphics Fairy.

This syrup would make a GREAT neighbor gift :)
Happy Eating!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fall Poetry: Silhouette Portrait Wall

I had a little nut-tree, 
Nothing would it bear. 
I searched in all its branches, 
But not a nut was there. 

'Oh, little tree,' I begged, 
'Give me just a few.' 
The little tree looked down at me 
And whispered, 'Nuts to you.' 

~ Roald Dahl

I have noticed a strange phenomenon in my children.  As soon as they enter third grade, they are completely incapable of taking a natural-looking school picture.  

In their second grade portraits they grin like the little gappy-toothed angels that I know and love.  But then something horrible happens over summer break.  It is almost as if some sort of latent squirrel DNA manifests itself in their bloodstream as soon as they sit down for that 3rd grade photo, because all of a sudden they feel the need to pull their lips back across their teeth so tightly that their cheeks puddle into poochy mounds as if they are hording nuts for the winter.  

30 dollars later, I have a permanent record of what my children might have looked like had they been sired by Chip or Dale.

So I'm skipping the photo order this week.

Instead, I decided to capture my children as they truly are with no expectation of natural smiles or combed hair or matching clothes.  And I have to say, it was the best photo session we've ever had.  I channeled my inner Jane Austen (not hard to do) and turned all of their photos into silhouettes.

Here's what I did.

I started by taking pictures of my children's profiles.  When I uploaded the photos to my computer, I changed the photos to black and white for better contrast.  I then sized the photos for my picture frames and printed them off on plain-old white printer paper and cut out the profiles with scissors.

Then I flipped the cutouts over and coated them with some black acrylic paint.

When the black paint was dry, I mounted the silhouettes with a glue stick to some 5x7 sheets of white paper and popped them in the frames.

I decided to hang my children's portraits vertically to pack a visual punch.

It has been delightful to see the kids analyze their features and determine who looks like who.   And the best part---not one squirrel-ish similarity in the bunch.
I'd easily trade thirty minutes of work for lovely keepsakes of my children rather than hand over hundreds of dollars to the school photographer and his rubber chicken.

Besides, that school photographer seems to do better with animals anyway.  
Especially the nut-loving variety.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Fall Poetry: A Necklace for the Teacher

Around the eaves are fringes
  Of icicles that seem
To mock the summer rainbows
  With many-colored gleam. 

Along the walk, the pebbles
  Are each a precious stone;
The grass is tasseled hoarfrost,
  The clover jewel-sown. 

~ From "November Morning" 
by Evaleen Stein

A few weeks ago, we had "Back to School Night" at the elementary school.  I normally visit each of my children's teachers and get the lay of the classroom land, and then I leave.  

But not this time.  

This time, I happened to glance at the "Classroom Helper Sign Up Sheet" before exiting Mrs. Taylor's room.  There were oodles of volunteers for reading time and math time and field trips, but no one had signed up to be the room mother.  

As I looked at the blank space, I got the same twinge in my stomach that I get when I go into the pet store and see all those homeless eyes staring at me through wire cages.  

I'm not even an animal person, but my instinct is to pile each and every hamster and guinea pig and cat and puppy into my van and hope that the creatures are all potty-trained and willing to help around the house.  

I guess it is part of being a mother:  You can't help but want everyone to have one, whether they are in aisle 9 of Petsmart, or sitting in a desk in Mrs. Taylor's class.

So I did it.  I signed up.  My mothering instincts took over, and in one sympathetic flourish of a ballpoint pen, I adopted 28 students, one teacher, and a class pet bunny named Shadow.

I walked out of the school feeling quite satisfied with my self for saving room 231 from "orphandom".

And then I realized what I had done.  

I had just signed my life away to become a cruise director, except my boat didn't come with a snappy uniform or a clipboard or a lido deck or a catchy theme song.

My cruise came with a passel of eight-year-olds who needed email lists and parent volunteer spreadsheets and parties and treats and crafts and games and lots and lots of helpers.  

It also came with Mrs. Taylor's birthday and the expectation that I would gather my motley crew and celebrate her appropriately.  I wasn't too concerned about this fact until I realized that Mrs. Taylor's birthday two days away.

I knew 3 things at this point.  1. There wasn't a lot of time to involve parents, so this birthday celebration was up to me and the kids.  2.  Mrs. Taylor loves Hawaii.  She has an island theme throughout her classroom, including a big ALOHA! sign on the door.  3.  I didn't have the time or money to do anything extravagant.  I had to pack a punch on minimal resources.

So I went the sentimental-homemade-Christmas-kind-of-route.

I grabbed a pencil and notebook and raced down to the school.  After asking Mrs. Taylor for a few minutes alone with the class, I asked each of the students the following questions:

What do you love about Mrs. Taylor?

Some of my favorite answers:  

"Because she loves me."
"Because she is patient."
"Because she is good at math."
"Because she doesn't yell."
"Because she gives us second chances."

What would you give Mrs. Taylor for her birthday if you could give her anything in the world?

Some of my favorite answers:

"A unicorn."
"A skateboard."
"A Ferrari."
"A new couch."

I quickly jotted down the students' answers and told Mrs. Taylor that I would be back the following day for a little "presentation".

At home, I typed up the answers and printed them off on white paper.  I then gathered up some ribbon, cellophane, tape, and mini chocolate bars.

I cut each of the comments into strips and then wrapped them around the candy bars.  I laid them on a 6 inch wide strip of cellophane, rolled the cellophane around the candy bar, and then used a small piece of wired ribbon to separate the candy bars and create a "flower" effect.

When the lei was finished, it was over 5 feet long, so I doubled it up and secured the two layers with a big ribbon "flower".

The next day, I went to Mrs. Taylor's class, and while she was out of the room, I taught the kids how to sing "Happy Birthday" in Hawaiian (or at least as close as I could come after a 3 minute tutorial on YouTube).  When she came back, the class surprised her with a spirited rendition of "Hau`oli La Hanau" (Happy Birthday), and one of the little girls approached Mrs. Taylor and hung the lei around her neck.

Mrs. Taylor wore her lei proudly and seemed genuinely happy with our little celebration.  She told me that her birthday usually gets overlooked since it is so close to the beginning of the school year.  

It wasn't, perhaps, the most exciting gift, but I guess a candy lei is better than nothing.

I'm sure Mrs. Taylor would have preferred to take a cruise, but to be honest, this cruise director's boat is plumb full.

Perhaps Captain Stubing has an opening . . .

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fall Poetry: To Autumn-John Keats

I have a delicious post that I am not done photographing tonight, so I thought I would share some autumnal inspiration from John Keats: To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells 

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, 


Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, 


And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; 


And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Have a lovely day!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fall Poetry: An Autumn Tea

Autumn Tea Time

The late light falls across the floor,
Turned amber from a yellow tree,
And there are yellow cups for four,
And lemon for the tea.

The maples, with a million flames,
Have lit the golden afternoon,
An ambient radiance that shames
The ineffective moon....

Till dull and smoky greys return,
Quenching the street with chills and damps--
Leaving these asters where they burn,
Mellow like evening lamps.

~ David Morton (1886-1957)

Asking for permission has never been my strong suit.  For example, when I was 12 I decided I was fully capable of trimming my 5-year-old sister Katie's "bowl cut".  I mean, how hard could a "bowl" haircut be?  I simply grabbed a bowl from the kitchen, plunked it on her head, and began cutting around it.  The biggest problem was that I chose the wrong size of bowl.  

What I SHOULD have put on her head was a large mixing bowl.  

I used was a smallish cereal-sized bowl.  

Instead of looking like Dorothy Hamill, my poor little sister emerged from under the bowl looking more like Friar Tuck.

My ambition is my greatest strength and my greatest weakness, which is why I breathe a sigh a relief when September comes around. 

September is full permission---whether I need it or not---to move sweaters to the front of the closet, to make pumpkin cupcakes with maple frosting, and fill the house with the smells of harvest time.  September is when my wound-up soul finally catches its breath from summer and takes a moment to relax.

I couldn't think of a more fitting way to welcome September than to take a leisurely trip downtown with my sister and sister-in-law to the 1930s-inspired Beehive Tearoom.


The tea room has a fun and vibrant cafe area at the front of the shop for passersby looking for a quick snack, and more comfy, secluded spots in the back for those looking to enjoy an afternoon tea.  The mural on the wall coupled with these vintage lamps makes my heart swoon.

Even the tea settings were a unique blend of English tradition, Asian color, and vintage Hollywood elegance.

We began our afternoon with an assortment of tea sandwiches . . .

 followed by scones with jam and clotted cream . . .

and we finished the day with a dessert of marzipan petit-fours and fresh raspberries with cream.

And of course, we helped ourselves to cup after cup of hazelnut hot chocolate, Ginger-Lime Rooibos, and Very Berry tisanes. 

Come to think of it, I should have invited my now-all-grown-up-sister Katie to fly into town for a cuppa.

After all, I probably owe her at least a scone or two considering what I did to her hair all those years ago.  

Then again, maybe I'll channel the beautician in me and sit her down for a "hairdo do-over" for old time's sake . . .
With her permission this time, of course.
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