A couple of years ago, my sister, Molly, gave me a most useful gift. She said that it was by far her favorite sewing tool. It was a "Purple Thang". Yes, it has a very funny name; but I have also found it to be the first sewing tool I reach for when I am working on a project. It makes turning projects extremely easy, pushing out little corners without tearing a hole in the fabric, very handy for taking a quick 1/4" measurement, using it to push stuffing into small spaces, and even finger pressing to name just a few. If you haven't tried one of these, I highly recommend it. And of course it would make the perfect stocking stuffer for a seamstress or crafter when Christmas time rolls around.
With Christmas fast approaching, it is time once again for me to turn my attention to gifts for family and friends. One of my favorite gifts to give, are gift baskets. They are so much fun to put together. I like to fill each one with special items that I know will bring a smile to the recipient's face.
I try to pick up various sized baskets throughout the year when the stores are having sales. The best times that I have seen are after Christmas, and in the spring when Easter is near. You can also pick up the cellophane to wrap them with during these sales as well as the shredded paper for the basket filling. But just in case you haven't stocked up earlier in the year, all of these supplies are readily available any time of year.
Baskets aren't the only vessel that can be used for gift giving. You can be very creative with how you present your gifts. A large salad or mixing bowl, a wooden crate, tote bags, pretty pots, or even cookie jars. The ideas really are endless. A great resource for some fun ideas is the book, Southern Living at Home Beautiful Containers. My sister-in-law, Jill, gave me this book as a gift this past year. It is filled with some very creative and beautiful ideas. The book itself makes a great gift, and look how cute she presented it to me:
I have really been enjoying my abundance of apples these past couple of weeks. It is so much fun to either throw a bunch of apples into my largest pot to make applesauce, whip up a pie, experiment with apple crisps, and make apple cakes. And I can do all of this at a whim. I simply look around my kitchen at the numerous boxes of apples, randomly choose which variety will be my lucky subject for the day, and I am off. One of my experiments this past week was an apple cake. I found the recipe on the King Arthur Flour blog; and since I have also been recently fascinated with baking in my cast iron skillet, I knew I just had to try it. It turned out great! The only modification that I made was instead of using the boiled cider that the recipe calls for, I substituted maple syrup. This substitution was made mainly because here in northern Idaho, I don't even think anyone sells boiled cider.
(Please note that this picture is from the King Arthur blog. The lighting in my kitchen isn't always the best for taking pictures; and their picture really does this cake justice - of which it highly deserves).
I just happened upon a new blog this evening. It is called "Among the Gum Trees". At the present time they are offering a free stitchery pattern each week until Christmas. Nine very talented ladies are each contributing a design. From the looks of the first three weeks, I'm quite certain that I'm going to join in the fun, and hopefully stitch one or two of these.
Last night my boys were off doing "guy" things; and so I decided that all of us girls left at home should do something fun ourselves. I made a run into town for a fun meal that I didn't have to make (Sonics); but then I was left with the decision of which movie to watch. We have a few that we have been wanting to see, but just haven't had the time. After pondering the situation for a few minutes, I chose a Jane Austen movie. In my mind one can never go wrong with Jane Austen. She is one of my all-time favorite authors, but more on that in another post. I opted for Masterpiece Theatre: Northanger Abbey. I haven't seen this movie before, and it has been a while since I read the book. The movie was good, and I would watch it again; however, I do plan on pulling my copy of the book off of the shelf to read once again, because I know that an 86 minute movie can in no way do justice to the actual work itself.
When I was quite young, my dad owned some sheep on a small ranch about an hour or so from our home. He used to take me there now and then. Although I don't really have too many memories of the actual ranch, I do have a few memories of being in the car on our way there.
My dad always loved having animals. He especially enjoyed having sheep. One day after he had been away checking on the sheep, he brought a little lamb home. Apparently the ewe didn't want her after she was born. So my dad brought her home to me. We lived in town, and didn't really have a large lot for animals; but that didn't matter to him. He put up a little fence in the back yard for her, and I named her "Cocoa".
A while later we ended up moving to a small farm in a nearby town. We had quite a few sheep at this farm, and thought Cocoa could now have friends. As she grew, she was still my pet, and I can even remember going out to the pen and wrapping my arms around her wooly neck giving her hugs.
As far as I know, we don't have any pictures of me and Cocoa together. I wish we did, because I would take that picture and frame it. Actually an even more priceless picture would be one of my dad, me, and Cocoa all together.
When I have guests for dinner, it is not uncommon for me to ponder what we will have for dessert before thinking of what the main course will be. If I don't think I will have enough time for a fancy dessert, I will go with one of my quick desserts. One of my favorites is brownies with ice cream. I can make the brownies in the morning, and that leaves me the rest of the day to prepare the main part of the meal. The presentation of the dessert is a simple one. I simply put a brownie on each plate, accompanied with a scoop of ice cream drizzled with a bit of chocolate syrup. It's tough to go wrong with brownies and ice cream.
Our summer was beautiful this year; and our September was amazing. Apparently it was the nicest summer on record for our area. Nearly ever day was sunny and beautiful. But alas, October has arrived, and along with it, colder weather. I have basically been in denial that summer is over, just wanting it to last a bit longer. This morning though when I stepped out of my house to go for my morning walk, a brisk 19 deg. hit me in the face. Brrrr! So I guess I am ready to face reality that fall is actually here. But that's okay. I think I will be able to embrace it with all of it's own special beauty.
The other morning once of my daughters was looking at the October issue of the magazine, "Traditional Home". We were sitting around the table eating breakfast when she casually mentioned, "Golden Pear Cake". Since my box of pears is ripening up very nicely, it caught my attention. After hearing her description, I told her to please mark where the recipe was; and in my mind I knew I should make it that afternoon.
This cake is an upside down cake made in a cast iron skillet. It turned out perfectly, and was delicious. The recipe recommends serving it with 1 cup of whipping cream mixed with a tablespoon of pear brandy and 2 tsp. sugar. I didn't have any pear brandy on hand, so we opted to serve it with regular whipped cream or ice cream. We decided that the cake part seemed to be more like a shortcake than a traditional cake. Everyone gave it a thumbs up, and consequently, this recipe will now be forever in my recipe box.
Golden Pear Cake
3/4 cup butter, softened (divided) 1/2 cup packed brown sugar 4 medium or 3 large pears (1 1/2 pounds), cored, peeled, and sliced 1/2-inch thick 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 2/3 cup granulated sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 eggs 2/3 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Place 1/4 cup butter in 9 or 10-inch cast-iron or other oven-proof skillet. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar. Cook and stir until sugar is melted and bubbly; remove from heat. Set aside; cool. (or, make brown sugar-butter mixture in saucepan; pour into 9-inch round cake pan, spreading evenly, and allow to cool.) Arrange pear slices in skillet or pan.
In small bowl combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In large bowl beat remaining 1/2 cup butter with mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Beat in granulated sugar until combined. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Alternately add flour mixture and milk to butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. (Batter may appear curdles.) Spread batter evenly over pears.
Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until pick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack 5 minutes. Loosen cake from pan; invert onto plate. Serves 8 to 10.
I have been blessed with an abundance of fruits and vegetables this year. As I write this, I literally have bowls and bowls and bowls of plums awaiting their fate (jam for most of them), a box of pears almost ripe enough to be working with, zucchini sitting ever so patiently waiting to be turned into bread, and lots of tomatoes for salsa. Even though it can seem overwhelming at times, I just love having all of this abundance around. It is the whole point of planting the garden in the spring, right? And as a sweet reminder of this blessed time, I have a miniature clay figure of a little lady standing amongst her harvest.
She is so sweet, and filled with detail. To give you something to compare her size with, here she is with a cherry tomato behind her:
I picked her up at a local craft/art show last summer; and never tire at looking at all of the amazing detail that she is comprised of. The artist is Elayne Watrus; and here is her website showing all of her creations "The Little Street Collection". Elayne didn't make it back to our yearly art show this year -- I looked for her specifically hoping to find a little friend for my sweet little gardening lady.
I've mentioned before the fascination I have with saving seeds. It is a wonderment that I know I will never tire of. To finish up my little mini-series about zinnias, I thought I would show any of you that might be interested, how to save seeds from your own zinnias. The process is very simple, and takes very little of your time. To begin with, you want to clip a zinnia blossom that is past its prime, such as this one:
At this point, I usually just let the old blossom sit for a day to let it dry out completely. My typical routine is to place the old blossom in a brown paper bag that I have labeled with the type and color of flower, along with the year.
Pull out the old petals, and you will see small arrowhead shaped seeds at the base of each petal. A number of the seeds will already be detached. You can gently shake them up in a bag to help loosen the petals from the seeds.
Discard the remaining flower parts; and place your newly collected seeds into an envelope, small plastic bag, or a container of your choice. I store mine in a cool, dark garage until next spring when it is time for planting.
If any of you decide to really embark on this adventure, I would love to see your results next spring.