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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Recipe: Deconstructed Eggplant Parmesan

August 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Posted in country living, family, food, gardening, recipes, weight loss, Weight Watchers | 5 Comments
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New! Get my blog on Kindle.

And, too good not to mention … Flying Junction is having a Buy Two, Get One Free sale on all paper prints in his online store.  Plus, free shipping.  Gotta love that!

This is my Deconstructed Eggplant Parmesan recipe … shared with love.  I hope you give it a try.  It is especially good if you can get your hands on eggplant from a local farm market rather than at the grocery store.  I have noticed the eggplants we buy at the farm stand are more tender and have less seeds than those I can find in a grocery store.

This recipe serves two. It is quick and simple to prepare, Weight Watcher friendly, and a tasty way to enjoy fresh eggplant. The recipe calls for breadcrumbs; if you are using this as a Weight-Watcher recipe be mindful what you use for bread crumbs. I have made this recipe using homemade bread crumbs tossed in olive oil and Italian herbs, baked in the oven until browned. However, while dieting I bake the bread crumbs without tossing them in oil. Or, try buying store-bought bread crumbs that are only toasted bread (read the ingredients and pick a brand that just has “wheat bread” or something like that for the ingredients).

Ingredients

One medium-sized eggplant
4 tsp olive oil
1 to 1-1/2 cups any marinara sauce*
1/2 to 2/3 cups prepared bread crumbs*
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese*
Thick-sliced mushrooms, any amount you choose to use

(For items marked with *, if you are following Weight Watchers, decide on amount to use based on the PointsPlus values you can allow for this meal.)

Preparation

Grill mushrooms until lightly browned on indoor grill.

Cut eggplant into 1/2″ diagonal slices. Rub olive oil on both sides of eggplant slices. When the mushrooms come off the grill, set them aside and get the eggplants grilling. Grill eggplants until tender but not mushy — this will not take very long, so watch them closely.

While eggplant is grilling, heat up marinara sauce on stove top.

Once eggplants come off the grill, arrange them on two plates. Spoon marinara sauce over the eggplants; sprinkle grated Parmesan over marinara sauce and top that with bread crumbs, followed by mushrooms.

That’s it — simple, and quite delicious. Healthy, low-calorie, satisfying!

~firefly

Tree Peonies of 2011

June 1, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Posted in art, blogging, country life, country living, faith, family, flowers, food, free knitting patterns, gardening, gifts, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, recipes, relationships, romance, shopping, travel | 9 Comments
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You may have wondered where I have been.  After fighting off a flu back in April that lingered for several weeks, I took a bit of extra time off to recuperate and do some long needed planning regarding my blog, my website, the knitting patterns, my writing in general, my fine art paintings and photography … to mention a few items on my mind.  I have also had some on again, off again computer problems over the past two years that have been quite annoying at times and during my recuperation I had to deal with that.

With a very reliable, brand new computer securely on my lap I am ready to begin writing to you, my reader, once again.  Doing so, I feel at once as if I have returned home after a long time away.

I always have the feeling when I begin a blog that I am genuinely sitting down with a good friend, having a cuppa joe, perhaps a cookie or something tasty, and enjoying a pleasant chat.  As I begin to write I feel my shoulders relax just as they do when a good friend drops by and we sit down to visit for a while.  Sigh.  It is so sweet.

As I write this blog, I will share recent photos I shot of my wonderful antique Tree Peony — I just shot these photos three or four days ago when her blooms were at their most delicate moment of perfection.  There are also some shots of other varieties of Tree Peonies I shot at Linwood Gardens this past Saturday during their annual Tree Peony Festival.  At one point, while I was photographing the peonies at Linwood Gardens, I told my husband there was so much beauty I felt I was going to pass out.  A lady nearby heard me say it and said, “Yes!”

Another lady nearby was also photographing the blooms and I heard her gasp, just as I gasp over and over gain when I am focusing my lens on the spectacular blossoms.  As we made out way through the gardens I heard more and more people gasping in just the same way as they focused their cameras.  Oh dear me, their beauty just takes your breath away and it is so very, very fleeting it makes everything within me ache.

I am so thrilled with the photographs I have shot of my peony over the past five years, and now of the peonies at Linwood Gardens, that I have decided to work quickly and diligently to make professional quality fine art prints of the best I have selected out of hundreds and hundreds of photos I have shot.  I went through them in meticulous detail over the past few days and selected twenty four or so of my very favorite shots, and I have ordered samples of half of them for my review before I put them up for sale at Etsy.

Hopefully I will have the samples within three or four days — they will be printed at a professional lab on Kodak Endura Metallic paper and hopefully will be quite amazing.  I will let you know how that goes as soon as I can.  Hopefully, anyone who does buy one will gasp when they see look at their own print for the first time.  I want so much to share the astounding beauty I have had the pleasure of beholding, and if I can make others gasp when they see the photographs I know I will have accomplished just that.

Now on to news related specifically to my blog and all of the other items I listed in that first paragraph above.

My husband and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary at the end of April, which means this August will be the fifth anniversary of my blog.  Isn’t that something, that I have known you for so long.  When I wrote my first blog post on August 2, 2006 I had no idea where it would lead me.  It is funny how things come full circle though, because I started my blog on a suggestion from my son.  And now, five years later, he has started his new business which has an overlap with my business that grew out of my blog.  Neither one of us planned it that way, but it is interesting how it has all worked out.

Something I have decided to do, and I think the five year anniversary is a good time to do it, is I am going to consolidate my blog and my website into one online destination.  The url will be www.ILiveonaFarm.com, which of course already exists.  But, sometime in August I will release the brand new look, feel, and functionality of ILiveonaFarm.com with the blog incorporated into it.

This blog, the first five years, will remain right where it is.  I had thought of transferring it all off of WordPress and over to ILiveonaFarm.com, but I think that would be a mistake.  All of this content, located here on WordPress for people to find, is important.  It is the history of what  has happened in our lives and  with our evolving publishing business.  I don’t want to disturb it or move it and possibly lose contact with some people who might come back and wonder where it all went.

Once the new website is launched, you will go there to follow new blog posts but you can always refer back to this one for earlier content, knitting patterns, recipes, etc.

The new website is going to solve a problem for me and that is the fact that as things have evolved and meandered along here, I have ended up with a cumbersome assortment of websites, Etsy stores, and blogs to manage featuring my several different ventures — the blog, my fine art paintings and photography, my knitting patterns, my two Etsy stores (one for knitting patterns, the other for art).  And then there is Facebook and Twitter, which any serious online business person seems to need to involve themselves with these days.  It is quite a bit to manage, all very time consuming–especially considering that I am on a satellite connection which is not as fast as high speed Internet, no matter what the commercials say.

The new website will bring all of these elements together under one roof, so to speak.  Plus, it will be easy to tie in my son’s designs and Etsy store as well as photography and publishing from other members of the family.  It will all be cohesive and, I hope, even more inspiring than what we have been done so far.  By bringing everything together the way we plan to, I should be able to devote more time to writing, painting, photography, designing/knitting, and cooking … which will of course make you much happier and keep you much more satisfied and engaged.

That is my hope.  These are my dreams.

There are some very cool things coming up the pike. I hope you will enjoy them all!

Best wishes to you and yours, from me and mine.

~firefly

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