The foods that bind us

February 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Posted in blogging, cookie recipes, country life, country living, faith, family, food, gifts, Holidays, knitting, Life, love, marriage, recipes, relationships, shopping, yarn | 10 Comments
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I made twenty dozen of these scrumptious cookies to send off to loved ones this Valentine’s Day.  A chocolate-based cookie, I used premium bittersweet cocoa powder, doubling the amount the recipe called for.  In addition to a standard dose of semi-sweet mini chocolate chips, I added one bag of large Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate morsels so that each cookie would have one or two extra chunks of premium bittersweet chocolate. With other interesting ingredients like whiskey and coffee, these cookies seemed the perfect choice for a Valentine confection. Everyone who received them seemed to agree.

I gave my husband his own private stash, and I sent dozens out in various directions via U.S. Mail.  For my son, I sent a couple of dozen cookies plus a dozen dark chocolate brownies baked as shallow cupcakes. 

Knitting Related Side Bar: I posted all of my remaining Country Cotton (nine different colors) at Etsy yesterday. Everyone who placed a special order, your yarn is in and I will have it ready for shipment shortly. After I sell the yarn that is posted at Etsy, I won’t be carrying yarn any longer–I just found out my supplier has gone out of business. I still have some of the Deluxe Limited Edition Blanket Kits, which I will continue to sell until they are all gone, and then that will be the end of Biscuit Blanket kits as well. Sorry for such sad news.

Back to the Blog: I love sending out care packages stuffed with homemade goodies to family and friends, especially as an unexpected treat.  The first Christmas on the farm I sent homemade apple preserves and dehydrated apple slices to my family out West.  We are surrounded by apple orchards and I wanted my family in California and Colorado to have a taste of the beautiful New York apple crop so bountiful here.  Two years later my younger brother told me he and his sons were down to their last serving of those apple preserves.  He treasured the preserves so much he only served them every other Sunday morning on biscuits he baked — one teaspoon for each person.

When you learn that something you baked, or made by hand, means so much to someone else, it is rewarding and heartwarming to the nth degree.  My brother of course has won a lifetime supply of homemade preserves from my kitchen for treasuring my creation so dearly.

I started baking when  I was eight years old, the year Santa brought me an Easy Bake Oven–I think it may have been the first year Easy Bake Ovens came on the market. (Note: This is not a photograph of me and my father. I found this photo at Wikipedia when I searched for more info about the year the Easy Bake Oven became available.)

I have told parts of this story before, but it has been a while and I figure I will tell it a bit differently this time and different people will be here on the blog reading my tale. Besides, any truly dedicated story teller will tell their tales many times over to many different audiences, or anyone they can get to sit still long enough.

Oh, how I loved my Easy Bake Oven. It opened up a world of creativity and responsibility to my chubby little hands, heart, and soul. I loved the little pans and the little packets of mix. Mix it up, put it in the pan, slip it in through the little slot and let the goodies bake under an ordinary light bulb. If that wasn’t magic, I couldn’t have imagined what was.

I vividly recall the sights of my little oven and my first experiences with baking. In my recollection, I can still smell the baking mixes and finished products.  But, the Easy Bake Oven was merely a start for me.  Soon I graduated to Jiffy brand biscuit and cake mix along with use of my mother’s oven. Each week I would save my allowance and go to the A&P Grocery store with Mama to buy a box of Jiffy mix, my favorite was biscuit mix. At home I would mix up my biscuits, cut them out with a little round cutter and bake them in Mama’s oven. The biscuits I was making were cute little things about an inch and half in diameter and very tall and fluffy.

After baking them to a perfect golden brown and removing them from the oven I would toss them into a brown paper lunch bag and run all over the neighborhood sharing them with my friends. The kids gobbled them up graciously and proclaimed me the best baker in the neighborhood.

When I was about ten or eleven years old I started holding bake sales during the summer months. Mama would take me to the grocery store  to buy my ingredients — usually some biscuit mix, cake mix and icing, and CoolAid to serve for drinks. The next  morning I would get up early and do my baking, then set up a table out front under a tree with an assortment of my offerings laid out very nice and pretty.

Though we lived outside of the city and on a dead-end street, I always sold out early in the day. I could depend on it that by investing $5 in ingredients I would bring in $25 in sales. It was a nice little business that satisfied my creative nature as well as the early manifestations of my entrepreneurial spirit.  My baking satisfied the tummies of many of the boys in the neighborhood — they were my best customers.

I started experimenting with more items to bake including large sheet cakes with icing, cupcakes, brownies, and so forth. I even taught myself how to make popovers, stuffed with a cream filling — they seemed especially magical (if you have never made popovers, you really should try it sometime for the novelty of it).

As a teenager I used to make all sorts of cookies and holiday fruit breads to give to people as gifts at Christmas, and I remember learning how to make a truly delicious, moist carrot cake in teen years as well. A friend of the family’s introduced me to the notion of making yeast bread and gave me a little booklet from Fleischmann’s Yeast with all of the basics of making proper yeast bread from scratch and a bunch of great recipes. I studied the booklet thoroughly and became quite skilled at making a wide variety of yeast breads, much to the delight of my family.

My son took a very early interest in cooking and baking, beginning when he was about two years old. He would drag a chair over to the stove and climb up and look at the pans and so forth. We tried to discourage him from getting near the stove because of the potential danger, but honestly there just wasn’t any stopping him from his many attempts. It seemed more practical to teach him how cook a little something safely.  By the time he was three years old he could crack eggs into a bowl, beat them up like a pro, turn on the burner under a pan and make scrambled eggs all by himself. He was very careful about it and never once burned himself or anything else.

All through his childhood he continued to cook and bake, much as I did but with a twist. His “twist” was always in the direction of an interest in gourmet cooking. Even as a young teenager he could watch a cooking show on television and go in the kitchen and use whatever techniques he had just seen demonstrated to put together a delicious and tantalizing meal.

Naturally, he and I began cooking and baking together, always sharing interest in each other’s creations. I loved baking cookies and cake and homemade bread for him, and he loved making a gourmet meal to share with me. At the holidays, he always contributed to the meal and gave me ideas of creative twists and turns I could apply to dishes I was preparing.  This subject–cooking and baking–has always been one of the special bonds between us.

Moving to New York five years ago was a wonderful adventure, living here is divine and I have the wonderful fortune of being married to the best husband in the world, for me. However, moving away from my son was a very difficult  thing to do and as the years have progressed the separation has become more and more poignantly disturbing to my heart.

Several months ago some circumstances changed and he has been able to spend more time in New York on the farm, we have set up a room for him that his room–as opposed to a “guest” room for him to stay in occasionally. With his baby, The Duke, boarding with us and his more frequent visits, now the farm is a second home of his and he has become a part of the place just like the rest of us.

Of course, when he comes here we always cook together. Sometime in the future I would like to collaborate with him in writing a cookbook because we both contribute different dishes, styles, and flavors to a complete and delicious meal. My style is down-home while his is urban-gourmet and we make the two go very, very well together in my humble opinion.

Now that he has become an Etsy seller (he is the designer FlyingJunction at Etsy), I love the interaction we have together as two shop owners who happen to be family. His store has gotten off to a great start over the past three months, with many of my readers giving some very helpful feedback and encouragement to him.

He and I were talking recently about what he might do to in order to give back a little something to my readership to show his gratitude for their welcoming words.  What we decided is that we would both like to share more recipes and techniques with you all to give you a taste of what we cook up together.  He will send recipes along with photographs of dishes he has prepared and I will post them on the blog.  I will also send him recipes, but share them with you as well.

You can ask questions, make suggestions and special requests and we will see what we can do to accomodate you.  It should be fun and … tasty.  Each time we post a recipe, I will alert those readers who are on my mailing list.  Or, you can subscribe to the blog to receive alerts via RSS feed (see upper right hand area of page).

For today, I have to go. I have a ton of Country Cotton yarn that still needs sorting and labeling in preparation for shipment.

Have a beautiful day!


The things we do for each other

February 8, 2008 at 5:28 pm | Posted in blogging, cookie recipes, country life, country living, dogs, faith, family, food, knitting, love, marriage, pets, photography, recipes, relationships, romance, snow, Valentine's Day, yarn | 15 Comments

Blu sits for a photo op at fireflys farm showing off his new coat“Why are you making me sit here in the snow without any underwear on?” I am telepathic, and those were Blu’s exact words.

Anything for a photo op. That is the price he pays for being the top dog here at our farm.

Membership does, however, have its benefits: my father and mother gifted Blu with this handsome coat recently. He has been wearing it every time I let him outside to take care of business or just for a romp in the snow. At first he had to get used to it, but after he tried it a few times when icy rain was pelting him or below freezing temperatures were plaguing him, he started asking me to put it on him before goes outside.

Of course, when my husband gets home from work in the afternoon, Blu acts like only a girly-dog would wear a coat to go outside. But he and I know the truth, and I know that come morning when he has to brave the cold first thing after getting up, he will hesitate and wait until I put his coat on him before venturing forth.

I love watching him run around in the snow. His body movements are fluid and graceful when he gets out there in the wide open spaces running free, galloping here and there, pouncing on anything he can find that he imagines to be interesting. With his vivid imagination that means he has something to pounce on about every five feet or so.

A snow covered apple tree near fireflys farm in Western New YorkWe went out driving this past Sunday to catch some of the local snow scenes. I love the apple trees in the professional orchards; they are beautiful and interesting to behold during any season. They are particularly beautiful when wearing cloaks of snow, reaching upward in a posture reflective of their strength of character. Even now, they are preparing themselves for new growth, spring blossoms, green leaves, and abundant fruit that will cause some of their limbs to nearly reach the ground. By autumn some of the fruit from these very trees might become dried apples or apple preserves on the shelves in my kitchen, or on their way in gift boxes to my family next holiday season.

A beautiful old barn near fireflys farm in Western New YorkOur drive was very pretty, but the temperature was already rising within that one hour while we were out, and by the time we were headed back home snow was falling in big wet plops from the branches of every tree in sight. By Tuesday our temperature was up around fifty degrees and all of the snow disappeared. When I awoke the next morning, it was cold and everything was white again. This procession of winter weather is interesting to experience, and most days it is quite lovely.

It is surprising how much my body has adjusted from the warm year round temperatures of Los Angeles to the autumn and winter in Western New York over the course of just over one year. Last year I routinely wore long johns under sweat pants under jeans, and three layers of t-shirts and sweaters, plus a warm puffy coat, two scarves, a hat and gloves every time I went anywhere. This year I am comfortable with or without the long johns, no layer of sweats, and only one sweater over a long sleeved t-shirt. Plus, I can go out without a hat or gloves on most occasions. Funny how readily our bodies can adjust to big changes so easily.

Firefly wearing her hand knit Vineyard WrapI must say though, I am very thankful I had the foresight to knit this pretty wrap for myself (I call it my Vineyard Wrap because the pattern stitch brings to mind the wild grape vines growing on our farm). It is made of five skeins of Montera yarn (50/50 llama and wool mix) … lusciously warm and cuddly. I love the way it drapes to me, sort of hugging itself against my shoulders and arms, adding just the right amount of extra warmth when and where I need it. My favorite thing is to curl up on the little sofa in our bedroom with a good book, snuggled up in my Vineyard Wrap, with Blu cuddling at my feet and a cup of coffee or tea at hand. Oh, the comforts of home!

We three are looking forward to a beautifully wintry weekend on the farm: me, my husband, and our dog named Blu.

Wishing you and yours a fine one as well, I am …


P.S. I am going to be making my Chip Chip (bittersweet chocolate / butterscotch chips) … cookies for my husband and son for Valentine’s Day. The recipe is on my site, and free, if you are interested. I must say, they are totally scrumptious!

Treasured visitors

January 2, 2008 at 5:40 pm | Posted in art, blogging, Christmas, cookie recipes, country life, country living, dogs, faith, family, food, free knitting patterns, gifts, hat patterns, Holidays, knitting, love, marriage, photography, pumpkin recipes, recipes, relationships, romance, snow, socks, yarn | 17 Comments

Jack Frost left some magic on Fireflys windows this morningAnother holiday season has swept through, leaving in its wake warm and loving memories and a sweet lingering feeling of relaxation. Each year I learn new lessons in keeping the holidays in simpler and more humble manners. This is my personal effort to help keep the true spirit of the holidays alive for myself, my loved ones, and anyone whose life I might happen to touch in some way or other.

I find I succeed in some ways, and fail in others but always my quest is to get it better than I have before, learn from my mistakes, discard regrets, and move on toward a future of increased goodwill and peace to whatever degree I, one single individual spirit, can contribute to that motion.

The beauty and magic of snow on fireflys farm in Western New YorkMy beautiful, large family, which has gone through various stages of fragmentation since the death of my oldest brother two years ago, is finding and knitting its way back together. My son and daughter, my husband, and I spent Christmas alone here on our farm just the four of us … and of course our dear sweet Blu and a couple of magic cats that showed up lately on our porch.

We enjoyed a beautiful snow storm on Christmas eve, the day my son flew in from California. After that, for several days, the four of us stayed at home pretty much the entire time. My son and I enjoyed cooking together on Christmas eve and Christmas day … treasured memory. The four of us visited together peacefully, gently, with love and regard for one another. We enjoyed laughter, gifts, naps, the “Christmas Story” marathon on television, tasty baked goods, and pretty scenes outside our the many windows of our home.

Pretty touching snow outside of fireflys farm in Western New YorkI managed not to cry when we drove him to the airport and dropped him off for his flight home. The inevitable tears did not begin stinging their way into and out of my eyes until we pulled away from the curb and he and I shared a last wave of “goodbye, see you soon”.

I have promised myself he will never see me crying as he leaves, nor feel any sense of sadness coming from me. We are both doing quite well in life, and though our separate paths have dictated 3,000 miles between us we stay in such close contact via the many conveniences afforded by modern technology that I am able to keep my perspective which help keep feelings of sadness at bay.

Magic awaits us all in 2008This year we sent holiday care packages to each of the families within my family containing apple preserves I made this fall, ginger snap cookies my daughter and I made just in time for shipping, pumpkin bread from Grandma Johnson’s recipe, and other items or treats according to what I had on hand and who the recipient might be. The ginger snap cookies were the biggest hit of all … my goodness (I use the recipe straight out of The Joy of Cooking). They became our favorite Christmas cookie last year, my first Christmas on the farm, and now we have decided they will be our traditional Christmas cookie from here on out. So, family, get ready for more of that crispy goodness next year.

Meanwhile, we have a year of living to get on with and I am ready to begin.

I am well underway on the large painting I am making for our favorite local restaurant. In a few days I should have a photo ready to share.

A pretty view of snow outside at fireflys farm in Western New YorkMy daughter gave me beautiful yarns for three hand knit projects (a hat, a shawl, and a pair of warm and cozy house socks) for Christmas. I have completed the hat (will share a photo in the next posting) and am well on my way with the shawl. I plan to create printed versions of this year’s patterns which will be carried in my local yarn shop and on my website. If the patterns do well in sales in the yarn shop, I hope to start distributing them in other yarn shops around. Of course, I will still offer free patterns online … so don’t worry, I won’t be cutting you off. However, it is the prudent thing to do to make some of what I do here generate income and knitting patterns seems to be a good way to go.

Over the past months I have settled in more to my new life on a farm in Western New York, so this coming year will be simpler and less stressful than the last, and it will be more productive and satisfying … and even more magical. Ah, I breath a sigh of relief and restful anticipation just thinking of the days, weeks, and months to come.

Heres a toast to magic waiting around every cornerThis is the way to begin a new year: peaceful, relaxed, rested, happy. Jack Frost, a treasured visitor and friend, left a handful of beautiful drawings in ice crystal on the windows of our sun porch this morning. His little touch of magic drew me and the camera out of our restful dreams with a glimpse of a view of the year ahead.

Will you join me in heralding in a new a magical year with happinesses yet to discover, successes yet to unfold, and pleasant surprises glistening on our horizons?

Wonderful! Let’s get going …


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