Southern Writers Magazine

I'm a guest today at Southern Writers Magazine. I would do some cartwheels, but, you know, arthritis and stuff. I'll bake a cake instead. It would be an honor if my friends from the blog would take a look at my ramblings about being a writer. My article is called The Face of Success.




Why Drive 735 Miles to Shop for Dishes?

I've been asked that question more than once. Every time someone inquires, I hear the underlying question about my sanity, also. I'm not worried about it, though. My sister drove 1180 miles from her home to shop for dishes with me, and then we had to drive home. What's crazier than that, there were people from farther away than the two of us.

Our trip was to Newell, WV, home of the Homer Laughlin China Company, where Fiestaware dishes are made. In case you didn't notice, those dishes are made in the U.S.A., one reason I love Fiestaware. That, and they're pretty, too.

We were there for one of their tent sales. I've talked about and wanted to attend one of these for a long time, but there has always been the obstacle of distance. After thinking about it long enough, the lure of the tent sale made me forget about how far it is to West Virginia. 

The tent was set up at the back of the factory. Parking is in a grassy field in the front of the factory. Attendees are handed a ticket as they enter the area. Once you have your ticket, you can get in line to wait your turn to go into the tent. On the opening morning of the sale the line was long. One of the security guards told us that some people camp out so they can be first in line.

From my experience at the sale, being first in line might have some small advantage, but it's not that important. The stock of items was replenished all throughout the day, and you never knew what might be brought out next. We shopped early the first day. After a late lunch, we went back for round 2 and found different items. On the second day of the sale the stock had changed again.

Once you get into the tent, you are provided with a shopping cart. Most of the dishes are dusty from storage. Some are more than a little dusty. Taking a dust cloth along is essential. It's important to dust the pieces off and check for flaws. Some of the pieces have visible flaws, others have none. It's kind of buyer beware when shopping the tent sale because there are no returns, but the prices are amazing!

I bought dinner plates, serving bowls, gusto bowls, platters, fruit bowls, pitchers and more. Everything is wrapped and boxed at the cash register, so it's travel ready when you leave. I drive a large SUV, and we packed it full. So what if we had to stash our luggage in the back seat?

Besides having a great time shopping, I picked up some trivia. Newell is the northernmost town in the state of West Virginia. The Newell Bridge is 111 years old. It's a toll bridge across the Ohio River. I hope they collect enough tolls to build a new bridge soon. I was a bit uneasy crossing on that bridge. I hadn't thought to pack a life jacket.

The Newell Bridge

You won't find the usual fast food chains in Newell, only a few Mom & Pop places to eat. It's an old town with a quaint look right on the Ohio River. The Fiesta factory is a large employer for the area. There were many, many visible employees just for the tent sale. It was a well orchestrated event from the security staff to the wrappers and packers, and there were no slackers.

Pennsylvania is close by and having never been there, I wanted to have a visit there, too. Google showed a shopping mall in the nearby state, only 15 miles from Newell. That was misleading, though. It took us almost an hour to drive that 15 miles. Small towns with 25 mph speed zones coupled with road construction can make a short trip long. Nevertheless, we were able to shop and have lunch in Pennsylvania.

So, the question remains, why drive 735 miles to shop for dishes when these same dishes can be bought locally and online? The answer is simple. It's the adventure of the hunt.

And, I'd do it again.


"Just Right" Porridge

At some time or other, most everyone needs a mild dish that is easy to digest and is gentle on the tummy. If a family member is recuperating from an illness or on a soft food diet, this recipe is sure to make everything better. The three bears knew the value of porridge, and I suspect this is exactly what Goldilocks found in baby bear's bowl, because it is 'just right'.

In this recipe the rice is cooked a long time, breaking it down to a consistency different than rice is usually served. When someone in your family needs a food that is soft and comforting, try out this recipe.

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Chicken and Ginger Porridge

1 cup long grain rice
8 cups water (or substitute chicken broth)
6 boneless chicken thighs
Fresh ginger root (a piece about 1 inch x 1 inch) finely sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine rice and water in a heavy pot (enameled cast iron is my favorite). Add chicken and ginger. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 1 hour. Remove chicken and allow to cool enough to shred the meat. Add shredded chicken back into rice, season with salt and pepper as desired.



A Giant Cupcake

How many people will one cupcake serve?

             Lots of them, if the cupcake is a giant one. This giant cupcake was my birthday cake this year. It was baked in the Wilton giant cupcake pan, which, by the way, can be used for other cake projects, too. The base of my cupcake was made of a candy melt shell, and pink buttercream roses adorned the top.

I had wanted to make a candy shell in this pan for quite some time, and I finally got around to trying it out today. I read different tutorials and advice on Pinterest, and I found that some bakers had great success with candy shells, while others said it was a disaster. I was one of the lucky ones, and the results were great.


Candy Melt Shell:

Melt about half a bag of candy melts according to package directions. Apply the melted candy to the inside of the giant cupcake pan in a thin coat. I used a silicone brush and a spatula to spread the candy. Place the pan in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes, or until the candy is firm. Apply a second coat of melted candy over the first, then return to the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. When the candy is firm and set, remove from refrigerator. Gently loosen the candy at the top and tap the bottom of the pan. Turn the pan upside down and the shell should slide right out.

Trim the bottom portion of the cake to fit in the shell, if needed. Cover the sides of the cake with a thin coat of frosting and place into the shell. Spread frosting over the top.

Add the top portion of the cake and cover with a thin layer of frosting.

The cake is now ready to add roses. One trick for even spacing of the roses is to use a round cookie cutter to mark circles in the frosting. I piped a few leaves among my roses, too, but those are optional.

Happy birthday to me!


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Blueberry Muffins

This blueberry muffin recipe is probably the simplest one I make. The ingredient list is only standard items, so there's nothing extra to buy. The only problem I've had with them is that they disappear soon after they're baked.

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Blueberry Muffins

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups blueberries
Sparkling sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare muffin pans with paper liners. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla extract, beat until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder. Add flour mixture and milk alternately to the butter mixture; beat just until blended. Stir in blueberries. Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle with sparkling sugar. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes. Makes 18 muffins.



Magic Cookie Bars

This recipe became popular a long time ago, and I think it was in the '60's or '70's. I've seen different variations of the same recipe, and I suspect any version is hard to resist. This is a dessert even a beginner can make with success. Why not put on your bell-bottomed pants and bake up some of these goodies for someone who remembers the originals.

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Magic Cookie Bars

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips (or use 2 cups chocolate chips and omit butterscotch chips)
1 cup chopped pecans
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9 x 13-inch baking pan by lining with aluminum foil. Leave foil large enough to hang over sides of pan. Coat foil with non-stick cooking spray.
In a small bowl, combine crumbs and butter. Press crumb mixture into bottom of prepared pan. Spread chips, pecans, and coconut in even layers over crust. Pour sweetened condensed milk over all. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Lift from pan by foil edges. Cut into squares.



Pineapple Upside Down Bundt Cake

My mother once told me that Pineapple Upside Down Cake was the first cake she learned to bake after her marriage. She baked hers as a one layer cake in an iron skillet, and it was one of my dad's favorite cakes. I thought of my parents when I came across a picture of a Pineapple Upside Down Bundt Cake on Pinterest. After trying out the recipe and making some minor adjustments, I have become a fan of this updated version of a classic. Baking the cake in a Bundt pan vs. a skillet makes the cake taller, and in my opinion, more appealing.

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Pineapple Upside Down Bundt Cake

1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 (15.25 ounce) can pineapple slices in pineapple juice, drained with juice reserved
About 16 marachino cherries
1 (15.25 ounce) box yellow cake mix
1 (3.4 ounce) box instant vanilla pudding mix
1 cup liquid (reserved pineapple juice + milk)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare Bundt pan by greasing or with cooking spray. Pour melted butter into bottom of Bundt pan. Sprinkle brown sugar over butter. Cut pineapple slices in half and arrange in bottom of pan, rounded side down. Place a cherry between each pineapple slice.
In a large bowl, combine cake mix and pudding mix. Add enough milk to the reserved pineapple juice to make 1 cup of liquid. Add pineapple juice mixture, oil, and eggs to cake mix. Beat at medium speed of mixer for 2 minutes. Pour batter over pineapple slices. Bake for 50 minutes, shielding cake with foil the last 20 minutes of baking time to prevent over browning. Test cake for doneness with wooden pick. Cool cake on rack for 15 minutes before inverting to remove from pan.



Irish Breads for March

One way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day any day of the month is to bake up some Irish-themed bread. Any one of these three flavorful quick bread recipes is worthy to be served at an Irish banquet.



One Potato, Two Potato

Potatoes are a vegetable that can be prepared in multiple ways for a variety of delicious side dishes. In addition to the classics such as baked or mashed, my family enjoys potatoes in almost any form. A few of our potato favorites include these easy recipes:

1. Roasted Rosemary Potatoes

2. Baked Potato Salad



Tunnel of Love (Fudge) Cake

According to recent statistics, the average person celebrating Valentine's Day in 2016 will spend almost $150 to show their affection. Of course, some will spend considerably more if they opt for the whole sweetheart package. According to the New York Post, the five items most purchased for a significant other are: a box of chocolates, diamond earrings, a dozen roses, dinner for two, and a bottle of champagne. Those five items can add up to over $500, all in the name of love.

I'm sure your sweetheart is worth the cost, nevertheless, not everyone wants to spend such an exorbitant amount of money. Perhaps a home baked cake would be sufficient to communicate your fondness for that special someone.

I used a heart-themed bundt pan for my cake. I'm calling my creation the Tunnel of Love cake in honor of Valentine's Day. The delicious feature of this cake is that it makes a fudgy tunnel though the middle while baking.

Print Recipe

Tunnel of Love (Fudge) Cake

1 3/4 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups butter
6 eggs
2 cups powdered sugar
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups chopped walnuts


3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
4 - 6 teaspoons milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan. In a large bowl, combine sugar and butter. Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beat well after each addition. Gradually blend in powdered sugar. Stirring in by hand, add flour, then cocoa. Blend in walnuts. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake for 45 - 50 minutes until top is set and edges begin to pull away from sides of pan. Cool in pan on wire rack for 1 1/2 hours. Invert cake onto serving plate. Cool for at least 2 hours.
Glaze: In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar, cocoa, and milk. Mix until well blended. Spoon over top of cooled cake. Store tightly covered.



Kid Stuff for Bored Children

Kids can get so bored indoors during the winter. A nice snow may generate a sledding outing, but when fingers and toes begin to freeze it's time to come inside.

So many youngsters have electronic devices to entertain themselves, and I know some kids want to play on those all the time. They're fun, but it's not a good idea to allow a child to entertain himself for hours on end that way.

Our local schools have been closed for the past two days and will most likely remain closed tomorrow. We didn't even get snow, so there's no sledding. We got a layer of ice, making it dangerous for school buses to transport children.

I've been thinking about all those kids cooped up inside. Caretakers can make the days inside easier and more enjoyable for everyone with a little planning.

Of course, the electronic devices are here to stay, and they can be a part of a child's day. Having a variety of books available for the kids is a good idea for any day, especially bleak winter ones. Board games and puzzles will never go out of style. Cooking and crafting activities are also some things to do on a bad weather day. Most children are interested in learning something new and are eager to get in the kitchen or try a craft.

I've made a list of some of my posts with activities kids might enjoy doing when they're stuck indoors. Younger children can "help"a grown-up, while older children may be able to do many of these with some supervision from an adult. Put these in your bag of tricks and pull one out when a child complains of boredom.

1. Let them be creative -- Best Ever Play Dough

2. Cooking is always fun -- Pepperoni and Cheese Crescents

6. Kids love to bake Chocolate Chip Cookies



Slow Cooker Pork Roast

Any day is a good day for a slow cooker recipe, but Saturday is my favorite day to get the crock pot out and cook up something delicious. This recipe for pork roast is as simple as a recipe can be. Put the roast in the pot and pour the seasoning over the top, and the job is done. Roasted vegetables complete the meal. Today I used small yellow potatoes, onions, parsnips, and sweet potatoes because that is what I had. Roasted broccoli and carrots are good, as well.

But, as those YouTube girls Hannah and Kaylee always say -- "First things first"-- Don't put anything in the crock pot until there is a slow cooker liner in place. If you forget to use a liner then there will be a greasy, messy crock to wash, and who has time for that? I don't, and you probably don't, either. Those slow cooker liners are on my list of Top 10 convenience items for the kitchen.

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Slow Cooker Pork Roast

1 (3.5 - 4 lb.) Pork shoulder butt roast
1 (10.5 oz.) can french onion soup
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon black pepper

Rinse and pat dry the pork roast; place in slow cooker. In a small bowl, combine soup, vinegar, garlic, and pepper. Pour mixture over roast. Cover and cook on HIGH for about 4 hours or until meat tests done.



Modeling Chocolate and Monkeys

Remember how much fun it was as a kid to make animals out of clay? Not much has changed for me, it's still fun to create animals. I made some monkeys, but instead of using clay, these monkeys were made from modeling chocolate. Those years of playing with clay as a kid turned out to be a useful experience for this project.

This cake was made for a two-year-old boy who loves watching Five Little Monkeys on YouTube.  I had no idea how I was going to make a cake like this, but not knowing how to do something has never stopped me from jumping in with both feet.

I started in the usual way -- searching for and collecting ideas on Pinterest. My cake isn't professional quality, but it made the child squeal with delight when he saw it, so I considered it a success. I think it takes practice to be skillful at this. My first monkey took a lot longer to put together than the last one. Working with the teeny tiny parts was the hardest for me. I'm not sure if I had too many fingers or not enough when I tried to put those little pieces together.

The bottom portion is a 9 x 13-inch cake. The bed and pillow were cut from an 8 x 8-inch cake. The cakes were frosted with chocolate buttercream. The headboard and monkeys were made from all modeling chocolate, but the bedspread is made from 50% modeling chocolate and 50% fondant. I looked at several tutorials on how to make the monkeys. The one I found most helpful is found here.

I'm including the quick recipe for modeling chocolate, but I recommend this site for more information.

Print Recipe

Modeling Chocolate

2 pounds white chocolate (can be in blocks, chips, or candy melts)
1 cup white Karo syrup

Prepare a 9 x 13-inch pan by lining with plastic wrap, leaving a wide overhang; set aside.
In a microwave safe bowl, melt the chocolate at 30-second intervals on HIGH. Stir well after each 30-second interval. Be careful not to overheat.
In a separate microwave safe container, heat syrup for 45 seconds on HIGH. Pour syrup into melted chocolate. Stirring with a rubber spatula, blend well. Mix until syrup and chocolate are completely blended, about 30 folds. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Pull plastic wrap tightly over chocolate. Be careful not to make indentations with the plastic wrap. Cover tightly and leave at room temperature overnight. The following day, cut the chocolate into smaller pieces for kneading. Knead in food coloring, if desired. Store in resealable plastic bags.