It's autumn. Late autumn, to be specific. It's gray and cold outside, the garden is put to bed for the winter, and we drink hot beverages all day to keep our hands warm. Most importantly, it's time to bake comfort foods. The holiday season will be here before we know it, but first, let's enjoy these calm and quiet, if a little bleak, days. I'm doing this by hanging some leaves, brewing some coffee, and getting into the kitchen for some baking. I started my baking with this pear caramel cake. It’s the perfect thing for November.Read More
Well, hello there! I'm very glad you're here. I've been giving a lot of thought to my journey lately - where I am, how I got here, and where I'm going. As I reflect on how far I have come since my first days with a dSLR, I realize that though my interests have ebbed and flowed, my passion for photography has remained constant. So while my blog will remain a place for me to share my love of the seasons, baking, and some occasional DIY, going forward I will be adding in some articles about photography, and the process of becoming an artist, in the hope that sharing what I have learned will help you too. And if you couldn't care less about photography, no worries, I will continue to share about recipes and seasons too. So today I thought I'd share with you a little bit about who I am and how I got here.
There is very little about the process of making a good photograph that has come naturally or easily to me. I haven't always been able to see good light or know how to compose an appealing photo. I didn't even understand why I needed good light! But after years of practice, plenty of workshops, and a few tears along the way, I've learned a lot.
Initially I started with photography because I wanted to be able to take nice photos of the baking and craft projects I was always making. At that time, my baking and crafting were the priority and photography was like a secondary tool I thought I needed. But very soon after I started learning, I realized that it was photography itself that I was enamored with. I wanted to learn about more than just food photography, I wanted to be able to capture my kids and family, the environment around me, and be able to tell stories with my photos.
These days I spend most of my time creating still life and food photos. I like to create emotive images that tell a story or convey a mood. I am at my happiest and most creative when I'm sketching ideas, styling a scene, propping a set, working out a composition, and editing the photos from a shoot. I also love continuing to learn everything I can about this incredible craft. In photography, you are never done learning. There is always something new to discover and that means that there is always room for you to grow as an artist. It's a never-ending journey that can be challenging and at times frustrating, but so very rewarding and fulfilling.
If you have any questions or topics you would like to hear about, please drop me a line and let me know. I'd love to hear from you. You can comment here, leave me a comment on Instagram, or email me. I look forward to connecting with you, hearing about your journey, and sharing mine.
All the best,
There are a few things I can't seem to get enough of - coffee, photos of coffee, flowers, and new hashtags. (Desserts too, but I'm trying to eat a few less desserts these days.) Today I'm creating a few of the above, as I'm editing photos of coffee and flowers, and creating a new hashtag - #thestilllifecollective. As artists, I believe it's imperative that we continue to grow and learn, seek new inspiration, and encourage each other along the way. The idea behind this new hashtag is to create a gallery where all kinds of still life artists can mingle their work together to boost and inspire us all, and give rise to new ideas. I hope you'll join me!
Like so many of us, I'm always on the lookout for inspiration for still life photos. I find that it's easy to get caught in an endless loop of creating and consuming the same kinds of images, over and over, and while that can be comforting, it can also get a little stale. I hope that by creating #thestilllifecollective, we can bring together all different kinds of still life to breathe new life into our creations. While we should each stay true to our own photographic voice, we should also be open to new ideas and trying new things. I want to create a place for a wide interpretation of "still life" to encourage and inspire all of us to grow and expand our art.
I am always seeking to find and infuse meaning and connection in my work, and to push myself just a little further, stretching the bounds of my creativity and comfort zone. This means being both brave and vulnerable, which can be really hard at times. I hope that by continuing to grow our community of passionate and kind-hearted artists, we will all continue to find the courage to try new things and to share our gifts with the world.
I hope you'll join in with me on this unpredictable, yet wildly rewarding, journey. Start tagging! #thestilllifecollective
Rhubarb tastes like summer to me, even more than fresh strawberries and Maine wild blueberries, though when those are in peak season, I'm sure I will say they taste like summer. What can I say? Summer tastes great around here. But I have especially fond, early-summer memories of rhubarb that give it a special place in my heart. And stomach. When I was growing up, we had a huge rhubarb patch out back and my mom would always make a rhubarb pie and sometimes rhubarb jam. She rarely mixed it with strawberries, letting the bright tartness of the rhubarb shine through. I always loved those rhubarb pies, and still do. It helped that she let us eat pie for breakfast, so I suppose I have fond memories of most fruit pies. But still, rhubarb was a particular favorite.
While I'm not (yet) a whiz at pie-making, I am not half-bad at muffin-making. Making muffins is not even mildly difficult if you have a good recipe to work from, and I do. My favorite source for muffin recipes is Sally's Baking Addiction. She really gets what makes a good muffin and I have yet to find a flaw in any of her recipes. I want a muffin that is flavorful, moist, tall, and preferably with a cracked top. For these muffins, I knew I wanted the rhubarb to shine but I also wanted the muffin itself to be enhanced with a little cardamom. I was feeling inspired by all my Scandinavian baking books, and I know that cardamom pairs well with rhubarb. So I started with Sally's Master Muffin Mix, which is a true winner in the muffin recipe category, and added my own spin with the rhubarb, cardamom, and streusel topping.
Rhubarb Muffins with Cardamom and Streusel Topping
- 3 c. all-purpose flour
- 4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. cardamom (add more or less to suit your tastes)
- 2 eggs
- 1 c. sugar
- 1/2 c. greek yogurt, plain or vanilla - or substitute sour cream or buttermilk if you don't have yogurt
- 1/2 c. buttermilk
- 1/2 c. oil
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 1/2 c. chopped rhubarb
- 3 Tbsp. melted butter
- 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1/3 c. brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp. salt
Heat oven to 425 degrees F and line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
In a mixing bowl, combine the first 4 ingredients - flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom - and whisk together. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, yogurt, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir together just until combined, being careful not to overwork the batter. Muffins want to be tender, not chewy, so you don't want to overwork the batter or too much gluten will develop giving you a tougher, chewier muffin. Don't worry if there are some lumps in the batter. Add the rhubarb, reserving just a small handful of pieces to place on the tops before baking, and gently stir. Fill muffin tins to the top and place the reserved rhubarb on the tops. This is for aesthetics only, and won't affect the recipe. I just like to leave a few pieces on top so they look more appealing when served.
To make the streusel, in a small bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt and whisk together. Pour the melted butter on top and mix until it is nice and crumbly. If it seems too dry, add a little more butter. If it's too wet, add a little flour. Humidity in the air has a big impact, so frequently when I'm baking in the summer I find that I need to add a little flour. Sprinkle the streusel liberally over the tops of the muffins.
Bake the muffins at 425 for 5 minutes and reduce the heat to 375. This helps them to rise nice and tall. Muffins will continue to bake for 15-20 min. I start checking on them at the 15 min mark and keep a close eye on them. You don't want to burn them or dry them out. They are done when you press gently on the tops and it springs back without squishing and when they no longer look wet in the cracks. Alternatively, you can stick a toothpick in one but I find the streusel topping makes it harder to tell. Remove from the pan and let cool a few minutes before eating. I like them best fresh from the oven, but they will last a day or two in an airtight container. Just make sure they are completely cool before packing them up or they will turn mushy.
Decorating Easter eggs has never really been my thing. I remember enjoying the process as a kid, but I never really liked the end product. I wasn't especially impressed with what I was able to create and I didn't even get excited when we had stickers to put on the eggs. The whole thing just didn't really appeal to me. But this week I fell down a surprising internet rabbit hole (aren't they always surprising? You just never know where you'll end up.) and came out on the other side feeling all fired up to do things like dye my own fabric using plants. (Inspiration came from @kimothyd and Rebecca Desnos.) This has never had any appeal to me whatsoever, but one thing lead to another and suddenly I'm all fired up. Combine that with a discovery of these beautiful eggs and then some dyed using blueberries by Tinka @tinkaswelt and I was off on a project.
I've had ideas for testing out natural dyes for eggs before and even saved a few pins but never thought it would be worth the effort. I had very low expectations for this whole thing. I didn't really think the eggs would turn out as well as they did with relatively low effort, but I just wanted to try it, even if just to say that I did. To my surprise, it was both easy to do (though stinky - boiling cabbage is not a scent that I would want made into a candle) and produced great results. I followed the instructions by Marble Mount Homestead and they were excellent. I modified only slightly by using just half a red cabbage and a smaller pot, as I was only putting 4 of my dozen eggs in the cabbage water.
- Eggs, white if you have them, but brown will work fine too
- Red cabbage - for the dark aqua color
- Avocado - for the soft pink/blush color - eat the avocado, save the pit and skins for dyeing
- Blueberries - for the gray/blue color (I used frozen)
- Some kind of small leaves - I used the tops of a bunch of carrots but any herbs, leaves, ferns will work
- Pantyhose, cut into 2-3 inch strips to wrap the eggs
- Distilled white vinegar
For each of your dye baths, you're going to simmer the dye materials for an hour before adding your eggs. This is a stinky business, but worth it. Since I was only putting 4 eggs into each dye bath, I used 6 cups of water in 3 separate pots and added 1/2 of a chopped up red cabbage to one, avocado stone, cut in half, and skins to another, and 1/4 c. frozen blueberries to another. Bring the pots to a boil, then cover, and let simmer for an hour. While those are boiling, prep your eggs. It's not as hard as it may seem at first glance. Place a leaf smooth side down on the egg and gently wrap a section of hose around the egg. I recommend covering the whole egg - I didn't on some of mine and you can tell when they are done. Tie the hose in a knot secure enough to hold the plant in place, but not so tight you crack the egg. When the dyes are done simmering, remove the fruits and veggies from the pots, discard, add a splash of vinegar, and very carefully place your eggs in. Bring to boil, then turn off the heat, and let sit for about 15 min. This will hard cook your eggs. Now it's up to you how long you want to leave them in the dye bath. After an hour, they will have very light color. I left mine in the dye bath in the refrigerator overnight. I did gently place them into sealable plastic tubs for this, as I needed the pots and they wouldn't all fit in the fridge anyway. The next morning, I took them out of the dye bath, snipped off the hose, and voila!
A few tips:
- Make sure the hose is tight enough to securely hold the leaf while the egg gets jostled. Otherwise, the design won't be quite as crisp when you're done.
- Placing the leaf smooth side down helps it to stay stuck tightly to the egg so you get crisper edges
- If the eggs are in a small container in the fridge and touching each other and the sides, you might have some light spots in the color. Make sure the eggs have plenty of space if you don't want that to happen.
This turned out to be fun and rewarding, and has renewed my interest in dyeing Easter eggs. There are many other items you can use to get a full rainbow spectrum if you are interested. I think I'm hooked and will try it again next year.
Hope you have a wonderful Easter weekend and let me know if you try dyeing some eggs!
My husband and children prefer cookies to scones. Fortunately, I love to bake cookies. I enjoy the whole process, from making the dough to eating the final product. I like unfussy cookies that are relatively easy to throw together and make me feel like I really have my act together.
These sugar cookies do just that. The dough is uncomplicated, and using cookie stamps to decorate them is easy but makes them look fancy. It looks like I spent hours slaving away in the kitchen. Just what I like in a recipe.
Cookie stamps are easy to use but there are a few things you can do to ensure success. (My cookie stamps are cast aluminum. I have not yet tried the silicone stamps, so I can't promise that these tips will work well for those kinds of stamps, but the basic premise is the same.)
Tips for success with your cookie stamps:
- Reduce the leavening agent (baking soda or baking powder) in your cookie dough, or leave it out all together.
- Make sure your dough has enough flour to prevent the cookies from spreading too much in the oven. Dough should not be sticky and you should be able to handle it without flouring your hands, but it shouldn't be so dry that it's crumbly. It should have a consistency similar to play dough.
- Portion the dough into balls about 2 Tbsp in size and use your hands to roll into smooth balls before stamping. (The rolling is optional but will give you cleaner edges)
- Lightly flour your stamp before pressing the cookie.
- Use an ungreased cookie sheet so that the dough will adhere to the pan when you lift the stamp up.
- Bake until set but not browning, though a little brown on the edges is fine. Allow to cool on the pan for just a few minutes, then gently remove to a cooling rack. If you leave them to cool completely, they will stick to the pan.
- If you are a serious perfectionist, get a circle cutter the same size as your stamps and use it to neaten up your edges after you stamp the cookies. (I don't bother with this, but I might if I were making them for something like a baby shower or an uptight friend.) Alternatively, you can roll the dough out, stamp it, and then use a circle cutter to cut out the cookies.
The recipe I use originally comes from Nordic Ware. I'm not crazy about almond flavoring, so I use vanilla in mine.
- 3/4 c. unsalted butter, softened
- 1 c. powdered sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp. almond extract (optional)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 1/2 c. flour
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Using the paddle attachment and a stand mixer, cream together the butter and powdered sugar. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until fluffy. Add the flour and salt, and beat on low speed until well-combined but not longer. Check your dough. If it is sticky, add a tablespoon of flour at a time until it isn't sticky anymore. If it's dry and crumbly, add a tablespoon or two of milk until the dough comes together. No need to chill the dough, but if you aren't going to use it right away, you can store it wrapped tightly in the fridge for several days. Let it come to room temperature before using.
Portion the dough into balls about 2 Tbsp. I use a small ice cream scoop for this. You can make the cookies smaller, but they will be flatter when you press them with the stamp. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, a couple of inches apart. Dip your stamp into flour and tap off the excess. Press the stamp straight down in the center of the ball of dough until you just start to see the dough on the sides (that way you know the whole design has been transferred to the dough) and gently lift up, rocking the stamp just slightly as you lift away. If you stamp one and don't like it, no problem, scrape it off the sheet, re-roll the ball, and re-stamp.
Bake cookies 12-14 min, until just starting to turn slightly golden on the edges. Cookies will be very soft when they first come out of the oven. Let them cool slightly on the pan and then gently remove them to a cooling rack. Don't let them fully cool on the pan or they will stick.
In these photos, I tried a new a recipe for peanut butter cookies. But they tasted like unsweetened peanut-buttery sawdust. So I won't recommend that recipe. But Nordic Ware has a recipe for peanut butter cookies right on the box that the stamps came in and I plan to try that next. I will let you know how it goes.
Let me know how it goes if you try them, or if you have any further tips or questions.
It's April! The birds are singing, the sun is shining, flowers are blooming...not even close. This is April in Maine, which means that it's cloudy, cold, and supposed to snow this afternoon. There is nothing blooming and we still have a significant snow pack. But it's not all doom and gloom, the sun is getting stronger and we are supposed to get into the 50s later this week. Mainers truly appreciate those (relatively) warm days, and I will probably have to work to convince the kids not to wear shorts to school that day. This is the time of year when I feel most impatient and the least like living in the rhythm of the seasons. I want to drink iced coffee, plant the garden, and ditch the sweaters, but it's going to be a while. I'm working to embrace all that is good about this time of year, which is not the mud - so much mud, it's things like seeing the buds on the trees, taking the time to plan a garden, and remembering that soon enough it will warm up and really be spring-like. Then it will be a busy time of planting and soaking up all the outdoor living we can cram into those precious days. For now, patience. And making wreaths out of the available spring-heralding materials: pussy willows. (Drat that name, right?)
Pussy willows are abundant this time of year, starting in late February, until they bloom in a few more weeks. You can usually find this kind of willow tree near swampy or wet areas, and I prefer the branches of older trees, as they usually have more catkins on them. I harvested an armload of the branches, in all their wild glory, and cut them down to make a cheerful wreath.
To make my wabi-sabi little wreath, I started with a grapevine wreath that is approximately 6 inches in diameter. I cut the branches into sections ranging from 6-8 inches long, and chose to pre-wire little bundles of branches and then wire them onto the wreath. The project took about an hour from start to finish, and is now happily handing in the kitchen.
- 6 inch grapevine wreath
- 65-80 pussy willow branch sections, each 6-8 inches long
- Paper-wrapped floral wire
- Floral wire (I used a very thin and pliable, 26 gauge wire)
First, make coffee. Not for the wreath, just for enjoyment. Then, trim your willow branches into 6-8 inch sections. Gather the branches into small, fan-shaped bundles with 5-6 branch sections in each, and wire together near the base, using the floral wire, or whatever you have on hand that will do the job. I found the thin wire to be flexible and easy to work with, but strong enough to hold the finished product. Mine is hanging in the kitchen, not exposed to wind, so you may want something stronger if yours will be outdoors. Once you have all the bundles put together - I used 14 bundles in my wreath - begin assembly. Start by laying one bundle on the wreath, and using the paper-wrapped florist wire to secure it to the wreath. I wrapped the first section twice to firmly secure it. Begin layering the wreath by placing the next bundle over the wired section of the first, so it hides the wire, and wrap it in place. Add the next in the same manner, and so on. Some of your bundles may be fluffier and fuller than others, so try to alternate those. Keep taking a look at the whole picture so you don't end up with sections that are packed too densely. (That's a "do as I say, not as I do" piece of advice. I have one section that I wired too tightly with too-thin bundles and I don't recommend it. Live and learn.)
After you've secured all the willow bundles to the wreath, snip your wire, leaving a 3-4 inch tail to twist into a hanging and loop and secure the end into the wreath. Look at the wreath and fluff and adjust the bundles to even it out. You can tuck in extra single branches if you have any particularly bare spots. The wreath is done and ready to be enjoyed. I recommend hanging it somewhere where it won't get bumped and jostled too much, as some of the catkins may fall off.
Let me know how it goes if you try it, or if you have any questions.
Still life photography has become a passion of mine. It has become one of my favorite ways to embrace and enjoy the present season - creating still life images that reflect the light, the mood, the atmosphere, and the natural abundance of any given time of year. It helps me to slow down and notice what's happening outside in ways that I never used to, to get in sync with the rhythms of nature. It gives me a feeling of connectedness. It also requires a ridiculous amount of patience, which has never been one of my virtues, but I'm working on it. I'm usually rushing ahead to the next season without fully appreciating what's right in front of me. I can't say that will stop - I look forward to each different season - but I can say that it forces me to be more intentional and appreciate each season as it's unfolding.
Creating a photo series using the abundance (or lack thereof, in some of the transitional seasons) also allows me to hone my craft and push my creativity by making a series of photos with the same set of materials. I've been doing this in a less intentional way for a while, but now I'm making an effort to document it here.
March is a terrible time to start something like this (if you live in a cold climate, that is) but here we are. I figure starting with a total lack of abundance is a good way to force you to be more creative. (For the record, that's the kind of advice that makes me want to roll my eyes, but I think there really is something to it.) I snagged some dried hydrangeas, which I have probably looked at a thousand times with no appreciation for them whatsoever, from my mother-in-law's house, to start with. Then I added some pussy willows that I spotted on a walk. Over the course of the last couple weeks, I've put together this little series to document the March botanicals.
I ended up enjoying photographing the hydrangeas and pussy willows much more than I expected. I'm trying to be patient for spring flowers, but I'm making no promises. If you follow my Instagram, you know I've already caved and bought some hyacinths. :)
Enjoy the season!
March in Maine is really not a spring month. We get some occasional warm (warm being a relative term) days but we also get lots of wintry weather. It's a time when it's easy to get cranky about the persistence of snow and the lack of anything green growing outside, but there are good things about March too. We begin to see signs of spring, like the ice breaking up in the river, the wildlife waking up, and the appearance of pussy willows. Though I am looking forward to spring and ditching my lineup of wool sweaters, I'm also embracing this last burst of winter. This is the time of year when the sap is running in the maple trees and I get inspired to work more maple than usual into my baking.
These scones are made with cinnamon, cardamom, a little bit of nutmeg, and some brown sugar to give them a warm, spicy flavor that goes perfectly with maple. In this case, I'm using one of my favorite forms of maple - maple cream - to top my scones. If you have never tried maple cream, I highly recommend it. It's texture is similar to creamed honey and has a consistency that varies from being honey-like to being a bit more firm, like soft butter. It's made from pure maple syrup by heating the syrup, cooling it, and stirring to form crystals. I buy mine at the Common Ground Fair in September from Maine maple syrup producers, or at the local farm stand. If you don't have a local source, you can find it on Amazon or make your own. (See tutorial on making maple cream here.) Maple cream is excellent in oatmeal, on toast, scones, plain yogurt, or stirred into coffee.
- 2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1/2 c. dark brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. cardamom
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, freshly grated if you have it
- 5 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 c. heavy cream
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In a medium bowl, mix together your dry ingredients. Add the cubed butter and use your fingertips to gently rub the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture is sandy with a few small pea-sized lumps of butter remaining. Stir in the cold heavy cream. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and use your hands to work the dough gently. You are not kneading this dough, just patting it gently and working a little bit of flour into it until it is no longer sticky. It won't hurt to work the dough a little bit, to help it become more uniform, but you want to avoid kneading it, as that will make your scones chewy. Pat the dough into a disk about 1/2 an inch thick, but don't worry too much about getting that exact, just make the size you like. Using a bench scraper or a sharp knife, cut the dough into 8 wedges and place onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. If you like, you can brush the tops with an egg wash or milk to help them brown. I skipped that step on this batch. If the dough is warm and slightly sticky, pop it into the freezer for about 10 minutes before baking to help them retain their shape in the oven. If your hands and kitchen are cold, you can stick them right into the oven. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until golden brown. I recommend serving them with maple cream and a cup of hot coffee.
Happy Valentine's Day! We don't usually make a big fuss over Valentine's Day, but it's always fun to make something with the kids to share with their friends and teachers. It was convenient that we were snowed in yesterday, thanks to the blizzard that left us 2 feet of snow, and so we had the day to make Valentine's and chocolate truffles.
To make the truffles:
- 1 pound bitter or semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 8 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, set aside
- 2 oz. white chocolate, optional, for drizzling on top
Chop the pound of chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream to a simmer and pour over the chocolate. Let it sit for a couple of minutes so the chocolate can warm up, then gently whisk until it becomes smooth and shiny. Whisk in the vanilla or any other flavor you like. Place the mixture in the fridge for about 20 minutes. When it is firm, scoop the mixture into individual portions using two spoons or a small cookie scoop, and place onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. If the portions are firm enough, roll into smooth balls now. If not, place them back in the fridge for 10 minutes until you can handle them. Once you have them all rolled into balls, place in the fridge to firm up, about an hour.
After they are firm and chilled, melt your additional bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. I do this in a glass bowl in the microwave, on high, for 15 second intervals, stirring in between, until the chocolate is smooth. Then, using a fork, dip each truffle into the melted chocolate, tap off the excess, and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. When all the truffles have been dipped, return to the fridge until set, about 20 minutes. Melt the white chocolate and using a fork or spoon, gently drizzle over the top of the truffles.
The truffles will keep in an airtight container for 3 days, a week if you put them in the fridge.
Winter. Here in Maine, it's cold and gray, sometimes with snow, sometimes bright, sometimes downright bleak. And I love everything about it. Despite the fact that I hate to be cold, I enjoy being outside in the bracing January air. Even more, I like coming in from the cold and cozying up inside with a hot drink.
I always feel some melancholy when the Christmas holiday season ends, because I love it so much. But now I have come to appreciate the quiet period that follows. I enjoy the easing of the hustle and bustle from the holiday season and settling into a long, cold winter. Coziness is where it's at for me, on any given day, but especially these gray winter days. I don't even mind that it gets dark early. For me it seems like a good excuse to be home and in my comfortable sweats earlier than is normally acceptable.
I'm committed to embracing winter, as I think one needs to be, here in the frozen north, where we won't see spring until May. I'm wholeheartedly embracing the concept of hygge by spending time outdoors with the family, and enjoying the time inside with crafting, baking, reading, and generally slowing down. I may even go watch a movie with the kids, in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday, because it's a snow day and I intend to take full advantage of it.
I'd love to hear what you are doing to embrace and enjoy the winter. Hope you are finding some hygge too!
Making evergreen wreaths for the holidays is a long-standing tradition this time of year. It's one that I had always wanted to make a part of my life, but never seemed to get around to it. I thought it would be difficult, and when I first tried it nearly 20 years ago, I thought it was. But last year, after a fun adventure into the woods hunting for Christmas trees, my aunt sat down with me and showed me how it's done. She has such an easy air about her - she's not a perfectionist so I didn't feel like she was judging me the whole time, and at no point did I feel overly embarrassed by my ignorance of the whole wreath-making process. She made it fun and approachable and I learned to embrace the imperfection of the wreaths I made.
This year I felt sufficiently confident to undertake wreath-making on my own. I used the boughs we cut from our own Christmas tree, clipping them into small tips that I could easily wire to the wreath. I used a simple metal form and some flexible but strong wire to assemble it. I placed the tips in groups of threes and wired them tightly to the form. At first, the wreath looked a little hopeless, but as I kept adding more greens, it started to shape up. It's far from perfect, but I'm happy with it. I topped mine off with some cedar and boxwood clippings, and burlap for hanging.
What do you think? Any wreath-making happening in your household?
Wishing you all a quiet and joyful holiday season.
It's that time of year again. My favorite time of year. I love everything about the season. I just want to soak it all up. The one big exception is having to go out and do some shopping, which I will begin at any moment now. For now, I am enjoying the music, the sights, making a wreath or two, and baking.
My baking list is very long, only because there are always so many recipes that I want to try this time of year. This classic recipe is top of the list, and is an old family favorite. It comes to us from my great-grandmother is named "Gram's Molasses Cookies". I have made very few changes to the original recipe, only adjusting the method a bit and adopting my mother's adjustment, which was to add more flour.
The cookies are soft and will stay that way for several days. The original recipe does not use much in the way of spices, which is why they are molasses cookies as opposed to gingerbread cookies. They are a year-round favorite of mine, made with no spices and just the flavor of the molasses shining through. But for Christmas, I added the spices I associate with the season - ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and pepper - and turned them into gingerbread men. They will stay soft if you make them thick and avoid overbaking, and store in an airtight container. I iced my men with a basic royal icing.
Soft Gingerbread Cookies (Gram's Molasses Cookies)
- 1 c. sugar
- 1 c. shortening
- 1 c. molasses
- 1 egg
- 1/2 c. hot water
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 6 c. flour
- 4 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. ginger *
- 1 tsp. cinnamon *
- 1 tsp. cardamom *
- 1/2 tsp. cloves *
- 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper *
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Using a stand mixer or strong arms and a wooden spoon, beat together the sugar and shortening. Add molasses, egg, water, vanilla and lemon juice and mix well. Don't worry if the mixture looks a bit curdled at this point, it will smooth out again when you add the flour. Add 3 c. flour, the baking soda, salt and the spices, if you choose to include them. Mix together slowly until well-combined. Continue adding the flour, one cup at a time, until you have a dough that is soft but not sticky, like fresh play dough. Roll out onto a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes. Place on parchment or nonstick baking mat, and bake for 10-12 minutes, keeping an eye on them at the 10 min mark. They should be cooked through but still soft and just starting to turn a more golden color.
Ice with royal icing, if you wish, or enjoy them unadorned. Store in an airtight container for several days.
November, with it's inherent quietness, has become one of my favorite months. The hustle and bustle of the holidays hasn't started yet, and the grayness of the month means I don't feel any guilt about baking comfort foods with abandon. Though I've been secretly celebrating the holiday season since the beginning of the month, with it's chocolate, peppermint, and gingerbread flavors, I haven't turned my back on some of the richness of fall fruits and spices just yet.
This recipe for Caramel Pear Pudding Cakes appeared in the fall issue of Sift magazine, published by King Arthur Flour, and is the perfect antidote to a gray day. The cakes are relatively easy to assemble and bake up into a warm and gently spiced cake with a gooey caramel sauce.
Recipe can be found here. Cook's note - I left out the pecans, only because I rarely like any kind of nut in my baked goods. Also, I didn't arrange mine like they show in their picture. I served them straight from the ramekin, as appears above, rather than turning them out to serve.
Tomorrow is Halloween. I'm not crazy about gore or scary decorations, but I enjoy the generally festive atmosphere of the day. I like making caramel popcorn to share, roasting the pumpkin seeds from our jack o' lanterns, and making treat bags. I like taking our kids out trick-or-treating in the village and seeing all the kids in costumes. It's a fun day and I find that keeping it simple lets me enjoy it more.
Wishing you a Happy Halloween!