Thursday, October 30, 2014

THIS TIME OF YEAR: SQUIRREL WITHOUT UMBRELLA

I love fall!

My newest habit is a result of cooler weather.  But a warm front came along, throwing the digits back into the miserable eighties.  Really?  At the end of October.  But that is just October.  My favorite month.  Apple pie.  Football.  State Fair.  Reading a book sitting by an open window.  The sun changing.  Baseball.  Caramel.

A cool evening draws me out outside into the early dark.  Faithful pup runs up the stairs, stomping in the leaves just beginning to fall.  Happy for company, he grabs a twig to catch my attention.  But I am busy lighting a candle, setting down a mug of marshmallow overflowing hot chocolate to strike the match.  A perfect fall evening of solitude.  No air conditioners, just a low current of night time noise. I pick up my phone and begin my latest obsession - Spider. Peace, quiet and relaxation.  A tonic for a goodnight's sleep.

Then the artillery begins.  The thawacking sound of an acorn letting loose, dropping through levels of leaves, ricocheting off the roof.  I raise my hand to my head as minimal protection.  I'm reminded of a New Year's Eve at our previous home when nearby celebrants fired Happy New Year into the sky.   

What goes up must come down.  A girl, a bow, an arrow.  Standing in the middle of a quiet street, she leans back, shooting the arrow up into the blue.  Gravity sends the arrow back down.  Her little brother picks up the fallen arrow and the process begins again.  Grandchildren entertaining themselves outside while the adults visit in the house, not knowing.  Brother and sister playing well together.  Up it goes and down it comes.  At some point, little brother has questioned the operation and is running around with a dishpan on his head.  "Where is it?  Where is it?"  He runs to stand next to his sister, sticking to her like glue.  He can't see the arrows as they come whooshing down through the leaves.  She is not afraid, then, now or ever.  Until one of the arrows pierces the roof of a car parked at the curb.  The game is over.  They retreat quickly into the house.  "Did you children have fun?"    

A dishpan can be the perfect accessory when the sky is falling.  And some days, weeks and years, the sky seems to be falling past our comfort level of general calamity.  Of course, it's not general to the person experiencing calamity.  In just seconds, our perception can change.  Running around with a dishpan on our head, shouting about the sky falling can make matters worse.  Watch your step.

This was just a little thing.  But I am into little things.  Last week, I was in traffic on a four lane thoroughfare, a major east west connector and also a primary exit off the interstate.  This road runs through red lights, past strip shopping centers, churches, schools, drug stores, banks, the gym I sometimes think about, local and chain eateries, the vet's office, the grocery store, my favorite antique mall, apartments, entrances to lovely subdivisions.  

There are trees everywhere.  And poles connecting this to that with wires crossing the street.  A wire was silhouetted in the sky.  A little squirrel was running across with a mouthful of acorns or nesting material sticking out of his mouth.  Zippity Do Da.  Zinging across the certain canyon of death as thick traffic traveled below.  One slip of a little foot.

But he was on a mission.  Building a nest and gathering supplies.  He may have the advantage of not sensing the perilous situation.  He just did what he had to do.  No quibbling.  From watching squirrels in my backyard, I doubt he gave a second thought to jumping out on that wire.  He didn't test the tension with his foot or grab an umbrella for balance.  There were no news cameras set up to record the event.  He didn't stop to consider the traffic below.  He was moving along even though the very scary was right below.  A squirrel has to do what a squirrel has to do.  I think that is amazing.  The something inside of him that says nuts to gather and nests to build.  This is that time of year.

His sky is falling.  Acorns.  Manna.  Provision.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

WOO PIG SOOIE PIES


Please don't tell Martha I renamed her lovely Pumpkin Whoopie Pies.  She is quite the stickler for details.  While I know she has heard of Arkansas, I don't know if she has actually been here.  And I'm almost certain she has never seen a grown man wearing a Hog Hat cheering like crazy in a stadium full of other fans.  Of course, she is
WOO PIG SOOIE PIES
an expert on almost everything.

Although Martha has cooked a truckload of hog products, from bacon to ham to tenderloin to chops, I can't really see her calling the Hogs, throwing her arms straight into the air and wiggling her fingers while screaming Woo Pig Sooie.  Around here it is common knowledge the call came from folks calling their pigs (Hogs) back to the old homeplace.  As a national producer of pork products, the little piggy that stayed home is definitely a bit sharper than the little piggy hurrying to market.

This delicious Whoopie Pie answers the quest for the frantic fall search for all things pumpkin.  And a tasty addition to any tailgate party whether outside in the elements or around a coffee table.

Honestly, the recipe is labor intensive but always worth the effort.  I finally got smart and fixed the cookies ahead of schedule and stuck them in the freezer until needed.  Great idea.  On party day, I thawed them in the fridge.

Anything with cream cheese frosting is worth the effort.  The butter, cream cheese, vanilla and powdered sugar are meant to be together.  

But I'm not the Queen of Piping which is a talent Miss Martha can do with her eyes shut.  I try. When you don't have an industrial plastic bag dedicated to frosting frufru on cupcakes and rolled out sugar cookies, but you have the whole tipping caboodle leftover from the happy homemaker days of piping as a way of life when necessary, you improvise.  I don't have an assistant to run out and purchase emergency supplies in the middle of creaming butter and cream cheese.

However, with six finished, piped, filled cookies, I paused to think that my improvisation using a storebrand baggie might not end well.  It didn't.  I resorted to my handy dandy multifunctional iced tea spoon for plopping cream cheese frosting.  I don't know which would have troubled Miss Martha the most, using a baggie for a piping bag or the improper usage of my tea spoon.  Here is the delicious, worth every effort, fallish, pumpkin recipe.

PUMPKIN WHOOPIE PIES

Cake Ingredients
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cloves
2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 can pumpkin filling, chilled
2 eggs
TO THE RESCUE
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling Ingredients
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and cloves together.  Set aside.  In a stand mixer, mix brown sugar and oil until well combined.  Add pumpkin filling and mix well.  Add eggs and vanilla until well combined. Sprinkle flour mixture over pumpkin mixture until fully incorporated.  Drop heaping tablespoons of dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet about 1 inch apart.  Bake until cookies are just starting to crack on the top - about 15 minutes.

Sift confectioners' sugar in a large bowl.  In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment beat the butter until smooth.  Add the cream cheese until well combined.  Add sugar and vanilla and beat just until smooth.  Transfer filling to a disposable pastry bag and spread a healthy portion on the bottom side of one cookie and place the second cookie on top. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
*******

Using culinary flare, arrange the finished Woo Pig Sooie Pies on a plate, in a basket, or atop a mini hay bale.  Accent with mums, daisies, acorns, leaves or mini pumpkins and gourds.  Place on a handwoven, hand dyed with berries from your summer garden, tablecloth.  Watch the pies disappear!