quick aside, not about pumpkin cupcakes: There’s this article about writing that, right away the first time I read it, so stopped me in my tracks, I now have it taped up to my office wall. One of the sections I underlined gives this advice about knowing what to write: “Listen to what makes your hair stand on end, your heart melt, and your eyes go wide, what stops you in your tracks and makes you want to live, wherever it comes from, and hope that your writing can do all those things for other people.” Today’s post is written with that spirit, to chronicle and record what’s making my heart melt and eyes go wide these days, from my own “other world that is not quite this one,” simply for the joy that’s in it right now.
September 20 isn’t exactly September’s early days, I realize, but I started writing this dispatch from the sofa more than a week ago, in a quiet house, Rocco tucked in for bed and Tim away at Home Depot picking up slats for our new Adirondack chairs. Let’s go look at pumpkins, I had said to him earlier that day, I’m feeling like fall! That’s how all three of us found ourselves, at 1 p.m. on an early September weekday, not at home like we normally would be, the adults typing away on our computers, the toddler transporting wooden blocks from one hiding place to the next. Instead, we three were together cruising around the stalls of the Nashville Farmers Market, picking up four $3 pumpkins (two orange, two Cinderella), one $2 pie pumpkin (which has since become pie, already eaten in full; now another one’s in the oven), a $4 hibiscus plant (clearance price!) and, the subject of the evening’s eventual Home Depot run, two broken but beautiful cedar Adirondack chairs looking for some love. It’s still in the high 80s or even 90s by mid-day around here, we weren’t really in the market for new chairs but, hey, they were clearance price and, guys, it’s September! Almost the season for long hours sitting outside! Fresh from these first few weeks of a treasured month, I have to tell you, I’m squeezing out every drop of seasonal joy I can find.
A couple weeks ago now, we took an unexpected overnight trip north for a family emergency, (thankfully, from where I sit today I can tell you, everyone’s okay). Just as we were leaving town, we grabbed my latest stack of books from the library, a combination of an exciting interlibrary loan about thrifty gardening and a handful of reserved copies of Gladys Taber books. Between Nashville and Cincinnati, we got to escape away to the beauties of New England, even as the hills of Kentucky whizzed past our windows. Along miles of I-65, we breezed right through the first half of the dreamy Stillmeadow Calendar, Tim, at the wheel; me, reading aloud from the passenger seat. From the story of how Gladys first found her 1690 cottage to daily descriptions of the seasons in Connecticut, I was charmed. The only thing better than being in New England in fall is reading about it. I’m now on another Gladys book, My Cape Cod.
I’d gotten all the books from Gladys because of a recent post by Lanier Ivester. I know I’ve mentioned Lanier before, if not more than once then at least in my post about the merciful month of May, and, after months of binge-reading her archives, I can tell you her site is as delightful as early fall mornings have been around here. When she mentions an author she loves, it’s a sure bet I’ll love that author, too, case in point Elizabeth Goudge and now Gladys Taber. Taber’s books are New England meets a celebration of domesticity meets clever little reflections that make you think. She’s beloved by Susan Branch (another charming blogger worth following, p.s., if you’re in the market for some added joy) and has an entire fan club I’m sincerely considering joining, even though it costs $20 and I’m the kind of person who gets library books with the word “thrifty” in bold on top. By the time, the Saturday after we’d gone to Ohio, that I’d finished Stillmeadow and spent a few hours gaining inspiration from Alys Fowler on how to garden on the cheap, I was out in the front yard digging in the dirt and loving it, newly inspired. This is the power of a good book.
We painted our house two weeks ago (!) and, by we, I of course mean Tim and our generous friend Terry, both of whom labored for hours while I did nothing but watch Rocco, bring out snacks and cheer. I’ve wanted to paint our house since the day we bought it two years ago this month. I even put “money for house painting” on last year’s birthday wish list. But it’s just now, in 2016, that we’ve finally been able to pull together the resources, the materials and, providentially, one full week of sunny days to make it possible. The very moment I pulled up to the house to a half-painted white side, my heart skipped a beat.
You know what they say about one change leading to another, and that’s certainly been true with our painting job. Looking at it all bright and white was just the inspiration we needed to pull our house numbers out of storage, the very house numbers I bought two years ago in my eagerness to give the house a new look. Dreams fulfilled! Tim drilled them to the brick while Rocco and I sat, watching, on a blue blanket in the lawn. Then, the new numbers were inspiration to spruce up the front yard, where the landscaping beds were covered with sticks and stones. Working in the dirt made me want plants and pumpkins. Plants and pumpkins led us to our new Adirondack chairs. Now, today, on September 20, they’re even prettier than when we bought them, with newly installed slats and their wood all sanded and oiled. Fall hasn’t even officially arrived and, here I am, lost in all the inspiration this season brings. I am so thankful to live in a part of the world that feels the seasons!
Our calendar is full lately, another seasonal gift. I’ve been reading through the Bible in a year with a group of women from my church, and we meet every Tuesday night to talk about what books like Amos or Micah mean to us today. Tim meets with a group of guys on Wednesdays to talk and pray. Sunday nights, I walk with my sweet friend Karen in either her neighborhood or mine. Also, Rocco’s getting play dates, I almost can’t believe it, which equate to fun mama dates for me. Friends celebrate milestones. Someone we love comes through town. A friend meets me for pizza on her lunch break. The days are flying by before we can count them, but not so quickly that I don’t reach for my camera and say, oh, look at that light! as Tim cuts Rocco’s morning fruit.
I want to write these memories down to remember, the way I wrote about the weeks before our wedding or the days of young married life because, whether or not anyone else reads them, I do and will look back and have my heart stirred, nostalgic for sweet gifts I could have forgot. Also, I want to record that this is “my life–the life I have been called and equipped to live … for some reason, this is where He most pleases to meet me and show me Himself. This is where Christ dwells in me and where eternity touches time,” as Lanier writes.
Especially though, I think, I want to record these moments because they are obviously not all of them. Because alongside fall’s pumpkins and house projects and inspirations, there have been, there always are, clouds and confusions and hard days, of course, of course. Sometimes the difficult parts of life seem so much bigger, and I need as many reminders as possible to still see my husband long-talking with me on the sofa, my friend laughing with us on the deck, my baby coming towards me with his toy.
Joy in the midst of complication, that is it. Simple joy like white paint and refinished chairs and pumpkins on the porch.
“There is, I have found, at least one good or lovely thing in every single day,” Gladys Taber writes. “Everyone has sorrow, endures difficult times, but loveliness abides if we look for it.”
And, also, this:
“Life is not, for most of us, a pageant of splendor but is made up of many small things, rather like an old-fashioned piecework quilt. No two people have the same, but we all have our own, whether it be Beethoven’s Fifth with a beloved friend or seeing a neighbor at the back door with a basket of white dahlias. Or, after a long, hard day, having the family say, ‘That was a good supper.'”
And, for your own fall joy, wherever you are, here is my new favorite, favorite, favorite pumpkin cupcake recipe. It originates from the lovely Honey & Jam cookbook (which I was talking about last year at around this time, too!), by Hannah Queen, an artist with the most dreamy photos and charming Pinterest boards and sweet heart, who, incidentally, was the first person to point me to the blog by Lanier that led to the books by Gladys that inspired so much of this post.
I used to love Panera Bread’s pumpkin muffies, you know the ones? Just a seasonal muffintop, dotted with powdered sugar? These pumpkin cupcakes from Honey & Jam, to me, taste just like them or even better. They are pure fall! Note that while I swapped in einkorn flour and coconut sugar, Hannah used traditional flour and sugar, so you definitely could. Also, despite filling mine fairly full, I ended up with a handful more than twelve, which I just poured into cupcake liners in ramekins. Still worked beautifully. Hannah’s cookbook is such a foolproof (not to mention stunning) book. Every recipe I’ve ever made from it (seven or so?) has wowed me right away.
2 cups (250g) all-purpose einkorn flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup (1 stick/115g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups coconut sugar
1 cup fresh pumpkin puree, ideally from a pie pumpkin you’ve roasted and pureed in your Vitamix (ps – giveaway ends September 21!)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (120ml) whole milk
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees and line a cupcake tray with liners.
In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves.
In a large bowl, use a standmixer or handmixer to cream butter and coconut sugar together. You really, really do need your butter to be soft here; it makes this process way easier and less of a kitchen disaster with coconut sugar flying everywhere, trust me, I’ve learned from experience. Keep mixing until the butter and sugar have really come together well, about five minutes. Add the pumpkin puree and the vanilla, and mix. Add the eggs one by one, mixing each one in well.
Now, alternately add the dry goods and the milk to the mixture, blending after each addition.
Divide your batter among cupcake liners, filling each one at least 3/4 of the way full. Funny tip: if you fill a little higher, your pumpkin cupcakes get taller, and you may even luck out to have a few of the finished tops pop right off the bases. This obviously may not appeal to you, but for muffie lovers like me, it was pretty fun.
Bake 17 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Turn the muffins out onto a wire rack and let cool completely.
You of course can frost these with your favorite butter or cream cheese frosting recipe, but personally I loved them alone, with a steamy cup of something fallish to drink.