Last week, we celebrated one year with our little Willa, one trip around the sun. She had several low-key--though hardly quiet--celebrations, filled with good seasonal fun. Autumn is a such a great season for parties, isn't it?
In one party, we pressed apples into cider, grilled our dinner, celebrated several birthdays and kept the kids from climbing into the campfire. On our family day, we hunted pumpkins, got lost in a corn maze and opened presents, with lots of brotherly help. Twice we enjoyed pumpkin cake, yummy despite its lack of dairy. There were some handmades, though I don't have pictures of them yet. I made her a sweet little gnome doll (following instructions here and here) which is beginning to get some loving (which, in her world, means chewing. Mouth time. Serious mouth time.)  We all collaborated on some tree branch blocks, which are thus far played with more by Finn, until Willa becomes--as Finn calls her--the destroyer. It is at this point that we have to remind Finn that they are, in deed, her blocks.
She took it all in, eager and happy to be with people. And we were oh so happy to be with her, our miss girl.

Update: I decided that this would be as good a place as any to record the pumpkin cake recipe we used and all really enjoyed, so that I can find it again next year, or next time the pumpkin cake urge strikes. The one problem with so many cookbooks around here (so, so many. For years I justified it as part of my job, and then just as I was leaving King Arthur they were cleaning out their library, and how could I turn down free wonderful cookbooks?) As I was saying, the problem is that I don't always remember which pumpkin cake is the one I like. Not that I generally restrain myself to following just one recipe, anyway. You can see why I might need a system. 

So this is what we did, an amalgamation of several recipes, made dairy free for Willa and nut free for Matt (no allergy, just a preference. I think some walnuts would be the perfect thing to break up all the sameness of the texture. Maybe if it was black walnuts from our yard he would let me do it, just in the interest of, you know, local food and all. I'll have to work on this.) It couldn't have been simpler, made "muffin-style": mix the wet, mix the dry, stir together, bake. Still plenty sweet, but less so than many cakes. Just right for all-day nibbling.  

Willa's Birthday Pumpkin Cake 

4 eggs 
1 cup liquid coconut oil (ours stays solid at room temp these days, so I have to warm it slightly to get it liquid. I also make sure to use room temp eggs instead of ones straight from the fridge.)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups (1 can) pumpkin puree
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350, and grease a bundt pan. Beat the eggs, oil, sugar and pumpkin until well combined. In a separate bowl, mix all the dry ingredients, then stir them together, just until mixed. Pour into the pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and let cool completely. Keeps very well, if you can keep your hands away from it! 


then and now

Ok, I promised myself that I wasn't going to write any more of these sentimental posts about how achingly sad we are not to be in Hong Kong, while at the same time how achingly happy we are to be here, now. But it's just the truth of where we are right now, folks, so, it's what you get.
Sometimes, when we are helping students plant a peace garden at Matt's school, and Finn is gleefully finding worms and smushing grubs and loudly declaring his love for dirt, Matt and I catch each other's eyes and we both think--this is why we came back. And when we go to the garden and Finn decides to go on a "bean hunt" and I find some tomatoes to make yet more ketchup, again we think--this is why we came back. And when we think that my parents can come for just a weekend visit--no big deal-- and Matt's parents will come soon for a weekend visit--no big deal-- and we'll be spending both Thanksgiving and Christmas with family, again we think, this is why we came back.
But then ... I think about how mid-autumn festival just passed by here with nary a mention, not a lantern in sight, and I think about how fall break is coming up and we'd be deciding where to go this year. Maybe Guilin, or Hanoi, or Japan--all places we didn't get to. And I think about how delicious a bowl of steaming Japanese ramen would be on these chilly nights, or hear Finn ask when we're going to the beach again, or ride a bus again, or see the turtles in Hong Kong park again. Or I think about how much I loved riding the Star Ferry across the harbor at night, admiring all the lights, entering the craziness that is Tsim Sha Tsui and finding a most delicious Indian meal.
I think about how quickly one can make friends in Hong Kong, how quickly our mom's group became a lifeline for me, and how much we all loved having Uncle Tuan over for dinner and a guitar jam. Or I listen to Americans cheer executions in Texas, or boo a gay serviceman ... and I know that these people are not the norm, that they are the crazies and are not taking over our country ... but why oh why do they seem to get so much attention? Or someone asks us where in Japan is Hong Kong or did I feel safe having Willa there... oh, and then I just think what have we done? why did we come back?
The truth is that it's always going to be a mix, isn't it? The heart will never be held in one place only ... and that's what I want. That's how I want to live, that's why we went overseas in the first place, to broaden our hearts. So this all just deepens our resolve to live fully here, to dig in and enjoy all the good things, the gardens and the leaves and the backyard and the house. And yet even as we put down roots, ones we hope will last a long time, to never get complacent or stagnant. To keep stretching ourselves, keep opening ourselves up, and keep planning adventures, whether in our town or around the globe.
Or even just in the leaf pile. 


We're all Ohioans now

I guess I don't know exactly what it is that makes one an Ohioan. We haven't lived here long enough to understand the quirks or peculiarities of this place, and there's nothing so obvious as an accent, like Minnesota or Boston, and no iconic food, like Maine's lobsters or Vermont's maple syrup.
But if there's anything one can do to become an Ohioan, surely the way my son spent his morning should count: collecting the spiny-husked buckeye, then using a hammer to loosen the shell and get to the seed. (The hammer, by the way, isn't really necessary. But if you're 3 and you have a shiny hammer of your own, then by golly, you use it.) There are plenty of them around, which explains why buckeyes are the state tree. (For those of you non-Americans, it may help you to know that Ohioans are nicknamed "Buckeyes" after the tree, and even the state university's mascot is a buckeye.) After admiring the shiny, rich grain on the brown seeds, (who knew they were so beautiful?) I went inside to celebrate our buckeye bounty by making another kind of buckeye.
And if eating these is what makes one an Ohioan, well, we're all Ohioans now.

Dairy-free Buckeyes

2 cups creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup coconut oil (soften as needed to make it mixable) (you can use butter if dairy's not an issue)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4-2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

chocolate coating:
9 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate, either chips or coarsely chopped. (If you really need it to be dairy free, check the ingredients on the chocolate. Many brands add milk, but some don't, especially if it's dark.)
2 Tablespoons coconut oil

Stir together filling ingredients. I used the lesser amount of sugar, which really lets the peanut flavor shine. It does make for a softer filling, though, which is trickier to work with and definitely has to stay refrigerated. You decide what you like. If  When I make these again I'll try adding a little cornstarch in the filling to make up for the missing sugar.

If your filling seems scoopable, go ahead and scoop up 1-inch sized balls, placing them on a parchment lined baking sheet. If it's too soft, pop the filling in the fridge for awhile--it will firm up. Once the balls are all scooped, they need to go back into the fridge to get nice and firm, at least for an hour. Once you're dipping them, you'll want to just work with some of the balls, leaving the rest chilling, particularly if you're using less sugar. So go ahead and get another tray ready with parchment paper, and then you can rotate the baking sheets in and out of the fridge as you work.

Meanwhile, melt your chocolate in a bowl over hot water, and add the coconut oil (or shortening if that's what you have.)

Remove some of the balls from the fridge, then use a toothpick to dip them into the chocolate, leaving the top uncovered (this is what makes them look like buckeyes). Let some of the chocolate drip back into the bowl, then place back down on the baking sheet. They won't all stay perfectly round, but that's ok.  In all that hunting and pounding we did with the real ones, we never found a perfectly round one. Just call it realistic. They'll need to go back into the fridge to set up, and depending on the weather where you are and how firm your filling is, it may need to stay there. We kept ours in the refrigerator, although Finn definitely preferred to let it warm up a bit before eating, even though it quickly became a mess. Oh wait, maybe that was the point.



It was here, as in many parts of the country, an absolutely perfect weekend, and we filled it with all sorts of autumnal activities. This is the season we most missed while in Hong Kong, and so we are determined to soak it all in. From flying kites (the frustrationless flyer) to picking heirloom apples (with plans for pressing some of them into cider), from discovering buckeyes and gathering inspiration at a barn sale to making tomato jam (yes!) and starting work on a little one's birthday presents, it was just lovely. There was even a bit of seasonal decorating thrown in as well, which is a little funny since we have nothing on our walls yet. But there are seasonal banners, oh yes there are! Hope you had a lovely one too.



The sun today, finally shining, inspired me to great acts of hubris (of the running variety) for which I am sure I will pay tomorrow. But oh, to pull on my shoes, tie those laces, and then set off alone .... bliss. Even if I couldn't get "the ants go marching" out of my head.