Week In Review, A Splash of Austin in the Mix

A week on the farm, two days in Austin. A whirlwind week. I need a nap. Two naps, actually.

Last Sunday, the mud settled. Pawprints on the dining room rug, tracked up the stairs, tracked to the sheets. We got tired of it, so I had to grab three bails of straw. Smashed into the back of the Mercedes, I had my own trouble tracking dirt into the SUV. Oh well. Made it home, scattered over the muddiest parts. The rest in the barn to keep the chickens warm. Thanks God I did. It ended up at 8 degrees the next morning.

Milo’s vet the next day. Cheeseburgers for him for dinner. Perfect health, they told me. “Check again,” I said. “He looks like he’s been ran over a couple times.” No one laughed.

And then to Texas on Thursday! My mother-in-law owns a dress shop, so we tagged along as she bought new inventory. Lucky for us, my sister-in-law lives in Austin, so we made a weekend of it.

It felt like Old Times, that ephemeral period that’s always a little more rose-colored when looking back. In California, some of my favorite memories were when Nolan’s family would visit. It was nice to have that time repeated here, too.

The agenda:

Thursday - We got in late, so got a cocktail and some small plates at Ah Sing Den.

Friday - This day was spent at the warehouse. Three hours to Dallas, three hours back. Stopped at a Czech bakery that doubled as a gas station. Stopped at Torchy’s, drooled over their queso. A night watching Nailed It on Netflix.

Saturday - Breakfast of English pea beignets and sweet potato hash at Café No Sé. Manicures to follow. Candy store after that to take to Mary Poppins Returns (so good!). Then an evening at antique stores, department stores, and a cupcake nightcap before more Nailed It.

Sunday - Travels home. Stopped for groceries. Missed the howling dogs and chickens. Snow fell, so cold it felt like it seared my skin. The chickens were fine. I missed them terribly, their silhouette illuminated by the heat lamp behind me.

Surrounded the rest of the night by cuddling dogs. The only noise in the whole house, their breathing and the rattling of the dryer in the basement.

And to keep up my tally of books, here’s where I’m at so far this year:

Finished last week: Portrait of a Marriage, Nigel Nicolson and V. Sackville-West
Finished this week: The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street: Letters Between Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill 1952-73
Working on now: Diaries, 1971-1983, James Lees-Milne

First Week of 2019: The Farm

We’ve (almost) finished the first week of January. How are you feeling?

Me? Like I’m itching to do more. It’s been a weird week. Muddy. Hard to stay awake. Hard to stay focused. Hard to keep up with the dust bunnies and needy, restless, bored dogs and spoiled bantams. But I stay busy. Focused.

I take naps. It helps, too.

I do not know if we will have a white winter still. So far, it doesn’t look like it. But I’m hopeful. I’m trying to see the beauty in the crosshatches of the chicken footprints in the mud puddle outside the large and broken barn door. In the double yolk egg I cracked for breakfast. In the jagged edges of the frozen leaves. I’m trying to find the beauty. It’s just taking a little longer than I would have liked.

Everything I Read in 2018: A Year in Review

As I look forward into 2019, I know resolutions are top of mind. Last year, I don’t believe I had any that were materialized in my mind. But, with that being said, 2018 ignited within me my love for reading. Weekly trips to the library, a kindle chockfull of books, and a nightstand tipping with used books all contributed to this year’s binge.

Before bed, I committed to myself to read at least an hour. After 39 books, I think this system worked for me.

Here are the books I’ve read this year. In no particular order:

Vita: The Life of V. Sackville-West, Victoria Glendinning
Never Breathe a Word, Caroline Blackwood
Mr. Boddington's Etiquette: Charm and Civility for Every Occasion, Mr. Boddington Studios
The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, edited by Charlotte Mosley
Upstream, Mary Oliver
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
The Emotional Lives of Animals, Marc Bekoff
All in One Basket, Her Grace Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire
American Primitive, Mary Oliver
Counting My Chickens, Her Grace Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire
Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
Clash of Kings, George R. R. Martin
The Pursuit of Laughter, Diana Mosely
Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed, Marc Bekoff
Minding Animals, Marc Bekoff
Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant, Philip Hoare
A Little Learning, Evelyn Waugh
Dog Songs, Mary Oliver
The Animals’ Agenda, Marc Bekoff
And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
Diaries 1942-1954, James Lees-Milne
The Last of the Duchess, Caroline Blackwood
Play It as It Lays, Joan Didion
Orlando, Virginia Woolf
Fantastic Mr. Fox, Roald Dahl
A Talent to Annoy, Nancy Mitford
Book of Greek Myths, D’Aulaires
A Voice Through a Cloud, Denton Welch
South and West, Joan Didion
The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, edited by Charlotte Mosley
The Shepherd’s Life,,James Rebanks
The Shining, Stephen King
Wait for Me!, Her Grace Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire
The Water Beetle, Nancy Mitford
Felicity, Mary Oliver
In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor, edited by Charlotte Mosley
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris

Cheers to more learning in 2019!

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Last Minute Baking? Christmas Wreath Donuts

Is anyone else feeling a funk? A holiday ennui? Is it brought on by so much travel late in the year? Or just…getting older?

I’m trying to get back in the spirit of things, the tradition. The memories of What It Used to Be. So I’m baking. But royal icing seemed too fussy. My cold hands felt like all thumbs. So I thought donuts, plump and fluffy and warm. I added some buttercream, some dye. Some pearls for good measure. And here we are - little wreaths for your Christmas morning.

Christmas Wreath Donuts

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup AP flour

  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 3 TB butter, melted (or olive oil!)

  • 1 egg + 1 yolk

  • 1/3 cup whole or buttermilk

  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Directions:

  1. Spray or grease your donut pan with oil

  2. Preheat oven to 350*F

  3. Sift together all dry ingredients

  4. Whisk together all wet ingredients

  5. With a rubber spatula, mix wet into dry

  6. Pipe (or spoon) mixture into prepared pan to about 3/4 way full

  7. Bang slightly on counter to get air bubbles out

  8. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown on top

  9. Allow to cool, remove from pan, see below for decoration notes

Decoration notes: I used a “ruffled” piping tip and dotted each donut to create a fir effect. For the buttercream, I used 6 TB unsalted butter, softened, 4 TB shortening, 1/2 TB vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar. I used a good gel kelly green dye and mixed this in by hand (I wanted a bit of striation on the dye for a more visual variety than the homogenous mixture done by a stand mixer)

I added white sugar pearls as baubles to finish.

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