July 1, 2016

Exploring



Summer has finally arrived in Maine, filling the sky with blue, warming the air to the perfect temperature, and leaving everything else astoundingly green. It is such a short season here, sometimes I start to panic (it's already July!!) and worry that we won't get to do all of the things that seem essential to a wonderful summer. Luckily, we've already made it to the beach a few times, picked piles of strawberries, and taken a spontaneous trip on the mail boat run around the sparkling water and islands of Casco Bay. That leaves plenty of days for walking and biking to a playground, eating popsicles, working in our community garden plot and feeling the perfect breezes through open windows.




Here on the Maine coast, not all summer days are sunny and warm. Foggy days give us a break from slathering on sunscreen and a chance to be enveloped in a completely different palette of colors. We welcome the sun when it returns.

I try to get Amos, Eowyn, and myself out on a small adventure most mornings. Adventure is probably too strong a word for simply getting out of the house and going somewhere. Although we aren't really out in the wild, we can easily reach many beautiful trails, parks, and beaches. We find pockets, patches, and swaths of nature all around.




Amos is happy exploring anywhere outside. We watch birds and ants, throw rocks, dig in the sand or soil. He often hands me the flowers, rocks or pine cones he collects and I quickly lose them. My solution was to sew a collecting pouch that he can bring on adventures to carry the treasures he might find. I used a bit of muslin from my dyeing experiments and appliqued it with some wool felt that I got on a visit to Purl Soho. I'm sure it will see many more adventures before the summer is over. Where are you exploring these days?





June 17, 2016

Here


Our daughter, Eowyn, was born on May 3. She's growing so fast.  Amos is madly in love with his little sister and we have been getting the hang of life as a family of four.

I am eager to get back to writing and creating but, except for some cooking and baking, I have found less and less time when I can do these things. But, as I sit on the porch under the big maple tree, rocking one baby and watching the other dig in the dirt, I am so very aware that this period of time is finite. It is not easy, but when I can appreciate what I have, I do.

Most days feel as exhausting as a long day of planting seedlings in a field, bent over, moving awkwardly down the rows. As soon as I close my eyes I am in a deep sleep but if somebody needs me, I'll be up and going. This feeling of physical endurance is accompanied by the small satisfaction that, more or less, I can handle the task. Rarely is it pretty or graceful but we make it through the days mostly intact.

Eowyn has only been here for a little over six weeks but I have come to know her sounds, her expressions, and her rhythms almost without realizing it. It surprises me to know her so well since I can't often give her the full focus that I could with my first child. While I am in no hurry for her to grow up, I do wonder about what this little seed of a human holds and how she will sprout and grow and blossom, what she will be like and look like.

I will say it one more time and you don't have to believe it or feel it, but right now I do: this time is so fleeting. It is the longest shortest. I want capture every moment and my many many thoughts before they disappear in a cloud of exhaustion and I want to be in it without trying to pin anything down, knowing it really will never happen again. Inevitably, I will be left with blurred memories but for now I try to mostly feel grateful that I am here.

April 21, 2016

Blueberry Oat Scones


How do you like your scones? I like mine sturdy, craggy, and a little bit chewy. They don't need eggs or cream, sugary glaze or extra adornment. I have, of course, found many great bakery made scones, but I love them best when I can mix them up on a morning's whim. That's exactly what I did today. 

Perhaps it is misguided of me to think that something freshly baked, sweetening the air as it rises and browns, could make the day more special. But, giving just a few extra minutes to pop them in the oven on a regular morning is a nice way to stray from the ordinary. My mornings don't usually reach a level of hectic. Considering it can take hours to convince, cajole and encourage Amos to pick out clothes and get dressed, I can get a few other things done.  If, for you, time is ever precious, these are ideal for a weekend or day off, too.


Blueberry Oat Scones
This is based on a recipe from the bakery where I used to work. There are many many variations and additions you could try (dried fruit or nuts instead of berries, buttermilk instead of regular milk etc). I used frozen wild blueberries but when the season comes these would be great with fresh berries, too. 

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup sugar plus more for sprinkling
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup blueberries
3/4 cup milk or buttermilk plus more for glazing

Preheat the oven to 375'  Combine flour, oats, 1/3 cup sugar, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces, toss with flour mixture and use your finger tips to break up the butter and work it into the flour. Continue working until the butter and flour make small crumbs with a few larger chunks of butter. Add the blueberries and toss with a fork to distribute. Pour in the 3/4 cup of milk and toss again with a fork to evenly wet the flour. Knead in the bowl, folding over the dough several times. 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lift up the mass of dough and dump any dry flour from the bottom of the bowl into the middle of the baking sheet. Place the mass of dough on top. Pat into a circle about 7 inches wide and an inch thick. If your hands are sticking, rinse them in cold water and, with wet hands, press the dough so it comes together and is mostly smooth on top. 

Use a knife to cut the circle into 6 even pieces and separate them onto the baking sheet. Brush the top of each scone with milk and sprinkle them with sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until they are a nice golden brown on top (this will insure that they are not underbaked on the inside). Let cool for 10 minutes before eating.

April 13, 2016

The Small Things, Always the Small Things









I am in that time of trying to slow down while also tying up loose ends and checking off the last things I want to accomplish. I am accepting that I won't have everything perfect before the baby comes which is fine because no matter how much I clean or prepare, it will be a mess again in a moment. I am glad that I am able to reflect a bit and do my best to enjoy these last weeks and days before our new family member arrives.

I was lucky enough to have a few days to myself recently. As in, no husband, no child, just me at home doing whatever I wanted. Although I have had many days and weekends like this before, I have not had a stretch of time like that in the past 3 years and it will be many years before I have a stretch like that to myself again. At times, I felt like I was wearing a an old favorite sweater that, although it had been long forgotten in the back of a drawer, fit well enough to remind me of the person I was the last time I put it on.

A few days free from taking care for another person nudged my thoughts toward the ideas, goals, and dreams that I have when I am not consumed by parenting. For now, I'm tucking them back in the drawer but in several months or a year I will make sure that they are a part of every day. In the mean time, it is the small things, the short term goals and the satisfaction of getting rid of clutter, making a few things for babies to wear, finishing knitting projects without interruption, or doing nothing more than watch the sunlight creep along the bedroom wall.


P.S. That sweet little dress is the little geranium dress from Made By Rae, free on her website, if you are interested. I made up the other pattern.


March 25, 2016

Cloth Covered Rope Basket





Where did it come from? Who made it? Amos asks these questions all the time. My answers range from: I don't know to A farm or A cow or, often, probably a factory. Sometimes the answer seems simple, I made it. As I've gradually sewn things for our home, I can look around and see many things I've stitched together for the place that I spend most of my time. It is gratifying to make things I love for the place and people that I love, but sometimes it seems like so much patchwork!

As someone who rarely measures and often cuts more than once, I have a huge basket of small scraps of fabric. Many of these are from trimming off an edge or a little extra fabric, others have found their way there when they are not big enough to iron and fold neatly on the shelf. Cloth covered rope baskets are currently my favorite way to turn many of these scraps into something that is as useful as it is lovely to look at. I have often wanted to be able to make more baskets and containers for storage and was delighted to discover a kind of basket that I could sew instead of learning the more complicated skill of basket weaving. Making fabric covered rope baskets is a slower process with a few extra steps than just coiling and sewing the rope alone but it is a fun way to choose color combinations and use up scraps.

I have a lot to learn about shaping the baskets and I still can't be sure they will turn out exactly as I envision. This one was headed away from what I had hoped, but adding the little handles made all the difference and I am quite happy with the final result. This basket will be just the spot for keeping a few toys for the baby separate from all the other toys in baskets, drawers and strewn about.


March 17, 2016

Mascarpone Vanilla Ice Cream

More adventures in inspired re-purposing, which seems like the appropriate term when reducing waste is really about making the most delicious thing I can. Truthfully, there are some foods that have almost no chance of going to waste in our kitchen. Others must be carefully monitored and kept front and center so they will not stay in there long past their prime, but mascarpone, ricotta, or just plain cream will always be put to good use. And, when I say good use, I mean that I will probably  choose the most appealing option of the moment. Leftover ricotta will become gnocchi or orange ricotta cake. Cream must be whipped and eaten as soon as possible (or maybe, made into creme fraiche). Since I tend toward indulgent recipes for these spare amounts, it is probably good that these things are in our kitchen only occasionally and mascarpone may be the rarest of all. I made some mascarpone butter to put on french toast for brunch and before that I was over, I had a plan to make ice cream with the rest of it. 

It might seem silly that in using up one thing, I need more of other ingredients but this is one reason why I love the challenge of using up what you already have -- it doesn't have to be completely practical or boring. The mascarpone gives this ice cream a subtle, but welcome tang. I think substituting creme fraiche or greek yogurt would do the trick nicely as well. And if you are concerned about what to do with the leftover egg whites, look no further: these cookies are amazing.

Mascarpone Vanilla Ice Cream
Adapted from this recipe. I enjoyed this ice cream on its own, but it goes very well with chocolate, caramel or berry sauce. Makes about 1 quart of ice cream.

2 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
1 pinch salt
4 egg yolks
1 cup mascarpone

Bring the milk and sugar to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat, whisk in the vanilla bean seeds and salt. Whisk together the eggs and slowly add 1/2-3/4 cup of the hot milk to the eggs while whisking constantly. Return the pot of milk to the stove over medium low heat. Slowly pour in the egg mixture and continue to whisk. Once it is all incorporated, stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until it thickens enough to coat the spatula. Remove from heat, pour through a strainer into a bowl. Stir in the mascarpone and refrigerate until completely chilled. Freeze in your ice cream maker, according to the manufacturers instructions.


March 10, 2016

Binding it together









































My latest quilting endeavor is, of course, for our baby, due in about 8 weeks. I didn't have a specific pattern in mind but while browsing for ideas I came across the disappearing nine patch. I chose nine fabrics that I loved because they contrast with and compliment each other so well. My favorites are probably the three that I couldn't resist from a collection called faraway forest by Lizzie Mackay. I don't often choose fabrics that are meant to go to together but the squirrels and mushrooms and flowers were the beginning of my color inspiration for this quilt.

To make the disappearing nine patch, I stitched together blocks of nine, with one square of each different fabric. Then I cut each nine patch into quarters. These new blocks can be used to create patterns and shapes by putting the colors together but that's not really my style. Instead, I put the blocks together somewhat randomly and then refined that randomness until it seemed just right. I love the way that a lack of symmetry or complete pattern keeps me gazing for longer and searching to make sense of it visually. I think of lying in bed when I was young and staring at the cracks in the ceiling or a design on the wall, letting my eyes and mind wander. I am more intrigued by something when I want to keep looking at it then when I can see the pattern right away.

I loved choosing the fabric and the simple process of creating the squares but I have to admit that the final result was not quite what I had hoped for. Too much orange? Too random? Either way, I enjoyed the process immensely. I find it hard to believe how much I enjoy the simple meditative act of hand quilting those long straight rows. It is more than just the back and forth between layers of fabric, I think I love the feeling of binding things together. Connecting, strengthening and putting the tiniest bit of myself into it.