Sharing Who We Are

 

Memories are funny.  Without intentionally choosing, we seem to toss out superfluous ones, and often, we somehow manage to condense huge chunks of time into manageable packets that just get pushed to the back of a shelf and ignored.  Other moments sit at the front of that shelf, catching our eye every time we walk by, inviting us over and over again to pick them up and reexamine them.

 

One field trip with my eleventh grade Art History class fits into the last category. My teacher, Mrs. Prilliman, arranged for a dozen or so other St. Mary’s girls and me to  view the art collection of a friend of the school. We traveled just over a block to a crisp, midcentury modern home, which I had somehow never noticed, and were greeted by the owner. 

 

I frankly had no expectations other than to enjoy an hour away from school work, but, surprisingly, I still find myself reflecting on this trip. Inside, the James Bond era home contrasted with priceless artwork, ranging from ancient Roman objects, to Japanese silk screens, and bright, modern paintings. Clarence, the owner, warmly showed us through each room, gladly answering questions, and, most surprisingly, inviting us to touch the statues and other works of art. He insisted that he wasn’t worried about our breaking anything and was more interested in our being able to fully explore the fascinating objects. It was marvelous. Having grown up going to art galleries, I was no stranger to the little sirens that sound and stern looks from guards when leaning in too close to a picture.

This was such a different experience. Getting to run my hand over the cold, stone hair of a Roman bust brought the statue into my world and made it real in a way that viewing a carving behind a glassed in pedestal never had. In the living room, students passed around an ancient, bronze figure, and I imagined how many centuries this delicate piece had endured and how many other hands had passed it. It was also aspirational to think that this man lived every day with what we had spent months studying in text books.  It didn’t occur to me until years later that this collection was monetarily priceless. Instead, I specifically remember being amazed to view a Mondrian painting hanging in a hallway because, though the artist isn’t usually to my taste, it really resonated that we had studied this artist only a week earlier. In this moment, a character in my textbook had come to real life, just down the street from the school where I had learned about him.

I find that I am constantly in awe of seeing the authentic origins of what I’ve studied. I’ll never forget unexpectedly finding a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio exhibited in the basement of Windsor Castle and being aware that because of this book, the literary world is so much richer. I also wondered what it would be like to read an entire play from the worn pages. I understand why this isn’t a plausible scenario, but I always return to the day when the exhibit was hands on.

I only met Clarence once for about an hour and have since learned that he recently passed away, but his invitation to share something he enjoyed with complete strangers has impacted me. Thomas Merton paraphrases Thomas Aquinas in explaining that “the things that we love tell us what we are.” My brief meeting with Clarence told me that he was passionate about history and art, but moreover, he loved selflessly allowing others to fully experience what he found interesting and wanted them to share in the joy those things brought him. An online biography confirms that this impression was true. Our host was a great philanthropist who gave as much of his own time as he did monetary donations.

Such a short field trip left such a lasting impression both from the way I experienced the art around me and from the person who welcomed us into his home. I wonder if I could only spend an hour with someone, what I would share with them, and what my loves would tell this visitor about me.

As we move into the Christmas season, many of us will get a chance to welcome others into our homes. What will we share of ourselves? What impression will we leave for years to come?

 

Thanksgiving: a Tale of Two Tables

Confession, I still sit at the kids’ table.

I mean, the “kids” are all over 21 now, two of my cousins are married, and there is an abundance of wine…but we still always break out a craft or coloring page, and all of our parents and grandparents still sit at another table in the formal dining room.

I’m also in charge of decor for both tables. To differentiate, I like to keep my table a little more fun and informal, while the “grown ups” get a more formal dining experience.

Typically, though, I like to tie both tables together with an emphasis on natural decor by bringing the outdoors in (literally). It’s nice to inspire a seasonal ambiance by focusing the decor on what is naturally beautiful at this time of year.

At the kids’ table

Last year, I created a flurry of leaves by preserving maple leaves and suspending them from the chandelier with various lengths of fishing wire.

It’s pretty easy to create this effect. Just soak any leaf in glycerine and water soon after picking, and the leaves will stay more vibrant and less crispy. A simple Google search will help with the exact amount of glycerine necessary.

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Leaves drying after their glycerine treatment in the nearby pan

I added to this rustic table setting with homemade napkin rings (ribbons hot glued to acorns collected in my yard) and little pumpkins I kept from Halloween. All of these natural elements played well with my mother’s colorful serving dish as a centerpiece and some bright placemats.

Meanwhile at the grownups’ table

I actually had a few tables to work with. On one, another little round pumpkin became a carved planter for a burgundy pansy. 1128131148b

On the buffet, there was space for homemade beeswax candles since all of the casseroles were being served from the kitchen next door. Each of these little candles were made from a mail order kit, and cored apples in serving dishes and teacups served as perfect candle sticks.

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To add hight at and keep the formal feel, a seasonal flower bouquet took center stage in a prized vase. 401720_859908748999_18812124_38841154_1935915328_n

Overall, most of the decorations were inexpensive or were found outside or among family heirlooms around the house. The best part was that the day was warm and personal. The decor at both tables helped set the stage for a wonderful dinner and memories with family.

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Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving and that your holiday is beautiful. I can’t wait to share pictures from this year. 

A Little More Please!

More sweet potatoes, more family, and more Thanksgiving is always better.

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A Timeworn and Beloved Recipe

I’m pretty sure I’m totally capable of making sweet potato caserol on my own. Of course, I don’t know for sure because my mom has always helped me.

One of my family’s top two favorite Thanksgiving dishes (tied with my dad’s cornbread dressing) is Mom’s Senator Russel’s Sweet Potato Soufflé. Ok, so in reality, any idea of who Senator Russel was has been lost to time, and from my understanding, the finished side doesn’t fit the definition of a soufflé, but oh my goodness, all cares about the name are completely forgotten as soon as the smells of roasted pecans and sweet potatoes start wafting out of the oven. The second the casserole dish is taken out of the oven, it takes a lot of will power not to dive in before anyone else knows it’s cooked.

The magnetic deliciousness of this dish is why my extended family (and now some lucky friends with the recipe) jump at the chance to bring it to any holiday gathering possible. It’s been to every work and friends’ Thanksgiving in memory, and I’m pretty sure I even brought it to a baby shower a few years ago. You can never ever have too much sweet potato soufflé! Which brings me to another point.

You also can’t seem to have enough help making these sweet potatoes either.

Each time someone offers to bring Senator Russel’s potatoes, my mom starts looking visibly anxious. I’ve come to find out this is because she’s just adding this newest offer to the list of at least five other times the dish will be made the week before Thanksgiving, and it’s implied that she will personally help make it each time. To be clear, I never ask for her help, but it always seems to arrive. Sometimes, the sweet potatoes are even pre-baking in the oven before I can personally get to Kroger to buy the ingredients. Just as arriving at dinners with a warm bowl of bright orange sweet potatoes and crusty sugared pecans has become a tradition, knowing my mom will tell me when I’ve mashed the potatoes enough or even taking the spoon from my hand to show me a “better” way to stir together the crisp topping has become completely expected.

When I first started making this dish, I found the extra help just a smidge annoying. Did my mom think I wasn’t a good cook? Why wouldn’t she just cook something else when I could handle this? I wondered. However, after a few years of this supervision, I realized even though I could make the dish by myself, I didn’t really want to. I think the rest of my family has learned the same thing, too. Every time we cook sweet potato soufflé, there’s  a Hallmark movie in the background, and at some point, my mom and I will both get tickled when pecans start flying out of the mixing bowl as someone stirs too vigorously. With so much help in the kitchen, the festivities begin before the dinner even starts, and the dish has always turned out perfect with extra eyes on the recipe.

So, my recommendation is to use this dish as an excuse to have yet another festive meal, and as a way to make memories with loved ones in the kitchen.

The Recipe:

Filling

  • 4 cups baked sweet potatoes (4 medium sweet potatoes)- lightly mashed
  • 1 cup regular, granulated white sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten

Topping

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/3 cup softened margarine

Preheat oven to 350.

For the filling, add all filling ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Stir till combined. Empty this mixture into an oven safe casserole dish.

For the topping, add all topping ingredients to a smaller mixing bowl. My mother uses two butter knives to cut the margarine into the other ingredients with a crisscrossing motion. I have achieved the same results just staring with a spoon when she isn’t looking. The stirring method is personal choice. Once the topping is combined, sprinkle (don’t press) the crumbly mixture on top of the sweet potato mixture in the casserole dish.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Let cool slightly, but serve while warm.

*The recipe can be mixed and added to the casserole dish and kept in the refrigerator overnight to be baked the next day.

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Before…
After!

Enjoy!

A Cake Pattern…or Recipe for Party Success 

Confession: my name is Erica Marchbanks, and I’m moderately addicted to patterns.  I love bright, cheerful, repeated designs. The more pattern, the better! My mom thinks it’s precious, my sister thinks I need help, but I just think about Lilly Pulitzer…and sometimes Vera Bradley…which sometimes gets me in trouble.

To be specific about my love of pattern, blue & yellow based motifs are pretty great, green & pink are even better, but I’m a major sucker for any shade of blue & red/coral images splashed across whatever product you may be selling. For instance, I’ve gone so far as to call Lilly’s She She Shells “my pattern.”

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Photo credit: The Juice Stand Blog

So, it’s no surprise I was quite smitten with Vera Bradley’s Marina Paisley a few years ago. I looked at the magazine, spied that pattern, and marched myself straight into the Saddle Creek Vera store, determined to purchase something great.  This would all be well & good if I had chosen something even slightly useful…but alas, that was not true.

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I bought a recipe holder. Ok, well, maybe it would be useful for other people, but at the time my cooking skills were sub par, and I didn’t have five special, go-to recipes to my name. What was I to do? My recipe holder was so beautiful. I had chosen one where my favorite part of the pattern was front and center (a vital part of shopping for the pattern lover). It was clearly the best, not overly expensive object in the store. It was looking great in its new home. I had to keep it. I just decided it would have to look nice empty. So I called my grandmother, a fellow pattern lover, to tell her all about my new recipe book.

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It was just the phone call I needed (how do grandmothers always know what to do?). Along with patterns, my grandmom shares my love of chocolate. She offered me her favorite Kahlua cake recipe to add to my new organizer and told me she would love a piece of cake if I wanted to try the recipe that night.  I tried the recipe, & to my surprise, it really was easy and delicious!   I brought my grandmother half the cake, and carried some to a friend’s birthday party.  Everyone asked how to make this dessert. I was on a roll! The first recipe in the booklet was now my go-to recipe! I couldn’t thank my grandmom enough!

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Over the last few years, I have brought this cake to many events, & with different garnishes, it has fit every occasion! Somehow, following my seemingly silly interests melded with a little grandmotherly magic and mixed into a cake for any party.

So without further ado….

Here’s the recipe for

My Grandmother’s (Very Easy) Kahlua Cake:

Ingredients:                                                                                                                        

(Remember, it’s tasty. I didn’t say healthy.)

 1 box               Duncan Hines Devil’s Food Cake mix                                                                

1 small box   Jello brand instant chocolate pudding mix                                                      

2 cups             Sour Cream                                                                                                                

4                       Eggs

3/4 cups        Vegetable Oil

1/2 cups        Kahlua

6 oz                  Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips

 

Directions:

 Mix everything except chocolate chips. 

Mix in chocolate chips. 

Pour into a greased bunt pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

 

Decorate for the occasion if you want to….mine isn’t that beautiful, but looks aren’t everything…it’s perfect as it is.

Cake…just don’t take it to a party I’m going to…unless you want double the Kahlua cake!

Enjoy,                                                                                                                   

Erica