Saturday, December 17, 2022

Calling Gladys Taber Fans (A book by her daughter and some Christmas at my house)


There was another side to our dear Connecticut countrywoman. For a time she lived in the biggest city of all, New York City where she taught at Columbia University. Oh, to have been a student of Creative Writing with Gladys Taber for a teacher!

Her only child, daughter Constance Taber Colby, despite growing up in Southbury, Connecticut, raised her two daughters in Manhattan.

 The View from Morningside, One Family's New York, published in 1978, is the story of the riches that the City That Never Sleeps offers for children. For Constance's girls, who early on fell in love with the subject of Tudor England the way some children fall in love with a sport, New York was rich with resources for their passion. 

 Interested in the Tudor period? For Colby's daughters there was the Metropolitan Museum, the Morgan Library, the New York Public Library, the Cloisters, Renaissance concerts all over town, Renaissance dance at Lincoln Center, Elizabethan cookery at Riverside Church, and the New York City Ballet.


As Colby's daughter Anne says in the book, "living in New York was the next best thing to living in London."


For fans of Gladys Taber, her daughter's book is not to be missed. For those who love New York this book should be fascinating, including those who like me have never been there. 

I'm definitely more of a Country Mouse than a City Mouse. I live in a 1935 cottage in what was once farmland outside of Nashville, Tennessee.

Before that I lived for twenty-six years in a 1920 farmhouse where sausage once hung in the smokehouse. I love the country!

In this house I'm enveloped by old board paneling that calls for country style.

But the older I get the more I lean toward what goes with the first true antique RH and I purchased as newlyweds.

 An 1800s Staffordshire Blue Willow ironstone platter.



There's not anything more country than Blue Willow and it's just as comfortable in a humble cottage as in a Georgetown townhome dressed to the nines with Chinoiserie.

Speaking of Chinoiserie, I think a touch of it looks well on our eighteen year old Ethan Allen red leather sofa. So does BreeBree, don't you think?


Here is a Christmas pillow I found on Etsy with a red amaryllis in a blue and white cachepot. The front is like a hooked wool rug, the back a velvety fabric, with zipper and quality insert. 

It's fancy but is perfect with an old wool tartan throw from Canada.

I will keep it out through winter and must get a picture of it with our Black Pearl amaryllis from White Flower Farm, which won't bloom until after Christmas anyway, as it did last year when I could not get the lighting in this picture to accurately show the rich dark red. 

If you're interested in Constance Taber Colby's book on raising a family in Manhattan, you can find copies of The View from Morningside, One Family's New York for under $10 online, unless you'd rather pay $43 for it on Amazon. I wouldn't!

Any thoughts on whether you would be up for raising a family in a big city? Cons and pros?

Are you ready for Christmas? I need at least another month!

[I do appreciate every comment you leave! For some reason I can no longer publish comments from my phone even though I've signed in and out from Google over and over trying to. I have to go to my laptop in order to publish them so sometime I'm delayed in getting to it. And emails about new posts from me are no longer being sent out and sometime after Christmas I will try to figure out what to do instead. Thanks for your patience!] 


Friday, December 16, 2022

Coconut Cake, Top of the List, Almost


No, we haven't had snow yet. I made this coconut cake when we had a beautiful snowfall on January 3, 2022 because it just didn't get made before Christmas of 2021.

But I'm thinking back to November of 2020--you remember that year, don't you? The year the world shut down and many of us had Thanksgiving in our house, alone?

That November I started watching every new Hallmark Christmas movie premier. Religiously. It had been that kind of a year.


I even kept a pen and notebook nearby and titled a list--"What Hallmark Movies Taught Me About Christmas."

Top of the list was...Baking is good!

Fruitcake is top of my baking list (my White Fruitcake with no citron posted here "Stir Up Sunday") 

Coconut Cake is not far behind. 

 One of my favorite childhood Christmas memories is of Mama making her Coconut Cake with lemon filling on Christmas Eve and it being refrigerated overnight and eaten cold on Christmas Day.

It was a serious project requiring Daddy's help in poking an ice pick into the eyes of the fresh coconut to save the coconut water to pour over the warm cake layers, tediously removing the shell from the meat, and finally grating the coconut meat, sometimes resulting in scraped knuckles. 


It was a cake straight from heaven!

Foolishly neglecting to secure Mama's recipe before she left us for her heavenly home, I've tried several recipes. One was very good and also very time consuming:

See my post Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal here!

I finally found a recipe that was very close to Mama's in Eugene Walters, American Cooking: Southern Style, a Time Life book and a fascinating history of Southern cooking.

I have four cookbooks from the Alabama author, who I "met" through Pat Conroy's cookbook. He taught me never to use the black dust that you put in salt and pepper shakers, that the essential oils in peppercorns help with digestion when freshly ground. Although RH still demands his black dust.

I wish I could link to Mr. Walter's recipe for Coconut Cake with Lemon Filling but it's not online. I will link to a recipe I substituted for his frosting recipe that required me to boil to 239 degrees. I found one at It was delicious even though not like Mama's. Maybe hers was whipped cream based?  But I did make Eugene's recipe for cake instead of the one at add a pinch--those 8 eggs separated won me over--and I am going to put his recipe for lemon filling at the bottom of the post because it's become my foolproof go-to recipe for that. 


Full Disclaimer: I did not buy a fresh coconut and poke out his eyes! Despite using Baker's coconut flakes the frosting was excellent. It was one of those times when we didn't see any family to share my baking with so eventually the remains went to the birds. 


Take my word for it, RH had hardly turned around and all our resident crows and bluejays were fighting over their dessert of the day. 

Eugene Walters Lemon Filling:

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/4 inch bits

2 tablespoons finely grated fresh lemon peel

2/3 cup strained fresh lemon juice [I did not strain it]

1 cup water

Combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt and 2 beaten eggs in a heavy 2 quart saucepan and mix well with a wire whisk or wooden spoon. Stir in the butter bits, lemon peel, lemon juice, and water. When all ingredients are well blended, set pan over high heat.

Stirring the filling mixture constantly, bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately reduce heat to low and continue to stir until the filling is smooth and thick enough to coat the spoon heavily. Scrape the filling into a bowl with a spatula, and let it cool to room temperature.

What's top of your baking list for Christmas?






Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Our Thanksgiving Day

 Oh dear, looks as if I'm once again slipping in an only post for the month at the tail end of the month. This November calendar page is too pretty not to share.

I know Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. is over and Christmas in our friendly skies of social media has long begun but I'll stop to record our Thanksgiving Day and then try to get with the program.

Our Thanksgiving Day:

There were lots of dishes to wash, even for dinner for two. This was not the year for the clan to gather, due to one thing or another. 

I made buttermilk biscuits to go with our breakfast and saved four of them for my cornbread dressing, making the cornbread the day before and thawing out a few slices of sourdough bread. And my cranberry sauce was waiting in the fridge. 

After breakfast I made the pies up quickly. Pecan, an old favorite recipe that doesn't call for any corn syrup, only a pound of brown sugar, 3 eggs beaten, 2 eggshells of milk, a big splash of vanilla, some salt and lots of pecans. And a chess pie, of course, RH taking some of both to share with family. 

Next we put a turkey breast in to roast, but used my old Bon Appetit recipe where I baste the turkey with a mixture of maple syrup and Calvados. Then I mixed up the cornbread dressing (the onions, celery, and parsley chopped after breakfast) and popped it into the oven as soon as the turkey came out, adding in the drippings from that.

I ended up deleting all my food pictures I was going to use here because, well they were just food, but have to show you my dressing because it was so pretty this year. And so delicious!

We really fudged on the rest of the meal, no homemade rolls, only a partial package of Bridgport rolls in the back of the freezer that I put out to rise after breakfast, brushing them with butter and sprinkling celery salt on them. Try that on your rolls sometime!

There were no family casseroles, something that would have been unthinkable in the old days. I didn't even have the energy left to put the fresh asparagus I'd bought into the oven. By afternoon I did well just to set the table for our Thanksgiving for two.

My vintage damask tablecloth with beautiful pheasants on it was left hanging in the closet and two placemats went on the table instead.

But my very old Spode dinner plates were a given. Here's a good picture of them.

Aren't they gorgeous? I found 11 plates of them on eBay over fifteen years ago. Oh wait, here's a picture of the damask cloth and the plates where I set the Thanksgiving table many years ago at Valley View!

And another year there when some of our children must have been dining with the in-laws so a smaller table was set in my kitchen. Looks like a pumpkin tablecloth was used that year.

 Now I'm going all mushy missing those days at Valley View and the kids that sat around the table. Must get back to our 2022 table au deux.

I simply must point out my favorite autumn glasses with pheasants. I dearly love them!

And the cranberry sauce went into the two little bouillon cups that I saved from a whole set of them when we downsized. They're Royal from Austria.

And that's it, folks, our Thanksgiving Day meal, without the casseroles or fresh broccoli or asparagus or homemade rolls. I truly didn't mind because my dressing and the cranberry sauce is always my favorite part of the Thanksgiving dinner.

 We'd kept the dishes washed all day and the dishwasher empty so we put the food away and cleaned up the kitchen quickly, washed up the pretty pieces of china, etc., that I wouldn't put in the dishwasher come hell or high water, and we were done.

Ready to snuggle with the dachshunds in front of the television. Don't ask me what we watched. I'm still too tired to remember.

Don't shake your head. Some day you too might be too tired at the end of the day to do anything other than stare at the television and not remember what you watched. 

In my defense, I've been through two months of worsening back pain, until I can honestly claim it was excruciating. To the orthopedist where an X-ray showed a compression fracture and all the worry that went with that possibility. Next a MRI and then two weeks later a followup appointment where I thankfully learned that it was not a compression fracture! Just arthritis and some degenerative disc damage. My physical therapist was glad to hear that and now has me on more aggressive therapy.

RH will be very glad when he no longer has to unload the bottom shelf of the dishwasher, get the laundry out of the dryer, and vacuum--what am I thinking? There's no way I want to start doing the vacuuming! Not when he's so good at it.

Men should always do the man stuff, don't you think? Like fishing and hunting and vacuuming?

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Atuumn Longings

 I never buy novels like this one, about men and written by a man.

The cover caught my eye at our local antique mall. I picked it up and found that The Hardhats, a 1955 fictional book by H.M. Newell, is abut the construction of a huge northwestern U.S. dam.

I had to buy it because one of my many unpublished novels is about a man who works for the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. and as part of his job he visits the national dams each year.

You can be the first to read my first page, below, and probably the last to read it! [And spot the cobweb on my lamp.]

Oddly enough, I enjoyed the story of the characters in The Hardhats who are part of the temporary town of construction workers building the fictional dam.

A young woman named Margaret works in the office of the top staff and I recognized her autumn longings as something I experience myself. Perhaps you do too.

...suddenly now the deadening weight of summer was gone too, folding away into the haze of the hills and here were these longings come on her again, sharp and sad and sweet and bitter.

Margaret thought, if it were a thing one could understand about!

But her mind went groping and searching and could put no name to what it was she wanted. She thought of each dessert of which she was especially fond, and of the separate pleasure of sun and rain and breeze on her face, and of country fragrances and sounds she loved and she thought about the voice of Marian Anderson on the radio, and the holy face of Saint Margaret, and she thought about all the beautiful things she had ever seen and some she had never seen at all but only knew by instinct must exist.

...And she thought, exasperated, Whatever is it? What are these cravings so sharp in me?

She thought the gnawing nameless ache was hers alone.

 It's not hers alone, I believe. Margaret's autumn longings may be universal when autumn arrives, even among those of us who claim autumn as our favorite season. 

I love autumn so much and yet there always is that "nameless ache" that Margaret describes. I have made friends with it in the later years of my life.

When I turn my calendar to October it's always true autumn for me. [And here, dear family and friends, is where I ask you to pretend it is early October, when I first began to write this!]

 I go on to do certain things I know will make me happy beyond understanding. I hang up autumn tea towels in the kitchen.

And wash a few autumn pretties.

[That's my October plate in the kitchen, Spode Blue Bird, my wedding china and October is our anniversary month. RH out in the garden watering.]

Unlike years pre-pandemic, RH and I no longer drive to the Nashville Farmers' Market and load the car with beautiful pumpkins and gourds. This year I settled for a few from the grocery store for outside and just sprinkled a few cheery items from the attic around the house. 


I make time in autumn to simply stand and watch the trees around the pond in their daily journey to their autumn finery.

And I guard the Virginia creeper vine from a husband whose inclination is to tear it down.

[A hard frost stripped the orange leaves from the vine but has turned the huge maple gold.]

I cherished the last few bell peppers growing in large pots on the kitchen porch.

And we pickled the last few jalapeños for vinegar hot sauce for winter pots of pinto beans.

And in October I listen to the music of Marian Anderson and other opera albums that autumn calls for.

Although last week I listened to the music of the legendary country music star Loretta Lynn after her passing. This album done with Jack White, The Van Lear Rose, is a favorite of mine.

I've never met Ms. Lynn in person but feel that we're old friends since I claim a "by marriage" relationship to her and her sister Crystal, who I have met, through sharing grandchildren and great-grandchildren with their sister. And I'll miss knowing that she is here, still writing her authentic songs.

Of course in October I bake apple desserts.

And I light my two favorite fall candles from Milkhouse Candle Co...Rake, Pile, Leap!

And Brown Butter Pumpkin.

Every couple years I order a fun fall perfume, Demeter's Mulled Cider, not able to afford one I would love from Jo Loves. Although if Santa ever wants to bring me Jo Loves' Advent Calendar at 350 pounds (can't find the symbol for that!], I would not turn it down.

 I turn to seasonal mysteries in October. I think I own every single Charlotte MacLeod mystery ever published, including those under her two non de plumes. But her Peter Shandy mysteries are my favorite. I love the professor detective.

And I dip into my favorite nature book, Edwin Way Teale's Autumn Across America, with the most beautiful prose about nature ever.

I also lost an hour of my morning falling down a rabbit hole learning about the fascinating Saint Margaret of Scotland that Margaret of The Hardhats lured me to. I'm an inveterate researcher and she's well worth the time! 


And I indulge in another gift of time, curling up with the Harvest Holiday issue of Old World Design Society where creator/curator Angela brings her Door County home to those of us who love antiques and rich layered colors.

The quarterly magazine and being part of the online Old World Society group is my gift to myself year round. It's so much fun and inspiration to see what other members post about their own homes from around the world, many who have been featured in the magazine. Members who post pictures in the group and ask design questions get great advice from other members, many of them professional designers. I admit I've rarely posted there myself because my own cottage is humble compared to many in the group. 

I am madly in love with Angela's huge old copper butler's sink that sat in her barn for two years until they moved to Door County, Wisconsin.

 I get so much pleasure from the Old World Design Society that I'll link to a page about it in case someone is interested. I believe there are three price options for the group. Here!

I guess that the autumn longings that Margaret muses about in The Hardhats is actually a longing for beauty. Why that is more prominent in autumn is something I don't understand but I experience it in my own life.

Do you ever experience any of this?


Maybe I'm longing for an Autumn Tree like I used to make at Valley View. It was magical but I guess I'll wait and put up a Christmas tree. 

Do you think November 3rd is too early? If I haven't put you to sleep with this extremely long post!