If it's fall in the Pacific Northwest it must be time for the annual apple party at the home of our friends Kathy and Tom. This is always so much fun - our hosts always gather a great mix of people, both old and young (four generations present at his party). We spend the afternoon putting what feels like a million apples through a hand-made apple press and making cider, and then we eat. And eat. And eat. Kathy has the Martha Stewart gene (as you can see by the pictures) and makes everything beautiful. We set up a regular assembly line with some people washing apples and others of us line up along on an old picnic table cutting the apples into quarters and putting them into bowls to be passed on to the guys running the apple press. Rain or shine, we gather - but it's much nicer when the weather cooperates as it did yesterday. There's a fire to gather around for those taking a break and a local musician friend serenades us. The Great Gatsby had nothing on Tom and Kathy, let me tell you. Every year we leave with homemade cider for the freezer and a host of lovely memories.
Part of the apple press assembly line
You may be thinking, well, darn, wish I had an apple press and a Tom and Kathy in my life. Everyone should have a Tom and Kathy in their life, but let me tell you, you don't need an apple press to celebrate the joys of the season. Host an apple party in your a back yard (or loft if you live in the city) and have all your friends bring their favorite apple dish. A fire in the fire pit or the fireplace, some good friends, some hot apple cider and you're good to go. Fall is a time of changing colors and bountiful harvests. Let's celebrate!
Yes, I know. Doesn't that sound appetizing? Believe me, it's not!
I'm sure there are many things in life that are more gross than finding bugs in your soup, but right now that's at the top of my list.
When my pal Jill and I went to the ocean for a writing retreat I promised her homemade chicken soup. I make a mean chicken soup and this one was going to be extra fabulous as I was adding organic brown rice. Thinking to be both health and savings conscious I had purchased a big bag at my local warehouse store. It came in this really cool burlap bag, which I figured I could re-use later for ... something. And inside that bag the rice was sealed up in plastic. So, with the utmost trust, I took out a cupful and dumped it into the pot. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Have to get this soup done and cooled before we leave.
Our first night there was a perfect soup night. We had a storm complete with waves crashing on the jetty, putting on a real show. I flipped on the fake fireplace. Then I whipped out my homemade rolls and heated the soup and served it.
And, what a shock. There was a teeny weenie little bug floating in my soup. Eeew. Okay, one bug. Pick it out and eat. Don't be a sissy.
Hmmm. Another spoonful of soup produced another bug. And, what was this? Another? Careful inspection showed that my soup had quite a few bits of bug protein floating in it. EEEW!!!
Needless to say, little Sheila didn't finish her soup. I had to toss the whole batch. And, as we sat playing food detective, there was really only one logical conclusion to come to: it had to be the rice.
Sure enough, I got home and checked my big bag of imported bargain rice and there were the bugs. EEEW! And one of them was still alive. Double EEEW! Needless to say, the rice got returned and I don't think I'm taking another chance on imported organic rice from India ever again. I don't care how cool the bag is. There is a lot to be said for buying American.
So, here is our number one cooking lesson for the day:Check your ingredients carefully before dumping them willie-nillie into a pot (especially when you've just brought them home from the store). I've been cooking long enough to know that. I've definitely re-learned my lesson!
... toss the whole batch. That's what my pal Doreen and I concluded after testing a recipe for white chocolate truffles. Oh, the flavoring was fabulous! (I'm not telling you what it was because right now it is top secret.) But the texture? A disaster. This is the second time I've tried to make these white chocolate truffles. The first attempt failed but I salvaged it and it turned into the white chocolate fudge recipe that you find in my book ANGEL LANE.
Since next summer's book is going to include chocolate recipes I thought maybe I'd try again and see if I could master the art of white chocolate truffles. Maybe I could get in touch with my inner Julia Child this time and actually make a ganache that turned out.
So I drafted Doreen, a seasoned candy cook and we tried again. The darned recipe baffled both of us! And, as you can see by the pictures below, once again, disaster struck. Only this time worse than ever. We followed the recipe to the letter, used the best white chocolate for the ganache and allowed it two hours to set in the fridge (Something the original recipe neglected to mention.) All to no avail. Part of the ganache gave us hope, but as we worked out way down the bowl it became quickly evident that this wasn't going to work. The white chocolate chips I thought would be perfect for our coating never quite worked out either.
Well, waste not want not, we thought, and decided to once again turn the failed ganache into fudge and then top it with a nice, white chocolate layer. Even my husband, who eats everything, wouldn't touch it.
So it's back to the drawing board.Doreen is determined to get to the bottom of this failed recipe mystery. While she's doing her culinary sleuthing, I'll be testing more chocolate candy recipes. Some I've scrounged, others have been sent by some of you. We'll try 'em all. Wish me luck. Obviously, I need it!
Here's my pal Doreen, queen of the kitchen.
We are ramping up for fun times promoting my November novel, THE NINE LIVES OF CHRISTMAS. Got my street team of Sheila Girls assembled and they are going to help spread the word that this is a very fun book. And what is their reward? Well, for one thing, how about these cute cat themed decorative apron kitchen towels. (Purrfect, since this newest book features a snarky cat named Ambrose.) The pictures don't do them justice. They were made by my friend Doreen Geidel and they are adorable. Oh, yes, it pays to be a Sheila girl!
How cute will this look hanging on your oven!
People told me Boston is a great city. People were right! I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to that historic city and all the surrounding towns. Besides boasting a beautiful harbor, great architecture, and wonderful history, Boston can brag of some wonderful eateries. Every meal we ate was a treat, and the waiter we had at Red Bones was probably the best waiter I've ever had in my life. He gave us both great service and great conversation, and by the time we left we were all buddies. The dance scene is great. I had a wonderful time dancing my feet off (and hopefully a few of the calories I consumed). And all you writers, you must add visiting Concord to your bucket list. The town is charming. (I wanted every house I saw!) It's a special treat to tour Louisa May Alcott's house and when you see Walden's Pond you wind up asking, "Where's the pond?" because that little pond you envisioned looks more like a lake. It's huge! We almost brought back a white pebble from the pond as a memento, but when my son went to pick it up for me it turned out to be something slimy (we suspect from the nose of the grizzled kayaker loading his kayak on his boat). So, no pebbles from the pond for little Sheila. Instead, all I brought back home with me were extra pounds. Guess I should have gone dancing more than once!
And how about you? What's the best thing you've done this summer?
Life is good when you have friends. And when you get a chance to hit the road with them that's even better! I have awesome girlfriends, I must say. Here we are hiking in Leavenworth WA. Lily Anne, the event coordinator for A Book for All Seasons (far left), took us down a trail that lead to Indian petroglyphs. Now, that was cool. (Although, I have to admit it looked like graffiti to me. Maybe ancient graffiti? And here we moderns think we invented it!) Anyway, that was last month. This month little Sheila is off to Boston for an infusion of culture and history. I hope your summer is going well. If it's not, well, there's still some summer left - I highly recommend a girlfriend getaway weekend. You get a wonderful time with people you value and you can split the cost - twice the fun at half the price!
Bring out your dead... daisies. Ugh, weeding is back-breaking work!
When I first planted daisies I was excited. They're so sweet. And they'll look so cute.
The first year they came up I was excited. How darling. Daisies!
The next year. Wow, look at that, more daisies!
And then, like the Star Trek Tribbles, they took over the world. I'd look out my window and think, I'd better do something about those daisies. Then I'd think, yes, but I have other things I need to do. And soon I was living in daisy land. All my other plants were buried in a field of daisies and suddenly they just weren't so sweet any more. And dealing with the mess hasn't been fun, let me tell you.
I guess there's a moral in all this. Remember the old saying, a stitch in time saves nine? Well, now I know what that saying means. It took a long, hot, sweaty afternoon to reduce the daisy population at my place and find the other flowers that had been cowering under their mighty shadow. And I've only begun to pull. Maybe I've learned my lesson now. Do those little jobs before they turn into big chores!
Yes, remember Dorothy and her adventures in the magical land of Oz? Well, she had it right. There is no place like home. I'm about to have some fun travel adventures, checking out placers like Whistler, Canada and New York, New York. But the other night, here's the view we had off our deck. Now, that's hard to beat!
And how about you? What's great about your home? What do you love about it?
Back when my novel LOVE IN BLOOM came out we were just starting to landscape our new house. We did a funny book trailer with gardening tips (yes, you can still find it on YouTube if you type in my name and the book title) and at the time our garden was more dirt than flowers. Well, that's not the case anymore. My English garden has taken off, the blueberry bushes are thriving and my ground cover is taking over the world. I've heard this is the time table you go by when planting a garden: the first year it's "sleep", the second it's "creep" and the third it's "leap". Three years of waiting to see a garden start to mature - when you're not a patient person that can feel like a loooong time. But, as with most things, it takes time and effort to grow results. Whether it's a relationship, a family, a career, or a savings account - hanging in there for the long haul is the key. Whatever you're busy growing right now, whether it's a garden or an emergency fund or maybe even a writing career, let me just encourage you to hang in there and keep working away. Slow and steady really does win the race!
So, here's the English garden that covers our drain field. To the left of it is my ground cover:strawberries.
There may be better ways to spend a day than touring a chocolate factory and getting free samples but right off the top of my head I can't think of many. And it's even more fun when you go with friends, which we did.
Theo Chocolate can be found in Seattle's Fremont district. It's a fair trade company that makes its chocolates "from scratch", starting with roasting the beans. This privately owned company offers all kinds of exotic flavors like coconut curry and caramel with lavender.
Between the exotic chocolate and the Thai food we all ate for lunch before taking the tour, my taste buds had a very busy day. The rest of me was pretty busy too, as you can see by the pictures.
If you're planning to come to Seattle as a tourist, be sure to add exploring Fremont to your to-do list. In addition to touring the chocolate factory (book early - they fill up fast!) you can check out the huge cement troll under the north end of the Aurora bridge. As you can see by the picture, you're never too old to climb on the troll. Well, at least you won't feel too old once you've consumed a pound of chocolate!
And, speaking of, here are a few fun factoids for you. Did you know?
Here are some of the pretties in the Theo gift shop.
You need 70% cacao content or higher in your chocolate to reap the health benefits.
Chocolate opens up your blood vessels (which is what gives you energy).
Chocolate also produces serotonin (which makes you feel good).
One cocoa bean pod weighs about a pound.
Cocoa is a fermented food.
75% of the world's cocoa supply comes from Africa.
Many of the farmers who grow the cocoa beans have never tasted chocolate.
Never tasted chocolate. Can you imagine that? Next time I'm tempted to feel sorry for myself I'm going to remember that. My life is good!