Bright Spots

Today on our local NPR station, we were invited to send in our voice messages about our “bright spots” during this pandemic.

That got me thinking. What are my bright spots?

1. Baking with the Boys

Yeah, I’m trying to lose weight (it’s still going alright, though somewhat stalled).

But baking with the boys is so much fun! We’ve made scones, all kinds of cookies (chocolate chip, sables, New Zealand afghan biscuits, etc.), Irish soda bread, pies, tarts, cranberry upside-down cake, muffins…

Today, we made one of my absolute favorites yet: a blueberry “plain cake” by Dorie Greenspan.

OH. MY. LORD. This cake is SO GOOD.

The secret is beating the egg whites until stiff and gently folding them in. The boys were fascinated with this process.

(Though admittedly they’re usually in it to lick the beaters and bowls.)

The cake is now sitting on our counter, and I can hear its siren call…

2. FaceTime with Family & Friends

Another bright spot has been talking on FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp video, Houseparty, or WHATEVER… with family and friends.

Today, I spoke with my godparents over FaceTime. Seeing their smiling (and HEALTHY!!) faces was a delight (though I was a bit frazzled by the boys–sorry about that!).

I’ve been on Zoom with friends from my master’s program in the UK, girlfriends across the world in NZ and Australia, and family in Europe & the States.

It’s true that as this has stretched on, the novelty has worn off and there have been fewer digital happy hours. But they still happen, and when they do, they’re certainly a bright spot.

3. Reading as a Family

Reading alone and as a family has been one of the biggest bright spots.

We read a lot before the pandemic too, don’t get me wrong. But in the fall of 2019, we started reading chapter books with the Bug.

We got ourselves a copy of The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, and using that and Goodreads, we’ve built a reading list for the Bug.

Since starting down that path, we have never looked back. The Bug is now an independent reader, and picks his own books at the library each week.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t like to be read to, though. He loves sharing the joy of reading, and a huge part of our stuck-at-home routine has been reading out loud together.

Not just before bed, but all throughout the day. I’ll read to them while they eat their ridiculously early lunch. I’ll read when they need to wind down. We’ll hunt for all the books we have on a certain theme (“snow,” “pets,” “summer,” etc.).

In fact, both the boys love reading so much that we launched a little YouTube project: Stories with Sammy (the Bear). Mostly I read the stories, but Felix also reads for us. The latest video is actually Sammy reading!

How can this not be a bright spot?!?

What Are Your Bright Spots?

I realize I am so lucky to have these bright spots. So many people have none.

What are your bright spots? What little moments, no matter how tiny, help you get through as this pandemic drags on?

Thinking of them helps. And hopefully looking for them will bring more.

Pumpkin Loaf

Thanksgiving Spiced Pumpkin Muffins

Thanksgiving Spiced Pumpkin Muffins
In miniature form.

American Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and in my mind it is not Thanksgiving unless there’s a basket of these delicious spiced pumpkin muffins on the table. (Note: I specify “American” Thanksgiving because I now reside in Canada where things are all whack and Thanksgiving is the first Monday in October. Don’t ask, I have no idea what they’re smoking up here.)

I’m posting this recipe tonight because I happen to have a loaf of this stuff in the oven right now and the smell is so tantalizingly delicious, I just had to share.

You can make these in muffin or loaf form.

Pumpkin Bread (or Muffins)

  • 3 cups of flour (I like to do half whole wheat, half white)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups pumpkin (1 can)
  • 1 1/4 cup corn oil (I often use sunflower or colza oil)
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).

Combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar in a bowl. Beat together eggs, pumpkin, oil and vanilla. Combine the dry ingredients & mix until just blended. Add the chopped walnuts.

For bread: Divide the batter in half and spoon into two greased bread tins. Bake for 1 hour.

For muffins: Divide the batter into greased muffin tins (makes about 2 dozen regular-sized muffins) and bake for 30 minutes.

A Tactical Error

Tonight, I made the mistake of putting all the batter into one large bread tin and it’s taking longer to bake. That means I keep having to pull it out, test it, put it back in and guesstimate how much more time it needs. So be sure to separate it into two loaf tins. Your life will be easier.

Pumpkin Loaf
Tonight’s mega-loaf

I love having one (or five) of these and a clementine as a digestif after Thanksgiving dinner (if there’s a corner left).

What are your favorite Thanksgiving recipes?

UPDATE

My mom reminded me that this recipe comes from my beloved aunt! My mom still uses the original recipe card in my aunt’s distinctive handwriting. Check out my aunt’s blog, dedicated to all things food in Rhode Island over at Rhode Island Is My Oyster.

Delicious Prune Bread

“PRUNE bread,” you ask in astonishment?  “How can anything made with prunes be delicious?”

Ah, my friends, how little you know.  Doesn’t the 11th commandment tell us, “Thou shalt add butter to everything and make it DELICIOUS”?

Prune Bread
Butter is all it takes.

Note: Give yourself a good 2.5 hours to make this (not counting cooling time).

Ingredients:

  • 1 12-ounce package pitted prunes, coarsely chopped (350g)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Method:

  1. In a large saucepan, combine the prunes, sugar, butter or margarine, water and vanilla.  Bring the mixture to a boil, remove the pan from the heat, and let it stand for 30 minutes.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350° F (175° C).
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and cloves (I added the tiniest pinch of salt).  Stir the flour mixture into the cooled prune mixture.  Add the walnuts, mixing the ingredients until they are well combined.  Transfer the batter to a greased and floured 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.
  4. Place the pan in the hot oven, and bake the bread for 1 hour 10 minutes or until a tester inserted comes out clean.

This makes a perfect muchie to go with afternoon tea, or a good hearty substitute for toast in the morning.

Enjoy!