Cranberries!  Big, bouncy, bright red cranberries!

cranberry harvest

Harvested between mid-September and mid-November, cranberries are at their peak right now for color and flavor.  Their ruby red color makes them a favorite for holiday decorating, cooking, and baking.

A cranberry wreath looks stunning anywhere you hang it.  I originally saw the idea about 20 years ago in a Martha Stewart publication, and you can see her making one here.  (Spoiler alert:  the video is really boring, and her wreath turns out beautifully.  Doh.).  Mindy at Our Humble Abode declares making a cranberry wreath “the dumbest idea ever,” but I think her wreath is gorgeous and entirely worth the 1-1/2 hours she spent making it:cranberry wreathIn a similar vein (i.e., styrofoam and cranberries), you could also create striking cranberry topiaries:

Adding cranberries to floral arrangements and glass candleholders adds a brilliant splash of holiday color at very little cost:

Kids will love stringing cranberries (well, maybe not my kids) to create gorgeous garlands (use waxed dental floss to make stringing easy):

It takes no time to sugar cranberries, and they make a beautiful garnish for holiday dishes, especially with a few mint leaves tucked in around them.


 Find directions for making them at

Look at some of the elegant ways you can use sugared cranberries:

This year I’m once again baking loaves of cranberry orange bread to share.  The recipe has both fresh and dried cranberries, orange juice and zest, and pecans.  It’s just sweet enough to balance the tartness of the cranberries, and the buttermilk keeps it moist.  The recipe makes 6 mini loaves or 2 regular loaves, which makes it a great recipe for sharing.

Recipe type: Breads and Muffins
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup pecan halves, coarsely chopped
  • ⅔ cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 6 mini loaf pans, or 2 regular loaf pans, or 1 bundt pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, orange juice, zest, and melted butter. Whisk in eggs until thoroughly combined.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir just until combined. Gently fold in cranberries and nuts.
  5. Divide batter among prepared pans, filling each approximately ¾ full.
  6. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The top of the bread will be golden, and the bread will have risen and the edges will be just pulling away from the sides of the pan.
  7. Allow to cool, then wrap in plastic and let sit at room temperature several hours (preferably overnight) before slicing and serving.

cranberry bread

Hot out of the oven, and they smell so good!


Delicious giving


muffintopI found this vintage photo on ebay.   It brings new meaning to the phrase “buttoned up.”  Honestly, though, after the recent holidays, I can’t talk.  But —  I’m sure as heck not buttoning up my sweater.

That mighty muffin top inspires me to make — you guessed it — muffins!  Which also gives me the perfect reason to use the thoughtful gift I received from my daughter for Christmas — a beautiful ceramic muffin pan, with a matching tea towel and oven mitt from Anthropologie (I pretty  much covet everything in their kitchen section):


Almost too pretty to use

She even picked out a recipe for me to try.  And she picked a good one.  These muffins make good use of the bounty of apples available right now.  They’re very dense and moist, and were especially good warm (like most muffins).

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ⅓ butter, melted
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 large apple, peeled, cored, and diced
  • For the topping:
  • ⅓ cup butter, melted
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners (12 muffin cups).
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Place egg and brown sugar in a large bowl, and beat together using an electric mixer, until well blended. Gradually beat in the butter and sour cream. Stir in half of the flour mixture, add the milk, and then add the remaining flour mixture, stirring just until combined. Fold in the diced apples.
  3. Divide batter between muffin cups. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until muffins are light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow muffins to cool in pans briefly, then remove to a rack.
  4. When muffins are cool enough to handle, pour melted butter into a small bowl. Mix sugar and cinnamon together in another small bowl. Dip the top of each muffin in butter and then press it into the cinnamon sugar mixture until generously coated. (Because I used very tall muffin liners, I didn't dip the muffins, but instead, brushed the tops with melted butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.)


Ready for the oven


Lightly golden, and smelling wonderful


Dressed with butter and cinnamon sugar


An apple muffin a day keeps the doctor away (girl can dream, can’t she?)



I purchased these vintage Czech spice jars on ebay.  I love the clean lines and neat lettering.  I actually have quite a little collection of black and white Czech pottery, which I started collecting unintentionally about 15 years ago.  I’ll share it with you one of these days.  But today, three of these spice jars have my full attention:


These, along with cinnamon, are the spices that make up pumpkin pie spice, and are the inspiration for today’s recipe.

What’s that?  August is too early to be posting a recipe for pumpkin bread or thinking about fall?  Oh silly you, have you been living under a rock?  Here’s a photo I took at Michael’s on July 5:

Michael's fall

Pumpkins, pumpkins, and more pumpkins

Alright, I can cut Michael’s a little slack for jumping the gun.  After all, it is a craft store, and crafters do need to get working if they are going to have their creations ready for fall. (You haven’t started?  What are you waiting for?)

But how do you explain this photo taken at Randall’s grocery store on July 29?

Randall's pumpkins

Scary to see jack o’ lanterns in July

Yes, like a cheap pair of underwear, pumpkin spice season is slowly creeping up on us.  I’ve already seen articles about how we will be introduced to pumpkin spice Peeps this season, and Starbucks is going to use — wait for it — REAL pumpkin in its Pumpkin Spice Lattes, along with removing the caramel coloring and artificial flavors. (Starbucks is largely credited with creating the pumpkin spice craze when it introduced the now-famous pumpkin spice latte, or PSL, in 2003).  In fact, it was pretty much a full-blown assault at the grocery stores this weekend, where I saw everything from pumpkin spice room freshener to pumpkin spice whipped cream in a can (keep in mind Labor Day is still two weeks away).

Keep calm

Last year my friends (real and virtual) got a laugh out of poking fun at pumpkin spice mania, and they sent me lots of photos of products — some intriguing, some gross. Hunting down pumpkin spice flavored or scented things became almost like sport.  This year, starting in September, Tag Sale Tastes is going to have its own Pumpkinpalooza, with  reviews of pumpkin spice products, recipes, and other pumpkin-related things.  I’ll be trying out the products on friends, family, and co-workers.  So be on the lookout — let me know if you see something that merits review or mockery.  🙂

Maybe you’re wondering how I have the audacity to post a recipe for pumpkin spice bread, after making fun of all things pumpkin spice.  Because I want to be FIRST!!  You know what I mean, right?  Urban Dictionary defines “first” as a word that is said when you are the first one to post a comment on a video, picture, or article on the internet.  I want to be like all those obnoxious people on Facebook who wish you happy birthday the day before your birthday, just so they can be FIRST!  So here’s to beating out all the other bloggers in the whole world this year with what I hope is the FIRST! pumpkin spice bread recipe of Fall 2015.

Inspired by the Czech ginger, cloves, and nutmeg jars, here is a great recipe for Pumpkin Ginger Bread.  This is a favorite recipe of my family’s — moist, and dense, and spicy. Although I usually disregard the advice from people like Martha Stewart who say to replace your spices every 6 months (what am I, made out of money?), this time of year you would do yourself a favor to buy, if nothing else, a fresh jar of ginger and cinnamon — it really makes a difference in your holiday baking (no, I don’t mean Labor Day).  As the loaves bake, your whole house will smell like a pumpkin spice candle (just kidding).

Recipe type: Breads an.)d Muffins
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3-1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • ⅔ cup water
  • 16-ounce can pumpkin
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt pan, or two loaf pans.
  2. Place eggs and sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Slowly add oil and continue beating until combined. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. Add dry mixture to egg mixture alternately with water. Beat in pumpkin. Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and bake approximately 1 hour, until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool in pan at least 15 minutes before removing from pan. (If necessary, run a knife between the edge of the bread and the pan, in order to loosen it.)



Mmmmm — the house smells just like pumpkin spice candles, or is it air freshener?


Y’all will fall for this pumpkin bread



I found this biscuit barrel at an estate sale.   This definition of biscuit barrel from the Collins English Dictionary sums it up pretty concisely: “an airtight container of circular section equipped with a lid and used  for storing biscuits.”  The same source offers this use of the term in a sentence:  “She looked with favour at the contents of his biscuit barrel.”  (Snicker.)  I’ve got quite a few biscuit barrels that I’ve picked up at estate sales, in cut crystal, oak, and silver-plate.  Most of them are in my kids’ rooms, where they hold “collections” of all sorts, including glass buttons, miniature Pokemon figures, ribbons, and coins.  I bet “she” would not look “with favour” at these contents.  About the only thing we don’t store in them are biscuits.

Recently my daughter and I treated ourselves to one of the giant biscuits with jam and crème fraiche at Blacksmith:


Biscuits aren’t something we indulge in very often, and that big biscuit, with its fluffy interior and craggy exterior was worth the calorie splurge.  Inspired by the biscuit barrel and the monster creation at Blacksmith, I thought I’d surprise my daughter by making homemade biscuits for breakfast.  I looked at a bunch of recipes, in search of one that would be suitably tender inside and craggy outside.  Tips for biscuit success include using well-chilled butter, working quickly to keep the butter from softening, not overworking the dough (to prevent tough biscuits), and baking at 400 degrees or higher (for high-rising biscuits).

The recipe I wound up working from was billed as the “best, fluffy, flakey, buttery biscuits ever.”  I want to stop here and say that I chose the recipe because the picture with it looked like what I was looking for, and NOT because someone declared these the “best ever.”  Don’t you find it obnoxious when someone declares something the “best ever?”  How about just saying your family or your guests loved these, or they disappeared quickly, or you like them best of all the recipes you’ve ever tried in your whole life?  But “best ever?”  No.

The same is true for “amazing,” one of the most overused words around.  How is your coffee?  Amazing?  Really?  A-ma-zing?  I noticed a while back that “super” had slipped into our vocabulary, as in “super cute” and “super fun” and “super easy.”  What does “super” add, other than the impression that you are perhaps 12 years old?  And yet, there are apparently some things that even “super” won’t adequately describe, and lately I’ve been seeing “beyond” replacing it, as in “that outfit is beyond cute” or “I am beyond blessed.”  Like “super,” tacking on “beyond” adds nothing, and is best saved for describing that area of the bed and bath store that doesn’t neatly fit into either the bed or bath category.

So were these the best, fluffy, flakey, buttery biscuits ever?  I have no idea.  But I did think they were really good, although perhaps not beyond amazing (wink), and slathered with butter and jam, warm out of the oven, they made a pretty indulgent breakfast.  “She” would look with “favour” at these.  🙂

Recipe type: Breads and Muffins
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ cup salted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ⅔ cup half and half
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees
  2. Place flour, baking powder, salt, and cream of tartar in a food processor and pulse briefly to combine. Add butter and pulse until pea-sized. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the half and half and honey, and stir until a shaggy dough is formed.
  3. Transfer dough to a lightly-floured surface and knead several times. Pat dough into a circle about ¾" high. Cut out biscuits using a 2" biscuit cutter. Transfer biscuits to a baking sheet, spacing them approximately 2" apart. Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes, until tops are golden brown. In the last minute of baking, brush tops of biscuits with melted butter. Remove to serving platter and serve warm.

 IMG_5911Biscuits on the rise

A brush with butter is better than a brush with danger


 Big ol’ biscuits with butter and jam 

butterWe used this Hand Rolled Butter, which has been showing up in grocery stores lately (including Kroger).  Not sure why hand-rolling is special, but the butter was sweet and creamy had a smoother texture than the sticks we usually buy.



The inspiration for today’s recipe comes from this Texas magazine, a Sunday insert to the Houston Chronicle, dated September 13, 1970, which I found among a stack of cookbooks at a recent estate sale.

IMG_5767 On the cover is Ann Criswell, the Houston Chronicle’s first food editor. IMG_5766

Ann was the Chronicle’s food editor from 1966 until she retired in 2000.  I still have tons of recipes I clipped during her time as editor, mostly from the ’80s and ’90s.  The Chronicle’s food section was the first food section in Houston, and the Houston Post followed suit a week later.  The food section, which featured an average of 60 recipes per week, was largely geared towards middle income families.  One of her most significant contributions (in my opinion) was arranging the recipes so that they could be cut out of the newspaper in one piece — a practice I wish Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and other food magazines would adopt.

In an interview last fall, she reminisced about what a different world it was when she started the food section in 1966.   She said that she was constantly discovering and researching new foods that came on the market — things like arugula and starfruit.  As the recipes in the magazine reflect, there was a heavy reliance on canned soups.

In the section of the magazine on vegetables, she shares a secret:

IMG_5827 (2)

She goes on to advise that “[c]anned vegetables serve a purpose, of course, and can be company best . . . .  But no woman should consider herself an accomplished cook until she has mastered fresh vegetables.”  I found it kind of amusing that of the 14 vegetable recipes, half of them called for canned or frozen vegetables.

I found some of the ads interesting too, particularly this one, for the Trim Gym:


My, how exercise has changed!  This looks like exercise that even I could do, which doesn’t look much harder than lying around on a broken ironing board, and I don’t think you need a Lululemon outfit to use it:


Seriously — if you know where I can get one, please let me know!  (I’ve also been considering taking up bull riding, because even if you’re really, really good at it, it only takes 8 seconds, and that’s about my limit for exercise.)

I had a really hard time picking out a recipe from the magazine to make.  Although they might have been awesome in 1970, they sounded awfully unappealing today — dishes like “Tomato Wine Sauce” made with a can of condensed tomato soup, and “Swiss Shrimp Fondue” made with frozen condensed cream of shrimp soup, Swiss cheese, and small frozen shrimp.  But then this recipe for Hot Jalapeno Corn Bread called to me:


With the exception of the addition of 1/4 cup corn oil, the recipe is pretty much the same as the one you can still find on packages of cornbread mix today.  It bakes up dense, and moist, and goes really well with barbecued anything.  My husband heated up a few slices in a skillet the next day, and it was perhaps even better, with its lightly toasted bottoms.

  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups milk (can use low-fat)
  • 3 cups yellow cornbread mix (I used three packages of Martha White)
  • ¼ cup corn oil
  • 1 cup canned cream-style corn (the recipe calls for a No. 303 can, but I couldn't figure out what that was)
  • 1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
  • l large grated onion (optional -- I omitted)
  • 1 4-ounce can jalapenos, chopped (I used jarred pickled jalapenos)
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Place eggs in a medium mixing bowl and beat slightly. Blend in remaining ingredients. Pour batter into a well-greased 13x9-inch baking dish. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, being careful not to let it dry out. Cut into squares and serve.

Easy and delicious


 Here’s to you Ann — thanks for the memories!




I found these colorful vintage clickers on ebay.  Clickers, according to Wikipedia, consist of a thin piece of metal or plastic “held in a casing so that the metal is slightly torqued; depressing one end of the metal causes it to pop out of alignment and releasing it causes it to pop back into alignment, each time making a sharp click” — kind of like TMJ.  During WWII, clickers known as Airborne Crickets, were used by paratroopers of the 101st Airborne to covertly distinguish between friend and foe during the invasion of Normandy.  Soldiers would click their cricket once, and receiving two clicks in return signaled friendly troops.

Clickers should not be confused with Clackers, the deadly toy popular in the 1960s and 1970s.



According to Wikipedia, “Clackers were discontinued when reports came out of children becoming injured while playing with them. Fairly heavy and fast-moving, and made of hard acrylic plastic, the balls would occasionally shatter upon striking each other.”  Well, duh.

As toys, clickers are cheery and fun — for about a minute.  After that, the sound and the child become really annoying.  If you ever find yourself with one of those guests who doesn’t know when to go home, just sit a kid next to them with a clicker or two and see how long it takes for them to hightail it out of there.

Of the three clickers, the monkey is my favorite, and the inspiration for today’s recipe.  Did you ever sing the “monkey see, monkey do” song with your kids?  It went like this:

musical notes

When you clap clap clap your hands,

The monkey clap clap claps his hands

Monkey see, monkey do,

Monkey does the same as you.

The song is repeated with other actions such as stamp your feet, turn around, and jump up high, until you can stand it no longer, which happens pretty quickly.  I think the person who wrote the lyrics, however, probably never saw a monkey at the zoo, for if he had, the refrain would probably be something more like the one I used to sing with the kids:

musical notes

Monkey see, monkey do,

Monkey flings his poo at you.

Another version, popularized by Michael Scott on The Office, ends with “Monkey pees all over you.”  Keepin’ it real.

Monkeys like bananas, right?  Actually, monkeys enjoy most fruits, and those who live in banana-growing climates certainly enjoy bananas.  I like bananas too, but they tend to blacken faster than we eat them.  Whenever I have blackened bananas I think, “Oh, cool, I’ll make banana bread,” and then I never get around to it and soon the fruit flies appear.  Gross.  Remember ant farms, the gift you hoped your kids would never receive?  I think this year I’ll slip a “fruit fly farm” in the kids’ stockings — they’ll be so excited!


Do it yourself “fruit fly farm”

Inspired by the monkey clicker, and the blackening bananas in my fruit bowl, I finally made  Banana Macadamia Bread.  The recipe is adapted from one I originally saw on Essence of Emeril, back before he “bammed” his way to celebrity chef status.  Judging from the number of 4-star reviews the original recipe received, I’m not the only one who loves it.  You can alter the amount of bananas and nuts, but I highly recommend using butter instead of shortening for a truly delicious bread.

Recipe type: Breads and Muffins
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (approximately 3 small bananas)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup chopped macadamia nuts
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
  2. Place butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and using an electric mixer, beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the bananas. Add the baking soda, salt, flour, and cinnamon, and mix thoroughly. Stir in macadamia nuts.
  3. Pour the dough into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake until top is browned and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, approximately 1 hour. Allow to cool in pan before removing. To remove, place a plate over pan, invert and gently remove pan.


Ready for the oven 


 Cooling before being removed from the pan


 Filling the house with its wonderful aroma


 Monkey see, monkey do

Monkey eats banana bread with you.


Recently, kolaches have been receiving a lot of attention.  In fact, just last week, the New York Times ran an article entitled “The Kolache:  Czech, Texan, or All-American? (All Three).”  Kolaches are Czech pastries, made with a yeast dough and most often topped with a sweetened cream cheese or fruit filling.  Here in Texas, kolaches are hugely popular.  There’s a strip of highway in south-central Texas known as the Czech Belt, where numerous bakeries and roadside stops sell homemade kolaches, and for many travelers, stopping and buying kolaches is the highlight of any road trip.  Our personal favorite is Weikel’s Bakery (” We Gotcha Kolache”), and I might add that their apple strudel and mega-sized Rice Krispie squares with pecans are pretty awesome, too.  My kids have been eating sausage kolaches from the Kolache Factory, a chain with locations all over Texas, since they first cut teeth.


 Offerings at the Kolache Factory

An article in the Houston Chronicle about a woman who hosts kolache parties using a recipe passed on to her from her aunt (which is shared in the article), had me salivating as I read about some of the artisanal fillings she uses — regional charcuterie, seasonal fruits, chiles, and herbs.  Doesn’t goat cheese and fig preserves with bay leaf sound intriguing?  Or boudin from Louisiana?

If you are like me, and by that I mean being neither Czech nor inclined to wake up early enough to mix up yeast dough in time to serve kolaches hot out of the oven to my impatient family (and they really are best hot out of the oven — the kolaches, that is, not my family), here is an easy way to quickly satisfy any kolache cravings or curiosity.  By using Pillsbury refrigerated thin crust pizza dough, you can save yourself a LOT of time and still serve up delicious, tender, hot kolaches.  I’ve used apricot jam here, but feel free to go wild and use that fig jam with bay leaf that has been sitting in your pantry for years.

Recipe type: Breads and Muffins
  • 11-ounce can Pillsbury Refrigerated Thin Pizza Crust (do not use other varieties, or your kolaches will be too doughy)
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 4 tablespoons sugar, divided use
  • 3-1/2 tablespoons flour, divided use
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided use
  • ¼ cup Apricot Preserves
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Prepare cheese filling: Place cream cheese, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1-1/2 tablespoons flour, and egg yolk in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy.
  3. Prepare crumb topping: Place 2 tablespoons flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1 tablespoon butter in a mini chopper and process until crumbly.
  4. To assemble kolaches, unroll pizza dough, and cut into 6 equal pieces. Using your hands, shape pieces into rounds. Place 1 round in the center of a 9-inch pie plate, and surround with remaining 5 rounds. Gently press rounds together to cover bottom of pie plate. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon of butter by placing in a small dish and microwaving on high for 20 seconds. Using a pastry brush, brush melted butter over dough. Using the back of a tablespoon, create an indentation in each kolache. Fill with 1 tablespoon cheese filling. Top cheese filling on each kolache with 2 teaspoons apricot jam. Sprinkle crumb topping evenly over kolaches.
  5. Bake until lightly golden and cheese filling is set, approximately 18 minutes. Allow to cool briefly in pan. Use a spatula to remove kolaches and transfer to serving plates.

001The timesaving shortcut — be sure it’s thin crust

(other varieties will not achieve desired results)


Nestled in baking dish, waiting for filling


First comes the cheese filling . . . 


 And then the jewel-like fruit filling


A sprinkling of streusel (known as “posipka”)

010Hot out of the oven 


Czech it out!



(which, according to Google Translate, means “Enjoy” in Czech)