It’s Fruitcake Weather . . .

Not your old dried fruitcake with dried candied citrus.

I’m thinking of those old hangover memories from many long years ago when people still consumed fruitcakes, largely homemade and a gift signifying abundance for everyone who receives it. And when I read the book, A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, it increased my love of the tasty treat.

So for several years now, I have adopted the philosophy that fruitcake is indeed a sacred treat and must be treated as such. Therefore, it is a treat that requires special ingredients and the timing must be well-thought-out to have it ready at just the right time. When you make a fruitcake, you cannot just throw the ingredients together. You must go out and gather the ingredients in the most meaningful ways you can, and you also should not be afraid to experiment with the ingredients. And in the end result, your fruitcake needs to be like a cake and not a bowl of soup.

Here is a recipe for one of the special fruitcakes I have made for this special time. It is from my book, Pumpkin, Pumpkin: Folklore, History, Growing Hints and Good Eating, 3rd Edition. The book actually contains a whole lot more than what the title implies, but it could have filled up the cover with the title, so I have kept it shorter intentionally.

Pumpkin Fruitcake

1 c. canned pumpkin; 4 c. all-purpose flour; 1 c. buttermilk; 4 eggs; 1 c. brown sugar OR 1/2 c. brown sugar & 1/2 c. molasses; zest of one lemon and one orange; liquor of choice for soaking fruit

Juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange; Enough rum, brandy or liquor of choice mixed with juice of the lemon and orange, to cover the fruit; 1 1/2 c. pecans or walnuts (I like the whole halves or 1/4ths, but you might want to chop yours up more except for some halves for the top); 4 c. mixed dried fruit (dried apples, apricots, pineapple, cranberries, raisins, figs, dates or any combination you like); 1 tsp. baking powder; 1/2 tsp. baking soda; 1 tsp. ea. cinnamon, allspice, ginger (I add other spices as they occur to me by my choice – the recipe will not fail if you do not use others); salt (salt is very personal and will not make a difference whether you use it or not; if you have ever experimented with salt, you will know how this works).

Put all dried fruit into a bowl and cover it with a mixture of orange juice and rum or brandy, etc. to your taste. You need enough of the liquor to cover the fruit. Soak for at least 24 hours. I always add the liquor to what feels right to me personally. Remember that you are going to keep this cake in a tin until nearly Christmas (if you can do that), so you can add more along the way to make it better.

Preheat oven to 350o. To make the cake, mix all dry ingredients, and then add the pumpkin, eggs, and buttermilk. When mixture is consistently blended, pour in the rum soaked fruits.

Bake about 60 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. This cake can sit out, covered in a lidded tin container, and it will just keep getting better.

For me, the making of the fruitcake comes from the line in the book uttered by one of his beloved relatives, “It’s fruitcake weather.” It is how I love to celebrate my autumn. I hope you will find some good ways to celebrate yours as well.

What Shall We Celebrate?

Lady Liberty, Symbol of Strength, Peace, and Freedom. Courtesy Pexels.

As most of us prepare for the Fourth of July, with its fireworks, barbecues and picnics, vacations, and joyful gatherings with friends and loved ones, perhaps we should take a few moments to set forth some prayers for those who have not yet fully gained or even partially gained their freedom throughout the world.

Frederick Douglass had it right when he delivered a famous speech on July 5, 1852, in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York, addressing the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. The speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” In the speech, he brought out the contradictions to a celebration of liberty, citizenship, and freedom as an offense to the black slaves, who had none of those things. The Fourth of July was supposed to be directed to ALL citizens of the United States.

Frederick Douglass, courtesy Wikipedia.

The times have changed, but the inequality has grown out of proportion. Today, as we prepare for the Fourth of July, let us offer a prayer for those living under modern slavery, which encompasses more than some nearly 30,000,000,000 enslaved people (as of 2013) – adults, children and babies alike – no longer black slaves alone, but all colors, races, political, religious or spiritual or other beliefs – in every manner of slavery imaginable. The highest number of enslaved people is in Asia, but the United States has a huge number as well. No matter where these human beings are located or how many of them there are, we cannot blindly celebrate without remembering those who are not as fortunate as we are.

“Oh Lord, thank you for this freedom that you have bestowed upon me and those I love. I know how precious it is when I see how many people in this world are suffering every day because they have no hope. I have difficulty understanding this inequality, and I honestly don’t know what I can do to help except to offer this small and perhaps inadequate prayer. But what my soul cries out is WHY? Why must innocent people suffer in this manner when you have provided enough for all of us? I have no answers, Lord. I want to believe that there is some power in this world that is good and that can nourish and care for people who have done nothing to deserve what they are suffering. Thank you.”

Recycling at its Best

Tio Tacos in Riverside, CA

This is one of my favorite eye candy places to go in Riverside, CA. It is a tiny taco restaurant, and looks like any old tiny taco house, but once you step inside its walls, everything around you is art, all of it made from trash, literally.

Another small part of Tio Tacos, Ricerside

Folk artist, Martin Sanchez created Tio Tacos Dream Garden, expanding out from his restaurant to the whole block and back courtyard, filling the whole area with junk art sculptures, towering garbage giants, and and a church made out of bottles.

This is one elephant who won’t eat your peanuts.

This is absolutely one of my favorite places to wander. I cannot imagine that anyone can go in here and come out feeling gloomy.

Check out the walkway too. Not a single thing is wasted.
How can you not love this?

In 1984, when Sanchez immigrated from the village of Sahuayo,
in the state of Michoacan, he was shocked by what people threw away. “I don’t throw away nothing for 18 years,” he says. He doesn’t plan anything ahead, but will suddenly get a creative bug, and perhaps create a 20 foot-tall wire figure with two years-worth of cans.

Just the patience to create one of these figures is overwhelming.
Inside the Tio Tacos Bottle Chapel

When he first came to Riverside, he sold peanuts and ice cream in the park before he bought a hot dog cart in 1989 and began to sell tacos outside of Tio’s Tacos. He bought the restaurant and the clapboard house next door in 1995, which became his family home. The adjacent parking lot and house, currently used for storage and a gift shop, was purchased in 2000. His creations include more statues on the roofs and on top of palm trees.

Sanchez built his chapel out of multi-colored bottles and other recycled materials as a gift to his wife, Concepcion. The chapel, which was consecrated by the Catholic church, has water springing from its walls and a ceiling painted like a miniature Sistine. Light filtering through the bottles gives a stained glass effect. Today the chapel is used for weddings, quinceaneras, graduations, and just private quiet moments.

Tio Tacos is located at 3948 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA 92501, 951-788-0230. It is right down the street from the historic Mission Inn, another of Riverside’s wonderful stories just waiting for you to visit.

Art for Children

Slice Quilt by Cut-Loose Quilters for new Orange Children’s Library, Orange, CA.

Years ago I belonged to a small private quilt group in Orange, CA – Cut-Loose Quilters, begun by Jamie Fingal, a renowned art quilter for many years. We made a lot of exciting projects and did a lot of really fun and unique things, but this was one of my all-time favorites. This is called a slice quilt which means that each of us participated in making one of the vertical panels, and on the side panels, we each made a horizontal panel.

The quilt was designed on paper by our fearless leader with the help of one of our other gals, and then the panels were cut and each of us got one. Mine was the yellow one, and we each got to choose our colors for our panels and any lettering on our panels. The quilt was made as a donation for the new Children’s Library and the City of Orange gave us a very nice thank you talk and a plaque to remember our gift. Parts of the quilt were “sold” to raise money to buy more books, though the quilt still hangs in the library to this day. In 2018, we had a 10-year reunion at the site, and it was wonderful to remember just how much fun we had and how good we all felt about creating something that would be enjoyed by children for many years.

I have since made other cloth projects for my classrooms too, but never any as much fun as this. Here is a photo of all of us ladies who made the quilt.

Cut-loose Quilters from left: Terry, Joanell, Yours Truly, Tracy, Jamie Fingal (fearless leader), Cindy, Vicky, and Peggy

I will always remember so many of the wonderful adventures we had in this group. There are some wonderfully talented ladies among us, and I feel very honored that they included me. Thank you forever, Jamie and ladies.

A Time of Quiet Contemplation and Thankfulness

person holding ball glass
Photo by Artem Saranin on Pexels.com

As we continue a season of holidays, I want to wish you the very best life has to offer, no matter what set of holidays you choose to celebrate. I wish you peace, joy, and an appreciation of the sacred in this world.

This is a time of renewal, and a time of quiet contemplation about the world that we have been given in which to have the experience of being an important part of the universe with its many different dimensions.  As the world seems to sleep, new life is forming quietly in so many different places and going unnoticed until it bursts forth in all its glory when spring awakens.