Thursday, November 30, 2017

Gingerbread Cake Recipe

Gingerbread Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup light molasses

1. Grease a 9x11/2-inch round baking pan; set pan aside. In a bowl combine flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl beat shortening with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar; beat till fluffy. Add egg and molasses; beat 1 minute. Add dry mixture and 1/2 cup water alternately to beaten mixture, beating on low speed after each addition till combined. Pour batter into pan.
3. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes or till a wooden toothpick comes out clean.  Cool for 30 minutes in pan on wire rack. Serve warm. Makes 9 servings.

This is one of my favorite recipes. I serve it with sweetened whipped cream. It's so simple and delicious. I hope you enjoy it. 
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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Simplifying Christmas

I've always lived fairly simply. As a professional dancer, my focus was on training and performing. We were gypsies, and traveled much of the time. I resided in a different city for fifteen years in a row. I loved staying in hotels, seeing the world, and eating out in restaurants. We were so spoiled.

Once I bought my cottage, my lifestyle changed. For the first time since I was a teenager, I  had a dog. I decorated my home for Christmas. I bought vintage and antique furniture. I began to flourish in my nest. It was grounding to garden, grow food, cook, bake, and clean.

At Christmastime, I keep decorating simple. I have a few decorations that I put up each year. Most of them my mom gave to me. I hang a red wreath on the front door each year, and string brightly colored lights on the two live Christmas trees that flank the front door. I planted them twenty years ago. They were tiny at that time, and now they are large and majestic. I love the fact that they present the house for the holidays each year. I get so many compliments on them. They are easy to maintain, as well. I just water them, keep them well mulched, and feed them a few doses of compost tea.

My mother used to get very overwhelmed by Christmas. She put so much pressure on herself. She spent hours and hours decorating, until our home looked like Saks Fifth Avenue. She was incredibly talented, but it took her all day to put up those expensive decorations. She dreaded putting everything away after Christmas. Eventually she stopped decorating for the holidays at all. It was just too much work. Everything sat in boxes in the dark, damp basement. She was a very all or nothing personality. I've learned that less is more, as the saying goes.

I decided to make things easy on myself, and  just have one box of decorations to pull out each year. Everything  inside the house is done in about thirty minutes.  I hang the outside lights separately, the next day. My routine is to start putting things up the day after Thanksgiving. It gives the house a cozy feeling, and is very doable. It's nice not to feel upset, anxious, or pressured.

I take the same approach with the cooking, baking, and gifts. I will write more about this in upcoming posts. It is enjoyable and fun to have a simple holiday without stress and overwork. How about you?

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Do Dogs Grieve?

After Carlie died, I became very worried about Lana. She appeared listless and depressed. Apathetic, and uninterested in food, she seemed to be at death's door. A couple of friends pointed out to me that she was probably grieving. I was afraid that I was going to lose her, too. I even said good bye to her, and thanked her for all that she had done for me. 

Once we started having Lula over each day, Lana perked up and seemed rejuvenated. Lula is only a year old, and she is very playful and happy. This energy immediately rubbed off on Lana. They got used to a morning routine of having a run on the Walkydog, playing frisbee in the backyard, and taking a weekly hike.

Each morning, after all of that running around, I bring Lula and Lana  inside, while I made a pot of tea. Lula laps up the water enthusiastically, and then plops herself on the floor. Both dogs seem to thrive on the exercise and physical exertion. It has the same effect on me. Movement is so important for mental and emotional health.

Lana's skin infection has finally healed. I finally took her for a second opinion,  and the new vet shaved the areas around her sores.  He also gave  her a steroid shot, and some medication. The new medicine and medicated shampoo have worked wonders. She has put back on weight, and no longer looks so skinny and afflicted. She's become playful and impish. It's so nice to see a senior dog so joyful and silly. She's enjoying her new Christmas toy. I saved it. My mom used to give me lots of dog toys as gifts when she was alive. I have stored them in with my Christmas decorations.  It's funny how the dogs notice when it's a new toy. This one has a terrific squeaker. How are your dogs doing?

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Friday, November 24, 2017

Enjoying Thanksgiving Leftovers

I hope those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving had a peaceful and relaxing holiday. Most of us here in America  have been eating the leftovers today, and they are so delicious! I think that's my favorite part, reheating all of that delicious food, and enjoying a well anticipated plate for lunch and dinner. It brings back great memories with my Aunt Mary. She was such a kind and fun woman. She made holidays really special.

My mom and dad and I used to prepare the meal when I was a child and teenager. It was a huge feast. As I got older, I simplified it and pared it down to what I call "the greatest hits". I stuff a chicken with Mrs. Cubbinson's stuffing. My grandma used to bring it with her to us in San Mateo, all the way from Los Angeles. She would pack it in her suitcase. You couldn't find Mrs. Cubbinson's dressing in the Bay Area. We always added cubes of butter, sauteed onion and celery, chicken broth, and sage. When I make the stuffing now, I always think of my mother. She was such an excellent cook. I miss her.

I tried a new recipe for cranberry sauce this year. It has orange juice and orange rind. I picked an orange from my navel tree. It turned out really nicely. I love those two flavors together. I baked an apple cranberry cobbler, and plan to make some orange cranberry bread in the next week or two.

Some of you asked about the open mike night that I performed in last Friday. It was so much fun! We have a wonderful book store in town called The Open Book. It is very close to my cottage. Once a month, they have an evening where live performers can take the stage.  I did some songs and a short tap dance. I was so energized by the experience. I plan to return again next month, as well. I loved that it was just a short drive from my home. Normally I would have to drive much further participate in something like this. There are also opportunities in Hollywood and Burbank, as well. This one is just a few miles from my house. They served freshly brewed coffee and Pepperidge Farm cookies, too. It was really enjoyable.   

Thank you for your comments. I greatly appreciate them. They add so much to the blog.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Making Hot Processed Soap on Your Stove

This morning I made another batch of hot processed soap. This was the first time that I've used a recipe that wasn't a goat's milk soap using this method. When heated on the stove, the goat's milk soaps turn a caramel color. They are really pretty and natural looking. My dad always requests this variety. "Send me some of the brown ones," he'll say.

Hot processed soap has a special quality. Many people describe it as rustic. I like the mildness of it. I find that  it also has a distinctive lather. I love using it on my face. My sense is that the fragrances smell slightly sweeter when using this technique, too.

This morning the soap I made contained: olive oil, coconut oil, lye, and distilled water. It took about an hour to go through the stages that you need to see. I added some coconut milk, which gave it a nice creamy quality.

After observing it shift into applesauce stage, and then gel, I added yogurt, a small amount of sugar water, sea salt, and fragrance oil. These ingredients made the batter more elastic. It was easier to transfer into the loaf pan, thanks to the additives.. I learned this technique on line from Valerie Mosher. She makes soap in Nova Scotia. She is a wonderful teacher, and has numerous Youtube videos.

I colored a cup of the mixture with some Brazilian rose clay. I plopped it into three different places, and did some swirling. I used a piece of tie wire that I had in my toolbox. With the end of a wooden spoon, I outlined  some small figure eights and circles along the top of the loaf.

Once the loaf  had come to room temperature, I carefully placed the silicone mold in the freezer. When I got home from running my errands, the colors looked paler, which I really like. They have a milky, flexible quality, which is really pretty. I made these less than twelve hours ago, and just cut them. It's exciting to see how the colors turned out in the swirls. These will be ready to ship in a couple of weeks. A four week cure will make them nice and hard. I love this method. Thank you Valerie.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

My Favorite Meatloaf Recipe

I improvised a meatloaf this afternoon. I used to love the version on the back of the Quaker Oats package when I was a child. It called for tomato juice. I didn't have any, so I used milk. I added cheese and spices to this version. Here is what I developed. It was delicious, (if I do say so myself.) I hope you enjoy it.

My Favorite Meatloaf Recipe

1 lb. ground beef or mince (I use grass fed, 85% lean)
1/2 medium sized onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2-1 tsp. sea salt (depending on taste)
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme
dash of chili powder
1 egg
1/2 cup of oats (soak  them in the milk)
1 cup of milk
1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese, grated

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Spoon into a loaf pan, and make an indentation along the top. Fill the cavity with ketchup. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Aah, the Mountains!

I took the dogs up to Devil's Punchbowl again on Saturday. It is such a special place. I feel like breathing the air up there is incredibly healing. It reminds me of one of my favorite books as a child, Heidi.

Here is the trailhead. We just did the one mile hike. One of these days I will get up to "the chair", but it's quite a distance. The man at the information center told me it takes four hours. I'm not sure if that's one way, or round trip. Soon...

They have a sign in sheet. I love the creativity of it. I forgot to sign out when I finished.

This is the campground where we had lunch. The dogs snacked on their dog biscuits. They eagerly gobbled them up, and enthusiastically drank their water. They are such perfect companions.

The views were incredible.

I have been very busy filling soap orders. It's exciting. I love shipping off festively wrapped boxes of soap that people will receive as holiday gifts. It puts me in the best mood.

How was your weekend?

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Using the Ingredients You Have at Home When Cooking

This afternoon I decided to make a meatless lasagna. I found an old recipe in one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks.  I first tasted this at a yoga ashram in the Berkshires, half a lifetime ago. The yoga center was called Kripalu. They had fabulous food!

I went through my cupboards to be sure that I had all of the ingredients. I was happy to discover that I had everything required, except  the ricotta (or cottage) cheese. It's always nice to cook from your stockpile.

I quickly checked the bus schedule, and decided to hop on the 12:19. I rode my beach cruiser  to the bus stop, and sat and  knit my sock while waiting on the bench. When the bus arrived, I wasn't able to move the bike rack into the loading position. It was rigidly stuck  into the upward angle. The driver told me it was broken. I asked her if I could lock my bicycle to the bench and leave it there. She agreed. I noticed that she was very pretty, which is unusual for a bus driver in this area.

As I paid my fare she looked at me thoughtfully and commented, "You remind me of Katherine Hepburn."  I was shocked and flattered. "I bet people tell you that a lot," she added. I thanked her and admitted that a couple of people had noticed a resemblance when I was much younger, in my early twenties. Little did she know that she made my day! I thought it was interesting, because I have been working on my singing and acting every night, in preparation for an upcoming performance. It's funny how what we do changes our aura.

I went to the grocery store, took the bus home, and was relieved to find my bike still waiting for me at the bus stop. I am always afraid of it getting stolen. I was glad that I had my bike lock with me. Only an hour had passed. I put on my helmet, coiled the lock back into position, clicked it into place,  and sped home.

The lasagna came out really well. This sauce doesn't have a whole cube of butter in it, like my other recipe. I figured with the pasta and cheese, this was much healthier. It has a hot and spicy flavor. It will be nice to eat the leftovers next week. The flavors will mingle and develop. I hope you enjoy your weekend.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Charm of Tea Cozies

Yesterday I put the finishing touches on the tea cozy. It is definitely one of my favorite hand knit kitchen items. (I'll spell it both ways in this post.) I'm writing from America, but many of our readers live in other countries. Tea cosies are just so charming and perfect for cottage life. I have a pot of yogi tea brewing on the stove right now. I relish the ritual of flavoring the water with fresh or dried herbs, letting it simmer on the vintage stove, and then straining it into the teapot. I cover the pot with the tea cosy, and enjoy hot tea for hours. It's such a comforting ritual to enjoy while I read blogs and update my Etsy shop. It just makes the house feel like home.

I am so pleased with the way the Noro Silk Garden yarn looks, now that it's all knit up and blocked. It's a lovely blend of mohair, silk, and wool. It's so soft and warm to the touch. I found a few more small balls of it in my stash. Last year I used it to make some slippers for my Christmas sales. There's definitely enough left to make another tea cozy. I think that will be a fun and relaxing project to work on this afternoon. I plan to spend the day at home. I just refilled the hummingbird feeder. The little birds have been enjoying the nectar frequently. I get great pleasure from watching them through the window as I write.

I sold sixteen bars of soap yesterday. What a thrill! This is the busiest time of year at Pink Cottage Soaps. I thrive on the activity. I plan to make another batch of Coconut Dream soap today. It's so creamy, and has a rich, foamy lather.

I am still working on the socks. I would also like to knit some tiny Christmas stockings with my leftover sock yarn. I've been wanting to make those for years, but I always seem to miss the window. Time seems to just fly by in November and December. How are you doing today?

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Reducing Your Monthly Expenses

As I've gotten older, there is one thing that I've learned to do that has really reduced my stress. I've changed my spending habits. So much of how we treat our money is ingrained behavior. Most of us spend  the way our parents did. It takes conscious development to alter those habits. Qualities like maturity, delayed gratification, and impulse control come into play.

When I was a professional dancer, I reinvested  a large percentage of my weekly salary into dance classes and vocal training. Those expenditures were also deductions on my tax return, so they were worth it. They also kept me in top condition.  When I went to auditions, I was confident and capable. Training and practice are so important when you are working in the arts. Show business is very competitive. Only the top one percent of dancers are able to make a living at it, professionally.

When I switched to teaching dance and yoga full time, my income dropped. Dance teachers generally don't make nearly as much money as professional performers. When touring with an Equity show, you can really save a high percentage of what you earn. The pay is excellent. Shifting to being a dance teacher was quite an adjustment. I had a lot of trouble with my finances during those years.  I found the cost of class music, dance clothes and shoes, daunting. Commuting, keeping an older car maintained, and owning a home as a single woman stressed me. I was now paying for my own medical insurance, property taxes, and home repairs. These large bills really seemed to eat up my paycheck. I wasn't used to having them, and I didn't plan for them in advance. That's what I needed to do. Some of the studio owners were paying me late. Others were bouncing checks, or forgetting to sign them.  Many only paid once  a month. I began using credit cards to buy groceries and gasoline. I told myself it was just until payday. I always intended to reimburse myself  once I got my check. I started to experience a lot of unexpected things going wrong. The water heater would break, or I'd have an unplanned vet emergency. I was really living on the edge.  I struggled with credit card debt for fifteen years. In hindsight, I'd say that I was under earning.

Once I got out of debt, and began working for myself, my finances came into balance. My cottage was now paid off, which made a huge difference. I started using public transportation and riding my bicycle regularly.  I bought a train pass one weekend, for ten dollars. I could take it anywhere in Los Angeles. It was fun to sit,  knit, and to watch the world go by through the window.

I scrutinized my bills. I cut out television, restaurants, Starbucks, and buying books. I started ordering  books  from the library. It's so easy to do now, with the Internet. I had always cooked my meals at home, but I began making more soups, bone broths, and stews. I bought less meat. I cut my grocery bill by 40 percent. I began baking bread. I had always baked cookies, cakes, and desserts in my kitchen. I was pleased to discover that homemade bread was very inexpensive and delicious.

Overspending on groceries was one of  my weak areas. I used to reward myself for working hard  by buying lots of treats at Trader Joe's. I loved their pumpkin pie mousse cake, Belgian chocolate, and bagged white cheddar popcorn. I was spending $100.00 a week for groceries as a single person! I didn't realize at that age that the amount was very high. It was so easy to buy a few packaged items or expensive dog treats as I stood in line at the checkout counter.

I even went car free for a year. That was interesting, but challenging. It can take all day in Los Angeles to go from where I live to an audition in Burbank and get home. It was also exhausting. I switched to being car light. That's the best of both worlds.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Cooking Takes Time, But It's Worth It

This morning I did my grocery shopping. I took the bus, since I try to use only one tank of gasoline per month. I would like to do some more hiking with the dogs this week, so I will use my bicycle and public transportation for other errands.

This is the way I walk to the produce store to buy my fruits and vegetables. The bus lets me off about a mile from here. Instead of taking a second bus, I walk. It's good exercise, and I enjoy the scenery. I saw a couple of ducks on the lawn as I passed by the lake. There were a few of them in  the water, as well. I'd forgotten how much I love ducks. There is something so peaceful and natural about them.They seem to have such a pleasant life, swimming and socializing. 

I came home,  made some pasta sauce, and cooked up a pot of spaghetti. That made a hearty lunch. It takes time to prepare healthy foods, but it's so worth it. For dinner, I chopped up some beets and carrots to cook, and put a Russet potato in the oven. I added an extra one for Lana. She loves potatoes.

I also simmered  a pot of yogi tea on the vintage stove. I put cinnamon, cardamom seeds, ginger, black peppercorns, nutmeg, and water into one of my Le Creuset pots. After straining it and adding soy milk, I poured it into the teapot. I eagerly covered it with my new tea cozy. It really does keep the tea hot for quite a while. It's so much fun to use the special items that you knit. It's like having a new toy. I just love the colors of that Noro yarn. They are spectacular!

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Creative and Adventurous Weekend

How was your weekend? Mine was fantastic. I took the dogs up to Devil's Punch Bowl for a gorgeous hike. I had a little trouble finding the location, but everything worked out in the end. I went out of the way twenty miles, but it was worth it. This hiking trail was spectacular! It's even prettier when there's snow. My ex boyfriend took me there a few years ago. It's only an hour from the cottage. We will have to go back; the scenery is breathtaking. I didn't want to leave.

The mountain air was crisp and fresh. The trails were rugged and clean. I felt like we were in a different world. There is something about the mountains that is so healing. Every time I visit I want to move to a mountain cabin in the woods.

The dogs had a nice drink of water, and then settled themselves comfortably in the back seat for the ride home. Cesar Milan says that dogs need adventure. It seems to be true.

We stopped by Creative Ewe on the way home, and I picked up a gorgeous ball of Noro Silk Garden yarn. I thought these would be nice colors for a tea cozy. Lula was sitting in the driver's seat when I came out of the shop!

I did a lot of knitting over the weekend. I finished this Christmas bag, and went crazy on the tea cozy. It's the first one that I've ever made, and they are very addictive! It's been a while since I've worked on worsted weight yarn. It feels so fast, after knitting socks, and that vintage sweater on dk yarn. What did you do over the weekend? I hope you had fun.

Thank you for your comments. I really appreciate them. They make the blog interesting and enjoyable.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Oranges in November and More Soap In The Works

The other day I took a walk through the back orchard, and checked on the citrus trees. This is the Moro Blood Orange tree. It's amazing how many oranges it has. When I looked at the tiny green fruits several months ago, I could barely see them. I didn't think I'd have much of a harvest. I was wrong. This tree seems to produce biannually. There will be a heavy crop year! I am very excited.

The Navel Orange tree is small, but healthy. The lighting in this photo shows the oranges at the bottom of the tree. They are nice and round. They have what looks like a bellybutton on the opposite end of the stem. They are such a delicious, sweet, eating orange. I think this one is my very favorite variety.

I made another batch of Christmas soaps today. The orders keep coming, This time I used shea butter, olive oil, coconut oil, and cranberry chutney fragrance. They are in the molds, on the kitchen table now, hardening. I will make another soap recipe in a few days. A lady at my dad's bridge club buys them for Christmas gifts. She gives them to all of her friends there.

This is what the shea butter and oils look like when they have almost completely melted. I set them aside while I mix the lye and water together. After letting it cool for twenty minutes, I combine the ingredients with a stick blender. That's when the magic happens!

I started another one of these sock yarn bags. This time I'm using some leftover Christmas yarn that I bought to make socks last year. It will be fun to have a festive bag to take with me to knitting groups in November and December. It's so rewarding to work on holiday crafts.  It makes the home feel cozy. I'm anticipating the colder weather, hot chocolate, freshly baked bread, and homemade soups and stews. How about you? Are you making any Christmas crafts yet?   

Thursday, November 9, 2017

An Afternoon of Crochet

I worked on this little sock yarn bag this afternoon, and got it completed. I used up some leftover wool from my stash. I absolutely love the result! They are so cute, and really fun to make. The pattern is called Handy Dandy Sock Yarn Bags. It's on the yellow pink and sparkly blog. You can also find it as a free pattern on Ravelry.  It's called Crochet Sock Yarn Bags.

This is what they look like in the early stage, after making the base.

I used it when it was partially completed as a candle holder. I really like the effect. These would make sweet little  Christmas gifts.

The irises and amaranths are blooming in November. It was nice to take a break in the garden.

There are still several  chocolate chip cookies leftover from baking the other day.

Here is the finished bag. You chain to make a drawstring. I can't wait to make another one.