25.12.11

Great Cookie Recipe and yet more Gumdrops!

I love this recipe for molasses cookies -- it's quick to mix up a batch and the dough is not sticky so it's easy to handle. Plus the cookies look wonderful decorated with gumdrops!

Molasses Cookies

Whisk together: 3 cups of all-purpose (unbleached white) flour, 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 3/4 tsp. baking soda and 1/4 tsp. salt.

Mix with the dry ingredients until well combined: 6 Tblsp. unsalted butter (softened), 3/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1 large egg, 1/2 cup molasses and 2 tsp. vanilla.

Form the dough into two balls, wrap in wax-paper and allow to sit at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate for as long as 2 days (but bring to room temperature before rolling out the dough.)

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Sprinkle a bit of flour on your work-surface and on top of the flattened ball of dough.  Roll to 1/4 inch thick, cut shapes and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or greased cookie sheet.)  Bake 7-9 minutes, allow to cool and apply gum drops!  (I mixed 1 cup of powdered sugar with 3-4 tsp. of water to make a bit of icing.)

Wishing you happy cookie-making!

22.12.11

Gum Drops

Last week I was (again) strolling through the foyer of my local library, past the little 2nd-hand book shop which is an endless treasure trove.  A volume of recipes and entertaining tips by the inimitable Martha Stewart caught my eye and I quickly paged through the book. There were several appealing recipes, but the moment my eyes landed on instructions using *gumdrops* to create tiny people, snowmen and birds I knew I had to have this book!

 Off to the store I went for some supplies...

 My little Mr. built this tiny alien monster with a face only a mother could love,

 And our neighbor, the lovely Miss A. constructed a house, a sofa, and also a variety of creatures...

I joined in the fun and came up with this toadstool and a bird.  For more ideas using gumdrops you can visit Martha Stewart's website here and here...

 And if you undertake this slightly sticky project, I hope you have as much fun as we did!

20.12.11

Favorite Gifts This Year


In my house, this is, sadly, not the year for a hand-made holiday.  Why is this?  Exciting news brewing, and all will be revealed very soon...  Meanwhile, I have been doing my best to pull together meaningful gifts for the holidays.  In my mind, the best substitution for hand-made is always a book or two, but not just any book will do.  For children, especially, isn't it wonderful to give something which inspires active play, participation and creativity?  At the top of my list for such inspiration is the new book by Marilyn Scott-Waters --  The Toymaker's Workshop. Last year she released The Toymaker's Christmas which is equally wonderful!

Then there are books by Ed Emberley which encourage children (and grown-ups) to draw.  Our favorites are The Big Green Drawing Book and The Big Purple Drawing Book, but honestly, any of the drawing books by Mr. Emberley are just wonderful.

Then there is this sweet gem of a book -- A Christmas Angel Collection by Catherine Stock.  It's been out of print for many years but has finally been re-issued (which is very good news!)  This book contains 12 angels which can be colored, painted, glittered, etc..  then cut out and then formed into beautiful 3D ornaments.  You can find this book here at Chinaberry.

As for gifts for my husband?  He's getting books, too.  However, he occasionally reads my blog (hello sweetheart!) and so I cannot reveal his gifts here...

 And finally, a non-book gift for my mother -- I bought a necklace for her by Beth Quinn.  If you're looking for a special gift for your mother, sister or friend, you might want to have a peek...

As always with gifts, "You give but little when you give of your possessions.  It is when you give of yourself that you truly give." (Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet)  And this is the most basic and deepest truth, isn't it?  Wishing you a most beautiful season of heart-felt giving!
xo 
P.S. To read the funniest post about Hanukkah ever, you must visit Danielle's blog Most Days I Win to read a post written by her husband Matt!

14.12.11

Celebrating Hanukkah Books

It's not easy to be a family which does *not* celebrate Christmas.  When we are out in public during the latter days of December (i.e. after Christmas) it often occurs that kind, well-intentioned strangers will ask my older son what he got for Christmas.  You should see the looks of incredulity, perplexity and slight horror on their faces when he answers with a funny grin, "I got nothing for Christmas."  They look back and forth from his face to mine, having trouble imagining how this could be so.  I smile sweetly (to cover my slight grimace) and confirm that, indeed, we do not celebrate Christmas. A look of pity creeps into the faces of these strangers when I tell them that, instead of Christmas, we celebrate Hanukkah.  I always walk away from these exchanges marveling at the assumption that everyone in the world celebrates Christmas and that any child who lacks a Christmas Tree must surely be deprived.  Please don't misunderstand me here. I love Christmas and the beautiful story of the nativity.  I enjoy seeing all the decorations, learning about the family traditions of our friends and watching the Nutcracker performed by the San Francisco Ballet.  But, neither my husband nor I were raised celebrating Christmas and we don't celebrate Christmas in our own home now.  While we may love it, it's simply not our holiday.

The thing is, bombarded by over-commercialized glitz, omnipresent through the month of December, my older son used to really want to celebrate Christmas (and yes!  the bombardment of over-commercialized glitz can be a problem even for families celebrating Christmas!)  It did not matter how many candles we lit or how many lovely gifts he received, our little Mr. still wanted Christmas (or a commercialized idea of Christmas) until we got some really great Hanukkah books.  It was the magic of these books which brought magic to our own family celebrations.

Our first and foremost favorite Hanukkah book is Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel.  What's not to love?  A spooky, abandoned house, a passel of creepy goblins and a very clever fellow who outwits the goblins and lights the glowing candles of Hannukah...

Our next favorite is ZigaZak, also by Eric Kimmel (more naughty goblins!)

And then there's this delightful story -- the Chanukkah Guest (thanks again, Eric Kimmel!)

For a bit of good natured humor there's The Best Hanukkah Ever by Barbara Diamond Goldin...

And also this clever book -- Malke's Secret Recipe by David A. Adler.

The newest addition to our Hanukkah book collection, The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket, is seriously irreverent!

And finally, a story which is not necessarily for Hanukkah, but so beautiful that I had to share it --  
The Treasure By Uri Shulevitz.

11.12.11

Pinecone Gnomes


I was walking through the garden with my wee Bloom this morning and heard a small rustling of leaves.  Our attention was drawn down to the roots of a great pine tree.  


Nestled among the roots, pine needles and fallen leaves were these two little fellows, doing their best disguise themselves among the pinecones.


The two little gnomes squeaked in terror when they realized they'd been spotted, but after my wee Bloom and I knelt down and assured them we meant no harm, they invited a third friend to join them.  Introductions were made with a "How do you do, and a how do you do, and a how do you do, again..." (the gnomes in my garden are, apparently, very formal little fellows!)  We talked about the weather, the fallen leaves and the migrating birds. Then our new friends said they must be on their way to help the local squirrels hunt a few last acorns, so we parted ways with a very formal "Hope to see you, and a hope to see you, and a hope to see you again soon!"  And I'm sure we shall...


If you would like to see some pine-cone gnomes in your garden, you'll want to find some smallish pinecones and 1-inch wooden beads with 3/8th inch holes like these.


As you can see, I made a simple pattern for the hats out of newsprint...  These hats are about 2 1/2 inches high.


To help the little gnomes balance, you may want to cut some feet from matching felt and glue them to the bottoms of the pine-cones.  One of my pine-cones was still a little wobbly so I reinforced the felt base with a piece of cardboard (and if your pine-cones are really wobbly, you can add some weight by gluing a penny to the base...)


If you want your gnomes to have mittens, you can cut 3 inch lengths of pipe-cleaner, run a line of glue along the center 2 inches and then place it in among the bristles through the middle of your pine-cone.  Leave an inch, or so, of the ends of your pipe cleaner sticking out in front to form two arms.


Then glue your bead to the top of the pine-cone, glue the hat to the top of the wooden bead and mittens to the ends of the pipe-cleaner arms.  Finally, if you wish, you can paint or draw little faces.  For these gnomes I used colored pencils to draw the faces, and I think it worked out nicely. Don't you?


Dear Readers: Did you know that, even if you "Like" we bloom here and/or Making Peg Dolls on Facebook, you may not be seeing updates and messages from me in your Facebook feed?  Did you know that you might be missing other lovely tutorials? Missing information about book give-aways, and my usual assorted nonsense?

Here's what you can do so you don't miss anything: once you’ve liked the we bloom here and/or the Making Peg Dolls page (thank you!), use the dropdown menu right under the “liked” button to select “get notifications” or "see first" in your news feed.  This lets Facebook know, going forward, that you really do want to know when I've posted something new.

Another way you can hear from me is to have a look at the right-hand sidebar of this blog, and find the widget which allows you to "follow by email."  Once you've typed in your email, you will get notifications delivered directly to your inbox.  I don't have access to information about who signs up for email through my blog, so there is no way I could add you to some list and send you junk-mail (not that I would ever consider doing such an annoying thing anyhow, I promise).

Thanks for visiting! Please say "hi" any time -- I love hearing from you. xo mb

7.12.11

Paper Angels

After making a fat little bat with flapping wings for Halloween, I thought to myself, "Why not an angel with flapping wings?" Off I went, pencil in hand, to make a sketch...

And sketch, I did!

Then, I got out my watercolors and painted a bit.

I cut out my figures, punched a few holes...

 And attached the wings to my angel figure with mini-brads.

Note:  If you try this project yourself, you will need to make sure your figure is wide enough so the wings do not interfere with each other. You can find mini-brads for attaching your wings in the scrap-book section of most craft stores.  The brads will be inserted in the lower holes on the wings (see photo above.)  Again, you will want to punch your holes so that the wings do not meet in the center.  It took a bit of trial and error for me to get this right, and you may note, in the photo below, the edges of the wings are bit close on the back of this angel!

After I secured the wings to my angel figure with the brads, I tied a string very loosely through the upper holes on the wings and attached a tiny silver bell to the end of the string, just for fun!

Ta-daaa!

Give the string a gentle pull, and up go the wings!

Wishing bright angel blessings to you and yours, always...

Note: This project was shared at Magic Onions Friday's Nature Table and Natural Suburbia's Creative Friday.  You can find many more lovely ideas by visiting there, too!

2.12.11

Busy




There's nothing like watching a toddler do what toddlers do best.  Oh, so busy... busy, busy, busy...

1.12.11

Rhythm of the Home: Winter 2011 Edition

Please join me today over at Rhythm of the Home where the Winter 2011 Edition has been launched.

I am honored, once again, that the editors have chosen to include a piece I wrote. For this Winter Edition, I created an article on making a Hardware Store Hannukiah for the celebration of Hanukkah!

 In the dark of winter, we prepare to kindle new light!

28.11.11

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

      Until recently, I never considered buying a frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I hadn't even known such a thing existed.  I first read about Smucker's popular frozen peanut butter sandwich -- the Uncrustable -- in a New York Times Magazine article by (or course) Michael Pollan.  He wrote, "People think nothing of buying frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their children's lunch boxes."  I thought: They don't?  What people?  What frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?  What's next, frozen buttered toast?
      I felt briefly smug in the certainty that I was not so lazy or compromised that I would ever buy mass-produced peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Then I thought, People probably once said that about peanut butter.  And bread.  And jelly.  They almost certainly said it about waffles, and pie crust, and pudding.  Not so long ago, people must have wondered who couldn't fry her own donuts, grind her own sausage, cure her own bacon.  Kill her own bacon!  The more I thought about it, the more arbitrary it seemed to draw a line in the sand at frozen PB&J.

(Jennifer Reese, from the introduction of  Make the Bread, Buy the Butter)


 Last week I bought this book as birthday gift for a friend, but since her birthday isn't until December 1st, I've already nearly finished reading it, cover to cover (sorry Caroline, I've done my best to keep it clean!)  After I put the turkey in the oven on Thursday, instead of taking the time to change out of my pajamas, I sat myself down at the kitchen table (pajamas and all) and read to my little heart's content (I also amused my mother by reading the funniest parts out loud so she could enjoy it, too...)

I was fascinated by the idea of this book when I spotted it: The author makes her way through an extensive list of food items one might usually buy pre-packaged and then breaks things down by discussing whether it tastes better (or not) to make it from scratch, listing objectionable ingredients which might be added to non-homemade items, the cost-effectiveness of making each item by scratch, and also how time/labor intensive each "project" might be.  For me, the most delightful parts of the book were the author's accounts of keeping chickens for eggs and goats for milk.  I won't spoil the fun by recounting here the authors conclusions regarding animal-keeping -- you'll just have to track down this book and read for yourself!

As for following the advice contained in this book?  Despite the authors recommendations, I don't think I'll be making my own bagels, croissants or tortillas, curing my own pastrami, or setting myself up to make Mascarpone & Camembert cheeses any time soon. I still have a pasta-maker, in it's original box, which we received as a wedding gift over 11 years ago, for goodness sakes!  But I love this book... If you read it, let me know if you like it, too!

And just for fun, if you leave a comment, won't you tell me what crazy & ambitious things you like to make from scratch?  What do you feel guilty about buying pre-made (but buy anyhow!) Me?  I like to bake the daintiest of cookies and sandwich them together with jam.  Pre-made guilt? Broth.

P.S.  FYI, in case you're interested, the author of this book (Jennifer Reese) has a blog: The Tipsy Baker.

26.11.11

The Family of Man

As a young child, there was a always a copy of this book lying around the house.  I think it was given as a wedding gift to my parents, and, from the time I was old enough to sit and turn the pages, it was one of my favorite books.

The photos were first displayed as a group in 1955 as an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  The exhibit included photos by Robert Doisneau, Ruth Orkin, Lewis Carroll, Edward Steichen, Irving Penn, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston and many others.

Carl Sandberg wrote in his prologue of the book, "The first cry of a newborn baby in Chicago or Zamboango, in Amsterdam or Rangoon, has the same pitch and key, each saying, "I am!  I have come through! I belong! I am a member of the Family."

All aspects of the human life-cycle and the human condition are depicted:  from youth to old age, birth to death, from joy to sorrow, from love to anger, strife to peace, isolation to inter-connectedness, and everything in between...  I feel as though looking at this book as a young child shaped me and opened me. I have the copy from my childhood home tucked into my own bookshelf now... it's pages are very fragile and so I recently purchased a new copy for my children to enjoy.

 I hope my children love this book as much as I did...

Note: If you are inspired to share this book with your children, too, I recommend previewing it first.  While I don't think any of the images are inappropriate to share with a child, each family has it's own feelings about what is and is not appropriate.  Also, the photos are powerful and some of them raw.  My 8 year old son found a few of the images disturbing, which led us to some good discussions about the images and his reactions.  You know your children and will use your own discretion, I'm sure!