Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

This year, the urge to decorate for Christmas returned to me. Er, I can't believe that I have all of this stuff, but evidently, I do. I decided not to buy a big tree because there really isn't room for one as you can see from the photo of my, very small living room.

But, I have a few, little trees like this mini one. It has the red, painted bowtie pasta ornaments that my niece and nephew made in pre-school. My niece painted hers very meticulously covering the entire pasta. My newphew's was painted with a few broad strokes. I'm sure he tolerated the pasta painting for just a few moments before running off to play with all the other little boys. That's him in the photo probably about the age he painted the pasta.

Here is a trio of trees with some of my favorite ornaments.

The round pottery ornaments were too precious to hang on the tree.

I seem to have a lot of santas.

A lot.

I wanted to have the ornaments out that would have hung on the tree. So I placed them here and there on platters or baskets. It made me feel very festive!

Here is another little western table with barbed wire trees and an overdresed coyote.

And, of course, the Holy Family with a few Magi. I enjoyed Christmas so far this year, so much so that I am really looking forward to next year. And, in between, I wish everyone a very, Merry Christmas and a hopeful next year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Finished magnets

These are the finished magnets. I think they turned out quite nice considering they are photos from a date book glued onto magnets that came with the phone book.

This is a magnet that I made from a panforte wrapper. Panforte is the Italian version of fruitcake. The wrapper was so pretty but I didn't really have any purpose for it before it got a second life as a frig magnet.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Recycled goods

Last year, I received a beautiful, spiral bound datebook about my favorite love, Italy. The datebook was made of a wonderfully thick cardstock and although, it was lovely, I had my regular, monthly datebook in which I scribble all of the things I am supposed to do and things I have done. Still, I kept the Italy calendar on my desk, opened to the nearest photo page, so when I glanced over, I would see the photo and smile. So, as the year comes to a close, I hated the thought of throwing the datebook away but didn't really want to store last year's calendar for an indefinite amount of time. (Yes, I am one of the millions of viewers who have made A&E's TV show, Hoarders, a hit.) After all, I have my own photos of Italy neatly stored on digital media or in albums. So, I leafed through the calendar, tearing out my favorite photographs thinking that I would make a collage or maybe just put them up on my bulletin board with a stickpin holding them in place.

But then, I found these gentlmen stuck on the refrigerator. They were lovely 4 inch by 4 inch advertising refrigerator magnets that came with last year's phone book.

Last year, I made a bunch of these smaller refrigerator magnets from scrapbooking materials. But the photos from the calendar were much larger and I didn't think that the scale would work for the size of the magnet.

So, I took a piece of scrap paper, put the magnet on the paper and used a exacto blade to cut the area of the magnet from the paper. I could then move this template around the photo to choose what portion of the photo to use for the refrigerator magnet. I guess the size works.

Unfortunately, I have to choose between these two possibilities for this photo of St. Peter's Basilica.

As much as I love the dome, the one below is the one I decided on.

So, carefully mark the limits of the photo from the template and cut it down to size ( I prefer to use a large paper cutter rather than scissors or, ack!, my rotary cutter). You may want to leave the photo just a bit bigger than the magnet and trim off any excess photo after gluing. If you cut your photo short, no problem! Just trim the magnet down. Lay down some newspaper to protect your work surface and spray adhesive on the non-magnetized side of the magnet and press the cut out photo on it. If you get any air between the photo and magnet, try to smoothe them out. Trim any excess photo and voila! Beautiful refrigerator magnets from Italy! (Photos tomorrow!)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Baby Quilt in progress

My sister asked me to make a baby quilt for a friend. In a moment of weakness, I said, uh, sure. How much fabric do I need, she asked me. Considering the small size, I said about 2 yards plus fabric for the back. She showed up a couple of days later with about 12 yards, none of which more than 2 or 3 fabrics worked together. We looked through my considerable quilting stash but didn't find much more to add to the mix (I don't do baby quilts that often and have avoided adding any flannels to my stash). What is her theme, I asked? She didn't know but was going to go home and look online. When she called me back, she said the colors for the baby were pink and brown. Pink and brown? So, I laid out about 4 possible color combinations to think about of which only one was pink and brown when she showed up the next day with even more fabric! At least this time they had pink and brown colors. However, almost all of the fabric she had bought had a one way direction or lines! (Over all patterns are the best, without linear features and real quilters don't like printed, fake quilt patterns on fabric.) Cutting and sewing are not my strong suits. In fact, I can pretty much say, I don't particularly care for sewing at all. But I like having my own creations.

So after considerable consideration, I came up with this. I first cut the 5 inch blocks and the fabric was cutesy and babyish enough but kind of blah without any pop. So, I decided to fussy cut the rick-rack fabric, with long vertical lines to sew in between the blocks. I fussed alright, because, I am not the best at sewing straight lines and the quilt was going to look bad if the long vertical lines weren't straight. And, lucky for me, I only had to redo one vertical line. I was tormented by how to cut the shorter, rick rack fabric pieces in between the longer vertical pieces because the fabric repeat was close to the width of the block. I decided to hedge my bets by centering the cut on a yellow line since I was pretty sure it would be impossible/I would go insane trying to match the pattern. But, I did cut them all lined up colorwise the same. I'm quite pleased with the baby quilt. If I have enough fabric left over, I want to make a matching bag to go with it.
P.S. The light doesn't do the colors justice but I haven't gotten around to working on a better lighting situation yet.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day

I've been wanting to make bread all summer long, except that it has been too hot to even think of heating the oven long enough to bake bread. I have managed to go the entire summer without turning on the air conditioning (yay, utility bill) by opening up the windows after the temperature has cooled off. So last night, all the stars came together, (weather cool, boule made, sufficient time) and I baked my first loaf. Ta da! Here it is. I made it with an all purpose, unbleached whole grain flour courtesy of my sister and Costco. It was chewy and flavorful and crusty after baking on a pizza stone. I also got the pizza peel this weekend in San Francisco at Sur La Table and seasoned it up with mineral oil so it slid right off the peel (use the edible mineral oil for constipation found in the pharmacy section of the grocery store, don't use a cooking oil).

I suppose that if I lived in Europe, I would not be compelled to bake my own bread but I don't think that the Europeans would tolerate the current list of ingredients now in bread. The last couple of times that I opened a package of bread, it didn't smell like bread but slightly like the chemical aisle in the hardware store where all the pesticides are sold. Particularly repulsive are the hot dog and hamburger buns. When we looked up the ingredients on Wikipedia, I was taken aback by the fact that one of the preservatives is used as a foaming agent in plastic. Of course, the article goes on to say that all of the gas is burned off in the baking process. Is that why it smells so bad? Even the artisan bread at the local grocery store has a list of ingredients longer than I want. Here is what I want my ingredient list for bread to say: flour, salt, yeast and water. Okay maybe some flavorings but certainly not any combination of this list of additives. I am willing to live with the fact that bread made without additives will not last 2 weeks in a plastic bag but I'm thinking that the stores need the longer shelf life since customers are buying/wasting as much food in the past.

So, while my sister has been making bread with an Italian sourdough starter from Ishcia which I plan to bake with next time, I opted for the basic recipe in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I've ordered the book from Amazon but in the meantime, the basic recipe was in an article in Mother Earth News. Can't wait to make focaccia, pizza and hamburger buns!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Oh, the zinnia of it all!

Posted by PicasaI just adore zinnias. I have been too busy lately to make regular bouquets of flowers but I finally cut as many of the zinnias as I could from the garden and was pretty pleased with the large bouquet and the rich colors. When I finally get my backyard in shape, I plan on having lots more space dedicated to the planting of zinnias!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Saturday Still Life

Bouquets of flowers from the garden.

A mixed bouquet of hydrangeas, calla lillies and aglaia daisies.

These are cone flowers otherwise known as echinaceas from my garden.

I couldn't decide which photo I liked better. Plus, I just love these flowers.

Some more flowers and greenery from my garden as well as the first squash minus what has been already eaten (I did try some batter fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella cheese with little zucchinis attached this afternoon-delicious!) . We also made some frutti di bosco jam as well as some pickled beets. I was lucky enough to find golden and chioggia beets at the farmers market on Saturday.
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Sunday, June 7, 2009


No, this isn't Provence but the Lavender Hollow Farms near Escalon, California. Some gardeners I know won't plant anything that isn't edible. However, I don't subscribe to that philosophy. The soul needs to see beauty.If the gardening muse in you needs order, straight rows of lavender will soothe the mind. In the early morning, the fragrance is also a sensory delight. I couldn't resist walking down the rows of lavender and trying not to disturb the bees hard at work.
Wouldn't you like a spot like this in your garden?

Ummm... Purple. I also bought some lovely lavender and grapefruit lotion, lavender butter cookies and a couple of plants. The cookies were delicious.

I love the color purple (viola in Italian and also the name of the soccer team in Florence, I like them, too.) I wish I had more space to grow lavender in my backyard but at least I won't have to go far for a fix.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wild Horses

This is the third quilt I have in progress. It is almost ready to go to be finished on the long-arm quilting machine. I've been waiting to finish this quilt for about 5 years. I say waiting and not working on as all I needed was just a bit of off-white bandanna fabric seen under the backing on the pieced front. I still have to sew on a strip to the backing as it has to be 6 inches longer than the front and it is a tad short. I'll get it back in about 4-6 weeks after I take it in then just have to hand finish the trim. Someday, I suppose I will hand-quilt my pieces but not until I have a lot more time! (Although, I am debating about hand tying yellow thread here and there on the front to look like grass.)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Homemade soap

This is the second batch of homemade soap. The first batch turned out wonderfully but I gave most of it away in my excitement. I have the kind of skin that suffers from dermatitis if I buy the wrong kind of soap. I even buy baby soap and baby laundry soap to avoid it. No whiteners, brighteners, fabric softeners or spring time freshness for me. Right now my skin is wonderfully soft and supple and doesn't seem to require lotion to stay that way except for my hands because I am using up the last of the store-bought, liquid hand soap. I cannot believe what a difference there is even between the homemade soap and the Johnson's Baby Wash. We are still in the experimental stage of trying different recipes although, I definitely have at least one keeper, a complexion bar. The soaps are made with with a variety of oils including olive, palm, shea, macadamia and coconut oil.

This is the natural state of soap without colorants. I do put fragrance and essential oil in the soap because I think it is part of the soap experience and it hasn't bothered my skin.

I also love the different soap molds but they are a lot more work than a simple bar.
The only downside is that there is no instant gratification to soap making! After it's made, you have to wait for all the lye and oils to saponify and that can take at least 3 weeks. Hence, the soap supply. I don't want to run out because I can't go back.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The New Mama

Posted by Picasa(click on the photo to get a better look at her)
I walked by this mourning dove nesting on a stack of earth boxes under a shovel in my sister's side walkway. I couldn't believe she had made her nest under a shovel. I hope she and her babies don't get eaten by a cat or attacked by the very territorial blue jay that inhabits the the backyard. I didn't want to get too close to take the photo and disturb her from her nest. When my sister has to walk by her she just doesn't look at her and pretends she doesn't notice her. She didn't budge from her nest and we all figured she must be a first time mama. We are keeping our fingers crossed!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Garden in Waiting

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This year, I kind of went crazy on what I'm planting in the garden. My sister has been expounding on why I should be planting heritage plants and avoiding "franken" foods so this year, I got a Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog and went a bit overboard. Of course, I had to have Crostata Romanesco, the zucchini fried with the squash blossom, Delicata, a winter squash, Marina di Chioggia, another wonderfully knobby, winter squash from Italy, a beautiful, brown french pumpkin, Musquee de Provence and a small french melon, Petit Gris de Rennes. I had some San Marzano tomato seeds from last year that I bought at Home Depot. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I have a bountiful and un-cross pollinated crop this year as I have way too many squashes for my yard.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Even More Stuff

I have quite a collection of bags bought over the years at museum shops, vacation spots and even the grocery store. Last year, I started making them. I bought this fabulous zinnia print cotton fabric from Walmart, no less, made in the United States of America. If you don't sew, you may not realize how rare this has become. The holstein heifer fabric in photo below is from Korea. Sometimes western fabric from countries other than the U.S. are a bit strange looking. The animals don't quite look right or they have a different "look" that is definitely not western.
Then, I made bags with watermelons, strawberries, pears, cowgirls and more. I loved the way the watermelon bag lined with strawberries turned out. My original motive for making the bags was that I was always forgetting my cloth bags for groceries in the car. About the checkout stand, I would remember them. They were a motley assortment of freebie bags that were, well, just plain ugly. I thought, if the bags were cute, I wouldn't forget them in the the car. You know, I usually don't forget them now! The bags turned out so cute, that I made some for Christmas gifts. My sister says hers are too nice to use!

I just love them and now when the checker at the grocery store asks me, "Paper or plastic?", I reply, I have my own bags, thank you!