Fall Decorating (and Molasses Cookies)

I like to do a little decorating around the house for fall.  When the kids were little, decorations were heavy on the Halloween.  But as they’ve grown older, I’ve gone to a more generic autumnal…thing.  I bought several antique amber glass fairy lamps to use for candles, and they look both warm and sparkly when the candles are lit. On the mantlepiece, surrounded by red-tailed hawk feathers we found, needle-felted wool acorns, and porcelain pumpkins, the fairy lamps are my little harbingers of autumn.  And while I love Christmas and its trappings, I must say I love the fact that my fall decorating is done in about 20 minutes (as opposed to Christmas decorating, which takes all day).

We do put up some Halloween decorations; it’s just not the focus anymore.  My surprised Jack- o’-Lanterns make me smile, and I still put out other little bits and pieces that remind me of small children dressed like lions or pumpkins.  The holidays change as our families change, and sometimes that makes me a bit sad. But onward and upward!  Just as my fairy lamps are the harbinger of fall, change is the harbinger of life going on, and that’s a good thing.

But some things do stay the same.  Cinnamon, cloves, and ginger are an integral part of autumn. Even though I’ll make these cookies in, say, May, they are really quintessential autumn sweets.  Now as far as these molasses cookies go, this is a recipe that my mother got from Auntie Sally, the dear friend she met when my sister was in preschool, lo these 40-odd years ago (egad!).  The recipe states it’s from 1966.  It’s easy and reliable, and it only makes a few dozen, which is nice when you don’t want to be baking for hours.  Use full-flavor molasses, not the light flavor or gentle flavor or however they put it. It’s integral to the taste. And please do not get all uppity about the use of shortening–these are my very favorite molasses cookies. Oh, I go catting around, trying out other recipes, but my little 45-year-old recipe card sits and patiently waits for me, knowing I’ll be back.  And I always am.

Molasses Cookies

3/4 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

1 egg

5 Tbl. dark molasses ( I only use Brer Rabbit full flavor, green label)

2 tsp. baking soda

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. cloves

1 tsp. ginger

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt.

Lightly grease a cookie sheet or use a Silpat instead. Mix all ingredients.  Roll into 1 inch balls, place on cookie sheet and press down lightly. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Monarchs, Autumn, and Lantana in Vacaville

The autumn monarch butterfly migration is underway. I think word finally got out on the  Migration Superhighway, and the word on the street is that we have fantastic nectar snacks for the road–the lantana is a huge hit with the monarch butterflies!  We’ve got more butterflies this year than we’ve ever had before, even though we’ve had the lantana for years.  I am always one to look for omens and signs (seems like a bad habit I should stop), so I cannot help but wonder what the butterfly bonanza means.  Of course there is all the symbolism of change and rebirth, which may certainly have a role in my life these days.  But I was actually thinking of more of a weather type of thing.  I love the cold and rainy weather so much that I’m always looking for signs of impending heavy weather–lots of walnuts on the tree? Check.  Fluffy tails on the squirrels?  Got ’em.  So lots of butterflies…they need to get out of town en masse because of the coming harsh winteriness?  I can only hope.  But look at these flowers–if I was a butterfly I would certainly stop by–they’re gorgeous.

I strongly recommend planting lantana here in Vacaville.  It does have a rather pungent scent that some people don’t like (I have grown to like it because I love these plants, and when I can smell it I know pool time is coming), but as long as you don’t crush the leaves, you won’t smell it.  Butterflies and birds, especially hummingbirds, seem to adore it.

My gardening philosophy is that the strong will survive.  I’m not a big fan of gardening, but I do want the yard to look nice.  Our lantana thrives on my benign neglect.  It grows in full blazing sun, gets minimal water (a deep drippering about every week, even in summer), and comes back after being “killed” by the frost.  Some years we cut off all the dead wood left after the frost (the plant turns brown and black, looking as though it caught fire), and sometimes we don’t.  Doesn’t matter.  It comes back thick and lush every year.  The lantana loves it here, and we love the lantana!

Lying on the couch…

I’ve been channeling Snow White’s missing three dwarfs, Barfy, Poopy, and Dizzy (uh-oh…feel I may have crossed a line), these last few days.  Today I feel somewhat on the mend, so I settled myself on the couch to find a good movie.  I found it–Arabesque, from 1966, starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren.  I really have no idea what was going on.  I came in 10 minutes after it started and apparently lost most of the particulars of the plot.  Gregory Peck is a professor, Sophia Loren lives (in a room lined with the best red toile I have

See the toile in the background?

ever seen–more white than red–so pretty.  Even the tiles in the bathroom are in the same toile.) as the mistress of a menacing Arab (–what? politician? gangster? I just don’t know) who seems to have a touch of a foot fetish (he buys her lots of shoes and likes to massage her feet), and everyone is trying to kill each other while they seek the cypher. What the cypher tells them I–surprise!–don’t know.

But what I do know about this movie is that the clothes were sensational!  When I first came in, Sophia made her entrance in an evening gown that would be so perfect for women of, say, my age.  I’m not sure if it was black or navy blue, but that is immaterial.  It had a very wide neckline, very low-cut (but without putting her girls out there in a sleazy way), a close-fitting bodice and full, sheer sleeves with feathers around the wrists.  So maybe not suitable for a dinner, but definitely for cocktails. Later on, she and Gregory Peck get chased around London and when she gets back home to her Arab lover, she takes off her great little white coat and reveals a very plain black sheath dress, 3/4 sleeves, below the knee, with a bateau neck.  But when she turns around, the back is U-shaped, down to almost her waist!  So sexy, so subtle.  I loved it.  Later they get chased around London some more (while in their pretty little red Mercedes) and she is wearing a very groovy shiny red raincoat, with knee-high black boots. Truly, the clothes were amazing–sorry I couldn’t find a photo of the sheath dress.  I wish I had a dressmaker who could replicate these outfits, especially that little black sheath dress.  So many dresses are just too short!

Come to find out after I poked around online that it was a Dior wardrobe, valued at over $150,000 (at the time!).  So that’s nice.  But if you’re channeling your own dwarfs, due to illness or hangover (hey, these things happen), or just need some pretty clothes and some mindless entertainment, Arabesque is a great bet.

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