Where’s Grandpa?…and Chocolate Depression Cake

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As does most of the rest of our country, as does most of the rest of the world, we find ourselves confined for the most part to our homes and our yards. If we follow the guidelines we have been given, we can go out for groceries, medicine, gas, and a walk in a local park or our own neighborhood.

It is during this period of “Stay Home, Save Lives” that I am so grateful for the opportunity to go out into the natural world. It is during this moment that I am so grateful to be able to connect with family members on various social media platforms. Nature and family…my two favorite things. And that got me to thinking…

We went to our hometown conservation area the other day to look for spring. Spring is truly breaking out, so we walked and walked. I was on my way through the woods looking for wildflowers, when I turned around to see if Jim was behind me. He was, but I could not see him for a minute or so. And then, suddenly, I knew he was coming…it was his red St Louis Cardinals hat that gave him away (Oh, how I miss baseball!). And that gave me an idea for interacting with my youngest grandchildren. I sent them two pictures, and asked them to find Grandpa. It is so fun to find a way to be close to them, and give them the opportunity to respond in some sort of shared activity.

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Where’s Opa? Look for the red hat!

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Where’s Grandpa?

Since we are told we can safely go to parks and nature areas, Jim and I do so at least once or twice a week. Other days we walk in our neighborhood, or just visit our own yard. It is so nice to see spring unfolding, and new life returning. I hope you enjoy these pictures of what we have found…not too far from home.

I love encountering wildlife! These Canada Geese are a resident pair at Bray Conservaton Area. They return each and every year to build a nest and raise their goslings to the age when they are ready to strike out on their own. The little orange skipper was a special treat!

Walking in the neighborhood and in the conservation area, we find many wildflowers beginning to appear among the dry leaves of autumn and winter.

But what I love the most on these early spring walkabouts are the lichen and the mosses.

Coming home from one of our walks to a lawn full of violets just makes for a big smile and a better day…

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…and then I always feel like cooking, or baking, making some kind of treat to end a great day, no matter what the news is reporting.

Using What I Have

I go shopping once a week during the seniors hour early in the morning. Tomorrow is shopping day, so we are low on a few things…like milk. My daughter-in-law mentioned that she had made a cake with out milk or eggs called Vanilla Depression Cake. That seemed like something I could pull off, and as I looked for the ingredients I would need I found some cocoa way in the back of the cupboard. Chocolate Depression Cake, why yes, thank you very much!

During the Depression years, homemakers tried to make tasty treats for their families even when the cupboard was almost empty. Depression Cake was first developed during this very hard time for our nation. It had to put smiles on otherwise worried and distracted faces, because it is really delicious. I like to think of Depression Cake as proof that you really do not need a lot to show your love, you only need the desire to show that love to those around you…and a bit of creativity.

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Chocolate Depression Cake

A great way to make a great treat with no eggs and no flour.

Credit: Adapted from Chocolate, Chocolate, and More

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. white vinegar
  • 1/3 c. vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water
  • confectioners sugar for dusting the baked cake

Directions

  1. In the bowl of your electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt and baking soda.
  2. In another bowl, combine vanilla, vinegar, oil and water.
  3. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until completely combined and no lumps remain.
  4. Bake in a greased 8×8 pan at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  5. Allow cake to cool completely and dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Enjoy!

Remember, we are all in this together…God bless and keep each of us!

 

“We Plan Our Days, but…” and Apple Pudding

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As I was reading this rainy Saturday morning, I came upon this line from Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate,

We plan our days, but we don’t control them.

The sentence seemed to strike right at the moment in which we, and the whole wide world find ourselves in this moment of time.

We had so many plans for the coming weeks. I teach a children’s nature study at a local conservation area. We just had our first spring class…maybe our last for a while.

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I was excited about attending training early in April to become a Xerces Ambassador and help educate citizens about the importance of saving our pollinators. That training has been postponed until at least June.

We were planning on traveling to Texas to see a bucket list item…Texas Bluebonnets. That trip has been put on hold.

Meetings, church services, get-togethers among friends have been cancelled.

And Jim and I find ourselves in that vulnerable over 60 crowd. So what to do?

The simple answer is…go outside! There is no virus in the woods, nor on the prairie, or by a stream. So we go out and look for the reassurance that a new season is coming. We find those signs for which we are searching, and it lifts our spirits, clears our minds, drives away despair, puts smiles on our faces…and tires us out for a good night’s sleep!

We begin in our own backyard…

But the very best find in the yard, one rainy afternoon is our first daffodils…

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Late in the evening, the full moon out our back porch shone through the thickening clouds long enough for me to get a picture with my camera’s moon setting…

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We traveled to a local state park where we could see green coming back with almost every step we took…

Just before we were all told to stay away from places where we might encounter large groups of people, we visited one of our favorite places, Shaw Nature Reserve, near St. Louis.

It was a very cold and very gray day, but we enjoyed every single second of our time outside. We were very lucky to have made the decision to visit on Sunday, because on Monday the reserve was closed until further notice to protect its workers as well as its many visitors. We had the park nearly to ourselves, and what a joy!

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We saw signs of things to come, even tough it was so very cold…

I was really excited by finding our real reason for visiting. Each year, Shaw has literally thousands of daffodils that bloom throughout the park. The daffodils come up in the fields, they bloom on the hillsides, and they sneak out from within thick brush.They are amazing when in full bloom, and we caught them just as their bloom was beginning. The even more amazing thing this spring is that the park conducted a controlled burn. Yet, the daffodils came up…and they are blooming, even those that were temporarily damaged by the burn. Yup, there is always hope for better things to come!

The world is in crisis mode, I know, but going outside, smelling the fresh air, seeing new life, makes me sure we will weather this storm just as we have so many others.

Baking While Home-centric!

Being at home, with only parks and woods, forests and streams to visit gives one a lot of time to finish projects that have been on the shelf, sometimes, for years. It gives me time to clean…well, if I want to. And it gives me time to play with a new kitchen tool I got for Valentine’s Day and search out some new recipes in cookbooks I have wanted to explore for a long time.

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My new spiralizer, peeler, slicer!

I checked the apples that we picked last fall, and found the few we have left to still be in very good shape. So I checked for a good, new apple recipe. I found the perfect one in a book I bought from our church group some thirty years ago. The book is called Heritage of Cooking: A Collection of Recipes from East Perry County, Missouri. That is a long name given to a cookbook of favorite recipes from a group of Lutheran churches in east central Missouri. They are good old German recipes, from old German Lutheran families, like mine. This apple pudding is absolutely delicious!

Going with the theme of the present moment to do with what you have, I used some coconut sugar (not sure why I had that!) for the sauce in place of the brown sugar which I did not have, adding a half tablespoon of molasses. I am not sure if that is what gave it its deep brown color, but it was really delicious.

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Apple Pudding

Ingredients

  • 2 c. apples, peeled and cored
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1c. flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts (Missouri is famous for its black walnuts)

For the sauce:

  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. white sugar
  • 1 c. water
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Directions

Allow sugar and apples to stand until sugar is dissolved. Add egg and beat. Stir dry ingredients together and mix with apples and sugar. Add walnuts. Bake in greased 9″x 9″ pan for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

Note: You can double the amount of apples to make the pudding more moist. I used about 3 cups of apples.

For the sauce, bring sugars, flour, and water to a slow boil until it is slightly thickened and glossy (about 10 minutes). Add butter and vanilla and stir until smooth.

Stay safe, and enjoy!

 

How I Have Managed the Gray Winter of 2020…With Hope!

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Unlike the beautiful sunrise just outside my bedroom window, not every day this winter has been full of sunshine and hope. But when this view does appear as I sit with my first cup of coffee and whatever book I am currently reading, hope always encourages me that better things are yet to come…you just have to keep looking for the good, you have to turn off the bad, and you have to strive to do your own part to make this world a better place.

So…we just keep looking, just keep sharing, just keep going. During the Christmas season we visited our son who recently moved from Michigan to Texas. We delighted at the lights in his neighborhood. Nearly every house is lit up for the holidays, a truly memorable, and beautiful experience.

And it was my introduction to mistletoe. The only mistletoe I have ever seen is that which is found in a plastic package at the grocery store. The mistletoe, a parasitic plant that grows at the tops of primarily oak trees was so much more interesting than those packages. Seeing the “kissing ball” in its natural habitat led me to learn more about the plant itself. I love research because I love to learn about new things.

Our youngest grandchildren came from long distances to visit us before Christmas. They, with the help of their very crafty mommas, decorated our windows with snowflakes, and our dining room doorway with a garland.

One of my favorite conversations, a bit bittersweet too, came at the end of January when I went to take the garland down.

Jim: I think you can stop now!

Me: Why, it is almost February, time for hearts and cupids.

Jim: Well, I like that just where it is!

We do miss all our kids who live in five different states, but as I posted on facebook…apparently you can still come to visit our grandchildren’s art gallery on the 4th of July! And that is okay with me too.

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And we went for long walks in nature…

Winter is a marvelous time to look up into the tree tops and down onto the ground beneath your feet. Absent all the green growth of spring and summer, absent all the extraordinary color of autumn, you can see so much that you miss during those seasons. The world is an exciting place, a fantastic experience, and…well, just plain fun and exhilarating!

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Walks along our rivers, drives through the countryside, hikes in the woods, and visits to the woodland ponds always make for good days…and muddy shoes, even after I try to clean them off!…

Plants are as interesting and beautiful in winter as they are any other time of the year…

But my favorite find of the winter plant season was finally seeing a frost flower. Frost flowers can be seen in early morning after a very cold night. As the liquid inside certain plants freezes, it expands, cracks open the plant stem, oozes out, and makes these beautiful ribbons of ice. This was a really good morning!

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Without leaves on the trees, the birds are easier to see. I love the way the little woodpecker and the northern cardinal are all puffed up to stay warm. The last picture, though not a very good one, is of a yellow-rumped warbler. I had never seen one, so I just had to share it…

And then there was the armadillo who scared me way more than I scared him…

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It has been a long, gray, winter, and we found ways to experience every sunny day we had, some cloudy ones too! There have been personal challenges we had not anticipated this winter, I am not very proud of my country right now, and I sure would like the gray to go away.

But…as long as the two of us can roam the countryside together, as long as I can read and learn, as long as I can teach nature classes to young children, as long as I have family, as long as I can enjoy a sunset, there will always be hope for tomorrow. There really is no other choice but hope!

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Tortellini and Spinach in Broth

Any time we come in out of the cold, or the gray, I like to fix something simple, warm, and comforting. This tortellini in broth is just that!

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Tortellini and Spinach in a Leek Broth

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

So good on a cold, gray, day!

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 leeks, dark green tops removed
  • 5 cups vegetable or chicken stock (I use homemade turkey stock)
  • 1 package of cheese tortellini
  • a couple handfuls of chopped or baby spinach (a good way to use up a bit of leftover spinach)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. dried dill
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grated Parmesan to serve

Directions

  1. Cut the leeks lengthways, wash to remove any grit, and slice into half-moons.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and cook the leeks until softened.
  3. Add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Add tortellini and simmer until done.
  5. Throw in a couple handfuls of spinach and cook until it is wilted.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve with grated Parmesan as a garnish.

A loaf of crusty bread, lots of creamy butter, and a glass of white wine make this a great evening dinner!

Enjoy!

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

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One definition for the word “epiphany” in Merriam Webster’s dictionary is “:a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something.”
This is the twelfth day of Christmas, it is Epiphany, the day on which the whole Christian Church celebrates the showing of the baby of Christmas to all mankind as the Wise Men visit Him in Nazareth. He was two years old at the time, and Mary and Joseph had returned to their hometown with their child to carry on their real lives.
By now many of you have put away Christmas for another year, or wish you already had that job behind you. You have broken at least one of your New Year resolutions, and the kids have perhaps already lost or broken some Christmas toy or piece of it.
But I wait for this day, maybe even more than I wait for Christmas.
It is quiet, and it is peaceful in my house today (well, okay, Jim is still snoring a bit), and I am sitting here, as I do each January 6, thankful for all this season means. I absolutely love Santa, I have a collection of Santas that decorates our family room 365 days a year. But I also know and understand why we celebrate Christmas, and Santa is just another reminder. There would be no Christmas, had we no knowledge of the baby born in Bethlehem…He is the reason for the season.
So on Epiphany I think about what this season is all about, in the quiet, in the peace of my own surroundings. And I have a new epiphany of my own each and every year, a quiet awakening of what it all means, and I am grateful to be here and have the opportunity to celebrate life and love with family, with friends, and with…myself!

Flower of the Day Challenge–Each and Every Year

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Each and every year, just before Thanksgiving, my Christmas cactus blooms. It is almost magical; even my grown children are amazed at its ability to know just when to brighten the room in which I keep it…my Santa room.

When the cactus blooms, I know it is time to kick into high gear, because Christmas is just around the corner!

The World’s Biggest Library and Autumn Brussels Sprouts

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We recently took a trip to Maryland to visit our grandson…and his parents, too! Our son’s family lives about thirty miles east of Washington DC, so more often that not, we take one day of our stay to visit our nation’s capital. Our primary aim on this visit was the Library of Congress.

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The library was established on April 24, 1800, an integral part of the new nation’s move to its new capital city in Washington, DC.  At its opening, the library was housed within the Capitol building, and held a total of 740 books and three maps.

In 1814, during the War of 1812, the British burned the Capitol, and with it the Library of Congress, destroying most of its collected 3000 books. To refill the shelves, Congress appropriated the funds to purchase the library of Thomas Jefferson which contained 6,487 books, and represented a large number of  topics from many disciplines.

The library suffered another destructive fire in 1851, which destroyed all but 2,000 of the 35,000 books that had been collected following the first fire. Many of the books lost were from Jefferson’s original library.

The Library’s current building opened in 1897. Its architecture draws on the Beaux Arts style, known for its ornamentation and theatrical atmosphere. It was built to last, using marble, granite, iron, bronze and mahogany. It seems that Congress and the architects wanted to do whatever they could to avoid another disastrous fire.

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The dome of the new building is plated with 23 karat gold. The plated dome is inside the library’s Main Reading Room, open only to scheduled tours, members of Congress, and government officials.

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While we were not able to arrange a tour of the Main Reading Room, we were able to visit the library of Thomas Jefferson.

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Our grandson was so excited all day, and could hardly wait until he could see the library of his “favorite” President. As you can see by his picture, he was devastated to find that, for their own protection, all of the books in Jefferson’s library are kept behind glass.

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He perked up when he helped his dad find the books that were actually owned by Jefferson. Tabs within the books tell which are his original books, and which are replacements the library has found to replace the many that were lost in the fire. Those that have not been replaced are represented by empty white boxes bearing the name of the missing book.

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The Library of Congress is truly a national treasure, as can be seen by the pictures I could not stop taking. I have included but a few in this post…

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In 2018, the library reported holding 168,291,624 items, with its more than 90 million books held on a total of 540 miles of bookshelves, making it the largest library in the world. This number is always changing, and these are the latest figures I could find. The items in the library represent more than 450 languages.

Items in the library can be checked out only by Congress, government officials and employees of the library.

My favorite items in the library were the Gutenberg Bible, and the Waldseemüller map of 1507.

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This Bible is one of only four remaining original Bibles printed on vellum by Johann Gutenberg, and completed in 1455. The other three remaining copies are located in London, Paris, and in Gutenberg’s native country of Germany.

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In 1507, Martin Waldseemüller created this map of the world. It is the first map to depict the New World as a completely separate land mass. Waldseemüller named this new land mass “America”.

After leaving the library we walked to a nearby restaurant and had that all-American dish, pizza! I love eating in Washington, and strolling its streets just as comfortably as I walk the streets in my own hometown. But the best part is to feel how open and free we are, and can be, in this big, wide, wonderful country. We have our problems right now, but as I watched my son read to our grandson on the lawn of the Capitol, then watched as Luke did somersaults in the shadow of its governing bodies, I felt renewed hope that we will find the resolve to come back together and feel the shared pride of being Americans.

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On the Top of the Kennedy Center

For our Birthday and Christmas presents, our son and daughter-in-law sent us to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to hear the Washington DC Symphony following dinner at the Roof Terrace Restaurant atop the Center. What a magnificent evening! The acoustics in the hall were amazing,  and it was a truly special night.

The dish I had at the restaurant was salmon with Brussels sprouts in a brown butter sauce. It was amazing, so I tried to make a similar side dish at home. My recipe is slightly adapted from one I found on the Challenge Dairy site.

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Autumn Brussels Sprouts

  • Print

A delicious, easy side dish for all those holiday meals coming your way

Ingredients

  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 1/3 c. raw hazelnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 c. dried cranberries

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°
  2. Melt butter with the hazelnuts in a small pan over medium-high heat until the butter is browned and has a pleasant nutty smell, about 3-5 minutes. Watch this carefully, it can easily get too brown.
  3. Toss the Brussels sprouts, browned butter and hazelnuts, salt and pepper in a large bowl.
  4. Spread mixture on a foil lined baking sheet
  5. Roast in oven for 5 minutes.
  6. After 5 minutes, add the dried cranberries. Bake for 5 more minutes or until Brussels sprouts are tender. Don’t let them or the cranberries bake too long!
  7. Adjust the seasonings (I added more salt), sprinkle the top of the dish with about a tsp. of grated lemon rind and serve.

Enjoy!

The Glory of a Gray Autumn Day–and Autumn Pumpkin Donuts

Some autumn days seem cold, wet, and dreary…unless you put on the rain gear and walk right out into them! Or, on other days, you can wait for a break in the raindrops, then go out to enjoy the aftermath of the autumn showers. Either way, I love autumn, and I find these rainy days to be refreshing and beautiful.

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When the skies are gray, and the leaves and the earth are wet, even dripping, there is a special sparkle, a shimmer, to the natural elements. I love to look at the raindrops laying on the vibrantly colored leaves. Those colors appear different against a gray sky, making a beautiful contrast against the gray gloom.

So, on a gloomy day this week, well most of the days this past week have been gloomy, I went out to see nature. Nature always makes me more alive, and helps me see the promises ahead, after the rain, when the sun returns.

Coming in from the rain, coming into our warm house, I want only a hot cup of coffee…except on those days that I want to make it even better with a fall treat I love to make, pumpkin donuts! There is no better way to warm up than to be near a hot oven, while listening to a pot of fresh coffee brewing in the pot. Did I mention I love this time of year…even when the days are cold, wet and rainy?

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Autumn Pumpkin Donuts

I look forward to these donuts each autumn. They are baked, so technically, except for the sugar, they are better for us!

I always use pumpkins I have baked and pureed in my kitchen. That way I know it is only pumpkin, no squash added. But that is not the only reason…fresh, pureed pumpkin is just one of the special things that come out of the trip to the pumpkin patch each year. I also freeze pureed pumpkin for those times, maybe in spring, when I hanker for a taste of autumn past.

By the way, these donuts taste equally good after a beautiful, rain-free autumn day like the one we had today!

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And while this recipe makes twelve pumpkin donuts…you will find only eleven on the plate. That is because Jim grabbed one before I got the picture taken! And I thought all the kids were grown and out of the house!

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Autumn Pumpkin Donuts

  • Servings: 12 donuts
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup fresh or canned pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup flour

Directions

  1. Mix together the oil, eggs, sugar, pumpkin puree, the spices, salt, baking powder, and vanilla.
  2. Add the flour and mix completely.
  3. Fill a donut pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray, each section 3/4 full.
  4. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a donut comes out clean. Do not overbake the donuts.
  5. Cool for 5 minutes
  6. Remove the donuts from the pan, and dust them in a large plastic bag containing 3 Tbsp. sugar and 2 tsp. of cinnamon, one at a time.
  7. Let cool completely and enjoy!
  8. Store in an air tight container.

Learning History While Studying Nature…and Simple Saturday Shrimp

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I love being out in nature…climbing to the tops of hills, hiking through the woods, walking along a sandy ocean shore, or even just taking a tour in my own backyard. Recently, while visiting my sister in Florida, I had an opportunity to visit the Hernando de Soto National Memorial near Bradenton. I went planning to take a stroll through the mangroves, but was struck by its historical significance as well.

I just finished reading a book by Jack E. Davis, The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea. It reminded me of the many times I have walked the Gulf coast, and it reminded me of my trip to the mangroves at de Soto. There the history buff in me joined forces with the nature lover to learn what I could about de Soto and nature at the gulf shore.

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Hernando de Soto landed on the shore of Tampa Bay at what is now Bradenton, Florida in May of 1539. He came with between nine and eleven ships on which he had loaded somewhere around seven hundred men, two hundred twenty horses, four hundred pigs (yes, that is where all those nasty, nearly uncontrollable, wild boars came from), and about a hundred dogs of war. His purpose for coming to the American continent was for God, glory, and gold. 

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Scattered through the park are placards of the conquistadors that arrived in Florida with Hernando de Soto in 1539.

At the place where the expedition landed they found a Native American village called  Uzita. The men stayed with the natives for a while before moving on in search of riches which would, in turn, bring them power. From Uzita, de Soto and his men would go on to explore areas that are now parts of ten states in the United States, and he would meet many more Native American tribes.

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The de Soto site has a recreated Uzita village.

The legacy of Hernando de Soto in North America is not a good one. He had been tasked with making Christians out of the “heathen” natives. But instead, he mistreated the Native Americans he met. In addition to cruel treatment, he had many natives killed, and forced many others into slavery. His expedition also brought disease to a people who had no immunity to illnesses they had never encountered. Thousands died, and later settlers coming to America, such as the Pilgrims and the settlers of Jamestown found nearly empty villages which had once been occupied by proud native people. He never realized the glory he sought because he never found the gold that would bring him favor and influence.

But there is more to Hernando de Soto National Memorial than the sad story of European exploration in the New World. There is the natural side of the memorial, and that was my favorite side…

Walking the trails through the park, you find yourself in a tropical mangrove forest.

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Red Mangroves are tropical trees which grow around the world from 25 degrees S to 25 degrees N, though that might change a bit as climate change deepens. They look more like thick impregnable bushes than trees, but can reach a height of 70 feet and a breadth of 20 feet. They have been around for thousands of years, long before any human set foot on the sandy soil of the Florida intertidal zone.

Mangrove forests are habitat for many coastal animals. They serve as nurseries for young fish, and nesting places for the birds of the Florida coast.

As we began to understand the climate change threats to our planet, we also began to understand how very important these wild, unmanageable trees are to the future of our warming world.

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The mangrove is an edge plant…it lives at the edge of two habitats. in the ecotone. In Florida, mangroves live at the edge where the land meets the salty sea.  They are, in fact, the only tree in the world that can tolerate salt. Mangroves build the coast line, keeping the sand from eternally washing out to sea. There are actually tiny islands out in the Gulf that are nothing more than large clumps of mangrove forest. They can hold back storm surge, and they can break large waves as they crash into shore. You might say they are a natural sea wall! 

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These thick and tangled mangrove roots hold the coastal soil in place. They are important in alleviating erosion on our rapidly changing coastlines.

But possibly the most important characteristic of a mangrove tree is its ability to capture and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They are ten times more effective in storing carbon dioxide than any other tropical forest plant anywhere in the world. They are important to the future of the planet,  yet they have been endangered by the draining of wetlands, and the clearing of land for man-made construction projects.

Efforts have begun in the state of Florida to replant some of the mangroves that have been lost. De Soto park has joined this effort.

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Young mangrove sprouts like the ones above are being planted along the shoreline to help reestablish a healthy forest. I saw many newly planted mangrove trees on my visit. The mangrove plant below is full of brown seeds that produce the root spikes that will fall and float in the water until they find a suitable place to settle and take root.

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The mangrove forest is full of wonderful sights and sounds, and it is important to future generations who will be working to combat a changing climate in a changing world.

Simple Saturday Shrimp

When I think of the Gulf Coast I think of shrimp, and …

Saturdays around our house are often very busy, but just as often they are lazy days of relaxing, watching sports, and reading. On Saturdays it is hard to get me excited about spending a lot of time in the kitchen! One of our favorite Saturday night dinners is Simple Saturday Shrimp. It is easy, and really requires very little in the way of a recipe.

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Place the number of shrimp you will be serving into a baking dish in which the shrimp can lay in a single layer. Make a butter sauce with a quarter cup of melted butter, some minced garlic, salt, pepper, a few red pepper flakes, and the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Pour the sauce over the shrimp and bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Serve with some fresh home-made bread for soaking up all that butter sauce…and enjoy!

…a Few of My Favorite Things

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My swamp milkweed are finally blooming…

they are over eight feet tall…

now I anxiously await the monarchs…

but welcome others in the meantime!

 

My post this week for Six Word Saturday

Life During the Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder…and Laura’s Gingerbread Cake

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Most of us have heard the saying, “May you live in interesting times”. Well, the truth is, most every one who has ever lived, no matter how long or short a time, has indeed lived through interesting times. When I was teaching I always tried to make my students aware of how life is chock-full of interesting events not only in their own backyards, but further out into their neighborhoods, their nation, as well as in the big, wide, wonderful world they could hardly even imagine. We hear of some of those events, and many of them go unnoticed.

As I taught history, in the lower elementary grades we call it social studies, I tried always to impress on the students that what we were learning about did not happen in a vacuum. I wanted them to understand how events in one part of the world had impacts on other parts of the world as well. When the printing press was invented in Germany, not only Germans benefited. Rather, the invention of the printing press helped create a whole new world citizenry, one that was better informed, one that was better able to inform.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House” books was born in 1867 in the “big woods” of Pepin, Wisconsin. She died in 1957 at the age of 90 in Mansfield, Missouri, the town where she had created a home with her husband, Almonzo.  Her life was long, and full of so many experiences, some that had dramatic and lasting affect on her life, and some that barely registered at her home in the big woods, or on the prairie, or in the Ozarks of the Missouri.

I recently wrote two posts on Laura for this blog, and as I was looking through the books I have about Wilder, her books, and her life, I came across one, The World of Little House, by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson, that spoke to the idea of…so, what else was happening while the little house books were happening. The authors present a timeline of events during the life of Laura, and it is indeed amazing to take a look at the events that happened in her one lifetime.

I have tried to put together a collection of some of those events and happenings, and have added some of the pictures I have taken to commemorate them as I have lived my own life, experiencing my own world, its past, and its present as we look into the amazing events yet to come.

When Laura was growing up, her family traveled by wagon…

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Picture of a typical wagon that would have traveled across the Kansas prairie.

But Laura was alive when Henry Ford introduced the first American automobile, the Model T, and by the end of her life she would have seen the “car” change in so many ways…

There are many inventions that debuted during Laura’s life, inventions that we cannot even think of living without…

The first telephone appeared in 1876, first phonograph in 1877. Doctors were better able to diagnose injuries with the invention of the X-ray in 1896, and Jonas Salk introduced the first vaccine to guard against polio in 1954. Don Juan, the first talkie movie debuted in 1925, and Jim Henson created the first Muppet, Kermit the Frog, in 1955. The first ice cream soda appeared in 1874, and one of my favorites, Coke (served in the original 7 oz. bottle), was first served in 1886. And Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first plane at Kitty Hawk in 1903, changing travel, already made more accessible by the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 and the automobile earlier, forever. Laura was alive in 1932 when Amelia Earhart made her famous solo flight across the Atlantic in 1934.

Laura also saw the first Montgomery Ward catalog house built in 1871, along with the first performance of the Barnum and Bailey Circus in that same year. The Burpee Co. sent out its first seed catalog in 1878, and we know from her writings that Laura loved looking through them each year as she planned her garden. The first American zoo opened in Philadelphia in 1874.

Laura saw the territory where her parents lived out their lives, South Dakota, gain statehood in 1889. She was living in South Dakota when, in 1884, oil was discovered in Independence, Kansas, not far from where she had spent some of her childhood. Indeed, twenty-three wells would eventually surround the area of the little house on the prairie.

The little house books present a picture of Native Americans that is not to be lauded. Most settlers were afraid of the Native Americans and events involving these natives did not encourage them to change their minds. This was a nation, a population, in the midst of peopling a continent, of bettering their own lives by, they believed, bettering the land. Their purposes, their industriousness, their land hunger did not bode well for the people who had been here for centuries before their arrival.

In 1868, the Osage signed a treaty selling their Kansas lands to settlers for $1.25 an acre. In 1870, Congress forced the Osage to abandon all their land in the territory. Laura was only a toddler when these events took place, but they would play a major role in the life of her family as they moved around the new American heartland.

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The Osage are considered the indigenous tribe of my own state of Missouri. Just outside Cuba, Missouri, a memorial has been erected to honor these people who had come before. As they lived and moved around the area, they made trails, their own “highways”. Eventually those paths were paved over and became the concrete highways of mid-America. Where this memorial stands, US 66 became one of the most fabled highways in America. Just next to the memorial is Interstate 44 which replaced a large portion of the iconic Route 66.

 One wonders what went through the Ingalls’s minds as they learned of the Battle of Little Bighorn and the fate there of General Custer and his Seventh Cavalry in 1876. Or what might Laura have thought when news of the Battle of Wounded Knee reached her in 1890.

Laura lived through the Administrations of  seventeen presidents, from Andrew Johnson to Dwight Eisenhower. She lived through the era of Prohibition beginning in 1919, and she and Almonzo suffered from the effects of the Stock Market crash in 1929. She would have joined other women of the day in rejoicing at the passage of the 19th Amendment giving voting rights to women in 1920.

In 1885, when Laura was 18 years old, the Washington Monument was dedicated. Just a year later, she would have celebrated along with the rest of the country when the Statue of Liberty found its home in New York Harbor. She witnessed the building of the Empire State Building in 1931, at the time the tallest building in the world.

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A bucket list item…the Washington Monument seen among the cherry blossoms that bloom each spring in Washington, DC.

Laura lived through four wars, the Spanish American War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War. She would have felt the same shock as all Americans when an American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese, bringing the United States into the Second World War, and she would have wept with all the world when the war ended with the American bombing of Hiroshima in Japan. She would have found hope, as did all the world, at the founding of the United Nations in 1945, dedicating itself to the promise of finding peaceful solutions to world problems and aggression.

And last, but not to be left out, some of the books that were published during Laura’s lifetime, many of which are my favorites. The years between 1867 and 1957 saw the publication of such great books as Little Women, the Wizard of Oz, Huckleberry Finn, Anne of Green Gables, Gone with the Wind, The Great Gatsby, Grapes of Wrath, Charlotte’s Web, The Death of a Salesman, and two that every child today knows and loves, The Cat in the Hat, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

What a full life was Laura’s. What an exciting time to be alive, as a nation moved out, matured, and took its place in the wider world. What lessons to be learned from a nation’s inevitable growing pains.

May we all live in interesting times!

Laura’s Gingerbread Cake

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One of Laura’s favorite recipes was for Gingerbread Cake. Here it is as I found it at the Epicurious website. I made it just as it was written. Laura often liked to serve this really delicious gingerbread with chocolate frosting. Jim and I love gingerbread with whipped cream, so that is how we enjoyed Laura’s Gingerbread.

Laura's Gingerbread Cake

  • Servings: 9
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. solid shortening
  • 1 c. molasses
  • 2 tsps. baking soda
  • 1 c. boiling water
  • 3 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Directions

  1. Blend sugar and shortening in a bowl. Mix in molasses.
  2. In second bowl, add baking soda to boiling water, and mix well.
  3. In third bowl, sift flour and spices together.
  4. Combine sugar-molasses mixture with flour mixture and baking soda-water liquid. Mix well.
  5. Pour into a greased 9×9 baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean wen inserted into center of gingerbread.

Enjoy!