Saturday, September 5, 2015

Watching Football and Baking Fig Bread

It’s September, and although the weather is still hot here in Louisiana, college football is on the TV, and my thoughts are on baking.  Finally I feel like heating up the oven, besides I enjoy making quick breads in the fall.  Thoughts of my morning cup of Community Coffee with a slice of _______ (fill in the blank) are highly motivating.

Come on, Vols!

Today I thought I would try a loaf of fig bread.  Unfortunately I have no figs but I did find a jar of homemade fig preserves in the cabinet.  I thought I would try that as a substitute.  (Note: I’m printing original recipe because it is definitely better.)

Fig Bread
Cook Time: approximately 45 minutes – 1 hour
Total Time: 1 ½ hours

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups ripe figs, mashed
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • cup chopped pecans

Beat eggs; add sugar and beat well.


Add the mashed figs and vegetable oil.

Sift together flour, soda, salt and cinnamon.

Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk to the mixing bowl. Beat well.
Fold in chopped pecans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour in greased and floured loaf pans. (Check frequently--it may not take that long to bake.)

Makes 2 large or 3 small loaves. (Mine only made one large loaf.)
Now if my football teams would only have good seasons.


Friday, September 4, 2015

So Many Books, So Little Time

When I saw So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading on my library shelves, it caught my attention.  The blurb for this nonfiction volume described author Sara Nelson as editor, reporter, reviewer, mother, daughter, wife and compulsive reader who chronicled a year’s worth of reading.  She discovered that books chose her as much she chose them.  I can relate.  I describe myself as a moody reader—a book can sit on my shelves for years before I rediscover it, then the timing is right, and the book and I are off and running.

So Many Books, So Little Time was published in 2003, making it somewhat dated, but this wasn’t a big issue for me.   I also realized from the start that my background and life experiences didn’t approximate Nelson’s.  She was Jewish, her parents were wealthy; she was the product of prestigious private schools and Yale University.  Her husband, Akira “Leo” Yoshimura was a Japanese-American who was the art designer for Saturday Night Live.  They lived in New York City and had one child.
She wove her daily experiences into her writing, which added human interest.  She revealed somewhat reluctantly that her mother didn’t read much to her as a child because neither enjoyed it, and she doesn’t enjoy reading to her own son, Charley.  She wrote honestly of the harsh arguments she and her husband had and his issues with anger management. 

I was familiar with most of the titles Nelson discussed in her books, such as Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Katharine Graham’s Personal History, James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, even if I hadn’t read them all.  Her book was sufficiently interesting that I finished it, often reading late at night as I told myself I would stop at the end of a chapter but because her chapters were short, I would read another and another.
In the end, the book was worth reading for passages, such as:

[Books] remind me of the person I was and the people I knew at the time I read them, the places I visited, the dreams I had as I lay on the couch or in bed or on the beach and read them….I talk about my books as if they were people, and I choose them the way I choose my friends:  because somebody nice introduced us, because I liked their looks, because the best of them turn out to be smart and funny and both surprising and inevitable at the same time.

Out of curiosity I looked up Sara Nelson on the internet.  She is currently the editorial director at and was formerly the Books Editor for Oprah.  Her marriage to Leo Yoshimura didn’t work out, and she remarried in 2013.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Gift of a Cardinal

My mother always loved birds and had a small collection of bird figures—glazed ceramic ones, more ornate porcelain ones, along with several carved from wood.  The birds decorated the mantles at my parents’ house, interspersed with live plants, a mantle clock and other figurines.  She purchased the birds on trips as mementos, or someone in the family would give her a bird figurine, and soon a couple of birds became a small collection.  We divided up my mom’s birds among the family after she died.  My sisters and I each took a couple that had some special meaning to us.  Several great-grandchildren visiting from the Czech Republic each took one and my sister doled out the others.

I selected a cardinal because it is the state bird of Virginia and was one of Mother’s favorite birds.  The Czech relatives also wanted cardinals because they don’t have them in the Czech Republic.  Luckily there was more than one, each unique.  Mother had picked up small carved birds at the local arts and crafts festival.

The cardinal also had another association for me.  When Mother was very ill at the end of her life, I was preparing to drive to Virginia.  I was upset, I didn’t know if I would get there in time.  I was driving to my credit union on the other side of town to get money for the trip.  I reached a section of the road that had fields on either side of it before the urban sprawl began again.  Suddenly a cardinal flew in front of my car, a flash of red dipping down into my view as it flew from one side of the road to the other.  At that moment a feeling of peace flowed through me, and I felt like that was a message telling me that everything was going to be all right.   

I left on my trip a day earlier than I had planned and joined my youngest sister in our hometown. We went to the nursing home where Mother was receiving hospice care.  Mother passed away that night.  I don’t look at cardinals and think of death or sadness.  Cardinals and their bird brethren provide a flash of color and beauty in a world that sometimes feels like it is spinning out of control.  Birds ground me even as they fly away, higher and higher on air.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My House as a Collage of Memories

I’m not an insomniac but I do resist going to bed at night, a throw-back from childhood.  It was late the other night when I started playing with a photo app on my IPhone.  I kept layering effects on top of other effects and combining frames on photos to make an artistic image.  I was photographing the mantle in our dining room because I had added a few treasures brought from my mother’s house, and I wanted to show my sisters.  It was similar to assembling a collage, and I was thoroughly enjoying the process.

As I studied the photo I had taken, I realized that my house is comprised of layer upon layer of memories, and I am now adding another layer after the death of my mother.  I’m incorporating artifacts from my parents’ marriage and from my childhood into my present life and home.

What I display in our home depicts different segments of my life and that of my husband’s.  I add layers as I acquire items from various sources.  On our dining room mantle, I have old books with gold lettering on the spines that I got from my grandmother’s.  My grandmother and I often sat in her room that doubled as her office/library.  While she had a kitchen table and a formal dining table in other parts of her house, a table in her office was positioned in front of a large picture window that looked out on the street in front of her house. 
My grandmother and I would sit there and eat our meals and talk about the neighborhood goings-on, surrounded by glass enclosed book cases filled with old books.  I was able to take several volumes of books from those shelves when my grandmother died in 1964.  I first took them to my bedroom at my childhood home, and years later when I moved into my own apartment, I carried them with me.  I’ve picked up other, similar volumes through the years.  Some of these books now adorn the mantle.  Two gold-plated china bud vases from Ricky’s grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration are also on display.  In the middle of the mantle is an old clock, accented with gold, which came from Ricky’s father who collected and repaired clocks. 

A bowl with an Asian motif gold design sits on a stack of books. The bowl was a gift from two of my Early Head Start staff and represents another part of my past. 

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, we assisted a family from New Orleans who moved into our guest cottage. They became like family to us even after they returned to New Orleans.  For a recent birthday, they presented me with a burgundy rose that had been preserved and lacquered, the rose and leaves tipped with 24K gold, while the stem is gilded in gold.  This unusual rose fits perfectly in one of the tall gold bud vases on the mantle.  Its mate, a pink rose also gilded with gold, is in our friends’ home in New Orleans.
The most recent mantle additions include a blush-colored candy dish from my parents’ house.   My parents received it as a wedding gift in 1947.  Next to the candy dish, but elevated on a stack of books is another vase, similar in color, that Ricky’s mother gave me one year for Christmas.  I stand back studying my tableau, and then add other meaningful items—several birds from Mother’s bird figurine collection. 

I carefully assemble my collage, moving everything around, stopping periodically to scrutinize my results.  I arrange layer upon layer of memories in my house for no reason other than it pleases me.  I look around and I smile.