Category Archives: Grandparents

bake on Tuesday (post on Wednesday): Self Rising Bread (Estella Cox)





This recipe again comes from my great-grandmother’s (maternal) recipe collection.  I am not sure who Estella Cox was, but I think she might have been a friend.  When I first saw the title of this recipe, I thought it would be a soda bread, but then I read the recipe–it is an old-fashioned sourdough.

I did not have any cornmeal so I used flour in the first sponge.  I am not sure if using cornmeal makes a big difference, but I let this bread (and the sponges) ferment for much longer than the recipe called for.  I did not see the bubbles in either sponge for a few days, and then I let the bread “rise” for another day.  I was not sure it had worked at all but I heated up the oven on the 4th day and baked the bread on a stone.  I thought I would be cutting into a brick, but amazingly (or not, to those of you who know about fermentation) the bread was fairly light and had lots of nice air bubbles in it.  It tasted great too, moist with a very sourdough-y taste.  Since I’ve never made a naturally risen, or fermented, bread this was impressive to me–the power of native yeasts!

Anyway, here’s the recipe.

Self-Rising Bread (Estella Cox) [comments at bottom]

Sponge – i cup milk – t tsp. salt
2 Tblspns cornmeal – 1 Tblspn sugar

2nd Sponge
1 cup lukewarm water – 1 tsp salt
1 Tbspn sugar
2 Tbspn butter – 2 cups sifted flour

Dough – 3 1/4 cups sifted flour (about)

Scald milk, cool to lukewarm, add cornmeal, salt and sugar. Pour into covered fruit jar or pitcher. Place in pan of hot water 120 deg. Let stand for 6-7 hours or until signs of fermentation (gas bubbles) appear. Add ingredients for 2nd sponge. Beat thoroughly, cover, place in pan of hot water 120 deg. Let rise till very light then add remaining flour gradually till dough is stiff enough to be kneaded. Knead 10-15 min. Shape into 2 loaves, place in bread pans, brush top with melted shortening. Cover and let rise till very light, more than double. Bake in 375 deg oven for 10 min. Then lower heat to 350 deg. Bake 25-30 minutes longer.

As I mentioned before, I did not use cornmeal, but flour, for the first sponge. Then, I forgot to sift the flour for the last addition.

It took much longer to get fermentation bubbles in the first sponge, but I could not keep a consistent 120 deg bath for either sponge, and I didn’t even try. So, I am sure that slowed things down some. Finally, since I was not at all sure the bread was going to work out, I did not put the dough in loaf pans but just let it rise on a baking sheet. Even after a full day and a half, it did not rise to double it’s bulk. I finally decided to go ahead and bake it–at 400 for the entire time–and it turned out fine.

I might make this again, just to see if I can get different results–better rise, etc.

Anybody else have experience with making a sourdough sponge or bread?


sewing camp and thoughts about learning to sew

Last week’s sewing camp was a success, I believe. The children enjoyed it (most important) and learned a few new skills. One sweet girl looked at me on the last day and said, “I can’t believe it’s the last day of sewing camp! I wish we could do this longer.” That made the whole three days of untangling thread and ripping out stitches worth it.

What I loved about the class was seeing the children’s ideas become reality. Their creativity was fun to watch and it was an honor to help usher their visions into reality through fabric and thread. One child appliqued a battle axe made from flowered fabric onto his bag. Anne frescoed a sailboat from fabric onto her bag. Their fabric painting was creative and diverted from my vision, but I wanted to let the children make decisions about what and how they wanted to create. I had boundaries (for safety and so that supplies would not get wasted or destroyed), but I did not have many rules for this class. It made the class easier to teach when I let them have freedom to make decisions, to make mistakes, and to be creative. I did have to do a lot of running around, though!

A mother of one girl in the class told me her daughter had gained a lot of confidence in her sewing abilities in the three days of the camp. The daughter had taken a sewing class the summer before at a fabric store but the teachers hovered over each student through the entire class to make sure the students did not mess up (go out of line, forget to put the presser foot down, sew the wrong seam, sew a fold into the fabric). This daughter liked this year’s camp better because I just “set them loose” to sew what they wanted, to pick whatever color thread they wanted, to make mistakes, to help them figure out solutions, and to use their imaginations. This girl went home on the last day of class wearing a new outfit that she had sewn. It was not part of my planned curriculum but she saw the fabric, came up with ideas, which I helped her shape, and then started sewing with a little instruction from me (and one major seam rip).

This got me thinking about learning to sew and how and why people do or do not learn to sew (or enjoy sewing). There is a recent Colette Patterns article about beginning sewists which I think is very accurate, and could apply to children as well. People (children, too) want to learn to sew because they are creative and want to bring an idea to reality. And, when the reality is a usable and (hopefully) beautiful object, it is a huge bonus.

My grandmother (an amazing seamstress) gave me my first sewing lessons (I’ve written about it before). I started out hand sewing Barbie dresses before finally progressing to machine sewing lines down a sheet of notebook paper to practice going in a straight line. I lost interest. I would never measure up–learning to sew would take forever, and I would never be good.
When I was in college, I lamented to a cousin’s wife at a holiday gathering that I wanted to sew clothes but had never learned to read a pattern or really use a sewing machine because I gave up learning from my sewing-perfectionist grandmother. This cousin said “That’s ridiculous! Sewing is easy! Come on, let’s go make something.” At that point I had an old black metal Singer that only did a forward and backward stitch. She found a vest pattern laying around the house, some fabric, and she showed me the basics of sewing from a pattern. She took the mystery out and gave me confidence. I couldn’t believe that in a few hours I had made a garment I could wear (of course I never wore it because it was a vest which was 10 years out of style made from what looked to me like polyester old-lady material). But, I was so proud and impressed!

That is the feeling I think (hope?) those sewing campers had when they finished.

I went to a sewer meeting recently made up of older women who were very creative and skilled and who knew a lot about sewing (much more than I). At one point in the meeting, a woman was lamenting the lack of young sewers and thinking of ways to attract young people to the craft. A few moments later, another woman was scornful of the many “easy” pdf patterns that could be downloaded from the internet. She thought these patterns were cop-out sewing—did not provide the challenge of tucks, fitting, and intricate detail. “People who sew those will not create like us.” I thought, “That attitude is exactly why young people aren’t sewing”. To think that a beginning sewer would be able, or even want, to attempt the details of an advanced garment is asking for failure. But to encourage simple-ness and creativity in “easy” sewing will give legitimacy and confidence to a whole new group of sewers. Those simple garments or projects teach skills which build upon themselves and allow someone to move on to the next set of skills. We would all love to sew couture garments or fancy quilts, but don’t have the skill (or frankly, the time—hello, 4 small children and 2 jobs). But, one day, we will, and we need older and more experienced sewers to provide encouragement and creative space, and to teach us their skills.

Sewing camp projects (items made at camp):

cloth book marks, painted (dyed) fabric, pillowcases, simple bags, circle skirts, heart pillow, elastic waist skirt, tank top, American girl doll skirts, pillow made from a sweatshirt




mind your manners





1812 living room




Our girls (and two of their cousins) spent this past week in Perquimans County at Ms. Nancy’s House Parties for Young Ladies Gentleman, or as we call it “Manners Camp”. This sounds a bit old-fashioned, and it is–in the best way. This camp has a beauty and sweetness about it that reminds me of the best of the South, politeness, hospitality, and sweet tea in summertime.

Ms. Nancy, camp director, is 89 years old and her graciousness, kindness, and talkativeness make her seem vivacious and young–and she has a beautiful Southern accent, darlin’. Ms. Nancy and her young female counselors teach the 14 children who come to spend 4 nights at the beautiful 1812 plantation house about correspondence (the old-fashioned paper kind), setting the table, table and telephone manners, and general politeness. The children also have swim, tennis, and canoe lessons, Bible study, and a flower arranging lesson. They have room inspections every morning and must be “dressed” for supper each night.

They love it!

At the end of camp, Ms. Nancy, the counselors, and the children host a tea for the parents and grandparents. The children all do individual recitations and sing songs as a group. The recitations are sweet (and a little impressive), and I love that my girls know our state toast, a Bible verse, and an etiquette quote by heart.

If you want to see some great videos of the camp, The Southern Documentary Fund produced a documentary about Ms. Nancy and her camp, and you can view clips on their site here and here.

As a side, Ms. Nancy talked a little about the history of her beautiful home on the first day of camp, and it prompted me to do a little family history research while we stayed in Elizabeth City when the girls were at camp. I traced multiple family lines back to the 1660s–all in the small area of northeastern NC. I realized how related everyone (including myself) in the area is to each other by blood or marriage. For so many years, not many families moved in and few families moved out of the region. A distant grandfather actually built Ms. Nancy’s house (and built the one where my great-great grandfather lived in Pasquotank County, and in which William and I lived for about a month). I discovered many Quaker ancestors and learned more of the history of the region where I grew up.

All of this gave me more of an appreciation for the area and people, and how connected to it I am by family and history. I do miss it at times.

traveling, traveling

I’ve been a little quiet on this blog for a few weeks because I was doing a little international traveling with my daughters and mother. I thought I might try to try to post while I was away, but did not get a good chance (or maybe I did not make a good effort). Anyway, I thought I would write a little about my perspective on traveling and about this particular trip.

My grandmother (BJ) took me on my first trip overseas, to London, England, when I was 8 years old. I knew that most children my age had never been out of the country—for that matter, most adults hadn’t either. I remember the excitement of a new a different place—learning new words and ways, figuring out that there were places very different from my home and my realities. On that trip, we walked through Hyde Park, saw castles and the Crown Jewels, learned about British history, and marveled at the largeness and modern-ness of a city.

That trip spurred my love of travel—of visiting new places. But, it also came passed down from my family. My mother loves to travel (she is still in Europe until mid-August). My dad was an adventurer who loved to seek out beaches and mountains all over the country. My step-dad, though he claimed to dislike travel, spent most of his career in the US Coast Guard, and later as a contractor for the Navy, traveling the world. I grew up hearing his stories of places he visited and lived and receiving postcards from various ports-of-call. My paternal grandparents traveled extensively, and my maternal grandparents valued seeing new places, though they did not travel as much. Even my grandmother’s grandmother (who our Evva is named after) spent a few years traveling around the world with her young daughter in the early 1900s—unusual for a woman at that time.

All this to say, for most of my life I have valued and enjoyed traveling. But, something changed when I had children. I still value traveling, but I do not enjoy it as much—especially if I have to do it with children by myself. With William (and the children), travel can still be fun and a great family time. But my anxiety level has increased (more could go wrong, more depends on me, etc.), and the thought of traveling for a long time with little children can sometimes be dreadful! Though, reality is not usually as bad as the worry. I also value a homeplace more than before children and it can be hard to leave it. Most of our children are older now and travel is becoming easier—long car trips or flights are not dreaded as much, and can be enjoyable, leaving home is only for a short time.

Almost 2 weeks ago, I left the boys and William for 11 days to fly to Paris and meet my mother and our 2 girls. My aunt, cousin, and her 2 girls were also with us. We spent a few nights in Paris, 4 nights in Normandy, and 4 nights outside of London. There were a few difficulties with the trip (as with any trip), mainly leaving my little boys at home for so long (I’ve never been away from any of my children for so long). But, the benefits of the trip were great. The girls saw and learned a tremendous amount from the experience, from impressionist artist to geography to Tudor history of England. They met their British cousins, learned a few French words, and marveled at Monet’s gardens. I hope they have also started learning the fun, adventure, and benefit of travel. It is easy to not go to the expense and trouble of traveling. It is easy to stay at home, but there is something missing if we did not get away from our known and comfortable place sometimes. An understanding of the world beyond ourselves.

And, so on to the trip.
All of our time in France was spent with my aunt, cousin, and her girls. Paris was full and fun—highlighted by a visit to Saint Chappell, Muse L’Orangerie to see Monet’s Waterlilies, and a children’s tour of the Louvre. We drove up to Normandy D-Day beaches where my grandfather came ashore in August 1944. It was moving to see the beaches, but as with attending church with children, you loose something of the experience when you have to keep asking the children not to roll around on the ground, stop kicking each other, or quit playing tag (in the cemetery). The girls loved the beaches, though, and waded right into the water, promptly soaking their lower halves in the cold English Channel.

Contemplating an ancient carving at the Lourve
Contemplating an ancient carving at the Lourve
Trying to imitate the Venus di Milo
Trying to imitate the Venus di Milo



American cemetery
American cemetery


We stayed in a farmhouse outside of Lourvies which was a perfect, making us realize that while the big city is great to visit we enjoy the countryside much more. We went to a really wonderful market one morning, visited a distant cousin and her children at their beautiful old house, ate great food, walked around a ruined castle built by Richard the Lionheart, and spent a few hours in Giverny.

Our home
Our home
Wonderful meal with a view you can only get in Europe.
Wonderful meal with a view you can only get in Europe.
Our cousin's home -- a very old convent
Our cousin’s home — a very old convent
Ruined castle of Richard the Lionheart
Ruined castle of Richard the Lionheart
Giverny gardens
Giverny gardens





Pool at our "home" (it was cold!)
Pool at our “home” (it was cold!)

In London, William’s aunt and uncle hosted us with great hospitality. We went to London one day to visit the Tower of London (Crown Jewels, armory – it was great). Another day had a big family BBQ where Anne and Evva got to meet cousins and play. They have 3 girl cousins very close to their age, so it was fun. Visiting with family and relaxing were the main activities and it was wonderful.



Cousin doing a gymnastics show for the gathered family.
Cousin doing a gymnastics performance for the gathered family.

Traveling makes homecoming sweeter and now we will take our experiences (and our dirty laundry) and embrace the work and activities that make up our life.

letter from a veteran — WWII

Below is a letter from my grandfather to his parents, sister, brother, and sister-in-law during World War II.  He served in the army infantry in Europe.  His family called him Brother, so that is how he signs his letters.   I feel privileged to have been able to read so many of his letters home from the war.  He did make it home from this war, wounded but alive.  So many did not.

2 Oct – ‘44
Dear Folks –
I’m sorry it’s been so long since you have heard from me, but we have been awfully busy – have seen quite a bit of France and it is very pretty. The mountains are as pretty as those back in N.C.; but, Oh! how I’d like to be seeing those in N.C. instead of Europe.
Don’t you folks worry about me if there is no mail for some time because there will be very little time to write. When I have time, I’ll write as often as possible.
Excuse this paper it’s the only paper that I have.
The weather here is not so good – cold and raining – we stay wet quite a bit of the time which makes it worse.
Guess you folks are plenty busy back there with the harvesting. Hope you are getting along OK with it. Maybe I’ll be back to help you dry next year this time.
Well it’s getting dark so I’ll close – will write more when I have time – please don’t worry about me when you don’t hear from me very often as I’m too busy to do much of that just now.
I’ve had no mail from anyone since the last of July so keep on writing to me it’ll be welcome when it does get here.
Hope this finds you in the best of health and happiness – I’m OK – getting something to eat anyway.
Love to all-
Sister, Walter, and Jane




little delightful things





Sisters who dress their brothers. Dressing on a Sunday morning–sometimes unexpected, but super cute, results.

Flowers on the window sill in the kitchen. Added to by a little boy bringing me a handful of flowers from the yard, and reminding me that he did not this year pick the only unopened peony out there. We’ve been examining the slowly opening peonies every few days together, watching the ants do their work (“these ants are good ants, right mama?”), and waiting for the first blossoms we’ll ever see on this special plant from my grandparents’ yard.

Harry Potter style wand dueling, with chop sticks. All the children, even baby Steven, love to duel, yelling curses and charms at each other. It is a current favorite game, and really quite fun. So cute and hilarious, Steven walks around the house with his chop stick or pencil and a mock glare, calling out “ooh-why” (i.e. “stupify”, for those Harry Potter fans).

Finally, though there is no photo for it, lightening bugs. They are out in strength now and always amazing to behold. They put on a show every night that is nearly as good as Forth of July fireworks, but of course much quieter. The whole mountainside seems to light up since is it so close to us and the show goes on for hours. I always feel it is such a blessing to see them.

These are things I like to think about and dwell upon during a busy or stressful week.

birthday gifts

My mother is one of my best friends — however, she also still remains my mother in that she gives me advice, chides me, supports me in a way only a mother can. And, she does support me. She is always there for me to talk to or ask for help. I appreciate how strong and wise she has been in so many ways.

Her birthday is today and about a week ago I went into my fabric stash (expanded in large part due to her giving me a shopping spree at a fine fabric store’s going out of business sale) because I wanted to sew a gift for her. As I was pulling out things from the back of the stash, a nearly finished length of hand-sewn quilt fell out. It was a something I picked up from my grandmother’s when she told me to take anything I wanted out of her fabric stash. A length of squares sewn together, and some solitary squares, all hand pieced and quilted and made from the bridesmaid dress my mother had worn in her sister’s wedding about 40 years ago. It was beautifully cut and sewn but the project (was it going to be a bed quilt?) was abandoned. I decided to finish the section I had to make a table runner out of it for my mother. Her mother has a large part of this gift as well, as she had the plan and did all the cutting and sewing. I just finished this piece. The colors and pattern are not really my mom’s style, but I thought it was too beautiful to pass up and that it would look great on her dining room table.

My mother did like it and I am so glad that it might be used and shown off, finally, after all these years. It is truly beautiful and deserves some admiration. Just like my mom!



Bake on Tuesday: English muffins






I remember my grandmother, Mommom, making these English muffins once or twice when I was a girl. At the time, I was so impressed that she could make something that we normally bought from the grocery store for breakfast – and hers tasted so much better! They were a treat, and I remember her telling me they were not difficult to make.

As an adult, I’ve made these English muffins a few times, and they really are pretty easy. You just need a little bit of time, but not even that much! These little breads are tasty and tender. They are really good fresh, but store pretty well for a few days (and serve up well toasted). Officially, these are not baked in an oven, but on the stove top — so I am still with my theme!

Here’s the recipe with my notes below.

English Muffins
½ c. scalded milk
¼ c. shortening
1 ½ tsp. salt
2 tblspn sugar
½ c. water
1 pkg. yeast
3 c. sifted flour
4 tblspn cornmeal
If dry yeast is used, dissolve in water according to directions on pkg – and subtract water used from water in recipe. Combine scaled milk, shortening, sugar and salt. Cool to lukewarm by adding ½ c. water. Add flour, gradually and mix until well blended. Cover and let stand 15 minutes. Roll out on floured board to ¼ in. in thickness. Cut into rounds with 3 ½ “ cutter. Place on baking sheet with has been sprinkled with 2 T. meal. Let rest 30 min. Sprinkle tops with additional meal. Bake slowly on hot ungreased griddle about 7 min. each side.

My notes:
I used dry active yeast dissolved in a 1/4 cup of water. But, I still used 1/2 cup scalded (very hot) milk and used 1/4 cup of cool water to cool the milk down. It worked fine. I also think that the sugar could be cut back just a little, and the rise time could be a little longer, 30 minutes, maybe more. If you are like me and you get distracted by someone who needs you to help them with homework, fine art supplies, read them a book (or by running errands, playing outside, getting in the garden) — I think the dough will be fine. Also, I do not have a 3 1/2″ biscuit cutter, so I used a wide mouth jar lid (perfect size). I have a griddle to cook on, but a thick fry pan (cast iron) would work well, too.

Also, don’t forget to open them with a fork (poke fork around the edge till it comes open).  Good with breakfast, lunch or supper.



found treasures


I am in my hometown with our children for a few days of visiting during spring break. Today, I went to see my grandmother. I really enjoy visiting with her and I think she enjoys having a little of the chaos (and the sweet giggles and silly antics) of my young children around her for a little while.

Nearly each time I visit I discover something of the family or of my grandmothers’ creative history — a picture, a book, sewing patterns, a piece of china. I don’t get the stories about these objects from my grandparents anymore, but I still enjoy finding them.

Today, right on the coffee table, was a thin plastic spiral bound cookbook called “Home Cooking Secrets of Elizabeth City” by the Senior Woman’s Club. The first sentence of this gem of a book states:

“It is the desire of Elizabeth City Women’s Club that this book will be of great value to young brides, as well as providing new ideas for experienced homemakers.”

The cookbook is from the time when a nice salad was either tomato aspic or contained jello. It contains old advertisements for local businesses as well as many homey recipes. Likely the most useful part of the book is the last bit which covers kitchen miscellany from oven temperatures and baking time charts to weights and measurements to ingredient substitutions. There is also a kitchen prayer at the end.

I plan to make a copy of the book this weekend and bring the original back to Mom-mom. I will share any particularly good parts when I come across them.



Bake on Tuesday: Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin bread is not what I think of as “in season” cooking right now. I am ready to be done with winter foods. I am ready for fresh salads, green onions, and peas. But, I have a little while to wait still. And, meanwhile, I have a few things from the fall garden in the freezer that need to be eaten. One of the things I dug out was a perfect 2 cups of pureed pumpkin. I was looking through Nana’s recipes for something to bake and found pumpkin bread — calling for exactly 2 cups of pureed pumpkin.



This recipe made a great pumpkin bread, but I would really consider it a cake with all the oil and sugar. It called for 1 cup of Mazola oil, which not only seemed like a LOT of oil, but made me suspect that she copied the recipe off a Mazola label or advertisement. Anyway, while it may not be heirloom, it was good. I did not use 1 cup of oil, but instead used 1/2 cup melted butter and 1/2 cup applesauce (from my canned stock). I also cut back on the sugar by 1 cup (so used 2 instead of 3 cups). The bread was sweet, but not too sweet, and tender/moist. I’ll make it again because the little ones loved it and it does use up a good bit of pumpkin. Perfect for fall!

Here’s the recipe:

Pumpkin Bread
Sift together:
3 cups flour
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. B.P.
3 tsp. cinnamon
Beat 4 eggs – add 2 cups pumpkin, 1 cup Mazola oil, 3 cups sugar
Then add sifted dry ingredients, ½ cup nuts – optional
Makes 2 loaves
Bake 1 hour at 350 deg.

pumpkin bread