Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Whatever our souls are made of . . ."

There are many reasons I love autumn and one is that every October I re-read one of my favorite books, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. I first read it as a sophomore in high school, and immediately loved it, but didn't begin reading it annually until a couple of years later.

There's something about the change in weather in October, the moodiness of it, the leaves dying and turning colors & the starkness of bare tree branches, the rain & mist & chill, the mercurial nature of the month, which so suits WH that I couldn't possibly read it any other time of the year.

At the high school many of the sophomores still read it, usually in the spring, and it remains one of my favorite books to discuss with them. It seems people tend to have strong reactions to it: love it or hate it, there is no in between. Even students who have graduated often ask if it is time for my reading. I look forward to it with great anticipation every year.

 The difficult decision is which edition of Wuthering Heights to read. I confess: I cannot help buying copies of  it or Pride and Prejudice, two of my three favorite books. If I visit a new bookstore I always look for them on the shelves (what sort of reputable bookstore doesn't carry the Brontes or Austen?). When I travel and find bookstores, such as my favorite in Portland, Powell's, I always spend time visiting the Jane Austen section and the Bronte shelves, and usually purchase a new (to me, at least) copy of one or both. The first time I ever visited Powell's was when I was in Portland for a Bobby Long folk concert and to commemorate my trip I bought WH with this cover (pictured in my photo above) because it so perfectly represented the trip. I often tuck gig tickets, receipts, parking passes, and the like into the books so when I open them I find little pieces of memories. As I only go on these trips a couple of times I really only purchase a couple of copies a year, usually second hand or old, interesting versions. Who knows how many I have?

My favorite is probably the one I bought used as my "lake copy" many years ago, which you can see in my photo. I carried it around in my purse and then my school bag for ages resulting in the cover becoming more tattered than it had been when I got it. A couple of years ago it fell off entirely but I am reluctant to tape it back on and instead carefully hold it or place it in whatever bag I'm using when reading it. I have never written in this one but every time I pick it up I am reminded of conversations I have had about it, places and times I have read it, trips I have taken it on, and how much I love re-reading beloved books. (For an excellent post on this sort of thing, which could have come from my own heart, visit here.)

I have yet to see a film adaptation which properly cast or conveyed the story, unfortunately, though some have got a few of the actors right or parts of the story right. (The only actor I can think of who could be Heathcliff so perfectly is Richard Armitage.) And while I love Kate Bush's song "Wuthering Heights," (my favorite version is Pat Benatar's) what has most exquisitely captured the essence of this novel is "The Enemy," a song written and performed by one of my absolute favorite bands, Mumford and Sons, for the 2011 film. I'm listening to it on repeat as I write this.

 It gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes.

Now, I must be off to light a woodfire-scented candle (in the absence of a fire place), make a pot of hot Yorkshire Harrogate tea, and read more Wuthering Heights.

Do you have any books you always read at a certain time of year?

Cheers! xx

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Back to Baking!

Happy Autumn!! Obviously we are celebrating by not posting anything. We are awesome this way. :)

Autumn is my favorite time of year, something Allison & I have in common, so I thought I would actually try to post something related to it. I love baking, especially for other people, but tend not to do much of it in the heat of summer. This August the heating element in the oven went out & even though I didn't plan to bake much I felt slightly panicked at the thought that I couldn't if I wanted to. ;) Fortunately my dad put a new heating element in & the weather has turned cooler so it's time to make delicious autumn-inspired foods!

To christen the new heating element I decided to make some Peanut Butter Pumpkin Bread. It sounds like a weird combination but they work well together.

The recipe I use is from an old Taste of Home magazine but I've made a few additions of my own over time. I like it spicy. :)

Here's the recipe with my additions in bold:

Peanut Butter Pumpkin Bread (adapted from Taste of Home):
  • 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon plus a little more
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves  
  • 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2/3 cup peanut butter
  • Chocolate chips!
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves in a large bowl. Put the peanut butter (I prefer extra chunky!) in a slightly smaller bowl and microwave for 30 seconds to a minute so it is easier to combine with the other ingredients. Once it is easily stirred add in the pumpkin, oil, water, and eggs. Stir the pumpkin-peanut butter mixture into the dry ingredients just until everything is combined. I like to add chocolate chips at this step. As many as you'd like! Don't overstir.

The Taste of Home recipe calls for two 9x5-in. loaf pans. I've also used smaller pans and made mini-loaves. Just make sure you grease them. I use an ice cream scoop to evenly distribute the batter. When the pans are full I like to sprinkle a line of cinnamon down the length of the batter before swirling it with a knife or fork. It makes it look pretty! You can also sprinkle some sugar on top to give it an extra something. Bake at 350 degrees for 60-70 minutes. My oven tends to be hot (and the new element is very hot) so I check around 45 minutes, especially if making small loaves. Use the toothpick method to see if it's ready. Cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before carefully removing from pan. Let cool before wrapping carefully. 

This freezes well & makes a great gift! You can add cinnamon chips, white chocolate chips, cranberries, nuts, etc. Happy eating!