Thursday, January 31, 2013

Alma's Depression Chocolate Cake

Alma bakes delicious things in her kitchen. That makes my dad very happy! Her "Depression Chocolate Cake" is moist and tasty. It is an easy recipe, simple to mix together and pop in the oven for a quick dessert. Its chemical formula is a bit different than a usual cake. It lacks eggs and dairy, which makes it economical, and vinegar is added to aid in leavening. Thus, it's called a "Depression" cake. It also incorporates a unique method of mixing. It is much like the popular "Dump Cakes" of the 1970's where everything goes into the baking pan, gets mixed together, and is baked. It doesn't get much more simple than that.

Alma's Depression Chocolate Cake

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
6 Tbsp. baking cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. vinegar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups cold water

Mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, soda and salt in ungreased 9 x 13 inch pan. Make three indentations. Into one pour the oil, into the second pour the vinegar, and into the third our the vanilla. Pour the water over all and mix well with a fork until completely combined.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Violets Teapot

Collecting teapots can be a fun adventure! Frequently I hear others comment that every teacup has a story. I believe that every teapot does as well. Teapots gather in the homes of ones who love and appreciate them by a variety of means. Sometimes they are passed down through families. Others are gifts given by friends who know you will cherish the gift. Oftentimes orphaned teapots are given to tea lovers simply because they know you will give the teapot a good home and that you'll enjoy it. And then there is the love of the "hunt" for the perfect, old, unusual, or quaint teapot that takes place in thrift shops and antique stores. They can be of great or small value in a monetary sense. But, even the teapot bought for pennies can be as lovingly cherished and cared for as one that costs hundreds of dollars. Each has a story all its own.

Today I thought I would share the story of my violets teapot. Years ago I found a delightful violets "creamer and sugar" in an antique shop. I loved them because they went with the violets teacups in my collection (they had been my mother's collection that I inherited). I used them with a plain plum teapot, as I didn't have a violets teapot to go with them. Recently my friend, Karleen, asked me if I would like a teapot that her brother was wishing to find a home for. How delighted I was when I discovered that it matched the "creamer and sugar" that I already had! An added bonus was the matching tray that was given with the teapot. Today they sit on one of my china cabinets and remind me that spring isn't too far away. They bring a bit of colorful cheer to the dreary winter days. And that is such a delight to me!

Favored teapots change with mood, season of life, life passages, and whim. Today, this is my favorite teapot. Another day I'll share about another that strikes my fancy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Grandmother's Oatmeal Cake

Grandmother Gladys was an excellent baker. She willingly shared her recipes so they could be enjoyed by others. No secrets! I hope you enjoy this cake as much as our family does. It goes well with tea.

Grandmother's Oatmeal Cake

1 cup quick oats
1 1/4 cups boiling water (pour over oats and let sit for 20 minutes)

Blend together:

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs


Add the oatmeal/water mixture.

Sift together:

1 1/3 cups flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Add sifted ingredients to moist ingredients and stir until mixed. Pour batter into a prepared, square cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes.

While cake is baking, prepare the topping using:

1/3 cup brown sugar
4 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup cream or milk
1 cup coconut, shredded

When the cake is done, spread the topping on the cake and place until an oven broiler for a few minutes until the cake is browned.

{May use vegan and/or gluten free options, if desired}

Tempests in Teapots

History tells us that King George IV of England was one of the first English collectors of teapots. Although he was not thought of positively in any way as a ruler of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, he was known to have a flare for fashion and good manners. His life was one of extravagance. He had a sense of style, leisure, and taste. Tea as a beverage was rare and expensive, available to only the elite and wealthy during the time of his rein. A Google search for teapots associated with George IV reveal a gathering of beautiful, expensive, sterling silver teapots. It appears that entire lines of teapots were designed during the George IV period. In connection to King George IV, we also discover that one of his contemporaries was Gioachino Rossini, a composer who wrote the scores for many operas. It's interesting to note that one of the characteristic mannerisms in Rossini's orchestral scoring is a long building sound that has been compared to creating "tempests in teapots by beginning in a whisper and rising to a flashing, glittering storm". And really, that is the way it works! Many people today still collect teapots and other beautiful tea accouterments. For hundred's of years, tea and its service has been a beautiful art.

Do you have a favorite teapot? Or a collection, perhaps?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wheat Sticks & Memories

Foods can be connected to memories. And certain foods become a part of a family heritage. Sometimes we carry on these traditional foods or recipes when we leave the our childhood and teen years to start our own home. Even if we develop our own traditional family recipes, the old ones always elicit a warm response. Today I've been looking through the recipe book I created when I was barely 20. In it are many of the traditional recipes of my early years. Here's one that my mother, or my sister, or I would enjoy making on a Friday afternoon. It's easy, nutty, and a nice alternative for bread with soup, salad, or breakfast.

Mom's Wheat Sticks

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
3 1/3 Tbsp. vegetable shortening*
1/2 cup nuts, chopped OR unsweetened macaroon coconut
5 Tbsp. milk
1/2 tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients, using only enough milk to make a stiff dough. Knead thoroughly. Then, roll out to a uniform thickness of 1/4 inch. Cut into strips of 1 x 3 inches. Bake on a cookie sheet or baking stone at 300 degrees F. for 35 - 40 minutes.

Makes 20 - 25 wheat sticks.

For variety, add cinnamon or cardamon. Or leave out the coconut and add dried herbs, garlic powder, or onion powder instead. Adding tomato juice instead of milk will give a "cheesy" flavor.

*Olive oil can be substituted for vegetable shortening. I always use this alternative.

This is a delicious cracker to enjoy with tea!

Linking today to Rose Chintz Cottage. Thanks, Sandi!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tea at a Country House

"The cup of tea on arrival at a country house is a thing which, as a rule, I particularly enjoy. I like the crackling logs, the shaded lights, the scent of buttered toast, the general atmosphere of leisured coziness."

P.G. Wodehouse

Such cozy, warm thoughts for a chilly January day! I hope you are comfortable and are finding interesting things to do on these short days. Here's to a   c r e a t i v e   and happy week ahead!

Minty Body Scrub

Winter weather can give you alligator skin! Well, not really, but it really can dry things out. Here's a recipe you can make in your kitchen that will help to moisturize and refresh your body.

Minty Body Scrub

1/2 cup fine sea salt
2 Tbsp. Epson salts
3 Tbsp. olive oil
6 - 8 drops peppermint oil
1 Tbsp. mint, fresh, finely chopped (or 2 Tbsp. dried)*

Place all the ingredients in a quart jar. Place a lid on the top and then shake until all ingredients are well blended. When ready to use, apply a small amount to moist skin. Scrub and rinse. Enjoy the tingly, minty feeling on your skin! Smile!

*If you don't have a good source of dried mint, try loose-leaf mint "tea" from the health food store.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Change Changes Things

"They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself."

Andy Worhol

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Cheesy Nacho Sauce

This recipe is a staple in my kitchen. It is easy and makes a great topping (either hot or cold) for nachos, taco salad, and cooked vegetables. It's also delicious on homemade pizza or mixed with pasta for a cheesy pasta dish like mac and cheese. If you don't like cashews, Brazil nuts work just as well in this recipe. Since there is no cheese in the recipe, you might prefer to call it "golden sauce" or a "savory gravy". Whatever you call it, it's quite tasty and adaptable. Garlic powder, onion powder, or herb blends can be added to enhance the flavors in the basic recipe.

Cheesy Nacho Sauce

1/3 cup cashews, washed
1 1/2 cups cold water
4 Tbsp. pimentos
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes
1 - 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt

Blend all ingredients in a blender until the cashews are completely broken-down and mixture is smooth and creamy. Then place mixture into a saucepan and cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly. After mixture starts to bubble, simmer for 3 minutes more. Remove from heat and pour into jar or bowl to serve.

Gratitude Unlocks

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life...It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."

Melody Beattle

Friday, January 25, 2013

Coconut-Curry Popcorn Seasoning

Coconut-Curry Popcorn Seasoning

1 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut, shredded
7 Tbsp. curry powder
2 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar (generous)
1 1/2 tsp. ginger, ground
1 1/2 tsp. cayenne, ground
1 tsp. garlic powder

Combine ingredients in a blender or food processor. Pulse to combine. Mix as little or as much as you'd like with popped corn. Enjoy!

Perfect for a chilly winter evening! I hope you are keeping warm enough!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Clutter, the Poetry of Our Homes

"Clutter is the poetry of our homes. It is an intimate view that is not always perfect - a few dishes in the sink, books piled next to the bed. Everything in its place may give a certain satisfaction, but a lived-in room exudes comfort and warmth."

Mary Randolph Carter

Sunday, January 20, 2013


So many beautiful gifts were crafted by the quilt guild women. I received a beautiful kitchen angel made out of a dishcloth, a tea towel, a hot pad, and some silk ribbon. Simply by folding and tying, a pretty angel was made. Jeanette also made a set of three fabric trimmed tea towels, two crocheted dishcloths, and some delicious candied trail mix for me. It was all packaged it a pretty vintage gift box from the 1950's. The box is as much a treasure as the rest of the gift!

Jane received a beautiful evergreen wreath that was decorated with sea shells and sea foam green ribbon. She loved it! She says it is perfect for her beach themed sunroom in her home.

Chris made framed art for Judy. It's something she machine embroidered and is called "Anatomy of the Quilting Bee" (Quilters Insectus). It shows all the tools that quilters need. At the bottom it shows a picture of a sock by the sewing machine with the words: "husbands sock waiting to be mended". Cute. {Do you mend your husband's socks? I don't!}.

Karleen brought a special treat for everyone! She made quilting stilettos that she packaged attractively on a card that shares all the things it can be used for.

They are beautiful! I love the combination of pretty beads she used to create this useful "object of art".

I came away inspired! I'm already thinking up ideas for things I can make for next year's Christmas in January gift exchange. What a talented and generous group of quilting friends.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Quiltin' Good Time

The dreary and cold days of January are made more blessed by time with friends. They help to break the monotony of sunshine's lack and short days. Because families are so busy during the holiday season, our community quilt guild decided to hold their Christmas party in January.

Twenty-one lovely women gathered for lunch and a homemade gift exchange. Names were drawn months ago and everyone has been busy stitching or crafting something special for the one whose name they drew.

Karleen and I were no exception. She made a beautiful "house" themed table runner for her exchange partner while my crochet hook was busy with handmade dishcloths and a long, sashay scarf. I also packaged up a selection of the handmade soaps I've been mixing up this month.

We opened our gifts, one by one, with many oooooo's and awwwwww's from everyone! Such talented women! And they are so generous with their talents.

This gift is inside this beautifully embroidered gift bag. The group members with machine embroidery machines can really create some stunning things!

Someone made this little flower pin cushion. Isn't it cute? 
I love the little ladybug.


A machine embroidered Christmas table runner is loved and appreciated by Judy.

Karleen received a soft and flowing infinity scarf in purple and a lovely floral table runner.

Everyone had a good time. 
Sharing and conversation is always fun!

The time ended too soon. But the opportunity to spend time together added sparkle to the week! And yes, you can be sure that I added a touch of "tea" to my exchange partner's gift. An ample supply of tea in a pretty crafting mug should be serving her well for awhile. Plus, I included a book about quilting --- just so she'd have something to read while she sipped her tea.

Tomorrow I will share pictures of a few more of the items that were created and gifted at this exchange.

What happened in your world last week to give you a little "sparkle"?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Steeped in Tea & Friendship

Digital technology has opened up the world. We are able to send instant messages, share photos, and post on personal websites and blogs. Friendships are formed and creativity enhanced. It has also provided many with opportunities to publish. Several of my friends have written their own books. Clarice from Storybook Woods has written a delightful book called "Wren Bay". You might remember one of my blog posts where I reviewed her book. Wren Bay, the story of making a home, portrays charm, creativity, and warmth. It is skillfully mixed with grace and elegance, with a true mix of practicality, economy, and the careful use of natural resources.  Another friend, Marilyn from Delights of the Heart also authored a book. It's called "Tea Party in Your Cupboard" and is filled with ideas for creating impromptu tea parties with products generally found in your cupboard. She includes recipes from her own kitchen.

Clarice and Marilyn inspired me to give it a try! Step one is finding a publishing company online. There are several reliable companies that provide this service. Check out,, and as a start. They offer simple instructions about writing, layout, color, and publishing.

My book is a simple "coffee table" book, although I should be calling it a "tea table" book instead! 

Since my book is simple, I wrote it in a way similar to writing a short story, article, or blog post. My main intent was to find a way to use some of my favorite tea themed photos. Therefore, my book was about tea and I called it "Steeped in Tea & Friendship". It was not only a labor of love, but labor intense as well. That surprised me, as I thought something as simple as my little book wouldn't take much time. I wrote about tea themes and included some of my favorite tea quotes. I enjoyed sitting for an hour or two at my computer each evening and adding to "my book". 

I enjoyed choosing photos and prose for each set of pages. Each pair was laid out by theme like an Asian tea, royal wedding, tea and sewing at a friend's house, or family tea times at the cabin.

Although I only published ten copies which I gave to family and friends for Christmas, I now feel like I have had an interesting peek into the world of self-publishing. It was a fun creative process! I treasure my copy and keep in on my "tea table" to enjoy during quiet moments of the day.

Other blogging friends collaborated together to share their favorite recipes and with the help of a publishing company. They've written a wonderful cookbook called Mennonite Girls Can Cook. Volume Two will be coming out soon. 

If you have some time to share, you might enjoy publishing a book too. Are you a blogger? Have you considered writing a book or publishing your blog? Please share!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Winter Walks

The park is closed during the winter months. Maybe that is the reason our family uses the park more in the winter than during the summer! Although it is gated and closed, locals use it for their daily walks. Dogs and humans frequent the loopy trails, enjoying the quiet, wide-open spaces. Bald eagles, hawks, and large owls appear to be spending the winter in the park, and sit high in the trees where they can oversee their world. Occasionally the hoot of an owl can be heard. I admit to keeping an eye out for my dog when we walk near the hawks and eagles! Chilly air requires one to bundle up in a heavy jacket, gloves, and a scarf. But the brisk air and a quick walk get the circulation working well. When warmer weather arrives, we'll be back to walking the track at the high school. But, for the winter months, the park trails are inviting and so very pleasant. I love the reflections of sky on the river and the bare-bones branches of the tall trees at river's edge. Catching every bit of sunshine available is an added plus!

Do you have a favorite place you like to walk in the wintertime? What are some of the interesting things you see as you exercise?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pineapple-Crowned Fruit Pie

Pineapple-Crowned Fruit Pie

1 cup oats
1/4 cup sesame seed

1/4 tsp. salt
2 medium bananas, sliced
Lemon juice
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 20-oz. can crushed pineapple
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Process oats, sesame seed and 1/2 cup walnuts a small amount at a time in blender container until of flour consistency. Mix in salt and 3 Tbsp. cold water. Press into 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Dip banana slices in lemon juice. Arrange in pie shell. Top with strawberries. Blend cornstarch and pineapple in saucepan. Cook until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly. Cook for 1 minute longer. Stir in vanilla; cool. Spoon over fruit. Chill for several hours. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup chopped walnuts. 

Makes: 6 - 8 servings.

*To make gluten free, use certified gluten free oats.

One of my recipes --- published years back in the Great American Heritage Cookbook --- which contained favorite recipes of home economics teachers. Walking down memory lane on this chilly winter day.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Adventures in Soap Making

Winter days are short. Without flowers, gardens, and sunshine they can become dreary. We've had a series of overcast days recently. Until yesterday, the sun hadn't been seen for weeks. It's at times like this that it is helpful to try doing something new and different.

So, we decided to make soap. We've made some kinds of soaps before using the French mill process and glycerin gel soaps. But, this was our first attempt at making soaps the old-fashioned way.

Ingredients like pumice powder, ground walnut shells, and bamboo extract were carefully measured into a small bowl.

A programmable computer chart helped us decide percentages of butters and oils to put into the mix. Avocado butter, rice bran oil, coconut butter, olive oil, and caster oil were some we selected from. Each has its own quality and fragrance.

The kitchen was given the respect of a chemistry lab when the sodium hydroxide lye came out. Goggles, rubber gloves, lots of ventilation, and a large bucket were helpful tools in keeping us safe when we used this helpful product.

The soap mold was carefully prepared. Oils were heated to just the right temperature. Liquid and lye were carefully mixed together and then carefully added to the oils. Stirring and the addition of fragrance and cosmetic aids were added.

Everything was timed and calculated with care. Our first batch was a very masculine soap, but one that is an exotic "designer" soap to be sure! Pumice powder and activated charcoal were key ingredients to the "stone-like" bars of soap.

The second batch of soap involved the development of a special recipe for "black tea soap". It smells heavenly! Containing lots of real tea, a blend of special oils, and a special crock-pot method for soap mixing, it turned out perfectly and smells good enough to eat (oh, I mean to drink, of course).

The soaps are curing now. When they are ready, I'll try to remember to post a picture for you to see.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Quilting Guild

When one needs inspiration to get the sewing machine out and get busy, there's nothing better than the community quilt guild. Once a month our community grange comes alive with sewing machines that hum and whir while stitching together many beautiful things.

Most of the guild members sew and quilt on a daily basis. The quilts that those in the small group produce must be in the 100's each year. In addition to traditional quilting, some do beautiful machine embroidery. And the ladies who have long-arm quilting machines are kept busy machine quilting the creations of others.

They are always happy to offer a friendly bit of advice when needed. They willingly share their expertise and ideas.

The grange hall offers lots of space for cutting, pinning, and sewing. Everyone gets their very own table and power outlet. If you sew, you know how important that is!

"Show and Tell" is looked forward to by all! Every month group members bring in the projects they have made or that they have been working on. The results are amazing! January's "Show and Tell" was more sparse than usual because most of the recent quilts made had been given away as Christmas gifts.

But Louisa showed two of the purses she made. They are colorful and contain pockets inside and out! She's recently made six of them, most of which were Christmas gifts for others.

Conversation and sharing is a very important part of quilt guild!

And of course there's always lunch! Tables are pushed together and placed into a long row. The sewing machines are quiet and chatter ensues as everyone enjoys food brought from home and shared with friends. What a talented group of ladies! Not only can they sew, but they cook fantastically as well!

I hope you are enjoying a January day that isn't too cold or dreary. Maybe a little stitchin' would bring some cheer to your day.