TRENCH WARFARE – The Little Menace in the Garden

country garden

The annual battle begins anew each summer. It’s us against marauding underground country critters looking for munchables – in our garden! Where we see a tender new plant filled with promise, the local critters see lunch.

My story of the annual battle of the backyard was published by Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home in May 2014.

Trench Warfare
From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home
By Judy Harch

“There is no gardening without humility…”
~Alfred Austin

Our children were grown and on their own. My husband Chris and I had finally realized a long-awaited dream and moved to a cottage in the country. Now we could wake up each morning and look forward to watching an occasional deer meander through the yard, spot squirrels scrambling up trees with their acorns, and observe the social order of birds at the feeder. Blue jays first, unless a bully of a redheaded woodpecker lurks on a tall tree trunk nearby.

Life in our new home would have been grand if it hadn’t been for those unseen critters waging war with this pair of country newbies. My love and respect for the animal kingdom was about to be sorely tested. For those of us who feel a kinship with animals, occasionally there comes a time when an earth-shattering upheaval, so to speak, separates theory from practice.

During that first summer in our new domicile, my mettle was tested by a platoon of voles. They are the insidious little critters that hide in the dark netherworld of our yards. They stealthily slide along their well-crafted underground tunnels, munching on tender plant roots they view as a well-stocked salad bar.

They’re probably held in high regard among their animal friends since they believe in sharing the wealth. Voles act as company commanders forging the way for other tunnelers, like chipmunks and field mice. Our back yard had become one big garden party down there at our expense.

Ferreting out this destructive militia became our summertime obsession. We had called upon our animal-friendly arsenal of weapons but were failing to reclaim our territory.

Over breakfast one morning, I’d said to my husband, “I’ve been getting neighborly advice about ways to send those critters packing.”

Chris was immediately interested, if somewhat reluctant to look like a country bumpkin, when I suggested theory number one — human hair as repellent.

Undaunted, I continued, “The next time you go to the barber shop ask for a bag of hair.” I related the theory that the voles would be scared off by the scent of big, bad Homo sapiens.

Reluctantly, Chris marched off to the barber shop, collected several large paper bags of hair, spread it around the garden, wet it down, and waited for the motley crew to turn tail and head for the hills. It didn’t work. The voles must have had a good laugh at that over lunch.

It was time for theory number two. Someone suggested rolling up several sticks of chewing gum and shoving them down the vole hole. Allegedly, the voles would get a fat wad of gum in their jaws making it impossible for them to munch on plant life — at least for a while. Hah! The Juicy Fruit turned out to be nothing more than a pre-lunch appetizer.

Theory number three: the high-tech approach. A sympathetic friend bought us a sonic tube that you insert into the ground. It is battery-operated by a small fortune’s worth of D-sized batteries. This theory purports that the underground tremors created by the sonic tube would drive the voles and their party animal friends away. Mission unaccomplished.

Then the nasty little critters began taunting us. Yes, they really did. One day, Chris was in the back vegetable garden with our yellow Labrador Retriever, Savannah, who was on a leash. He watched in utter disbelief as a budding pepper plant was pulled underground right before his eyes. He was quite sure those criminal masterminds knew he wouldn’t let go of the leash long enough to save his new sprout.

We stopped relating that episode to our friends when they began comparing us to Bill Murray’s character in the movie Caddyshack.

The war took an ugly turn about midsummer. By then, at least half our prize hostas were chewed off at their base. Our lush borders of variegated greens along pathways and around thick tree trunks looked barren. Little did we know that the final defeat in our battle was imminent.

We had received a beautiful, young Japanese red maple tree as a gift. It was both sentimental and valuable. Its feathery, deep red leaves graced a small garden by our front porch. One day I saw Chris holding what was left of the tree in his hands. It literally had been chewed off at the base. He cradled the poor, dead tree in his arms, took it out back, and laid it to rest. I could see the crushed spirit written on his face. Then he got mad.

“We’ll fix those nasty little creatures,” Chris said through gritted teeth. He called our local Cooperative Extension Service. One of their master gardeners mailed us a brochure full of tips for getting rid of voles.

When the brochure arrived, our hearts sank. Short of using pesticides (which we preferred not to do), we’d already tried every recommended remedy. After having lost each skirmish in our battle of wills, we surrendered. The underground army had been triumphant. It was time for compromise.

These days, every plant we hope to harvest lives in containers, above ground. Peace reigns. The salad bar crowd has moved to a new neighborhood.

illus. wagon

UPDATE: The white flag of surrender remains flying. We continue to plant our hostas in containers. We’ve given up on raising a vegetable garden. Those country critters have driven us to local farm markets. Sooner or later, we all learn which battles to concede.

(photo of plant courtesy of amenic181 at freedigitalphotos.net)

(illustration of wagon courtesy of debspoons at freedigitalphotos.net)

DARE TO HAVE A DREAM – Paul J. Stankard

paul stankard dream

This story is about an amazing man who made his dream come true. Paul J. Stankard is an internationally acclaimed master in the art of botanical crystal paperweights. He is renowned for his artistry and craftsmanship. His journey from working with lab glass to creating one-of-a-kind works that grace museums and private collections around the world is an inspiration to all those who have a dream and decide to follow it.

Although his individual creations now sell for many thousands of dollars, at home in his studio in southern New Jersey, Paul is just a nice, regular guy to those who know him. He lives just a few miles away from me. When I called to interview him, he was gracious and grateful for the essay below. He invited my husband Chris and me to his studio for a personal tour. It remains one of my fondest memories.

(A version of this story appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2000)

Dare to have a dream and work to see it come true

By Judy Harch

It is often said that if you can dream it, you can do it. I used to think that was wishful thinking. But then I recently attended “An Evening With Paul Stankard,” presented by our county Cultural and Heritage Commission. Stankard, of Mantua, is living proof of that maxim. Imagine his life.

Imagine that it’s 1963. After struggling academically, you’ve just graduated from the Salem Vocational-Technical Institute, which is now Salem Community College. In your spare time, you love experimenting with glass, making decorative paperweights that you feel lucky to sell for $20 each.

Now imagine that it’s 37 years later. You teach glass art at Salem Community College, and in 1999 you were named distinguished alumnus of the year. Imagine that the college has named the gallery in its new Glass Center in your honor. Imagine that you’ve recently been chosen to serve on a board of the Smithsonian Institution and named a fellow of the American Craft Council.

Oh, and while you’re imagining, try dreaming that you have become a world-renowned paperweight artist who commands $20,000 or more for some of your work. Imagine that your delicate, nature-themed paperweights and botanical glass sculptures are on permanent exhibit at the Museum of American Glass at Wheaton Village in Millville, New Jersey. Imagine them on exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and 32 other prestigious museums around the world.

Imagine that your paperweights and botanical sculptures have found their way into the collections of Britain’s Queen Mother, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bill Gates, Elton John, and other serious collectors.

Imagine that you and your artistry have been the subject of a PBS documentary. Imagine that you have a book of your work, Flora in Glass, and that you are the subject of a beautifully photographed retrospective book, Paul J. Stankard: Homage to Nature, written by Ulysses Grant Dietz.

If this sounds like a fairy tale, it is not. Stankard toiled hard in the South Jersey glass industry, making laboratory apparatus after graduating from school. At night, he perfected his art. He had a family to support, but never lost sight of his dream.

Once his work began receiving attention and accolades from paperweight collectors, Stankard decided to take the risk of becoming a full-time artist. His wife, Patricia, gave her blessing to take that leap of faith, even though they were expecting their fourth child. They remortgaged their house to buy the equipment that helped Stankard become a world-class paperweight artist.

Stankard creates incredibly realistic glass floral arrangements that look as though he has frozen nature in time. Floating honeybees buzzing around black-eyed Susans, wild blueberries, and mountain laurel blossoms are a few of his subjects.

His meticulous attention to detail results in glass leaves intricately marked with veins and tiny glass hairs on the backs of bees. Many people mistakenly think these exquisite creations are real flowers and insects.

Now a seasoned world traveler, Stankard says his favorite place is still his studio in Mantua, and his nearby six-acre woodland. Walks through the Pine Barrens have become an endless source of inspiration for his art.

Walt Whitman, the good, gray poet of Camden, also inspires Stankard. “From the beginning, I was drawn to Whitman’s response to nature, his view of life as a creative spiritual journey, his references to native flowers, insects and birds,” Stankard said. “What Whitman did with words, I seek to do with glass on a visual level.”

Stankard has remained a “regular guy” to his many friends who have known him before and since his celebrity. He will joyfully tell you of his love of nature, poetry, and his art, and how he looks forward to continuing to invent illusions that deal with the mysteries of nature.

If you dream it, you really can do it, but no one promises that it will be easy.

Update: At age 72, Paul J. Stankard continues to master his craft and to teach future artists his flamework skills. His beautiful botanical works are treasured by those lucky enough to own part of his collection.

Paul’s story was recently featured on CBS Sunday Morning. To watch Paul’s techniques, view the video: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/the-beautiful-world-of-paperweights/

Visit Paul’s website to see his incredible work for yourself: paulstankard.com

(World Nature image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at freedigitalphotos.com)

Buttercream Frosting – Get Creative! + Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

Since I bake cakes so often, I like to jazz up my basic buttercream frosting whenever I can. My most recent experiment gained rave reviews by those who count – the grandkids. I paired that delicious favorite of many kids (and grown-ups) – bananas with a smear of peanut butter. I turned it into a banana cake with peanut butter frosting and sprinkled chopped salty cocktail peanuts on top.

banana cake-p.b. frosting 005Love that combo of sweet and salty!

(The recipe for this banana cake follows frosting recipes)

Basic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting sticks of butter

Ingredients:

*½ cup butter, room temperature
3 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
About 1/3 cup of milk, added a little at a time

*If you like your frosting extra buttery, add another half-stick (1/4) cup of butter for a creamier frosting.

Directions:

Add butter to a mixer bowl. Cream well. Add confectioner’s sugar. Beat on low until mixture begins to blend. Add half the milk. Beat well on medium speed. Continue to add milk until the frosting is of good spreading consistency. Be cautious on the light side of adding any additional milk.

Once you are happy with the spreadability of the frosting, turn the mixer speed to high and beat for about a minute. This whips air into the frosting and gives it a creamy, easy-to-spread consistency.

Basic Chocolate Buttercream Frostingchoc.cupcake

I use the same recipe as the vanilla buttercream frosting except:

Reduce amount of confectioner’s sugar to 3 cups.
Add ½ to 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (according to how chocolatey you like the frosting)

NOTE: This is another live and learn lesson – cocoa powder is so fine that it wants to float in the air and onto you and everything around it when it meets the beaters. So I cream the butter, turn off mixer, add in cocoa, add confectioner’s sugar on top of the cocoa, then start beating – low speed at first.

Delicious Add-ins to Buttercream Frosting

Be fearless. Experiment. What’s the worst that can happen – you have to make a new batch of frosting?

Remember to add these extras before your final addition of milk since they will add to the liquidity of the frosting.

    • Add two generous tablespoonfuls of seedless strawberry preserves or jam to frosting. The result is a beautiful pink frosting with a light strawberry taste. A perfect finish for the little pink-loving girl in your life.
  • Add two generous tablespoonfuls of seedless raspberry jam to frosting. This is especially good on chocolate cake. If the cake is for adults only, you may want to add a splash of raspberry liqueur such as Chambord.
  • Experiment with different jams and preserves. I’ve used pineapple preserves and added some coconut after frosting the cake. I haven’t tried orange marmalade, but I imagine it would be a refreshing sweet/tart taste added to frosting.
  • For a citrus-flavored frosting, use frozen lemonade concentrate (undiluted) to replace the milk. Again, add concentrate in small amounts until you have desired consistency.
  • Add about three generous tablespoons of caramel ice cream topping to the frosting. If the caramel flavor is not strong enough for you, add more. Just remember to do this before adding milk. Add milk in very small amounts at a time. I’ve also used this on my banana cake.

NOTE: when adding coconut, chopped nuts, or any extra add-ons, make sure you lightly press the extras into the frosting right after placing frosting on the cake (before the frosting sets). That will help avoid having the extras fall off the cake when you cut it or try to eat it.

NOTE: If you add nuts, etc. to the middle layer of the cake, make sure you don’t overdo it, and that you push the add-ons down into the frosting. Otherwise, the two layers may not hold together tightly.

banana cake-p.b. frosting 003
Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chopped Peanuts

This recipe produces a nice, moist cake because it uses oil rather than butter.

Bakes at 350 degrees for 30-33 minutes.

NOTE: Use two 9-inch round cake pans. This makes a high cake and it might overflow during baking in 8-inch pans.

Ingredients:

2 ½ cups flour
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup buttermilk (or substitute with 2/3 cup regular milk with 2/3 tablespoon lemon juice added and    allowed to sit for 5 minutes)
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs

1 ½ cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 3 or 4 bananas)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

Mix dry ingredients together in a mixer bowl. Beat in buttermilk, oil, and eggs. Beat 2 minutes on medium speed. Add bananas and vanilla.

Pour batter into greased and floured pans. Bake 350 degrees for 30-33 minutes.

Remove from pans when cooled. Frost and add chopped peanuts.

Peanut Butter Frosting

Use recipe for basic buttercream frosting. Add ¼ cup peanut butter (room temperature) to the softened butter. Beat well to blend before adding confectioner’s sugar. Follow basic recipe.

I used salted cocktail peanuts, chopped. Use as much as or as little as you’d like. I added some of the nuts to the middle layer with frosting. Don’t forget to press down peanuts after adding to the cake for both layers.

FUN FACTS About Butter:  (Source: http://www.foodreference.com/html/fbutter.html)

It takes 21 pints of milk to make a pound of butter

The world record for butter eating is 7 quarter pound sticks of salted butter in 5 minutes by Donald Lerman

In 2009 U.S. butter production was more than 1.5 billion pounds (1,573,481,000 pounds) – (USDA 2010)

(Image of butter courtesy of SOMMAI at freedigitalphotos.net)

(Image of chocolate cupcake courtesy of piyato at freedigitalphotos.net)

Summer’s Bounty Peach Cake

my blog-peach cake 003The sizzling July sun has done its job. The peaches are ripe!

They’re dangling from overburdened branches, waiting to be plucked and turned into delicious cakes and pies. I’m always willing to accommodate summer’s bounty.

This cake recipe started life as Jewish Apple Cake. For generations, many bakers have had their own version of that cake tucked away in their recipe box. I can’t leave well enough alone – just have to try new takes on old recipes.

I’ve used this basic recipe with apples, of course, but also with blueberries, and with peaches. They are all delicious. Why not try one of each? Regardless of your choice of fruit, this cake is moist and tender inside and a bit crunchy on the outside.

For apples, use 4 large peeled and thinly sliced. For blueberries, use 2 cups fresh blueberries or 2 1/2 cups of thawed, well-drained blueberries.

For now – it’s fresh peaches at their peak.

SUMMER’S BOUNTY PEACH CAKE  peaches

350 degree pre-heated oven. Greased and floured* 10-inch tube pan

NOTE: *I often line the bottom of my baking pans with wax paper. It only takes a few minutes, but can save a great deal of frustration when an uncooperative cake will not come out of the pan. I still grease and flour the pan, then lay the wax paper that’s been cut to fit over top of that. Just peel off the wax paper after the removing cake from the pan. A wax paper layer is especially good for this cake since the fruit and cinnamon-sugar create a juicy liquid that wants to hold on for dear life when you try to release the cake from the pan.

Ingredients: cake

4 eggs

3 cups flour

2 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup orange or lemon juice (You can’t taste any difference between the two. The juice is added to give the cake some acidity)

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

dash of salt

4-6 fresh peaches (depending on size), peeled and thinly sliced

Ingredients: cinnamon-sugar sprinkle

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

In a mixer bowl, beat together eggs, flour, sugar, oil, juice, baking powder and salt. Blend well on medium speed. No need to over-beat. Just make sure all ingredients are blended. This is a thick batter. (The batter of oil-based cakes have more of a sticky consistency than butter-based cakes, but they stay moist for a longer amount of time.)

In a separate bowl, stir sugar and cinnamon together until well-blended.

Pour half the batter in the tube pan. Layer half the sliced peaches over top of the batter.

Sprinkle half (1/4 cup) the cinnamon-sugar mixture over peaches.

Repeat layers, ending with cinnamon-sugar mixture.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. After removing cake from oven, run a knife around the inside walls (including the tube) of the cake. Allow to cool about 20 minutes. When you invert the cake to remove it, some of the cinnamon-sugar may come off on the plate. Just sprinkle it back on top when you place it right side up on a cooling rack.

my blog-peach cake 005When completely cooled, have a slice. Enjoy summer’s bounty…

FUN FACTS about Peaches:

“You’re a real peach” originated in giving a peach to a friend

Nectarines are just peaches without the fuzz!

In China, the peach is a symbol of longevity and good luck

Source: http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0781683.html#A0781693

(Image of peaches courtesy of Suat Eman at freedigitalphotos.net)

 

Best-ever Banana Bread

banana bread-blog

You know that old saying, “When life hands you lemons… .” Works for bananas, too. Who hasn’t glanced over at the bunch of bananas on the counter only to find them on the verge? That’s the best time to mash up those heavily flecked, over-ripe bananas, get out the mixer, and bake some bread. Or, if you are knee-deep in other projects, mash up those bananas and freeze them. Thawed frozen bananas work well in this recipe. The ingredients can be mixed by hand if the mixer isn’t handy. You’ll be rewarded with a very moist loaf that keeps for many days – if it stays around that long.

Best-Ever Banana Bread

Ingredients:

2 eggs, beaten

*1/3 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (about 2 or 3 medium-size)

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 3/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

*If you don’t have buttermilk, substitute with 1/3 cup regular milk with 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Allow to sit about 5 minutes before using.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease one 9″ X 5″ loaf pan. Bake 1 hour and 20 minutes

In a bowl, blend together the eggs, buttermilk, oil, and bananas.

Sift together the sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to banana mixture and stir in nuts of your choice (I prefer walnuts or pecans). Mix well.

Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool on a rack for about 20 minutes. Run knife around edges of pan, then remove bread from pan.

FUN FACTS: Americans eat an average of 27 pounds of bananas per person every year.

The fastest marathon ever run by a competitor dressed as a fruit was 2 hours, 58 minutes, and 20 seconds—recorded at the Barcelona Marathon on March 6, 2011. The runner was Patrick Wightman from the United Kingdom, who dressed as a banana.

You can use the inside of a banana peel to clean and polish leather shoes.

Source: http://thebananapolice.com/fun-facts/  (There is a wealth of information about bananas on this site.)

NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY – Orchard Makes Way For McMansions

apple orchard

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” is one of my favorite Robert Frost poems – and, unfortunately, true.

My husband and I decided to move from our lovely small town of 9500 after our daughters were grown and on their own. It was a wonderful place to raise children. No huge district schools. The kids went from kindergarten through high school with familiar faces.

We were now ready for the country life. In 1993 we bought a small home on a big wooded acre in a rural township sprinkled with orchards and small farms.

There’s simply no stopping progress. As the housing boom grew by leaps and bounds, things changed. Little by little, farmers were selling off their orchards to developers. I can’t fault them. I’m sure it was a painful reality to those farmers whose children weren’t interested in continuing that lifestyle.

Each new housing development brought sadness to those of us who cherished the rural nature of our area. In October 2002, I wrote this essay for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

A bounty on the seasons – An orchard had a price put on it, then surrendered its fruitful phases to development.

By Judy Harch

They lie on their sides, mortally wounded. Row after row of uprooted apple and peach trees. Dead. No longer bearers of life. Their rotting offspring scattered on the ground ready to provide a final meal for foraging white-tailed deer.

Nature’s cycle has again been interrupted. Bulldozers have come and gone, leaving a scene reminiscent of rampaging elephants searching for food. They’ve pushed over hardy tree trunks as if they were matchsticks, and toppled anything in their path to make room for one more miniature housing development in my township.

Just one block from my house, a small, lovely peach and apple orchard had flourished each season since I moved here nine years ago. Delicate peach trees would signal each spring with their hazy pink blossoms bringing hope to the winter-weary. The craggy branches of apple trees would stand patiently, waiting for their turn to shine.

As spring ushered in summer, peach blossoms would disappear after gracing the ground with their pink blankets. Juicy, fat fruit would hang from branches that looked as if they would keel over with the richness of their bounty. Just as we were summer-weary with heat and South Jersey humidity, the apple trees would awaken.

Each summer, as I passed by this small window on nature’s world, I watched eagerly as tiny apples grew into the promise of fall – my favorite season. I happily passed by the fruit-packing house up the road. For just a few weeks, a delicious overlap would occur. Bins of late-summer peaches and early apples would sit side by side, reminding me of why New Jersey is called the Garden State.

As I reluctantly watched fall give way to winter, the orchards would continue to paint a portrait of natural wonder. The deceivingly fragile-looking naked branches of peach trees would stand in contrast to the rugged beauty of gnarled apple-tree branches, which would remind me of the evil witch’s outstretched hand as she offers Snow White a shiny piece of fruit. Both would survive the first glints of frost and the heavy coating of ice that winter storms sometimes leave.

But this year, the scene has been one of unnatural destruction. It has become a season of waste, which inherently goes against nature’s laws. The new “natural” cycle of my community has arrived again.

The first sign of spring was a “Lots for Sale” posting on the beautiful little orchard on the next block.

It is an inescapable fact of life that we are a litigious society. The orchard’s owners posted a “No Trespassing” sign for their own protection. The result is another glimpse of the impending death of the Garden State moniker.

As the orphaned peach trees bore fruit in the spring, I watched helplessly as they remained unpicked by all those honoring the “No Trespassing” sign. This year’s drought left the trees wilted and weak. Abandoned by their caretakers, they drooped heavily with the weight of their last gift of life. Inevitably, peaches fell to the ground as their trees slowly withered away.

I knew it was only a matter of time before the rugged apple trees would be put to the test. Could they survive neglect this fall? I didn’t have long to wait for my answer. A week ago, as I drove by the little orchard, I learned its fate. Row upon row of apple trees lay in ruins next to their companion peach trees.

I’m guessing that in the new “natural” order of life, someone will gather up the dead trees and chop them into firewood to be burned at the hearth in our newest crop of homes.

Update: Time and the realities of a down-turned economy moved forward since 2002. Growth of housing developments slowed somewhat. However, our orchards continue to vanish. I find it ironic that those buying new houses most likely move here looking for the very “country life” that is slipping away with each house sold. “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

(Image courtesy of dan at freedigitalphotos.net)

Coffee Cake Your Way

     cake, kids, boat-7-15 018

Cinnamon-Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake (One Choice)

I love a versatile cake recipe. Cake baking is chemistry. Messing with the basic ingredients can often guarantee a cake that flops. However, it is fun to personalize a cake with extras. This coffee cake works great with substitutions or add-ins.

The chocolate chips can be replaced by raisins, dried fruit such as cranberries, cherries, or blueberries. Dried fruit pairs well with lemon or orange zest. I especially like orange zest with dried cranberries. About one tablespoon of zest will nicely flavor your cake. Or change up the vanilla with almond extract, especially with dried cherries. I often add nuts to this cake. The cake can be baked in a 10″ tube pan or a 9″ X 13″ pan. The cinnamon-sugar mixture goes between the layers and on top of the cake regardless of which pan you choose.

Important Note: I’ve learned from experience that the best way to insure that your add-ins are distributed throughout the cake and not bunched up at the bottom of the pan is very simple. Place the chocolate chips, raisins, and/or nuts in a separate bowl. Add one tablespoon of flour and mix to coat the add-ins. Then add them to the batter after it is all mixed.

Another substitute: This recipe calls for sour cream. If you don’t have any, don’t worry. Just use that old standby for buttermilk or sour cream: for 1 cup measure – add 1 Tablespoon lemon juice (or vinegar) to a measuring cup. Add regular milk to the 1 cup line. Allow to stand about 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour pan

Ingredients: Cake

1/2 cup butter (one stick), room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup sour cream (or see substitute above)

1 cup chocolate chips, or dried fruit of your choice

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or almonds

Ingredients: Cinnamon/sugar mixture

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon (add more or less to taste)

Directions:

Cream butter, add sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Blend. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients together (except cinnamon/sugar mixture). Add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Add chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts or whatever your heart desires. Mix on low with mixer or fold in by hand.

In a separate bowl, blend cinnamon and sugar together until well mixed.

Add half the cake mixture to your baking pan. Sprinkle half the cinnamon/sugar mixture over the top. Repeat.

Bake 35-40 minutes. Cake is done when a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean from center of the cake.

Glaze: (Optional)

Sorry, I can’t give exact amounts for this. I simply mix some confectioner’s sugar with a little milk (and I do mean a little – if you put too much milk in the bowl, it will take a lot of sugar to thicken it up. Add a very small amount at a time). For extra flavor, stir in a little vanilla extract – about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon. (The glaze won’t be as pure white, but it will taste good!) Stir until mixture is thick but will pour from a spoon. Glaze cake after it is well cooled.

Fun Facts About Coffee: (Source: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/coffee)

Legend has it…Ethiopian shepherds first noticed the effects of caffeine when they saw their goats appearing to become frisky and “dance” after eating coffee berries.

In 1675, the King of England banned coffee houses, claiming they were places where people met to conspire against him.

***

I wonder if those colonists were meeting at coffee houses. Wouldn’t they have loved Starbucks…