Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Good thing we have chickens

I had never had panettone bread until I spent Christmas with my in laws. They would get a loaf every year, and so when I went to their house for the Holidays, that was one thing I always looked forward to.

Two years ago, I had written "panettone" on my Christmas list. I was quite surprised that Christmas when I opened a large, fairly light, cardboard box. Inside was a package of panettone paper molds.
    "Oh- cool! I could try to make my own panettone."
    My mother-in-law's response, " Isn't that what you wanted?"
    "I just wanted a loaf of bread."
Ever since, I have wanted to make panettone bread. Yesterday was finally the day.

I had been looking in my cookbooks for a recipe to use and to compare ingredients. Traditionally, this bread has a lot of eggs, with orange zest and dried fruit. I went for the recipe in my Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, of course, with some slight changes. The recipe calls for both lemon and orange zest; I only had orange. Two cups of dried fruit were to be added; I used a cup of raisins and a cup of assorted dried, candied fruits. (You know the stuff you put in fruitcake? It has red and green cherries, orange, lemon, citron and pineapple. It makes the bread really colorful.)




Martha called for four eggs and three egg yokes. Yikes! This bread better be good if I have to use all that. (Good thing we have chickens.) The dough is similar to a brioche, a pretty butter yellow color.

I had to use this bowl to weigh down the page in my cookbook.


When it was time to put the dough in the molds, I did a little dance. If using a traditional metal panettone mold, you need to butter the thing like crazy, so the dough doesn't stick. The paper molds I have don't require greasing- no mess for me! It's also nice to use these paper molds because you can give the bread as a gift and not worry about getting your pan back.





Just before baking, you use a reserved egg yoke and mix in some cream to brush on the tops. That makes the bread so golden in color when it is done. Another tip about the paper mold, is the baking time is a bit shorter; I shaved off fifteen minutes of baking. To be sure that the bread is done, take its temperature. When it's 190 degrees, you're done.



I have four more paper molds and I'm definitely making this traditional Italian bread for Christmas next year.

We had it for breakfast this morning- yum!

 
*You can order the paper molds on amazon.com. Mine are by Kitchen Supply in a package of six. Maybe you can start a new tradition, too. Happy baking and Happy New Year! <3

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

nieces' and nephews' gift reveal!

I hope everyone had a blessed and wonderful Christmas! This year it came up fast and didn't really feel like Christmas in PA, especially with no snow. Nonetheless, gifts have been exchanged, WAY too many cookies and desserts had. Many people have taken down their tree, but Christmas is not over for me. This week my entire family will be reunited! (Which sadly happens once or twice a year.) At that time, I will meet a new niece, who was born in November, and cuddle with my nephew who is one (today!) Not to mention play Legos with the older ones and enjoy hearing all of them laugh as I will be tickling them a lot.  I absolutely love my family and always look forward to seeing my three older sisters.

The three dresses and two pairs of pajama pants, I hate to confess, have been completed for a good two weeks now. I know! Why didn't I share pictures of them earlier? The Holiday season has been jam packed. I wish this season wasn't so chaotic and stressful, but that's what happens when I sign up for more things then I should. (I'm working on that.)

I used my seam ripper more than I'd like to admit on the dresses and if I didn't already have the third dress cut out, I would've done a different pattern! I read the pattern wrong more than twice, and it called for a lot of hand stitching. I made it through and the third dress went A LOT better than the previous. The second and third dresses were from the same pattern, but in different sizes and fabrics (McCall's M6875)

The first dress is for my niece who was born in November. I've made this dress two other times, so I knew what I was doing (thankfully!) I thought the dress needed something to break up the bodice from the skirt, so I made a fabric flower. This dress is a 0-3 mos. size.




The second dress is the McCall's pattern. I used the same fabric as the first dress because these two nieces are sisters. I would've loved to use the same fabric for all three, but I didn't have enough to go around. This dress is a 3T.




The third dress is more of a Spring time dress because of the bright colors and I used gingham to contrast. It is a 2T with a 3T length.




I'm glad I saved the pajama pants for last because they were so quick to sew. I'd never made pants, so this was a good introduction for me. The material for both is a plaid flannel. I tried to line up the strips, but that didn't happen. The kids are four and five years old, I don't think they care at all, as long as they fit. They really don't look good on the hangers and you can hardly tell they are pants. I still needed to prove to you that I made them. :)



I wish I had some cute kid models to show these outfits off instead of a hanger. Maybe someday when I have a bigger budget or my own kids. I hope you're having a good week so far. Stay cozy <3

Monday, December 15, 2014

we started something new

Ever since we got married, my husband and I have made our Christmas cards. A few years ago when I was renting space at the Printing and Book Arts studio in Rochester, NY , I letterpress printed our cards, but usually we made wintry collages on cards and mailed them out.

Last year, we started something new. I really missed printmaking, so I decided to do a linoleum block print for our card. We wanted it to say something meaningful, but didn't know what. After flipping through an old hymnal, we decided on "Joy To the World."
Our first print from last year says, "Joy to the World the Lord is come!"


This year our card will say, "Let earth receive her king!" ...get the pattern? It will take four years to get through one verse, but if we keep it up, it will be a nice collection of Christmas prints. Maybe people will collect them? Each print will have the year carved out. I have last year's print in a frame (which got a blue ribbon for printmaking at the Sparty Fair, but I think that's because only two other people entered.)

Before I started printing, I needed to come up with an idea. Since I love fonts, I used lots on this year's card.

 
 
I traced the design using a window as my light box and did a good ol' fashioned graphite transfer onto my block. It didn't transfer that cleanly, so I went over the letters again with pen.

 

Then the carving began! It really didn't take too long to carve out, but the cursive letters were a bit tricky.



I think it turned out nice! I may add some other designs on the sides because there isn't a frame to hold it together. The sides seem a bit open. If I do add some other elements I'll post an updated print for you to see.

I need to buy my paper to print on still. Yes, I am very last minute here and I don't know what color ink to use. Decisions, decisions! What do you think? Last year, we mailed out forty cards... I better get moving! <3

Saturday, December 6, 2014

breakfast potluck

The first Sunday of the month is "Sunday School Breakfast" at our church.  People take turns making breakfast for all who come to church.  It's a joke at our church that it's called a "light breakfast" because it is quite the opposite! We've had pancakes and sausages, breakfast casseroles, cinnamon rolls and donuts; very filling breakfasts! It's always a delicious morning that we look forward to.

This particular Sunday is our "Carry-in Breakfast" when everyone brings something breakfast-y to share, kind of like a breakfast potluck. I always bring baked goods: breads, coffeecakes or muffins because that's within my comfort zone.

As I looked through the refrigerator, cupboards, and pantry I decided on making a carrot muffin. This particular recipe came from the recipe book my mother-in-law made me for a wedding gift.

(Said recipe book on the left)

It's the day before the breakfast, so as usual my husband asked me this morning what I was going to make for the breakfast.
   "This carrot muffin recipe looks good and I have everything for it."
   "You've never made those. Shouldn't you make something you know is going to be good?"
   "You're Mom hasn't made it either... she wrote on the card that it sounded like a good recipe."
   "Oh great..."
   "This muffin even has a frosting! What muffin has frosting?"
   My husband's response, "a cupcake."

Well, I am omitting the frosting and calling these "Loaded Carrot Muffins." They have carrot, apple, coconut and toasted pecans. All of those ingredients can't possibly make a bad muffin, right? (Of course, I used carrots from our garden!)


Loaded Carrot Muffins
1/2 c. pecans, toasted and chopped
3 large eggs
3/4 c. oil
1 t. vanilla
2 c. carrots, grated
1 large apple, peeled and grated
1 1/4 c. sugar
2.  flour
3/4 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
1 c. coconut
 
Mix wet ingredients and sugar. Stir in the carrot and apple. Add dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in coconut and pecans. Scoop into muffin tins.
Oven temperature 350 degrees and makes about 20 muffins.
 
The recipe says it makes 18 muffins, but I had batter left over, so I greased a large ramekin and put the extra batter in that, which was perfect, so I could taste test it before I bring them in to church!
What would I do if the muffins were bad? It'd be a carry-in breakfast for our chickens.
 

I always use an ice cream scoop to fill the muffin tins. The scoop releases the batter, so I don't need to dirty another spatula.
 
Were the muffins a success?? YES! They are delicious; definitely a keeper recipe. I love cinnamon in baked goods, especially this time of year. The muffins have a nice texture and are almost cake like. I hope people at church like them.
Whatever you have for Sunday breakfast, I hope it is delicious and homemade <3

 
 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Can I make that?"

As the Christmas season approaches, I have many people to shop to shop for, including eight nieces and nephews; that can add up.
I have a problem with shopping though. For instance, I went to a craft fair with some ladies from my church last Saturday. I saw lots of nice things, but what I tend to do is, I'll see something and think, "Can I make that?" I usually only buy things that I can't make. I bought bars of handmade soap. I love handmade soap. I'd love to learn how to make it, but until then, I will patronize those shops. (Which is good to do anyways- I always try to shop local and handmade whenever possible.) This particular vendor gave out samples of his almond oatmeal soap. My purse smelled like almond extract; it was wonderful. I just wanted to eat it, it smelled so good.
Mainly this year our nieces and nephews will get clothes. My mother-in-law has many a children's pattern and so I am borrowing some. The girls will get dresses the boys will get pajamas. Of course as with all my project ideas my husband said, "You better get going if you want to get all that done." I need him to keep me on track. (This morning as usual, I was running late, so he got my breakfast, warmed up the car and put my bags in the car for me; he is wonderful. Sunday mornings he always tells me what time it is, so I don't fritter my time looking at the comics or picking out what to wear for church.)
It will probably happen that I will post pictures of the finished Christmas presents before Christmas. My sisters will see what their kids will get from us, so it will ruin the surprise, but I want you all to see how they turn out. I think that will be OK. I have one dress finished, but you'll just have to wait and see when all the presents are done.




 ~

Going back to me not buying things because I think I can make them... well, I usually can make presents, but they tend to take a bit of time.
I have been invited to a baby shower at the end of the month and the baby's nursery is a Noah's Ark theme from Babies 'R Us. Since I like to crochet stuffed animals, I decided to make an animal that matched the theme. I went on the baby registry and looked at the animals. The girl monkey was cute and since the baby is a girl, I decided on the monkey. (Especially since the girl monkey has a bow on her head making her extra cute.) I sketched the monkey from the website and decided what color yarn I needed. (I did have a darker tan yarn for the mouth as it is in the picture, but it didn't look good, so I decided to keep it the same color as the face.)

Most of the animals that I make are from a amigurumi book that my sister Juliet picked out from a sale bin at a yarn store. I have made so many animals out of that  book. I also base other animals that I don't have patterns for from patterns in the book. I made my nephew a zebra based on the donkey pattern and this monkey is from the teddy bear pattern, with added things I had to make up. (The monkey's face I had to make up.)
I think the girl monkey turned out really well! She's cute and I hope that she gets a lot of love. <3

Sunday, November 9, 2014

picky eater


Growing up, I was a picky eater. When my Mom fed me bananas as a baby, I spit them out. (Still not a huge fan, but they are good with peanut butter.) The only vegetable I loved was broccoli. When my Mom made pizza, she'd have to make a plain one for me; strictly cheese and pepperoni. Now, my husband and I grow vegetables that I wouldn't have touched with a ten foot pole when I was younger: peppers, Winter and Summer squash, green and yellow beans, beets, radishes...

I'm not sure if it was before we got married or after, but earlier in the relationship, my now mother-in-law fixed Brussels sprouts. They were from a bag in the frozen food section, but that didn't matter: she had sautéed those sprouts in butter, with chopped garlic and a little bit of lemon juice- I was in love! Maybe it was the butter, but this vegetable was AMAZING!!  I never had them growing up (well, if my Mom had ever cooked them, I probably would've just turned up my nose and pushed the bowl away). I definitely had seconds.

When we moved back to Pennsylvania and started a garden, I knew we had to try to grow some of these delicious Brussels. Last year, we bought starts and transplanted them. Did the flea beetles love those little plants or what? We didn't even get one little sprout of a Brussel. Thankfully, someone sold them at the Farmer's Market and I was able to enjoy some. This year would be different.
All of our brassicas (broccoli, cabbages and Brussels sprouts), we started from seed. Of course, when we got the packet of seeds, we didn't need to use all of them- that would've been a lot of sprouts. In the end, we transplanted about twenty seedlings. Do you know how many little sprouts that is for just two people? A LOT. (Good thing we have some people to share with!)
One thing about growing Brussels sprouts that has helped us a lot is, we cut the top growth of the plant once little Brussels start coming on, about the top three of four inches. (Don't throw them out. You can cook up the leaves just like kale or chard; delicious!) Doing this puts energy back into developing a good size Brussels sprout and hinders the plant from continuing to grow taller.
Whatever happens to be in season in our garden, we eat it. What we can't get to, we preserve. Things like corn, broccoli, snap peas, some green beans, zucchini and Summer berries, we freeze and it's the same with Brussels sprouts.

My husband cut off the leaves of the stalks so it would be easier to cut off the Brussels sprouts. It looked like a massacre!

 
 
 
 
It took quite a while to break them all off the stalk, clean them up, parboil them and bag them-- and I've only done half of them-- but as with all preserving, whether freezing or canning, it's totally worth it! We are going to have a delicious Winter! <3

Friday, October 31, 2014

the Halloween-pumpkin-cut-out-cookie tradition

Cookie cutters must feel lonely in their drawer; we only use them at Christmas, but yet we have so many other non-Christmas cutters. As some people think cut outs are laborious to make because they need to be chilled, rolled out, cut and then baked, I really don't mind the extra steps. Do I make them other than Christmas? I have to; I married into the Halloween-pumpkin-cut-out-cookie tradition.

Some rules to this tradition that I have learned:

1. You CANNOT use your mother-in-law's Christmas cut out cookie recipe. That is strictly used for Christmas.

2. You must decorate your pumpkin cut outs with candy corn and M&Ms.

Growing up, the only things we used to decorate cut outs were frosting and sprinkles. Putting candy corn and M&Ms on a cookie? Isn't it sweet enough? No; these additions are required. I married into a let's-put-sugar-in-almost-everything family. I have learned to stand up to my mother-in-law on the occasions when adding sugar has seemed like a sin. And then there are the times when I need to succumb to traditions that only happen once a year for tradition's sake.

Because of rule number one, my mother-in-law found an alternate cut out recipe to use.




Soft Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
2/3 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
2/3 c. shortening
2 slightly beaten eggs
2 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. baking powder
 
Form into a ball; chill overnight. Roll out to desired thickness. Cut out with pumpkin cutter. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Decorate with orange icing and adorn with candy corn and M&Ms.

 

I bought a bag of candy corn two weeks ago because I planned on making these cookies. What I forgot however, was that I REALLY like candy corn and putting them in the candy dish on the counter was a really BAD idea. I had to use rainbow sprinkles on half the cookies because I didn't have enough candy corn to decorate with- whoops! I also forgot to buy M&Ms.


 
My husband will be happy because I made cookies even if they're sans sugar coated chocolate. I think he'll live.
Happy Fall <3

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

be careful what you wish for...

If I had a church resume, you'd probably picture at sixty-four year old woman.
 
My husband and I attend a wonderful, little church outside of town. And even though when we were "church shopping" we wanted to go somewhere with people our age, after going to about five or six different churches, we settled on Beaverdam Mennonite Church. We liked the mix of contemporary worship with traditional, the congregation was so welcoming and the teaching was stellar. As we sat near the back of the sanctuary however, a majority of the heads we saw seemed to be middle aged and gray; that didn't deter us from continuing to attend.
On the third or fourth Sunday we were there, a man, in a very vibrant, Cosby-like sweater asked to take our picture. (As you walk into the church, there is a mural of a tree and with all the pictures of people who attend, each photo taped onto a colorful, paper leaf.) I thought that it was a bit early to commit to this church by agreeing to have our photo on the wall, but we went with it anyways. Almost two years later, we are still there.

It can be hard finding ways to get involved at a new church or it can be a little too easy... After a couple months of attending, I was asked if I would help with vacation Bible school. After I agreed, I turned to my husband, "I guess we are locked in for the next two years."
My husband was asked to be part of an outreach group a month later. We weren't going anywhere.

For the first potluck we attended, I was complimented for my homemade dinner rolls. I volunteered with the annual gifts sale and helped decorate the church for Christmas. By Christmas, I felt like a part of a family.

Around early January, one of the ladies I had gotten to know, found out she had cancer. I wanted to do something for her and decided I would crochet her a prayer shawl. My mother-in-law had made a few and I thought it would be appreciated by my new friend. I picked a shawl pattern I had already done before and started crocheting it on a road trip that my husband and I were going on. As we returned home from our trip, I wanted to drop off the finished shawl at my friend's house. She didn't have a doorbell, so after some knocking with no answer, I left it on her doorstep. I called her when we got home to let her know it was there and she said, "Oh no! We were here! Oh, and I see your little footprints in the snow. I'll go get it now. Thank you!"
At the same time, I took over her position as "Visual Arts Coordinator" (which is a fancy term for the flower lady) something she had done the previous fifteen years at the church and wanted a break from. My friend also decided that she should start a Prayer Shawl ministry because of how blessed she was to get her prayer shawl from me. One dilemma with that was, my friend didn't know how to knit or crochet, so I started meeting with ladies to teach them how to crochet.
A few months later, I was asked if I would be interested in helping with the primary aged Sunday school class. Now, I help teach the class.

I am the flower lady, I help with VBS, I crochet Tuesday nights with the prayer shawl ministry, I teach Sunday school-- I skipped childbearing and went straight to menopause.

There's a sewing group at our church, too and we meet once a month to sew quilts.  The average age is probably seventy and then there's me, a twenty-something, sewing quilt blocks together, wearing Chuck Taylors, listening to ladies talk about hot flashes and canning green beans. I love it.
There is no other place I'd rather be then at this church.

Here is a another prayer shawl I just finished last night. I hope that the recipient feels loved when she wears it.



It's pretty funny that my husband and I attend a Mennonite church now. A few years ago, when he was working on an organic dairy farm in New York, he had the opportunity to visit a dairy farm run by a Mennonite family. When he came back home, my husband said, "Let's be Mennonite!"
Be careful what you wish for... <3

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

here on our farm


Autumn is a beautiful season- visually and deliciously. My sister, Juliet, and her family came to visit us on the farm a couple weeks ago. Even though it was a little chilly outside, we later warmed up with some homemade confections inside.

We have cows, chickens and cats here on our farm and that was a fun-filled afternoon for a four year old boy, let me tell you!

My nephew loved visiting the heifers in the barn and feeding them hay.




 
He loved feeding the chickens corn and was fascinated with our cat, Alfie. What more could a kid want? Oh wait, donuts. He would want homemade donuts.


I always use the same donut recipe that my mother-in-law found when we made them five years ago, before I was married. (I guess I'm attached to this particular recipe for those sentimental reasons.) I mixed up the dough in the morning, so it would be ready by the afternoon.




My sister manned the pot of oil and fried the donuts and donut holes to golden perfection. Some were left plain, but they were preferred shaken in powdered sugar and cinnamon sugar. (The latter was my favorite.)

Of course, I bought locally pressed cider to complement the donuts. My husband has called me a "cider snob" because I am pretty particular about my cider. Growing up in western New York, apple cider is a beloved beverage. I still am bias toward Robb Farms' Apple Cider from Brockport, NY. www.robbfarms.com If you are nearby they are worth the visit! The place where our cider came from was a close runner-up; still very tasty.

Here is the recipe if you'd like to give these donuts a whirl.



Old-Time Cake Doughnuts
2 T. softened butter
1 c. sugar
3 eggs
4 c. flour
1 T. baking powder
1-2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
1/8 t. nutmeg
3/4 c. milk
 
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until crumbly. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Add to butter mixture alternating with milk, beating well after each addition.
Cover and refrigerate for two hours.
Turn out onto heavily floured surface; pat to 1/4" thick. Cut with donut cutter.
Fry in oil of 375 degrees until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
Roll in sugar.
 
This recipes makes about two dozen donuts and donut holes, so if you plan on making them, invite LOTS of people over! Donuts are best eaten fresh and tend to dry out after just one day. Plus, who needs the temptation of fresh donuts in the house? They go down oh, too easily. Enjoy!

Monday, October 13, 2014

peanut butter & arugula sandwiches

A few summers ago, I worked on an organic vegetable farm in Western New York. It wasn't easy work and I probably complained more than I should've, but it was such a rewarding experience. I learned a lot and am able to use some of that knowledge with my own organic garden.
Living on a farm, in a renovated Shasta camper with my husband was something I won't ever forget. I also won't forget the many meals we shared as a family of farm hands, under a billboard covered hoop house.
We usually ate oatmeal for breakfast or reject granola from the bakery, lots of salads for lunch and anything with peanut butter: carrots and peanut butter, apples and peanut butter, and my very favorite, peanut butter and arugula sandwiches!


I had forgotten that my husband seeded some arugula in our garden about a month ago and he asked me if I'd had an arugula and peanut butter sandwich yet. WHAT?! No! That was on my list of things I needed to do today: go pick some arugula and make a sandwich.
I love spicy greens. Mustard greens and arugula; so tasty. I think it's the sweetness of the creamy peanut butter paired with the crisp, spicy arugula that I love.
When you live on a farm, you'll try a lot of interesting combinations. This one was and still is a keeper.
I wish I kept in better touch with all the wonderful people we worked with on Mud Creek Farm that summer. If you were one of those people- Erin, Kim, Luke, Eli, or Margaret; I'm thinking of you and miss you. I hope you all are doing well <3

just "eh"

I have been a part time art teacher at a small Christian school for the past two years. It is kindergarten through sixth grade and even though I probably would prefer adolescent over elementary education, I have enjoyed getting to know the students and finding out where they come from.
Last month was open house at school. I share a room with the sixth grade teacher and he asked if I would do something on the bulletin board. I said, yes because I love doing bulletin boards and he was thrilled because he does not. After looking on pinterest (which is where I find much inspiration) I saw someone made a "coloring wall." The person had painted various designs on a large piece of paper and encouraged people to help fill it in.
I googled "The Earth without Art is just Eh" and this Stampin' Up! image come up.


Since it was after school when I started working on this and my energy level was slowing down as was my creativity, I copied this image onto a piece of paper, and stapled it the bulletin board. I called it, "Mrs. McCray's Open House Coloring Page!"


I told the kids the bulletin board looked pretty boring without any color.


They helped themselves to the crayons on my "Art Cart" and started making the coloring page look fun!

 
The kids enjoyed coloring and some of the parents joined in as well. This may turn into an annual event at open house. I don't even want to imagine the Earth without art; how boring would that be?