Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Marble Man's Cure-All "Tea"

Several people have asked for the recipe for Marble Man's "special tea". OK, confession time: this is not something he came up with. I told him how to make it for me and he did a bang-up job. He comes from a long line of tee-totalers (but it was remarkably easy to corrupt him!). When I feel cruddy from a cold, and don't want to take Nyquil during the day, I make this tea remedy and it really helps:

1.5 ounces bourbon, whiskey, or brandy
2 tsp honey
neutral-flavored tea (Lipton's or Twining's English Breakfast are best for this)

Add hot water, steep, and drink it up while it's hot. Repeat until you can no longer sit up straight :-) Guaranteed, you'll get some good naps in!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy, Quiet Holidays

Many thanks to all of you who have wished me feeling better - I am... MUCH better. I still honk like a goose, and have a most unladylike cough but, for the most part, I'm on the mend. And I give all the credit to Marble Man's "special" blend of tea. *wink*

Christmas was very quiet, just Marble Man, me, and the dog. We could barely wait for 12:01 AM to arrive Christmas morning when we began to tear into our presents. The dog was a BIG help there - he just can't stand to see a present all wrapped up. He's gotta tear a corner off the paper on each gift. Everyone was so thoughtful - we thank all of you. One of my favorite gifts came from my Mom, who proved, once again, that she's a great listener!

In 1991, Marble Man and I went to our local museum to view an Alphonse Mucha exhibit.

"Self Portrait"

Oh, how I adore the man's work! (Find more about him here.) When I told Mom about the exhibit, she filed it away in that steel trap she calls a brain. Lo these many years later, imagine my surprise when I opened one of her gifts to find a calendar featuring some of Mucha's pieces. I get to enjoy that all year long!

Mucha is famous for his Art Nouveau posters


and lithographs


"The Moon"

but he was also a gifted jewelry designer,


"La Nature"

and painter.


I don't make New Year's Resolutions because I rarely keep them past the first week, but this is one I'll actively pursue: I'm going to add more beauty to my life each day. I'll look in the oddest of places for small joys, I'll find them, and hold them close. And I'll start by looking at my closet door each morning...

Happy New Year, Dear Friends!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TKO - I'm Down For The Count...

The rest of my Bakathon is on hold as I muddle through my annual Christmas Cold. If it's Christmas, Kate gets a bug - set your calendars by it folks. And this one's a Doozie: total head involvement with ears and chest next up on the tour. Earaches are the worst - enough to make me cry like a big old baby. Meanwhile, my head is so stuffed I wish it would just roll off my neck and be done with it.

I'm heading out to the doctor's office in a couple hours to see what's what. It sure FEELS like I could use a nice dose of antibiotics. He could pull out his biggest, dullest needle, and I'd weep with gratidtude if it makes me feel better faster.

While I wait to get better, Marble Man took time off from work to take care of me. What a sweetie. I've had some tea laced with honey, lemon and a healthy slug of bourbon; lovely Nyquil-induced naps; chicken soup with matzoh balls; and quiet time to read this, and this. Every once in a while, I cough so hard I hack up a lung, but no worries: I just stuff it back down again.

Have a lovely Christmas everyone, and I hope I get to enjoy it soon...


Update: The good doctor proclaimed "You'll live", then gave me an antibiotic prescription in case I spike a fever over the holiday. In the meantime, I just have to wait it out. Or as Marble Man so often says: "Just rub some dirt on it and walk it off!".

Toddling off to make some bourbonated tea now...

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's Beginning to Smell A Lot Like Christmas

I've been in a baking frenzy these past few days, which is crazy 'cuz it's just Marble Man and me this time around. Still, the cookies are flying out of the oven, the fruitcakes are beckoning, and the gingerbread houses are ready for habitation. Soon to come: Julekake (Norwegian Christmas Bread)... and even MORE cookies! Mmmmmm.

The fruitcakes I make are not the running jokes being passed from house to house, year after year.

My recipe came from an old family friend, a lovely Frenchwoman named Idalette Baker. I remember being a small child, hanging about in her Country French-styled kitchen while she prepared the 7 course meals she'd serve guests for dinner. Although she didn't have children at that point in her life, she treated me as though I had something valuable to contribute at the tender age of seven. She taught me subtle lessons in the kitchen that I observed as pure fun at the time, and still use today.

One night, she served her wonderful fruitcake and, after tasting it, I begged for the recipe (which she had to convert from metric for me). She happily shared it and I treasure it, as now she's gone. It's so darned rich with butter and sugar (and the only rum in it comes from soaking the raisins before it all goes together) that I make it rarely. But when I do, boy do we enjoy it!

Our favorite Christmas cookies also require a heap of butter (God, I feel my butt growing wider as I type this post!). I asked Marble Man to tell me his two top faves, and I picked my two. His: Checkerboard Cookies, and Chocolate Crinkles; and mine: Walnut Crescents and Peanut Butter. So far, I've made one for each of us.

MM got his Chocolate Crinkles

and my (unbelievable - no flour!) Peanut Butter cookies are in the freezer so I can take out one per day.

The Peanut Butter Cookies are truly amazing - and would be great for anyone with wheat and gluten allergies. (Nut allergies? Sorry, can't help you there.) They require just four ingredients: peanut butter, egg, sugar and vanilla - that's it!

After mixing the batter, I rolled them into spheres

and flattened them with some beautiful cookie stamps

If you don't have stamps, you can oil the bottom of a glass and use that instead, or use the bottom of the PB jar - then you get that nice recycling symbol on the cookie tops! :-) . They are light, delicious, and anyone tasting one would never believe the absence of flour.

I think the ones with the thistle design taste the best - it's my favorite stamp.


Unfortunately, a few of the Ya'ya's got sick this week (guilty as charged), so we postponed the holiday party with the planned gingerbread hi-jinx. By this afternoon, I was feeling a little better, and tackled the gingerbread house project on my own. I'd already told our neighbors that I'd be making the houses, so they're expecting them. I can't disappoint small children at Christmastime! Luckily, the kits I bought had the house components already made - all I needed to do was make the royal icing and stick on the candies. Oh yeah, and melt the Jolly Ranchers to make windows and ponds.

They came out pretty well for a first-time project. We'll take them over tomorrow morning and present them to the kiddles.

Then, it's back to the sweatshop, uh, I mean, the kitchen.

Monday, December 15, 2008

making gifts

Wow. That was a busy weekend! This year, in lieu of actual tangible gifts, we thought we'd make donations in family members' names to their favorite charities. But, as I wrote out the cards stating the various gifts made, I thought about how the "fun factor" of Christmas would be missing.

So, I spent the weekend finishing some gifts to give as well. Who doesn't love to discover a mysteriously shaped package under the tree with their name on it? I dug out this wonderful book my mother gave me several years ago. I knew I'd use it someday, and that time arrived this week. The projects use a basic salt dough (2 C all purpose flour, 1 C table salt, 1/2 - 1 C warm water), which is kneaded about 10 minutes, shaped, then baked a LONG time - anywhere from 4 - 12 hours. I made several pieces, then madly painted and varnished this weekend to get them in the post today. Mission accomplished!

Because I put my time into making the gifts, I skimped on the wrapping - nothing amazing this time around. Next year, I'll plan better so I have time to do both.

My favorite piece so far: a 9" wreath with little fruits that are about 3/4" wide. So cute (don't worry, the recipient doesn't read this blog so I'm not spoiling the surprise).

I'm completely hooked on this sculpture medium. The trick will be to do it only occasionally so it stays a hobby. My habit, when I learn something new and I really enjoy it, is to do it obsessively, which then sucks all the fun out of it. Therefore, salt dough sculpture is my new "carrot" for getting unpleasant jobs finished - such as the (dreaded) year-end inventory.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jump-Start Your Christmas Spirit!

Time to load up my ipod with Christmas music. Like a crazy person, I bop 'round the house as I rediscover some old favorites like this one:


Here's a bright, shiny, upbeat (and thoroughly modern) version of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen for you by the Barenaked Ladies, featuring Sarah McLachlan. Strap on your dancin' shoes, hoist a cup of nog, (oops, no...I mean THIS,) and enjoy!


Most of our gifts are ready to go, Al I need is some time this weekend to wrap 'em up. My goal: get them to the post office on Monday. I think the wrapping is as important as the gift it contains, and I've gotten some fabulous ideas from Gabriela Delworth's blog. She has some very stylish and fairly easy ways to dress up a gift. Why not check it out if you haven't seen her site yet?

A week from tomorrow, my favorite people in the whole world, my Ya-ya's, are getting together for our annual Christmas lunch. This year it's a pot luck Tea Party. We'll have yummy sandwiches, goodies, and lovely teas to sip - we're each bringing a tea pot, so I think we'll have LOTS of different teas to pick from.

We're also doing a group project this time: gingerbread houses. I've never made one, so I'm looking forward to it. To make it easier, we've each bought a house kit from Trader Joe's, and we'll add our own candy embellishments. The finished houses are tiny, so I bought two. When I've finished putting them together, I'll give them to our neighbor's small children. That way, I won't be tearing off any roofs at 3 in the morning when they call my name!

What are your special Christmas plans this year?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Trimming The Tree With Bread Clay Ornaments

My favorite time of this season is when we trim the Christmas tree. Long ago, we decided to forgo the delicious (and expensive!) smell of fresh pine for a fake tree. It was the year we spent $60 for a 5 foot tall fresh pine: the week after Christmas, our tree was at the curb awaiting pickup, and I went to our local hardware store on an errand. They had 7 foot tall fake trees for $70!! So, I bought one, and we haven't regretted it (much). It's easy to store, easy to decorate, easy on the environment, and it paid for itself the first year we had it.

22 years ago, I found a wonderful article in the 1986 December issue of McCall's Needlework & Craft Magazine with instructions for making bread clay tree ornaments. I made some, and one of my joys each Christmas is pulling them out of storage to hang on the tree.

They weren't difficult to make, just took some time and patience. I thought I'd post the instructions here if any one would like to try to make some. (If you want the printed instructions, email me and I'll send them to you.)

Here's what you'll need to make an angel with a rose bouquet:

Old Fashioned White Bread (Wonder Bread works great!)
Aleene's Tacky Glue
White watercolor paint
food coloring: red and green
Acrylic paints: metallic gold, light blue, yellow oxide, red
polyurethane varnish

Please note, the collected things in this picture are the tools I've amassed over the years. You don't have to have ALL this stuff!

small mixing bowl and spoon
measuring spoons
plastic wrap
waxed paper or parchment paper
plastic straws
saucer or palette (for paints)
small and very fine paint brushes
small spool of fine wire (24 or 26 gauge)
wire cutters

Bread clay:
1 slice fresh white bread, crusts removed
2 tsp Aleene's Tacky Glue

1) break the bread into tiny pieces in small bowl
2) add glue
3) mix thoroughly with a spoon
4) knead mixture until it has a smooth and even texture - about 5 minutes.

(Note: it is VERY sticky! You'll have to rinse it off your hands after you start kneading, otherwise it will just keep sticking to itself on your fingers. It will start to behave itself after a minute or so of kneading.)

**Note: This clay dries out super fast, so only mix up enough for what you are doing at the time - the above recipe makes enough clay for one ornament.

Cover your workspace with waxed, or parchment, paper and tape it down.

Break off a small piece, about an inch round, and set it aside, wrapped in plastic wrap.

Now, make a well in the center of the main portion of clay and add about 2 tsp of white watercolor paint. Knead this until the paint is homogenized throughout the clay. This will be a big mess in your hands! Those of you who watched the Fellowship of the Ring movies will immediately start thinking of the "White Hand of Saruman". (I know, that probably makes me a geek!)

Once again, wash your hands and knead the clay against your workspace to evenly distribute the color.

When the clay is nice and smooth, make a cone of clay 2" long and about 5/8" thick at the base. Flatten out the cone with your hand to a 1/4" thick wedge, and sharply bend up the skinny end to form the upper body:

After the basic shape is done, you can embellish the surface of her gown any way you wish. To make the heart-shaped design, I wrapped one end of a large drinking straw with a rubber band to form the heart shape. You could also use leather stamping tools, or anything else that excites you.

Head and Wings:
Break off a small piece of clay and model an oval about 1/2" long and attach to the neck using the same glue you used to make the clay. For the halo, flatten a pea-sized piece of clay to a circle 1/8" thick and glue to the back of the head.

For the wings, model a pair about 1/8" thick. Attach to body at the waist.

Model two arms, about 1" long and 1/4" wide. Pinch at one end to form the hands and bend the hands so they are flat (to hold the bouquet). Add a graceful bend at the elbows. Score horizontal lines on the arms to add texture to the "sleeves" of her gown.

From a 1-1/2" piece of wire, form a loop, spread the ends and insert in between the wings below the waist. Glue the arms at the waist, pinching the hands together at the front.

Form two shoes from 1/8" long pieces of clay and glue behind the hem of her skirt.


Now's the time for that little piece of clay you set aside at the beginning. Take a small piece and make a well as before. Add A LITTLE red food coloring and mix it well, kneading the color in evenly. Add more food coloring for a darker red.

Into another small piece, mix in some green food coloring.

The Base:
With a tiny piece of green, make a very thin circle of clay, about 1/4" in diameter.

Again with tiny pieces of the green clay, make 4 small, flat triangular pieces to form leaves. glue them to the edge of the base, and curve them to add dimension.

With the pink clay, roll out a small piece to be about 1/16" wide and then flatten it to a narrow ribbon shape. Start at one end and roll up the ribbon until your flower is the size you like, and cut off the excess. Make 4 roses, and attach to the base above the leaves. Dry separately from the angel and glue on later.

Now you have to be patient and wait for her to dry completely, about 48 hours. Set her aside in a warm, dry place, and periodically turn her to expose all surfaces to the air. You can speed up the process a little by keeping her in a slow oven, about 200-250 degrees. Keep checking on her to make sure all her parts dry completely.

When dry, it's time to embellish with paints. For the face: Using a very sharp pencil, or a fine tipped pen, draw fine lines for the nose and eyebrows. With a fine brush, paint the eyes blue, mouth and cheeks pale pink (dilute the paints for the face with a little water to make the colors translucent). Paint the hair yellow oxide, and add fine metallic gold dots to the halo.

Paint the wings metallic gold, and the shoes red or pink.

Finally, glue the bouquet to the hands. Brush on two light coats of varnish, allowing it to dry thoroughly between coats. Then, hang her on the tree, step back, and admire! Congratulations!

I have to say, I really enjoyed revisiting this project. It's nice to be reminded of how much fun it is to do something completely different. I'm sure I'll be doing more with it.

What do YOU do to get in the Christmas mood?