We are seriously moving into the holiday stretch of days, friends. I know that people have strong feelings about this time of year, many of them negative. As for the English household, though, we are all in. The three of us look forward to the stretch from Halloween to New Year’s Day with giddy anticipation and enthusiasm. From trick-or-treating to turkey carving, from winter solstice walks to cookie-baking, from selecting a tree to swilling eggnog, our household loves the holiday season. Clearly.
Our saving grace, I think, is that we do things simply. Our gifts are humble, our decor all-natural. When the trees drop their leaves, and the riot of color fades from the forested cove surrounding our mountain home, the landscape gets bleak, for months. To stave off a tandem dip in disposition and attitude, we bring nature and merriment indoors. From flickering votives to hot mugs of cocoa, we curl up inside (often in flannel p.j.’s), make things cozy, and get through the frostiest time of year by taking the abundance made manifest outdoors during the three other seasons inside.
Clearly, beverages factor into this time of year for us. I mentioned them twice above, and posted a photo on Instagram over the weekend of a Douglas fir needle, bourbon, lemon peel & juice, sorghum molasses, and nutmeg hot toddy we enjoyed at home Friday evening. We need to consume fluids all year, but during colder weather, when the air is dry and the humidity is low, we need them even more. If you’d like to learn a bit about making homemade holiday beverages, both for entertaining and for gifting, come out to Villagers in west Asheville this Sunday. The details for my class are above. We’ll sip, chat, and smile, together. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, if you let it be!
I have been baking since I was about 8 years old. While I can’t remember if it was the limp, thin petit fours or the insipid, under baked brownies that I first proudly baked and served my mother, I do recall with profound clarity that I fell in love with the baking section of mom’s cookbook collection way sooner than any of the other chapters. I have been baking, both personally and professionally, ever since that first fateful foray with flour (say that 5 times fast!).
I like to think that my skills have improved along the way. I’ve learned to really heed the instructions to stop and scrap down the bowl and beaters, chill the dough, or let the butter/cream cheese/eggs come to room temperature whenever a recipe calls for it. I’ve also learned that using the right equipment is one of the largest indicators of a recipe turning out correctly or not.
Until recently, I had a bit of a bundt cake handicap. While I own about 4 pans, from the swirled to the whirled to the traditional round-rumped (what does that even mean??? I totally made that up), most of them have left me crestfallen come turn-out time. Everything seems to be going right and then, dislodging issues arise. Every. Time. Until now.
The beautiful bundt you see above was baked last week for Huxley’s 4th birthday. We reserved his actual birthday for just some family time, since it fell on a Tuesday. Still wanting to acknowledge it in advance of the party slated four days later, on Saturday, I baked him a lemon bundt cake (recipe follows), his favorite flavor. I used the Simax glass bundt pan shown in the middle photo, and it performed perfectly. Finally, bundt success! We then packed it into the Cakebox, and carried it to a nearby park for an afternoon treat.
I was recently contacted by Annie at MightyNest, who I’ve worked with a number of times here before, about doing a giveaway. The four items shown in the last photo are included in their “Bake Your Bundt Off” package. When I saw what the package included, I immediately agreed. A glass bundt pan? This I had to try. And given how wonderfully the Piebox worked, I knew I wanted to give Cakebox a go. Not only did the cake come out with ease, the Cakebox proved to be the perfect means of transporting it from the house to the park.
Here’s a bit about what’s included in the giveaway:
*Simax Glass Bundt Pan: Instead of baking in teflon coated in PFOA, the Simax glass bundt pan offers a safe alternative as well as a gorgeous glass pan. Plus, the Simax glass bundt pan is made of borosilicate glass and can withstand temps up to 572 degrees F, whereas tempered glass can go to 425 degrees. And it’s easy to clean! Not that you’ll be baking your bundt to crazy high temps but you know for sure that the glass won’t shatter in the oven.
*Wooden Cakebox: Longtime readers might recall when I did a giveaway with MightyNest two years ago of a Piebox set. The same concept holds true with Cakebox, which, as you can easily guess, is a beautiful, handmade pine box for transporting cakes or cupcakes (of which it will hold 18).
*Tea Towel: One color (black) non-toxic water based ink printed on a 28″ x 29″ eco-friendly unbleached (natural colored) organic cotton flour sack tea towel. The folded size is approximately 7″ w x 14″ h. The artwork measures approximately just over 12″ long by approximately 6″ wide.
*Stainless Steel Serving Spatula: The RSVP Endurance Stainless Steel Spatula is an attractive spatula which is precisely the right size and shape for serving up decadent brownie squares and portions of sheet cake. The high grade 18/8 stainless steel spatula is right at home at the dinner table or buffet. Small in size, it is the perfect size.
How great is that package? So good. Best of all, though, is what MightyNest will do for a school of your choosing: give them $100! And why would they do that? Because MightyNest believes in engendering healthy, positive school environments right alongside home environments. They’re an online retailer with a positive mission: providing the natural, organic, and non-toxic products that parents seek for their home while also giving back to schools. Everything they sell is selected with the highest standards for safety and quality. Glass and stainless baking gear and food storage. Green cleaning supplies. Natural bath products, and other home essentials. And everything is selected to be free from known toxic ingredients such as: BPA, PVC, Phthalates, Lead, Formaldehyde, flame retardants, Parabens and more.
Anytime you order from MightyNest, they’ll give 15% back to the school of your choice. It’s a great way to be healthier and support your local school. And with this particular giveaway, they’ll give $100 to the school of your choice. Such a great business to get behind!
To enter the giveaway, all you need to do is click thru the widget below. It runs through November 15th, so go ahead and enter and encourage your loved ones to do so as well!:
Even if you don’t win, do pop over to MightyNest and check out their wonderful offerings, including those detailed here. A company with a bottom line that gives back to schools is one I can absolutely get behind. And here’s wishing you much baking success!
Also, here’s the recipe for the Lemon Bundt Cake, from Martha Stewart (for what it’s worth, I omitted the Lemon Syrup called for in the recipe and it turned out delicious):
Lemon Bundt Cake
-1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
-3 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
-2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-1 teaspoon salt
-2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
-6 large eggs
-1 cup sour cream
-Lemon Syrup (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, lemon zest, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat butter and granulated sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; mix in lemon juice.
With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture, sour cream, and lemon juice, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until incorporated (do not overmix). Spoon batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a rubber spatula. Firmly tap pan on a work surface to level batter.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean; 55 to 60 minutes (if cake browns too quickly, tent loosely with aluminum foil). Let cake cool in pan 30 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. (To store, wrap cake in plastic and keep at room temperature up to 3 days.) Poke holes all over the cooled cake, and brush with lemon syrup. If the cake does not absorb all the syrup at once, allow to sit about 20 minutes before continuing to brush with any remaining syrup.
-1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
-1/2 cup granulated sugar
Combine ingredients in a small saucepan. Over medium heat, whisk the mixture until all the sugar has dissolved.
Ah, friends! I disappeared from this space for a little bit, didn’t I? In the last few weeks, I: turned in my picnic book manuscript, taught a class at Doe Bay on Orcas Island and participated in the workshops of others, held two book events (one on Orcas and one in Seattle), wrangled a toddler cross-country in tandem with Glenn, returned to photo shoots on the picnic book (17 down, 3 to go, including one tomorrow, one Sunday, and the last one once there’s snow on the ground!), and found myself more inspired than I’ve been in some time. I haven’t been here, but I’ve been regularly posting on Instagram, so you can see where I’ve been and what I’ve seen and what I’ve been up to in the column here on the lower left side. Feeling good, folks. Feeling good.
A bigger, longer, more intimate post is forthcoming, but I wanted to stop in quickly to tell you that two big things are happening today. Firstly, my sweet boy turned 4. I can hardly believe it’s been four years since this wild child came into our lives. Without question, my life is better because of him. Secondly, Quench officially publishes today. So, a book and baby birthday, all in one day. What more could I possibly hope for? Double rainbows, all the way across the sky? I shouldn’t ask for so much.
We’ve already had chocolate pancakes and assembled two Lego projects (So. Many. Tiny. Parts!), and, per his request, we’re now heading out to play at Montreat park, eat hot dogs, and enjoy a homemade lemon bundt cake. Today is just for the three of us. Saturday will be the big party, with a TMNT theme because, well, we’re the kinds of parents that are in it to win it. Plus, ninjas + turtles + zen koans and ancient wisdom interspersed throughout=total awesome.
Hoping the upcoming week for you and yours is equally wonderful.
When I close my eyes and conjure up a mental image that reads “ideal book store”, it tends to go a little something like this: wooden floors (if they creak, all the better), the aroma of robust coffee, an idyllic setting, and a wide selection of books appealing to my specific interests. The kind of place equally pleasant to rendezvous with a friend for a long rambly chat or to attend solo, thumbing thru pages at a sloth’s pace. It just so turns out that, during my upcoming time in Washington state, I’ll be able to not only patronize but speak at two such places. Dreams really do come true.
Make your calendars, friends. Bookending my time at Write: Doe Bay (now sold out, woohoo!) will be events at Darvill’s Bookstore (on the water!) and Book Larder (a bookstore dedicated to cookbooks!). Best of all, both events are free and open to the public. If you live out that way, I’d love to meet you! Here are the event details:
Darvill’s Book Store
Where: 296 Main Street, Eastsound, WA, 98245
Phone: (360) 376-2135
When: October 9th, 5:30-7:00 p.m.
What: A chat about “Handmade Gatherings”, “Quench”, and, well, probably all of my books, as Darvill’s has carried them since the early days!
RSVP?: Not sure. Call the book store to find out!
Where: 4252 Fremont Avenue North, Seattle WA, 98103
Phone: (206) 397-4271
When: October 13th, 6:30-8:00 p.m.
What: A chat about “Handmade Gatherings” with seasonal desserts provided by the Book Larder staff.
RSVP?: Yes! Fill out the form found here.
Happy Friday, friends, and happy autumn, too! I’m wearing slippers again, and have enjoyed several bonfires recently, and there are now mums and pumpkins on our porch. I have been baking big time, all recipes for the picnic book, both because I have to and because the kitchen is now cool and pleasant whilst so doing, (Pumpkin Buttercream Whoopie Pies! Apple & Cardamom Crumbles in Jars! S’mores Brownies! Fig & Orange Skillet Cake!). I just bought two wool sweaters off of Thred Up today, a French Connection long cardigan and a Triple 5 Soul pullover with pockets that would’ve originally cost close to $300 and for which I paid $30 (semi-annual 40% off sale happening right now!). Autumn, I love you. Fist-pumping goodness abounds.
I am currently on the homestretch of writing my picnic book (which publishes from Roost in 2016). I can already feel the shift that happens when I near completion on a manuscript. For one thing, I kind of start dragging my heels. I always deliver, on time, and I’m hard on myself to do so. This will be the 8th book I’ve written and I know myself well enough to trust that the writing will always get finished and turned in by manuscript delivery. That said, I start to, well, just not want to do it anymore. I resist, I push it away. I’m so, so close to wrapping it up entirely, though. All 20 of the picnics are completely written, and all that remains is just the introductory bits and bobs. In tandem with that, though, comes a relaxing. I feel like I’m coming up to the surface again, after living in the trenches for months. I notice projects around the house I want to get to, and know that I’ll soon have the time to do so. I find myself getting really excited about cooking other people’s recipes. I feel lighter, looser, freer.
In other non-autumnal or book-related news, here’s a smattering of this and that’s that have caught my attention recently:
*The new issue of Grounded is out and looks wonderful.
*Love these floral project ideas for bringing fall home.
*Madesmith, for whom I’ve had the pleasure of profiling a number of artisans, has started an online school, Madesmith Academy. Learn directly from the makers themselves tips about product development, marketing, selling, and so much more. Small measure readers will receive 10% off through the end of December by entering “smallmeasure” at check out.
*I have a bowl of unripe plums sitting on my kitchen counter that I think will be meeting this preserving fate.
*I contributed to Farmer & Chef Asheville, a book highlighting Asheville’s culinary and agricultural landscape. It publishes in November and is now available for pre-order. Can’t wait!
*Really loving the jewelry of Agate and Elm. Fibonacci spiral earrings and necklaces, you guys!
*Truly inspired by the work being done at Tribe Alive.
Got any fun weekend plans? We’re making our way to our friend Tara’s bakery out in Marshall tomorrow evening. Smoke Signals makes pizza in a wood-fired oven on Saturdays, and bread and pies on Sundays. So pumped! Sunday, Huxley’s little buddy Hobbs is turning 4, then we’re dropping Glenn off at Villagers for a hand-carved butter knife and spoon-carving class before stopping in to visit our friends Meg and Alisa (this website’s designer!), who live just down the road. Back to writing on Monday, with Wednesday in my line of sight.
Wherever you go this weekend, whatever you do, and whomever you do it with, may it be grand!
*I post a photo of Huxley in my What I’m Digging round-ups because, truly, he’s what his Papa and I dig the most. Two nights ago we hosted a “Twilight Picnic” down in our lower field. We lit tons of candles, strung up party lights, built a bonfire, and enjoyed a picnic atop rugs and blankets as the light faded. Huxley was totally into it, although he did keep asking if he could go back up to the house and bring down a basket of toys to show his friends.