Snowpocalypse

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Cooking

150127 Brownies (1)

 

If I was to believe what I was hearing on every news outlet (and alerts on my phone) I would have thought today was really the end of the world as I know it.  When you live in Rowe it snows pretty much every. single. day. so I was at least expecting 5 or 6 inches on the ground when I woke up this morning.  Nope, maybe 3 with it blowing all around.

The hype did get me into gear in the baking arena though and I made a huge pan of my favorite chocolate comfort food.  I found the recipe for these brownies almost 7 years ago in Yankee Magazine.  Julies’s Brownies is my go to brownie for a crowd or just for days when chocolate is the only thing that will do.

I am NOT a brownie baker – my kids will attest to that.  I have made so many variations of brownies over the years – all of which were dismal failures. This recipe, followed to the letter is a winner and the best you will ever have.  It makes a huge pan of brownies and I often put nuts on half and leave the other plain (for those walnut haters).  I then cut them up and freeze half.  There are always brownies available and they freeze perfectly.  I’ve linked the recipe but here it is as well.  They are that good.

Julie’s Brownies

Total Time: 35

Yield: about 40 pieces

Sometimes you just need chocolate to get things on an even keel. My dear friend Julie Fox makes these killer (and easy-to-do) brownies. They taste even better if someone makes them for you, so consider baking them for someone you love.

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, for greasing
  • 4 tablespoons plus 3-1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Instructions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 12×17-inch jelly-roll pan and dust with 4 tablespoons sugar. Discard any sugar that doesn’t adhere to pan. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine 3 sticks butter and chocolate. Cook, stirring occasionally, until both have melted. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat eggs with 3-1/2 cups sugar until blended but not “frothy.” Stir in vanilla, then chocolate. Add flour, stirring until just combined. Fold in nuts if you like

Spread batter in prepared pan and bake 35 minutes, or until set. (A wooden toothpick inserted in the center should come out almost clean.) Let cool completely before cutting.

So make yourself a batch – whether it’s storming out or sunny.  You know why?  They make the world’s best breakfast.

150127 Brownies (2)

 

Weaving Hooks and Eyes

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Craft

150113 Hooks and Eyes(2)

The last time I posted about this particular project I had left it wondering what the heck I was doing wrong because the pattern wasn’t looking quite like the draft.  My weaving instructor looked at it (under the cloak of darkness) and emailed me that I had been treadling it wrong.  I was close but not quite right.

The structure for this project comes from a back issue of Weaver’s Craft – Issue 11 Vol. 3, No. 1 Spring 2002.  I’ve added a link for my weaving friends because so many people asked me to explain it.  Honestly, I’m not deep enough into the project to do so.  I had an aha moment while I was weaving the other day (and doing it properly).  I realized when throwing the white shuttle that I was weaving the same pattern on the back side.  How cool is that?

150113 Hooks and Eyes(3)

I love the thickness of this fabric – perfect for placemats.  They will be totally reversible, light on one side, dark on the other.

The best thing about this structure for me is that I can use any overshot pattern and weave something that doesn’t have long floats that snag and pull.  Perfect for baby blankets, table linens, anything that will be used regularly.  Overshot has enough complexity to keep me interested while weaving and looks far more complicated than it is.  Threading and weaving requires a little more concentration but it’s totally worth it in the end as you can see.

Some Warping Stupidity

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Craft

150109 Warp

A couple of days ago I decided it was time to put another project on the loom.  I have a nephew that’s expecting twins in the spring and opted for an overshot blanket.  I wound a 6 yard warp in 5/2 figuring I would weave two in different colors and have some room to play as well.  I was warping the loom this time using a roll of corrugated cardboard.  It went on like a dream, straight, even, perfect tension, yes!

I taped up my draft and started threading my heddles.  Hmmmm, there really didn’t seem like enough threads for the project.  I got halfway through and realized I had miscounted. By half. Ugh.

Now I’ve been known to wind a warp that was twice the number of threads but never under.  So I’m thinking, “What the heck am I going to do now – there’s 6 yards on here and 230 threads?”

It just so happens I was also planning on doing a couple of table runners for gifts later in the winter but there weren’t enough threads to do the ones I intended.  This sent me in search of an overshot pattern that would work for the people the gifts were intended for and spoke about the weaver (this is almost always how my design process goes).

I pulled out Weaving Designs by Bertha Gray Hayes.  This is my all time favorite book of overshot patterns.  I pored through the book for a good long while and finally settled on her pattern Old Fashioned Garden.  It has a 40 thread repeat so I could work it with an open and close of 14 threads and only have 15 threads hanging off the back of the loom in the end.

Today I’ll thread the heddles, tie on and hopefully weave enough picks to see how the design will work.

The babies will have to wait.

150109 Macomber

As a side note I just wanted to share how amazing this Macomber loom is.  The breast beam is hinged and can be lowered.  Great when you’re ready to thread and really don’t want to take the loom apart.  This loom is so high that I wouldn’t be able to thread over the beam comfortably.  There are so many things about this loom that are simply brilliant in their design.

 

 

Baby It’s Cold Outside

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Uncategorized

150108 SunriseI went to bed last night with the temperature around -5, this morning it was -8.  I lit the stove with the coals remaining from the overnight burn and sat down with my morning cup of coffee.  The temperature in the kitchen was a balmy 59 with the furnace running almost constantly.  Ahhh, the joys of living in an old house.

I’ve heard comments about the cold all day yesterday and last night.  They cancelled school for today in Boston because of it.  Yes, it’s cold but the wind should stop today and the temperature will rise to the more seasonal teens and twenties by the end of the week.  I feel like people have forgotten the winter of ’14.  We had this bitter cold weather for weeks at a time.  For us frozen pipes were a weekly problem with repairs that were continuously made to the heating system.  Yup, its cold – it’s January.  It’s the time of year when handwork seems to be the best option.  There’s nothing like having a heavy hooked rug sitting in your lap on a cold winter’s day or doing some kind of project that calls for a physical workout.  Think I’ll warp the loom today, that’s always something that heats me up.

Being the multitasker that I am I’ll bake some bread and a goody for the rest of the week.  I don’t usually eat most of what I’m cooking but there are always people to share it with that appreciate it. It will also heat up the kitchen.

So I’m off to feed the chickens and gather their eggs with Sophie following along.  If I’m bundled up enough I will stay out longer than necessary.  There’s something bracing about breathing in air that freezes your nose.  The squeaking, crunching snow beneath your feet is something I love the sound of and I’ll use the opportunity to fill the bird feeders.  God knows they need that seed just to survive the cold this time of the year.

I’ll come in, make a little soup and bread for lunch and wind a warp.  All in all a perfect winter day for me.

 

A side note.  There will probably be an inordinate number of sunrise pics this year.  I made a commitment to photograph it everyday (even on cloudy days) to watch the sun move through the sky.  Little things in long spans of time – must be the gardener in me.

 

 

 

Another One Bites the Dust

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Birds / Outdoors

Middletown Hill Rd

The road in front of the house in Rowe was lined with trees for hundreds of years – hundreds.  These stately sugar maples provided shade from the western sun in the summer keeping the house quite cool.  They provided places for hammocks and swings and places for children to climb.  Big birds also nested and fed themselves from those trees – pileated woodpeckers and barred owls plus all of the usual smaller birds and squirrels. When you looked out of the upstairs bedrooms you felt as though you were in a treehouse.  It was a great view.

It’s been 10 or 15 years since the last one came down in front of the house.  The rooms upstairs are hot in the summer.  There are a lot of trees across the road but they are all beginning to go as well.  Early this morning another was cut down.  It needed to come down, there were very few branches that had leaves any more.  One of its neighbors had fallen not more than 6 months ago.

The video doesn’t do the act of cutting down a tree this size justice.  The snap and shudder, the crashing to the ground, the silence.  The house shook like witnessing a small explosion.

There are trees all around that I want to cut down, to improve the view or let more sun into my garden.  Those decisions don’t come lightly though.  I always consider what will be lost with the removal of any tree, also what will be gained.  When it’s weighed out the decision is made.  Some take very little consideration but others, the maples, are more difficult to cut down.  They are beautiful in every season, they are strong, stately.  They belong.

There is one such maple along the side of the garden.  It’s grown quite large over the past 10 years my garden has been in that spot and now shades a good part of it for most of the morning.  The vegetables aren’t fond of that much shade.  We have cut everything around it and in doing so it has thrived.  That wasn’t the intention, it was on the list to go.

After watching the old maple go down today I’ve decided I will move a good deal of my garden this year.  I want it to stand there shading the yard for a good long time to come.  A place for the orioles and bluebird to perch on the way to the feeder and bird bath.  Barred owls perch there at night and talk to their mates and chicks.  Those are things I’m not willing to give up and it really is an easy decision.

Winter Solstice and Gifting

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Craft

141219 DawnThis is my favorite day of the year.  It’s the end of the seasons for me and the beginning of new.  Today is the shortest day and the end of darkness with each day becoming a few minutes longer until June.  It may not seem like minutes of daylight are increasing but I know that we are back on that swing and just knowing that makes the shorter days more tolerable.

Christmas is this week and I have 4 days to finish up all projects for the holiday.  I think I made everyone’s gift this year except one. Most gifts will be delivered today maintaining the lifelong tradition of homemade goodies for neighbors and friends.  The holiday wouldn’t be special for me if baking was taken out of the equation.  The recipes are dusted off – these cookies are only made for the holidays.  The smells and tastes bringing childhood back to me as they are molded and baked (and eaten with the numerous cups of coffee needed to pull this off).  The last things made yesterday were the dog biscuits for Chester’s friends.

The gift giving for family has been dialed back.  I’ve had to purchase some raw material but for the most part none of it remotely resembled the finished product.  I’ve given each individual a lot of thought and put the spirit of that into each piece made.  I’m hoping they feel the love because that’s was the gift is really all about, a token.

I’m fortunate to have the ability to do this.  I sometimes think that everyone is capable of making their gifts. I honestly think they should try, the gift is so much more meaningful for the gifted and the giver.  I also realize that telling my loved ones to make me something instead of buying it can put on a lot of pressure.  For those that aren’t confident in their ability to create this can be a serious burden.  I also think I say that to push them into the mindset of crafting and art.  Doing so is a gift in itself – you will never know the satisfaction of creating something with your hands until you try.

I’m putting everyone on notice now for next year.  Create your gifts, start thinking about them now.  Do a little search on the internet, you can find a tutorial for everything.  Learn a new skill, even if it’s just a new recipe. Cook a good meal, share with those you love.  For me it’s never the finished product but what went into the creation of it.  What did you learn?  How peaceful did you become while doing it (that may take time).  Put your love into the finished product and the recipient will see it – honest.

 

 

 

 

Today’s Culinary Experiment

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Cooking

141210 Butter (1)

There are things I have never done.  Sometimes it takes being cooped up in the house for a couple of days to give me a little push.  There actually were a number of factors that contributed to the butter experiment today.

A couple of days ago, with the impending bad weather, I decided to find Side Hill Farm in Hawley.  It’s the closest dairy to me and they sell raw milk.  I was thinking cheese but went to stock up for the inclement weather.  This farm has a wonderful little store that is run on the honor system (something you don’t see much anymore).  There are freezers full of pastured pork and beef as well as the cooler full of dairy.  I got a half-gallon of milk and a half-gallon of cream (hey, it was cheap and I figured I’d just mix my own half and half).

This morning I mixed my half and half – the cream was as thick as sour cream, it was a feat getting it out of the bottle.  I then had a quart and a half left along with a slip of paper with instructions to make butter that I picked up at the farm next to the cash box.  I pulled out the food processor and the experiment began.

There’s something about the properties of milk.  Every time I make cheese, yogurt, pretty much anything I feel like a scientist.  Things all have to stay within certain parameters but it with any of these things the milk is transformed.  Butter is no different and it’s amazing to watch.  It churned for a good 3 to 4 minutes looking like cream whirling around in the bowl.  Suddenly it turned into butter and whey.  It was crazy to watch.  I made it in two batches, washing one while the other churned.  Once the whey was kneaded out I added salt and packed it into a container.  It made a little over a pound.

141210 Butter (2)Before putting this into the refrigerator I confess to slathering a good bit onto a piece of toast.  Mmmmm, definitely worth the trouble.  The bonus is how soft my hands were after playing with butter for a half an hour.

 

Ice, Ice Baby

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Uncategorized

141209 Ice

So this is the view from upstairs this morning.  It looks a little worse now.  The weather predictions were right so far and I have done a little planning ahead.  I’ve been watching the squirrels slide on the ice below the feeders and Sophie walked herself this morning (with difficulty) because I wasn’t going to venture past the shed door.  I loaded up the chickens last night, bought some groceries in the afternoon ready to hunker down and stay put.

I absolutely LOVE these days, especially this close to Christmas.  This year all of the gifts I give (well, most) will be handmade.  My list is not long but as with everything else I wait until I’m under a lot of pressure before I do anything.

141209 Maille

I’m still playing with chainmaille, it’s so calming to make and so beautiful when finished.  I can do it while having my morning coffee or pick it up when I have a few minutes.  It’s one of those things that is mindless, repetitive.  Another form of meditation.

141209 Wool

Then there is this stack of wool.  I’ve been mulling this over for a couple of weeks now.  I finally have the patterns I need and all of the material gathered in one place.  I see sewing in my future.

Snow/ice days are such a blessing of time for me.  They are extreme crafting sorts of days.  It may be a throwback to childhood when you had the day off from school and had nothing but the day ahead of you to do whatever you wanted.  There were games, books, the great outdoors.  It seemed as if those days were gifts allowing big blocks of time for pastimes you only had minutes to usually do.

The other aspect is having blocks of time before the holidays.  It’s a time when I do the most baking.  Snow outdoors?  Bake some cookies.  Smells of cinnamon while warming the kitchen to a cozy temperature, something that’s more of a treat than the norm.

So I will be the ultimate multi-tasker today doing things that need to be done (laundry) interspersed with things I love to do.  It makes me think the weather should last the rest of the week.  Just think of what I could accomplish!