I’ve Got Rhythms

metronomeDo your days have a rhythm? Is there a predictable tempo to your hours? Or are your days spontaneous and varied dances of delight?

At this time of year, my days have an undeniable rhythm, a driving tempo. Much of the day is filled with an insistent, relentless beat, as I work to make the candy I sell.

The winter holidays bring busy times—people are willing to splurge on handmade candies for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for gifts, for parties—so I’m always pretty busy in November.

But this year, I’m also doing two holiday boutiques, two selling shows, where people walk by my table, taste a sample of chocolate, and buy.

Last summer, when I agreed to these shows, on two consecutive days in early December, it seemed like a great idea!

Right now, I can’t help but wonder what I was thinking. I know people will want to buy candy but I can’t predict just exactly which candy they will want or how much to have on hand.

So, I spend my days piling boxes of chocolates up, and working obsessively to make more. The tempos of my life right now are staccato, presto, agitato.

But not first thing in the morning. I am committed to start my day, early, early, at a different pace—this is the calm before the candy.

I am an early riser, usually up by 4:30. I have my ritual to begin my day. It is set to adagio and, certainly, pianissimo.

I feed the cats. I give the diabetic cat an injection. I make a cup of coffee, black. I visit a set list of websites, in a set order—NBC News, the National Weather Service, the local newspaper. I write in my personal journal and have another cup of coffee, black.

I take some time to visit with you, to see what you’re saying and doing. I read your thoughts and respond, as much as possible, before the rhythm changes and the day demands my participation.

I love the calm before the candy. My husband sleeps a few rooms away. The cats go back to bed, too. I am alone with my thoughts.

I plan what needs to be done, and everything seems possible! I know I can get so much accomplished because the day stretches out in front of me, full of open hours and promise.

About 6:00, the rhythm switches to accelerato, allegro, animato. If, by this time, I haven’t taken a shower, written a blog post, finished reading yours, it probably won’t get done today.

The chaos of the candy takes over, the cacophony, the movement toward crescendo.

Happily, for me, this fast-paced rhythm lasts only for a month or two. January will bring a quieter time, slower tempos, with fewer demands for quick-step dancing in the kitchen.

I’ll return to the rocking rhythm of hand quilting, the soothing back and forth of throwing the shuttle, and the warm, comforting slide of the iron over vintage linens. I may even fit in a spontaneous dance of delight or two!

I’ll have more time for me, then, and for you.

The Taste of Autumn, in a Muffin

IMG_2761A girl cannot live by chocolate alone. Sometimes, frankly, she needs to remind herself that there’s a world beyond chocolate, where chocolate does not rule her every waking moment.

Sometimes, in the autumn, when the air is crisp with a hint of snow and the smell of wood smoke, when the geese party out in the bay and raucously plan their winter in warmer waters, and when the last leaf falls from the last tree, right then, a girl needs an apple cider doughnut.

What is it about an apple cider doughnut? The doughnuts are cake-style, not yeast, so they are more dense and crumby, but still tender and light. Their sweetness comes from the apple cider used in the batter.

And the perfect apple cider doughnut, the one this girl craves, is slathered with cinnamon and sugar. It’s that taste and the incomparable mouth feel, really, that sets these doughnuts apart.

The tender, crumby doughnut, encased in crunchy granulated sugar, warmed with lots of cinnamon. Oh, yum . . .

Unfortunately, my favorite apple cider doughnut is found at an orchard stand 25 miles away—it’s hard to justify taking the time to drive out there for just one doughnut. I suppose I could make doughnuts at home, as my grandmother did, but doing my own deep frying just doesn’t appeal to me.

I got my fall copy of Yankee Magazine this week . . . and saw they included a recipe for apple cider doughnut muffins! I hoped that my life had changed for the better.

Yankee Magazine is the source of some of my favorite recipes, including the rhubarb pecan upside-down cake my husband makes. Still I worried whether a muffin would, could, live up to the whole apple-cider-crunchy-tender-sweet-doughnutty-goodness I love so well.

Heck, yeah! These muffins nail the flavors and the mouth feel. They’re pretty easy to make and kind of messy, which adds to the fun. The kitchen smells completely and thoroughly divine while it all happens. The only thing missing is the way your tongue feels kind of oily and coated after eating a deep-fried doughnut. I’m willing to give that up.

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Here’s the recipe, straight from Yankee magazine, with my annotations.

Total Time: 55 minutes

Hands On Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 12 muffins

For the muffins:

Ingredients (sorry—they’re all in American measurement! Pesky American measurements!):

  • 2 cups sweet apple cider (not hard cider, although that might be fun, too)
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon table salt

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 375° and set a rack to the middle position. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan and set aside. (I guess you could use muffin paper liners but you shouldn’t. First, it would lessen the surface area that cinnamon sugar can stick to and, second, real Yankees wouldn’t approve because the papers are unnecessary and, therefore, wasteful).

Put the apple cider in a large saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer until the liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Set aside to cool.

Using a standing or handheld mixer, cream the butter with the sugar in a large bowl at medium speed until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each. Add the vanilla extract and blend. (I forgot the vanilla, as usual, and it all still tasted great!)

In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add a third of this mixture to the butter mixture and beat just to combine. Add half the reduced cider and beat to combine. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture, then the rest of the cider, then the remaining flour mixture.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups and transfer to the oven. (I was afraid to fill the cups too full so I ended up with 15 muffins. In retrospect, I’m sure I could’ve done as the recipe said and just divided the batter into 12 muffins—they don’t rise too much).

Bake until tops are firm and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 15 to 17 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes.

For the topping:

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, melted

Instructions:

Now, prepare the topping (this is where it gets fun!): In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon. As soon as the muffins are cool enough to handle, brush their tops and sides with butter, then roll in the cinnamon sugar to coat (I threw the muffins in, top down, and used a spoon to ladle more and more cinnamon sugar over them . . . ahhhhhhhh).

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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I really, really like these muffins! I made them two days ago and they still taste good and have a good consistency today—and that would not be true of the leftover doughnuts, as I know from experience.

So, if you want to know what fall in the North Country of upstate New York tastes like, it is now in your power to find out! Let me know what you think!

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A is for Abundance

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What does your region have in abundance?

I love where I live, in upstate New York, because of the abundance of water, open and free places, splendid scenic wonders, reminders of America’s history, feelings of nostalgia for my own family roots.

On the other hand, there’s an absolute dearth of shopping opportunities. We have the dollar stores, drug stores chains, and Walmart. We don’t have a decent bookstore or any place to buy clothes beyond J.C. Penney, really, which explains why my wardrobe mostly arrives in the mail, from L.L. Bean.

One small aspect of our local shopping scene, however, makes me ridiculously happy—we have an abundance of apple orchards. I can think, off the top of my head, of 7 or 8 big orchards within a 25-mile radius.

We have an orchard for every occasion!

We have an orchard for apple cider donuts. These donuts are very important to my happiness, with their crunchy, spicy, fall-tasting cinnamon and sugar coating. The same orchard is also where we go, in general, for baked goods (crumb-topped apple pie!) and for taking photos of small children in a big pumpkin patch. But we don’t buy apples there.

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We have an orchard for hard cider. They have a number of different ciders, from sweet to dry, and they have a tasting room. You gotta love a tasting room! We like their cider with Thanksgiving dinner, but we don’t buy apples there.

We have an orchard for nostalgia. One of the local orchards was started and run by my family for years. It’s no longer in our family but they keep a photo of my grand-aunt and uncle on the wall, and honor those roots. We go there to soak up the good feelings and buy Christmas wreaths. But we don’t buy apples there.

We have orchards known for “pick you own” apples and for corn mazes or hayrides. We have big-time commercial orchards—you may be eating apples from our North Country orchards!

We have orchards that are also garden centers in the spring and summer. We have orchards that sell lunch. We have orchards that sell Christmas trees and wreaths and homemade jams and gluten-free baked goods. And chocolates and veggies and maple syrup.

And, of course, they all sell apples but we only have one orchard for apples. One local orchard offers newly-minted, exciting, experimental apples that have not yet been given a name. Every year we try apples known only by their numbers and we wait to see which ones make the cut to be honored with a name. We knew the yummy Autumn Crisp when it was only known as NY674.

This orchard has the old apples, the most-favorites apples, the apples you might see in the supermarket, and apples I never see anywhere but this one stand.

Every trip there is an adventure because something new has just ripened and been brought in off the tree. Sometimes, they will walk out to the trees and pick the apples we want, while we wait !

Last week we got Pinovas and Irons and SnapDragons and RubyFrosts and Spartans and Silkens. In weeks to come, we’ll look forward to Autumn Crisp and, especially, the supercalifragi-apple, the Northern Spy.

Did I say we have a dearth of shopping opportunities here?! What was I thinking?! The rest of the world can keep their high-end malls and their Fifth Avenues; I can get pretty much everything I really want or need at a local orchard.

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Can you get what you really want in your immediate locale?

Where Are You Going . . . ?

where--layers--no layers1A small girl, racing towards life.

A mother, astounded by joy and love.

The words of a poignant folk song, reminding us that such days are fleeting.

Where are you going, my little one, little one,
Where are you going, my baby, my own?
Turn around and you’re two,
Turn around and you’re four,
Turn around and you’re a young girl going out of my door.

Some years ago, I took this photograph of the two of them, mother and daughter, my sister and my niece.

Today, we’ve turned around and that little girl is eighteen years old. Quite soon, she’ll be going out of the door, to university, to adulthood, to life.

You’ve seen it happen, with the children in your lives. All the usual clichés apply—how did that happen? Where did the time go? Why, it seems like only yesterday . . .

This girl holds a huge place in our family. My sister wanted her so much and finally, finally at 40, became a mother. This girl is the only child in the family, the only grandchild—she’s gotten a lot of advice, and a lot of guidance, a lot of mother-henning, and a lot of lectures from a family of teachers.

And, in spite of it all, she turned out great!

She is smart, very smart, and curious. Her favorite courses are those with the toughest teachers, who push her hardest.

She is strong, very strong. She has made decisions about her physical health and fitness, and she sticks with them. She has thought through her values and convictions, and sticks to them.

She is funny, a smart aleck, and quick-minded, very quick.

She is mature, and confident, and stubborn.

She doesn’t like to ask for help. She doesn’t like to appear weak or unsure. She doesn’t like mean people.

Yes, in those things, it’s clear—she belongs to us, for sure!

Because she is smart, and strong, and quick, she doesn’t need advice from me but I’m her aunt. I believe that giving advice is in my job description!

So, here we go. Remember Polonius. Remember Laertes. Remember to be true to thine own self.

Remember that the tough teachers are the best, and know that life is a tough teacher.

The world is a tough place at times, but facing it you will help you grow stronger, and strong is what you want to be:

Adversity poses problems.

Problems demand two things—resilience and solutions.

If I could wish one thing for you it would be that you are always able to face the difficulties of life with resilience, to bounce back, to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.

Resilience allows you to hold your head high and get past drama, to discover solutions rooted in your values. The solutions may make it necessary to ask for help to solve problems. That’s okay—knowing when, and who, to ask for help is not a weakness.

The solutions you find will build in you the confidence and maturity to face new problems with the knowledge that they, too, can be surmounted, with intelligence, humor, and kindness. And resilience.

So, Emily-at-18, where ARE you going?

The folksong is poignant, and it focuses on loss.

We haven’t lost a thing. That baby girl was adorable but we’ve gained with every year that the girl has moved toward adulthood.

Wherever you choose, Emily, go with the knowledge that we’ll be there with you, still astounded by joy and love after all these years. You may be going out of our door, but never out of our lives or hearts.

Spooky Dudes

It’s Halloween and a girl’s thoughts turn to vintage linens . . .

IMG_7480What’s that? You can’t think anything less terrifying, or spooky, or nightmare-inducing than vintage linens?

Ah, but have you met these guys?

He looks harmless . . .

IMG_2640But, wait—what’s that in his hand?

IMG_2639-2A knife. A big knife. A big butcher knife.

Is he cute? Or just a little . . . creepy, in a sociopathic kind of way?

And he’s looking right at you.

And, speaking of creepy, who, and what, is this guy?

gnome - Version 2 A harmless, kitchen gnome? I think not. Look at those eyes. gnome - Version 3 Spooky, and he’s looking right at you.

And sitting in your cereal bowl.

Be careful when you open the cabinet . . .

Boo.