Sunday, February 27, 2011

We Went to the Quilt Show!

Every year, Hampton, VA's coliseum hosts a really inspiring quilt show. Now, I don't quilt - I barely sew, just buttons and hems! - but if you appreciate art and beautifully handcrafted items, it's a wonderful place to spend a day. Every year my mother, aunt and I try and make it down. We look forward to it all year long. This year only my aunt and I were available, and we had such a blast!

The sheer variety of subject matter, colors, patterns, and general creativity at this event is almost overwhelming. If you think quilts are simply squares of fabric sewn together, think again. People dye their own fabrics, design outrageous motifs, create three dimensional elements, craft wearable items, make dolls - I could go on and on. And because you end up so inspired by the end, it's a good thing there's lots of shopping! Whether you want fabric (all kinds, from silk to sack cloth), yarn, wool roving, felt, beads, or something else, it's all there! I came home with a bagful of goodies to make dog collar covers, lamp shades and wool ornaments for my upcoming Easter Tree.

But enough about that. How about some eye candy?

 This pattern is called "Sunbonnet Sue", a pretty traditional motif. People like to have a lot of fun with her. Here, she's exploring her various hobbies. My aunt and I totally cracked up! Some close ups:





This tea and cupcakes themed quilt was so sweet. I loved it!



This one was my aunt's favorite. It just makes you smile!



This one was one of the top prize winners. Isn't it incredible? I'd never seen a portrait quilt before. Check out the closeup:


This one looked like a watercolor painting:



This sheep quilt was my very favorite of the day! I adore sheep, and I love how the quilter made them so three dimensional and fuzzy! And aren't the embroidered wildflowers just beautiful?



These little beaded bowls were amazing, and so tiny!



Here are some of the wearable art pieces we saw. The shawl was such a stunner - sadly, they were out of the pattern - and I was ready to wear the cape home!




It was such a great day! We were both so inspired and can't wait to start some fun new projects. I'm sure we've soaked up enough inspiration to last another year!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

First Rose!

I am so terribly excited! I got my very first rose (that I am picking and planting myself)!



It's called a Joseph's Coat, it's a climber (my favorite!) and is supposed to have a floral-fruity scent. I've actually been admiring one for years on a person's fence here in my city and said a million times I should just ask them what kind it is. When I saw the picture on the label, I knew this was it! They start out one color, then as they age they turn all kinds of tones, as you can see above. It's gorgeous.



Now if only it would get warm enough to plant! The poor thing thinks it's happy in the warm kitchen and is trying to sprout already! If you have a favorite type of rose - any kind - I'd love to hear about it! I really want to plant lots!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Belated Valentine's Day - Best Brownies EVER



I love celebrations. Holidays are a wonderful excuse to have a little fun with those you love, and create traditions - however simple they may be - that, to me, are part of what really are the heart of a family, however you define it. So any holiday that rolls around puts a smile on my face, including Valentine's Day. An excuse to show family/friends/lovers/pets (whatever you've got!) how much you care? Yes, please! We need more of that in life!

On major holidays we usually pack up and head to my parents' home a couple hours away, which is always wonderful, but for smaller ones such as this we usually simply invite my little brother, Pete, over. I love having him right in town, not only because I like spending time with him (he's hilarious), but also because he is always enthusiastic about a home-cooked meal and I love cooking for someone so happy about it! It's especially delightful because he's pretty handy in the kitchen himself, so I take it as a pretty high compliment. This Valentine's Day I made something the boys both love: Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole with Rice Pilaf.




The recipe is from Pillsbury; I made a few changes, though. For one, I used regular chicken tenders, not honey ones - too sweet for my liking. I also used regular black forest ham rather than the maple for the same reason. You can find the recipe here: http://www.pillsbury.com/recipes/deep-dish-chicken-cordon-bleu/69f1b769-d361-4333-96d4-0a733b2caf0a/ . Definitely give it a try! It's remarkably simple and utterly delicious. The boys ate almost the entire pan all by themselves!

Of course, what would Valentine's Day be without chocolate? So I made the boys a brownie heart, which I wish I had better pictures of, but it had to be done quickly before it was devoured mercilessly!





I'm in love with this brownie recipe, I must say - the best I've ever made. It has so many virtues. First, it is EASY. It only dirties up one pot and one pan, and is in the oven in, oh, fifteen minutes or so, and that includes some cooling time before you add the eggs. The reward for so little effort is a perfectly chewy, crackling-topped, deeply chocolate piece of homemade joy. Make this. Your loved ones will worship you. Make sure you have milk on hand!

Happiness Brownies

10 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 seaspoons water
3/4 cup plus two teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt (or more if you're using unsalted butter)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup chocolate chips, optional
Directions:
1.      Preheat the oven to 325. Spray an 8x8 square or 8 inch round pan with lots of Baker's Joy.  
2.      Melt the butter in a medium sized pot over medium heat. Watch it carefully so it doesn't burn, stirring it around.  
3.      Once it's melted, remove it from the heat and immediately add the sugar, cocoa, water, salt and vanilla. Stir to combine; it will be grainy.
4.      Let it cool for five minutes or so, then add in the eggs one at a time, whisking after each one - I use a fork for this, actually. The cooling is so that you don't accidentally cook the egg. The batter will get thick and shiny as you do this.
5.      Add the flour, then, using a hand mixer if you have one, beat for 2 minutes. If you're using the chocolate chips, stir them in by hand once the 2 minutes is up.
6.      Pour the batter into your pan, smooshing it around with a spoon so it's even, and bake for 20-25 minutes. The brownies should look like they're dry and/or pulling away from the edges of the pan, but the center will still be gooey if you stab it. Don't worry, they will firm up after they set. Try not to devour in one sitting!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Weird Woodpecker Encounter

Odd things happen to me, and more often than not those weird happenings involve animals. I admit it: I'm a bleeding heart. All my pets are rescues, and I can never, ever leave an animal that seems to be in need. So when I was driving this morning and saw a little redheaded woodpecker sitting almost in traffic (like four inches from tires!) on the side of the road, I knew I had to try and help him. If you've never seen one, redheaded woodpeckers are pretty little things and look like this:


I made a u-turn, drove back around and pulled up in front of him. I got out of the car and slowly walked up to the little guy, talking quietly as I bent down to check him out. He didn't try and hop away from me - I was only about three inches from him - so I assumed he must have an injured wing. I went back to the car and grabbed a towel and small box, hoping to get him in it and off to the animal shelter quickly so he could get on the mend.

Returning to him and again talking quietly, he let me wrap the towel gently around him. I put the box down, and he eyed it, then eyed me. I went to pick him up, and he was fine until he realized I meant to put him in the box, so he hopped away a little bit - not unusual, as I'm sure anyone who has ever dealt with injured birds knows well! I wrapped the towel around him again and he was fine as long as he thought I was just going to pick him up, but when he realized the box was still his intended destination, he was none to thrilled... and that's when it happened.

All of a sudden, he cocked his little red head, gave me a funny look, and just TOOK OFF! His wing brushed my hand as he flew over to the brick wall of a nearby church, attaching himself to it with no trouble at all. The little guy was faking it! Hypochodriac bird!! Whoever heard of such a thing?!

I watched him fly off, laughing, both because it was such a bizarre thing to have happened and because I was so happy he really wasn't hurt after all - and also, I think, because it was such a miracle to have a wild animal like that be so overall trusting of me. It was clear he knew I was trying to be friendly; otherwise he'd  have used that incredible beak on me. Nature and all her creatures are so amazing. I'll never forget my unusual little friend!


Friday, February 11, 2011

Painting the Kitchen: Step One, Color Choices

Ever since we bought the house, I've known that I would need to paint the kitchen, and for two good reasons. First, the house has previously been painted in all matte, flat paint, and it is not a good or practical thing in a kitchen! Secondly, I utterly hate the color. It's a dusty blue, and it does nothing for the space. I'm not a fan of blue in kitchens in general (not lively enough for such a busy space!), but especially in this kitchen it seems to make it very dim.

My husband and I spend a lot of time in the kitchen - certainly many, if not most, people feel that the kitchen is the hub and heart of the home. We enter and leave through it every day, cook, eat, chat, and play there. To me, it 's a creative space as well, because I love coming up with new recipes and I always seem to do my best thinking when I'm stirring a pot or waiting for the water to boil for tea.

So my criteria for the new paint job is that is has to be bright, cheerful and clean looking. My color inspiration? Check it out:





Eggs!

Who doesn't love eggs? They're delicious, nutritious, and yes, definitely beautiful. They epitomize a cheerful morning to me. Seeing those sunny yellow yolks and perfectly white whites is one of the prettiest things in the world! And personally, breakfast is one of our favorite meals. I love having eggs, bacon, biscuits and coffee with Q - we always have the best conversations during a langorious breakfast or brunch. Not only that, but eggs are wonderfully symbolic of fertility, and the color yellow is a lucky one in many cultures. Perhaps the colors and symbolism will further get that creativity flowing! ; )

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pretty Scents

Confession: I am a junkie for pretty scents. Whether it be perfume, soap, bouquets, or even carpet deodorizer, if it smells pretty, I'm hooked!

As a birthday gift to myself, I ordered some room sprays from Crabtree & Evelyn. If you've never smelled any of their products, they are really remarkable. They tend to have the really pure, saturated scent of whatever the main essence is supposed to be. My all time favorite rose scent is their Rosewater, which is like tea roses and damask roses all mixed together in one heavenly mist.


The thing I love most is spraying a bit of this right before I go to sleep. I pretend I'm sleeping in a garden!

Another great find - this one a total accident - turned out to be Yardley's Lavender Soap. I was in the soap aisle at the grocery store the other day and someone had left a bar of this randomly on a shelf. That annoys me, so I picked it up to figure out where it belonged. When I realized it was lavender (which is one of the most lovely scents in the world, I think!), I sniffed it and knew I had to have it. It hasn't disappointed! My entire bathroom smells gently of lavender, and I was pleased that the soap itself seems pretty gentle. But really, even if it wasn't, I'd be tempted just to leave a bar around to scent the room anyway!



Best part? It was less than $2! Maybe all this will keep me away from candles for a little while. : P

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Arts & Crafts Day

A grey, drizzly day is the perfect time to pull out the paints and do some crafting! One project I've been meaning to get around to is making some pretty birdhouses for the feathered friends in our yard. We're blessed to have many regulars - two pairs of cardinals who are constantly flitting around, showing off their amazing colors, and a mockingbird who is a complete ham, to mention a few. I love the little mockingbird especially. He seems to realize that I'm a fan of his, and he and I have little talks every time he's out and about. I love watching the little guy puff up or stretch his wings, and listening to and watching him mimic the rest of the birds is one of my very favorite things.

The birdhouses are an especially timely project, though, because we've realized we need to do a bit of trimming outside. We are lucky to have several varieties of huge hollies surrounding the house, and oh my, they are gorgeous. I love comparing their foliage and berries, which vary a great deal between types! Unfortuantely, some of the branches are pushing up against the house, and that's not good for the plants or our home, so a haircut is in order. These trees are the favorite roost of many of the birds in our yard, though, so I'm hoping to get the birdhouses out soon to attract them away from areas we need to work on. I don't want to disurb anyone, especially in spring when they'll be nesting!

I started painting my first one this afternoon, and I've come to a point where I have to let it dry a bit before I can continue. Here's the progress I've made so far:







I like it so far! I wanted something rather whimsical. I can't wait to finish it up and put the sealant on! Hopefully my feathered friends will like it too. : )

Friday, February 4, 2011

Birthday Time!


Today is my birthday!

I am not one of those people who hates birthdays, or hates getting older. My mother has always said I am an old soul, and perhaps that's part of the reason the idea of aging doesn't bother me. Personally, I love the idea that I've gained another year of wisdom and experience, and hopefully many happy memories to treasure! Every single minute of life is a gift, and a birthday is an opportunity to celebrate that. How lucky!

I had a wonderful idea last year, on my 28th birthday. I had acquired a journal featuring one of Ando Hiroshige's gorgeous paintings (he is one of my all-time favorite artists), and I didn't know what to do with it. I'd bought it on a whim - I already have a lovely little daily journal - but I knew that it and I were meant to be. Well, the morning of my birthday inspiration struck. I decided to start a birthday journal, which I would write in every February 4th and chronicle my year as well as my hopes and dreams for the coming one. It truly is one of the best ideas I've ever had! All this week I've looked forward to reading last year's entry and making 2011's. It was fun to revisit my thoughts, feelings and goals from 2010, and made writing the new entry even more enjoyable. It's like a little time capsule, in a way! I highly recommend that you start your own - you won't regret it!



I don't know about you, but I really like simple celebrations on my own birthday. This afternoon, I'm alone in the house with the cats and dogs curled up at my feet, and I'm having a steaming cup of tea as I write this. It's good to have quiet, reflective time in general, but I especially like it on this particular day. Tonight I will have a special dinner with my husband, and my brother will be by soon with a present and homemade cake - his first attempt! I am truly looking forward to it. But this time spent writing in my journal, reflecting on the past year and thinking about all the possibilities ahead of me is a really happy time that I wouldn't trade for the world! Spending time with the ones you love and thinking of all the good things in your life - what more can a girl ask for?



Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Welcome Spring!

February 2nd is a special day. Some think of it as Groundhog's Day, some as Lammas, some as Imbolc, and still others as Candlemas - but no matter what you call it, its significance lies in the delicious anticipation of spring. What a pleasant and hopeful thing to look forward to and celebrate while the air is still biting and cold!

It is the return of the birds, which begins this time of year where I live, that really touches my heart and makes the spring's imminent arrival real for me. They are the essence of the season, a living, breathing representation of the hope that this season is brimming with. As the birds begin to return and trill their cheerful songs in trees putting forth new buds, the air takes on a subtle yet distinctly soft quality. The intangible knowledge that the season of rebirth is nearly upon us always fills me with a sense of wonder and hope, and puts me in mind of my favorite poem:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,


And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.


I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.


- Emily Dickinson

The idea of hope as a bird is as natural as breathing to me. What a miracle the season is, and the image of a bird - the magic of its flight, the sweetness of its song, its resilience in its effort to survive - is the essence of spring, summing up the feelings, sights and sounds of the season. I hope that, however you celebrate this day, it lights a special fire in your heart to prepare you for the wondrous season ahead!

Welcome, Spring!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Simple Dinner on a Lonely Night

If there is anything you will learn about me (and fast), it is that not only do I love to cook and bake, but I truly love to eat. I know I am not alone in that sentiment! Eating is one of life's most pleasurable experiences, one that is often deeply connected to our emotions, memories, and cultural backgrounds. It links generations and is, in my mind, one of the foundations of family life. So many of my happiest memories throughout my life center around the kitchen and table - there is nothing like a plate of delicious, fragrant food in the company of those you love!

Sometimes, however - and more frequently, unfortunately, in these nonstop busy days of ours - many of us find ourselves alone at dinnertime. Lately I find myself alone more often as my husband has recently started a job which requires him to be from home at mealtime more often than not. I miss him, and I tend to make a special effort over dinners when he will be home simply because one of my favorite ways to show I care is through a lovingly prepared meal. I do think there is something to the idea that food can nourish the soul, too!

I have to admit, though, that there can be special charms in being alone at dinnertime. Often I jump on this chance to eat something only I like, such as pasta carbonara (the dear boy cannot bear undercooked eggs - he is missing out!), beef tartar, or cream of wheat with parmesan cheese. There can be real pleasure in making something simple and soul-satisfying and having a quiet evening all to oneself. Tonight was just such a night for me, and I made one of my very favorite things: lima beans with butter, rosemary, and salt.

I know it sounds crazy - you're probably thinking to yourself, "That's a side dish! What kind of dinner is that?" Well, what can I say? I'm a girl who loves her veggies! And truly, I am VERY omniverous (no one will ever accuse me of being picky or squeamish), but I find that when I eat vegetables by themselves, I taste them in a whole different way. A big bowl of limas, steaming and fragrant with piney rosemary and coated gently in buttery goodness, is a joy to eat. The little jade beans are creamy and somehow manage to be earthy and fresh at the same time. When I close my eyes, the taste they leave in my mouth puts me in mind of warm, green fields drenched in golden sunlight. On a cold winter evening, they are warming and wholesome, and utterly perfect.