Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

We had a great Christmas week last week -- here we are all dressed up for church Christmas eve. Steve got me some pajamas (sorely needed), Harrison found me Mary Roach's new book "Packing for Mars," and I got some really cool gifts from friends -- a homemade tote with one of her grandmother's antique buttons from Jennifer, a custom art piece and spinner rack display from Sue, a French Rolling pin from my brother-in-law Bob and ANOTHER one from his girlfriend Cathy...and more...

Mom scored me some great Tupperware (which has become very hard to find), and Dad pruned my hedges, fixed my spinner racks at the shop, vacuumed, and did a few other odd jobs. Much-appreciated!

The boys helped my dad put pine straw around the plants outside. We have this really neat bush...I don't know what it is, but it always gives me these bright pink and yellow flowers at Christmas.

Since moving to the south, I have learned to make gumbo. I use Emeril Lagasse's recipe that you can find on the Food Network web site. I make my own roux, which Steve insisted on stirring this time. It was delicious chicken and sausage gumbo, a perfect dish to serve on a cold Christmas eve.

Christmas morning I got up and baked two pies and made "Little Devils" with the pie crust leftovers (on the left.) Graham named them "Little Devils" when he was one himself, and that name stuck. Basically, it's just the scraps cut off the edges dusted with sugar and cinnamon and baked. They always go quickly.

I am kind of known for my pie-making skills in my family, and I thought I'd share my recipe with you. I have used lots of different recipes, and this one works the best for me, producing a flaky crust, as long as I handle it properly...

Theresa's Apple Pie:


2/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons COLD Margarine (I use Blue Bonnet)
2 cups all-purpose flour (I use White Lily, since I live in the south now)
Sprinkle of table salt
ICE water

Using a pastry knife/blender, cut the margarine into the flour until margarine is pea-sized. Sprinkle in a little salt. Put in several teaspoons of ICE COLD WATER. This is important. Start mixing by hand. You want the dough to just barely come together (add a little more water if it still seems dry). THEN STOP!!!! The less you handle the dough, the better it will be. Chill it in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, as long as you like (you can also freeze it.)

While the dough is chilling, peel and slice up about five or six Granny Smith apples (these are perfect for pies). Sprinkle liberally with white sugar, cinnamon, and about a Tablespoon or so of flour. Mix it up. The flour will help your apples make a sticky sauce. My mom adds butter to the innards. I always figure it's some calories I won't miss, but knock yourself out if you like.

Halve, then roll out both pieces of the dough. You're going to need to sprinkle flour on a flat surface, and roll with a rolling pin. Lay one in the bottom of an 8 or 9 inch pie plate, pour your apples in there, lay on the top piece of crust (I cut a couple of slits in there to let the pie breathe), and sprinkle the top with white sugar. Pinch the crust shut around the edges, slice off the extra crust, and bake at 350 degrees until the pie starts to brown.

Since they're so delicious, make some Little Devils by putting your extra crust pieces on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. These only need about ten minutes or so...and they won't last that long once they're out of the oven.

Merry Christmas, everybody, and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat

Graham said last night: "Boy, Christmas snuck up on me this year." It's the same day every year, but it seems like when you least expect it, there is Christmas staring you square in the face. I wanted to share a few of my ornament finishes with you.

These are block ornaments I made for my nephews -- I used a scrap of 29 ct. Natural Glenshee, and 2" wooden blocks that I bought for 99 cents at Hobby Lobby. A little paint in two different colors, and a quick finish with the stitched design stretched over a piece of cereal box...they're really cute. After this picture was taken, they got teacup hook hangers in an antique bronze color. Oh, and the pattern is an older Prairie School pattern.

This set of ornaments I made for friends. I could only find FOUR wooden blocks that were big enough for the boys' ornaments, so I found these little paper mache boxes (also 99 cents) at Hobby Lobby. Same two colors of paint (a sage green and a light brushing of brick red.) And I mounted these using some cool sticky tape that mimics hot glue (without the heat.) These don't get hangers -- I finish some ornaments without hangers, so they can nestle on a branch.

And this last one is for my niece, Claire. She's very smart and sweet, and I found this old pattern by Monsterbubbles in a Just Cross Stitch ornament issue. I had torn this page out, but didn't get the supply list. I used a scrap of Lakeside Linen (this piece of fabric is probably ten years old or more), and plain old DMC floss. The original was done in green dots and black letters on pink fabric, but I went with shades of pink/red, and left some of the dots out. It turned out really cute, I think...and see if you can figure out "the joke." I'm hoping Claire can figure it out.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Heeeeeere's Giblet

We bought a bird feeder for our cats (yes, the cats) earlier this year, and it has given them more hours of enjoyment than we could ever have imagined. Plus, we now have some very fat cardinals and finches in our neighborhood.

On the left is our new kitten, Giblet. She is about five months old now, and was abandoned by her owner (along with another kitten, who has also been adopted.) She is a regular member of the family already. Here are some things Giblet has checked off of her "to do" list so far:

* Fall into a bathtub full of water
* Unravel an entire ball of hemp string
* Climb Theresa like a tree (multiple times)
* Sit in the Christmas tree branches
* Bat the ornaments (of course)
* Step through Theresa's birthday violets
* Purr, and purr, and purr, and purr (check!)

I'm not sure what else she's got on her list, but we sure like having her around.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nuclear Cookies and a Supply List for Ann Grant

My mom is having a great time this December, her first "free" December in twenty years. She worked at a department store in Omaha and just retired in January. So, she's busy catching up on twenty years of cookie baking and merry making. She dusted off an old recipe of my Grandma Carmen's for Springerles...German Cookies/Biscuits that call for a very special (a.k.a. "weird") ingredient.

Baking Ammonia. Baking. AMMONIA.

My mom has had her current little vial of Baking Ammonia for almost 40 years. It's a little green glass bottle with white crystals inside. When I was a child, out of curiosity, I uncapped the vial one day and took a big whiff. And I just about fell off the stool I had dragged over to the cupboard where the spices were kept. It really does smell like...ammonia.

Baking Ammonia is used in items that are rolled flat and it leaves almost no flavor (unlike Baking Soda, which will add a slightly bitter taste to cookies; the more you add, the more bitter they taste.) Mom did a lot of research to see if 40-year-old Baking Ammonia was safe. A pharmacist told her it has a very long shelf life, and as long as it still bubbled in a little milk, it was good. Mom made the cookies, and to be sure she ate one first before giving any to her friends. I had joked: "Does the recipe also call for weapons-grade plutonium?" If she starts glowing at night, we'll know it was the cookies.

Anyway, here's the recipe. You can easily find Springerle rolling pins online. And the Baking Ammonia is also an ingredient you can order on the Internet. But you're going to have to supply your own elbow grease.

Grandma Carmen's Springerles

8 eggs
4 cups sugar
pinch salt
1/4 tsp Baking Ammonia
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
7 cups flour
Anise seeds

Beat eggs 15 minutes. Add sugar and salt and beat for 20 minutes more. Dissolve Baking Ammonia and Baking Soda in 1 Tbsp. warm milk. Add to above mixture and stir well. Gradually add the flour on a slow speed.

Sprinkle lightly-greased cookie sheets with anise seeds. You will need 4 large cookie sheets. Using additional flour, roll out the dough to 1/4"-1/2" and cut into squares. (Press lightly with a mold or your Springerle rolling pin, if you're lucky enough to have one).

Place on cookie sheets and cover with kitchen towels over night in a cool place (or at least 10 hours). Bake at 325 only until the bottom of the cookie is LIGHTLY browned. Do not over-bake. It might only take six or seven minutes. As soon as they are cool, place them in tightly-covered containers, separating the layers with waxed paper.

People are almost wetting themselves over Ann Grant's sampler (above.) It is graphed. The supplies have now been sent to the model stitcher, and we will all have to patiently wait for dear Kathy to stitch the darn thing. I thought I'd post a list of supplies for y'all, just in case anyone wants to be absolutely ready to get started on this when it's done. It's going to be lovely.

Stitch count: 293 by 347 -- Fabric is 32 count Vintage Sand Dune (Lakeside Linens)

Gloriana Silk Floss: Schoolhouse Red, Pecan
Thread Gatherer Silk N Colours: Camelot's Lady, Potter's Clay
Belle Soie: Chocolat, Baguette
Au Ver a Soie: 2635, 3812, 3431, 3745, 3815
Needlepoint Silk: 993, 222

It is possible you will need more than one skein of a few of these...I won't know for sure until the model is stitched. I will also be doing a conversion to Sampler Threads and to DMC floss. Autumn Gold linen by Lakeside Linens would be absolutely gorgeous for this ... I hated to choose that color, because Pat has to dye that color twice, and there's going to be a stampede for linen when this comes out. I do have a list of people who have pre-ordered the sampler graph. Feel free to hop on the Ann Grant boat.

In personal news...just to catch up a little...we have a new cat. You might remember we had to put dear Abigail to sleep a few weeks ago. Steve found another cat (I am certainly outnumbered.) Her name is Giblet (we adopted her the day after Thanksgiving, so she is named for "the edible offal of a fowl, typically the heart, gizzard, liver and other visceral organs." Steve's mom makes giblet gravy every year (VERY English). I don't eat the gravy, but I do like our little Giblet. I'll post a picture soon. (She's a "mutt," but looks like a Russian Blue.)

Also, I am busy stitching on a Christmas stocking for my nephew Tate (it's an original design that I will release next year. Will post a picture when it's done.) And I have some ornament finishing to do yet. I actually am looking forward to doing some holiday stitching when I take a few days off next week for Christmas. Mom and Dad will be here from South Carolina...maybe she'll bring me some nuclear cookies?