Sunday, April 27, 2014


We just returned from a weekend away with friends.  We had a great time with Bob and Carol on your right, PH in the middle and hostess with the MOSTEST, Ann.  We live in a summer neighborhood, so only see Ann during summers. We decided at the end of last summer we needed to see her before this summer. "Ann, we're coming to visit," we told her  .Arranging calendars being what it is, and this winter being what it was, we didn't get there till now.  But it turned out it was a wonderful time to go.  Ann lives just enough south of here so the magnolia trees and redbuds and pear trees were all in full bloom, violets sprouted in the grass, bluebells in bloom, sunshine, blue skies and temps in the high 70s.  It gave us hope as we came home to a promise of a rainy week and temps in the 50s.

Is it me or do you all think of the food you ate when you traveled?  I sure do.  We try not to frequent the chains that assault you as you leave the highway exits.  We try for something different.
Friday we stopped in a tiny little town and almost gave up hope until we stopped some people on the street and asked, "where can we eat?"  The answer?  "Follow us!" Would you just look at that dessert counter?  Of course we ordered pie!  Each of us a different one.
 Saturday we stopped at another place, outdoor patio seating and a microbrewery.  Birds singing, sun shining, first time on an outdoor patio this year.  I absolutely love outdoor seating when we finally get the weather for it. This was PH's dish.  They called it 'the pony' because it was smaller than 'the horseshoe'.  It was still decadent.  What is often called a heart attack on a plate. Toasted bread, ham, cheese, fries. 
 Bob ordered this 'artisan flatbread'
 Carol had fried green tomatoes and shrimp all nestled in a lobster sauce.  She said it was great.

Don't tell the others but I thought mine was the most delicious.  A flatbread with caramelized onions, gorgonzola, figs, a whisper of cheese and a sprinkle of bacon.  Oh, my, it was amazing.  I took pictures so I could replicate it at home.

Ann ordered a burger she said was delish, but we deemed it not different enough to earn a photo.

As the old postcards used to say....a good time was had by all.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What's better than free books?'re walking along on a promising spring day.  It's finally a little warmer. The sun is finally out and what's this?  You see on the sidewalk "free books" with an arrow pointing!
Free?  Books?  Follow the arrow!
 Here right in front of you is a Little Free Library!  And there are books inside free for the taking, borrowing or trading!  Wow!   So you browse and you choose something and you take it!  You don't even have to look both ways for someone spying on you, or check the nearby tree for a security camera.  It's free and you can have it!  You're so excited you go home and find something on your own shelves and go back and donate it to the Little Free Library.  Wow.  This is SO much fun!

The girls were completely overboard when they returned from our house on Sunday and discovered that someone had donated some books to their Little Free Library. 
I brought a box along with me and Elizabeth was putting some of them in.  She didn't just open the door and stuff them in.  No.  She said she "likes them in order so they make sense."  Hoo-boy, is she a book child?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter day

 Easter day was a beautiful, sunny, blue sky day.  Just the morale booster we needed. 
 We had an egg hunt

 Took the obligatory group picture
 Walked to the beach
 And yes, that is ice STILL on the lake.  Way out on the horizon you can see a line of white...more ice moving in to shore.
 The kids couldn't resist taking off their shoes to test for coldness
 Adelaide didn't want to get her dress wet but she was determined to test with her toes
 and she found out how cold cold can be on piggy toes!

After PH and I walked back into the house from waving everyone off we found this homicide scene.  Someone sacrificed the pascal lamb!  We didn't have to dust for prints. We know exactly who the suspect is.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Oh, here she is.  She doesn't have a mouth and has chocolate chip eyes but she is sitting up and her ears are on and her head didn't fall off so I'd say she was a success.  I used Swiss buttercream for the frosting.  It's a little like frosting with shaving cream.  It tastes light and wonderful.  It can be tricky. It didn't work for me the first time I tried it but this time was good.  I cut the original recipe in half. Here's the recipe and proportions I used:

Swiss Buttercream

1 1/4 cups sugar
4 egg whites
1 1/2 cups butter at very soft room temperature  (yes, three sticks) cut into chunks
1 tsp. vanilla

Whisk egg whites and sugar in a stainless steel bowl over a pot of simmering water until  sugar is dissolved and mixture is quite warm...about 160 degrees F.   Remove the bowl from the pot and beat until fluffy and cooled down.  This is important because the next step is to slowly add the butter and if the egg/sugar mixture isn't cooled then you'll melt the butter. 
So, slowly add the butter chunk by chunk and the vanilla.  Beat until smooth and it looks like shaving cream.  Same consistency, too.  You will be able to tell if it's too runny.  This morning mine was because the sugar mixture wasn't cooled down enough and my butter was melty but I let it all sit for awhile and whipped it again and it worked.  Save yourself the hassle and just make sure the egg/sugar coming off the stove is whipped up nice and is cooled down.

It really is a delicious frosting. 

Happy Easter

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Baa Baaa

Do you have one of these lamb molds?  I had two.  One was my grandma's and one a friend gave me.  Daughter took Grandma's.  My grandma made this lamb cake every year for Easter but we never, ever got to eat it.  She ate it all by herself, a slice a day till it was gone, but only after Easter.  It was her prized centerpiece.

I researched recipes and found one a few years ago, taking great pains to make it look cute.  Elizabeth walked in the door and said, "Grandma, why is there a cow on your table?"  So I abandoned the lamb cake idea.  Till this year.

You see, someone out there in blogland  did a lot of work testing recipes for eight days. Every day a different lamb cake recipe.  Her husband, dear boy, agreed to be the taste tester and ate lamb cake for eight days! And then he rated them. She then blogged about it(her blog is called Midcentury Menu).  I can't get her site to come up on my site but if you google "eight days of lamb cakes" it comes right up.  Do so, it's great fun.  I decided, based on her dear husband's judgement to do the Pope family's cake recipe (day 4.)

 Grease and flour the inside like you just don't want to have to do this again. Especially get the deep nose and ears.

 After the ingredients have been whipped into a luscious batter you fill the mold.
I learned two new things.  New thing #1 fill just the one half (the front half).  Put the lid on and the cake will rise to fill the mold.  Honestly, I didn't know this!  I tried this cake about 25 years ago using a boxed mix (big mistake, box mixes are too fluffy.  You need pound cake consistency) and again when Elizabeth said it looked like a cow.  What I had done was baked the two halves and cemented them together with frosting.  So this filling the half was big news.  And SO much easier.

New thing #2.  Use toothpicks to stabilize the ears and a popsicle stick to stabilize the neck.  Bake them right in.  A headless lamb is not impressive on the dinner table.
 Mine is a cast iron pan so I didn't need to clamp the two molds together but if your pan is aluminum you MUST clamp the sides so the cake doesn't spill all over the oven.  Use a cookie sheet, it's safer.
 You will have enough batter left for a dozen cupcakes as a bonus!
 The moment of truth was anti-climatic.  It popped right off very nicely.  I didn't like that the popsicle stick just rose with the batter so I took it out.  I knew this would mean possible headless lamb when I took the other half of the mold off but I wasn't in a hurry and it was a well greased and floured mold.
 Look! It worked like a charm!  I took my time, the cake was cold and it came out just fine. Even the ears which are always a problem.

The cupcakes gave me a good excuse to taste this cake before Sunday.  I can see why it was rated the best of the eight test cakes.  It was very slightly dense yet light and moist and had good flavor.  Everything is now sitting in the freezer till frosting time on Saturday.  If there is a lamb mold in your family somewhere, dust it off, grease it up and try it! 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Are you a book lover?  I am.  Ever since I learned how to read I've never been without something
to read close at hand.  There is a book of short stories tucked into a nook in each car just in case.  When I go on a trip the tote of books is the first thing I pack,  after the trip to the library to pick out an audio book to listen to if we're driving. I own thousands of books.  Enough that the grands tell me "Grandma, you live in a library." I do, and they love it, too.

I love bookstores.  They make me happy.  They calm me on rough days.  I need only to step inside the door and take a deep breath.  I've noticed people who go to bookstores are good, considerate and polite people (except the ones who insist on talking on their cell phones about nothing important, bothering the browsing of the rest of us.)  I like striking up a conversation with customers who are in the same section I'm in.

That's probably why this book struck me so. 

   A.J. Fikry, when we meet him, is a mess. His wife just died, he is dealing with his grief by being very crabby and drinking himself to sleep, he's a young curmudgeon and his little bookstore on Alice Island is not doing well.  And as if bad luck breeds bad luck, one day a prized, very valuable, very coddled book is stolen.  And if that's not enough, one day he walks into his store and finds a two year old child with a note attached.  Topping it all off, his favorite sales rep is replaced with .... a woman!

   This is the story of A.J. Fikry and his Island Bookstore and the people on this little island.  It's as much a story of books, because at each chapter head there is a note from A.J. with one of his short story recommendations  (he dislikes just about anything and at first is very snotty about it, but loves and respects the short story) as it is A.J.'s story.

   But the thing that really struck me was the sense of community this little store on this little island is the center of.  People who never read before now run book groups.  Author visits are now encouraged and attended. A.J. now recognizes the preferences of the people on the island and stocks their likes.  His business grows, even during the off season when the tourists have gone home.

    A bookstore is a heart of any community.  Some hearts beat faster than others and some are stronger than others. But it beats. The blood is the people who flow into and out of the doors every day. Without those people, the heart can't beat and sadly that's the way things are turning for book lovers.  Maybe this book struck a chord because we are losing our bookstores.

    Within two months two favorite bookstores in Grand Rapids closed.  One closed a branch, leaving half of the city without a bookstore.  Yes, I will drive the extra ten miles to get to the other branch, but it's not the same as having a store in the neighborhood.

   The other store is so near and dear to my heart it truly breaks my heart to see it go.  This store, Pooh's Corner, in Grand Rapids, truly is/was the heartbeat of children's literature. There wasn't a curmudgeon among the booksellers, they loved children and their books too much to be crabby. Their collective knowledge was unsurpassed anywhere. I started taking my children there when they opened 38 years ago and my daughter has been taking our grandgirls since they've been born.  I even worked there for about 4 years.  Losing this is like a death in the family.

  I will, for the sake of full disclosure say that I read this book on my eReader as a review copy sent to me by the publisher so I could read and comment on it.  But you know what?  I'm going to go out and buy this one so I can also have it in my hands and on my shelf and can talk about it.

   Like in A.J.'s life, ebooks are taking over, buying online is so common it hardly bears mentioning.But browsing online isn't browsing in a bookstore.  And if browsing online is the way it's going to be, then we are going to lose all of our bookstores.

    And that means the heart stops.