Kitchen Crafts Feed

Gratitude & Remembrance (November Crafts)

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Hello and Happy Thursday, my friends! I hope your November is off to a great start!

I posted the above picture on Facebook and Instagram, because I find it so inspiring when craft supplies are organized for a particular season or month. I don't always have them so well-ordered but I do like to keep items stored in seasonal groupings when possible. This is my "stash" for November and I thought I'd share what we got up to these past couple of days ... :)

November is the month for remembering our blessings and expressing our thanks, and like many families we enjoy keeping a "gratitude project" of some sort in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. There are all kinds of variations on this annual activity, but I kept things super-simple this year ...

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A grapevine heart ($8 at Michaels Arts & Crafts), hung up with some twine, and autumn leaves cut from colorful cardstock ...

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I hung the wreath on our kitchen/dining room door and each day we'll write down our blessings and add a leaf (or leaves) to the wreath. We're only two leaves in now, but I added extras as seen above to show you the overall affect. I think our "Thankful Heart" is rather pretty!

I placed the extra paper leaves in a small box along with a pen and left it on our kitchen table. Hopefully this will remind us to record our blessings around the supper table each night.

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And yesterday (Nov. 2nd) was the feast of All Souls (also known as the Day of the Dead). One of these years we will make the traditional sugar skulls symbolic of this Mexican feast day, but this was not that year. Instead, I used some cupcake liners decorated with colorful skulls (found at Target) ...

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... and made up some "harvest" muffins with that applesauce I told you about in my Halloween post, as well as some mashed squash ...

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... and four beautiful eggs laid by my chickens!

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I try to keep muffins low in sugar but for today's feast I added some simple icing and a pretty chrysanthemum from the garden:

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(Marigolds are actually the traditional Day of the Dead flowers, but my little calendula plant - aka pot marigold - stopped blooming some time ago. I will try to keep next year's plant alive in a sunny window just for this feast day!)

But the muffins were quite a hit with the boys who enjoyed theirs with apple cider, while I had mine with a hot cup of orange spiced tea. All the flavors and smells seemed so autumnal and it was a gorgeous morning, too - so warm and breezy. I had my kitchen window open as I worked and just savored such a blessed day. And baking those muffins really made me think of my grandmother, who was well known for her delicious pink applesauce. In particular, as I milled the apples, my mind was on Gram ... I was using kitchen tools that once belonged to her!

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All I could think was Grama, I hope you can see me and how much you have inspired me. I hope you know just how much I admired you and how your love and vision lives on in my heart and my home even now. Goodness I miss her ...

Anyhoo ... here's another Day of the Dead decoration, a little planter my brother gave me last month:

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So fun! I keep it on my kitchen windowsill. That's an aloe plant growing there ... hopefully I'll keep it alive!

Now, in Catholic tradition, November is dedicated to praying for the Holy Souls. So on the first of this month I set up a small remembrance altar so that we may honor our loved ones who have passed away. I've done this in a windowsill in recent years but this year I decided to devote our living room mantle to the project.

I started with some particle board letters ...

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I bought these at Michaels for $1.49 each and painted them in a soft bronze shade. While they dried (where Little Bear couldn't reach) I got to work on the rest of the altar items - photos, candles and flowers. I have several vases in my collection but I wanted something small, so I made up some simple vases from things I had on hand ...

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These are glass votive candleholders (about $1 at craft stores), along with a bit of sheer ribbon, some rustic twine and small beige doilies.

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I wrapped the green ribbon around each glass twice (securing the ends with a hot glue gun), then wrapped and tied the twine around the middle. The doilies are just lightly glued to the bottom of the glass. (And as you can see I had my usual assistant close at paw hand ... keeping his eye on that twine, sneaky thing that it is ... with all that twisting and twirling.)

Then added more of those orange mums ...

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These fit in nicely with the other remembrance items, but I think they would also be lovely on a Thanksgiving table. Or possibly even a Christmas gift - a paperwhite bulb stuck in some pebbles? I don't know if the glass would be too small, but I think it would be very pretty.

For this annual project I have some small photos of our late loved ones which I display in tiny metal holders (prayer card holders actually - purchased a long time ago at a local Catholic gift shop). But I found I was one short, so I made up a makeshift photo stand with a small binder clip!

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And lastly the candles, which we light as we pray for our dear ones ...

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I have plenty of real candles on hand - some of them blessed at church on Candlemas - but because I have curious cats and young kids about, I decided to stick with battery-lit tea lights this year. 

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I really love how the altar came out. I laid down a wide "ribbon" of burlap before setting it up and hung a garland of autumn leaves just under the mantle edge. I placed our Halloween roses on either end along with some white miniature pumpkins and our beeswax candlesticks ... plus a few Thanksgiving decorations. :)

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I am always fond of projects that involve candlelight, but especially so at this time of year. The days are short and dark and we can all use a little brightening as winter nears. As the year ends we watch nature dwindle and fade - reminding us that our own lives will end just as surely someday. But in the midst of that sadness comes human love and our memories and God's love and our prayers ...

I found this quote the other day and felt so moved by it:

"How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?"

(From The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a book I never read but I sure love that sentiment.)

Traditional prayers are deeply meaningful, of course - but I like to think our every loving thought and memory is a prayer in its own right. Feeling my Grama as I cooked those Macintosh apples and lifted my face to that warm window breeze - is something that is not only good for her soul, but mine. I pray for my loved ones all the time, but I hope I do them as great an honor by living my life by their example, with their unconditional love in my heart. πŸ’›

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Now, it was supposed to be Mexican for supper last night, but I didn't have all the appropriate ingredients on hand ... so American Chop Suey it was ... and with garlic bread, no less! Tonight is a catch-up night with assorted leftovers and grilled cheese sandwiches. Maybe some soup, too ... it's quite rainy and dark out there! Leaves are blowing about and the hens have tucked themselves away for the night. But our lights are lit and our den is warm, so it's all good here ... 

November really is a lovely month. :)

Thanks so much for stopping by my friends ... see you here again very soon!


Summery Thoughts & Pics ... 🌞

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Happy mid-July, my friends! I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying their Summer so far ...

I know my posting has been very slow lately, but all is well here - it's just a very busy, hands-on season in my life! Days begin early - end later than I'd like - and I'm afraid naps are just not a regular thing anymore, lol. I'm finding it a challenge to carve out blogging time these days ... but I am still here! And I appreciate all your thoughts and queries, both here and at my Facebook page. I do not have my blog email working yet, so if you need me, please contact me by leaving a comment here or at FB for the time being. :)

Well, I'm popping in today to say hi and share a few photos if I may. I'm working at the kitchen table right now, sipping some cold coffee and listening to my boys all around me. Little Bear is singing a Spiderman song with Crackerjack while they work on a puzzle on the family room floor ... Earlybird is working hard on math skills with his therapist in the sunroom ... and Bookworm is weaving in and out of the kitchen, getting his own day going ...

Free time might be hard to come by these days, but I'm awfully grateful to be here in this season of life. These full and blessed days go by all too fast ...

Ok. First up - here's a sun craft I made for the Summer Solstice:

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I have always loved those colorful sun and moon plaques you see hanging on the sides of sheds or garden gates ... but goodness, they are expensive! This one is handmade (and rather humbly so) with salt dough. We left it to finish drying outside under its namesake. I haven't had the courage to paint it yet, but once I do and it is sealed against the weather, I will hang it somewhere in our garden ...

Speaking of my garden, it's doing very well, too!

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Above is the Bee Balm which started blooming just before Independence Day. I think it looks like little firework explosions! And boy, do the hummingbirds enjoy them ...

The herbs we planted last year are quite plentiful - I've been gathering them on dry days to hang over my kitchen window.

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In my basket above is St. John's Wort (seen in top picture, too), Thyme, Lavender and Rose petals. The rose bushes out front really did well this season - in fact they are now mostly covered in hips!

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I'll be researching what to do with rose hips, but in the meantime, I used the petals I collected to make some rosewater:

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Doesn't that look pretty? 

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Very easy to do - I placed a cup of rose petals in a glass bowl, covered them with 2 cups boiling water and then allowed them to steep (with a dinner plate resting on top) until cool. Then I strained the water into a jar as seen above. I purchased some amber glass spray bottles which I plan to fill with a couple of different herbal concoctions, one of them being a "rosewater refresher" for hot summer days. :)

And here is the "pretty pink forest" growing in my front yard ...

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These lovely blooms are Astilbe, and there is tons of it growing beneath the family room windows. And out back the Spirea is a veritable pink explosion:

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This whole area (which stands right beside the chicken coop) is a bumblebee haven!

A little more pink to be found along the front walkway ...

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These are Cottage Pinks! I love their clove-like scent - and that they remind me of my grandparents' garden AND that they were a favorite of Tasha Tudor's. So much of gardening is creating and recreating fond memories, isn't it?

 Now, here's a very "interesting" visitor we had in our yard recently ...

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Yes, that is indeed a red fox - and we've never seen one before (even at our old house) but wouldn't you know, the year we finally get chickens ... this fella shows up?

One more garden pic ...

Faerie flower

This tiny plant popped up all on its own beside my herb patch, and I wasn't sure what it was, but after consulting google - and helpful friends on Facebook - we've identified it as "Straw Foxglove!" A tiny cousin to these beauties out front ...

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I love that it's a mystery how it got there ... :)

And here's a pretty picture from my living room, taken on Independence Day morning ...

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The summer weather has been wonderful here in New England - bright and hot for the most part. Maybe a bit too hot this week (mid 90s by Friday) ... so as much as I love open windows, I'm very grateful for air conditioning!

Speaking of gratitude ...

Magnetic letters

It's been many years since we've had magnetic letters on our fridge! I LOVE this age, don't you?

And how about a family pic? 

Happy birthday dad

We celebrated Bill's birthday last weekend, and I just love this shot of him surrounded by all his boys (and me)! In case you can't tell, he's lighting the candles on his cake - we couldn't fit all FIFTY on there! ;)

(Any longtime readers here astounded (as I am) at how big my boys are all getting? They were tiny when I started this blog!)

Parting shot, taken at my local Michaels craft store recently ...

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Mind you, this was taken BEFORE the 4th of July! I am all for planning ahead - and you all know how much I love autumn - but even for me this is just a wee bit too early!

β€œLive in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

(His birthday was yesterday - aka National Simplicity Day - and this is a topic for a whole 'nother post!)

Well my friends, I am going to wrap up now, because if I don't push "publish" soon there's a chance it will be another day or more before I get this post up! (Remember how I was sipping cold coffee back in that third paragraph? Yeah, it's taking me a while to get this post done!)

Plus, I have supper to make, and tonight it's sloppy-joe biscuits, corn on the cob and waffle fries - a real "boys' favorite." I've been a little lax in the meal planning department and really need to get back on track. I'm at the food store more than I'd like these days! 

(Another topic for another day!)

But as always, I thank you for stopping by and reading, and I hope this post finds you well ...

See you here again very soon!


A Craft to Celebrate the Summer Sun!

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Hello everyone, and Happy Wednesday! 

I wanted to share a project I worked on yesterday, in celebration of the Summer Solstice and all the plentiful sunshine we've been enjoying here in New England. But I can't take credit for this idea ... I found bits and pieces of it on Pinterest while filling up my Late Spring Planning Board. (Gosh, I love Pinterest. What did we ever do before Pinterest?!)

Now, as I've mentioned before, I like to assign seasonal themes to each week of the year. This gives me a chance to weave some seasonal awareness into our busy family life ... because otherwise time just flies by and I find myself thinking, where on earth did that season go? It's all too easy to miss out on the little joys that make each season so special! So this week we are taking note of the Summer Solstice and the brilliant Summer sun. Working off a brainstorm list and an established weekly rhythm, I have activities planned for nature, crafts, food, reading, learning and family togetherness. Some of the ideas will appeal to the younger boys and some will hopefully be enjoyed by us all ...

And some ideas are meant just for me! :)

For example, yesterday I made a decoration for our bright and shiny kitchen window where we all gather to eat and watch the wildlife in our yard. I could have involved the boys but they were busy and content to just observe and take comfort in watching mama work quietly while they went about their day. That said, it's really a very easy project and definitely doable with children of all ages. Materials include branches (one big and several smaller, similarly sized), colorful yarn and embroidery thread, a glue gun and oranges.

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(Not to say I didn't have some help ...)

On Monday (nature day), Little Bear helped me gather branches from the yard. We had some stormy weather the other night and it brought down a lot of twigs and branches. LB loves nothing better than driving that wheelbarrow around our yard, picking up leaves and sticks and rocks and whatnot. The ones we found came from our favorite oak tree that lines the drive, and some of the branches will be used in a "bonfire" (fire pit) later this week, while several were deemed perfect for my craft.

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On Tuesday morning, I sliced up an orange and placed those slices on a cookie sheet fitted with a cooling rack. The sheet went into a 200Β° oven for 2-3 hours. Once the orange slices (now dry) were cool, I threaded them onto golden embroidery floss and set them aside. Meanwhile, I took the largest branch we found and hung it in the window (by loops of yarn attached to the ends of the branch and small hooks hung just inside the window frame). I had the older (taller than me!) boys help me hang the orange slices from that branch ...

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I love how they catch the light and look like little suns themselves!

 Later in the afternoon, while the younger boys played nearby, I made up a few God's Eyes, a craft which has always reminded me of the sun, with its colorful center and radiating arms. From what I understand, a God's Eye (or, Ojo de Dios) is of Mexican origin and is made as a blessing, often for children. I like to make them for the Christmas tree, roundabouts the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and though I've previously made them using popsicle sticks, this time out I chose to use natural twigs. I formed the twigs into cross shapes, attaching them at the center with my glue gun and then wove my designs in sunny-colored yarn. There are many directions to be found online for making this craft - and while I'm not skilled in fiber craft, this is so simple and satisfying!

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Finally, I attached the three God's Eyes to the branch and our Summer Window was set ...

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This window faces south so it gets plenty of light ... I love how this looks here!

Today, Wednesday (modeling day), we are making a salt-dough sun plaque for the garden. Or I should say we might ... if we have time! It's also Bookworm's (21st!) birthday so there's a lot going on, including a special dinner for the birthday boy! If we don't get to making our sun shape today, we'll try to work on it tomorrow ... 

{It's always good to make plans and follow a rhythm, but as in all things, flexibility is key!}

Before I go, here are some of the books we're reading this week:

Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven

The Sun Egg by Elsa Beskow

Summer by Gerda Muller

The Longest Day by Wendy Pfeffer

The Summer Solstice by Ellen Jackson

It's a lovely week - the Solstice, the Full Strawberry Moon, Bookworm's birthday and Midsummer Eve/Day - aka, the Nativity of St. John. So many things are blooming in our yard - I gathered a bunch of flowers to dry over my kitchen sink for future crafts ...

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Well my friends, thanks so much for stopping by! I hope you are all doing well and that your week is being kind to you. Happy Summer to all and see you here again very soon ...


Friday Bits and Bobs ~ Domestic Bliss

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Good morning, my friends and Happy Friday! I hope your week is going well. We're still slogging through a cold (flu?) virus of some sort here. Thankfully, Little Bear is MUCH better and aside from a bit of a runny nose and occasional cough, seems fine. My mum is also feeling better, thank God. Earlybird, however, has started coughing ... and I have come down with it as well. Ugh. Its been a while since I've been sick but last night's fever was a real doozy! Very kindly Bill has told me to stay in bed today and he's working from home. So here I am. In bed, surrounded by tissues and cough drops and cats and my giant mug of tea. :)

Anyhoo, enough of that - I am here to share a few photos, just some little moments from yesterday. As you can see I'm having fun with text bubbles again! (Click on the image if you can't read the text!) Above is a glimpse of my workspace on the kitchen counter. I'm really trying to pare down what I have out at any one time, not that you could tell that from the picture! In an upcoming post I'd like to talk more about our home keeping binders and why I have the daybook back on my counter in place of my homemade planner ...

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Tea roses with blurb

I love hanging herbs and flowers in my kitchen window, and I absolutely adore these tiny yellow tea roses, leftover from my cousin's baby shower. I thought I'd try drying them and using the petals in a homemade potpourri - perhaps blended with lavender and chamomile or other herbs from the garden. In the meantime, I think they look very pretty hanging over my kitchen sink!

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Archie sampling tea with blurb

Now that the weather is warming up, I love sitting in the sunroom every chance I get. Here I was working out an Easter menu ... must check in with Mum to get her thoughts ... but meanwhile, Archie helped himself to my tea. The silly thing.

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A new tablecloth for the aforementioned sunroom. Aren't these colors gorgeous? :)

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Tea break with blurb

Rest assured, this picture was taken before the Archie shot! This is an old mug from my grandparents' house and it seemed rather fitting for St. Patrick's Day. :)

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Victorias on bureau with blurb

And here we have a whole bunch of April issues of Victoria magazine - dating back to the 90s! I set them on my bureau for inspiration, hoping to find some time to page through them ... I may get my wish later today. :)

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Well my friends, I hope you enjoyed these snippets of my day ... it was a rather quiet day spent at home, nursing Little Bear's cold, enjoying the sunlight and open windows. Spring feels so close ... and yet, New England is expecting a snowstorm late Sunday (the Vernal Equinox, of all days!). Fingers crossed we don't get too much and that the mild weather coming next week takes care of any white stuff lickety-split! I'm hoping for nice weather, Easter Sunday ...

Thanks so much for stopping by, everyone, and I wish you all a wonderful weekend!

See you here again every soon ...


Seasonal Food: Special for Rose Sunday!

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Happy Monday, my friends! I hope your week is off to a great start!

As some of you saw me "tease" on Facebook, I made a special dessert for Laetare (or Rose) Sunday yesterday ... and I'd like to tell you all about it! Because not only was it yummy, but it was also fairly easy to make and came out rather pretty. :)

Now, I've made custards before on Rose Sunday (the fourth Sunday in Lent, also known as Mothering Sunday in Europe) but this is the first time I've made a custard "tart." I first saw the clever apple "roses" on Pinterest a while back and thought - how pretty - but when I came across the recipe for an Apple Custard Tart of Roses I knew it would be perfect for this particular Sunday!

The crust was made from a blend of almond meal and AP flour, as well as confectioner's sugar, vanilla, orange peel, an egg and unsalted butter. I pressed it into a deep dish pie plate, but I think I'd use a shallower pan next time. )The custard didn't fill this pan to the top.)

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I placed it in the fridge while I set about making the custard ...

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More goodness in here - egg yolks (I use organic ingredients whenever possible), vanilla, sugar, orange peel, whole milk, cornstarch and Moscato wine. I find custard can be tricky but this cooked up very quickly - once it was thickened a bit I set it aside to cool and turned my attention to the apples.

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This seemed like it was going to be so much harder than it actually was! Basically, you use apple peels to form rosebuds. The recipe called for Pink Lady apples which I was able to find at my market and they were very pretty indeed.

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I had to have Bill help me though, as I had trouble wielding our peeler. He was a great sport and added all these roses to the custard tart for me!

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Once the pie was full of "roses" (note the two that came from McIntosh apples, lol - we ran out of Pink Ladies!), we brushed them with warm apricot jam. 

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(If you're thinking that's a kiddie paint brush, you'd be right. It was new, I promise! I am in dire need of a few kitchen tools, one being a pastry brush!)

The tart was popped into the oven to bake for 40 minutes ... and BOY did the house smell amazing! I had boys coming out of the woodwork to wonder what on earth was in the oven. (It even got the college boy home on break out of bed!)

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And here it is all done!

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I think they look like antique roses ... a very pretty effect!

The best part of course was its taste - which was wonderful! The custard was sweet and creamy, with the tang of the wine and freshness of the orange. And the crust was thick and tender, really lovely. As for the apple roses, I think next time I will use strips with more flesh than peel - they'll be easier to shape and softer looking like those in the original recipe. All in all though, this is a keeper - a really nice recipe to add to our seasonal menus! I love this for Rose Sunday for its symbolism, but as I mentioned above, it would also be nice for Easter or Mother's Day, or even a summer garden party.

This recipe is a great example of seasonal eating - not necessarily in its ingredients (though apples can be stored year 'round), but in the real spirit of the meal. I am so pleased to add this to our Early Spring repertoire. Another favorite alongside Good Friday's hot cross buns and St. Patrick's brown bread and St. Joseph's homemade donuts and the Vernal Equinox's pasta primavera ... etc.!

Well my friends, I hope you all enjoy the rest of your day ... I am mostly staying off social media until I see last night's episode of Downton Abbey - hopefully I'll catch up tonight, though I must admit there's a big part of me that DOESN'T want to watch ... because if I don't watch, then it can never be over ... right? ;)

Thanks so much for stopping by, everyone ... see you here again very soon!


A Citrus Craft for Candlemas

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Blessed Candlemas, my friends! A Happy Groundhog's Day, too!

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 I hope you are all enjoying a nice Sunday. Pleasant weather here in my corner of the world ... almost spring-like, dare I say it - the birds are singing and the light is just a skosh brighter. Nearly 50 degrees right now - way above normal - but we'll take it!

Yet according to Mr. Groundhog, we're in for another 6 weeks of winter?

Here are a few pictures from my morning ... first off, what a sunrise! One of the perks of rising so early is witnessing those beautiful first moments of the day ... as the sky changes its color and mood. I was so taken with the scene over this frozen marsh on our way to Mass, I had to pull over and snap a picture with my phone. The sun like a candle-flame peeking through those low-lying clouds ...

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And when we got home from church (with a fresh supply of blessed candles), I set to work on a little craft I'd seen in a magazine recently ...

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So much easier than you might think! You start with a fresh orange ...

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(And citrus is so lovely at this time of year ...)

Halve the orange and scoop out the flesh so you're left with just the white inner rind. Then take some candles (it's smart to use up old ones, but I had surplus tealights so I went with those) and melt them in a double boiler ...

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Once the wax was melted, I poured it into the orange shell, with a candle wick supsended in the middle. (I ordered these natural candle wicks through Amazon, but I'm sure they're available at local craft stores.) I just held the wick still for a couple of minutes until the wax had stabilized enough to grab the wick.

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Then I pushed whole cloves into the rim of the orange, trimmed the wick, and waited for the wax to fully set.

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 All done and smelling fantastic!

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I think these would make really lovely Christmas gifts, don't you? Simple enough to do with the children (teacher's gifts perhaps?) - just add some pretty wrap, maybe a soft handkerchief and some ribbon. I'll be making a note about this in my seasonal planner! :)

Now, in honor of St. Brigid's Day (which was yesterday) I am planning to make shepherd(ess) pie for dinner ... just some scrambled hamburger topped with kernel corn and rich cheesey potatoes. Some crusty bread, too, and a mixed berry cobbler for dessert ...

That all sounds good of course, but I'll see what fits in! My day begins early so by necessity, it must end the same way ... and sometimes things that appear quite "do-able" at dawn, seem near impossible by dusk ... does that ever happen to you?

Well for now I'll sign off, with a wish that you enjoy a pleasant evening, and a hope to see you here again very soon ...

Blessings to you all!


Michaelmas Jam

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Happy almost-October, my friends!

I saw a recipe in The Herb Quarterly for a "Spiced Blackberry Spread" and I thought - wouldn't that be lovely at Michaelmas? Since blackberries are tied into Michaelmas legend, I thought I'd rename my attempt, "Michaelmas Jam." :)

Anyhoo, I got some nice local blackberries and this weekend I cooked up a pot of this "jam" or "conserve" or "relish," if you will. It's not a sweet concoction, mind you ... something you'd eat alongside a meat dish perhaps. I was thinking (hoping) it will be nice next to our roast chicken tonight. (If anyone would like the recipe, please let me know in the comments below.)

And aren't these jars gorgeous?

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Here's a peek inside at the fruit ...

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I also made cupcakes for a party we attended this weekend, but I left some at home so the boys could enjoy their traditional "Michael's Sword Cakes." (These are just devil's food cupcakes, topped with buttercream and pierced by a cocktail sword - just as St. Michael slew the terrible dragon.)

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Tonight is also the Full Harvest Moon - my favorite moon of the year! - alas, it's raining here, so I guess we'll be missing it. Nevertheless, in its honor we are also having a medley of roasted harvest vegetables alongside that roast chicken and spiced jam ... and if I'm feeing especially ambitious, I just might make a dragon bread, too. (Though as the day goes on, that looks less and less likely, lol.)

So my friends, I thank you for stopping by and I wish you all a Happy Michaelmas ... any special plans for the evening? We here are quite excited for the season premiere of Once Upon a Time and then, thanks to our dvr, Bill and I will check out that new PBS show, Call the Midwife. I'll have a Masterpiece Monday post up tomorrow morning so we can all chat about that. :)

So take care of yourselves and your loved ones, and I'll see you here again very soon!

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p.s. Don't forget - "Rabbit, Rabbit" in the morning!


Picalilli: Familiar or No?

Hello again, my friends!

Picalilli jars

So in my morning post I described how my mother and I cooked up a batch of Labor Day Picalilli this weekend. I have since spoken with several people about the recipe and it seems that while relatives and local friends know just what I'm talking about, folks from other parts of the country (and world) have never heard of this particular dish ...

Well, this made me curious, of course!

So dear readers, would you do me a favor? Would you tell me if you have ever heard of picalilli before, and if so, how? I'm trying to figure out if picalilli is purely a New England phenomenon - kind of like Indian Pudding and Fluffernutter. :)

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts! Enjoy the rest of your day ...

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Fruits of Our Labor ...

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Eight quarts of picalilli!

I don't can much aside from picalilli, but I really wish I did. There's something so satisfying about seeing all those pretty jars lining your pantry. But picalilli is about more than just using up summer produce for me - it's about fond family memories and food that looks, smells and tastes like this time of year.

Are there any favorite pickles or preserves you make every year?

*❀*

Now, I believe picalilli has numerous interpretations (it may vary by region, I'm not sure), but this is how my mum and I make it. We follow my grandmother's recipe which she followed for years - though I'm not sure where she got it originally. That's a picture of Gram below and a very old recipe card that belonged to her sister, my Great Aunt Frannie).

Labor day picalilli 2

(I use this tiny glass rooster stand for holding my daily chore cards - I like to keep Gram's picture here too because - well, for one thing, I miss her - and for another, doing my daily chores makes me think of her; she was a wonderful example of a loving, earnest and truly happy housekeeper. When I take care of my daily tasks I think of my gram and let her spirit encourage me. ❀)

Ok, but back to the picalilli!

So I started with 15 pounds of green tomatoes which I purchased from a local farm. I don't grow my own tomatoes - not for lack of trying, mind you - but my grandmother would use tomatoes from my grandfather's garden. In later years, after my grandfather passed, we would start stalking local farms in August to determine who could provide us with the green (unripe) tomatoes we'd need. (Sometimes you have to ask - not all farms put the green tomatoes out front.)

In addition to the tomatoes, I chopped up three red peppers and three lbs. of organic onions ...

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I had to divide the vegetables between two large pots because I didn't have a kettle large enough for the whole mix! (It's on my list for next year!)

So I did this Sunday night, and then sprinkled a cup of salt over the vegetables (half over each pot) and then let them sit overnight.

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On Labor Day morning, the salted vegetables had sweated quite a bit, so first we (my mum and I) drained off the accumulated liquid. Then we added one bunch of celery, chopped fine, as well as one quart of cider vinegar and a bag of pickling spice.

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(We use McCormick's Pickling Spice - the whole 1.5 oz. jar divided, and wrapped in cheesecloth bags.)

Then we added seven "teacups" of sugar ... 

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This was the measurement my grandmother used, her Irish china teacup ... 

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We gently mixed the ingredients and then set the pots to high, just to bring the temperature up, then back to medium to cook for 45 minutes.

As the picalili bubbles away on the stove, I just love inhaling that spicy-sweet smell ...

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Once the picalilli is finished cooking, we removed it from the heat and then filled our prepared jars:

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(Prepared as in, washed and sanitized through the dishwasher, then dried well.)

We processed the sealed jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Note: my grandmother never used to do this, but Mum and I decided to take this extra step.

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Final product: eight jars of Labor Day Picalilli!

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Picalilli is a tangy-sweet relish, a lovely condiment to all kinds of meals. Last night Bill had some on his burger and dipped his steak fries in it as well. Tonight I'll serve it with meatloaf, baked potatoes and farmstand corn - as part of a special "back to school" supper. It's truly a seasonal and sentimental favorite!

***

Well my friends, I hope your week's going well. Are your kids back to school? Are you working out a new routine? It's hard to believe summer - for all intents and purposes - is over, but honestly? I'm more than ready for fall. :)

Thanks so much for stopping by ... I will see you here again very soon!

❀


The Lego Party that Almost Was ...

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So yesterday was supposed to be Crackerjack's "friends" birthday party (as opposed to his "family" party which takes place next weekend) but alas, we had to postpone it. We spent much of last week preparing - working off a big master list - and by Saturday bedtime I had *everything* all set to go (save for picking up balloons, ordering pizza and filling the coolers with ice) ...

But great organization is no match for a 1 a.m. stomach bug, I'm afraid.

(Timing is everything, right?)

Anyhoo! We've rescheduled the kids party for a few weeks out (something to look forward to, right?) and Crackerjack was a really good sport about it. And he did get to open a few gifts ...

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While I have you here, I'll show you how the cake came out ...

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(Longtime readers might remember I've made this minifig cake before - CJ requested it again!)

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Lego bday 3

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But, oh my - the food dye I used for this frosting! I was cringing, lol. But it was the only way to get those vibrant "Lego" colors. (I was also planning to serve homemade chocolate cupcakes with plain vanilla frosting for Earlybird and those who don't tolerate artificial food dyes. I hadn't made those yet before the bug hit.)

Needless to say - now that the bug has passed - we have ourselves a bit of cake to eat. Could I freeze it all? Probably, but I've never been very successful at freezing baked goods. So all this will be made again fresh come September 1st ~ the date of the rescheduled party!

*❀*

Now, I know I usually do a "Money" post on Mondays, but I will wait and put that up tomorrow since I've already posted so much today and it's starting to get late ... time to make Crackerjack's "favorite" birthday supper: kielbasa and veggie bake, couscous and ... waffle dippers! ;)

So please stay tuned! And I'll see you all again sometime soon!


Simple, Summery Fun

To celebrate the arrival of Summer, Earlybird and I worked on two simple, seasonal crafts today. The first thing we did was to make a pitcher of "Sun" Tea ...

Sun tea 1

We set this on the deck as the heat began to build (it's a doozy of a day here - high's near 100!). We just filled a clear pitcher with plain water and added five tea bags ...

Then we let The Sun do its work!

And about four hours later ...

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We had fresh, naturally-brewed Sun Tea!

EB had no interest in trying the tea himself, though he did like smelling it, and he did enjoy helping me "doctor" it with ice, sugar and lemon.

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 I thought it was absolutely delicious!

Now, the other craft we worked on was a festive, fruity kitchen garland ...

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We (meaning me, weilding a serrated knife) sliced lemons and clementines into 1/4-inch thin rounds, and then threaded them with twine ...

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Sun garland 1

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Then we strung them up above the kitchen sink to dry!

Don't they look pretty in the soft window light? I plan to hang some small bunches of herbs here (from our garden) as the summer goes along. I told EB that this fruit - so juicy and jewel-like right now - would dry out (preserve) as time went on. Of course, the fruit flies think they've died and gone to fruit fly heaven ... so we'll see what breaks first - my patience or their perseverence!

Earlybird and I also looked at the calendar and talked about the cycle of the year ... how we're just about mid-way through, and that at the opposite end of the year we'll arrive at the first day of winter. I suggested we save the (eventually) dried citrus rounds to use in a homemade holiday potpourri. We even marked it down on the calendar - a craft for the winter solstice - so he can see how time passes ...

And so we'll turn Summer's bounty into Winter's gifts. :)

*☼*

So a very Happy Summer to you all! I hope this new season brings your family much joy and contentment. Summer is notorious for flying by so enjoy it while you can!

Thanks so much for stopping by ... see you again very soon!


Friday Goodies

Happy Weekend, my friends! I hope you all had a nice day.

I didn't have much time to work on a post today, but I still wanted to pop in tonight and show you all a few things if I could. First of all ... here's the first batch of Bake Sale goodies, all ready to go!

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Aren't these cake pops pretty? My friend Amanda and her children made them and she delivered them to my house today since she can't be at the Sale itself tomorrow. I'm so excited! It's starting to feel real!

Alas, I'm a bit behind on my own baking, but so far I got the rainbow blondies done ...

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... though I still have dulce de leche cereal bars to make as well as some strawberry muffins.

Can't you just smell these beauties?

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I'm also working on the posters and signs ...

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... and I'm so in love with my new pens!

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I haven't had markers of my own in some time. And these are my favorite kind ... I had Pentel pens when I was a young girl and I'm thrlled they are still made the same way - right down to the size, style, packaging, font, etc!

And just because it's so pretty and colorful, here's a peek into a new little book I bought.

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A charming "new" take on the beloved hymn, "All Creatures Great and Small." The illustrations are so sweet.

And here is, perhaps, my favorite "Friday Goodie" of all:

Friday Wine

A glass of Barefoot Merlot, my favorite red wine. :)

Happy Weekend, indeed!

So I may be a bit scarce this weekend, due to tomorrow's Bake Sale, but I'll take LOTS of pictures and will return just as soon as I can to catch up with you all ...

But if I may - before I go - could I ask for your prayers and good thoughts on behalf of our Bake Sale tomorrow? I'm ridiculously a bit nervous because I've never done this before, and though everything seems to be coming together, I can use all the help I can get! If you remember, my homeschool mama friends have generously supported my wish to hold a Bake Sale for Autism Speaks. I have a great group of lovely women advising me, baking for me, and helping me at the table all day ... I'm blessed to have such support!

You know, I've always wanted to run a bake sale ... and of course, autism is an issue near and dear to our hearts. So I am doing this for our Earlybird, but in a way, I'm doing this for me too. It will be fun, certainly (and fulfill that lifelong "bake sale" dream of mine) but it will feel so good to raise money for this worthy, and very personal, cause. Because when we support those who are affected by autism, we support those who love them as well. :)

Thank you so much everyone - for your prayers, for your time, and as always, for your very kind attention.

Good Night and God Bless!

❀


Happy Halloween Donuts!

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Well, this was all kinds of fun!

A batch of freshly baked pumpkin donuts, glazed and adorned with a few "tricks and treats!"

Donuts are a traditional autumn food - they're soft, sweet and SUCH a treat! My favorites are freshly baked cider donuts - they are simply a must at the farm in the fall! Dunkin Donuts always does fun holiday-themed donuts, but Earlybird - though enthralled by those ads and what he sees in the shop windows - can't have commercially prepared donuts. He asks for them, of course - he's a child after all, and they look good! - but I explain that he can't eat those particular donuts. I tell him that they're made with things that would make him feel crummy. I always have a plan though - something to take the sting out of missing out - so I suggested a homemade alternative ... delicious donuts made at home, with good things he can eat!

Now we've baked donuts before (remember these pretty things last Christmas?), but for this time of year I wanted a pumpkin spice donut. So I just googled "baked pumpkin donut" and found lots of options. The recipe I found here sounded awesome, so I decided to try it out.

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One really neat trick I learned from this recipe was to pipe the donut batter into the pan using a ziploc bag (with the corner snipped off). This made it so easy!

I will also mention that I used squash puree instead of pumpkin since I had it on hand (despite what the kids think, squash really is no different from pumpkin!). Also, I did not make a maple-cinnamon glaze as the recipe suggests - though it sounded lovely, I wanted something plainer. So I just used vanilla instead of maple extract and left out the cinnamon.

After baking (for about 14 minutes - we made ours dense), I set them to cool in the front window ...

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And while the donuts were cooling, I made the vanilla glaze ...

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Doesn't that early morning sunshine look pretty? :)

We raided the holiday candy stash for embellishments - but I left one plain for EB. (Funnily enough, though he loves the look of the decorated donuts, he'd rather eat something less textured.)

Crackerjack helped me with the garnishing:

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You can see our final designs in the top picture - notice the one in the upper left corner? That's our homage to the "frost snow on the punkin" this year! ;)

Now obviously these donuts would be a real treat even without all the candy and sprinkles, etc. That was just in the spirit of the holiday at hand. ;)

But considering the donuts are baked, and made with minimal fats, they're really not all that bad for you! In fact, I was thinking that these spiced "squash" donuts would be lovely on Thanksgiving morning ... Munching on spicy, warm donuts while watching the Macy's parade? Sounds like a plan to me!

Well my friends, I wish you all a good Monday, and a Happy Halloween as well! I hope you all have a nice day (and night). Be safe and have fun!

I'll be back again sometime soon ...

:)


November is upon us ...

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"November comes 
And November goes, 
With the last red berries 
And the first white snows.

With night coming early, 
And dawn coming late, 
And ice in the bucket 
And frost by the gate.

The fires burn 
And the kettles sing, 
And earth sinks to rest 
Until next spring."

~ Elizabeth Coatsworth

Just after 8 p.m. last night, as we sat down to watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, we noticed the cats staring out the back window, peering into the darkness with a look of absolutely enchanted curiosity. We flipped on the outside lights to see what was up, and lo and behold - it was snowing! 

I had just finished telling the boys about my favorite childhood Thanksgiving, when all the cousins went for a long walk after dinner and on our way back it started snowing. I've always held that memory dear - for the family togetherness as well as the perfectly timed first snow of the year. I do love a late autumn snow ...

But this is just crazy.

Snow in October? Snow before Halloween? We have a storm heading our way this weekend ... bringing with it anywhere from 1-3 to 3-6 inches, depending on its ultimate track ...

C-r-a-z-y!

But let's focus on calmer, happier things, shall we? Let's embrace the season before us, and make ready for a new month to enjoy. I spent some time perusing my November notes recently, and I thought I'd share a few themes and plans for next month ... things that make November special for our family.

~*Learning/Living/Faith/Nature/Home*~

Give thanks to the birds ~ make them some homemade suet treats. Set them out on Thansgiving day morning.

On All Soul's Day (11/2), create a remembrance altar - tiny tealights (rosemary candles if I can find them/make them), marigold blossoms, framed pictures of departed loved ones.

Celebrate the Full Beaver Moon (11/10): walk to the river, look for dams or other evidence of beavers; watch this fun movie.

Collect woodland goodies so the kids can make "Thanksgiving Potpourri."

Field trip! Visit a local cranberry bog ~ make a fragrant relish for Turkey Day.

Look under logs ... visit a bog.

Go on a nest walk: look for squirrel dreys and all kinds of (now visible) nests.

Observe varieties of moss and lichens in the woods (and backyard). Sketch in journals ... make a tiny terrarium for the Nature Shelf.

Display our Thankgiving books.

Launder soft throw blankets and place them in a handy basket.

Make watercolor post cards using soft, autumnal colors - russet, amber, gray, olive - and write Thankgiving greetings to send to friends and family.

Look for the returning juncos, our little snowbirds that herald Winter's return. (We spotted one the other day - so I guess this snow should not be surprising!)

Push our clocks back (11/5) and make way for shorter, darker days. 

Read about animal homeshibernation, and how they survive the snow.

Take time to enjoy the sound of geese flying overhead.

Organize the pantry early in the month - make sure we have our holiday baking supplies in order.

Order mixed dried fruit for making fruitcakes.

Mix up mulling spices:

Mix: 2 cups dried orange peel, 2 cups broken cinnamon sticks, 1 cup whole allspice berries, 1 cup whole cloves, 4 broken star anise. Store in closed jar.

To use: Mix 1/4 cup spices per gallon cider, wine or apple juice. Simmer 30 minutes before serving.

(From China Bayles' Book of Days)

Clean, shop, cook for Thanksgiving. (That's oversimplifying things, but that's a whole 'nother post!)

Set up a knitting basket - start working on scarves for Christmas.

Hang our Gratitude Banner to work on all month.

Write out different autumnal and thankful words on small pieces of paper. Let EB make his own "November poetry." 

On Martinmas (11/11), gather donations for the Parish Food Drive. 

Work on Advent Calendar Project (ready to go 12/1).

~***~
A couple more "snow" pictures from this morning ...

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It might be crazy ... but it sure looks beautiful!

And as I finish this post (10 a.m.) the snow is all gone. The sun is shining and a seasonable day is ahead. Snow or no, I hope you all have a nice Friday ... and a happy last few days of October.
Take care, keep safe, and be blessed ... 
I'll be back again soon!
:)

Wednesday Q & A

Butterfly1 

Good morning, my friends ...

Well, Earlybird has the big-bad cold now - he woke up with a barking cough, and cranky as all get out, proclaiming, "I'm sick now!" So we're doing an impromptu mini-unit on germs this week - how we get sick, and how we can stay healthy. In the spirit of things I've set up a new book list called "Winter Health Study" and we'll be making some nutritious fruit smoothies and soup. Nothing like hands-on learning, right? ;)

Anyways, while I'm here, I wanted to catch up with some of the questions that have been left in recent comments ...

Oh! I've wanted to read Artful Blogging for the longest time! Do you like it? ~ Jen

It is an absolutely beautiful magazine, Jen. Lots of delicious eye candy, and some very inspiring stories and helpful suggestions. It's one of those magazines you can just flip through and absorb visually - and that would be enough - but even better when you can find the time to sit and read through the articles. Somerset magazines are quite expensive so aside from this gift issue I've only purchased AB once before. (I think it was a birthday treat to myself last year lol.) One thing I did come away with - besides maybe a bit of blog envy, lol - is a wish for a better camera. The photographs are just so clear and beautiful! My envy shames me a little though, because I am really very happy with my Cybershot. It's easy to use and that's why I use it so much - no lenses to mess with and I basically ignore the special settings. Still, I look at all those yummy pictures and ... sigh. ;)

Now, I have to admit to feeling a bit jealous that you have Where Women Cook....I have been searching high and low for it...here at home in Florida and points in between. I guess I'll have to order it. Are you enjoying it? ~ Mary Chris

Mary Chris, I received both Artful Blogging and Where Women Cook as Christmas presents, but I have seen them at Barnes & Noble. They are absolutely beautiful and so inspiring! 

Where Women Cook, like AB, is also filled with lots of "eye candy" ... beautiful pictures - of food, dishes, cooking spaces, and some yummy recipes as well. I've only skimmed this issue so far - but I'm excited to dig in and read more thoroughly. Some of the women featured in this month's issue include ~ Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman), Joy Stinger (who raises makes lovely honey and wax crafts), Serena Thompson (The Farm Chicks), and MaryJane Butters (MaryJane's Farm). Scrumptious recipes are featured throughout, too ~ like Blackberry Scones, Meaty Lasagna and Saltine Caramel Bars.

Both Where Women Cook and Artful Blogging are splurges for sure, but well worth the money spent - for the information and inspiration!

I have 2 questions from older posts since I have exhausted my own search. 1.) Where do you purchase the 2010-11 Academic Daily planner and did you add the tabs yourself? 2.) I loved those autumn sheets. What brand? ~ Sherrylynne in Mpls

Sherrylynne, I buy the daily planner at my local Hallmark Paper Store, but I found it online here, too. And yes, I added the tabs myself - I think I bought them at Staples - possibly Target.

The sheets are from LL Bean, but I don't think they carry them anymore. For the record, they are incredibly soft and wash up so well. I definitely recommend LL Bean bedding in general. :)

Did you make those pizellecookies? They look yummy as does that poundcake. I'd like to try them both ~ Jan

I didn't make the pizelle cookies, Jan - they were an impulse buy at the supermarket down the street, lol. I've always wanted to try making pizzelle cookies - I'm not a big fan of anise (which is, I believe, the traditional flavoring for these delicate cookies) but I do love pizzelles made with vanilla or citrus. I like to serve them on the Feast of St. Agnes - a saint who is special to us - as "St. Agnes Snowflakes."

I've had my eye on this pizzelle maker for some time ... and I also like the idea of making homemade ice cream cones with pizzelle cookies. Especially since EB can't eat commercially made cones. 

It is funny that you posted a food post today because I read a book this week that reminded me so very much of you. It is called The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. Have you ever read it? Such a lovely book! ~ Jackie

I have not read that book, but my library has a copy so I'll definitely be checking it out! Thank you for the recommendation!

Not that I have a lot of time for reading, but I am always grateful for good book recommendations, so please readers, if you have some - lay them on me! ;)

I was checking out some of my favorite sites and found this place and immediately thought of you. These are the cutest journals. ~ Nancy

Nancy, that is such a neat site! I loved looking through the journals they have posted there ... very inspiring! Thanks for the link. :)

***

OK, I think I've caught up with all the questions and links left for me recently. Thank you SO much to everyone who stops by, and special gratitude for those who leave an encouraging comment, or a helpful link. I appreciate each and every one of my visitors.

Have a wonderful Wednesday, everyone ~ hope your week is going well!


Our 'Happy Winter Tree,' Part III

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First of all, a Very Happy Winter to you all!

As you can see from my pictures, we ended up having a good bit of snow overnight, which made everyone in this household very happy. Perhaps we'll have that White Christmas after all? :)

It's so beautiful here right now as I type up this post - quiet, gray, a few flurries lingering in the air. I'm sitting in the family room, nursing my coffee and enjoying the fire. It's truly a lovely Winter's day ...

 Very early this morning, we made our final Solstice Tree decorations. Bill popped popcorn and cracked open the coconut for us before leaving for work. The popcorn will be strung with cranberries for a bird-friendly garland (I'll work on it during quiet moments through the day). The coconut was halved, drained, and drilled ~ then filled with seed, dried fruits and nuts. We also made bread stars and pretty pineapple rings to add to the tree. 

Here are the tree ornaments ready to hang:

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And now for a look around the Tree itself ...

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It was too tricky to pierce and thread the bread stars, so we just placed them out along the railing. The coconut halves were looped around posts on either side of the tree. Bill used a handsaw to open the coconuts and a power drill to make the holes for the twine. The birds can nibble on the dried fruit, nuts or the coconut flesh itself if they so desire.

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Dried pineapple rings were tied on with bits of festive ribbon. They remind me of little suns or maybe full moons. Either symbol works here, really ~ on this day the sun begins to grow stronger, and this is the night of December's full moon.

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I really like how the gingebread folk came out. I think these treats would make nice gifts for people next year.

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Above is a donut ring, one of the pinecones, and a coconut half in the background.

Below is a heart ...

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Merry Christmas, dear little birdies and beasties! Our wish for you this year is that you keep safe and well fed. We look forward to watching you all Winter long. :)  

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Later today I'll bake a treat for MY little beasties ~ a lemony "sun" cake ~ and for supper tonight we'll enjoy a hearty cottage pie, some toasty rolls and warm spiced wine (cranberry juice for the kids). A real Welcome Winter Feast! :)

Oh! And as for last night ~ did anyone catch the lunar eclipse? Funnily enough, I was actually awake at 4 a.m. (of my own doing, not Earlybird's) but the skies were too cloudy to see anything but falling snow! But here's a very cool photo blog of the moon as it was eclipsed last night all across the world ...

Well, I hope you all have a lovely Tuesday for yourselves ~ Happy Winter, Happy Advent, and Thanks for stopping by! See you all again very soon ... :)


Our 'Happy Winter Tree,' Part II

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Well first of all, this has been quite a Monday! It started off pretty quiet, but before we knew it there were huge trucks arriving next door and loud engines starting up and oh my - trees were being felled! Like - really tall evergreen trees, literally right outside our family room windows! Then next thing we knew, the doorbell was ringing and packages were arriving and Nana stopped by and snow started falling - and this was all before noontime! 

If ever there was a week for "bustle," this is it ~ I love it!

It was also a busy morning in our kitchen as we set about making our Solstice Tree treats. Now, before I launch into the how-to's I'd like to mention that last week at our Nature Club meeting my friend Ketylina demonstrated a similar suet making project. I paid rapt attention and brought home the recipe as well as some ideas for making more projects at home.

 So here are the ingredients laid out by my stovetop. (And I apologize for the poor lighting in the next several photos - my kitchen is not very bright, unfortunately.)

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In front is the package of beef suet* I bought at the market yesterday, and just behind, from left to right, we have: mixed bird seed, rolled oats, dried cranberries, currants, chunky peanut butter, hulled sunflower seeds, cornmeal, walnuts, hazelnuts and dried pineapple rings (the pineapple is actually for something else, lol).

(Notes: The recipe I followed came from this site, thanks again to Ketylina. *If you don't see suet at the meat counter, ask your butcher; he or she may be able to package some up for you. Alternatively, you can use lard in place of the suet.)

I first chopped the suet into small chunks and set them in a heavy saucepan over medium heat:

Suet2

(Kind of gross, yes, but I tried not to think too much about it, lol.)

While the suet was melting (or rendering), I divided the "mix-ins" into one cup measurements (easier for small - and impatient - hands to deal with):

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Here's how the suet looked once it was finished rendering (and lingering chunks were strained out with a sieve):

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One pound of suet yielded about 2 cups liquid. Next, the boys had fun adding in all the mix-ins as I stirred the mixture with a strong wooden spoon ...

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I poured the concoction into a glass measuring cup for easier handling ...

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... and on the island I had some molds prepared:

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Gingerbread men, donut rings ...

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(Bookworm took a break from his work to gather pinecones for us from the yard.)

After filling the available molds we still had more left, so I pulled out some heart shaped ramekins and a Tupperware container to catch the remaining mixture:

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(Note: I placed lengths of twine in the molds before pouring in the suet mix. Theoretically, this will make it possible to hang the shapes in the tree tomorrow.)

And here's our spread!

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Into the freezer it all went ...

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Tomorrow, on the first day of Winter, we'll take the frozen treats and decorate our Solstice Tree (along with a few other goodies we'll prepare in the morning). I think the birds and squirrels will be especially grateful considering they made themselves pretty scarce during all the loud tree work today!

One more picture before I go ...

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Just in case the snow is gone by tomorrow, here's our Tree as it looked at 3 p.m. today. It sure looks and feels like Winter right about now!

And speaking of Winter, tomorrow brings not only December's Full "Cold" Moon - but a total lunar eclipse as well! (Details can be found here.) I may be up early enough to catch the tail end of it, but the trick will be remembering to look, lol!

Have a great night, everyone! See you sometime tomorrow. :)


A Few (Random) Friday Thoughts

Heading into the long holiday weekend, enjoying a quiet day here at home, watching the skies for signs of Hurricane Earl. Still organizing photos from the beach trip the other day - I'll post those over the weekend. :)

~*~ Working in my journal today - I've been neglecting it lately. I also have a bunch of magazines piled up in my reading basket: a lovely new Victoria, The Autumn Baking Sheet from King Arthur Flour, Mary Jane's Farm, Living Crafts, Country Home (SO excited this is being published again!) and the Jamie magazine from England. 

~*~ Speaking of Jamie Oliver - my new favorite TV show is Jamie at Home on the Cooking Channel. (I have his book of the same name on hold at the library.) I love the backdrop of this show - it's set in his English home, against his English garden. His cooking is earthy and fresh and I love all the British-isms, too. :)

~*~ Recently we got a new sectional for the family room (in a deep chocolate brown) and my favorite thing to do in the evening is to curl up on the chaise end and watch some TV or read. I can't wait till it's cool enough to have a fire in the fireplace and add a soft throw blanket or two at the end of the seat. :)

~*~ Calling around to local farms enquiring about green tomatoes - I was really hoping to make piccalilli this year! (It's kind of a Labor Day tradition for us.) So far it's been a fruitless search - nobody seems to have green tomatoes on hand! 

~*~ But speaking of Labor Day, this is always the last day of summer vacation for us, and it's also always the day we revise the chores lists for all family members. Who's been doing what - and who can stand to do more - that kind of thing. :) 

~*~ Before he left for work this morning, Bill brought in our bikes, and took down our tent and secured outdoor furniture and any stray toys. We're not expecting the full brunt of Hurricane Earl, but the winds are supposed to be pretty high overnight.

~*~ Do you know what I love? I love the smell of the dryer vent outside my kitchen windows - it reminds me of being a kid, playing outside and smelling that distinct homey smell. Knowing my mother was just inside (or my grandmother perhaps), at home with us, keeping the household humming. Very comforting. :)

~*~ Thank you for all the Lipsmackers tips and reminiscences! I'll be scouring online to see if I can find that Toasted Marshmallow flavor I loved best of all. For the record, I also liked Bubble Gum and Sour Grapes. ;) Oh and yes, Penny I remember Love's Baby Soft as well! It was the first fragrance I was allowed to wear on a regular basis - the small bottle of Tinkerbell cologne spray I kept on my vanity paled in comparison to the pretty pink parcel I received for Christmas that year - I believe the set included a set of eau de perfume, powder and ... maybe it was lotion? I can't recall. But I can recall the lovely fragrance that made me so feminine and so grown up! My mum wore beautiful perfumes - and I always loved the way she smelled, especially when she was going out somewhere with my dad. But best of all I loved her Jean Nate after-bath splash. That's another smell from my childhood. :)

~*~ Oh, and for Melissa from Australia, who asked about s'mores ... S'mores are a delicous treat, and I believe, the name came from a contraction of "some and more" - as in, you'll want some more! They are, traditionally, a camping treat because they're so portable and easy to make: two layers of graham cracker, a layer of chocolate bar and stuck in the middle is a marshmallow that's been toasted over an open fire. They are soooo good. I never thought about it, but perhaps they are an American thing?

~*~ And finally, here's one of my precious red squirrels snacking on the withering raspberry vines this morning ...

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I hope you all have a lovely, safe weekend - holiday weekend if you live in the States. Be back again just as soon as I can ...


Our Buche de Noel!

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 I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but Bookworm is taking a weekly French class this year. It's a small class of boys and girls, starting out in their first year of French together; it's held at another homeschooling family's home. (Quite conveniently for us they live but a stone's throw away ~ and even more conveniently, my mum drives BW to and from class for me ~ this way Earlybird's morning doesn't get rattled.) Bookworm's teacher is absolutely wonderful and makes the class informative and fun - and in the case of this week's meeting, festive too! For their last class before a brief Christmas break, Madame organized a lovely holiday fete. Each family prepared a signature French dish, and Bookworm chose to bring the traditional Buche de Noel. I'd like to share the recipe and some pictures with you below - it was really much easier to make than I thought it would be!

First of all I should mention that my first intention was to make this gorgeous (but much more complex) cake found at (where else?) Martha Stewart's site. The steps and ingredients were many, but both Bookworm and I just loved the woodland appearance of this particular cake. As the party day got closer however, I panicked I did a little googling and found a simpler recipe at Cooks.com. 

So I started with a simple spongey chocolate cake, baked in a jelly roll pan. It got turned out onto a dishcloth dusted with powdered sugar ..

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... and then rolled into said dishcloth - carefully. *Note, this part was not as hard as I feared - the cake was very flexible and held its shape well.

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Once the cake cooled, it was spread with a bit of mocha buttercream frosting, and a generous amount of sweetened whipped cream.

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 It was next rolled up again (sans towel) and then frosted with the remaining buttercream.

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I used the tines of a fork to give a bark-like appearance to the frosting.

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And just before Bookworm took it to class, we sprinkled it with powdered sugar ...

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... a light dusting of snow on the log!

 This was so fun to make, I think I'll make it again for Christmas eve. :)

 Have a great night everyone ~ I'll be back again soon!