Monday, November 23, 2009

Brown Sugar Shortbread

Often it's the simple things in life that provide the greatest pleasure. For me, a plate of brown sugar shortbread is definitely one of those humble delights. There's nothing fancy about this cookie: just butter, sugar and eggs. But the addition of a Tahitian vanilla bean transforms these unassuming little cookies into the sublime. The vanilla infused raw sugar on top is a delicious crunchy contrast to the crumbly melt in your mouth cookie. For a real treat, pair these cookies with a glass of Port. Simple and delicious.

Okay, I was totally channeling Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas In Connecticut when I wrote that. That has to be one of my all time favorite movies. Barbara plays Elisabeth Lane 'America's Favorite Housewife' who writes a popular food column in a ladies magazine. She supposedly lives on a farm with her husband and baby where she makes delicious food all day long. The reality is that she's single, living in New York and can't cook to save her life. It's a wonderfully charming movie that I watch year 'round.

But here's the real reason that I wrote that description of the cookies: Marx Foods, a super cool specialty foods shop had a contest where they'd send you vanilla beans so you could cook with them and photograph the finished product. Or you could just photograph the beans. I got the beans on Friday afternoon with a deadline of Saturday midnight to send in my photo. So I whipped up a batch of shortbread, created a still life and snapped a few shots. Now, I've never entered a photography contest in my life because my photo skills are moderate at best. But I can bake a pretty darn good cookie if I do say so myself.

Anyway, the contest runs until Wednesday November 25th and I am BEGGING anyone who reads this blog to please, please, pretty please vote for my photo. I know that I will not win, but for goodness sakes, I don't want to look like a complete doofus with only one vote!!! The truly pitiful thing is that I totally voted for myself (excuse me while I go to the mirror to check my forehead for a giant L for loser). Another point of embarrassment is that all of the other photos are all foodie/artsy and mine looks...well.... sort of quaint. Kind of like paint-by-number in a room of Van Goghs. Or a chicken pot pie on a table of sushi. So help me out here folks....have mercy and vote for my silly little photo PLEASE!!!!! Let's show the world of fine foods that quaint is cool!!! That knitters don't mind a little fuzz in their cookies!!! (the fuzz thing was in reference to the felted pumpkins in my photo by the way...).

Here's the link. Vote for Pam!!!!!

I thank you from the bottom of my heart....

Oh, here's the recipe for all you cookie bakers out there:

Brown Sugar Shortbread

1/2 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter
1/2 tsp. salt (if you've used unsalted butter, otherwise omit)
1 tahitian vanilla bean (marx foods vanilla beans really are fabulous)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (I use Penzey's double strength vanilla)
2 cups flour

Cream the butter, sugar and salt until smooth. Slice open vanilla bean and scrape out the flesh and seeds. Add to butter/sugar mixture. Add flour, mix until dough forms. Divide dough in half and roll each into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for several hours. Slice dough into rounds and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes. While still warm, dip the top in vanilla sugar.

I make my vanilla sugar like this:

1 cup of raw sugar plus the insides of one vanilla bean (again, Marx Foods vanilla beans are terrific). I blend it in a food processor and store it in a glass container along with the skins of the vanilla bean. It lasts forever and tastes fabulous in baked goods or stirred into tea.

And don't forget to vote for Pam!!!!!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Autumn Joy

What started out as a lazy Sunday morning of coffee, music and newspapers turned into a day of outdoor fun. Our backyard was a sea of golden maple leaves in dire need of raking so we decided to end our lazy morning at second breakfast instead of cruising our way through elevenses in our pajamas. While Adrian hauled our first load of leaves to the composting site near our house, I took advantage of the nice weather and took some pictures. This past month I took a break from the sweater that I'm knitting to whip up a patch of knitted and felted pumpkins. They are from a pattern by Marie Mayhew, a local knitter who has some of the cutest knitting/felting patterns ever. The pumpkins range in size from about 7 to 3 inches. They're knit with worsted weight wool yarn and felted in the washing machine. I tweaked around with the pattern a bit to get the different sizes and shapes. I used several different brands of yarn and they all worked great. The brands of yarn all felt up a bit differently which also made for a wide variety of sizes.
My crocheted acorns are an ongoing project that I still work on when the mood strikes. They are as addicting as potato chips and I've made handfuls of them. This fall I've collected a pile of acorn caps for the future because it's kind of hard to scout for acorn caps in the dead of winter with a foot of snow on the ground. The yarn is mostly odd bits of sock yarn lovingly donated to me by my favorite knitting sister Brenda, who has a really excellent knitting podcast called Cast On. You should listen to it, it's terrific. It never ceases to amaze me that the delightful person on the podcast is the same bossy older sister who used to tickle me as a child until I peed my pants.After a long day of raking leaves, Adrian and I treated ourselves to a lovely little bonfire. We settled into our log swing, sipped on Apfelcorn and relaxed in the golden light of the late afternoon sun.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ribbons and Things

Holey moley it has been ages since I've last posted anything on my blog! I should get a prize for blogging slacker of the year. And speaking of prizes.....I entered a bunch of my handmade things in the Minnesota State Fair this handmade things to be exact. Lo and behold, I won some ribbons to be exact!
But the most rewarding thing for me was sharing the stuff that I had made with others. The Creative Activities building was packed full of gorgeously hand crafted things: jams, cakes, pickles, quilts, knitting, crochet, carved wooden things, stained glass, doll houses, beading, embroidery, sewing and all sorts of other wonderful hand crafted treasures. I loved being a part of the greater creative community in Minnesota. I loved that so many people were willing to take the time to enter something that they had made so that they could share their accomplishments with others. It was wonderful to be a part of the generations of women and men before me who stayed up late working on a quilt or perfecting a pickle recipe so that they could exhibit something at the Minnesota State Fair.

I think it is a wonderful accomplishment for anyone who takes the time to make things with their own two hands. I truly feel that everyone who creates things should be proud of what they have made. Whether it's a simple loaf of bread, a knitted hat or a quilted masterpiece, anything that is made by hand has value and worth. I also think that sharing those things with others is important as well. It's not about getting your ego inflated or winning ribbons, it's a matter of making that connection with others who appreciate handmade things too. It's about sharing ideas, learning new things, teaching others what you know and exchanging feedback. It's about becoming a part of a creative collective, a group of people who are proud of what they have accomplished and who chose to share their creativity with others.

But enough of the philosophical stuff, let's take a look at the handcrafted goodies that I entered in the fair....
This is actually four of my Bead Journal Project pieces that I grouped in a frame. It won a second prize ribbon. If you want to see the pieces close up, I've got tons of pictures of them in previous blog posts.
I also entered three of my dolls which won two first place and one third place ribbon. The fairy doll from a few posts back won a ribbon as did these two dolls....My dearest lovliest Mama and I made Santa dolls together a few years ago. My Mama made a beautiful patchwork jacket for her Santa and I made a penny rug wool jacket for mine. The plaid fabric is from pair of wool pants that I found at the Goodwill. I ripped out the seams and then washed the pants in hot water so that the fabric would felt up. Santa (or 'Santy' as he's fondly called in my house) also has a handknitted hat, mittens and sweater. In addition to winning a third place ribbon at the fair, Santy also won an American Swedish Institute award for, I suppose, looking like a Swedish Saint Nicholas. After I found out that I was a recipient of a Swedish award, I immediately renounced my Italian/Basque heritage and now consider myself 100% Swedish. I am guessing that I am the only black haired, olive skinned, garlic loving Swede in the state of Minnesota.

This sweet little doll is an antique reproduction Greiner style doll.... She came as a kit that I purchased from Gail Wilson Designs. I hand painted her molded papier mache head, arms and legs and sewed and assembled the cloth body. I also made her clothes which are edged with wee hand crocheted lace. She's a tiny little thing, less than six inches tall and she fits so nicely in the palm of my hand. I am very fond of this doll and was delighted that she won a blue ribbon. Gail Wilson's doll kits are absolutely charming and are a great way to get started with making antique reproduction dolls. The instructions are very detailed and everything included in the kit is very high quality. I've made several of her dolls and have so enjoyed the the process as well as the finished result. Another Gail Wilson doll that I made won a blue ribbon at the fair last year.... She's a reproduction of an early American doll and is named Charlotte after Laura Ingalls' rag doll that her Ma made her for Christmas (I love the Little House books.)
Look who also won a ribbon....
My flock O' felted sheep! The judge wrote that they lacked personality without faces so I was bumped down to a second place ribbon. I happen to love them without eyes, I think that they feel more like folk art without their facial features. I love making these lambs, they're such compact, wooly little treasures. I'd love to add some embellished sheep to my flock. I think one of the little white ones would look very sweet with embroidered silk ribbon flowers, leaves and vines. That might be a fun winter project.
I also won a blue ribbon for this embroidered wool table runner....I hand dyed a lot of the wool myself. I use the 'lazy girl's microwave method' of dyeing wool. It's a piece o' cake and relatively mess free. I used Procion MX dyes with vinegar as the mordant. This punch needle turtle won a third place ribbon.... The judge didn't like the beaded border and said that she found it to be 'disturbing'. That comment kind of stung a bit but Adrian did a wonderful job of making me laugh over the fact that I had created something 'disturbing'. It is now a running joke in our house that many of my handmade things have a disturbing quality about them. I'm okay with that and as a matter of fact, I'm trying to think up something really and truly disturbing to make for next year's state fair. Anyone have any good ideas?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rainforest Dreams

This is one last piece inspired by my trip to Kauai last winter. This time I left the sandy shores and took a journey into the lush tropical rain forests. I began my beaded journey by creating a tapestry of twisting tangled vines... Next I created the pink flowers to remind me of this plant... The pink beaded blossoms also remind me of the rambutans that I ate for breakfast everyday ....There was an abundance of unfamiliar plants and flowers to discover on my tropical journey...Each one of those beautiful flowers flourished in my beaded rain forest as well....
Sometimes the vines and branches would part to reveal the unexpected. A cascading waterfall, a giant fern or a humble spider weaving it's web. It was all part of the magic in the rain forest.
I will never forget the time that I spent in the rain forest, wandering and wondering about the beauty that surrounded me. I hope that I was able to convey in my bead work the awesome beauty, overwhelming excitement and pure wonder of the magical days that I spent in Kauai.

Faerie in the Garden

Look who visited my garden today! She stopped by to rest up after the early morning thunderstorms. She seemed to like the violas....She splashed about in the stream a bit and then leaned against the sweet flag to let the sun dry her off....She flew over to the moss rose.....
to watch the chipmunks eating seeds that had fallen from the bird feeder...I wish that I had an outfit like hers....
Curly magenta hair might be kinda fun too....Sigh...the truth is that even though I'd really like to believe that there are faeries in my garden, I haven't actually seen one yet. Well, I did see a big luna moth once that looked a lot like a faerie until I saw the ugly proboscis tube thingy sticking out of it's head.
I while back I took a faerie doll making class at my favorite quilting store called Colorful Quilts. It was taught by Rick Petersen, a very talented local doll artist. Unfortunately CQ closed down a few months ago which is a loss that I've yet to recover from. CQ was the perfect place to rev up my creative mojo and I learned so much from the wonderful people who worked and taught classes there.
Anyhoo, I took this class, then naturally became completely obsessed with making faerie dolls. The face and body were made from polymer clay and armature wire wrapped with yarn. The wings were made from wire and fused iridescent angelina film. The arms and legs were wrapped with lovely hannah silk and the corset was made from wool felt. The skirt was made from silk flowers and her shoes were painted on. Her curly hair is sheep fleece that's hand dyed by my Seester who is a spinner. So that's the real story of how the faerie came to life in my garden.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sweet Treats

Here are a few more handmade wee pastries of the non-edible kind. A while back I wrote about my new favorite Japanese craft book called 'Cakes Made of Felt'. I have to say that making these felt treats is as addictive as eating the real ones. Please help yourself to a tiny tart-let.....I used little fluted metal tart pans to mold the felt for the tart shells. The creamy filling is a gathered circle of satin fabric topped with a puff of organza and a berry or glass leaf. Perhaps you'd like a raspberry cream tart....The berries were made from clusters of size 8 beads. The sugary crust on the tart shell is glitter. Maybe you would enjoy a key lime or lemon cream tart....
The felt cake-let is very similar to the one that I made for my dearest, loveliest Mama for Mother's Day. I used ribbon and rick rack on the side of the cake. Try the cream puff on top, it's delicious.... I am thinking that the wavy edge around the darker pink piece of felt on top of the cake needs some embellishment. Maybe some wee beads or embroidered french knots. Go ahead and pluck a strawberry slice off of the top, they're ripe and juicy...
I love making the little fruits and berries that top the pastries. Currently I'm working on banana and kiwi slices for the next batch of treats. They're the perfect portable project to work on outside where I can enjoy the birds and flowers in my garden. My goodness, writing this post has made me hungry. I think it's time for tea and a snack. I believe I have some ripe cherries in the fridge......Ohh! Felt cherries! I'm definitely making those next!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New Friends

My friend Carmelita brought her lovely young granddaughters over for a visit today so I had the splendid fortune to spend the afternoon crafting with them. I thought that making wee flower fairies would be a fun craft for the girls so I pulled out my stash of fairy making supplies. Out came the bins of flower petals, acorn caps, wooden heads, chenille stems, embroidery floss and felt. I had such a great time watching the girls select the colors of floss and flowers that they wanted to use. The fairies are modeled after the ones created by Salley Mavor in her fabulous book 'Wee Felt Folk'. I absolutely love this book. I bought it when it first came out in 2003 and since then I have lured almost everyone that I know into to the world of flower fairies. This charming girl is Emma and she is holding the flower fairies that she made today. Emma loves pink. A lot. I love pink a lot too, so we became good friends right away. The purple fairy on the left crashes into things when she flies because she is temporarily blind. (I ran out of painted wooden heads so her face is blank until Carmelita can paint her). This is beautiful young woman is Kaitlyn but I'm not sure that I spelled that right so let's call her Kate 'cause she goes by that too. Kate is an amazing Manga artist. She brought her manga drawings to show me and I was absolutely blown away. I am seriously in awe of her talent and creativity. We became friends right away because we both love the color purple and think the Twilight books are dumb (vampires DON'T sparkle!). Kate's fairy is a lovely purpley plum color and her curly fairy hair is styled into a tiny ponytail.
I am sad to report that I did not finish my flower fairy (and neither did Carmelita!). But I had such a wonderful day crafting with my new friends Kate and Emma that it doesn't matter. I hope that they'll come visit again real soon for another day of conversation and crafting fun.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


This is the second month's BJP that was inspired by my trip to Kauai this past winter. A few of of the shells and bits of coral in this piece were collected as I lay on the beach, idly sifting handfuls of sand through my fingers. I spent hours looking at all of the teeny tiny bits of wonder that had washed up on the shore. There were impossibly small shells , fragments of coral and minuscule broken bits from the invertebrates that had once inhabited the coral reef. I loved the meandering patterns that the waves had made upon the sand. A lacy line of foam followed by a scattering of shells, coral and debris that transitioned to smaller and finer particles of sand. I had such a wonderful time beading this piece, which as a result did not take long to complete. I began by gathering up an assortment of shells and treasures that I've collected from a lifetime of beach combing. I glued down some of the shells to my base fabric which is a piece of batik sewn to light weight card stock. I added the twisty lines of white beads to represent the lacy ripples of foam that wash up on the shore with each wave. The rest was purely improvisation. The limited color palette certainly made things easier. I sewed on pearls and stones and baubles, followed by rows of my favorite size 14 seed beads. I listened to Hawaiian slack key guitar music as I beaded and it kept me in a mellow beachy mood. There was no frustration or indecision about where to sew down the next bead. I just let the blissful beachy memories flow from my mind to my hands to the shells and the beads.
Ahhhh, pure beachy beading bliss....