Goodbye 2013. It’s Been Bittersweet.

2013 has been a rocky year for a lot of us. For me, the year started with child custody hearings, followed closely by losing a job with a company that I had been with for close to ten years. All of this happening during a struggling economy when decent paying jobs are still hard to come by.

On the flip side of that coin, I’ve been going through a bit of self discovery:

  • I’ve learned that I’m pretty darned good at baking bread.
  • I’m rediscovering writing, something that I haven’t done much of since high school.
  • I’m learning more and more about gardening, both veggies and flowers.
  • I’ve gotten to spend more time at home with family, something I couldn’t do working retail.
  • I’ve been able to learn a bit more about my extended family via Facebook.

Yep, 2013 had its good points and bad points, and when it comes down to it, I’ve enjoyed and valued the time that I’ve had here at home.

Had I the talent eloquence of author Neil Gaiman, I’d put this wish into my own words and send it out to each and every one of you, but no one says it better than he. Tonight, I send you the same wish that he wished his friends and fans over a decade ago:

Gaiman“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” 

(If you’ve never read any of Neil Gaiman’s work, I highly suggest starting with The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The man is an utter genius with the pen.)

Happy New Year friends. I sincerely hope it’s a wonderful year for all of us, but however it turns out great or otherwise, endeavor to make it yours.  

Be safe, and I’ll see y’all again in 2014. 🙂

An Update On My Crinum ‘Cecil Houdyshel’ Bulbs

Crinum 'Cecil Houdyshel' Bulb

Crinum ‘Cecil Houdyshel’ Bulb

cri·num – [krahy-nuhm] noun

Any of the tropical and subtropical bulbous plants constituting the genus Crinum, of the amaryllis family, usually having umbels of large, showy flowers.  – Dictionary.com

I’ve been out washing and separating the Crinum bulbs this morning. I ended up with about 30 bulbs ranging in size from 1″ to 4″ across, all from 4 clumps of bulbs dug up last week. 🙂

As far as I can tell, Crinums were introduced to the United States in the late 1700’s. They were brought over from tropical Asia and southern Africa were primarily found around old southern plantations, (leading me to believe they were quite expensive at the time). Some speculate that they were brought over on slave ships since the Crinum is used in traditional African medicine in Africa and here in the U.S.

There are only about 180 species of Crinum, and some grow up to seven feet tall. Most will only grow in the frost-free South, but I’ve come across successful experiments where these have grown and flowered successfully as far north as New York.

Crinums can be propagated from seeds, from offsets from the main bulb, or from bulb cuttings. They should be grown in sandy soil with plenty of compost. (Sandy soil is something we’ve got a lot of here in my part of North Carolina!)

Upon reading more about Crinums, I’ve found that they currently range in price (on the internet) from about $20 for a small bulb to $40 for a large “bloomer”, and are very rarely offered commercially anymore. In other words, don’t expect to find these at your local Lowes or Home Depot. Now knowing this, I’ve decided to keep a few of these out for trading purposes. 🙂

Criminy! What Big Crinums!

IMAG0373

Huge Crinum Bulbs in Walmart Sacks

It’s obviously the wrong time of year to transplant iris and daylilies, but necessity is a cruel goddess sometimes. My brother has been renting a small piece of land the last couple of years to grow bulbs and daylilies on, and has specialized in the older, harder to find cultivars. Now, the owner has called in the lease, and Doug has to have everything dug up and out of there by the end of the month. After that, everything gets bush-hogged and bulldozed. (More on the history of this daylily farm at a later date).

Over the last couple of weeks, while digging, I’ve been entertained by the names given to these cultivars. Names like Nightwing, Paradise Princess, and Primal Scream to name just a few.

Last week when we were out there, Doug took me over to the last row, next to the neighbor’s fence. Once there, he shoved a garden fork into the ground and levered up the largest bulbs I had ever seen. These bulbs were anywhere from 3 to 5 inches across and weighed up to 5 pounds each!

crinum cecil houdyshel

Crinum “Cecil Houdyshel”
Image from jenksfarmer.com

These huge bulbs turned out to be crinum lilies (related to amaryllis) and can grow to be about four feet tall and bloom repeatedly throughout the summer. Since they’re originally from tropical Africa and Asia, they’re primarily a hot weather plant grown mostly in the deep south and Texas. This variety, “Cecil Houdyshel”, is a light pink and is hardy as far north as here in North Carolina.

I’ve been reading up on crinum since I brought these home, and have learned, among other things, that they don’t like to be disturbed, and that they can take a couple of years to “settle in” to their new space before they’ll start blooming again.

Oh well. I’ll still put in a new bed in the next couple of days devoted to them, and look forward to having those rare beautiful blooms sometime in the next couple of years. Until then, I have about thirty-six varieties of daylily and untold numbers of iris to find homes for here in the yard. I think that will keep me busy enough for now. 🙂

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Died and Went to Heaven Chocolate Cake

Yum!

Yum!

So, I was hungry for something sweet and chocolaty yesterday and, as a type 2 diabetic, I’m pretty limited on what I can eat that will satisfy those particular cravings. There are several cookie recipes out there that are sugar free, but cakes? 

Not so much.

Enter the Splenda website. It’s chock full of sugar-free recipes, and the ones that I’ve tried aren’t bad at all. I settled on this recipe and wasn’t disappointed! Sweet, chocolaty, and moist. Almost brownie-like. And very, VERY satisfying. 🙂

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IMAG0362Died and Went to Heaven Chocolate Cake

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
  • 1/2 cup SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot strong black coffee

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 10 cup bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray, and set aside.
  2. Blend flour, SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener, SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt in large mixing bowl.
  3. Combine buttermilk, oil, eggs, vanilla extract, and coffee in a small bowl.
  4. Add flour to mixture, using an electric mixer on medium speed, mix until smooth (about 2 minutes). (Any batter comes out smoother when you add dry ingredients to wet ingredients rather than wet to dry.)
  5. Pour batter into cake pan or bundt pan.
  6. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until an inserted toothpick in center of cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes.

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You can find the original recipe for this cake, as well as nutrition information, here. Enjoy! 🙂

Historic Photos of My Home Town, Fuquay Varina, NC

Old Fuquay Springs postcard. This would have been facing south on Main Street. Fuquay Springs, NC

Old Fuquay Springs postcard. This would have been facing south on Main Street.
Fuquay Springs, NC

The Story of Fuquay-Varina
Fuquay-Varina, first known as “Piney Woods,” acquired her unusual names from the fates of history.  Among the early land grant families were the Burts, Joneses and Rowlands, but it was a French veteran of the Revolutionary War named William Fuquay who moved his family to the exact site, purchasing 1000 acres of Jones Land in 1805.

While plowing a field, circa 1858, William’s son Stephen or grandson David Crockett uncovered a mineral spring.  “Taking the waters” became an attraction for people with all types of physical ailments, leading to the annual celebrations at the spring on Easter Monday and the Fourth of July.  Conveniently, the early timber rail provided a ready means of transportation while hotels, catering to long term visitors, surrounded the spring.

During the “War for Southern Independence,” a young soldier named Ballentine, born just south of the spring, received morale-boosting letters signed with the pen name “Varina.”  He later looked up the Fayetteville lady, married her and brought her to live at his homeplace. Continuing to call her Varina, he named his post office and mercantile establishment across from the mineral spring for her.  When two timber rail lines crossed nearby, “Varina Station” was born.

In the early 1900’s tobacco farmers, fleeing the Granville wilt devastating their crops, began migrating into Southern Wake County.  Their “golden weed” fostered a large commercial tobacco market.  Railroads flourished and traffic flowed along Main Street in Fuquay Springs and around the Broad Street station, now known simply as Varina.

Fuquay Springs, incorporated in 1909, joined the neighboring community of Varina in 1964 as one municipality.

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Below are some of the pictures of early Fuquay Varina that I’ve collected over the years. Most were collected during the years that I owned Lazy Lion Used Books on South Main Street.

If you have any pictures of either early Fuquay Springs or early Varina that you would like to share, please feel free to email me at m.gregoryhill@gmail.com

Fuquay Springs, NC – Early 1900’s

Fuquay Springs Postcard – 1920’s

Downtown Varina, NC – 1920’s

Sharecropper’s Children – 1935

Elliot’s Pharmacy Over The Years

Johnson’s Drugstore – South Main Street

Looking North on Main Street

Old Fuquay Theatre on South Main Street

Bank of Fuquay in the 1940’s

Waiting For the Parade

Parade on South Main Street – 1950’s

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There will be more photos coming. Just keep checking back. There is a link in the menu at the top right of the blog that will house these photos as I add them.

Enjoy. 🙂

Almond Breakfast Crumb Cake

Moist cake loaded with almond flavor and a sweet, crunchy, crumbly top is guaranteed to make everyone in the house dash to the breakfast table. This cake is simple to make and delivers a triple dose of almond using almond paste, almond extract, and crunchy sliced almonds.

Moist cake loaded with almond flavor and a sweet, crunchy, crumbly top is guaranteed to make everyone in the house dash to the breakfast table. This cake is simple to make and delivers a triple dose of almond using almond paste, almond extract, and crunchy sliced almonds.

I was cruising blogs this morning and came across this recipe on CutterLight. Oh man! It looked so good, I had to bring it over here and share! 🙂

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So, you’ve finished eating all ten polar bear claws and your appetite for almond flavored breakfast pastries is still not sated. You dip your finger into the leftover half-can of almond paste and quickly realize that this product is not intended to be eaten straight. The solution? Almond breakfast crumb cake. The beauty of this cake is that it can be eaten anytime, but since it has breakfast in the title there is no guilt about eating a slice or two first thing in the morning with your coffee. Or drizzle it with a berry syrup for a scrumptious dessert.

Almond Breakfast Crumb Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • dash salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup almond paste
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • crumb topping (see below)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.
  3. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
  4. In bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter and almond paste. Beat on medium speed until smooth.
  5. Add sugar and mix until blended.
  6. Add eggs, vanilla and almond extract and mix until blended.
  7. Add half of the flour mixture and milk. Mix until blended.
  8. Add remainder of flour mixture and mix just until blended.
  9. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  10. Sprinkle crumb topping evenly over top of batter.
  11. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 50 minutes.
  12. Let cool completely in pan on wire rack.
  13. Store at room temperature.

Crumb Topping Ingredients

  • 6 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp melted unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sliced almonds

Crumb Topping Directions

  1. Stir together first three ingredients.
  2. Add melted butter and stir mixture together until crumbly.
  3. Stir in almonds until mixed well.
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Many thanks to Barbra and Jack from CutterLight for allowing me to share this here. Bon appetit!

Fixing My Broken Hobart KitchenAid K5-A Stand Mixer

IMAG0241I got up this morning and, over coffee, hopped on the internet to search once again for a fix for my broken stand mixer. As I related in a previous post, I picked this mixer up at a local yard sale for five bucks. It came with the paddle, whisk, dough hook, and the can opener (not pictured) that hooks to the front. It was dirty with years of kitchen grease, but I saw the Hobart name on it and realized I was looking at classic quality. I also knew that the finish was baked enamel and all that grease would clean off nicely. The lady running the sale looked all over for the meat grinder that she was going to include with it (keep in mind we’re only talking five bucks!) before one of her neighbors casually mentioned that she had high-graded bought it earlier and had already taken it home.

Man, I would have loved to have had that meat grinder. But I digress.

Upon getting it home, Mary took it apart and did a great job of cleaning and shining until it looked like new. The problem came in when I got up a few mornings later, wanting to try my hand at making bread for the first time, and, rather than waiting for Mary to put it back together, went ahead and did it myself.

I got all the ingredients in the 5-quart mixing bowl, turned it on and…nothing. Nada. Zilch. It wouldn’t even power up. I disconnected the bowl from the mixer and proceeded to do it all by hand.

Finally, this morning, after searching a couple other times as well, I found the fix! When I had hastily put things back together, I didn’t realize that the brushes had to go back in a certain way. Heck, I didn’t even know they were brushes. Without them in correctly, the motor won’t even power up. So, if you’ve pulled the same bone-headed stunt, below is a description of how to fix this.

IMAG0249You’ll need a medium sized regular screwdriver. Look for a large plastic screw on the side of the mixer head. This is the brush cap. Behind the brush cap is a small metal bushing that holds the spring in place. There will be one set on each side.

 

IMAG0250Slowly unscrew the brush cap and be ready to catch the cap and bushing when you take the screwdriver away. There’s a spring behind this cap, and if you’re not prepared, the brush cap and bushing will go flying off. (Does this sound like advice learned from experience? Good…you catch on quick.)

 

IMAG0251Carefully pull the brush cap and the bushing behind it out and set it aside. I found that the curved surface at the bottom of your mixer (where your mixing bowl sets) is a great place to put these.

 

 

IMAG0252You will have an exposed spring left after pulling the bushing and brush cap off.

 

 

 

IMAG0253Grasp the spring carefully and pull it straight out. At the end of the spring will be the brush.

Important!:If this is your first time pulling this out, be sure and make note which way it was setting in the square opening. One of the corners of the brush is cut off, and it’s very important that it go back in correctly. If you install them wrong they will not go all the way in and will not contact the armature and the mixer will not run.

If, like me, you’ve taken them out and didn’t make note of which way to put it back in, you can still put them back in correctly, which I’ll describe in a moment.

Take this time to inspect the brushes. Sometimes, they get caked up with flour and will cause your mixer to run badly  or not at all. If this is the case, clean the curved end of the brush with a flat knife (like a pocket knife) taking care not to scratch the surface. Reinsert the brushes, taking care to put them in the same way they came out, and reverse the process of dis-assembly.

If you didn’t make note beforehand, it’s a little trickier. Insert the brush into the square opening. Pull it back out, turn it one quarter and insert it again. Repeat this until you find that when you insert it, it goes in about a quarter inch farther than previously. This is the position you want. Insert the bushing into the plastic brush cap and put it all back together. Repeat this whole process for the other side of the mixer.

Plug it in and, if all went right, your mixer will be running as good as new! As for me, I took some butter out earlier to warm to room temperature, so I’m off to make some fresh banana bread. Hope this helped! 🙂