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Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Oh dear!  What a week we are having here at Sweet Briar Cottage.  I do believe some little gremlins have taken up residence.  The week started out with me noticing a small leak in our boiler.  Some small leak!  We ended up replacing the entire heating system.  Then in the middle of doing the laundry the washing machine just up and quit.  Followed by the vacuum cleaner.  Now I understand what it is like to live in the golden olden days before the advent of modern technology.  I can tell you that even though it sounds romantic to sit by the fireside, it's another thing entirely to live by heating your home the old-fashioned way.  Give me central heating any day.  And now I can truly appreciate what wonderful machines washers and vacuum cleaners are.  How did people keep their homes clean before them?  Probably didn't have corgis for pets, that's for sure! It's also a good reminder that an emergency fund is a very nice thing indeed.  Otherwise, you would have to add heart attack to list of mishaps when Jake, the plumber, told me the amount for the new boiler!  I love my plumber!  He's the only contractor that I've ever hired that does his work without a lot of drama.  BTW, had to fire my siding contractor this month too.  Just was not getting the job done.  So unfortunately, there won't be any pictures posted of my "new" cute gray shingled cottage.  So here's our "central" heating for the present:

Glad we decided to install this little woodstove this past spring, even if I had to give up my pretty little pantry for it.  Well, on the bright side, the cold house was a good excuse to can up my carrots.  Canning really heats up a house! So you see there's always a silver lining to those gray (is it grey or gray?) clouds.Actually there's several, the other boiler was a real lemon, so it will be nice to have a reliable one, the vacuum was really heavy, so it was nice to replace it with a lighter one.  And it is nice to toast your toes next to the fire in the evening! Especially if you can have a spot of tea or cocoa and something nice like this pumpkin bread:

Pumpkin Tea Loaf

1 3/4 C. flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 1/3 C. sugar
1/3 C. oil
2 eggs
1 C. pumpkin puree
1/3 C. water
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 C. chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)
1/3 C. raisins or chopped dates (we prefer the dates)

Sift the first six dry ingredients together.  Beat oil and sugar until light and fluffy.  Then beat in the pumpkin.  Alternate adding the dry ingredients  and the water and vanilla.  Mixing well.  Fold in the nuts and raisins/dates.  Pour into a greased loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean (as if I have to tell you that!).

Speaking of pumpkins, if you can have the kiddies hold off carving theirs until the day of Halloween, they will stay fresh enough so that you can then take it inside after the trick or treating and roast it to get a nice puree  to freeze for your Thanksgiving pie.  Of course the day after Halloween is a good time to purchase pumpkins for canning and freezing, as they usually go on sale.

I wish I were young enough to go trick or treating!  What fun it was to get dressed up in some outlandish costume.  The treats were never much of a treat when I was a girl;  usually  peanut butter kisses and popcorn balls with some candy corn thrown in for good measure.  No, what I loved about Halloween was walking about in the dark, crunching through the piles of leaves, and just being free from parental constraints.  What a jolly good time my friends and I had!

We usually ended the evening with a walk through the cemetery (I lived next door to it), and it was a good spooky one too.  Several blocks square with a pointy wrought iron fence, lots of lichen covered headstones, massive old elms and a huge mausoleum  in the center of it.  It had glass doors so that you could look in on it.  Oh!  the wonderful ghost stories my oldest sister told me about that!  Spent many a night sleeping with the lights on thanks to her stories.  She was a master of the macabre.  Although we hoped to encounter a ghost, we never did, but the many bats that kept house in the  trees gave us a good scare.  Of course, this was long before the world got so crazy and people started thinking it was fun to vandalize cemeteries.  So  if we don't meet again before the 31st, remember to keep a lookout "er the gobble-uns 'll git ya, ef you DON'T WATCH OUT!".

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Hello dear friends!  I've had a lot of thoughts swirling around in my little ole head and I was trying to figure out how to make a cohesive post about them, but there's just no way to make them all come together, so this is just one of those random posts.

Above is a picture of our garden after it has been put to bed for the year.  Well almost, I still have carrots  and leeks to harvest.  I keep saying I'm waiting for a good frost to make the carrots sweet.  That's as good as an excuse for procrastination as any!

People are always telling me they admire my simple life.  While this is very kind and flattering, I cannot take any credit for it.  I give all the glory to God!  All I did was to be smart enough to recognize what He was trying to tell me.  And  even that was God's doing! I am indeed blessed.

Speaking of being blessed, yesterday  Jamie and I went to the "big" city.  It saddened me to see so many homeless and unfortunate people.  I am always reminded "that except for the grace of God, there go I." One thing to do is send a prayer up when you see the unfortunate.  Some mornings I spend a  good amount of time as I read the news, offering prayers for those I read about in the paper.  But of course, "Faith without works is dead." James 2:14, so if you can afford it, give to homeless charities. Maybe volunteer at one.  One time I was with a friend when I gave some money to a homeless man.  "Oh", said the friend, "he'll just spend it on booze."  Well, maybe, who knows?  Maybe not. That is not important.  It was important for him to know that at least one person recognized his suffering and cared.  What is the good of money anyway?

On a lighter note, while we were in a store the song  Celebrate came on the public address system.  You know the song?  I just want to celebrate another day of living.  I just want to celebrate another day of life.  When I was younger and had more burdens, sometimes I got caught up in all the seriousness of life, that I forgot to enjoy it.  So everyday I try to do something completely frivolous.  Like wear a silly hat (you should see the reaction I get from my Dr. Zhivago fur (fake) hat), read a childhood favorite book (for me it's Eleanor  Estes), or go for a moonlight walk.  Yesterday I purchased some lace tights.  I wanted some when I was in fifth grade.  They were all the rage.  But my mother didn't think the were practical.  So fourty years later, I finally have my lace tights!  Only the area between my boots and skirt will be seen, but I'll know they're there! Some people might say that a fifty year old woman is too old to be wearing lace tights, but who cares?  If there was ever a sillier idea in the world, it is fashion.  So have fun with it!

Speaking of marching to your own drum, as I drove down the winding lakeshore  road, I was thinking about the path less taken, as this road is definitely a  road less taken.  Well, I have certainly done that.  From being thrifty in the conspicuous consumption era, to having more than the regulated 2.4 children, to being a stay at home mom when society was telling the world that you were nobody unless you had a fulfilling career.  Hope that my stories of having "been there, done that", give courage to others that are contemplating  going the same route.

Speaking of rubbish that the media tries to hoist upon us, the whole idea that we must have this great journey of self-discovery by going  out a sampling different cultures and lifestyles before we can be fulfilled and become successful wives and mother, is just  nonsense.  I dare say, it has a bit of "New Age" philosophy behind it, you know, the whole "do what you want" theory. What did people do before travel was easy?  Were they all unfulfilled?  Want to "find" yourself?  Spend time in prayer and quiet contemplation.  Be curious about life. Read.  Be selfless rather than selfish.  Listen more, speak less.

Well here's something silly to end this post with.  This past week I was watching some of those  spooky movies that were made in the 70s on YouTube. When I was a youngster, my girlfriends and I would have pajama parties every Friday, pop some popcorn and watch the movie of the week.  Titles like Crowhaven Farm,  Something Evil (an early Spielberg movie), Daughter of Darkness, etc.  They were really goofy and not very scary.  Here's some lesson learned from them: 1) That beautiful bucolic  farmhouse  that you inherit from some aunt that you never met,  or bought for a song is probably not the great deal you first thought it was. 2) Wear something warm to bed the first night spent in your "new" farmhouse.  That way you'll be ready to go outside and search for that mysterious crying that you hear coming from the barn or the woods. 3) Befriend the crazy looking neighbor that's also a local historian.  He'll have all the answers to solving your problems at the end. 4) Those cliquey friendly neighbors?  Probable a coven of witches. 5) Beware of too angelic looking children.  6)  If you hear harpsichord music, you know your goose is cooked. 7)And finally don't worry in the end the solution to the problem is just standing in a very windy room and saying a little rhyme!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


The cat in the kitchen has plenty of nerve,
Exploring for tidbits she doesn't deserve.
She asks with her tail in a
question-mark curve,
If the Apple Brown Betty is ready to serve.
~ D.A. W. (Yankee Magazine's resident poet)~

I couldn't allow autumn to pass without writing about apples.  Apples and fall are synonymous  after all, as is making apple pies.  From my previous blog, I have learned that everyone has a very personal idea about what constitutes a perfect pie.  Some like a lot of spices, some prefer little sugar, for others two crusts are better than one, I even have a relative that insists her husband makes the best apple pie; canned pie filling in a graham cracker crust with whipped cream on top.  Not my idea of a good pie, but I guess that's where they got the saying "There's a lid for every pot." .  So instead of giving you a recipe,  here are some helpful hints I've learned along the way for making perfect (for my family) apple pies:

The Best Pie Apples

 I prefer to use an antique variety called Rhode Island Greening, but  this is an old variety that is not readily available.  You have to grow them to get them unless you live near a orchard that caters to antique varieties.  A good pie apple should hold its shape and not turn mealy when baking. Since you need sugar to bake a good pie, a nice crisp apple on the sourish side is best.  Some of the common varieties that can be found in most grocery stores are: Granny Smith,  Braeburn, Jonagold, Jonathan, Fuji, Gravenstein, Rome, Winesap and recently I've found a variety called Pink Lady.  I like to use a several different apples when making up a pie.

Pie Baking Hint

I prepare my filling the night before baking a let it "marinate" in the fridge.  That way I can make adjustments before baking.  If the filling has too much liquid, I'll add more thickener.  (I use flour, but some prefer tapioca.) I think that letting the filling set overnight really makes the spices sink into the apples, and I love spices.

An Easy Streusel  Recipe

My favorite type of apple pie is Dutch apple.  Here's a recipe for the topping that has always turned out picture perfect for me:

Streusel Topping

1/2 C. flour
1/3 C. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 C. butter

Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until crumbly.  Place on top of pie before baking.

Do you like to read old recipes?  If I find an old recipe box at a garage or estate sale, I'm in seventh heaven! When I was going through a bunch of old clippings my mother had kept (she even keeps newspaper clippings of  our Avon lady receiving a reward!) I found this interesting recipe that was a runner-up in the Pillsbury bake-off in the 60s, on the backside.  It has become a favorite.

Creamy Coconut Apple Crunch

1/2 C. milk
1/4 C. (1/4 of a 4 serving size pkg.) dry coconut cream instant pudding
3 C. sliced apples
1/2 C. butter, melted
1C. flour
1 C. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
remaining pudding mix
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
Combine the milk and 1/4 C. pudding mix.  Toss in the apples and pour into an ungreased 8" square baking pan.  Combine the remaining ingredients and pour over top of the apples.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40  minutes until the apples are tender and the topping is light golden brown.

Serve with whipped cream.  Have you tasted the new cinnamon  flavored Cool Whip yet?  Yum!

Thursday, October 6, 2011


I am rich today with autumn's gold,
All the my covetous hands can hold ...
Oh, who could find a dearth of bliss
With autumn glory such as this!
~ Gladys Harp ~

Happy October everyone!  Autumn is my favorite season, I always feel more lively this time of year.  The earthy, somber tones are really my style in fashion and home decor.  I can look at an all white room and find it pretty and find a pastel Easter egg colored room cute and fun, but I feel most at home in autumn-toned rooms.  They just feel so cozy and when you live in area that winter begins in October and lasts until May, cozy is what you need!  So along with battening down the hatches on the outside of the house, I've been attending to lots of housekeeping tasks inside too.  Like cleaning, pressing and hanging the heavy insulated draperies.  What a job!  Washing all the wool blankets.  I just wash them as I would anything else.  If the shrink, so be it, they'll be extra warm!  Also aired out all the down blankets and now they are ready for service, folded at the end of the bed.  One of the best things about winter is to climb into a bed piled sky high with down comforters, wool blankets and flannel sheets.  If you have a cup of hot cocoa, a cookie or two (or maybe a slice of pie) and a good book on the nightstand, well, that is heaven in my book! Above are pictures of some of my fall preparations (I couldn't get them to show below my written post!). Just simple little things like putting some pumpkins in the cubbys of my "office",  bringing in some branches from a corkscrew willow and arranging them in a crock, throwing an old shawl bought for a quarter over an old chair (bought for five dollars) and placing a handmade sampler on the mantle.  Who says decorating has to cost money?