Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fall Fancies - Snow

The snow is coming down heavily here in the Binghamton area of upstate New York, and it is starting to get dark.  It's hard to say how much we've gotten, since it has been just above freezing, but we have at least five inches on the ground..

This snow is the wet and gloppy kind, hard to shovel, but lovely on trees.   It is not a good day for travel on this, the busiest travel day of the year.  In our country, tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  Many people along the East Coast are going to have problems getting to where they need to go.

Today, I will give thanks for the beauty I saw.
At lunchtime, downtown Binghamton (noting that the tree to the left still has brown leaves on it!)
Our courthouse.

Court Street.
By 3pm, the snow was coming down heavily on the West Side of Binghamton.
Yesterday, I published a photo taken around sunset in my neighborhood of Westover - this was almost in the same location today.

I am grateful I don't have to be in this right now.

And I am grateful that you have stopped by to read my blog.  If you are in the U.S. may you have a Happy Thanksgiving.

What is your weather like, today?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In the Calm Before the Storm

On the way home from work today, in Binghamton, New York, I saw signs on the highway announcing "Avoid Travel Wednesday/Heavy Snow Expected".

Gee, thanks, on the heaviest travel day of the year, thanks to our Thanksgiving holiday.

We have gone from snow showers/light snow tomorrow, to suddenly three to five inches (12.7 cm), and we are on the edge of the storm at that.  Winter Storm Cato, the Weather Channel has called it.  We are under a winter weather advisory. 

Winter is finally here, after it got up to 66 degrees yesterday (18.9C).
Let us enjoy some pictures of the calm before the storm, near the Susquehanna River in Westover.
Westover again.
Sunday, sumacs.

And, although this wasn't taken today (it was taken on the 19th) I love this after sunset photo of downtown Binghamton.

There's just something about fall sunsets.

Tomorrow, winter begins.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Easiest Chocolate Cake in the World

I am about to show you how to make the easiest chocolate cake in the world.  It is light, fluffy, and versatile.  Without frosting, it is even good for people on weight reduction diets (portion control is key, of course - you can't have a huge chunk).
These are the ingredients you need.

1 package chocolate cake mix - I like the ones that have pudding in the mix.
1 15 oz can of pumpkin (the pure pumpkin puree, not the "pumpkin mix" with sugar and spices)
1/2 cup of liquid egg whites, or egg whites from 4 eggs

Grease 9 x 13 pan
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Mix all ingredients together. It will be a bit hard to work this batter, but you only need to make sure all the lumps are out of it.  But do make sure all the lumps are out of it.

Spread (this will take a bit of patience) into the pan.  Bake about 30 minutes or until done.  And that's it!

Here's the baked cake. 

There are those who frost this, and those who will add chocolate chips or other add ins.  I don't.  In the Weight Watchers program, the only points are from the cake mix, and the egg whites (and four egg whites spread into a 9 x 13 pan pointwise are negligible.)  It doesn't get better than this.

Don't like pumpkin?  Well, I don't like pumpkin.  I can't tell it's in there.

There are those who don't add the egg whites, and you are welcome not to, but I think the texture is better with them.

Dear readers, that is it!  Have these three ingredients on hand, and you are ready for company or any occasion.  And, with the pumpkin, it is perfect for fall baking.  Thanksgiving, anyone?  (No, not me. But just about any other time, yes.)

By the way, I like this warmed up in the microwave.

Do you have a favorite, easy recipe?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Civil War Sunday - Color It by Number

This is going to seem like an odd question but - do you remember Venus Paradise color by number sets?  And, if you do, do you remember Civil War themed coloring sets?

I remember Venus Paradise sets so well, but not the Civil War sets. I accidentally found them online yesterday, and now I am intrigued.

Color by Number and Paint by Number as a hobby was popular in the early 1960's.  My Dad and I both enjoyed pencil color by number.  These were pre sketched drawings with numbered spaces. They came with colored pencils, numbered to correspond.  It was a most relaxing hobby and we would sit at the kitchen table, together, coloring.  This was also the era when the United States was commemorating the Civil War's 100th anniversary, between 1961 and 1965.  So the existence of Civil War coloring sets made by Venus Paradise, and one showing up in an online museum, does not surprise me. 

The one picture I could look at online showed some Civil War soldiers, on horses.  It wasn't a battle scene.  I wonder what the other scenes were.

In August of 2011, I blogged about my love of Venus Paradise coloring sets. With slight edits, here it is.  This post led one of my friends to pick up a modern pencil coloring set for me, which was such a sweet thing for her to do.

Ah, memories of childhood.  Does anyone else remember the Civil War Venus Coloring Sets, or Venus Paradise in general?

Color By Number - Memories of Paradise

Yesterday evening, coming home from my water aerobics class, the sky reminded me of the sky of a color by number painting.  All those shades of blue and light purple.

Do you remember color by number?  It was really popular in the 1950's and early 1960's, when I was growing up.   You can still find color by number in paint today.  But what my family loved was the Venus Paradise sets.  They were color pencil color by numbers.  They had sets geared to all ages - from children old enough to color to adults.

The pencils were numbered, and you got the pencils you needed for your set with the set.  My favorite was #7, Peacock Blue. You can even find the list of colors online (except for two "mystery colors").  It would seem that some older artists miss them, too - they were high quality but as a child, I just took them for granted.

My Dad and I would color together.  I would have my child's set and he an adult set.  I remember one in particular, set with famous buildings.  I remember him in particular working on a Taj Mahal picture.  I looked at him color with great concentration.  He put wax paper on top of the part of the picture he had completed so it would not smear.

His picture had so much detail.  You could barely make out some of the numbers in the small portions.  But I would grow up one day and be able to do complicated pictures just like my Dad!

Except I lost interest, until my son was born.

I went to all the stores (when he was old enough to color) and no one had them.  In fact, I couldn't find any kind of color by number pencil art set, period.

Venus Paradise is out of business.

The good news is that there is a pencil color by number set out there now. Better yet, the people who own the business remember Venus Paradise.  So perhaps a new generation of children will remember pencil by number sets fondly.

In writing this post, I find my spouse remembers the sets too.  He thinks when he retires, it might be fun to buy one.  But sadly, this is something I'm not sure will ever return to favor for the general population.  I'm told there is no collectors market for these, either. you remember Venus Paradise?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sustainable Saturday - A Crisp Thanksgiving

 In the United States, this Thursday is Thanksgiving.

Today, our local newspaper had a front page article on buying local food this Thanksgiving, which I hope to blog about more before Thanksgiving.

Today, though, I wanted to share with you a special apple crisp I made a couple of weeks ago.  I know I blogged about apple crisp earlier this year, but I love it so - and crisp is an easy make ahead recipe during the busy Thanksgiving cooking season.  So, this is one of the several crisp variations I make each fall.

What I used for this latest crisp is something called a Thornberry apple.  This is not a common commercial variety, so you can use any commercial baking apple.  We are so fortunate in upstate New York to live in apple growing country.

And yes, this is the true color of the apple.

Our local pears mostly failed this year, so I can not make a true apple/pear crisp with all local ingredients.  Also, I used blackberries (yes, blackberries) from a local supermarket.  I think either blackberries or blueberries add to the flavor and color of the crisp. 
Apple/Pear Crisp (9 inch square pan, serves 9)

2 pounds baking apples (I will use a Thornberry and some Crispins, a heirloom apple grown locally, when I make this for Thanksgiving).  In the recipe above, I used a pound of apples and a pound pears.  For all my metric readers, two pounds is just about one kg.

4 tbsp brown sugar (you can also use 1 tbsp sucralose as an alternative) (that's about .59 ml)

2 tsp lemon juice (about 10 ml)

1 cup frozen blackberries (I don't thaw them)  This might be 128 g but I really don't know for sure, because I am using cups in a volume sense, not a weight sense.  Sorry, my dear metric readers, you are on your own here and going forward. And as for my British readers. there is this.

Anyway, back to my recipe:
Thornberry apple slices. Trust me, this is the real color.
Peel and slice cored apples and (if you use them), pears. Mix all ingredients together.  Place in a 9 inch square baking dish that has been oiled or buttered.

For the topping, I use this recipe, which is an adaptation of a low-cal topping.  If you prefer, substitute your own topping.


1 cup quick oats
4 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp light butter
1/2 tsp freshly ground cinnamon (I used allspice last time - this time I made sure I had cinnamon on hand.  I buy the sticks and grind in a mortar and pestle.  It's worth the extra work.  Wish there was such a thing as smell o'blog).
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients together and blend well. Top crisp with mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes or until the apple slices are the consistency you want.  Let cool, unless you can't wait to eat it.

I couldn't wait.

The brown item at the lower right is some leftover chocolate pumpkin cake.  I'm tempted to post that recipe Monday as it is the Easiest Cake Ever, except I know my blogging friend Amy in Nebraska will never read my blog again if I post the recipe.  (When she sees said post, she will know why, especially after all my whining on her blog about how I don't like pumpkin.  And actually, I still don't.)

I think apple crisp is even better the second day, so I will make this the day before Thanksgiving.

And now, dear blog readers, I must get crackin' on my NaNoWriMo novel. I am so seriously behind.

Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving (or other fall celebration) dessert recipe? Please share!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Snow Doors

By now, I bet that most everyone in the United States has heard about the terrible snowstorms in the Buffalo, New York area over the past several days.  Some areas received over 51 inches of snow in less than 24 hours.  Others have had so much snow, that their houses are covered in snow.  Many motorists have been stranded.  At least eight people (as of this writing) have died. (I also hasten to assure my readers that New York is a large place, and, as I write this the snow on the ground where I live is....a dusting.

Heavy snowfalls are far from unknown in New York State - in fact, we have an annual competition called the Golden Snowball.  The city where I work (Binghamton) has even won it a couple of times.  But if Buffalo moved its official weather station to Hamburg, for example, they could win it this year without having another flake of snow fall. (I suspect a lot of residents of the area around Lake Erie wish that no more snow would fall this winter.  Anyone for a bunch of surplus snow? You must haul yourself)

Something especially fascinating is what you might call the snow door effect.

There is something awe inspiring about the thought of opening your front door and finding - a wall of snow.  And, in our modern day and age, you can take a picture and have it all over the Internet in seconds.  People take pictures of themselves in front of their snow dog, their toddlers, their dogs.

But there is a different kind of snow door, as I found out about yesterday when some one commented on a blog post I published back in June of 2011.

This house on the edge of property owned (or at least operated) by the Cornell Cooperative Service in Binghamton has a door that is many feet above the ground.  I knew there must be a reason and asked , in June of 2011- did anyone know?  Maybe this once had a second floor outside stairs and porch?  Or maybe Superman rented out the space?

And then there was the low window on the first floor, on the right.  Somehow, this seemed so....unbalanced.

Well, I found out yesterday what this second floor door is.

It is a snow door, put there for cases when the snow got so high, you need to get out through the second story of your house.

So clever and yet - I never guessed.

A door to nowhere - unless you live in snow country, in which case you may be more than happy to have this door in your house.

Does your area have a special invention that helps live life where you are?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Penmanship and History

Recently, someone left a comment on my blog about the dying art of penmanship.  That inspired me to repeat a post from one of my Civil War Sunday blog series.

It would be a terrible thing, in my opinion, if we lost the ability to read historic documents.  However,, fewer and fewer schools are teaching cursive writing.  And, what about "penmanship" - something that is also a dying art in our age of texting and typing?

I had to practice penmanship in school.  It was a hated part of my education and my handwriting is a mix of print and cursive today. But, I read cursive fluently. My son, who is in his mid 20's, never learned cursive, but he was exposed to it.  If he has children?  My understanding is, they won't learn cursive at all.

With some minor edits, I present:

Civil War Sunday - Civil War Penmanship and Dr. Charles Leale

This past week, some exciting news was announced - the report of the first doctor to reach Abraham Lincoln after he was shot was found.  The doctor was Dr. Charles Leale,a doctor who had seen Lincoln speak several days before.  For some reason, Lincoln's face fascinated him and he decided to go to Ford Theatre that fateful night of April 14, 1865, to study Lincoln further.  Accounts say he was only about 40 feet away from Mr. Lincoln when he witnessed the assassination.

Of course, it is always exciting for historians to have a source document found.  But, to me, what is more exciting is the availability online of the document itself.

For example, doctors have wondered if Lincoln's life could have been saved by modern medicine. As of 2007, the answer would have been "yes but with a lot of brain damage".  Now, we have an exact account of the medical measures taken.

From my point of view, though, what fascinated me the most was the document itself.  If you look at it, you will see it is beautifully written.  Not only is the writing that of an educated man, but the quality of penmanship is breathtaking to the modern reader.  For example, I would never win an award for my penmanship.

Handwriting was a common form of communication during the Civil War, 150 years ago.  Those fortunate enough to be schooled spent countless hours practicing penmanship.  There were no typewriters commercially available (to the best of my knowledge) until right after the Civil War, although typewriters had been invented.  Many documents were handwritten.   Part of judging how educated a person was consisted of judging that person's penmanship.

Each side, Federal and Confederate, wrote countless letters, battle orders, and the like. Some kept diaries. Most all of these were handwritten.

What I found is that there were two main styles of writing during the Civil War era, "Copperplate script" and "Spencerian script."  I am not a graphic designer, but it seems from the small amount of research I did that both scripts, in one form or another, are still quite alive and well.

Even the instructions provided for Spencerian script sing to me.

With penmanship an instinctive skill, the writer was free to express his thoughts - and I could imagine the thoughts of Dr. Charles Leale flowing as he wrote about the fateful night of April 14 and morning of April 15, 1865. He did not talk about that night, the night he spent holding the dying President's hand, for years.  He  made his observations public in 1909, the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, in a speech called "Lincoln's Last Hours".

Dr. Charles Leale died in 1932, one of the last living witnesses to the assassination.

Have you learned calligraphy?  Do you mourn the removal of cursive handwriting from elementary school curriculum?