May I Offer You Pumpkin Spice Pancakes?

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

Dear friends,

Has autumn arrived in your area? We had a big cool-off here in Colorado this weekend, and I pulled out my favorite flannel shirt and cooked a batch of pumpkin spice pancakes.

Pumpkin It Up! cookbook by Eliza CrossThese flapjacks are rich with pumpkin-y goodness, and have the comforting, homespun flavor and aroma of pumpkin spice. This recipe appears in my cookbook Pumpkin It Up!, and I won’t blame you if you feel somewhat alarmed by one of the ingredients. Who puts white vinegar in pancakes?! But don’t worry. The vinegar has a chemical reaction with the baking powder and baking soda, adding air to the batter. The pancakes come out light and fluffy, even though the recipe calls for a full cup of pumpkin puree. I promise you won’t taste even a hint of the vinegar.

 

pumpkin pancakes on the griddle

 

I serve these pancakes with butter, maple syrup, and a sprinkle of powdered sugar, but you can serve them plain, too. Or you can add another tablespoon of brown sugar to the batter for a slightly sweeter result.

 

pumpkin spice pancake recipe

 

Here’s the easy recipe. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup canned or cooked pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • maple syrup

In a large bowl, mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, oil, and vinegar. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and stir just until combined.

Heat a lightly greased griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat. Pour 1/4 cup batter on the griddle and spread out slightly using a spatula or spoon. Brown on both sides and serve hot with maple syrup. Makes about 12 pancakes.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. If you’re a pumpkin spice lover, you might also enjoy these recipes for Pumpkin Caramel Cinnamon Rolls and Pumpkin Maple Donut Holes.

Win a Natural Pest Control Kit

Kitty Moth Patrol

Dear friends,

What comes to mind when you think of mothballs?

My grandma Eliza Seely at 97

For me, the scent always reminds me of my sweet grandmother’s closet. Not that she was a stereotypical mothball-type grandma. Eliza Seely was a lovely, active, funny, sociable grandma who lived to be 99 and was always beautifully dressed.

But if you wanted to keep your wool clothes nice back in her day, you basically had two choices: mothballs or a cedar chest. She stored her woolens in the guest room closet with mothballs, and the aroma lingered in the air.

I don’t have a cedar chest and I’ve resisted mothballs because of the smell, but the result is a band of little unwelcome flying visitors in the closet who leave tiny holes in my cashmere sweaters.

I read that you can get rid of the moths’ eggs <shudder> by freezing your sweaters, but this would require having much more freezer room than the approximately 2 square inches of free space in ours.

Just when I had resigned myself to a life of cohabitating with moths and wearing holey sweaters, I received a most intriguing e-mail. I receive daily requests for Happy Simple Living to do product reviews, but since we’re all about simplifying and enjoying less stuff there’s rarely a good fit. However, when EarthKind contacted me to see if I’d be interested in trying their all-natural pest control products, I agreed to a test drive of Stay Away Moths.

 

EarthKind Stay Away Moths

 

I thought the company’s packaging was charming, and the Stay Away pouches contain a blend of natural, nontoxic plant cellulose fiber from corn cobs and essential oils.

The Pouch Pod holder looks like it’s made from some kind of funky organic Boulder plastic, and it’s actually produced from a biodegradable mixture of flax, beets and sunflower hulls grown on North Dakota farms. It’s reusable for up to three years, and then it will naturally start to decompose. How cool is that?

 

EarthKind Pouch Pod

 

The product set-up is very simple. You just slide one of the pouches inside the Pouch Pod holder and place it wherever you need coverage.

 

EarthKind pouch pod

 

In my case, I hung the Stay Away Moths pouch in my closet.

 

EarthKind moth deterrent

 

The scent is a pleasant blend of geranium and cedar, not at all like mothballs my grandma had to use. Best of all, two days later the tiny winged visitors skedaddled and I haven’t seen a moth since. One pouch will protect a small closet or storage container, and the natural repellent lasts for 30 to 60 days. The products are available at stores like Ace Hardware and Lowe’s.

EarthKind has graciously provided a set of Stay Away Ants, Spiders, Moths, AND their new Stay Away Mice for one lucky Happy Simple Living reader. The set includes the new mice repellent plus all of the items shown here, including the pouch holder:

 

EarthKind natural pest repellents

 

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment at the bottom of this page and reply to this question:

What’s something you’re looking forward to this autumn?

(My answer? Here in Colorado the temperatures are predicted to finally cool off this weekend, and I’m excited to start baking some fall pumpkin treats like Pumpkin Butter Cake and Pumpkin Caramel Cinnamon Rolls.)

The giveaway is open to anyone with a U.S. shipping address, and will run through Friday, Sept. 22, 2017 at midnight MST. I’ll e-mail you if you’re the lucky winner.

BIG thanks to EarthKind for providing their products for this giveaway, and good luck to all of you!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Thanks to Copper Cat Studios for use of the cat image above, and to the queen of cat memes Eco Cat Lady for the inspiration.

The Simple Joy of Puttering

Garden flower arrangement

 

Dear friends,

This morning I woke up grateful for the slower pace of a three-day weekend, and the sweet luxury of down time to do some small things around the house and garden.

Do you feel that way about unstructured time, too?

I love puttering — and isn’t it the most perfect, descriptive word? September is here, and although the days are still hot in Colorado I notice the changing morning light and the cooler evenings. Some of the leaves are starting to turn, and I no longer feel like the garden needs constant, daily tending.

I took a pleasant stroll around the yard to see what was blooming, and cut a few flowers and leaves and berries.

 

garden bouquet

 

They’re now in a little pitcher in the kitchen, shown above. Our artistic mom inspired my love of casual garden arrangements. Her dining table always has a pretty little bouquet or a flowering plant, even in winter.

My next project was a fun experiment. I love making home improvements with materials we already have on hand. The outdoor cushions on the patio chairs had faded in the sunshine, but they’re still in good shape so I decided to try and revive them.

 

Faded chair cushion

Homely patio chair cushion: BEFORE

 

I found some green acrylic paint in our paint collection, thinned it with a little water, and brushed it on in stripes freehand.

 

painting a chair cushion

 

The paint stripes perked those old cushions right up, and while time will tell whether the paint holds up it’s a good, free solution for now.

 

chair cushions

 

And then, because I’m feeling autumn-y, I baked a batch of chewy Molasses Ginger Cookies and updated the photos from the original blog post I wrote back in 2007.

 

Chewy molasses ginger cookies

 

After all that puttering, it was a treat to sit outside and enjoy the pretty sunset.

 

Colorado sunset

 

The evening sky was beautiful and sad at the same time. The setting sun is orange because of the hazy smoke that has drifted here, and my heart aches for our friends in Montana and California who live in areas battling wildfires. Praying for rain and cooler temperatures.

How About You?

How did you spend your Labor Day weekend? Have you been puttering? I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to.

Here’s to making a little time to enjoy these precious days as fall approaches.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Free Giveaway – Small Bites Cookbook

Small Bites cookbook by Eliza Cross

 

Today is Launch Day for my newest cookbook, Small Bites!

This book was a joy to develop and write, because appetizers are my favorite. I especially love hors d’oeuvres that feature great flavors and fresh ingredients in just a bite or two.

The 75 easy recipes in this book include skewers, sliders and bite-sized snacks. They all have elements that can be prepared in advance so that you can have fun with your guests during the party, instead of being stuck fussing in the kitchen.

More and more, I find myself preparing a selection of appetizers for gatherings instead of dinner. The hors do’oeuvres in Small Bites are as good to look at as they are to eat, and your guests will know that you made an extra effort to prepare something special.

I can’t wait to share Small Bites with you! Thanks to my wonderful publisher Gibbs Smith, I have a special signed copy to give to one lucky reader.

But first let’s take a peek at some of the pages, which were so beautifully photographed by Jessica Nicosia-Nadler.

 

These are bite-sized Baby Eggplant Parmigiana:

 

Baby Eggplant Parmigiana

 

Crispy, cheesy Artichoke Cheese Wontons:

 

Artichoke Cheese Wontons

 

Prosciutto, Pear, Fig and Brie Toasts:

 

Prosciutto, Pear, Fig and Brie Toasts

 

Smoked Salmon Cucumber Rounds with Lemon Dill Cream:

 

Smoked Salmon Cucumber Rounds

 

Mini New Orleans-style Muffuletta Sandwiches:

 

Mini Muffuletta Sandwiches

 

Deconstructed Bacon Jalapeno Poppers:

 

Bacon Jalapeno Poppers

 

Mini Kobe Beef Sliders – plus a recipe so you can make your own fresh slider rolls!

 

Mini Kobe Beef Sliders

 

Baby Mexican Tostadas:

 

Baby Mexican Tostadas

 

Mini Crab Cakes with Mango Chile Salsa:

 

Mini Crab Cakes

 

Small Bites: Skewers, Sliders, and Other Party Eats is a 128-page hardback book that retails for $14.99, and you could win your very own signed copy. Simply answer this question in the Comments section at the bottom of the page on this post:

 

What happy occasion would you like to celebrate?

Perhaps you have a loved one’s birthday or holiday coming up, or maybe you’d love to throw an impromptu weekday gathering with your best friends. Anything goes!

Be sure to include your e-mail address on the form when you post your comment (it won’t show to anyone but me). The giveaway is open to anyone with a shipping address in the U.S. and Canada, and you can enter between now and midnight MST on Friday, August 25.

UPDATE:  This giveaway has closed. Congratulations to Alicia, who won a new copy of Small Bites!

Hugs,

 

Finding What I Lost in the Classified Ads

Me, my mom and sister at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, After.

 

I can divide my adolescence in two parts—Before and After.

The break happened when I was thirteen, on what began as a normal day. I was at a girlfriend’s house when my mom called and asked me to come home. Opening the front door I discovered Dad on the couch crying, a suitcase at his feet.

He explained that he was going to go live at a friend’s cabin for a while. He and Mom were having a tough time, and they had decided it would be best if he moved out. My baby sister was napping, and as he went in her room to kiss her goodbye I tried to absorb the shocking news. Crying openly, Dad pulled Mom and me into a long hug and then he was gone.

I realize now that I was probably experiencing depression in the months that followed. I tried to be good and responsible and help my mom, but I cried every night and wondered if I would ever stop feeling so sad.

A turning point came when the Johnny Nash song “I Can See Clearly Now” started playing on the radio. “Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind…”  Oh, how I longed for that feeling. I prayed for a rainbow, I really did. And soon a day went by without tears, and then two days, and eventually the ache started to lessen.

 

sun behind the clouds

 

Years later, a good counselor and a caring pastor would help me work through my angsty “After” years of high school when my main focus was hanging out with friends, partying, just getting by in school, and looking for love in all the wrong places. Once I got married and experienced my own troubles, I was able to better understand and empathize with my parents’ separation and divorce.

For all the time I spent sorting out what happened during the years After, though, I hadn’t really thought much about the girl I was Before.

Until now.

Last month, a classified ad on NextDoor.com caught my eye. A neighbor was selling a used clarinet—the instrument I had played in junior high, but quit in the months After. One phone call and twenty dollars later, the pretty clarinet in a black velvet-lined case was mine.

 

clarinet

 

That night I assembled the clarinet, lifted it to my lips and tried the easiest note—an open G. I wish I could tell you that the tone was clear and true. But the truth is that the first sound I made on my new clarinet was a piercing squeak that awakened our dog Boo with a confused growl.

 

What the?

 

Unlike getting back on a bicycle, I had to relearn all the keys and retrain my mouth to form the proper embouchure. Our junior high band teacher John A. Whitehurst was right:  playing the clarinet properly requires hours and hours of practice.

Something else surprising happened in the taking up of this new-old instrument. Returning to the clarinet brought back a flood of memories about the curious, unselfconscious girl I was Before.

I’d forgotten that in the years Before, my friends and I formed a musical group and performed in a local talent show.

 

Stars of Tomorrow Boulder 1970

 

Before, I marched in a parade downtown as I played my clarinet. I was in a folk dancing group, and twirled onstage to polka songs.

Before, I bought a ten-speed bike with my babysitting money and rode it all over Boulder. I sewed my own peasant blouses, crafted chokers from grosgrain ribbon and lace, and embroidered flowers on my jeans.

Before, I stood up and sang for the residents of a nursing home. I entered speech competitions, voluntarily!

Before, I tried out for the lead in the school play and was cast instead as the grandma, which required me to draw wrinkles on my face and whiten my hair with talcum powder.

 

Gray hair

 

In the After days, all I wanted to do was fit in. I didn’t venture on a single stage during high school.

Looking back, I marvel at how fearless I was Before. I also realize that those long-dormant interests are still part of who I am, four decades later. And the courage? It must still be there somewhere, too.

So recently I joined Toastmasters, where I stand up and give speeches and enjoy the thrill of doing something that scares the heck out of me.

And every night after dinner, I take out my clarinet.

 

Eliza Cross playing the clarinet

 

The notes come slow.

The squeaks come sometimes, too.

The dog howls.

But I play, and honor the girl I was Before.

I play, and offer melodies for the girl I was After.

I play and send up an old song about a bright, bright, sun-shiny day, so grateful for the loves and losses and mistakes and mercy and dark clouds and sunny days and hills and valleys and every breathtaking moment of grace, Before and After, that shaped my life and brought me here to Right Now.

And straight ahead?

There’s nothing but blue skies, my friends.

How About You?

Was there a time in your youth when you tried something that now seems fearless? Did you enjoy an activity years ago that you would like to try again? Have you recently returned to a former hobby or sport?

Is there a song, literal or figurative, that you long to play?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and memories.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross and her Dad

Dancing with my Dad, Before. If you look closely, you can see my shoes on top of his.

 

Enter this Giveaway to Win a New Gardening Journal

Garden journal

Yesterday I posted about how writing in a gardening journal helps me keep track of plant and seed ideas, frost dates, tasks to be done, and so much more.

If you’d like a place to record your gardening thoughts, you could win the new gardening journal pictured above. This pretty volume is 8 1/2 by 11 inches, 96 pages, and includes a monthly planning checklist, a garden planning grid, a plant and seed shopping list, monthly to dos, plant record pages, and more.

You have three ways to enter:

  1. Subscribe to Happy Simple Living, and these posts will be delivered to your inBox. (It’s free and we will never, ever, ever share your e-mail address.) Then leave a comment at the bottom of this page that says “I subscribed!”
  2. Follow our Instagram account and leave a comment on the giveaway page. BONUS entry: In your comment, share the Instagram user name of another garden-loving friend who might be interested in the giveaway. If one of you wins, we’ll give you both a journal!
  3. Follow our Twitter account and post the tweet below. (You can post the tweet up to once per day, and each tweet will constitute another entry.)

Enter this #giveaway to win a new #gardening journal from @HappySimpleLivn: http://bit.ly/2twXuZG  pic.twitter.com/sa6guWFiVj

That’s it! The giveaway is open to all readers through midnight MST on July 31, 2017, and I’ll choose a winner from all qualifying entries using Random.org on August 1.

Hugs and good luck!

The signature for Eliza Cross

 

7 Things I’ve Been Writing In My Garden Journal

Gardening journal

 

Dear friends,

It’s been a funny growing season in our Colorado garden this year. We had a snowy spring, a particularly late hard frost, two serious hail storms, and six weeks of mostly hot, dry days. This year I’ve discovered which plants in our yard and garden are truly hardy.

Because every growing season is unpredictable, I love jotting notes in a garden journal. My notes help me remember so many gardening details I might otherwise forget, and I find it helpful keep all my various gardening experiences and ideas in one place.

Here are some of the things I like to track:

1. Notes on plants and seeds I want to try.

“Now that the four o’clocks are established, I’d like to plant another late-in-the-day bloomer in the side garden like moonflower, evening primrose or flowering tobacco.”

2. Important dates, like the first and last frosts and when various bugs arrive.

“Good thing we didn’t plant on Mother’s Day 2017. We had wet, heavy snow on May 19, and below-freezing temperatures the nights of May 18 – 20. Lost most of the lilac, cherry and redbud blossoms, but otherwise okay.”

3. Sketches of garden layouts and planting ideas. Here’s an example:

 

gardening journal

 

4. Combinations of plants for containers.

“Sweet potato vine looks so pretty with hot pink petunias and deep blue lobelia.”

5. The places where I want to remember to plant bulbs this fall.

“The daffodils under the mail box haven’t come up for the past two years. Dig down and see if the bulbs need dividing? Add bone meal to the soil? Or maybe try a later variety like Golden Ducat or Gigantic Star.”

6. Dates when I have the trees and shrubs maintained.

“Had the locust tree pruned this June. Josh says it won’t need attention again for five years. Cherry trees need to be trimmed next year.”

7. Flowers that are doing well in other gardens in our neighborhood, and the dates I see them blooming.

“Salvia and bluebells seem to be thriving in the neighbor’s garden first week of July, despite the heat.” 

How About You?

Do you keep a gardening journal or record of some kind? What kinds of things do you write about? How has the most recent gardening season been for you?

Giveaway Alert!

If you’ve always wanted to write about your gardening experiences, check back tomorrow when I’ll be giving away a brand new copy of a special garden journal to one lucky reader.

Hugs and happy digging,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Facing My Worst Self in the Grocery Line

cow backside

Photo: Andrew Storms

Every few weeks, I drive to my local Sprouts store and buy a couple bags of organic Guatemalan coffee. They have a machine where you can grind the roasted beans on the spot, and the coffee is soooo good.

This particular Sprouts store is a rather, shall we say, relaxed establishment where long lines are part of the experience. Last Thursday at 5 p.m., three cashiers were open and the lines of people stretched all the way back to the produce department.

As I eyed the three lines to figure out which would move quickest, a man veered his cart decisively to the right so I defaulted to the center, nearly cutting off another woman. She slid her cart in close behind me, and I could feel her daggers.

The people waiting all wore similar expressions of resignation, like you might see in the faces of cows standing in a dank feed lot. I counted the people in my line: 11. Then I looked over at the speedy gentleman to the right and counted only ten people ahead of him. So unfair! I thought to myself. I was totally planning to get in that line until he cut me off.

 

cows in feed lot

Photo: Randy Heinitz

 

I stood with my two little bags of coffee and inwardly groaned at the overstuffed carts ahead of me. Who are you people, camp cooks? I wondered. Preppers stocking up for the apocalypse?

Our cashier appeared to be an affable young man who was now chatting with the customer at the front of the line. C’mon, enough with the talking!  I implored him with my strongest ESP vibes.  Scan and talk at the same time! Let’s mooooooooove!

 

cow trampoline

 

To my right, Mr. Speedy’s cashier had stopped scanning. “Price check on register eight,” he announced. Oh YES. I brightened up considerably. Now Speedy’s line is slower than mine. Na, na, na, na, NA, na! 

Suddenly I had one of those out-of-body experiences where my better consciousness intervenes and slaps me upside the head. What are you thinking? it demanded. What’s with this ugly spirit of competitiveness? Why are you feeling glee because your fellow human is delayed?

 

cow and horse

 

Before I could answer those questions, I saw movement from the corner of my eye. A green-shirted Sprouts employee had appeared and was now fiddling around at the next cash register. He didn’t look at us as he carefully straightened the bags, meticulously sprayed the conveyor belt with cleaner, and counted every bill and coin in the cash drawer. And then…yes? No? Wait for it…

He flicked on the lane light, and a mass exodus occurred. The dagger woman behind me was first in line. Dust rose in the air and the new line was ten people deep in 15 seconds. None of us patient, longsuffering cattle had been nimble enough to migrate. Even worse, our bagging clerk moved over to the new line. So unfair!

Dagger’s eyes met mine as she paid for her groceries. “Hasta la vista, sucker,” she seemed to say before waltzing out of the store.

 

bye felicia cow

 

I took a deep breath, and tried to remember all the things I’ve read about acceptance and letting go. Inhale peace, exhale stress.

I pictured Jerry Seinfeld’s dad yelling, “Serenity now!” What is it about being in a crowded grocery store that brings out my most primitive instincts? My default mode seems to be:

  • I am in a hurry. Even if I’m not on any particular schedule, I’m still in a hurry.
  • Waiting is a big waste of  valuable time.
  • Lines should be fair and democratic!
  • Cashiers should be efficient and know all the grocery codes, even for starfruit and Swiss Chard.
  • Our bagger must never defect to another line!
  • When it’s my turn, I like it when the cashier is friendly.
  • Success = making better time than my fellow shoppers.

I took more deep breaths and sent up some lame, shallow prayers. After several more minutes of jockeying, it was finally my turn.

“Your coffee smells good,” the cashier said as he scanned.

“I love Sprouts coffee.”

“It’s the best.” He smiled and nodded at me. “You need to press the green ‘Enter’ button and click ‘Yes.'”

“Oh, sorry. All of these machines are different.”

“I know, right? Why can’t they standardize card readers?”

“Exactly!” I smiled and gazed back at the dozen people scowling in line behind me. I swear to you, I could hear words like “HURRY UP, LADY” and “MOVE IT!” floating around me.

 

angry cow

 

“You still need to sign the keypad.”

“Oh, sorry.”

As I headed toward the exit I noticed Mr. Speedy still in his line, peering at the card reader trying to figure out which button to push.

Cowabunga! I thought, as I skipped to my car like a happy heifer finally let out to pasture.

 

content cow

May your lines be short and your patience long in the days ahead.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. For more bad behavior, you might also enjoy “Why Was I Speeding Up a Mountain Road?

 

For the Love of Good Quality

Krups coffeemaker

My coffee maker is 20 years old this week. I know this for a fact, because it was a wedding present two decades ago. I hope it doesn’t sound wrong to mention that the appliance has lasted twice as long as the marriage.

dented Krups coffee carafeBy my estimation, this Krups coffee maker has produced more than 24,000 cups of excellent coffee and it’s still going strong. I dropped and dented the stainless carafe when we moved, but it didn’t affect the performance so I kept using it.

Lasting quality is a thing to behold these days, isn’t it? When our computers need to be replaced every few years and we tear down buildings like football stadiums after just a few decades, it can begin to feel like old things don’t have much value.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, too, but I really appreciate owning something that is classic and durable.

I write a lot about saving money, but sometimes it makes sense to invest in craftsmanship and lasting quality.

Here are some things that come to mind:

  • Cast iron skillets
  • Handcrafted furniture
  • A hand-forged knife
  • Classic clothes
  • A KitchenAid mixer
  • Well-made tools
  • A Pendleton blanket
  • Cowboy boots

Another hallmark of a well-made product is great customer service from the maker. When the inner shell of my OtterBox phone case cracked, the company promptly sent me a free replacement. No questions asked. No warranty required. I didn’t have to package up the old case and return it. They simply trusted me.

Buy Me Once is a brilliant company that sells goods like appliances, kitchenware and clothing that are made to last. They don’t yet offer coffee makers, but that’s okay. When mine wears out, I’ll probably look for another Krups.

How About You?

What do you own that is exceptionally well-crafted and long lasting? Can you recommend any brands that offer top quality products and great customer service? I always love to hear your suggestions and thoughts.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross