Monday, October 25, 2010

The $40 cupcake

October is one of my favorite months. When I was gainfully employed, I would spend the first week of the month on Cape Cod, quietly celebrating my birthday and taking advantage of the fact that the days were still warm enough to spend hours on the beach and the evenings quiet enough to actually enjoy the restaurants.

October and Autumn also usher in one of my favorite seasonal taste treats—Pumpkin. If there was a 12-Step Program for pumpkin eaters, that would be me in the front row proudly name is Larry and I am a pumpkin addict. I will eat anything pumpkin from seeds to lattes and am just as happy having a store-bought $5.99 Entenmann's pumpkin pie as I am a $19.95 Little Pie Shop version.

So when I spotted Ina Garten's Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting in the October issue of House Beautiful, I knew I was in trouble. Being a "builder" and not a "baker," making the commitment to follow any recipe can be a daunting—and expensive—prospect. By the time I filled my shopping cart with all the ingredients (very few of which I had at home, starting with the eggs) I watched the tab quickly rise to about $40. I was tempted to return everything and opt for the ready-made bakery goods visible in every direction, but stayed the course and took my purchases home to become a student of Ina's. When the room filled with the scent of fresh-baked pumpkin and I dipped my finger in the maple frosting to sample a taste, I knew the cost was worth it!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pine Needles as Mulch? I'll let you know!

I have an enormous towering pine on the edge of my property that drops a carpet of needles every fall. In the past I've raked, bagged and disposed of the crop, but this year I wondered if the needles could be used as an alternative to cedar wood mulch. And guess what? They can.

Known as pine straw, dried pine needles make a good ground cover particularly for acid-loving plants like rhodedendons, azaleas, berry shrubs and other evergreens. They are completely eco-friendly (since they decompose and add nutrients to the soil), enhance moisture retention, prohibit weed growth and—unlike their wood counterparts—are less likely to wash away during a heavy rain. One proviso: if the needles are green they may alter the PH of your soil, so be sure to use the dried, straw-like needles if you plan to use as mulch. You can find out more at

Monday, October 4, 2010

Trout House Soap

During a recent trip to Minneapolis, MN, and The Creative Connection event, I was able to spend time with the soap queen—Ann Marie Craig—who was selling her artisan handcrafted soaps at the event's three-day HandMade Market. Her Century Farmhouse soaps are simply the best and, as you know from my earlier soap posts, she is the one who inspired me to dabble in a soap making enterprise of my own. (See Can I Make Soap? from January.) I brought some of my sample bars for her to critique and, while she offered some helpful suggestions, she did acknowledge that I was well on my way. Being a creative soul and marketer at heart, I have already been playing with packaging that would fit the brand and vision for my Trout House Trading Co. Here is a glimpse of things to come.