Is it Time to Spice Up Your Life a Little?

Even with global warming breathing its hot breath down our necks, it's autumn in Maine and that means closing ourselves in for several months. The screens are in the garage, the windows are shut tightly, the doors are weatherstripped so tightly that the house bulges out when we close them - we're almost hermetically sealed until next spring.

This is when I start realizing that having a Black Lab who sleeps on the furniture isn't always a good thing. It's the time of year when we have to let our cats have a cat box, which is another idea I'm not so crazy about. We cook fish and smell it for breakfast the next day and don't even get me going about the dirty socks in the hamper and that funny smell coming from the basement.

Yes, folks, I'm one of those people who has a sensitive nose. I can't help it. Smells are much more apparent to me - and to my daughter - than they are to the rest of the crew Chez Hawkins. So around about October, Daughter and I start spicing things up around here.

I usually start with a few drops of vanilla in small glass bowls full of water with a little white vinegar in it. I put several in strategic spots around the house, especially in the bathrooms and bedrooms. As the season progresses, we switch from vanilla to essential oils like lavendar, lemongrass and peppermint to jazz things up and keep us - and the air - from getting stale.

Of course, one of the best ways to spice the air is with a batch or two of cookies or a pan of gingerbread. My favorite is made with pears and the recipe follows this post. Sometimes, we make gel air fresheners out of jello - the only use for it I've ever found that didn't revolt me, by the way. Sometimes, we burn incense, especially pine and eucalyptus to keep colds and germs at bay.

We bring spruce and balsam wreaths in for December and sometimes they last right through the rest of the winter. We plant bulbs in midwinter, so that we'll have fragrant narcissi and hyacinths. We cut into oranges and lemons and simmer the peels with cloves and ginger and cinnamon and close our eyes, almost convincing ourselves that we can smell "spring in the citrus groves."

If you live in the northern latitudes, you'll know what I'm talking about and you're probably already walking over to the spice cupboard and reaching for the cinnamon sticks to make a little arrangement with a couple of pine cones and a red bow. No matter where you live, here's that gingerbread recipe to add a little spice to YOUR life.

Gingerbread with Pears on Top

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Dry ingredients:
1 1/2 cups white wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt

Wet ingredients:
1 large egg
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup yogurt
1/4 cup light olive or canola oil

For bottom of pan:
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
3 pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced


Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush an 8-by-8-inch metal or glass baking pan with the melted butter.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg, sugar and molasses for 3 minutes with an electric mixer or beat well by hand. Add the yogurt,applesauce and oil, and blend well. Add dry ingredients and blend well.

With the back of a spoon, press the brown sugar evenly over the bottom of the pan, into the melted butter. Sprinkle with the walnuts. Arrange pear slices evenly over the walnuts. Pour the batter over the pears.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let it cool for five or ten minutes and then loosen the edges of the cake with a knife and turn it out onto a platter. Serve it with whipped cream or just the way it is.

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