Tuesday, December 22, 2009

From the Kitchen: Christmas Cookies 2009

So I've been baking, decorating and baking some more. I had a few key tactical errors regarding "Cookie Day" this year. I figured that having no baby this year would entitle me to take on more "fancy" cookies and cut out the classic bar variety. I also thought, silly me, that if I waited until closer to Christmas to do the baking, I'd end up with more cookies to take to parties and give to the neighbors and less to have to exercise off. This may be true, but only a little.

But those two issues, some piping-bag-induced carpal tunnel, and a deep scrubbing of my kitchen later, I do have some lovely and delicious cookies to show for my efforts.

This year I baked gingerbread, sugar cookies, cranberry ribbon cookies (though I changed their appearance to simplify), mint chocolate chip drops and chocolate crinkles. My goals were to have a variety of tastes and nice looking cookies. Next year I will include, as a primary aim, the ability to finish "Cookie Day" in under 48 hours, since this year we topped off at 4 days. I also used meringue powder in my icing for the first time... up to this point I've always sworn by egg whites. I like both for different things and I'm glad I made the attempt.

So here are some pictures for posterity... this way my efforts go on the record. Enjoy!


"Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow"... will find these hard to resist. Impossible, actually, since my 2 year old has helped himself to anything within reach.

I don't forsee any more blogging in the remainder of my 2009, so I want to wish you a wonderful Christmas and the very happiest of New Years! Now go make merry!

Monday, December 14, 2009

My Life in a Nutshell: Reminiscing

I am getting some photo-related Christmas gifts together right now. For the past several days, I have been trolling through our family pictures from the last year. My inevitable conclusion on this cold gray wet day is that I - general welcomer of snow and cold weather - miss the summer. We live in Michigan and I enjoy having ALL the seasons, but today my fingers are cold as I type and I'm not interested in walking to the bus stop and donning all the weather-appropriate clothing that will require. Nope. Not today.


Oh for a picnic birthday party! Summer, you're only 6 months away...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

From the Kitchen: Paperhill's Beautiful Bread

I have been obsessed with this delicious and hearty bread recipe ever since it was shared with me by Susan of Paperhill. It has a moist crumb and chewy crust that make it the perfect accompaniment to a thick stew. I made a double batch yesterday and just had to pass it on. It's for the good of the world. I don't know where Susan found this delightful recipe, but I'm going to call it:

Paperhill's Artisan Bread

3 cups of flour
1/4 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups of water

Mix into shaggy dough, cover, and let it sit for 12-18 hours. Fold dough twice to deflate on well floured surface then let it rest 15 minutes. Form dough into saggy ball and let sit on floured surface for 1 -2 hours.


Really saggy... this floury mass was about 2" tall, at most.

Meanwhile heat oven and large oven-safe cast-iron/enameled/glass pot and lid to 450 degrees for at least 30 minutes. Drop dough into heated pot, cover, bake 30 minutes, remove lid; bake uncovered for 10-20 minutes longer to a golden color.


Do not cut until completely cool. Bread should be used within 24 hours (ours never survives that long!), store in plastic once cut or paper bag uncut.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Feature Friday: Etsy Black Friday

It's Black Friday 2009 and I'm avoiding the brick and mortar stores, big and small alike. It's just not my year for that sort of thing. I've done a very little bit of Christmas shopping already, but there's a lot going on around the Etsy community this year for the biggest of all shopping days. If you search for "EtsyFreeShipping" or "EtsyHolidaySale", you're sure to turn up a whole sleighful of savings around Etsy. Admittedly, I am not taking part in those sales since I already offer free US shipping and business has been going well without added incentives, but I'll scope the deals for my own Christmas purposes and I hope you find some nice things too.



So here's to Etsy in general, with high hopes for a very nice Cyber Monday for all it's sellers this year!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

From the Kitchen: Thanksgiving, Before the Fact

Every year we have one BIG party (and lots of smaller, informal ones). We call the party the Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving Dinner. We invite loads of people over to watch the Michigan-Ohio State football game and eat a potluck-style Thanksgiving dinner. This always occurs on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and it gives us younger folks a chance to make all our family favorites to share with our friends. We're still in the generation that is never asked to bring food to family gatherings because either we're still in school (not me), unpredicable in our schedules (also not me) or we have so many little kids we couldn't possibly handle it (ME!!!). Except that we can handle it. Shhhh... don't tell! I'll employ that excuse while it lasts...

So, wait a sec... that's today! But by the miracle of blog scheduling, I am writing this on Thursday night and, at the time this is actually published, at 10 AM on Saturday, I will likely be busily preparing a 26 lb turkey and cleaning up before our 60+ guests arrive. But I've already made the gravy and bread dressing. "You can do that?" you ask? Oh yes... you can! I have a cookbook by Cooks Illustrated called The Best Make-Ahead Recipe and it deals with just such events and how to save time and eliminate the stress without sacrificing flavor. I'm a fan! It won't clean your house before company arives, but it might just save you enough time to do it yourself!

On Friday I'll make a couple batches of bread-machine butter rolls and possibly a dessert if I just can't help myself. I'll still have that turkey and a large spiral sliced ham to cook on the big day, but I've successfully farmed out the responsibility for the rest of the dishes and football appetizers to my guests, so it's looking more manageable than any of the previous 6 years we've hosted this event. Wish me luck! Go Blue!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Feature Friday: JessJamesJake

Today is a great day because I get to talk about something I enjoy almost as much as making stuff: buying old stuff. Yes, oh yes... I love sifting through bins of random odds and ends in search of a treasure. Who doesn't? This undeniable urge has been built into my DNA by generations of thrifty, dumpster-diving individuals, forming a family tree foliated by secondhand finds and antique treasures. Not glorious, perhaps, but a meaningful pursuit of well-made goods is a valuable motivation when it comes to feathering a nest or a wardrobe.

My featured shop today is JessJamesJake, a lovely Etsy shop dedicated to vintage garments, shoes, luggage and housewares. It's like a mini department store from decades past just waiting for you to drop by! Pleated skirts, slouch boots and well-loved coffee mugs with phrases like "Try it, you'll like it" populate her pages.


In real life, Jess (married to husband James and owner of dachshund Jake) lives in Albany, NY, and is a performance violinist. And not your average violinist either... she's played with John Tesh on PBS and accompanied Andrea Bocelli and the Bolshoi Ballet, among many others. But then, remember that she runs this thriving Etsy shop where she stocks the goods, takes the pics, packages her items in shredded music sheets, and lists every little thing herself. Not too shabby :)


Her adorable and omnipresent model is Nicole, a leggy girl from down the street whom she pays weekly with "either cash or vintage". I love that concept! Another fun fact about Jess is that her best friend, Anne, also runs a fabulous vintage shop on Etsy called Thrush.


I love browsing to see what she's got... all manner of timeless goodies as well as some that exist purely as a reminder of days gone by, too precious to pass up. Thanks so much to Jess for letting me feature her fun shop and use her photos! You can check her shop out here or read her blog here. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Life in a Nutshell: Grateful

It's one of those days here. You know the kind... when life seems almost too good to be true and you begin to clutch your treasures closer because you think it can't possibly last. The kids seem happier, the day seems sunnier, the daily grind less mundane. But the joy of being in a good place, I think, has been brought about in part by a keen awareness of the other side of the coin. Some friends of a friend are in the hospital right now with their much too premature baby boy, just waiting for the inevitable. So many jobless here. So many unhappy people.

I am grateful for these moments where I can truly see my blessings for what they are. I am so glad I'm the one who gets to change the stinky diapers, to have a dishwasher to unload, to have a good husband's laundry to wash. To have friends who ask for help, even when it's inconvenient. To be able to offer up prayers for others who suffer.

To whom much as has been given, much will be required. For that reality, I am whole-heartedly grateful...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Feature Friday: Bayan Hippo

Mmmm... handbags. And more handbags. Cute handbags... At really affordable prices!


This is the essential territory of the Bursa, Turkey, based Etsy shop Bayan Hippo. Designer Vildan is a mother of twin kindergarteners and still she manages to keep a fabulous shop chock full of handbags in every color and many styles. She also recently opened a second shop called Minik Hippo dedicated to children's apparel and diaper bags.


I love that her bags are versatile, generally have a plethora of pockets and don't skimp on style. As a mom of three young kids myself, I schlep all manner of odds and ends wherever I go. No teensy clutches for me, thank you... when I'm out, I schlep like I'm being paid! Bayan Hippo's bags appeal to me because they are so cute, practical and affordable. And need I mention well-made? It's a rare combination, folks, and I've been contemplating my favorite bag for quite some time. After much deliberation, I have decided on this one:


I love it... I wanted a darker color and it zips to hide whatever I need to toss in there. I really love the little scarf detail and I imagine myself changing it out for something in a holly green for Christmas. And the best part? It's on its way to me right now! I know you're jealous :) But lucky for you, Vildan keeps her shop well stocked so I'm sure there's another with your name on it...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Feature Friday: Fuss Jewelry

Must resist... must resist... oh, who am I kidding? I just LOVE Fuss Jewelry. I'm so smitten that I'm a little intimidated and star-struck even writing this feature.


Somewhere in the Tri State area, surrounded by gardens and one-time farmland, Wendy has been handcrafting her unique style of jewelry. She has long loved designing this gemmy goodness, and I have been a fan since the first time I laid eyes on her highly photogenic work.


I love semi-precious stones, and I love that her impeccable wire-wrapping allows them freedom from the cage of a bezel or other torturous settings. The heady floral feel and trance-inducing colors are enhanced by the classic shapes and massive variety of stones and pearls she employs.

Reading about her background was fun, and I discovered that, like me, she is a biologist by degree. I feel a connection there, and I think our mutual fascination with all things floral must be a common result of that scientific background. She writes in her Blogger profile, "I love creating freeform, organic shapes with underlying structure and rhythm." Uh-huh. She takes beautiful photographs of her jewelry, as you can clearly see, and shares other yet equally fabulous pictures on her blog.



Thanks to Wendy for graciously permitting the use of her photographs and letting me gush about her rare and fantastic talent! I'm inspired!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

TheJuneBride News: Wooly Goodness

I was lucky enough to have been noticed by Rebecca of the Try Handmade website, and today I am thrilled to be featured in their Going Green segment "Where the Wool Things Are". My Mocha Latte Carnation was pictured, and she made note of my Etsy-enabled charitable donations. Which gets me thinking that it's about time for another round of that as the holidays approach and the weather (hopefully) gets cooler...


I just went on a photographing spree yesterday since the weather was sunny and the children accomodating. More brooches, cashmere newborn hats and fleece hats for all sizes of people will be added soon! Here's one of my favorite new items... this mossy green is just as soft as it looks...


Monday, October 26, 2009

TheJuneBride News: 2000 Sales!

Last year, nearing the holidays, my goal was to make 1000 sales by the end of the calendar year, after about 10.5 months on Etsy. I didn't make it, but I came pretty close. I then decided that in 2009 I should finish that thousand and add one more thousand before the end of the year. And here we are, not yet into the midst of the holiday spree. I am very pleased! So I snipped my shop to commemorate the occasion:


I'm also secretly glad to have something to write about! We're still recovering from the 3 week-old illness that has swept through the family and is still holding us hostage in small ways. I did manage to get out into the yard with my camera yesterday, so hopefully I have some Fall-ish pics up soon as well.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Life in a Nutshell: Sick

That about sums it up. This first Fall cold has hit us hard, and I'm still struggling to accomplish those everyday tasks like, maybe, get a shower? I managed some laundry-related work today and successfully saw all three children through the day without a single casualty, so I'm going to call this a win. Maybe next week will be more like the crisp, outdoorsy-type of week I had envisioned before the fever and chills set in. Maybe by this weekend even... a trip the apple orchard? Raking leaves? Taking the kids to the park? But seriously, I'll be happy to simply not feel like I've just been hit by a truck.

So stay healthy out there. It's harvest season, folks... there's no reason not to eat an apple a day :)

Monday, October 5, 2009

My Life in a Nutshell: Musings

I just read this NY Times article after an unsettling evening of hanging out with some very close friends. In case you don't feel like reading it yourself, the basics of the article are that new research indicates that, when faced with anomalies, the brain reacts by searching even harder for meaningful patterns to counteract the absurd. They surmise that situations that call into question one's sanity cause nervousness and a fear or contemplation of one's own death, thus triggering a mental scramble for order.

For some reason this seems right on to me. Tonight a friend told me about two separate situations of people dying who really shouldn't... a 3 day old baby, and the mother of a different 3 day old baby. Awful, heart-wrenching tragedies that immediately made me consider myself in the same situations. What would I do if I lost a newborn? What would my family go through if I died unexpectedly after childbirth?

It seems absurd to even ponder situations so far removed from me, yet I can't help but dwell on those affected by these recent happenings. And it's making me feel like writing when earlier I had no inclination. I want to go solve problems, help people, stop horrible things from happening. I can't do much at this hour, but my mind is not at ease.

I've gone through and still manage some amount of depression in my own admittedly wonderful life, nothing I consider serious, but I know when my moods are affected beyond the ups and downs of a normal day. I have wondered sometimes if the absurd anxieties of those emotional troughs open up the mind to a greater ability in some areas, a renewal of energy seeking an outlet. I have to think of the many socially awkward artists, outcasts in their time, who've created works to ultimately define new eras of art. Like Van Gogh. Was this intensity brought about by fear?

According to the studies in the article, being faced with the bizarre often leads people to fall back on routines to re-establish a sense of order and safety. In that vein, I'm heading to bed and hoping that in the morning I'll be back to thinking about less anomalous scenarios, even if it makes me less artful in the process. Good night!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Feature Friday: Phydeaux Designs

I love wool. I love yarn. My affection for chunky knitted goodness knows no bounds, and I'm fully indulged every time I browse the Etsy shop Phydeaux Designs.


I met Brenda through an exchange of sewing buttons, but she's now an Etsy friend of the dearest kind. In addition to making these delightful yarnworks, she also sells her original patterns to make them yourself. She has recently started a second Etsy shop, Phydelle, with doll-sized versions of her scarves, cowls and neckwarmers. Her blog is always a fun read with the occasional recipe, frequent stunning finds and her own gorgeous photos. And did I mention that she's also really really nice? She is. Check her out!

Monday, September 14, 2009

From the Kitchen: French Bread

The closest I have ever come to anything French was taking Spanish for 4 years in high school. I suppose I've also been to Canada... if that counts. But I have always had a loving relationship with bread. I regularly make my own rolls and homemade loaves for dinner when we have company, but French bread has eluded me. The word baguette itself was something mysterious, something delicious yet otherworldly, something too simple to be cooked in an ordinary oven. Until last week.


I was at a Labor Day party with many friends and our collective offspring where a very good friend of mine (Hannah, the sharer of this delicious pumpkin muffin recipe) brought garden fresh bruschetta and pan-fried homemade french bread toast on which to serve it. It was carbohydrate heaven, if there is such a place. Gastronomical pleasures the world has not yet known. It turns out that she had recently searched out this recipe on Allrecipes.com after a viewing of the movie Julie and Julia. It was easy, bread-machine-able and turned out fantastic results. This is the highest rated French bread recipe on Allrecipes, and it is clearly a winner.

Ingredients

1 cup water
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water

Directions

Place 1 cup water, bread flour, sugar, salt and yeast into bread machine pan in the order recommended by manufacturer. Select Dough cycle, and press Start. When the cycle has completed, place dough in a greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes, or until doubled in bulk. Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched. Punch down dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 16x12 inch rectangle. Cut dough in half, creating two 8x12 inch rectangles. Roll up each half of dough tightly, beginning at 12 inch side, pounding out any air bubbles as you go. Roll gently back and forth to taper end. Place 3 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Make deep diagonal slashes across loaves every 2 inches, or make one lengthwise slash on each loaf. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for 30 to 40 minutes, or until doubled in bulk. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water; brush over tops of loaves. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown.


The global mystique of French bread (and so much more) is captured perfectly in this Flight of the Conchord's video. For your maximum enjoyment, I'd recommend watching the whole first season. Preferably all at once...

Friday, September 11, 2009

From the Kitchen: Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

Today was a day of high hopes, moderate achievements, and fine weather. It would have been the perfect Friday to nap lazily in a hammock while the children happily amused themselves in the yard, or enjoy some manual labor weeding the gardens or edging the walk. Instead, we managed to make it to the school bus stop and back two times without being hit by a car, finish a custom Etsy order, and have dinner planned and in the works before my dear husband got home from work. Tonight I decided to make something creamy and Italian... something that could use up the left over rotisserie chicken from last night's dinner and incorporate some fresh tomatoes. This recipe for fettuccine alfredo, adapted from one on Allrecipes.com, was just the ticket. A creamy, blush sauce. Fragrant garlic... went perfectly with the French bread I baked. We ate outside and enjoyed the evening as you should, if possible, when eating Italian. Delightful and tasty!


Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

Ingredients

2 cooked chicken breasts, chopped (I used the breast meat from a rotisserie chicken)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Italian salad dressing (I used fat free)
1 pound fettuccine pasta (I used spaghetti)
1/2 onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups milk (I used skim)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup loosely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
4 ounces shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese
6 roma tomatoes, diced (mine were volunteers from my "garden")
1/4 cup sour cream

Directions

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.

Meanwhile, heat oil in the skillet. Saute onion and garlic until onions are transparent. Stir in flour, salt and pepper; cook 2 minutes. Slowly add milk and cream, stirring until smooth and creamy. Add Italian dressing. Stir in cheeses; stir until cheese is melted. Stir in chicken, tomatoes and sour cream. Serve over cooked pasta.

Feature Friday: Callooh Callay

This week I wanted to feature the work of St. Louis-based Callooh Callay, a one woman Etsy enterprise that features vintage treasures and button jewelry. I can't resist a well-made button, and exploring her shop is like a walk through the best estate sale you've ever found. Vintage hats, home goods and antique ephemera paired with her own stacked button jewelry makes you want to keep delving into the pages of wonderful items. Lovely photos, honest representation and artful collecting... something I aspire to do!


Callooh Callay can be found on Etsy, Facebook and Flickr!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

From the Kitchen: Lighthouse Cookies

*Spoiler alert: You do not want to make lighthouse cookies.*

Fairly unassuming title, no? One of my wonderful grandmothers had a surprise 75th birthday party over Labor Day weekend. We couldn't be there, but I wanted to do something special anyway. My grand plan was to make some sugar cookies in the shape of lighthouses, which Grandma likes, and decorate them nicely and send them to the party with my parents.

I made the cookie dough, left it to cool in the refrigerator overnight, and baked the cookies the next day. Here is the cookie cutter I used:


And here is the cookie it produced:


I pulled the fist batch out of the oven and decided that this was inappropriate in every way, and that I could not send them to my grandmother's party. Especially since I couldn't be there to defend them as the innocent miscalculation that they were. I also didn't trust my cookie decorating skills enough to be able to prevent them from looking like a terrible Lorena Bobbitt-type kitchen incident. My husband got a good laugh out of it and the opportunity to make innuendos to his darling heart's content, so it wasn't a complete loss.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

From the Kitchen: Calzones

Mmmm... not sure how I've managed to make it this far into my adult life without making a calzone. But now I have, and I'm planning to make a habit of it. The gooey mozzarella, warm bready aroma and tangy vegetables really hit the spot on a cool, rainy evening.


Making a calzone is so easy I'm not including a recipe! The basic steps are:

  1. Make any old pizza dough (I used the recipe in my bread machine manual)
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  3. Split the dough into as many pieces as you want calzones and stretch into 10" circles (each piece should be large enough to be easily stretchable without any holes forming)
  4. Cram in all the fresh garden goodness you can
  5. Add cheese and meat and sauce, if you want
  6. Fold into a half moon shape and pinch the edge to seal
  7. Rub with olive oil and bake until the top is a golden brown
  8. Eat!
Way too easy and delectable not to become a family favorite...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Feature Friday: The Peach Tree

Where to start? I just love the work of Amy from The Peach Tree. Her Brooklyn-based Etsy shop is chock full of semi-precious gemstone beauties, and her photos really capture the depth of interest shimmering in each of her pieces. I've been a long-time fan of her shop and I'm so happy to share her with you today!


I think part of the true brilliance of her creations are that they are delightfully simple... fully allowing the beauty of the materials to shine through the design. Wire wrapped gemstone pendants, stacked briolette bracelets and potato pearl earrings in a rainbow of colors... all with free worldwide shipping!


Looking solely at her sales record and the regularity of her front page features (too many to count!), clearly she has captured her niche in the wonderful world of Etsy. I'm so happy to have met her! She's terribly good-hearted, helping to organize and publicize Etsy Project Embrace for fellow Etsian and cancer survivor Laura Slocum. She also donates some work to Etsy for Charity and is really such a sweet person it would be hard not to love her!


All images © The Peach Tree 2009, All rights reserved.