road magic.

To say I have been surprised by life would be an understatement. My journey at times has knocked me sideways. I've been surprised by the way hearts and souls from different places and time can stitch together in an even line. My capacity to love these people entrusted to me on this journey has left me wonder-struck, at almost every turn.

But it's more than that, because as much as my family makes me grateful and amazed, I had a hunch it would be this way. And, I never really doubted my ability to love my friends.

What I didn't expect, the thing that renders me breathless and spent, has me crazy-thinking in the middle of the night, is the searing pain of loss.

I have been around for awhile now, and for at least a few of my earlier years I have loved people from hard places, who have turned me inside-out. They at the time systematically drained me of every stout and sturdy mental faculty I once claimed to possess.  infiltrated the peace-keeping zone of my inner sanctum and shot it through with more combustive emotional leverage than anyone should ever carry. ever.

Life has been at times explosive. Exhausting. Exhilarating. Humbling. Amazing. I've tried everything in my power to prove it. At least twice.

Can we just agree that life always seems to come back around to being crazy?

Sometimes there is an ebb, sometimes a flow, but Crazy always makes his way back.

Sometimes we might be fooled into thinking if we can just get over the next hump, all of a sudden we will be standing in the greener pasture, a light breeze will be blowing, we will all be skipping gleefully through the wildflowers and maybe even holding hands. and we will all live happily ever after. Forever and ever, Amen.

But then, the hump never comes, it just changes. And we go through the cycle again.
So, I'm in another cycle now, and I’m coming out of the kicking/screaming/crying about it phase, and going back into the embracing it/making it work phase, which means . . . planning ahead.

That’s where road trips make a huge difference.

That’s where getting in the car and driving, for hours, makes for a happy girl.
And what do we all know? A happy girl makes a happy home.

I’m not going to get all wordsy on you right now, mostly because road trips don't need to be a wordsy thing, (spell-check is also telling me that “wordsy” is not a word. Whatever, “spell-check”) but also because there are ideas and inspirations percolating in my deep-heart, quiet places and I’m waiting for them to come full circle before I blab about them.

But road trips. . . .
at the end of my longest, most emotionally draining days, this is the thing I curl up with. a whole week on the road, with nothing to do but stare out the window as the landscape gradually, magically changes. the planning/dreaming begins the minute I know a road trip is a real live happening thing. can I tell you? nothing makes me happier than road trips. if I could do this for a living? in a second, dude. I love to research, hash out possibilities, calculate mileage, determine budgets. make no mistake, I leave loads of room for spontaneity but I am hardcore with the planning. I have orchestrated many a road trip in my time, and so far everyone has been pretty much magic from beginning to end, save for the occasional hiccup. so much spectacular, I don't even know where to start. so much road magic, it doesn't feel real. did it really happen? did we actually do it? we did. and already, I want to do it all over again. 
 just sayin'. 

creamy pumpkin and curry soup

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, pushed through a press
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
14 1/2 ounces chicken broth
14 1/2 ounces water
15 ounces unsweetened pumpkin puree
3/4 cup canned coconut milk

1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion 5 minutes, until softened. Add garlic, curry powder, salt, and pepper and cook 1 minute more.
2. Add broth, water, and puree; mix well. Reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes.
3. Stir in coconut milk. Puree soup in blender in batches until smooth. Heat through before serving.


wine and bridges.

Fall is like that girl you used to be friends with in high school, you really like her, but it’s probably best that you two don’t hang out that often. She reminds you of the old times, the good times, and times you would rather forget....but the nostalgia soon turns to indulgence, and before you know it you are four episodes into a thirtysomething marathon, wearing sweatpants, and eating a whole bag of cheese curls with a toothpick.

Because I'm  fancy that way.

Since we are celebrating Fall, and none of us had taken a vacation in four months, we decided it was time for a day trip. An entire day across the grape curtain, to Wine Country, aka “The Grand River Valley in the Heart of America.”

If you have never been to Wine County, let me tell you, it is snazzy. Besides the covered bridges and turning leaves, there are also equal opportunities for wine tasting, cheese tasting, and ice cream tasting. These people know how to prioritize! If there are any Califorians  non-Midwesterners reading this and thinking the whole Ohio Wine Region Thing is an act. Yeah, no. It’s all real. It’s all vineyards, all the time. And it is glorious. We went to this tiny church converted to a wine tasting room and it was so charming! 

The thing to do in a vineyard is to find a peaceful spot and order snacks and a wine tasting tray. There are plenty to choose from, I love The Lakehouse Inn, I would describe it as somewhere between a winery and a Bed and Breakfast with killer views of the water. but we always end up at the Harpersfield Winery, we save it for last, like dessert. So far, it's my favorite. I pretended I was back in Tuscany. Grape vines and trees and fountains and stuff. I'll bet they do nice events here. Plus they have the sweetest dogs there to greet you. so they don't actually have a No Kids Under 13 policy, but still, everyone there appeared to be 20-something or 60+. At one point I spotted four drunk happy grannies sitting on a corner patio table. So cool.

 Most of the beaches along Lake Erie are pebbles and rocks. But what they lack in sandy sprawling space, it makes up for in beauty. plus there are the covered bridges. It’s pretty much like Bridges of Madison County, except Robert and Francesca are wearing a Cleveland Browns gear, and without the ill fated love affair and death bed confession. okay, it's nothing like that but it's amazing. Now is as good of a time as any to tell you that I read way too many romance novels. I blame Emily Bronte and Jane Austin. cheeky little minxes.

 Earlier that day, we got stuck in a giant traffic jam watched the Grape Festival Parade we had front row seats and the time of our lives. I don’t know why more people don't get stuck in traffic. I highly recommend it. plus, we shared a huge funnel cake. between six of us and there were leftovers.  It was gigantic. I could not believe how big it was and the lady was all, "You guys are just in time! we just rolled in a fresh batch of dough! " and we were all "are they always that big?" and she was all "You aren't from around here areyanow?"

Are-ya-now! that is totally my new favorite word.

just sayin'.

concord grape cornmeal cake 
adapted just barely from Bon Appetit

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly, plus more
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour; more for grapes
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup vegetable oil
6 tablespoons buttermilk
2 tablespoons honey
3/4 pound Concord grapes (or black grapes), stemmed, seeds removed, divided 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch cast iron skillet (or an 8x8x2-inch baking dish). Whisk 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Whisk eggs, sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla in a large bowl to combine. Add oil and 2 tablespoons melted butter; whisk to blend. Whisk in flour mixture, then buttermilk. Stir in honey, being careful not to fully incorporate

Pour batter into prepared skillet. Toss about 2/3 of grapes with a large pinch of flour in a medium bowl until well coated. Scatter over cake batter.

Bake until cake turns light golden brown around the edges and starts to set, 15-17 minutes. Remove from oven and scatter remaining grapes over cake. Continue to bake until top is golden brown and cake springs back when pressed, 20-25 minutes longer. Transfer to a wire rack. Let cool slightly in pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. yum.


and I'm happy.

I tend to get cranky with the changing of the seasons. Happens every dang time.

As much as I'd love to be the all-season girl who easily rolls with the changes, it turns out I'm actually the girl who spends big bucks on two bags of mini gourds and a wonky ghost pumpkin.

And boots.
But that's a given.

As luck would have it, just as that tweedy, golden-hued, nubby, brisk-aired itch blew through the back screen door, Howard arrived.


(everyone keeps calling him a hobo. we're working on it.)

I love him.

Let me just say, once more for the record, I don't get you "Fall is my favorite season" people with your chunky knits and your leaf frolics. I don't get football or candy corn. I don't really like apple cider. (Is that a real Fall thing? Because I feel like it might be and I do not really like it. Unless it's served with donuts. I like donuts. or chocolate. or caramel. (Now I'm just being silly).)

The main problem is that Fall robs me of my beloved Summer. It makes me angry cold. It makes me wear socks and flannel pajama pants to a bed fitted with fleece~y sheets, and then I'm velcroed in. I can't move. Sleeping gets kinda awkward.

But the real problem is, I live in Mayberry RFD now. And you cannot imagine how beautiful this little town can be in October. Even when it's raining, and the sky looks like soggy cardboard, all I see is gold.

Maybe my love for Fall is deeper than I even knew.

All I know is, you're a looker, Fall.

and how cool is it that you thought ahead to make different kinds of leaves turn different colors for your visit? You must have known how happy tie-dyed leaves covering everything would make some of us.

I don't get it all, but I do get that much.

It'll have to be enough.

In your honor, I'm kicking it. I'm going to go with the flow, even though Kohl's has Christmas decorations out, and I think about summer on the hour, I'm here for you.

I present a list of all I could love about you. pumpkin anything! soups and stews (chili and corn bread). cable knit cardigans. crunchy leaves. boots. filtered sunshine. cozy striped socks (and argyle!). caramel apples. horror movies. Fall spices~cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves. scarves (a serious weakness). English tea w/milk. hikes. duvets. corduroy. oatmeal breakfasts. oh, and have your skies always been so blue?

 So today, here I am, with my festive fall foliage, my beef stew and my Frye boots. I'm standing in crunchy leaves, without a coat, sunshine overhead.

And I'm happy.

just sayin' 

 {Pumpkin Spice Muffin with Cream Cheese Filling}
I make this muffin one of two ways: with streusel or without streusel.  Pictured is a "non-streusel",  obviously, they are amazing either way. 

Yields: 20-24 muffins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease muffin pans.

Muffin batter:
1 Spice Cake Mix
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/4 tsp. Allspice
1/4 tsp. Cloves
1/4 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
A few dashes of Ginger
2 tbsp. Vegetable Oil
2 eggs
1tsp. Vanilla extract
1 15oz. can of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
1. Combine cake mix and spices.
2. Combine all wet ingredients.
3. Combine wet and dry and mix very well.

 Cream Cheese Filling:
1 -8oz. Package of cream cheese, softened
A few dashes of allspice
¼ tsp. Vanilla extract
1 tbsp. Sugar

1. Stir cream cheese until smooth and creamy.
2. Add vanilla, sugar and allspice.
3. Mix well.

 Streusel topping (optional):
½ c. flour
½ c. brown sugar
1 tsp. Cinnamon
dash of Salt
¼ c. walnuts
1 stick of cold butter

 1. Cut butter into chunks.
2. Combine butter and dry ingredients in food processor and pulse until well combined and crumbs are about pea-sized or smaller.
3. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.

Assembling the muffins:
*Try to do this as quickly as possible...the faster the better! You don't want flat muffins.

1. Place enough batter in each muffin cup to cover the bottom. Do this carefully...it's easy to go overboard and not have enough to cover the filling.
2. Make a little well in the center of the batter with the back of a teaspoon.
3. Put a rounded teaspoon of cream cheese filling in each well.
4. Cover each glob of filling with more muffin batter.
5. Lightly smooth the tops of the batter to cover the cream cheese.
6. Sprinkle streusel topping evenly over all of the muffins. If you like them really “streuselly”, use it all, if not, you'll have some for another recipe!
7. Bake at 350 for about 18-20 minutes. (When you check these, just check around the edge since the middle will obviously be gooey!)
8. Remove from pan to a wire rack after about 2-3 minutes of cooling.