The return of the rabbit

April 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Posted in art, country living, family, food, Holidays, inspiration, knitting, Life, love, marriage, needle felting, recipes, shopping, women | 6 Comments
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Three springtime’s ago I did quite a lot of needle felting, during the last trimester of my daughter’s pregnancy and for a while after my granddaughter was born.  Needle felting at that time was a substitute creative release for me, because I was on hiatus from oil painting for a bit at the time.

I am a professional writer and fine artist by trade, but there are many crafts I have enjoyed over the course of my lifetime, beginning with learning to knit and crochet when I was a little kid.   I was recalling the other day how much my mother inspired me to be creative with various projects she did with my brothers, my sister, and me.  We made Christmas ornaments, Christmas stockings, holiday candles, many Easter Eggs, birthday favors, doll clothes, embroidery … you get the idea.

My mother was and is a very fine seamstress.  In fact, her work was so fine she was able to take in projects to sew for a local business called The Button Shop.  She sewed all of my sister’s and my dresses, even our winter coats.  Growing up on a farm in post-depression era North Carolina she learned to be both creative and frugal in sewing her own dresses as she grew up.  She passed those skills along to my sister and I when we were teenagers, and we both sewed quite a bit when we were younger–my sister much  more so than I did.

My mother had a wonderful sewing table that my father made for her.  It was quite large (from what I recall), with plenty of room to handle the fabric of large projects without a problem.  She still has the same Singer sewing machine she used throughout my childhood to sew so, so many dresses and other beautiful projects.

Though I loved all of the clothes she ever made for me, there was this one corduroy jumper I felt particularly delighted with.  The fabric was a fine wale corduroy in white with little red flowers printed on it.  Each flower had a little brown stem and a couple of tiny green leaves.  She made a puffy sleeve red shirt to go under the jumper and boy did I feel special wearing that pretty little outfit.

Another favorite was this thing called a grasshopper, a two-flap skirt with sewn on shorts underneath it.  That was pretty awesome and I remember feeling like a little rebel because I knew I was really wearing shorts, even though to the world I appeared to be wearing a skirt.

There was this other little seersucker two-piece top and shorts outfit she made for me when I was in first grade.  One of my most vivid, fun filled childhood memories is of the last day of school that year.  I was so excited because the last day of school would be a half-day which seemed totally wonderful and magical in my mind at the time.  I wanted the day to go as quickly as possible so I could reach the magical half-day point that much faster and be released back into the wild for summer vacation.  In order to speed things along I slept in my little seersucker outfit the night before.  I remember telling my mother that I was going to wear my clothes to bed so that I could just get up and run right out the door to head off to school.

What I remember most vividly about that last day of school was running free and light from our house to school in my wrinkled clothes (from sleeping in them the night before) with the sunshine on my face and arms making my skin pleasantly tight in the summer heat.  I heard someone’s Dad mowing a lawn somewhere along the way and smelled a wonderful freshly-cut lawn smell (which always smelled to me like watermelon).  It was a joyous run toward the magical half-day of school, on my road to a summer of liberty and freedom.  And, it all started with my perception of that little seersucker outfit as a summer delight.  Thank you, Mom. 🙂

The needle felted rabbit you see at the top of this posts is one of my latest needle felted designs.  He is about 7″ tall when sitting, but from the tip of his toes to the tip of his ears he is about 10″ tall.  I loved making a piece of needle felted fabric which I then designed and made his little jacket from.  He is a bit too delicate to give to a toddler, so for the time being he is going to live in my studio, watching over me while I paint watercolors and oils of swans, turtles, fishing herons, and other scenes I photographed along our river last summer.

I find myself looking over at him from time to time, smiling at my little buddy.

Now that he is finished, I will make several others of a similar design and technique — a family of rabbits — and photograph each step along the way so that I can write some very detailed instruction manuals.  Needle felting is so enjoyable as a craft and can be done very crudely or to very fine results, but no matter what level you take a project to, it will have an inherent beauty that all needle felted works seem to be naturally endowed with.  That is what I would like to pass along to my readers and friends, the joy of creating sculptures in needle felting. They needle felting courses will not be ready for this Easter and bunny season, because these things do take time. But they should be ready in pleny of time for you to get a head start and really learn what you are doing and get one or more bunnies ready for next year’s holiday.

Another creation I would like to share with you today is my altered version of a German Stollen.  Normally a Christmas bread, I decided to make my own version of Stollen to take to our Palm Sunday brunch at church last weekend.  It is a beautiful yeast bread that is worth the effort required to bring it to life.

Back in California I would buy a traditional Christmas Stollen at Trader’s Joe’s every Christmas for the kids and I to enjoy.   Of course, we don’t have Trader Joe’s anywhere near where I live now, so I had to resort to making my own this past Christmas.  I began with a recipe I found in the Joy of Cooking, but altered it to suit my own tastes and baking preferences.

First of all, I chose not to use candied fruits, called for in the recipe.  Instead, I used golden raisins, dried cranberries and chopped dried figs. The recipe also called for a lemon glaze but I basted my bread with melted butter before and right after baking, followed with a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar.

The recipe makes two large, beautiful loaves … and now I would like to share the recipe with you in case you would like to make it this holiday weekend.

Firefly’s Altered Stollen

6 to 8 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups water or milk at 105 to 115 degrees
2 packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 tsp)
1/2 lb. golden raisin
1/2 lb. pecan pieces
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped dried figs (optional)
1 1/2 cups butter (softened)
3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs (room temperature)
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon rind (freshly grated or dried)
1/2 melted butter
2 cups powdered sugar

In a good sized bowl, sprinkle yeast over the 1 1/2 cups of water; whisk until blended. Let stand 5 minutes.

Add 1 cup flour; whisk until mixed well. Cover and place in a warm place until foamy (about 1 hour). [This is called sponge, by the way.]

In a separate bowl, mix together raisins, pecans, cranberries and figs. Sprinkle 1/2 cup flour over this mixture and toss so that all of the pieces are covered with flour.

In large mixing bowl, beat the 1 1/2 cups of softened butter until light and creamy. Add 3/4 cups sugar and continue beating then add the eggs, one at a time. Next, add the salt and grated lemon rind. After this is all mixed well, take the sponge you made earlier and add that into the mix and keep mixing. If you have a dough hook on your mixer, change to that at this point. If you don’t have a dough hook, you might want to change to mixing by hand sometime soon, when you think the load might be too much for your mixer. Anyway, start adding the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time until you have a nice smooth dough that is elastic. It should not be sticky to the touch, but it does need to be soft so you don’t want to add too much flour.
The thing is with yeast bread (if you don’t already know this) you don’t add an exact amount of flour when you are mixing it.

You just add some of the total called for, a bit at a time, until you get to the right consistency and then you stop. That is why the recipe calls for “6 to 8 cups flour”. So, watch that you don’t make your dough stiff and dry, but also don’t leave it wet and sticky.

Now, cover the dough and let it sit in a warm place for about an hour so it can double in bulk.

After it is doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and gradually knead the fruit, nut, and flour mixture into it. It will be hard to knead all of that stuff in, but just keep folding the dough over the fruit and nuts and kneading and kneading and after a while you will have it all mixed in pretty well. There will still be fruit and nut pieces sticking out all over the dough, but but is okay as long as it is mixed pretty evenly into the dough.

Divide your dough in half. Roll each half out to a rectangle that is about 10″ x 15″. Roll this up staring with the 10″ side. Place the rolled up bread onto a greased or non-stick cookie sheet and baste it with some of the melted butter — just enough to make sure there is melted butter on the entire surface, but don’t try to drench it. Repeat this process with the other half of your dough (on a separate cookie sheet).

Let the rolled up, basted dough rise until nearly doubled, about 45 minutes to an hour. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Thump the bread with your finger before you take it out of the oven to make sure it makes a sort of a hollow sound (kind of like thumping a watermelon to see if it is ripe). If it doesn’t sound hollow, you should bake it a little bit longer.

When you take it out of the oven, baste it right away with more melted butter, again covering the entire surface.

You can use more than the 1/2 cup melted butter I specified in the recipe for the basting part if you want — it just depends on how rich you want to make it. I only make this at Christmas and Easter because it is pretty rich and I don’t like to feed rich food to my family very often.

After basting the loaf, sprinkle it generously with lots and lots of powdered sugar. It is okay if it is piled up real high.

Let the bread cool completely; I left mine stand overnight if I finish it late in the day or in the evening.

If you are not going to serve it right away, or if you have to take it somewhere, wrap it up very tightly with plastic wrap, pressing the powdered sugar down against the bread. When you are ready to serve it, you can sprinkle a little bit more powdered sugar on top to freshen it up.

Cut in 1/2″ slices to serve.

This bread is wonderful day old (or older) with a cup of coffee for breakfast.

I suppose this is the end of today’s post, I hope you have enjoyed it. If you haven’t checked in with my son’s Etsy shop lately, have a look and see what he has going on that is new. Many people have been loving his Typography Maps, you might enjoy them as well. And of course, he is always coming up with new subway signs and bus scroll prints.

Hope you have a beautiful holiday weekend!

Best,
~firefly

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Chocolate. Coffee. Whiskey.

March 28, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Posted in art, country life, country living, faith, family, gifts, inspiration, knitting, Life, love, recipes, shopping, women | 7 Comments
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Remember seeing photos of the cookies I make with chocolate, coffee, and whiskey (among other things) in the ingredients? I love making those cookies at the holidays and sending a dozen each to various family members and some friends. I love photographing them also, because they look so scrumptious and photograph so beautifully. Sometimes I make a second round of them at Valentine’s Day, adding a drop or two of red food coloring to make the icing pink and again, send them out a dozen apiece to family who I sorely miss.

What makes me sad, however, is that I had to promise my friend not to share the recipe. I can use the recipe, which I acquired while filling in for her baking talent in fund raising event for our church. She entrusted me with the “secret” recipe, and I had to promise not to pass it around because she likes to keep it reserved for fund raising efforts.

Before my son came back to the farm for the holidays, I was searching for some things online and I came across a cake recipe that also featured chocolate, coffee, and whiskey and thought it would be awesome to give that a try while my son was out. I tweaked the recipe a bit to suit my particular tastes and baking preferences, and … oh, my goodness!

The cake baked up beautifully, oh so beautifully. It was so dark it was almost black inside. I made it with super strong coffee and dark cocoa powder and lots of love. I think the “love” factor gave the cake an incredible crust, and we are big time crust lovers on this farm.

The good news is, this is a recipe I can share … go get out your grocery list and start writing down ingredients. Well, ah, that is after I say a thing or two about some business matters.

Both my son and I are having sales this week in our Etsy stores. He is offering free shipping on his wonderful authentic-looking, vintage inspired subway signs and bus scrolls. And remember, he can personalize them or make them totally custom from scratch to help commemorate a special time, place, or event in your life or the life of someone you want to give a completely awesome gift to. If you ever treat yourself (or someone else) to one of his custom signs you will be delighted, I can promise it.

There is something very touching about walking through a room and glancing at one of these signs hanging on the wall with the names of places you’ve been or lived in, happy places and times. It is like having a sign post there that tells you each time you glance at it, “Hi there, you were there, and there, and there, and there. And you were happy and it was great. Remember?” Pleasure moments get stirred up and continue walking, with a little bit of an extra smile playing on your lips and good feelings stirred up inside you.

I know this because he made one for me for my birthday last year that lists my favorite streets and neighborhoods where I lived, where he and his sister were born, where we lived together last in California, and now where we have landed in New York on this heavenly farm. That sign tells a certain story, very briefly just by calling out the street names or other identifying words.

So, treat yourself or someone you love to a set of signs from a city you love, or to a custom sign to commemorate a special time in their lives … and do it now so you get free shipping as well as a high quality product, thoughtful and artistic packaging, and a great customer service experience. He is, after all, my son. 🙂

If you want to take him up on this offer, use the word “POSTAGE” at checkout in his Etsy store here –> Flying Junction at Etsy.

By the way, my Knitter’s Eye Charts and Crocheter’s Eye Chart caught the attention of yet another magazine editor, this time it was Molly Makes, a UK based fiber crafter’s magazine that published thirteen times per year. If you haven’t ever seen their magazines, you really should treat yourself. You can subscribe, even if you are in the U.S. and I recommend doing so if you want a wonderful new source of inspiration on a regular basis.

Speaking of my various Eye Charts, now through this Friday at midnight I am offering BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE on my Knitter’s Eye Charts (or Crocheter’s Eye Charts) in my Etsy store. This applies to the 11×17 size (printed on 12″ x 18″ sheets), the 8″ x 10″ size (printed on 9″ x 12″ sheets), and even the sets of three. You can also apply this offer to the prints that read “If You Can Read This You Are Standing Too Close to My Stash”. Mix and match, it is all okay.

To take advantage of my BOGO, order your first prints or set of three then in the “Comments” section of the order form at Etsy, type the letters “BOGO” and tell what you want as your free print. The free print must be of equal or greater value to the one you pay for, of course. If you miss getting this into the Comments section of the order form, just send me a Convo through Etsy and take care of it there instead.

Remember, this offer is good from now until midnight (Easter Standard Time) this Friday, March 30, 2012. This is a private sale, so only people who read my blog or who are on my email list will find out about it.

Okay, now are you ready for that wonderful recipe? Here goes …

Dark. Chocolate. Coffee. Whiskey. Cake.

1 cup unsweetened, dark cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups strong brewed coffee
1/2 cup whiskey
1 1/2 sticks butter, cut into pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup mini dark chocolate or semi dark chocolate chips
2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp ground cloves
3 large eggs plus one egg white
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10-inch springform pan, dust with 2 Tbsp cocoa powder.

Whisk coffee, whiskey, butter, and 3/4 cup cocoa powder together in a saucepan over low heat.  Whisk in sugars, then set aside to let cool.

In small bowl, toss chocolate chips with 1 Tbsp cocoa powder.

Mix together flour, baking soda, salt, pepper, and cloves in a mixing bowl.  Whisk eggs, egg white, and vanilla into cooled coffee-chocolate mixture, then whisk in flour mixture. Fold cocoa dusted chocolate chips into batter.

(This cake batter is not thick like other cake batters, so don’t become alarmed about that.  It will cook up just fine.)

Pour batter into springform pan. Bake until toothpick comes out just slightly moist, about one hour.

Let cool, then dust with remaining 1 Tbsp cocoa powder before serving.  (You might want to dust some extra cocoa powder on top, that’s what I did — just suit your own taste.)

The cake has a wonderful crust the first day it is baked.  Sad to say, that crust goes away after it is covered and stored overnight.  But, not to worry … it tastes wonderful with or without the crust.  I think it would be devine to serve this cake in spring or summer with fresh strawberries on the side.

Well, my friend … I hope you have a great day.

~firefly

Today in our life …

March 27, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Posted in art, family, gifts, Life, Mother's Day, NYC, recipes, shopping, women | Leave a comment
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I’ll be writing more a little later, and posting a blog in the morning. In the meantime, I wanted to share this with all of my readers. My son’s Etsy Shop (FlyingJunction.Etsy.com) is offering free shipping this week.

If you haven’t seen his work before, he painstakingly designs authentic looking, vintage inspired subway signs and bus scrolls featuring neighborhoods in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, Paris, Seattle and more. He can personalize any of his offerings, or make a custom sign to your own specifications celebrating important places and “subway or bus stops” from your own life. They are a great gift idea to commemorate Mother’s Day, birth announcements, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, graduation, retirement parties … or just living.

From a decor viewpoint, these signs are eyecatching and look great displayed at home, the office, even in a cottage or on a farm!

Many of his signs have a very awesome distressed finish to them, and they are all printed on high quality heavy weight paper. His shipping is impeccable and each tube is a deligth to receive.

Check him out, see what he’s been up to over the past few months.

Have a great day, and I’ll meet you back here tomorrow with a recipe for that incredible looking chocolate cake you saw in last week’s post … mmmm, yummy!

~firefly

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