13 October 2018

Recipe: Low-Fat Egg-Free Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Note: Please keep in mind that my recipes reflect only my own experience, and if you choose to follow them you do so at your own risk!

Pumpkin doesn't just give an autumnal flavor to these muffins--it also makes them super moist without having to add a lot of fat to the recipe and provides a healthy dose of Vitamin A! If you would prefer to make them vegan, simply swap the melted butter and dairy milk for your cooking oil and plant milk of choice.
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark amber maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a muffin pan with 12 muffin wrappers and set aside. 
2. In a large mixing bowl, mix the sugar, maple syrup, melted butter, and pumpkin puree. 
3. Add 1/2 cup of the flour, the baking powder, the baking soda, the spices, and the salt to the wet mixture and combine. Add the vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons of the milk and combine again. Keep alternating 1/2 cup flour and 2 tablespoons of milk, blending well after each addition. 
4. Spoon the batter into the lined muffin pan, dividing evenly among 12 muffins.  
5. Bake the muffins until they've puffed at the top and are golden brown, around 20 minutes.  
6. Carefully pop the muffins out of the pan and let cool on wire racks to prevent sogginess. 
Makes 12 muffins

05 October 2018

A Literary Halloween at That Sort of Shop

I started seeing Halloween decorations in my neighborhood as early as Labor Day this year, and with the approach and arrival of October more and more have been creeping in. While I love Halloween, I prefer to wait until fairly close to the actual evening to decorate and get excited, when there's an invigorating crispness in the temperature and a sense of mystery in the breeze. Since we've been experiencing Indian summer where I live, it seems a little early for jack-o'-lanterns and the like just yet for me!

Canterville Ghost Banner from That Sort of Shop

But, since I know many people like to get an earlier start on their Halloween planning and celebrations, I recently restocked my collection of Halloween paper pennant banners in my Etsy shop. Each is inspired by a spooky work of classic fiction: Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde. They all feature pennants printed with real text from each story, along with Gothic and historically-inspired patterns in a classic Halloween color scheme of orange and black.

Dracula Banner from That Sort of Shop

As with all of my literary banners, I chose patterns and motifs that reflect each story's style, theme, and setting. Some of my favorite details in the Halloween collection include the dapper English black houndstooth pattern in the Canterville Ghost banner, the alphabet motif that looks like eighteenth-century typeface in the Sleepy Hollow banner, and the Gothic architectural prints in the Dracula and Frankenstein banners.

Sleepy Hollow Banner from That Sort of Shop

I think these banners add a sophisticated literary air to Halloween home and party decorations, and look especially bewitching draped from a mantelpiece or over suspended above a buffet of tantalizing treats. If you'd like to order one for yourself, please do so by October 26th for best chance of delivery before Halloween! Once they vanish they'll be gone for another year, so snatch them while you can.

Frankenstein Banner from That Sort of Shop

19 September 2018

A Day at Christ Church in Old City, Philadelphia

I'm taking a course on Colonial history this semester of college, and my first assignment was to visit and write about a Colonial site. Luckily I live fairly close to Philadelphia, so I had plenty of potential places to pick from! Old City seemed a natural neighborhood on which to narrow my focus, since as the name suggests it's the oldest section of Philadelphia. Because the course ends prior to the American Revolution, I eliminated the sites of Independence Mall in favor of somewhere a bit older, and landed on Christ Church.

Christ Church was originally built in 1695, though the present building dates from 1744. It has remained an active church throughout its entire history, but it's open every day of the week for guided or self-guided tours. When my dad (doing duty as field trip buddy) and I arrived there were only a handful of people in the church waiting for the tour to begin, so we explored the building and its grounds on our own for a little.

Like many buildings in Old City, the church is built of red brick and enclosed by a wrought iron fence. We entered the grounds through a gate on Second Street and walked along the enclosed area parallel to Church Street, where several graves are scattered along the pavement and marked with stone slabs flush with the ground. There are more graves under the church itself, marked by engraved stones on the floor--our tour guide told us this wasn't uncommon for Anglican churches of the era.

The church has a row of beautiful Georgian windows along Church Street, and an enormous one facing Second Street behind the pulpit--all clear glass instead of stained to reflect the Enlightenment belief that the outside world posed no threat to the spiritual world, according to our tour guide. The windows and the pulpit date from the eighteenth century, but various other fixtures have been replaced over time, reflecting the longevity of the congregation. The pews were replaced in the nineteenth century, though the church map still marks where notable Founding Fathers would have sat.

We sat in one of the pews while the tour guide gave a talk about the church's history, and shortly after he began speaking our small group was joined by twenty or so people on a larger guided tour. Just as we were leaving after the tour concluded, an even larger group was pouring in, so it seemed we had timed our arrival and departure just perfectly!

Visitors enter and exit the church through the tower room, where stairs lead to the organ, choir loft, belfry, and gallery. The room itself serves as a gift shop, and I purchased a souvenir guide map and history booklet to assist me in my paper writing. Then we got directions from the cashier to the Christ Church burial ground, which is situated a few blocks away at the corner of Fifth and Arch Streets.

Like the church, the burial ground is bordered by a wrought iron fence. Unlike the church, the burial ground was nearly empty of visitors--there were only a couple of other people who had paid the three dollar entrance fee to come inside, and a handful of people on a tour looking in from outside the fence. We followed a path winding through the graves and the old, shady trees, though it petered out in parts.

In some areas the graves are ordered neatly in rows, and in others they are more haphazard. Many have partially sunken into the ground, while others are cracked and broken.

The markers are a mix of simple headstones, raised tomb-like structures, and obelisk monuments. The inscriptions have worn away on most of the oldest stones, which date from the eighteenth century. The newest grave I saw was that of a man who died in 1991, and his wife's grave next to it still awaits its occupant. (I took a photo, but won't share it here for their privacy.)

The most famous grave in the burial ground is that of Benjamin Franklin. Conveniently for the tour group outside the fence, Franklin's grave is located on one of the outer corners near the sidewalk. The visitors tossed pennies onto the grave, apparently in homage to Franklin's saying, "A penny saved is a penny earned." We didn't give Franklin any monetary offerings, since I figured our admission fee was worth significantly more. 

The burial ground had a somewhat otherworldly atmosphere yet wasn't particularly spooky; just a bit strangely quiet and green for a plot of land in the middle of a busy city neighborhood. The church runs a guided evening tour of the burial ground on Fridays through the middle of November, and if I get the chance I'd like to come back for one and see if the atmosphere is different a little later in the day--or closer to Halloween! Besides, there was so much to see at Christ Church that I didn't get a chance to photograph, so a general return visit might just be in order.

(One final note on the photos I did get: I used my iPod instead of my regular digital camera and edited these shots in Instagram, and used filters on most of the burial ground photos to convey a sense of atmosphere. The end result is a little experimental, and the quality a bit inconsistent, which I hope wasn't too distracting!)

12 September 2018

Light and Plain Muffins for Butter and Jam

Note: Please keep in mind that my recipes reflect only my own experience, and that if you choose to follow them you do so at your own risk!

When I was growing up, my mother would sometimes make these muffins in the morning and serve them warm from the oven with butter and jam as a breakfast treat before we started homeschooling for the day. Unlike the rich and sugary breakfast cakes of today, these old-fashioned plain muffins are sparingly shortened and only lightly sweet, which makes them the perfect vehicle for butter, jam, or other spreads. They have a moist, light, and springy texture thanks to plenty of milk, two eggs, and a heaping helping of baking powder, which also gives them an appealingly puffed appearance. While they're fine at room temperature, they're at their best warm, so serve them right away and reheat any leftovers.
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted  
  • 1/4 cup sugar 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 3 1/2 cups flour 
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 
  • 2 cups milk 

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two muffin pans with 16 parchment muffin wrappers and set aside. (If you don't have parchment wrappers, grease the pans with butter instead--the muffins will stick to plain paper wrappers.) 
2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the melted butter and the sugar. Add the eggs and beat well. 
3. Add 1 cup of the flour, the baking powder, and the salt to the wet mixture and combine. Add about 2/3 cup of the milk, and combine again. Keep alternating the remaining flour and the milk, blending after each addition, just until no dry spots remain. 
4. Spoon the batter into the lined muffin pans, dividing evenly among 16 muffins. 
5. Bake the muffins until they've puffed at the top and are golden brown, around 20 minutes. 
6. Carefully pop the muffins out of the pan and serve warm with butter, jam, or other spreads. Reheat any leftovers in a low oven for a few minutes before serving. 
Makes 16 muffins

04 September 2018

September Fresh Starts

La Belle Jardinière – Septembre, by Eugène Grasset (1896)

Back in January, I made a resolution to post on this blog at least three times per month. I managed more or less to keep to that schedule for the first half of the year, but after the end of June, my blogging output dropped precipitously, and I scrounged up just one post apiece in July and August.

I wish I could say that my lack of updates was due to being busy in other areas of my life, like stocking my Etsy shop or working on creative projects, but the truth is I've felt somewhat directionless this summer. I've been thinking a lot about my plans going forward in major areas of my life, and the resulting preoccupation and anxiety I've felt has taken me away from my usual hobbies of crafting, baking, and generally creating. These hobbies are what typically inspire my posts here, and without that inspiration, I ran out of the fuel that keeps this blog going.

So, I took some time off to refuel. I went for lots of walks around my town and surrounding area, which as a coastal region is at its busiest and brightest in the summer. I planted blueberry bushes and annual flowers in my garden, and replaced some of the latter when successive heat waves did them in. I encouraged myself to read more (another hobby in which I'd become somewhat slack) and to make the most of the warm weather while it lasts by taking books out into the garden. I rearranged all the furniture in my room, as I hold the firm belief that refreshing your surroundings can refresh your spirit, too. Conversely, I rewatched old favorite television shows, because sometimes you need the comfort of something familiar when you're feeling a little lost.

Now it's September, and while it's still blazing hot and there are almost three more weeks of summer left, I feel that the time has come for a fresh start. It's the day after Labor Day and my college classes have resumed, and I'm reminded of how this same day was the first day back to school (or homeschooling) throughout my childhood. That sharp change in routine and the coming change in the weather always made this time really feel like a new year to me, more so than the actual turn of the year in January. 

While I won't make any firm resolutions, I do hope to post more frequently here in the autumn--if for no other reason than to encourage me to pick up more of my hobbies again. I've already started behind the scenes, as I'm working to restock my Halloween pennant banners in my Etsy shop after a sudden late-August sellout, and I've launched a new daily enrichment program on my children's literature resource Sparrow Tree Square. I'm also planning to shake up my beauty routine and fashion choices, which I might document here, and to try other new things to enliven my day-to-day life that might also find their way onto this blog. Since September is a month of change--from summer to autumn, hot to cool, vacation to school--now seems like the perfect time to affect a change in my life, too, and to start afresh once again.