Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Forcing Fall!

So it's simply not fair. Those of you who happen to live in those regions where you enjoy 4 true seasons of the year, consider yourself BLESSED! Here in Houston, you can guess what we have. There's hot, and hot and humid and very hot and humid and hotter than...well you get the picture! Suffice it to say, I can easily miss my midwestern roots where watching the leaves turn color was a favorite event. Steve and I were actually vacationing in Colorado Springs around Labor Day and could see some of the aspens in high elevations already beginning to yellow. I bet they are glorious now. Ah well, I digress. But this leads you to understand my title today as I have literally had to FORCE our way into FALL this week. Had to do it. My calendar says last day of summer was last week!

So, what does this look like? Well, I'm including some photos here that I hope you will enjoy to get the idea of ambiance in my home. Now, I don't profess to be a great photographer. Yet hopefully you will understand the lengths to which I go to make it feel festive around here. Fall happens to be one of my most treasured times of the year since it evokes great memories, most of which are initiated by smells. As a matter of fact, did you know that our sense of smell is directly connected to the part of the brain that stores emotional memories, giving scents an uncanny ability to trigger these reminders within us? I don't know about you, but all I have to do is smell a peach-flavored Bonnie Bell Lipsmacker and I am transported back to sitting in church with my best friend going through each others' purses. Oh, but I digress again.

So, the scents have gotten the ball rolling while our horizon yields no luscious fall color. Thanks to my wonderful friends at Bath and Body Works (and their 2 for $20 candle sale last week--sorry it ended Sunday), we're enjoying "Leaves," "Creamy Pumpkin," and "Autumn" as my own candle recipe in the kitchen. Yum! Megan walked through Monday night and said, "Mom, you're making me crazy! It smells like Thanksgiving around here." So I promptly went out yesterday and purchased a small turkey breast which I will roast this week for her. Why not get a taste of what's to come?

I did need to bake something last night to take to share for our Bible Study brunch this morning, so I will share here my best and most favorite coffee cake. Now, this can certainly be made at any time of the year, but somehow coffee cake and fall just seem to go together. And, while I don't know where she originally got this recipe, it is compliments of my deceased mother-in-law, who used to make it regularly for her family and school events that she personally catered. I am honored she shared it with me and the tradition will live on in our family. Enjoy!

Nina's Sour Cream Coffee Cake
1/2 cup margarine (I use butter!)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract (this is my addition!)
2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon powdered sugar 
1 teaspoon baking soda

In electric mixing bowl with beaters, cream together butter and sugar, then blend in eggs.
Alternate adding scoops of sour cream and the extracts with portions of flour, the soda and the powdered sugar. 
Mix well.
Pour into greased (Pam for Baking is best) 13x9 pan, or, for thinner pieces, into 3 round cake pans.
Top with the following struesel topping BEFORE baking:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick margarine (butter)
Mix together to a "fine meal" consistency (pastry blending tool works best). 
Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. 
While still warm in pan, drizzle with a very thin mixture of powdered sugar and water (I add a splash of almond extract to this, too). 

FYI, I doubled the recipe last night and had plenty of batter for 1 large (17x12) and 1 small (15x10) jelly roll pans. (Had to have the small pan to leave for my family and I prefer this height of this cake--more top surface for crumbs!!) Happy baking!

Finally, as promised, some indoor fall decor! Enjoy!
Dining room table decked out and ready for company!
Yes, those are small turkeys. I'm not all that much of a Halloween decorator, so these 2 are nestled in already, providing some additional festive texture and color. There will be more added to the rest of the house in late October/early November.

Top of TV armoire. The orange pumpkins are made from dryer vent tubing! Great craft. The calico ones on the left are compliments of my mother and her sewing capabilities. I use the scarecrow's greenery "perch"throughout the year, changing with seasonal picks, ornaments and ribbons.


Another great craft from old fence posts - made in MOPS many years ago! So adorable!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Year's Sabbatical? Found Mediterranean Love!

Yes, my blogger friends, you read that right. It's been a blogging sabbatical of sorts and I'm simply tired of it. So much has happened. Where to start? Master's degree courses that have to be finished by May 2012, a mother-in-law moving in, entering hospice and then passing from terminal cancer, my youngest daughter's Senior Year, the trip of a lifetime to Italy, Greece & Turkey this summer, and then getting daughter number 1 moved back home and daughter number 2 settled at college. Wow, I'm tired just reading this. 

But, it's now time for a wonderful fall of recipes, entertaining, and the awesome scents those realities create in my home! Hooray! But first, this post will simply be a feast for your eyes (sorry no recipes) of the wonders of the food we enjoyed on our recent summer vacation (mentioned above). Let's just say they know how to do the food in the Mediterranean, so I hope you enjoy! And yes, there will be recipes coming from things I learned about making great food while visiting.

This is the first pizza we enjoyed in Venice! Artichoke hearts, meats, mushrooms and a fried egg in the center. Delicious!

My daughter, Megan, ordered a stuffed calzone! Yes, she ate the whole thing!!
Our pizza in Florence cafe. Just amazing!
Our hostess friends in Sorrento working with the curds...

... to make the fresh mozzarella!

Fruit kebobs readied for the...
...dessert bar chocolate fountain aboard ship!

Midnight dessert bar extraordinaire aboard the Equinox!