Fall Baking: Pumpkin Bread

I’m sorry friends that this is coming out so late this week, but I can honestly say I’ve had my hands full lately.   Between my “day job,” some projects we’re doing around the house, and getting the garden set back to rights after the long dry spell through July and September I have barely had a moment to breathe, much less write!

Luckily, some of our projects are coming to an end, just in time to herald the beginning of  Autumn.  While it officially starts early next week ( on my son’s birthday this year) we are already seeing signs of it’s imminent arrival.  The temperatures still soar into the eighties during the day, but those days are already growing noticeably shorter, and it is easy to allow my thoughts to turn to preparations for fall-decorating with mums and pumpkins, a few scarecrows, and perhaps a witch or skeleton or two; and fall baking.

I love the sights and smells of autumn, especially in all the apple and pumpkin recipes that are so seasonal this time of year.  To that end I decided to share one of my favorite recipes for pumpkin bread.  I know, a quick Internet search can yield dozens of such recipes, but this is a tried and true version that I’ve made and shared multiple times, and is very good served warm with butter for brunch or with coffee on a crisp Autumn morning.  I hope you enjoy it!

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I can’t wait to share this homemade treat with my family!

Pumpkin Bread 

1 2/3 cup of all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 eggs

1 cup canned pumpkin

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1/2 cup raisins

In a large bowl, combine the first eight ingredients.  In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, pumpkin, oil and water.  Stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until just moistened.  Fold in the nuts and raisins.

Pour into a greased 9×5 inch loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 65-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

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Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Haunted Be the Holidays

Haunted Be the Holidays by Heather Graham
Haunted Be the Holidays (1001 Dark Nights #91; Krewe of Hunters)by

Heather Graham (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

  

This novella addition to author Heather Graham’s Krewe of Hunters series features a disturbed would-be performer that focuses his vengeance on an unknowing rival whose only crime is her relationship to the man the criminal hoped to impress.

Haunted be the Holidays brings back a number of past “Krewe” members and recounts the further adventures of the author’s ever-expanding universe.  While this novella will have significant appeal to those who have followed the series from the beginning, reading of prior books is not strictly necessary to enjoy this one.

Krewe book alums Brodie and Dakota “Cody” are settling into their new life in Washington D.C., where Cody has accepted an active role in the productions of the historic Global Tower Theatre, now owned by Adam Harrison and ran by the spouses and partners of Krewe members.  Unfortunately, a street performer whose mask resembles that of a character in a play Cody is performing in sends Cody’s senses on alert.  What threat could a simple mask hold?  When the first body appears, disguised as a vampire and lying dead in a fake “cemetery” on Halloween, Cody, Brodie, and the rest of the Krewe will have to find out.

Though the basis for the plot includes a twisted failed actor who is seeking revenge for perceived slights, those details are not revealed till near the end of the story.  What precede it are a quest for the identity of the killer, research into the history of the theatre, and a search for any ties to Cody, who is threatened on-stage by a drugged performer.

However, the author merely implies that the killer may be descended from an illegitimate child of an historic pirate that once owned the Globe Tower, without tying that directly into the plot, as would typically happen in a Graham story.  To me, this loose plot point seems like a missed opportunity.  Instead, the killer just “happens” to choose the theatre for his finale, simply because his chosen victim is working there.

Luckily, the story’s climax makes up any weak points in the plot with a grand performance, literally, on center stage that includes a life-and-death struggle with the assistance of four benevolent ghosts.

I give this e-book four stars, and recommend it not just to fans of Graham’s books, but any who are interested in paranormal romantic mystery stories.

Happy Labor Day!

photo of fireworks display
All across the country, many cities will be having their last, and most spectacular fireworks shows of the year this weekend.  Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

Today is the day we Americans celebrate the national holiday Labor Day, the official celebration of laborers and the collective power of unions, and the unofficial end of summer.

Many Americans use Labor Day as the excuse to hold one last barbecue, or go on one last camping or fishing trip, or just plan a picnic and a trip to the nearest firework show.   My family plans to grill out at home this year, and just enjoy a day off from jobs and normal responsibilities.

While many employers are giving their employees a much-deserved break, just as many companies will be promoting wares and holding massive sales to attract consumers.  I need a new stove, so perhaps I will venture out later myself.

While the official beginning of autumn is still a few weeks away, most school children have just or will be starting back to school this week, and kids and adults alike have fall on their minds.  What that means to individuals varies, though many focus on the beginning of football season, and getting ready for Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Tomorrow, I will think about taking down the red-white-and-blue decorations I’ve had out around the house since Memorial Day, and pulling out my own stashes of orange candles and harvest decorations.  September is still warm here, though the nights have cooled down into the sixties and even fifties a few times, and the garden, which was so dry and wilting in the August heat, is coming back to life.

Fall and Halloween decorations have already made appearances in many stores, and fall flowers like chrysanthemums and ornamental cabbages are ready to take home and plant in gardens that will very soon be festooned with pumpkins and gourds off all types, dried cornstalks, and bales of hay.  Autumn is my favorite time of year, and I look forward to the colors, the scents of fall baking, and the cooler temperatures.

However, all of that can wait till tomorrow.  Today is about relaxing, and spending time with family, and eating some good food, preferably outdoors.

I hope you and yours have a very Happy Labor Day!

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Verses for the Dead

Verses for the Dead by Douglas Preston
Verses for the Dead (Pendergast, #18) by

Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author),
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Amy Caudill‘s review

A killer who writes poetry and leaves “presents” of his victims’ hearts on the graves of suicides brings FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast to Miami, but with a handicap to his usual methodology.  Pendergast’s tendencies to ignore procedure and go rogue have led the new Assistant Director of the New York office, Pickett, to assign loner Pendergast a partner.

Agent Coldmoon, a capable agent with issues of his own, has secret orders to try and prevent Pendergast from deviating from FBI procedure, but finds instead that he agrees with his new partner’s more outlandish methods and theories, especially when they begin producing results.

Mr. Brokenhearts, the serial killer’s non de plume, leads the agents on a merry chase through several states as the agents try to find connections between the current victims and the older deaths, which are proven to not be suicides after all but murders, before the murderer can strike again.

Old fans of the series will be bemused and delighted to be introduced to the brother of NY Times crime reporter Bill Smithback, Roger, a local reporter who seems determined to follow in his brother’s footsteps when he recognizes Pendergast at a crime scene.  Bill Smithback was a friend of Pendergast who became involved with and even assisted the agent on several cases, in a number of different books in the series, before his murder during an investigation.  Roger’s character plays a minor role in this book, but his appearance raises the question; will he appear again?

Verses for the Dead will delight readers with a dramatic climax that includes a battle through a swamp swarming with alligators, and a surprising twist to the serial killer’s story that appears in a late chapter.  The action doesn’t stop till the very last page, and leads to a satisfying conclusion.

While this particular volume contains only the barest hints of the paranormal as is present in several of the other books in this series, I’m happy to see that eighteen books in, with several spinoffs, the authors are still producing storylines and characters that are exciting, entertaining, and completely fresh with each new novel.  I award this book five stars and recommend it to fans of detectives and heroes ranging from Sherlock Holmes to Jason Bourne.

A Holiday to Remember

Hello everyone!  I’m back from a much-needed and very pleasant vacation with my family.  I thought I’d share a few photos taken on our extended holiday through South Carolina.

We started our vacation by heading to Folly Island outside of Charleston, South Carolina, where we shared a beach house with my husband’s family.  Here are some shots of our home-away-from home.

This sign was one of the first things to greet us.  I loved the walking directions to places all over the globe.

Here is another image from the front of the beach house.  We enjoyed the rental of Shell House and may return again some day.

Local art adorned the beach house outside and in, and helped the place feel really inviting.
More artwork hanging on the walls of Shell House, made of locally collected shells.

Of course we didn’t spend all our time inside this lovely house.  We were only 1/4 of the mile from the beach!  We did take the time to explore the town of Folly Island and visit some of the local attractions, like this very impressive restaurant only a short walk away.

This is from the inside of Wiki Wiki, one of the more colorful local restaurants on the island.

Here are some shots of the beach itself.  The first night we arrived was luckily not part of the busy season (as many schools were already back in session) and the beach was very quiet after five p.m.

First views of the beach off Folly Island, South Carolina.
Folly Island is well established as a spot for fishing and water sports, as well as having a scenic and busy pier area with restaurants and multiple hotels.

We didn’t spend all our time hanging out at the beach either.  Nearby Charleston includes many historic sites, including horse-drawn carriage tours and visits by ferry to Fort Sumter National Monument.

Our ride for the day, Otis.
The best way to see Charleston is by horse-drawn carriage, where I took this picture of historic Circular Church.

 

Ft. Sumter, the place where the first shots of the (American) Civil War were fired.

I hope you like seeing a small sampling of my vacation photos, and that you all are inspired to plan your own getaways in the near future!  Summer will be over before very long, so make the most of it!

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Death Masks

Death Masks by Jim Butcher
Death Masks (The Dresden Files, #5) by

Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

In an opening scene far-removed from the norm for The Dresden Files book series, Harry is making a guest appearance on a local talk show, discussing paranormal lore.  While for fans of the series it may seem that Harry has lost his mind, he actually is participating in a clandestine meeting with a spiritual consultant, the authentic kind.

However, Harry is blind sighted by another guest on the show, Paola Ortega, posing as a Professor who debunks supernatural “incidents,” though Harry knows this person is in reality far different than what he appears to be.  Ortega is a noble member of the vampire’s Red Court, and his real purpose for the deception is to issue a challenge to a duel with Harry, to end the war between the vampires and the White Council of Wizards.

Adding to this dangerous situation, a Vatican representative is in Chicago to hire Harry to investigate the local occult community for a stolen artifact.  Father Vincent doesn’t seem to believe in the paranormal, but he will go to any lengths to recover the Shroud of Turin, which he sees as only a historical relic.

Harry, however, knows the artifact is far more than just that, and also how dangerous such a thing can be in the wrong hands.  If certain groups, all whom are clamoring for Harry’s attention, get hold of the Shroud, it could mean the end of the world.  Between the impending duel with the vampire, a group of Fallen Angels whose servants can assume the form of monsters and friends alike, and the attentions of the local mafia headed by Marcone, Harry has a full plate.  Luckily he has God’s Knights of the Cross on his side.

Like the opening, the ending of this book leaves Harry in an unusual position, as he becomes just like the Lady of the Lake, holding a sword he is duty-bound to pass onto a worthy individual, as soon as he finds them.

I am amazed at how author Jim Butcher continues to keep this series fresh, with new ideas, new monsters, and creative new encounters with the supernatural, all while strengthening the relationships between existing and recurring characters.  His battles are vivid scenes that can thrill the reader, while at the same time Harry’s doubts and vulnerabilities make him seem all the more human.

Butcher continues the formula that is one part detective story, one part romance, and one part paranormal adventure, in a tale that will delight readers old and new alike.  I award Death Masks five stars, and look forward to the next book in the series, to see what happens with the continuing arc in the plot, but also for what Butcher comes up with next.

Top Reasons to Watch-Stranger Things

Image result for stranger things images

Many of you have heard of this popular show, available on Netflix, about the strange happenings in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, and the group comprised of mostly kids and teens who find themselves in the perilous position of saving the world from a hostile takeover from another dimension.

Now currently in its third season, Stranger Things has attracted a wide audience, and inspired merchandise ranging from books and tee-shirts to coffee mugs and Funko Pops.  Why are we so taken with this show?

Science fiction and fantasy combined.  The characters are regularly pitted against creatures from the “Upside Down,” an alternate reality that first appears to be an invention of Will, the would-be comic book artist, and which would easily fit into a sci-fi or horror movie.  With the exception of Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown, the team are not equipped with superpowers or special weapons.  This group of underdogs uses their brains, their friendships, and their luck to battle things the government won’t acknowledge or can’t handle. (At least until it comes to the cleanup and the obligatory non-disclosure agreement.)

I love the 80’s culture.  Stranger Things takes place in the 1980s in the states, and embraces this, in all its glory. Big hair, shoulder pads, legwarmers, and popular movie/TV references abound, as does the music, from groups like Huey Lewis and the News and Wham.

Lucas waxes poetic about New Coke in one episode, which also features a reference to Chief Hopper as Magnum P.I.  A Russian assassin, Grigori, appears in the latest season that bears a certain resemblance, and attitude, comparable to The Terminator.  Add in government cover-ups, Russian sleeper agents, and conspiracy theories that are not just theories and you have the plot of the perfect 80’s show, but with writing and special effects that demonstrate modern tech.

Nerd Love.  The “core” group of friends embrace their intelligence and differences freely. Dustin compliments Erica on her math skills “You’re a nerd!”  They spend their free time playing Dungeons and Dragons, and use their knowledge of these games to theorize about the denizens of the Upside Down, and even to name the creatures from there-the Demogorgan, the Mind Flayer.  They use their connections with the audio visual club to help uncover vital details and ham radio equipment to communicate with each other, long before cell phones are common.

In the second season, the core group of boys-Dustin, Mike, Will, and Lucas- go to school dressed as The Ghostbusters for Halloween. Little do they know, but those costumes will soon become strangely appropriate.

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Hardcore Females.  While not all the heroic characters in this ensemble are female, there are plenty of girls in this equal opportunity action series to please even the pickiest of viewers.  Of course there’s Eleven, the preteen telekinetic who’s something of a superhero despite having spent most of her life confined to a laboratory, but she’s hardly the only female character that stands out in the lineup.

New character Robin, the nerdy ice cream server, uses her gift of languages to decipher hidden Russian codes and help veterans Steve and Dustin infiltrate a hidden Russian base under the mall.

Nancy, the teenage angst-star from previous seasons, has evolved into a Nancy Drew-esque would-be reporter who chases down the truth, even at the cost of her job and in pursuit of rapid mutating rats.

Joyce, the mother character played by Winona Ryder, has proven over and over that she pulls no punches when it comes to protecting her children or doing what is right.  This season alone, we see her wielding shotguns, chasing after Russian spies, and yelling at both clandestine government agencies and conspiracy-theorists alike to accomplish her goals.

Beat the boredom of summer reruns on cable and check out this amazing show on Netflix!

 

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Wicked by Gregory Maguire
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (The Wicked Years, #1) by

Douglas Smith (Illustrator)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

What to say about the book that spawned an award-winning musical by bestselling author Gregory Maguire?  I had meant to read Wicked for years, but I finally found time to sit down and conquer this 500-page tome over the last week.

This very adult re-telling of the classic Wizard of Oz story goes into a great deal of behind-the-scenes action and into the minds of multiple players to rend far more detail into the world of Oz and its denizens than ever hinted at in the original story by Frank L. Baum.  Each section of the book contains enough detail and depth of storylines to form a separate volume of a series, but the author grants us the entire tale in one massive hardcover.

Maguire goes into detail about the origin of the “witches,” their backgrounds, and motivations, painting a picture of three-dimensional characters that are far more than mere bad guys, enough so, that when we are finally introduced to Dorothy in the very last section, we are able to feel sympathy, if not outrage, of the witch sisters’ plights.

While this story contains a great deal of political and religious debate, developing a complex world for the fabled land, the author uses a folk tale format for much of the story that entertains the reader and utterly ensnares them in his creation.

Witness the birth of Elphaba, the Munchkinlander afflicted from birth with green skin, and Galinda, the spoiled, vain Gilikinese maiden who are thrown together in the most unexpected of ways, to become rivals, friends, and finally stand on the opposite sides of the story.  Witness also Elphaba’s sister, sheltered and crippled, who rises to leadership in a revolt only to become a hapless victim of natural disaster.

The author leads the reader to question who actually is good and who is evil in the story?  Surely those labels are contrary and interchangeable at points, as the nature of beloved and not-so-beloved characters from witch, to wizard, to loyal or rebel citizenry are questioned.  The arrival of a small girl from Kansas just may be the powder keg that sparks the change of everything.

This is a story well worth the read, and easily earns five stars for fans of paranormal, fantasy, and modern retellings of childhood classics.

Interesting Myths and Facts about the Moon

This coming Saturday marks the fiftieth anniversary of the one of the most iconic events of the twentieth century- the lunar landing of the Apollo 11, where the American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the surface of the moon.  This amazing feat was an incredible testament to human ingenuity, determination, and willingness to reach for seemingly impossible dreams.

astronaut standing beside american flag on the moon
Saturday, July 20, 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.  Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Long before this event, humans have been fascinated by our closest neighbor in the sky, and have used it as a source of inspiration and superstition.  Here are a few of the more interesting stories our ancestors have told to explain the existence of this celestial body:

  • Many cultures worshipped the moon as a goddess. The Greeks and Romans even had three separate goddesses to describe the phases of the moon; Artemis as the new moon, Selene as the full moon, and Hecate as the dark side of the moon.
  • The ancient Chinese explained lunar eclipses as being caused by an enormous dragon that swallowed the sun, and so they made as much noise as possible to scare the dragon away.
  • Multiple cultures have told stories about the “man in the moon.”   Most of these variations say that he was put there as punishment for stealing, some even for the attempted theft of the moon itself.
  • The moon’s phases have historically been linked with madness, and the word “lunatic” comes from this belief. Ancient philosophers such as Aristotle and Pliny the Elder believed that a full moon affected the water in a person’s brain, causing irrational behavior or insanity.
  • Our modern holiday Easter is actually calculated by the moon.  We celebrate on the first Sunday following the first Saturday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.  This tradition has its roots in archetypal symbols involving femininity, fertility, rebirth and the lunar cycle.

    sky space moon astronomy
    Our closest neighbor in the sky.  Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

And a few interesting facts:

  • Humans have attempted to track the phases of the moon for at least 13,000 years, based on an eagle bone artifact found in France that appears to have been used as a counting stick.
  • The oldest known map of the moon was found carved into a rock in a prehistoric tomb in Knowth, County Meath, in Ireland.  It is estimated to be about 5000 years old.
  • A full day on the moon, from one sunrise to the next, lasts an average of twenty-nine Earth days.
  • Common cell phones today are 400 times more powerful than the computers used to guide humans to the moon in the 1960s and 70s.
  • There is an Outer Space Treaty in affect that gives the moon the same jurisdiction as international waters.  The treaty allows the moon to be used for peaceful purposes by all nations, and prohibits military bases and weapons of mass destruction from being placed on the moon.

For more interesting facts about the moon, you can find plenty of resources such as this one.