Friday, October 31, 2008

Apple Pies

This week I came home from errands to find a box of apples on the back porch. A note in the box revealed that it was from Grandpa. It said: "Drops Good for Pies". Hmmm, do you think that's a hint?

Thanks, Grandpa. An apple pie is on it's way soon!

Preserving Summer for Joy

In addition to creating herbal vinegars for winter use, I've also been looking around my flower beds for the last remnants of summer blossoms and picking them to dry. Pink Simplicity Hedge roses, yarrow, status, and lavender all blend together with herbs like oregano and rosemary to make a fragrant bowl of fragrant potpourri. I think I enjoy the color of the dried flowers as much as I like the fragrance. Drying vibrant flowers is a nice way of helping summer last through the winter months. When the fragrance of the potpourri starts to fade, I just toss the flowers and give them a little squeeze to release more of the fragrance. And if after awhile that doesn't work, they make a great 'carrier' for fragrant room spray or essential oils, but that won't be necessary until maybe February or March. By then, the new blossoms will be starting to show their pretty faces.

Crisp and Colorful Autumn Daze

Dearest 'Old' Friend

When I was in first grade I had a 'best friend' by the same name as my sister, Judy. Our school had tables that seated two students and they were lined up in rows in a very traditional classroom. The teacher assigned Judy as my seatmate, and we became fast friends. We were seatmates for the entire school year, except for the last week of school when everyone got to sit wherever they wanted. To this day I think be both regret that we took the option of having a different seatmate, as how cool it would be to be able to say we sat together ALL school year. I have such warm memories of my friendship with Judy. When we were very young she had such lovely dolls and doll furniture. I remember playing with her life-size doll and wishing I had one too! We would ride bikes, participate in school events, and play together. As we grew older, it fast became apparent that Judy was truly gifted and talented. Everything she touched turned to gold! An extremely gifted seamstress, crafter, and painter --- it seemed like she was gifted with abilities without even having to learn them. Creativity oozed from her! She was fun and always had a quick laugh and cheerful smile. We continued through school together, taking classes together, being in band and choir, enjoying school events. Eventually we ended up graduating high school in the same class and even attending college together. I remember taking clothing construction and tailoring classes with her. And yes, by then her talents and abilities had multiplied! Her projects were superb!

Life comes full circle. Judy moved to a distant state and had a beautiful family. Her darling daughter, Alana, is now attending college in the same community we did, so Judy came up to visit. Today is her daughter's birthday and I was blessed to be able to celebrate with them for lunch today. Observing them together took me far back in time. Alana reminds me so much of the Judy I knew during our growing up days.

God's blessing of friendship is a gift to cherish. Thank you for a lovely time today, Judy!
Happy birthday, Alana!!! May the next twenty, and the twenties thereafter, be as precious as the one you just passed through.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Herbal Vinegars

The autumn weather is becoming less 'crisp' as coolness sets in. The weatherman is calling for rain this week-end. The last 'bits' of garden are being harvested. The tomatoes were all picked and placed in a cardboard box to finish ripening a week or so ago. The colored leaves are falling from the trees and scattering the lawn. Quite soon the 'bleakness' of winter will set in. How I will miss the green of herbs, flowers, and trees! In an effort to preserve summer herbs, I tried my hand at making herbal vinegars this season. Thyme, terragon, and rosemary vinegars are made by immersing them in apple cider vinegar and allowing them to sit for at least six weeks. White vinegar can be used as well, but since I believe that apple cider vinegar is healthier, that's what I've used. I haven't tried them yet --- but they are supposed to be delicious for homemade salad dressings. I'll let you know. The instructions say that after six weeks of infusing the herbs in the vinegar that the jar contents can be strained and the greenery thrown away. But, I think they are quite pretty this way too. Don't you?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Little Red Shoes

Yesterday I received a letter from my favorite cousin's daughter, a lovely woman who was once the two-year-old flower girl in our wedding. She was announcing the birth of her baby daughter, Samantha Paige. What a cutie! The little one looks just like her mommy did when she was a baby! How exciting to have a new little girl in the family. Of course my mind set to work, thinking about an appropriate and special baby gift. Something handmade by me was the first criteria --- and for that I'm sending something embroidered in an appropriate theme for a new baby girl. Something girly to wear seemed in order as well, so I searched for just the right little outfit --- a sweet little green dress dotted with red roses, covered buttons, and tiny fabric ruffles. A hat to match and cute little bloomers came with the dress. The outfit was completed by the cutest pair of vintage red shoes that I found at my favorite shop on Elm Street. I was delighted to have an opportunity to buy them! I've been admiring them for awhile.

This got me thinking about red shoes. I love red shoes! I think every woman should have at least one pair! There is something beautiful and appealing about red shoes; shoes that make you feel beautiful and accessorized to perfection. Although I don't wear my red shoes often, I always make sure I have at least one pair in my closet. They seem to perk up an outfit that might be just a little too conservative otherwise. They go well with black or navy, and look great with both a suit and dress or jeans and jacket. I seem to have more than my 'one' necessary pair right now. Such fun!

I thought it would be interesting to do a little research about 'red shoes'. What is their meaning? What to they exemplify? Generally we think if Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when we think of red shoes. Her shoes represented magical powers and the value of there being 'no place like home'. But 'red shoes' can also represent dancing and a little girl named Karen in the tale by Hans Christian Anderson (1845). A wickedly scary fairytale, the happy ending is supposed to justify the middle horrors of the tale. Other fairy tales also incorporate 'red shoes' into their tales and you can read about them here. In the process of my research I came across a beautiful blog named Red Shoes. It's interesting --- showing the work of an artist who crafts such quirky things. If you look at her blog, be sure to note the children's flashcards used as wall art in the master bedroom. Hers is Q for queen and his an F for father. So creative! Lastly, we must not forget the most fashionable of the candidates running for the vice-presidential office this year. No matter what your political persuasion, you can't deny that Sarah Palin's shoes are a statement, to be sure. I understand that they are her signature --- red shoes!

Do you have a pair of red shoes? Do you wear them often? What do you wear them with? Why do you like them? Do you have any interesting experiences to share about your red shoes? I'd love to hear about them! Comments welcome!

[I am really enjoying the comments to this post. Thank you for your fun reactions and stories! I'm wearing a pair of red shoes today. What about you?]

Monday, October 27, 2008

Autumn's Grace

"No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
as I have seen in one autumnal face."
by John Donne

"A fallen leaf is nothing more than a summers wave good bye."

Spring will always be my favorite season, but there is something quite wonderous about autumn and the vibrant, crispness it brings. Brent loves this time of year, and he is nowhere more happy than in the mountains at the cabin this time of year. Perfect weather of both warm daily sunshine and frosty nights made it just right for both shirtsleeve hiking and cozy fires. A visit from friends and conversation with elk hunters and watershed patrol provided an interesting social outlet during an otherwise quiet week-end. Fresh baked cookies and pumpkin scones were shared with all whom stopped by. The teakettle was kept simmering on the stove. Little chores, like painting the porch beam, kept Brent content, while I enjoyed writing and embroidery during my quiet times. At night the stars twinkled like a million diamonds in the sky. Moonless nights were quiet and cold, making a pile of quilts all the more desirable. God's autumn blessings are abundant and one's we fully appreciate.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Spicy Market Tea

Since the mid-seventies, I have enjoyed an unusual and delicious tea that originated at Seattle's Pike Place Market. Market Spice Tea is unique, containing a fragrant blend of tea, spices, and essential oils. It's naturally sweet, but contains no carbs. And it's best stored in glass, as the essential oils create a moist texture and appearance. Market Spice describes their signature flavor as 'cinnamon-orange tea'. It's really quite tasty, especially during autumn and winter months. As you can see, their Pike Place Market store is very popular --- and many come in for a free sample of their tasty tea.

Although delicious alone --- even without sugar or milk --- it is a great tea blend to incorporate into other beverage recipes. In keeping with the "Apple Day Celebration" that Clarice is promoting, I thought it only fitting that I share an autumnal recipe that uses this tea as it's base.

Market Spice Tea Party Punch

3 cups strong Market Spice Tea (brewed)
2 liter 7-Up (or sparkling water)
1 can frozen APPLE juice concentrate
1 can frozen cranberry juice concentrate

Mix and serve over ice.

My adaptation: Substitute regular water for the 7-Up and serve hot with cinnamon sticks to stir the cup.

I'm off to make a cuppa tea. Have a wonderful day!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Celebrate Apple Day

Over at Storybook Woods, Clarice and her family are celebrating "Apple Day". It's any day you choose during the fall where you enjoy apples in some form or another. Eating an apple by a cozy fire, baking something yummy with apples, or lighting an apple candle are all ways one can enjoy "Apple Day". It's obvious that apples are enjoyed by Clarice's family. We enjoy apples in our family as well. Since we live next door to a very large Fuji apple orchard, they have become our favorite variety of apple. Gleaning after harvest is an annual family affair and we really love the tree-ripened apples each year. Did you know that an ideal Fuji has a 'water-core' center? It's the only variety I know where orchardists desire this trait. In celebration of this wonderful autumnal event, I'm sharing some favorite family apple recipes in celebration of this fun day.

Aunt Polly's Apple Cake

This recipe was introduced to me when I was dating my husband. It was a favorite dessert made by his mom for both camping trips and company dinners. A dense, moist cake --- it is favored every time!

2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cup oil
3 eggs or egg substitute
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup nuts
1 cup coconut
3 cups diced raw apples

Beat sugar, oil, eggs, and vailla for 3 minutes. In another bowl, sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Fold flour into sugar mixture with a spatula. Add nuts, coconut, and apples, folding carefully. Bake in a tube pan for 1 1/2 hours at 350 degrees F.

* may substitute liquid natural sweetener for sugar; reduce by half.
**cake is still delicious if oil in recipe is cut in half.

Puffy Apple Tarts

This recipe is one adapted from one of my favorite cookbook authors. Once I was blessed to be able to attend one of her cooking classes --- such fun! She was as nice in person as I expected she'd be.

4 cups Fuji apples, peeled, cored, sliced and chopped
1 cup apple juice, unsweetened
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup Sucanat
1/8 cup pure maple syrup
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. apple juice or water
2 boxes (17.3 ounces each) Pepperidge Farm puff pastry sheets

In a medium saucepan, bring the apples and 1 cup juice to a low boil and simmer covered for 5 minutes. Add cinnamon, vanilla, Sucanat and maple syrup.

In a separate cup dissolve the cornstarch and liquid. Add to above boiling mixture ad stir until thickened. Remove from heat. Thaw and carefully remove pastry sheets from the first box. Keep them refrigerated until 15 minutes before use, or they become too sticky to work with.

Lightly flour a large cutting board or cutting surface and a cookie sheet or baking stone. Open first sheet of pastry onto floured surface. Spread with half of the apple filling to 1/2 inch from edges. Top with remaining pastry sheet.

Using a 2 1/2 inch ravioli press, cut out 9 squares. Using a paring knife, cut around the edges of the press to help make the cuts all the way through the dough.

Gently remove the squares and place them on your floured baking sheet at least 1 inch apart. It is not necessary for the tartlets to be sealed.

Bake at 400 degrees F. for 20 minutes or until nicely puffed and brown.

Repeat above procedure with remaining ingredients. Enjoy!

Apple Burritos

This is something great to make ahead and keep in the fridge until you are ready to serve. A sweet and healthy 'fruit burrito', a delicious sauce adds moisture and even more flavor.

8 apples, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup raisins
1 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. maple flavoring
6 tortillas
1 3/4 cups plus 1/4 cup apple juice
2 cups pineapple juice
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
toasted coconut

In a large saucepan, add apples, water, raisins, walnuts, vanilla, and maple flavoring. Cook over medium heat until apples are softened.

Fill tortillas with apple mixture and roll up. Place filled burritos in a casserole dish, seam side down. In a medium saucepan, combine 1 3/4 cups apple juice and pineapple juice. Bring to a boil.

In a measuring cup combine 1/4 cup apple juice and arrowroot or cornstarch Add to heated juice in saucepan. Reduce heat to simmer and stir constantly until thickened.

Pour sauce over burritos and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Sprinkle toasted coconut over top just before serving, if desired.

* * *

The Schnauzer table runner was made by my mom in honor of our dog family --- Libby, Fiddlesticks, Jetta, Raspberi, Coco, and Tia. I know, they look like Scotties --- but we pretend.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Life's Little Surprises!

This week I received a most delightful gift from a friend. She'd recently been traveling and selected some very special gifts for a group of her friends. It was such a delight of the heart to open a simple white box to find all the treasures it contained. Truly, small packages can contain some very wonderful things!

Inside was found a very fragrant 'coin' of lavender soap which she bought at a lavender farm in Washington state. It is so fragrant --- one of strongest smelling lavender soaps I've ever encountered. The little chocolate heart was delicious! It came from Escriba's in Barcelona. The nuts and fruits used to decorate the chocolate added such delicate flavor. The beautiful blown glass ornament is Murano glass. And the orange peel and lavender tea is from Cafe Florian at St. Mark's square in Venice. It was exceptional! I was sure I tasted an undercurrant of chocolate in it as well, but my palatte was probably tricked.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thoughtful friend! The little package of wonderful treats made my day! A few other friends also received an identical package. Although we are far apart in distance, we sipped our tea simultaneously and sent a few emails back and forth as we had a delightful virtual tea party together. Little details truly enhance life's quality.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Restorative Ritual of Tea

When properly made, tea helps you to feel relaxed and refreshed. A hot cuppa gives a gentle lift and helps bring support throughout the day. Whether tisane or loose tea, there's something about the ritual and warming of tea that aids in slowing down a busy life pace. The restorative qualities of the tea ritual bring benefit through times both good or bad. These days everyone seems to be talking about 'thrift' and 'cutting back' or 'saving money'. Tea is a healthy and inexpensive beverage that is quite thrifty and cost-efficient. Next to water, it is the least expensive beverage in the world. Even with the inclusion of sugar, milk, or lemon, it costs less than 2 cents per cup. One pound of loose tea makes about 200 cups. Compare this to coffee where one pound makes 40 cups and has much fewer health benefits. As I write, I think of my friend, Clarice from Storybook Woods. She serves a most delightful tea called Rosemary Hill; it's a delightful blend of rosemary and lavender. She tells me she ordered six pounds of loose tea. Hmmmm, that's about 1,200 cups of tea, Clarice. I think I should come back to visit. Otherwise, how will you use up all that tea?

Tea and Lace Embroidery by my Mom

Now in October

"There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October."

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Photo: Best Flowers, Pike Place Market, Seattle, WA

Summer Slowly Fading

The fresh greens and bright colors of summer are slowly fading, giving way to leaves of bright yellow, orange, and red. It's this time of year that I seem to put forth one last effort to fully appreciate the gifts nature provides and to enjoy my garden. Although the hollyhock has been trimmed, the red geraniums still provide cheer. And mom's rusty cut-out of children will serve as a reminder that the garden will bloom again in the spring.

How I've enjoyed these purple daisies this year. They come in several colors: chocolate brown, bright green, and orange, but I love the purples and lavenders best. Thanks to our local FFA group for starting them in the school greenhouse so community members could enjoy them later in their gardens!

Grape tomatoes! They've been abundant and sweet this year. It's been a race to see which plant produces more; the grape tomatoes or the yellow pear tomatoes. The yellow pear wins, hands down! Aren't they pretty?

An enamel teapot serves as a planter, awaiting spring and a colorful annual plant. Mom's heart stepping-stones each have a message she etched into the wet cement when she made them. Words like "secret garden", "friendship garden", and "you're loved" remind me of her and how she loved her garden too. Mom's goal was to have something in bloom each and every month of the year; something she generally achieved, even in the snowy months. My own gardening skills are much more random than that. I'm just glad for blossoms for nine months of the year!

Kitten Bucky Bo-Jangles is very interested in the amaranth swag that I brought home from Karleen's house. I really enjoyed it's draping qualities. I think Bucky does too!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

To Autumn

by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,

For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

* * *

Photo: from today's walk along the river; both the sagebrush and the trees were sporting shades of bright yellow!

Coloring Craft

When cooler weather arrives, it's time for crafting! Last week I found the cutest set of patterns for tea towels. Each design features children engaged in a variety of activities. They are so vintage and remind me of the Campbell's Soup kids. So, I decided to try my hand at them. The transfers have been ironed on to flour sack towels and all but one has been carefully colored with a box of the kid's old crayons. What a task! After being colored, they have been ironed so that the colors meld into the cotton. You can see that at this point they lack detail, but that will soon change. Tomorrow the embroidery needle and thread get put to use --- creating facial features, detail to garments, and finishing touches. Cute vintage cotton prints will be stitched to the bottom as embellishment before they are all done. You know, it's been many years since I've taken time to 'color' and it's been kind of fun!

What's in your craft basket right now?

Until June, Sweet Lavender

It was with great reluctance this week that I cut back the lavender plant by our front walk. All summer I've enjoyed it's bounty! This year it's grown to a diameter of more than 5' and is nearly as tall when you count the stems and buds.

After the initial bloom of lavender in June, the buds should be cut off, making way for new blossoms in the later summer. Although the late lavender blossoms are not quite as prolific, the result is still a nice crop of lavender.

Before winter arrives, it is a good idea to cut off all the old lavender blossoms and to prune the plants back so that they have only 2 or 3 inches green above the woody stem or branch.

So, this week --- was lavender trimming week! Most of the lavender plants have been trimmed into rounded mounds. It is nice to go into winter having them look so manicured. Their silvery foilage is pretty, and each variety is a little different shade from the other.

Of course, it wouldn't be a good idea to 'waste' any of the lavender blossoms that were cut. So, a bouquet has been gathered and placed in a crystal vase that's on the counter in the bathroom, adorned with a gray and sage striped ribbon. And the freshest and most purple was added to a kettle of honey. It was heated so the flavors could meld, and then allowed to cool into a fragrant and delicious 'lavender honey' for winter's use.

I always, always miss the lavender during the winter months. There is something so fragrant and soothing about it's fragrance --- and it's soft beautiful blossom always makes me smile!

Until next June, sweet lavender. . .

Pumpkin Bouquets

Yesterday I received a phone call from Karleen, saying she was working on a birthday gift for her friend "the flower lady", and wondering if I would like to come and make one too. It sounded so interesting, using pumpkins, and ice pick, and fresh flowers. Housework could wait! I gathered my kitchen shears and a container and went out to my flower garden to see what I could contribute to the flower craft.

Karleen had small pumpkins set out on her counter and some sharp tools so we could poke holes in the pumpkin to stick flower stems into. The ice pick worked great, but as time went on we decided her husband's electric drill worked best!

Roses, lavender, mums, and amaranth, provided us with more than enough blossoms. Although we've had our first frost, there were enough nice flowers left for this fun project.

Karleen and I each used a different method of tackling our project. I started at the top, creating a cascading effect in an asymmetrical way. Karleen chose to select points at strategic places equal distance from one another all the way around her pumpkin. Her approach was quite symmetrical and balanced. Both methods created fun and pretty pumpkin bouquets. I couldn't help but think how each style reflected our personalities and the way we approach life. I have learned much over the years from my friend about balance and how to tackle a project. Karleen is the one who always finishes a project before she starts the next one; I tend to have a dozen projects going on at once and sometimes some get forgotten before I complete them. I am trying to be more like my friend in this regard!

At first it was difficult to know how to deal with flower buds that were taller than others on the pumpkin surface. I finally decided to embrace the difference in height, making it part of the balance and decor.

As time went on, I admit to becoming a little bit outlandish with the heights, but I was satisfied with the end result. Bunches of lavender poking out from the sides, and cascading amaranth gave a very eclectic feel to my bouquet.

It was hard to get enough leverage with the ice pick once we had flowers on the top. So, Karleen found her husband's drill and it worked perfectly in making holes at the base of the pumpkin so we could finish our project. Thanks, Richard! I hope we didn't leave any pumpkin pulp on the drill bit!

Drinking glasses provided as base and height as we neared the completion of our projects. It was easier to see and work with the pumpkin bouquet raised to near eye-level.

This is my finished pumpkin bouquet; bright colors, sprigs of lavender, and dangling amaranth set in a base of miniature roses and mums.

Karleen's bouquet is soft and sweet with the addition of a strand of mini-pearls on top. Her arrangement is beautiful and is now gracing the home of "the flower lady" down the street. Happy Birthday, flower lady!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Lovella's Mountain

Lovella over at "What Matter's Most?" posted a lovely picture of Mt. Baker on her blog today. What a beautiful view from her own yard! I smiled when I read her post today, and thought it such a coincidence that I had taken a picture of the very same mountain yesterday, but from a little different perspective. My perspective was the view of mountain from my dad's house. I will admit that when I took the picture, I thought of Lovella, although I didn't know she would be blogging the mountain today too! So Lovella, this one's for you! Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!!!

Elixir of Fine Teas

Gallon jars filled with teas line a wall. It takes much self-control to keep from ordering a bit of this and that at a much greater pace than they could be used and served. And since tea is best fresh, resistance is desired. But awwww, the fragrance, colors, and textures of all those clear glass jars of tea is so enticing. Although there are dozens of jars filled with this golden elixir of fine teas, there are really only one true tea source: the evergreen tea plant that belongs to the Camellia family. From this plant come three different types of tea. They are black, green, and oolong. Each receives it's unique characteristic from the processing that they go through. Black tea is fermented until the leaves literally turn black. This brew has a hearty, deep flavor that can be enhanced by a variety of added flavors. Green tea is not fermented. It's leaves stay green and when brewed it's color is light. Oolong tea is a compromise between black and green tea. It is semi-fermented so that it's leaves turn a greenish-brown. It also brews to a light color. From these three basic types of tea are made more than 3,000 tea varieties. Just like wine, teas take their names from the areas where they are grown. Thus, names like Darjeeling, Assam, and Ceylon result.

Now, this tutorial was provided as an attempt to overcome writers block. I hope there was at least one thing that was beneficial to you in this post today. If nothing else, go brew yourself a cup of fine tea and sit outside on the porch swing and sip away while you enjoy the autumn chill and the beauty of the changing leaf colors. Enjoy a happy day!