Friday, February 26, 2010

Spiced Butternut Cranberry Squares?

I was reading Inside Storey blog today and saw a post by Amy Cotler for Spiced Butternut Cranberry Squares made with local ingredients. They sounded delicious so I had to try.

I knew I didn't have a butternut squash but figured I'd use pumpkin from the freezer - and hey, it was local. So were my eggs.

Wouldn't you know I was just about out of white sugar! Well I often use less than called for so instead of 2 C of white, I used ½C white and ½C brown sugar.

End result is maybe not as sweet but...loaded with tart cranberries, sweet apple and loads of spicy flavour.  The kids loved it and the recipe is a keeper!

If you're going to try, you may want to use a 9x9 pan. Mine was so light it rose well above the edge of the 8x8 pan.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Inspiration on a wet winter day

Today it's snowing...or is it raining now?
I shovelled.

It snowed on Tuesday.
I shovelled.

It snowed on Wednesday.
I shovelled.

This winter doesn't want to go.

Looked for inspiration on the web and found lots to take my mind off winter. I wanted to share Marie Claire Idées with you. I love this magazine for craft ideas. But the blog didn't have exactly what I wanted to show you... 

A search on Marie Claire Idées brought to a blog on French style with beautiful pictures. From there I found an awesome artist who works in tin. Her work was features on a UK design blog. So follow my trail, way more fun than wet winter weather.

Monday, February 22, 2010

No-fail Chocolate Cake

Best friends & family, a birthday and chocolate cake - what could be better? Our daughter made the cake! She is quite the baker and we had fun together in the kitchen.

This is my go-to recipe when I need a cake and don't have time to fuss. There is no separate beating and folding of egg whites here. And I always have the ingredients in the pantry. If I'm missing butter, I can use margarine. Low on milk? I've used yogurt or sour cream. It always turns out.

Light, moist and chocolaty. And it works with whatever icing you like: chocolate, orange, German chocolate cake topping, or one of my favourites, cherries and whipped cream.

The recipe has been my family's birthday cake for close to 50 years. Here it is, my birthday present to you.

Birthday Chocolate Cake     
350degrees, 30 minutes
makes 2 9" layers or 2 8" layers and 12 cupcakes

1 Cupbutter or margarine
2 Cupssugar
10 Tbspcocoa
2 tspvanilla
2 Cupsmilk
3 Cupsflour
2 tspbaking soda

Cream butter and sugar until light.
Beat in eggs.
Add cocoa.
Stir vanilla into milk.
Mix flour and baking soda together.
Alternate adding milk mixture and flour to butter/sugar/eggs/cocoa mixture.
Beat until smooth.
Pour into greased and/or lined pans.
Bake until cake tester comes out clean ~30mins.

Enjoy the praise!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Why wear an apron?

Seeing a woman wear an apron lets you know she loves to create…You just naturally think, “What is she making?”

The quote is from the article “What is she making” by Jeannie Pierce in the Artists in Aprons issue of MaryJanes Farm. If you're at all interested in stiching, farm life or strong women, you should check it out.

Growing up, there were always a few aprons hanging up by the fridge in my house. My mom wore one daily as she went about her work.

Now I wear one in the kitchen when I’m making messes – bread, dinner or cookies. And I want one for holding clothes pins when I hang my laundry out in the warm weather.

An apron says I’m doing something important. And it ties me to past generations of women in my family. Kinda’ grounding.

Here’s what I’m working with to make a new one:

Need some inspiration? Check out some great aprons for sale on Etsy. The gallery is constantly changing. Another site for vintage-style aprons is Cupcake Provocateur.

So go ahead. Tie one on!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Top 5 lessons from Blogging for Bliss

After months of dithering over having a blog, I finally jumped into the blogosphere with the encouragement and knowledge I got from Blogging for Bliss by Tara Frey. Here’s what I learned.

1. Just start blogging – now!
By very definition blogs are dynamic. You can always change layouts, features, and design as you refine your focus and find your voice.

2. Photographs and other visual elements are important. Tara teaches you how to:
  • Take better pictures
  • Add tweak images with software
  • Choose fonts
  • Create your own banner or find sources for banners
  • Add sidebar fancies
3. Tara covers all the basics for getting started.
In her book, Tara provides:
  • Advice on choosing a platform along with set-up instructions for leading blog platforms including Blogger and Typepad
  • Suggestions for building traffic for your blog
  • An overview of basic blog elements, technical terminology and blog etiquette
4. Blogging for Bliss introduces you to some great craft blogs. Some of my favourites include:

5. Tara’s book gave me tons of inspiration and encouragement.
Blogging for Bliss is full of beautiful images that made me want to create something equally inspiring. I have high hopes for improvement – it’s a work in progress :)! And at the end of the day, I felt like I had someone in my corner, someone who gave me the confidence to get out into the blog world and have my say.

Thank you Tara!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

After the weekend...

We've had a great long weekend. PD day, Valentine's and Family Day have all been celebrated with pancakes, heart-shaped cookies and trips to Winterlude.

I'd give you the recipe for the cookies - they're a cream cheese dough with chocolate walnut filling - but it's from my best friend's mother-in-law and she (pick either woman) would kill me.

What I will do is recommend you take the kids to Jacques Cartier park for sliding and the snow sculptures. Lots of fun!

Now it's back to work. My man is at the office, kids are in school and I've got a house to clean.

Time to blast Funhouse by Pink and put on my you even own an apron?

Friday, February 12, 2010


No, not chocolate, books. I can curl up in the chair by the fireplace and read from beginning to...well maybe not end but pretty darn close.

I had a wonderful visit with my parents the other day and not just because I enjoy their company. I mentioned that the kids would have a book sale at their school and out came a couple shopping bags of books that my parents didn't want anymore. So of course, I brought them home and sorted through them. Like Christmas all over again.

Some were a quick pass - old cook books without much charm or interesting recipes. Others though I can't quite pass on yet. Like The Great Garlic Book or Lucy's Kitchen (that one's just a loan anyway). One of the best things about borrowing books from my family is the range in selection.

I highly recommend Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. An interesting memoir chronicling Ms. Nafisi's experience teaching English Literature in Tehran - both for the political and social insight as well as how she relates books and their characters to events in Tehran during the rule of Ayatollah Khomeini. Her book is mine and I'm keeping it!

On a lighter note, I've just started a thriller, The Walking Dead by Gerald Seymour.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Best cookies yet

Chocolate chip cookies - yummy - and even better when someone else does the work! My 9-year-old  made these treats all by herself. She measured, she mixed, she shaped and she baked. She is wonderful.

Of course she's been working with me in the kitchen since her toddler days but this is the first batch she has done from beginning to end all on her own. (Apologies to her batch of peanut butter last Friday but she got bored before she finished baking all the dough.)

Chocolate Chip Cookies
350 degrees, 8-10 minutes until lightly browned
1 C      butter
11/4 C   light brown sugar
1Tbsp  vanilla
2          eggs
21/4C   flour
1tsp      baking soda
1/2tsp   salt
11/4C   chocolate chips

Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Mix the flour, baking soda and salt together. Add dry to wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. Mix in chocolate chips until evenly distributed. Drop by spoonfuls (whatever size you like but the bigger they are the longer they will take) onto cookie sheet lined with parchment. Bake until light brown on bottom and just golden on top.

We've used this recipe for years and I believe it was modified from the Crisco "Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie" recipe. They are soft, chewy and, yes, they are yummy!

Monday, February 8, 2010

How my garden grows

I try to enjoy winter - really - and sometimes I do. Crisp, sunny days covered in bright white snow are wonderful. But...I'm really looking forward to spring, to gardening and an end to kids with colds.

My Lee Valley Gardening catalog arrived the other day. Between it and my seed catalogs, it's easy to lose myself in planning my garden. I'd love to run snap beans up this trellis from Lee Valley. Isn't it gorgeous? They also have some lovely May poles.
My plant list so far includes:
  • tomatoes: Brandywine, cherry and beefsteak
  • green, purple and dragon's breath pole beans
  • lima beans (for my man and I have to admit fresh is pretty good- I don't like the mealy frozen ones
  • aspargus
  • leeks from my neighbour
  • romaine and leaf lettuce
It would be a long list but you get the idea...

Also, I did finish the pincushion - yay me - although it's probably smaller than it should be. I'm using it to organize my embroidery needles that are in use.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Colour my day

When I can't quite get myself working it's time to play with colour.  Beads, crayons, pencils, embroidery floss - all the raw materials with no rules about how to use them. It never fails to get me inspired. Doesn't mean I'm actually going to make something...

Today, I'm working small. My man got me a quilting hoop for Christmas after I had remarked on a neighbour's. So well designed and able to park out of the way when not in use. Made me think I could almost quilt. Well. I'm not quite ready for a full blown quilt but I do love hand stiching so I'm making a pincushion and practicing some piecework at the same time.
Blue is one of my favourite colours, if I haaaad to pick.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bullion knots

The pink rose is done using bullion knots. It's like a more involved French knot and made by doing a backstitch and wrapping the embroidery floss aroun the needle several times before completing the stich. There are excellent directions and visuals here: handembroiderynetwork blog.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ta da!

Handstiching must qualify as a moving meditation. The needle goes in and comes out in a slow, methodical rhythm. You pause to admire your work and imagine the finished piece. You continue - in and out just like breathing - and you swear "cursed bullion knots!" But they look so good...At least once the rose was finished my peace returned. I'm really happy with the results and looking forward to doing more.

Here's another project I need to finish.

I've done the first earring to tweak the technique and test it out. French knots are one of my favourite stitches - nowhere near the effort of a bullion but still give an interesting texture - is anyone really going to own up to enjoying stiching bullions?