Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

What a crazy decade this has been! I am sort of glad my DH and I opted to stay in and celebrate quietly tonight. I love visiting my family but I think I have had enough laughing, cooking, eating and maybe a few too many good glasses of wine for this month.

Are you working on your New Year's resolutions? I have a few in mind but may hold off a few more hours before codifying them...until then...

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Last Post Before Christmas

Well I am almost packed, the cookies have been delivered, and Macbeth, Brownie and Goldie have opened their gifts. That last part was not on purpose - while I was out delivering cookies it appears one of the cats found their stockings and knocked them off the shelf. Once on the floor it looks as if it was a free-for-all...

I played with my Carolina Christmas blocks before packing them away until after the holidays. I love how the scraps are coming together...and there are a lot of scraps!I did get some questions from our International quilters on what this cookie thing is all really is just a chance to bake cookies. I know some folks take it very seriously (someday I will post about my friends search for edible gold leaf like she saw in a cooking show...) but for the most part I stick with traditional. I make cookies for some young servicemen that work with my husband, for my veterinarian and his staff, our priest, my nieghbors, and some members of the MS group at the clinic I go to. It is just another way of saying Merry Christmas. This year I used these fun chinese take-out boxes but was a bit disappointed in how few cookies fit in them...only a half dozen of the mixed and 8 if they are the same shape...maybe I should make smaller cookies?
Of course this little blue willow cup only fits three biscotti but I think she will like the cup better than the cookies anyway!

Have a Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Spice Cookies in the air...

Another batch of Molassas Spice cookies just went into the oven. The house smells wonderful! Once again I am wondering why I wait until Christmas to make these cookies?

I just watched the weather and my just be lucky enough this year to slip up to Boston between storms. Phew! I'm looking at the pile of stuff to pack and wondering if I mail a box tomorrow what the chances are that it will get to Boston before Christmas?

With all the baking I haven't had much stitching time. My Carolina Christmas blocks, bits and pieces have been boxed up to keep them away from Brownie (my cat loves to kidnap blocks and build her own little stashes all through the gets worse as the weather gets colder so you can imagine she is in full pirate mode at the moment.) So I thought I would share some of my Christmas quilts with you....

This is an Amish top that I quilted several years ago and that I put on the bed in the guest room (photos from our guild show a few years ago)...

This folksey Princess Feather also came from Pennsylvania and hangs hangs in the hallway...

The next two I Christmas Sampler

and a wonky tree wall hanging (closeup at the top of the post) went up North to my sister.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Only a week away....

It is raining...again...and DH is home today is a hunker down day and get some things organized and/or finished for Christmas. Where did the time go?
This table-runner is for my Mom. It is the same pattern as the Mary Einglebreight one I posted a few days ago but can you believe when I went to make it the second time I hit a mental wall...could not get it to go together! It took several cups of coffee and even more scraps of paper before I worked it out. So topping my New Year's resolution list will be "make more notes immediately after playing with blocks...."

I am still working piecemeal on my Carolina Christmas. Sometimes I can get rather persnickety when cutting out when cutting plaids. Do you cut it crosswise and get little of the "plaid" or on the bias and really see the pattern? (that my friend can be a two cuppa tea problem....)

I've also had to clear the cutting table...or rather kitchen make room for my cookie baking marathon this weekend. Tonight I will make the dough for the chocolate mint cookies (I think I posted that recipe 4 years ago!) and the holiday biscotti which I posted two years ago. About half of the cookies are regulars and half new ones. Some, like the biscotti and mint, I bake on Saturday since they are better a several days after being baked, and others like the chocolate chip, sugar, and Linzer I make on Sunday. To me a good cookie recipe is one that: first, still tastes good for several days after baking; second, makes at least 3 dozen cookies (if not why bother); and finally, travels well (my Linzers are on the line there but the others have made it through the U.S. mail just fine...)

Linzer Bars
Makes 3 dozen cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla
2-1/4 cups flour
1 cup chopped toasted almonds
1/2 cup raspberry preserves or apricot jam (I do one log of each...)
almond glaze

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Beat butter in a large bowl until creamy. Add sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat in egg, vanilla and extracts. Beat in flour (may stir last bits of flour by hand as the dough is stiff)

2. Divide dough into three equal pieces. Roll each into a 10 inch log then roll the log in the toasted almonds. Place the logs 3 inches apart on an un-greased cookie sheet. Flatten each log to 1 inch thick then make a 1/2 deep indentation down the center. (I use a long mixing spoon handle)

3. Bake for about 30 minutes or until edges are firm and lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes then transferr to a wire rack to cool.

4. Spoon preserves down the center of each log and then drizzle with Almond glaze. (You can drizzle with chocolate instead...) Cut each log diagonally into 1-inch slice.

Almond glaze: Stir together 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon of milk, and 1/4 tsp almond extract in a small bowl. (add more milk a drop at a time if not the right consistency - it changes quickly!)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Snowmen, eggnog, and stitching

Those three things sort of wrap up my past couple of days...Tuesday did some stitching with friends and we made these little snowmen from leftover batting and some wool scraps. Very fun.

The auction for the Humane Society went well. All the items sold and last night I found myself having to make another cat tote bag for a friend who though she had gotten it at the auction but who was outbid at the very last minute. (Macbeth can't understand why anyone would want a bag with cats on it...) I did not get the Scottie painting though it was not from lack of trying...working at the event and bidding do not mix well and like my friend I was edged out. Oh well, I have the real thing - even though mine really needs a haircut right now, yikes.

You may have seen around blogdom a photo exercise on color. I thought it would be fun to participate but realized I had too much on my plate right now. However today is "blue" which happens to be my favorite color! (or at least as much my favorite as red and green...though yellow is creeping up the charts too...) Anyway it is safe to say my favorite china or pottery is blue and white.

It doesn't matter to me where it came from

If there are other color involved

If it is the "perfect" blue...

Or if it is a plate, cup, bowl, or even rolling pin (bought at a flea market near the Berlin wall)....
Last year I put greenery up on top of the hutch with some red ornaments to make my blue and white fit with the Christmas season. Still time this year I guess!

Off to the market to pick up more pecans to make pralines for friends tonight....

Monday, December 14, 2009

Project bits....

Last month I woke up with this great idea - why don't I make one Christmas gift or ornament each day in December until Christmas. Well, then I drank my first cup of coffee, slapped myself on the cheek and said loudly "get real woman!" A moment of temporary creative insanity once again cured by caffeine! However, I did dig out lots of old projects and tried to make a point of finished up some before the holidays. Now that I can do....
So first is this wild "Santa does Rodeo" fabric that I just had to have when it went on sale for a couple of dollars a yard...of course that was several years ago. (And for those folks South of the Equator I don't think Father Christmas would sit a bucking has to be Santa for that !) Anyway, this year I took it out and made three reversible aprons. (My father-in-law loves to cook and loves westerns so I'm hoping with his warped sense of humor he will like the apron!)

I also made another Christmas table-runner. Some of these fabrics aren't all that old but were leftovers from an earlier Christmas project so I prevented them from going into the bits and bobs stash in the back of the closet. The top for this table-runner came together in about 2-hours...sometimes a quick finish feels good. I have to quilt and bind it tonight since it is going to a silent auction for the local humane society this week.

Why so productive? It is cold and wet and did I mention COLD outside? Even Macbeth balks at the front door when it is time for his walk. To keep the cold outside I've also been working in the kitchen. I try to find some new recipes each Christmas but do test runs on them early the month. This year I was trying to come up with a Christmas cake that we used to get at an old bakery in Boston when I was growing up. It was sort of a cross between a pound cake and a fruit cake. So with a few tweaks to the "Fruited Pound Cake" recipe on the Land O'Lakes site I am very, very close.

Avenue Bakery "Fruited Pound Cake"
(Adapted from the Land O'Lakes website)
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
4 eggs
grated rind of one lemon
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup mixed candied fruit, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine butter, cream cheese and sugars in a bowl and beat at medium speed until mixed. Add 1-1/4 cups of flour, eggs, baking powder, vanilla, and lemon peel. Beat until no lumps are visible. Stir in by hand the remaining 1 cup of flour, candied fruit, cranberries, raisins and pecans.

Pour into 2 greased 8 by 4 inch pans. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pan and allow to cool completely before wrapping. (This is best the day after it is baked...)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A very mellow Christmas...

A mellow Christmas...that is my goal for this year. I am taking the Holidays a bit slower. A few less decorations around the house, fewer party commitments, and a bit less baking. (Periodically I get a panicky feeling but it passes quickly...)

Last week I did go to my guild's two Christmas parties...both were wonderful. The evening group got together at a members house. She has the most amazing quilting studio. They took was was a two car garage and converted it so it has space for cutting tables, storage, a long arm, embroidery corner, and her sewing table.
You may recognize the quilt pattern on the longarm...yup, it is one of Bonnie Hunter's...Virginia Crossroads (I think?...)
The day group met at our usual place and did a covered dish...two days worth of calories in one sitting. These quilters can cook...curried chicken salad, derby pie, and this wonderful chocolate cake with cherries on it ....yikes. The little quilt on the top of this post was made by my friend Rachel who is part of the guild...she makes great little character quilt-lettes.

One of our older members also brought a stack of blocks she was given by a neighbor. How fun were these to look through! The hand stitching on them is so tiny and perfect. Since they have spent their lives wrapped up in some muslin the colors are still very fresh.Today was rainy and cold...really cold. I stayed in - made some bread and tried a new Christmas loaf/cake recipe. Smells good and makes the house feel warmer!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Starting to look a bit like Christmas...

I finally got myself in gear and got a few holiday decorations up...the front door is pretty much done...
much to Macbeth's bewilderment (the pine scratches against the door and he thinks it is the cats are asking to be let in...let's hope this passes!)

I dug out a Christmas sweater to wear to the first Quilter Guild Christmas Party tonight (and yes, it does have a scotty dog on it! all good fun...) I made a batch of spanakopita (greek spinach and feta cheese pastry) for the party which makes the house smell good...maybe not christmas-y but festive non-the-less. Spanakopita was my Dad's favorite appetizer only he wanted them all folded into the little triangles - sorry quilters I only did that for my Dad.

I worked on my Bonnie's Carolina Christmas Mystery a bit more this morning. Usually by this time I have a clue on what the heck it will look like. Guess you can tell by that last sentence that I am totally in the dark. I laid the pieces so far out on the rug and tried mixing them around but to quote Holmes "there is insufficient data to come to a conclusion." Either that or I am totally without imagination! Maybe the next step will get me there.....

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Lots of pieces flying

Beyond the normal craziness around here throw in a mystery quilt with thousands of little pieces and a Scottie dog who thinks all Christmas decorations are out to get him.

I am working on Bonnie's Christmas mystery. I love the fabrics I am using. I even used the scrappy strips to make the above Wreath for the hallway! This quilt however is not for the faint of heart...cutting one to two-hundred little pieces in each step! I have pieces, patches, subunits and strips all over the kitchen table! If it wasn't for little baskets and sandwich bags it would be totally out of control! I am almost keeping up with this one which surprises me more than anyone!

This week I had to take some time out to go shopping for a 12 foot inflatable snowman...don't worry I have not succumbed to the Disney meets Dr. Seuss decorating craze in my neighborhood. No, last week Macbeth, my Scottish Terrier, he decided enough was enough. He did a quick-stop to slip his collar and went gang busters on my neighbors snowman. Amazing how quickly those things deflate when their leg is chomped on by a terrier. I had a brief vision of the whole thing - dog and all - zipping around the neighborhood like a popped balloon but fortunately it didn't happen like that. I was however very concerned that Mac would be smothered by the mass of plastic coming down on his little head...because you know a terrier will not let go until he is sure he has won...which usually means the other "dog" runs away. Not happening with the snowman....

Anyway, it took about 3 visits to stores and a half-a-dozen calls but I managed to find what maybe the last snowman within 100 miles of Augusta....Just my luck I had helped my neighbor put it up in her front yard when her husband pulled in the driveway with the "dead" snowman in the back of his truck. A friend at his workplace was able to patch ole-Frosty up so now "joy" they have a pair of snowmen waving to me as we walk by every night......

A couple of folks asked about the Buttery Toffee Cookies I mentioned in a post a couple weeks ago...the recipe is from the Land O'Lakes web site (I've had a lot of luck with the cookies on this site!)...the only thing I changed was to use the Baker's Chocolate dipping chocolate (the kind that goes right in the microwave...lazy I know...) and dip half the cookie into the chocolate for just an added boost...because it is hard to have too much chocolate!

Buttery Toffee Cookies

Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 (8 ounce) package milk chocolate toffee bits

Combine sugar, butter, egg and vanilla in a large bow. Beat at medium speed until creamy. Reduce speed to low; add flour, baking soda and salt. Beat until well mixed. Stir in toffee bits.

Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto an un-greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets.

Optional chocolate dipping: wait until all cookies are cool before dipping in the chocolate. These cookies are best the day after baking.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Something good even better...

Isn't it great when you find someone has improved upon something you already like. Take the latest recipe posted on Big Black Dogs blog - a butter cookie (I'm sold already) made with hazelnut-butter and mini chocolate chips...sigh! Then there is the latest improvements to the Quilt Index.

The Quilt Index is a joint project of Michigan State University Museum and the Alliance for American Quilts and is one of my favorite sites in all of the internet. (If Dr. Spock was a quilter he would hang out here....) So here is a site I love as much as butter cookies (and that my friends is saying something!) that they have relaunched with some even cooler additions.

The now have nearly 50,000 search-able quilt records from more than 29 contributors. What does this mean. Say you find an interesting Irish Chain quilt like mine in the photo above in your Grandmothers attic and wonder if there are others like it. You just type "Irish Chain" into the seach box at and just see how many photos you get to look through! If you go to the basic display page you can even play with the zoom feature that lets you focus on specific parts of the quilt. (This is a great feature for the applique and sampler quilts!) The history pages for the quilts can be really interesting reads too.)

They just completed a new project on Signature quilts (the Signature Quilt Project.) This project allowed for public submissions to the listing in a narrow field. I forwarded this to the folks in that own the really fun signature quilt that I saw in October. There were several similar to it in the Index along with information on how to research these quilts.This quilt is one of my favorites in the signature study. It is the Quaker signature quilt and combines piecing, applique and signatures. (the little applique signature block at the top of this post is from my I mean to research soon....)

So my plan for today - make up a batch of cookies and a pot of tea, then change into my most comfortable jammies and spend this rainy day playing in the new quilt I know how to have a good time or what!