Friday Links – Catching Up

An eternity is the time from when an airplane has landed to when you are allowed to disembark. It is also the definition of March. We aren’t giving up hope, we know Spring will come as it always has. We have garden beds turned over, thanks to a gardening friend who visited last week. Seeds are waiting. I’m pinning Spring projects and Summer plans. The forsythia buds are so ready to burst that the branches I brought in flowered in one day.

Any day now… we are ready!

In the meantime, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- We recently hit the final “publish” on this new website for artist and teacher Sarah Amos. She is a printmaker and multimedia artist and offers workshops in her incredible Vermont studio.

sarahamosstudio

- Mixing It Up Gluten Free Baking is another site I built. It has been up and running for a while now and it is so great to see them doing really well! Turns out Linda is the only gluten free baker in our area who has an online shop and she is really noticing a benefit from it.

- But enough about me. How about an article recalling the Dalai Lama learning about skiing in New Mexico? (found via)

- My brother-in-law’s Vegetables on Black photos are now for sale online at Living Traditional Arts Shop. Class up your kitchen!

- George R.R. Martin talks about the Iron Throne, Tolkien, human complexities, plot twists, his dislike for deadlines, and more in this Vanity Fair interview. “There’s always this tension between fiction and life. Fiction has more structure than life does. But we have to hide the structure. We have to hide the writer, I think, and make a story seem like it was true. Too many stories are too structured and too familiar. The way we read, the way we watch television, the way we go to movies, all give us certain expectations of how a story is going to go.” — he seems neat.

- I used to babysit this girl and now she is all grown up and making these fantastic pieces of pottery. Those two things are not at all related – she comes from an incredibly talented family – but I’m proud to know her!

 

Happy Weekend!

Friday Links – Books and Such

– Someday, when we live in a place where people walk around the neighborhood, I’d like to build a Little Free Library. Besides being such a great community contribution, the little structures themselves are amazingly creative and would be such fun to design. Would your neighborhood use a free book exchange?

– Cam found a copy of The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide* at Daedalus Bookshop downtown and, despite having read them all before, I am enjoying the book immensely. Apparently, the Hitchhiker stories went through many changes between radio broadcasts, books in the USA, books in the UK, recordings, etc and Adams claims in the introduction to this version that this is the definitive edition (at least until something new comes along…).

– We’ve been reading the Spot books at bedtime, which is fun because I remember having them read to me as a child. The flaps are really exciting, however, which is also fun but doesn’t really bring about a calming bedtime atmosphere.

– Other favorite storybooks of our resident 20-month old child are currently the Llama Llama’s Little Library set, which she was given for Christmas; Do You Know New? which is really intended for infants but has a baby on the cover and mentions “blue” – two things she really likes right now; Ten Little Rabbits, which was one of the very first purchases we made for baby before she was born (possibly the first, actually. Priorities!) and is my personal favorite; and some Raggedy Ann books Cam found to start what will have to be an ongoing collection.

Best buds

Angry Chicken’s post about Building a Family Library has so many great ideas, not the least of which is the necessary designing of special bookplates!

– I’ve started volunteering with Literacy for All here in Charlottesville, doing a weekly ESL tutoring session with a lovely woman from El  Salvador. I am learning a great deal about  1. How generally ridiculous the English language is; 2. How to explain idioms (“pain in the neck”, “his heart is in the right place”); 3. Keeping my mouth shut so my student can figure words out on her own; 4. Making conversations genuine while also correcting pronunciation and grammar; 5. Keeping a conversation going in the first place – I am such an introvert, this is really a challenge! 6. Organizing and planning lessons… the list goes on and on. I hope my student is learning something too!

And now I am off for a short adventure with the intergalactic hitchhikers. And this friday list is getting in just under the midnight wire. Happy weekend!

* Amazon links include my affiliate account information.

Our Holiday Card

I really love the holiday card we sent out this year. Silhouettes are so fun – I think it is amazing how you can totally recognize a person just from their silhouette. So many friends and relatives who received these said they did a double take realizing the people on the card are really us!

silhouette holiday card

I took photos of each of us in profile, then traced them in adobe illustrator. Getting the bodies right was the hardest part; sometimes parts look very strange when you can’t see where they are coming from or how they attach! I think my favorite part is baby’s little ponytail and her bangs hanging down over her eyes like they always do because she won’t keep barrettes in for very long.

I am looking forward to more silhouettes and to researching a bit into their history. At Monticello, in Jefferson’s library, there are several silhouettes that our guide told us were made of people Jefferson met or were brought back to him from the expeditions he was involved with. Silhouettes were kind of like snapshots, which I think is just enormously neat.

 

Little Felt Flower Doll

Our forecast calls for 3-6 inches of snow tomorrow, but it’s hard not to feel a little springish when the sun is shining and small green shoots are beginning to peer out of the ground. In that spirit, I made this little felt flower doll to start our Spring collection.

blue felt flower lady doll

She is about 6 inches tall, made of wool felt with a knit cotton head and hands and a bit of needlfelted wool for her hair. A pipe cleaner runs through her arms so they are positionable and some acrylic batting in her dress allows her to stand. From the front she has a wild petal headdress, from the back she becomes a cheery blue daisy.

blue felt doll   small felt flower lady

I sometimes forget that I like felt. In my head, it is stiff and kind of dull. But in reality it is so soft and versatile and you don’t have to worry about hems or fraying or hiding seams. Little projects like this come together quickly and are so satisfying, and I can stitch in the playroom (though my small assistant was no help at all, mostly because she was enthusiastically trying to kiss and hug the new “little doll”).

blue felt flower doll

Friday Links

My week went off the tracks a bit yesterday and now I’m up way too late again, not finishing the work I should have completed. Another week nearly done. Breakfasts to plan for Inn guests this weekend and post-holiday cleaning to complete (what, it’s the middle of January already? How did that happen?!).

Here are a few things I’ve enjoyed this week, in case you need a weekend project, a new fact, or just a little distraction:

Moon Photos – we had a bright clear night with a nearly full moon this evening, so I got a few pictures. You really do need a decent zoom in order to really get a good shot, but other than that it’s amazingly simple to get an impressive image.

Rijksstudio – the Rijks Museum has made their collection available to the public via hi-resolution images that anyone can download and use. You can curate your own sets – using full images or cropped details of the art – and explore other user’s sets and projects.

Rembrandt Lion

We live very near Jefferson’s Monticello, and often take guests there. It is a very beautiful and interesting place, but my favorite part lately has been the GreenHouse in the Southeast Piazza and the potted trees. I’d like to grow a citrus tree in a pot, maybe an olive as well.

Did you know the Louvre is this old? I did not.

I’ve never had much luck with homemade tortillas, but these look really tasty. Tortilla making seems like a good solid skill to master.

 

Happy Friday!

Baked Pears with Cranberry Sauce

breakfast-at-the-inn

This baked pear recipe from Share My Kitchen was my inspiration one chilly morning a few days before Christmas. I wanted something festive, but still meeting my criteria of coming together fairly quickly. As it turns out, I prefer to sleep a few extra minutes rather than labor over elaborate breakfast offerings. But I also have high standards and want to give our guests something special so they really feel they’ve been pampered.

The original recipe has the pears filled with a mixture of walnuts and blue cheese – delicious I am certain but maybe not quite right for breakfast. I decided to add a little color and holiday flair with a basic cranberry sauce (cranberries boiled in sugar water until soft, with a splash of citrus, a sprinkling of nutmeg, and a pinch of salt). I filled out the plate with a couple slices of nice thick bacon (we had some very enthusiastic bacon lovers that morning!) and fresh orange slices.

Baked pears with cranberries and bacon

The photos from the original recipe are so beautiful, but when I tried to recreate the flipped over presentation it just didn’t work. I did brush the puff pastry with a mixture of egg and cinnamon, however, so the crust was quite lovely (though in my photo it somewhat resembles a baked potato).

They were beyond delicious. The pears were sweet and soft, the puff pastry a cinnamon-y crunch on the outside. The cranberries brought in a tangy edge that just enhanced the other flavors so nicely. And the bacon was, well, bacon. Do I need to say more?


On Saturday and Sunday mornings I sneak out of the house before everyone else awakes and drive into town to cook breakfast for the guests at The Inn at 400 West High. This gorgeous B & B right in the heart of beautiful Charlottesville is owned by my mother-in-law and we get some of the nicest guests! I share some of my breakfast compositions here in my ongoing Breakfast at the Inn series.

 

Paint the Town

It started innocently enough. A few small fingerprints, a trail of tiny dots.

finger painting beginning

Baby’s first Paint Experience. I have been looking forward to this day for a long time. I avoided the yogurt-as-paint adaptation because I’d rather not blur the lines between art and food unnecessarily. This is tempera. Non-toxic. Definitely not tasty (though to be honest I haven’t tried eating it, so…).

She wasn’t entirely sure at first. I showed her how a fingertip in the paint could make a line of fun dots across the page. Intriguing…

holiday finger painting

You know where this is going. I demonstrated a full handprint and then all bets were off. “More paint!” is what that pointing finger is saying quite clearly, though the words are still to come.

finger painting toddler

 

Putting color on the paper was fun. Squishing color between fingers and rubbing it into hair and into the crevices of the old highchair was more fun.
finger painting with a toddler

My photo documenting ends at this point. I can assure you, however, that this was only the beginning. The final masterpiece involved a lot more paint and a shirt that was decidedly no longer white.

finger painting fun

We have the final paintings hanging in the windows, of course. Where they can be admired by all. And she has requested painting again, with even better results. So, success. Absolutely.

On the second attempt, the actual painting even lasted longer than it took to set up!

 

Wedding Cake

I made a cake yesterday for my father-in-law and his bride. They had a casual little ceremony at home with a few family members, followed by tea and sweets.

chocolate and buttercream wedding cake

The cake was chocolate with buttercream frosting. I’m not much of a cake decorator and we were short on time so the frosting was completed in under 10 minutes, but I think it turned out rather sweet. And it was totally delicious.

wedding tea

The cake recipe was my favorite, the Busy Day Cake from Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys by Lucinda Scala Quinn. The frosting was super simple: butter, whipped to glistening peaks in the stand mixer; a splash of vanilla; powdered sugar, added until the consistency seemed right/we were really running late and the cake just needed to be frosted!

New Boots

puddle exploration

While the holiday-decorated house is warm and cozy on these grey December days, there are afternoons when an active toddler must venture forth. Especially when there are new rain boots freshly purchased from the Tractor Supply.

new boots

The first steps were a challenge, small feet and baby ankles adjusting to the new technique. The boots are a bit large, being the smallest size available and in hopes they will still fit in the sprint.

new boots

But perseverance paid off and the joys of wet leaves underfoot prevailed and in no time she was off – striding with purpose and only the occasional lost boot. Stomping in puddles and swishing through fallen leaves is a joy unmatched for a tiny person. And who doesn’t love a new pair of boots?

Oatmeal Buttermilk Pumpkin Muffins

I’ve been on something of a pumpkin muffin kick lately. I blame it on the weather: that kind of unbelievably beautiful, crisp, brightness of early Autumn, when the breezes carry a cooler edge and everyone starts talking about Halloween and Thanksgiving plans and you know this is only a precursor to the dark cold winter but who cares?! Pumpkin things are pretty much the standard obsession in this season, I realize, and there is hardly a shortage of suggestions for how to partake. I just happen to have made a habit of the muffin variety these past couple weeks.

Pumpkin muffin and tea

My go-to recipe has been this one from Very Best Baking, mostly because it was the first I clicked on after doing a search for “pumpkin muffin” in a last minute rush getting ready for breakfast at the Inn. And they were delicious so I made another batch for home. And then I made more at the Inn. And then we needed more at home… They are great in the morning for breakfast, and really hit the spot for an afternoon snack with a cup of tea (for best results, share with a small someone with perfectly dimpled fingers).

Pumpkin muffin   Cup of tea

And then today, there was one muffin left on the counter and half a can of pumpkin puree in the fridge: we clearly needed to restock. So I grabbed the eggs and got whisking. At which point I remembered we’d used the last of the all purpose flour for last night’s pancake supper.

Eggs   Eggs and pumpkin Eggs and pumpkin whisk

When faced with this situation, there are three choices. The first: Put the eggs and pumpkin in the fridge and postpone muffin making until after the next scheduled shopping trip. Second: Dash out to the nearest shop for flour immediately. Third: improvise.

It is no secret that recipe following is hardly my strongest point. Case in point: I never used the full amount of sugar called for in the original recipe above. Also, having no official pumpkin pie spice mix, I just shake in my own blend (see recipe below) every time. That said, I’ve never been entirely successful with serious substitutions, of which I consider flour to be paramount. But of course that doesn’t stop me from trying, so I took a look in the pantry and did a bit of googling and decided to try oats.

spices   spices

I dumped the oats in the food processor and ground them as fine as they seemed to want to go. Not quite regular flour consistency, but close. We only had quick oats, maybe regular would behave differently. The recipe calls for 3 cups flour, and my oats only made up 2 so I filled in the difference with whole wheat. To balance out the heavier flours, I used 1/2 cup buttermilk in place of the water/orange juice. And I added baking powder in addition to the baking soda.

Oat flour and whole wheat flour   092613_7014   Oatmeal Buttermilk Pumpkin muffins

(You can see that I clearly had no business baking today at all: I didn’t even have muffin liners. The parchment paper technique works just fine though, and is very pretty though a little finicky to fill.)

I had low expectations of these muffins. Not that they would be terrible, more that they would be mediocre and I would eat a few out of obligation and then the rest would linger on the counter until someone finally threw them out.

But obviously, because otherwise what would be the point of this post, these muffins are great. As in, husband declares them better than the original. As in, half eaten by bedtime. As in, I fully expect a string of abject kitchen failures to follow as I replace staple ingredients with reckless abandon.

Oatmeal buttermilk pumpkin muffins Oatmeal buttermilk pumpkin muffin  Oatmeal buttermilk pumpkin

 

Oatmeal Buttermilk Pumpkin Muffins
Adapted from Libby’s Pumpkin Muffins on Very Best Baking

Ingredients

1 can pumpkin puree (15oz)
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbsp ginger
2 Tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
1.5 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
2 cups oat flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup buttermilk

Whisk eggs into pumpkin puree until well beaten. Add oil. Whisk in spices, salt, and sugar. Pour flour on top of the mixture. Measure baking powder and baking soda and mix them gently into the flour before whisking everything together. Add buttermilk and whisk until just incorporated, no need to overstir.

Pour into muffin liners or well greased muffin tin.

Turn oven to 350° F and place muffins in cold oven.* Bake 25 minutes or until the tops spring back when lightly pressed.

 

*I baked my muffins in two batches, so the oven was preheated for the second batch. When the edges of the second batch were ready to come out, some of the centers still seemed under done so I turned the oven off and left the tray in for another 5-7 minutes. That did the trick and they came out great.

Oatmeal buttermilk pumpkin