Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ode to Christmas Cookies

Christmas, Christmas time is near, time for laughter, time for… cookies!!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas is filled with delights of all kinds, from family, to decorations, to sappy specials on The Hallmark Channel, but I have to admit (and I know this won’t come as a surprise to anyone), I absolutely love all the baking. Cupcakes and cookies and cheesecakes abound as even the most infrequent bakers pull out their mixers and get to work on that one special recipe that they do so well.

In my earliest Christmas memories, magic sparkled in the air like fireflies, filling my world with excitement and wonder. The air itself seemed to hum with a sort of vibrancy, an indefinable feeling of goodwill and generosity. Each year, as the Christmas tree glittered in its multi-hued glory and the air smelled of pine needles and happiness, my mom would round us kids up for the one-day Christmas cookie baking extravaganza.

In my memories, the avocado green stove warmed the kitchen as bowls and measuring spoons and bags of flour and sugar cluttered the counter. Lined up on the table were the carefully hand-printed recipes that had been penned years before I was even born. Aprons were donned and hair pulled back and soon we were combining ingredients and making memories. My mother would hold the bowl as my young hands clutched to mixer. My sister would carefully measure the next ingredient while my brother waited to taste test the batch.

Over the course of the day, familiar cookies were pulled from the oven and laid across racks to cool. Stained glass ones, and plaited red and white cane ones, and peanut butter and chocolate kissed ones. Sugar cookies and powered cookies and cookies topped with gaily colored sprinkles.

At the end of the day, there would be only one batch left to make: the world famous chocolate-covered shortbread cookies. They were simple enough, with the shortbread base pressed into a cookie sheet, topped with melted chocolate, and sprinkled with chopped nuts, but something about them signaled to us that Christmas was here.

By then, darkness had fallen, and the house glowed with warmth and contentment. My brother would have given up on the baking long ago, but my mother, my sister and I remained, laughing and chattering about all the things that will be muted by time. The words and the topics are indistinct, but the joy, the sisterhood, and the taste of chocolate will linger on our tongues for a lifetime, called to mind every time the first hints of carols carry on the air and magic fills our hearts once more.

What are your Christmas baking traditions? Do you still follow the traditions of your youth, or have your started your own?

Note: I will be taking the next two weeks off for the holidays. I'll see you all in the New Year!!

Chocolate Shortbread Christmas Cookies

2 cups flour

1 cup butter – melted

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg yolk

1 package chocolate chips

1 package chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix flour, butter, sugar, vanilla, and yolk until thoroughly combined. Pat into cookie sheet. Bake for 20 min or until golden. Remove from oven and set aside.

Melt chocolate according to directions on package (either in microwave or using a double broiler). Spread evenly over prepared crust. Sprinkle desired amount of chopped pecans over top. Allow to set up.

Once firm, my family always cut up the cookies and placed in gallon size freezer bags to store in the freezer. I love these cookies ‘fresh’ out of the freezer!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Snow Place Like Home

What is it about freshly fallen snow that catapults me back so completely to my childhood? This weekend, we had all of one inch fall here in Raleigh, and the moment we returned home from out of town, I unleashed the dogs and sprinted through the darkness, finding our way by the silver light of the moon breaking though the clouds. Giggling and panting, my three dogs and I raced through the yard while my husband stood shaking his head nearby. Let him be the adult—I had a snow angel to make :)

When I think of the snow days past, somehow they always come to me through a Calvin-and-Hobbes-colored filter. A time when nature has gifted us with the best, most awesomist gift possible, and beyond the frosted window panes lays a vast, unspoiled winter wonderland, waiting only for a sled, a sturdy pair of mittens, and the over-active imagination of a child who’s been stuck indoors for far too long.

In the slightly fuzzy and rose-tinted memories of those glorious winter days when I awoke to the two greatest words a child can hear—Snow day!—one day in particular stands out. It was shortly after my family had moved from Georgia to Kentucky. I was in elementary school, while my sister knocked on the door of adolescence. Five years my senior, it was rare for the two of us to actually get along at that point. We argued, and fussed, and occasionally ignored each other all together, but with me in my annoying, tag-along phase and Kara in her too-cool-for-school phase, harmony was not readily found between us.

Until, one day, we awoke to the transformed landscaped sculpted by the winds and driving snow of a veritable blizzard. It was, in a word, magical. Icicles gleamed from the eaves, whole tree branches, encased in sparkling sleeves of ice, glittered as they swayed in the chill wind. Flush with excitement for the near foot-deep drifts of snow blanketing the yard, we three kids clamored into our quadruple layers of long underwear, clothes, mittens, and coats. We shrugged into bulky winter jackets, wound yards of scarves around our necks, and made faces as our mother fussed over us to make sure we wouldn’t freeze in the arctic countryside surrounding our house.

At last we were free, bounding through the shin-deep snow as we raced for the hill, newly purchased red disk sled in hand. We laughed with abandon, throwing handfuls of packed snow back and forth, our breath crystallizing around us like shimmering vignettes. Soon, the war had begun, and the sled was forgotten as, for once, my sister and I joined forces, digging out forts to shield us from enemy snowballs lobbed by my father and brother. When the ammo was spent, we gleefully reunited, the four of us rolling snow across the ground in an effort to build the elusive being known as a snowman.

Our cheeks brilliantly red among the sea of white, we remembered the sled at last, and sprinted through the drifts, stumbling and laughing as we raced for the disk. Despite the freezing wind and gray skies, excitement warmed our blood and before long, our jackets hung drunkenly from our shoulders, our gloves now discarded, and we wooshed down the hill in delight.

At first we took turns, sliding down the hill on the slick little disk, reveling in the frigid rush and warp speeds. Soon, we piled on together, forgetting our self-imposed rolls and delighting in each other’s squeals. Again and again we flew, hearts racing and laughter echoing through the frozen trees, skittering down the hill in a loop that replays itself from time to time in my memories, like a quicksilver slice of my childhood happiness.

At long last, Mom insisted we come in and warm ourselves by the fire. We denied being cold, but our rosy cheeks and chattering teeth betrayed us. Layer after sopping wet layer fell to the basement floor as we shed our winter armor and thundered up the stairs into the toasty little kitchen. Steaming hot chocolate, carefully poured into our matching red mugs and topped with rationed marshmallows, waited patiently at the table as we filled the small space to bursting.

Grinning, Kara and I relived the day for our mother, giddily embellishing and interrupting each other’s commentary. Mom smiled and nodded, watching her two girls, surely thankful for the winter magic which brought us together for a moment of harmony.

Within days the snow would be gone, and the sled stored away, but the memories would flourish for decades, brought to mind with every new snowflake, relived with every snow angel, and relished with nostalgic smiles anytime I watch fat flakes blanket the countryside while I hug my mug of hot chocolate closer and dream of enough snow to unbury my inner child.

My old Kentucky home :)

Did you live for the long-awaited snow days in your youth? Or did you grow up in one of those places where snow was so common, a snow day meant too much snow to actually get out of the house? And my biggest question of all – are you hoping for a white Christmas? I know I am!

Perfect hot chocolate doesn’t have to come from a packet. For one of the simplest treats in the book, give this a try:

1 cup milk

2 Tbsp cocoa powdered (natural unsweetened)

1 ½ to 2 Tbsp sugar (per your taste – I like less sweet)

1/8 tsp of either vanilla extract, mint extract, OR peppermint extract (optional)

Heat milk in microwavable safe container for 2 minutes. Add cocoa and sugar to bottom of a mug, stir to break up clumps, then pour hot milk over top. Add optional flavorings. Mix with either the drink mixing attachment of your hand mixer, a small whisk, or a fork. Top with a dollop of whip cream and a few marshmallows. Enjoy!

AND THE WINNERS ARE: Catherine Gayle and Rhonda! Congrats, ladies :) Please send your USPS mailing address to ErinKellyWrites@yahoo.com. Let me know whether you prefer chocolate or red velvet cake, and if you have a preference for frosting.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gone Fishin...

I have a confession to make: I’m tired. Really, really tired. The kind of tired that reminds me of trans-Atlantic flights to someplace super awesome—only minus the super awesome part. And if I’m honest, my brain has turned to mush. Not zombie, night of the living dead mush, but more like the ‘wait, did I shampoo my hair or not?’ moment in the shower kind of mush. I’ve been staring at the screen for an hour now, trying to think of something terribly clever/fun/moving/ and/or witty, and I gotta say, I got nothing.

A little over two weeks ago, I started a seasonal job in retail to make a little something extra for the holidays, and I had nooo idea how exhausting it is to stand on my feet for eight hours a day—not to mention the stress of trying to learn a new computer system and remembering all those pesky details that seem to want to run away from me like spooked bison. Add to that the early mornings this night owl is unaccustomed to and my 45 minute commute—each way—and I am running on fumes. So I am copping out this week and giving myself a bit of a break.

As a thank you for stopping by, I am offering not one, but TWO lucky commenters a four pack of cupcakes shipped to your house by yours truly. In order to be eligible, just tell me what your favorite part of the Christmas season is. The shopping? The gifts? The smell of snow in the air? The day after Christmas? I'll post the winners on next week's blog, so be sure to check back then.

You guys are awesome for bearing with me, and I PROMISE to be back in the saddle for next week- *with* a new, kick-butt recipe. In the meantime, have an awesome week, and good luck in the drawing!! Oh, and here’s a pretty picture to tide you over till next week:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Car Trips of Thanksgivings Past

Ahh, Thanksgiving. Probably my very favorite holiday of the year. Remarkably, it has managed to stay commercial-free over the years, which is more than I can say for just about every other holiday out there. I love the very idea of a day dedicated to giving thanks for all the blessings in our lives. Without the pressure of buying the perfect gift, we can gather with our families and celebrate good food, good company, and another year of not killing each other.

Alas, this year I am sorry to say that Kirk and I will not be able to be with our families as we chow down on the single greatest turkey recipe known to man (thank you Alton Brown!). And while I am grateful that we have the opportunity to join forces with our friends and next-door neighbors for dinner, I can’t help but reminisce about Thanksgivings past.

In my earliest memories, my family would pile into the old station wagon and head north for Turkey day. As many of you may know by now, my Nana and Papa lived in an Indiana suburb of the vast city of Chicago. When I was very young, we lived in Georgia, and then later Kentucky. Though spending time with family for the holidays is a good idea in theory, the drive to see them was inevitably more than my siblings and I could handle. The trip always seemed to unfold in exactly the same way.

“Okay, I have a roll of nickels for each of you.” My mom twisted around in her seat as my dad stared straight ahead at the swiftly moving road.

A cheer erupted among the three of us, stuffed unceremoniously in the back seat. Our greedy hands thrust forward, we waited impatiently for what amounted to a month of allowance to drop into our palms.

My mother held up her hands. “Now wait a minute. There is a catch. Each time you act up, you are going to have to pay me a nickel. When we get to Nana and Papa’s, you can spend the remaining amount on anything you want.”

“Even candy?” My brother asked incredulously. We were never allowed to eat candy. (Or white bread, junk cereals, or the mysterious foodlike substance known as Little Debbies)

“That’s right, son. Anything at all, even candy.”

We three looked among ourselves with wide eyes and open mouths. Candy!

My mother looked us each in the eye, as best she could with the restrictive seat belt and high headrest. “Now remember, you will have to give up a nickel each time you act up, so the better you behave the richer you will be.”

We nodded as solemnly as we could manage until the heavy, papered cylinders were dropped in our hands, then we squealed with delight and squirmed in our own seatbelts in a quasi victory dance.

My brother is older than me by 2 years, and my sister is 3 years older than him. As the youngest and smallest I was always the one strapped into the middle seat, feet resting on the mysteriously raised hump that usually made the position undesirable for big people.

For those first few miles we would giggle with each other, point out the window at randomly entertaining objects, and blurt out annoying lyrics to the kid-friendly songs that we were allowed to listen to. Oh the adventure! The freedom of the open road! The ability to use travel toothbrushes (yes, the obsession started early). It was all rainbows, and sunshine, and dreams of salami sandwiches that would await us when we reached Nana and Papa’s house.

And then my brother would poke me.

To this day, I swear to you that he started every fight. His clever hands shot out the moment my mom and sister were not paying attention, his finger jabbing sharply into my side. I angrily protested and poked him back. Of course it was only fair that the retaliatory strike be of greater force and better aim. He howled in protest and smacked me on a bare leg.

The resounding sound of flesh colliding with flesh instantly grabbed my mother’s attention and she whipped around to glare at us. Instinctively she knew my sister was not involved, and she zeroed in on my brother and I. Her large mommy hand appeared in front of us as if conjured from thin air. “A nickel each. Now.”

“But Mom!” we wined together, before arguing with the ferocity rivaling any high-powered New York defense attorney about how the other one started it.

“I don’t care who started it. I am finishing it. Now give me 2 nickels for arguing.” She stared us down with the infamous and completely unreplicatable I-am-your-mother-do-as-I-say look.

Mournfully, we tore open the once perfect and pristine brown wrappers and extract 2 nickels. We looked up at her with puppy dog eyes that silently begged for a reprieve, and she simple folded the fingers of her outstretched hand in a maneuver universally known to mean cough it up, buddy.

Ten cents. Gone, just like that. Holding back tears I stared at the depleted roll of coins. There was no way that I was going to lose one more cent. When we got to Nana and Papa’s, I would still $1.90 to buy anything I wanted.

Even candy.

It was only a half hour later that my brother flicked my ear. I frogged his shoulder. And my mother put her hand out.

By the time we arrived, my brother and I would have not but the empty paper wrappers to show for our efforts at being good. Our sorrow was quickly assuaged, however, when we remembered that Nana always had candy jars aplenty. With mouthfuls of M&Ms and gumdrops to spike our spirits—as well as our blood sugars—we soon forgot our losses and threw ourselves into the business of gorging ourselves.

For the big day, we headed over to my aunt and uncle’s house, where long card tables nearly circled the house, and cousins, and second cousins, and aunts and uncles and grandparents aplenty filled the house with noise, and laughter, and the overriding sound of football on the TV. When we sat down, the rolls would be passed, we chose between white and dark meat, jello moulds, sweet potato casseroles, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, gravy, and just about everything else you can possibly think of. The meal lasted for ages as we ate, and talked, and ate some more.

After the last dessert was eaten and darkness blanketed the cold suburban landscape, we returned to Nana and Papa’s, sated, happy, and tired.

At the end of the weekend, we piled once more into the car, waving enthusiastically at my grandparents as they stood on the stoop. As my father backed into the street and put the car in gear, my mother would turn in her seat once more. “Okay, I have a roll of nickels for each of you…”

In all trips that we took to see my mother’s parents, in all the years that we three crowded into the backseat and set off across the great mid-west, I don’t think I ever once arrived at our destination with a single cent to my name. The only consolation that I have is that my brother didn’t either ;)

So, what were your Thanksgiving Day traditions? Did you travel over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house? And more importantly, do you eat turkey or ham?

Last year's turkey

For me, I always preferred ham until the one Good Eats episode that forever changed my holiday menu. All I have to say it, this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for Alton Brown and his magically recipe that truly is Romancing The Bird. The single most magnificently moist, perfectly delicious - not to mention foolproof - roast turkey recipe ever, if I do say so myself. I have made this bird five or six times now, and my only changes are that I leave out the candied ginger and have forgotten the allspice berries a time or two. If you are having turkey, perhaps you will give it a whirl!

Happy Thanksgiving, Cake Readers!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Forget Me Not

I’m getting the silent treatment.

I know, that's awful, isn't it? The worst of it is, I don’t even know what I did. Everything was going along swimmingly, and then bam, Richard and Jane—two of the most important people in my life right now— suddenly clammed up tighter than old Scrooge’s wallet.

Was it something I said? Probably not, since when we are together—which was almost all the time until this past week—I usually don’t talk, only listen. Now see? I’m a good listener, I care about them, I want to showcase them in their light, and what do I get for my trouble?

Nothing. Nada, zip, zero.

The hero and heroine of my second manuscript seem to have left the building. And with perfectly awful timing, thank you very much, seeing as I have to send my contest entry for the Golden Heart—only the biggest contest of them all—in by Friday. In order to do so, I have to finish the blasted book. I’m so close, it’s killing me—one flippin’ chapter!

So since they won’t talk to me, I thought I would write them an open letter. [cracking knuckles]

Dear Richard and Jane,

What happened to us? In the beginning, you chattered like finches in my ear, keeping me up at night and my fingers busy typing away all day. We laughed, we cried, we stayed up til two in the morning braiding each other’s hair. Oh, wait—scratch that last one. We did share a lot of late nights together, though.

And now . . . nothing. I don’t understand. Don’t you want a happily ever after? Aren’t you tired of the witty banter and the smoldering looks—surely you are ready to move on to the next level? Richard, did I not give you all the best lines? Did I not mold a heroine from scratch just for you? One who is smart, and sweet, and knows how to whip you into shape?

Jane, what other Regency heroine has ever been given a bakery? All those delicious treats you made—I gave you those recipes! And did I not plop the most handsome, charming (if somewhat bedeviling) hero ever right into your shop? All along, the two of you have leapt off the page, taking up 90 percent of my waking brain power. Eating breakfast I plotted, in the shower I crafted scathing come-backs, making dinner I mulled ways to grind you into the dirt so you could spring back, better and happier than ever.

What do I get in return? Complete and total silence. For shame, you two. For shame. Do you think you can just forget me? Turn your backs and disappear from view? Clamming up just before things get really good—real mature, guys. Honestly, I have half a mind to kick you to the curb and start over with sweeter, more cooperative characters. That’s right, I said it. [nodding decisively] How do you like them apples?

[Collapsing to knees] No, wait! I take it back! I didn’t mean it, I swear [dramatic crying]. I need you. Please don’t leave me. I’ll do anything. When I asked how you like the apples, Jane, I only meant wouldn’t you like them for some of you famous apple tarts. Yes, that’s it! See, I was trying to be nice. Richard, you love her tarts, don’t you? DON’T YOU??


So, in conclusion, I would really appreciate it if you would pop in and tell me the details of your happily-ever-after. I promise to put my heart and soul into crafting it into the perfect ending. And if you are really nice, I will even let you pop in to say hello in the next book.

There now, all better.

Hugs and kisses,


So, am I the only writer to have her character’s suddenly clam up? What have you done to get your characters talking again? For all you readers, have you ever been frustrated by the ending of a good book, because you think the author let things go off course?

Today’s recipe is a direct plea to Richard and Jane: Forget-Me-Not Meringue Cookies. Since Jane always changes things up a bit in her recipes, I decided to change the standard chocolate chip variety to peppermint white chocolate. This one is super duper easy—though it is beyond difficult to walk away and leave them in the oven over night. . . .

Peppermint White Chocolate Forget-Me-Not Cookies

2 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp mint extract

1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

(If you have a stand mixer, it makes this process a LOT easier)

Beat eggs until foamy, then slowly add the sugar in. Beat until mixture forms stiff, creamy peaks (should be several minutes). Fold in vanilla, mint, and white chocolate.

Place parchment paper over a cookie sheet, and drop mixture by tablespoons onto the sheet. Place into preheated oven, then immediately turn oven off.

Walk away from the oven, people. Let sit 8 hours or overnight in the oven . . . just don’t forget them!

Enjoy :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

When at First You Don't Succeed

Picture it: Columbia, SC 1997

When I was young, and idealistic, and thought the job I wanted would be there waiting for me the moment I graduated (complete with welcome banner and funfetti), I decided I wanted to be a Marine Scientist. I couldn’t have been more thrilled when I received a scholarship to attend the University of South Carolina.

All fresh-faced and shiny, I showed up on my first day of college ready to take on the world. I was young, idealistic, and thought that a degree in Marine Science would take me places. Literally. Me, a research ship, a wetsuit and a pod of frisky dolphins—you get the picture. Just call me Erin Cousteau.

With my shiny new backpack and a sturdy pair of new shoes, I huffed it to the quad to attend my very first class on my very first day of my very first semester of college ever. It began at 8am, but despite the trouble I had getting to sleep the night before (excitement, you know) I was all chipper and ready to begin the next chapter of my life.

Unfortunately, the next chapter began with Calculus. Calculus! What that heck kind of a way is that to welcome a newbie? As I slipped into the huge auditorium, I chose a middle distance seat and slid in, pencil sharpened (that’s right kids – no laptops!), notebook open, and the $150 calculator I had to purchase in high school perched on the corner of the desk. The class began, and within moments I had a bit of a sinking feeling. Now, I don’t know a lot about math, but I was prreeettty sure it involved numbers. Not x’s, y’s, z’s, and quirky, oversized, angry-looking backward 3’s (You know—this guy: ∑. What the heck is that thing, anyway?).

The biggest shock of all, however, was that we were not allowed to use our calculators. Gulp. Didn’t she know that my precal class in high school required calculators?? This is the fun part: that wasn’t a university wide edict. Oh no, my friend in the other calculus 101 class happily tapped away on his calculator.

As I navigated my way through the week, I was relieved to see that I had saved the worst for first. That was the good news. The bad news was that I had that stupid calculus three days a week – all at the crack of dawn in the eyes of a college student . . . ok, who am I kidding? 8am is still the crack of dawn for me ;)

What was even worse than the content of the class was the professor herself. She sounded like Barbara Streisand, looked like John Lennon – slap a pair of round glasses on her and she’d be set—and had all the charisma of Ben Stein (Bueller? Bueller?). A couple of weeks into the semester, I was walking to class with some friends and was letting them in on my observations. I got a good laugh out of everyone, and when the giggling subsided, I realized that there was a sound coming from behind us. Click clap click clap . . . Someone was walking directly behind us. With heels. On a college campus. Holding my breath, I peeked behind us. Oh schnikies – it was the White Album all over again.

Talk about egg on the face.

Nothing like openly mocking the professor of your weakest subject. By halfway through the first semester, I had come to the conclusion that I had mistakenly placed into Calculus, while some Mensa member languished in precal. There was no way around it: I needed help. Swallowing my pride, I went to professor Barbara S. Lennonstein, tail tucked between my legs, and asked for help. She sat behind her desk, steepling her fingers and smiling blandly. Have no fears, she said, you’ll do fine.

I muddled through the rest of the semester, all the while terrified I’d end up with a grade I had never even seen before. Would it be a C-? Dear lord, a D? Or, horror of horrors, D-??? The mere thought made me break out in a cold sweat. It couldn’t be. It would be okay. I would get a (cringe) C, and somehow life would go on.

At the end of the semester, I headed home for the holidays, finished with classes and anxiously awaiting the grades that were due to be released within the week. Come Christmas, I was wrapped in the bosom of my family, the tree glittering merrily as the smell of baking cookies filled the air. With Christmas music tinkling in the background and a fire crackling beside the desk, I sat down to call for my grades. (Yes kids, in the old days, you had to call an automated phone center to receive your grades. The computer system wouldn’t come into use for that particular task for another two years.)

As if sensing my anxiety, the system was busy the first time I called. And the second. And the third. By the tenth redial, I was a jittery mess. It was suddenly the most important thing in the world that I know my grades, and the phone lines were conspiring against me. When at long last the stupid system picked up, I pressed each button with utmost care, terrified I would do something wrong and be disconnected.

First my social, then my password, and finally the mechanical voice began to read. Each word is slow and precise, and it seems to take years to read through the list. With pencil in hand, I copy the words on paper:

Chemistry . . . B+.

English . . . A.

Marine Science . . .A.

Marine Science Lab. . . B+.

Mathematics . . . yes??

(still waiting)

(longest pause in the history of mankind)

(Dear God, what is my grade????)

. . . and then it said it.

I sat in shock, staring blankly at the foreign symbol I had written on the page. What was this tall vertical line adorned by two, short, horizontal ones? Had someone deconstructed a B? Alas, they did not. No, my dear cake readers, it was indeed my very first—and only—


That, my friends, was the most monumental failure of my entire academic career. It haunted me for the whole of my four years in college, since my school did not have freshman forgiveness despite the fact I earned a B when I retook the class under a different professor. I was shocked, embarrassed, humbled, and disappointed.


This, my friend, is not a story of failure, but rather the motivation failure offers if we choose to view it that way. I worked with single-minded purpose after that, determined to never repeat such a disaster. After that semester, I enjoyed four semesters on the Dean’s list (all A’s and B’s), and my final two semesters even made the President’s list, despite including such classes as Physics, Organic Chemistry, and Master’s level classes. In the end, I graduated with honors, in spite of the fact I had a four-credit F hanging like a 50 lb weight from my GPA. It was a triumph, and a lesson that I have always carried with me.

In writing, it is difficult to ride the roller coaster of the business. Agents rejections, contest wins, contest losses, scathing feedback, sweet praises, long silences from agents and editors . . . the list goes on. But guess what? I plan to keep pushing. I want to learn from every rejection, to absorb the good advice while repelling the bad. I want to soldier on, and in the end, I want to be a success. I can visualize it, I can work towards it, and I can believe in it.

What have been some failures that led to your own successes? Has there been a recent setback in your life? A triumph? Did you suffer through calculus with me and get an F too but also went on to overcome it? (I’m talking to you, Jacob!)

Me and Kirk on Graduation Day! Notice the yellow ropes for graduating Cum Laude!

All this month, I will be ending my blog with something I am thankful for. This month, I am grateful that my dog is too cute to kill, especially when she decides to do a little redecorating . . .

No matter how great the success your failure may eventually lead to, you are always entitled to a little chocolate wallowing initially :)

I found these cookies on Oprah.com, a recipe submitted by Nigella Lawson, and try as I may, I can’t seem to improve on them :) If you are looking for all the best things combined in one cookie—shortbread, chocolate, icing, and sprinkles!—then I recommend giving them a whirl!

Click Here For Buttery, Chocolate Goodness!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Low Riders

With the leaves swirling colorfully around our property this weekend, I watched my husband on the riding lawn mower as I stood sipping hot tea on the back porch. The fresh, chilly air combined with the unmistakable smell of fuel, and before I knew it I was laughing at a long buried memory.

When I was 14, I, like every other red-blooded American teenager, heartily wished that I could drive. I wanted it so bad, I could clearly picture myself behind the wheel, hands gripping the hard leather steering wheel as the countryside galloped by. Of course, said driving privileges were still a year and a half away, so I had to take what I could get. For a semi-country girl on a large grassy lot, that meant the riding lawn mower.

I can still see it, its dull silver paint glinting dully in the sunlight, that handsome orange pinstripe adding panache to the hood, and the hard-earned rust spots adding character to its motorized allure. Ahh, that deafening roar of the engine, the complete lack of shocks on the seat . . . really, what more could a girl want?

Now, my parents were more than happy to allow me that particular chore, and I would spend hours driving in long, straight rows, achieving an evenly mowed lawn by 2 foot intervals. If I mowed the front, the back, and the back-back, I would finally pull into the garage three hours later, my whole body vibrating even after the mower was turned off. And I loved it. After all, does not a riding mower have a steering wheel, a key in the ignition, an engine, and 4 wheels? It felt like freedom.

So, you can see how this marvelously legal-for-a-14-year-old-driver machine would be too much to keep to myself. I distinctly remember a lazy Saturday in autumn, not too long after school had started back up. My friends Carly* and Jane* were over at my house for the day, and we were bored and looking to get into a bit of fun. The air was cool and clean, the autumn leaves had begun to blanket the countryside, and, with my parents gone, the world was our oyster.

It is lost to the annals of time how it came to be, but that day I decided I wanted to take my friends on a joy ride. <cue Low Rider music>

So out came the mower, in all of its 14 horsepower glory. With me in the driver seat, Carly on the left fender and Jane on the right, I popped that baby into first gear and we took off with a jolt. Soon we were cruising at top speed, 4, maybe 5 miles an hour, laughing with the abandon that only a group of teenage girls can muster as we zipped around the back-back.

I expertly maneuvered around the gopher holes, deftly avoided the tree (yes, a full acre lot with only one tree), and rode hell-bent for leather down to the property line and back. Straight lines be damned (but only because the blade was disengaged), I looped into figure eights, threw in a few jaunty z’s, and even wrote out my initials.

Our hair windblown—well, lightly feathered, anyhow—at last we had exhausted the fun, and I dropped my giggling girlfriends at the back deck before parking my silver steed in the garage, no one the wiser. We floated through the rest of the day on the exhilaration of the ride and the secrecy of it all. Oh yes, we were wild, we were young, and we were rebels.

Come Monday, it was back to school as usual, and we three plodded through our day. After 6th period, Jane came skidding around the corner and ran towards my locker. “Oh my God!” she exclaimed, breathing hard with the effort to make it to my locker and back in the 4 minute break. “You won’t believe what Mr. Simpson said during class!”

Mr. Simpson was the Health teacher, and was known for his sometimes racy stories and videos. He was also a neighbor of ours.

“What?!” I exclaimed, thinking that there might be some juicy sex-ed trivia involved.

“He told the class that he had seen the absolutely most bizarre thing over the weekend. He said that he had looked out the back window when he sat down to lunch on Saturday, and couldn't believe his eyes when he saw three girls piled onto a riding lawn mover on the neighbor’s property, inching along while screaming and howling with laughter. He said it was the damndest thing he ever saw! The whole class laughed and laughed!” Jane looked like she couldn’t decide whether she should be horrified or laughing.

“He didn’t say anything in 4th period!” I exclaimed, having no trouble choosing horrified.

“Duh! That’s because he knows that you were one of the girls, stupid! He didn’t know about me!” She decided to go with laughter, and bent over at the waist to indulge.

Thank goodness no one else realized that the story was about me, but I couldn’t look Mr. Simpson in the eye for a good two weeks after that. From that day on I only pulled the mower out for serious work, and the back-back, visible to Mr. Simpson, went unmowed more often than not. But the memories of the laughter, hair flying in the breeze and the intoxicating feeling of freedom will stick with me forever.

*Names have been changed to protect the ridiculous ;) Bonus points if either of said friends out themselves!

Were you ever busted for doing something silly with your friends? Embarrassed by a neighbor? Does the crisp, cool air of autumn always remind you of a particular memory?

Today’s recipe was perfected, well, today! For those of you looking for something sweet, rich, and with a bit of a pick-me-up, I give you:

Irish Cream Cupcakes!

Makes 24 cupcakes

- 4 ounces (4 squares) BAKER'S Semi-Sweet Chocolate

- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

- 1 cup sugar

- 2 eggs

- 1 tsp. vanilla

- 1 and 3/4 cups cake flour (or sifted all-purpose flour)

- 3/4 tsp. baking soda

- slightly less than 1/4 tsp salt

- 1 cup water

- 2 Tbsp sour cream

- Irish Cream Liquor (for use after cupcakes are baked)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Microwave chocolate and butter in large microwaveable bowl on HIGH 2 min. or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar and vanilla. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating with electric mixer on low speed after each addition until well blended.

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. If you are using all-purpose flour, it is best to simply sift it all together.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then the sour cream and ½ the water, then another 1/3 of the flour, the last half of the water, and finally the last 1/3 of the flour.

Distribute evenly into 24 paper-lined medium muffin cups. (I always add the batter to gallon sized Ziplock bags and cut a small hole in one corner for easy distribution. This batter will be very thin)

Bake 13 to 15 min. or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Be careful not to overcook! Cool in pan 10 min.; remove to wire racks. Let cool for about 2 minutes, then poke holes in each cupcake using a toothpick. Pour about a half a capful of Irish Cream liquor over the holes, and let sit until absorbed. After about 5 minutes, remove cupcakes from pan and allow to cool.

Irish Cream Frosting:

- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

- 1/3 cup shortening

- 4 cups powdered sugar (1 lb)

- 3 Tbsp natural Cocoa powder

- 3 or more Tbsp Irish Cream, or amount needed to bring icing to creamy, fluffy consistency.

Combine butter and shortening, beat until smooth. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Add a few tablespoons of the Irish Cream as the mixture gets dry. Add cocoa, mix thoroughly. Add the remaining Irish Cream until icing reaches desired consistency.

Garnish with white chocolate, and enjoy!

Update - Just wanted to say that I am sure you could use a box mix of the chocolate cake as well. Just be sure to soak with the liquor when you pull it from the oven :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

And Now Deep Thoughts ...

As I write this, I am sitting on my screened-in porch, a blanket tucked around my shoulders as I enjoy the peaceful aftermath of a violent mid-day storm. My dog, Maggie, is tucked at my side while the other two pooches patrol for squirrels in the crisp, gray air. There is no traffic, no construction, no lawn mowers or boats. In this moment, there is only me, and the ebb and flow of the leaves in the wind, rolling like grains of sand caught in gentle waves on the beach.

To me, this is pretty close to heaven. The only thing that could make this better is my husband at arm’s length and a warm cup of cocoa. For someone else, this could be pure hell. Nothing to distract, nothing to provide company or entertainment, no one to talk to or to laugh with. And yet, here I am, peacefulness in my soul and joy in my heart.

This weekend, Kirk and I glimpsed a different kind of joy. Visiting our oldest friends, we marveled at the fact that they created three small people between them—the youngest only a handful of months in this world. Three little mini-me’s with curly hair, and bright smiles, swift anger and even faster joy. Their house is filled to the rafters with shouting, and toys, and worries, and hopes, and always dreams. There is not a quiet corner to be had as their lives rattle forward, full steam ahead.

I am glad for them, and their choices that brought them such a distinctly different life. For these small visits, measured by hours a few times a year, I am happy to play horse to a young cowboy and to teach a handful of foreign words to a curious little learner. I am pleased to quiet cries and scold naughtiness and praise good deeds. When we drive away, it is with no sadness or regret, just looking forward to the next visit, the next moment our lives intersect, when their tiny bodies have grown that much more, acting as yardsticks for my own march in time.

My mom reminded me that our visit was much like the visit of my mother’s oldest friend – affectionately called our aunt - when I was of an age still measured in months. The three of us under five, my aunt came cross country to see us, particularly me—the newest edition. I have a picture of her holding me in front of a church where we lived. I in ruffley pink, she fresh faced and grinning, it is an oddly timeless moment, despite the aging colors of the decades-old photograph.

It struck me as odd, almost surreal, like I had come full circle. From the wide-eyed infant in one picture to the broadly smiling “Aunt” in the next, it was as if the time in between had curled in on itself, revealing the circular path of our journeys in this world. Every thirty years or so, the next generation pops up, an endless recycling of events that each person thinks is unique, but is as old as time. Children being born, graduations, marriages, and everything in between.

It made me feel closer to my parents, and grandparents, and those ancestors I never even knew, to know that they traveled similar journeys. They visited with old friends and sat around a kitchen table late into the night, laughing and chatting and reminiscing. Sometimes marveling at how much life had changed, and how far they had come from the days past. Perhaps they even shook their heads in wonder at how lives started so similarly had meandered so far in such various directions.

My friend wondered aloud this weekend at the impact our choices have on our lives. The infinite realities that could have been, each one connected to a different choice, one even as simple as where you chose to eat lunch. I can appreciate the thought in theory, but for me, there is only the path I am on. I don’t worry for the outcome of the choices not made, but instead give thanks for the ones that I did make.

My choices have been just right for me, just as others’ choices—so very different from mine—have been just right for them. Joy pervades my life in so many ways. Even amongst worries for the future – for my career, and money, and the direction that each of my choices lead—I go forth with peace and happiness for where I am, for the people I love, for the pups that make me smile, and, of course, for the husband who makes me swoon.

Do you sometimes marvel at life? Caught off-guard by the continual slipping of days going by? Are you happy for your choices, which brought you to where you are?

So, on a cool autumn day, what would be better than one of my all-time favorite cool-weather dinners: Taco Soup! The recipe below is copied word for word from the recipe given to me years earlier by the very friends we visited this weekend. Enjoy!

Taco Soup Recipe:

1 cup of love

1 packet of Hidden Valley ranch dressing (powder)

1 packet of taco seasoning

1-1.5 pounds of ground beef or turkey (optional)

1 can of pinto beans (drained)

2 cans of shoepeg corn or 1 large package of frozen white and yellow sweet corn

2 humungous cans of petite diced tomatoes

2 cans of mild Rotel

1/2 chopped onion (browned with meat or in oil if no meat)

sour cream

cheddar cheese

Fritos scoops (I used tortilla chips)

Brown the meat and onions together, drain.

Combine the love, ranch, taco seasoning, browned beef and onions, beans, corn,

tomatoes, and Rotel into a large crock pot. You may adjust amount of ingredients depending on how many you are serving. Put the crockpot on low for 4-5 hours (or high for 1-2 hours). When it is done, put in bowls and top with cheddar cheese and sour cream. Place scoops around bowl. Dip scoops, lift scoops, place scoops and soup into mouth. Chew vigorously. Say mmm mmm good.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How a Baker was Made

By now, I’m sure it is exceedingly obvious to all and sundry that I adore baking. It’s a unique medium that almost always brings a smile to peoples’ faces, and that just makes me happy. At dinner with friends recently, I was asked how I started out. I gave them the answer I have given for years: At my first job as a GIS tech, I had a boss with a really big sweet tooth. When I brought a cake in for a coworker’s birthday one day, he asked me to start using petty cash to make cakes for everyone’s birthday, and so a baker was born.

Or was she? As I was making batch upon batch of cupcake goodness for the workshop I attended this weekend, I had a flashback to kneading dough next to my mother in the house we had in Georgia when I was around 5 years old. Side by side in the kitchen, me on a chair while she stood patiently beside be, we pushed and pulled the dough in the age old method that has been passed down from generation to generation through the centuries.

I imagine that women throughout the millennia taught their daughters just as my mother taught me, with my own tiny ball of dough beside her own. Allowing them to taste the yeasty mixture, their faces puckering at the lack of sweetness. Gently reminding them to add more flour to the counter so the dough won’t stick, and laughing when they squeeze the gooey mixture through their tiny fingers.

Only, my mother hadn’t been taught by her mother. She had taught herself, intent on providing the freshest, most wholesome food for our family. Back before it was posh, when all the modern moms were opening bags of Wonderbread and offering jars of Jiff, my mother ground the wheat for her dough, kneaded and shaped it with me at her side, and placed it in the oven to bake. As the smell of fresh-baked bread filled the house, filling us all with mouth-watering anticipation, she would go to work making homemade peanut butter.

No preservatives, no chemicals, no name brands or catchy advertising, just one woman and her daughter, working the foods God gave us, together in a warm kitchen somewhere lost in time.

We rarely had sweets in the house when I was young, but when we did, they were baked in our own harvest gold oven. Treats were just that: something special, appearing only on important occasions. Chocolate chip-less chocolate chip cookies (from the curious time as a child when I didn’t like chocolate), peanut butter cookies with hatch marks made with a fork, and the endless variety of Christmas cookies that we would make one magical day in December. Lemon meringue pies were my father’s favorite, peach cobbler when the season was right, and the occasional batch of ooey, gooey brownies if we were really good. And, of course, a cake on each of our birthdays, of which we were allowed exactly one slice.

As I grew older, I began to notice the little plastic wrapped snack cakes other children had. Little spongy logs filled with crème, chocolate squiggled-topped cupcakes, oatmeal cookies glued together with icing – it was all very new and foreign to me. What were these sugary little delicacies? Why hadn’t my mother given them to me as the other kid’s mother’s had? Going home, I begged my mother to buy me these treats, to allow me to partake in the goodies all the other kids had. Alas, she refused, and sent me away with carrot sticks, or saltines and peanut butter, or a slice of wheat bread.

So very unfair. And then, one day one of my friends’ mothers gave me a Twinkie. I stared in wonder at the perfectly shaped tube of cake, nestled within its cellophane home. Reverently, I tore open the package and pulled out the forbidden treat within. It was very light in my hand, as if filled with air instead of the delicious-looking frosting peaking from three little ports along the bottom. I lifted the cake to my mouth, and took my first bite.

And blinked.

It tasted like… well, nothing, really. The icing was tasteless, the cake had an odd texture, and the whole thing struck me as entirely un-treat like. What was all the fuss about?

I never did learn to like Twinkies and the other snack cakes. But as time caught up with us, there were less loaves of bread, and only the occasional batch of cookies. I went to college and abandoned the healthy eating of my youth, and gained 50 pounds and my first 4 cavities for my trouble. Fast food was the norm, and desserts came before meals. For the first few years of college, I didn’t have an oven, so I couldn’t have baked if I wanted to.

And then along came that first job, and the sweets-loving boss. After that first cake, I found a recipe for homemade icing. I couldn’t believe how delicious it was. Then I branched out and found cake recipes, then I began to tweak them, and later I began working on presentation. The baker was reborn.

And she had learned some things along the way. Sweets were again special, not just a mindless indulgence. Food was something to be respected, to be eaten reverently, not just scarfed down while sitting in front of the television or driving a car.

I was reminded of the art of savoring food. Of laboring to create a dish, and then taking the time to really appreciate every bite, to turn the flavors over in my mouth and give thanks for the sustenance it provides my mind, my soul, and my body. With respect for food came weight loss and happiness.

Give me fresh baked goods any day of the week. Give me a cake measured with care, diligently mixed, and frosted with love. Give me a cookie where I can sneak a taste of the batter, dump a few extra chocolate chips into if I want, and eat while it is still piping hot from the oven.

Give me a cobbler where each peach is sliced by hand, sweet juices running down my fingers as I gobble up every third slice or so. A peach that was sold to me by the farmer who planted it, picked it, and brought it to the market with his sweet wife by his side. I want a cupcake where I can pronounce every ingredient, one that has been iced with fluffy homemade frosting, and that needs to be eaten within two or three days, lest it go bad. Baked goods shouldn’t have an expiration date measured in years, sealed up in plastic that was made somewhere in China, laden with ingredients with lots of x’s and z’s in the names.

Yes, the baker was reborn, intent on bringing happiness to others straight from my oven. But where did I really learn to bake? In a small kitchen in Georgia, using a harvest gold stove and wearing an over-sized apron with the strings doubled up around my waist. Kneading a small ball of dough at my mother’s side, watching her every move and doing my best to emulate her. It was those lessons that laid the seeds for me to be the baker—and lover of real food—that I am today.

When did you learn to bake? Do you have a special baking tradition in your family? And is there anyone out there that actually likes Twinkies? :)

Today I’d like to share a very simple yet delicious bread recipe with you, which is modified from the recipe found here. It’s a great starter bread for those of you who may have never tried to make your own bread. Here’s to yummy, healthy, homemade bread!

2 cups warm water (110 degrees F is ideal)

1/3 cup white sugar

1 ½ Tbsp active dry yeast

1 ½ tsp salt

¼ cup vegetable or canola oil

6 cups bread flour

In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water, then stir in yeast. Allow to proof until a creamy foam forms on top (6 to 10 minutes)

Mix in salt and oil with a wooden spoon. Mix in flour, 1 cup at a time, until you have mixed in 5 ½ cups. Using flour from the remaining ½ cup, lightly coat your working surface. Kneed dough, adding flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth (about 8 to 10 minutes), taking care not to tear the dough. Place in well-oiled bowl that is at least twice the size of the dough, turning a few times to coat the dough with the oil. Cover with a damp cloth (I use tea towels) and place in the unheated oven with the oven light on. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk (about an hour)

Punch the dough down, then turn out onto floured surface to knead a second time for another few minutes. Divide in half and shape and place into two well-oiled 9x5 loaf pans. Allow to rise for 30 minutes until dough has risen about 1 inch above pans.

Bake a 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Erin Knightley: Gardener Extraordinaire

For most of my life, I have felt as though I was born in the wrong era. I mean, how could it be that hats look so good on me if I wasn’t meant to live in a time where they were practically required?
My 'going away' outfit on our wedding day :)
I’ve always been one to shake my head at some of the new fangled ideas that are out there today, and all the little modern touches that make speaking to people face to face increasingly obsolete.
I look at our pre-packaged food and cluck my tongue disapprovingly. I wonder at the good old days when people harvested their own food in quaint little kitchen gardens filled with fragrant herbs and vegetables bursting with flavor. The disconnect between us and our food seems to have widened into a hopelessly wide canyon, so much so that many children have no idea what some foods in their natural forms even look like.
So, last January, I decided that I was going to break that cycle in my own life. I was going to plant a garden. And not just any garden—my garden was going to be the Shangri La of all gardens, the envy of the whole neighborhood. Of course, with my magnificent bounty, I could spread goodwill to my fellow man – a tomato and cucumber for all, I say!
*Cue Little House on the Prairie Music*
Giddy with excitement for the coming project, I sat down at the computer one cold winter night and began to plan. I wanted a completely natural and organic garden, just like my ancestors would have had. Over the next several weeks, I studied, and read, and poured over various websites. What to plant, when to plant, how to plant—absolutely everything I could want to know about gardening.
I would start with organic seeds. In a fit of gardening optimism, I scoured the racks of seed packets at Whole Foods, agonizing over the Japanese or English Cucumbers, Heirloom or Better Boy Tomatoes, even Kentucky Wonder or Blue Lake pole beans. So many choices! But I must choose wisely: each packet was $2.50, and they were adding up quick. By the time I made my selection, my wallet was $50 lighter. I wasn’t daunted, however—just think how much I’ll save when I am eating all my own food all summer!
The idea was to have 6 raised beds, each one built of untreated wood rubbed with linseed oil, just as it was done in the old days. No nasty chemically-treated lumber for me, no sir. In between the sturdy beds, I wanted gravel pathways for easy walking and no worry of weed-eating around the precious vegetables.
It was, in a word, magnificent. See for yourself:
Isn’t it glorious? It is, isn’t it? Go ahead – admit it. You’re jealous. *brushing shoulders* Yep, maybe someday you will be like the inspired genius awesomeness that is Erin. Not now, but someday.
Every veggie I could ever want, abundantly planted so that I could can enough food for the whole winter, and even feed some of my envious neighbors (remember the tomatoes and cucumbers for all?). I could just see me strolling down the aisles, lovingly checking the progress of my darling plants, each one exploding with color and fragrance and inspiring a plethora of delicious, healthy meals.
So, come February, I started my seedlings. Tucked in their little starter disks, warm beneath the plastic dome top, I willed them to grow. Each day I watched and waited for the stems and leaves to spring forth from the dirt, and when they finally emerged, I heralded their coming like the birth of a long-awaited king.
For weeks, I gently watered them, nurturing them like the little miracles they were. “Good morning, my darlings. Ready for another day in the sunshine?” They’d smile at me—okay, so not really, but I imagined they did—and carry on about the business of growing strong and healthy for me.
Soon it was March, and we started to plan the making of the planter boxes. My babies needed a home – and soon! My husband was in charge of the actual building, so together we headed to Lowes, measurements in hand, to buy the lumber. After half an hour of looking at prices, I began to feel a little queasy. This wasn’t your granny’s garden—it was turning out to be the King of Sudan’s. Or perhaps Bill Gates’. All I knew was, ain’t no way we were going to drop that kind of dough.
So we sat down with the calculator and began to do a little number crunching. This would save us a whole summer’s worth of veggies, I argued. But not even five years worth of veggies cost this much, Kirk countered. We hemmed, we hawed, we both negotiated and haggled, and in the end, well let’s just say I had to adjust my expectations.

A lot.

A whole lot.


Gone were the carrots and onions and sage.
No more room for my beans or all the planned greens on my page.
The oregano was out, as were the snap peas,
And not one piece of gravel to keep out the weeds.
The visions of salsa and spaghetti sauces aplenty
Soon vanished like smoke as we downed the ante
Gathering our load of precious few lumber
We headed for home, our moods rather somber

Alright, so, I was bummed. I tried to rally when Kirk built the one beautiful, perfectly-made, infinitely lonely raised bed. It would be okay. I could still raise a few lovely things, and just think how many cucumbers a single plant produced! Not to mention the three tomato plants we had. Yes, we had a reduced variety, but we should be swimming in the veggies we still had.
Or so I thought.
Turns out … not so much. Apparently, no matter how much you will something to be a productive member of your garden, it has the final say. And I am here to tell you, they didn’t say much.
Within a month, we had our very first harvest. It was a very exciting day in my household, as you can imagine. After four months of planning, nurturing the babies every day, building them a (very expensive) home, planting them with love, tending to them once, sometimes even twice a day, we finally reaped the rewards.

Are you ready?

Excited yet?


Ahem. Yeah, my husband wasn’t too impressed either. But I knew it was only the beginning. My fantastically genius plans may have been down-sized, but the fruits of our labor would be plentiful, I was sure.
Soon, we had our first hint of tomato:
Next came a baby jalapeno:
Little did we know, that would be our ONLY jalapeno. Sigh.
But at least the tomatoes were on their way. We had the little jellybean tomatoes, plus a better bush and an heirloom plant. The jellybean tomatoes came first. We watched, rapt, as every day they got a liiitle bit bigger. We waited, with baited breath, when they got their first hint of color. Soon, the little fruits were yellow, then a bright orange, then, well, still orange.
Turns out my packet of red and yellow jellybean tomatoes actually meant red or yellow. Who knew?
Kirk was disappointed—apparently he thinks anything but red tomatoes just isn't right—but we still had 2 more tomato plants. So we waited and waited and waited until one day, we got a little cluster of heirlooms. Hooray! Every day I checked their progress, waiting for the moment they could be harvested. Alas, it stayed stubbornly, mockingly green. Just a little longer, I knew, and it would have to ripen. FINALLY, almost three months after we planted the seedlings, we saw the first blush of red. The red slowly started pushing out the green. Almost there. We waited….

And waited…

And waited… until one day…

And they didn’t even eat the whole thing – each tomato was eaten about a third of the way before they tossed it aside like so much rabble and went on to the next. Oh, the carnage! Red, gnawed flesh, littering the un-graveled ground, mocking all of the hard work I had done over the past 6 months just to get to the is point. *shaking fist to the heavens* DARN YOU SQUIRRELS!!
The worst of it was, that was it. The heirloom plant never gave us a single other tomato. While the jellybean tomato plant continued to cough up a handful of its yellow fruits a day, the better bush mocked us utterly, giving up one single fruit … while we were on vacation. At least my neighbor sent us a picture…
Sigh. Of the three cucumber plants we planted, we harvested a total of 5 or 6 decent cucumbers … and one dreadfully rotten one. Just this week, almost 9 months after we started the project, we also started getting a handful of tiny, underdeveloped green peppers. Yay.
So, was the garden a success? Ha-yal no. Did I enjoy it? In the beginning—back when I still had hope—yes. We’re not going to speak on the time after the tomato massacre. Will I do it again next year? You bet I will ;) Hope springs eternal, after all. Guess I better ask for that canning stuff for Christmas, ‘cause I have a feeling next year is going to be a bumper crop!
Books on Gardening: $45
Organic Seeds and potting soil: $85
Lumber and supplies for special raised beds: $150
The realization that I was born in exactly the right era: Priceless

Have you ever given gardening a try? Did it work for you? Are you glad to be a modern girl, or do you wish you were born in a different era?

For todays recipe, I thought I would provide a super simple, garden fave – one of the only meals to actually come from my garden… sort of :)
Caprese Salad!
Sliced tomatoes
Sliced Mozzarella
Basil leaves
Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil
In a small saucepan, heat balsamic over medium low heat. Simmer until reduced to desired thickness, set aside to cool (Keep in mind that it continues to thicken as it cools). Stack the basil and tomato atop the mozzarella, drizzle with balsamic reduction and a bit of olive oil. Enjoy!