Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I tried another bread from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. This time it was a request from my grandma who is recovering from hip-replacement surgery. She's at my parents' home for a few weeks and I've been able to see her quite a bit more often. The kids and I have loved it. So... when she asked me the other day, "Jenny, do you think you could bake me some cinnamon swirl bread? "... I knew the answer would be yes. I thought I had seen a recipe in the book for a raisin cinnamon loaf. How hard could it be to leave out the raisins?
This recipe is a bit different from the master dough recipe because it includes some sugar as well as a cup of buttermilk. Thankfully I've discovered the powdered buttermilk that keeps for a LONG time in the fridge and always have it available. I followed the recipe for the dough as written, but started to just wing it when it came to the cinnamon part. I was making cinnamon toast for the kids for breakfast, so I just sprinkled some of the same cinnamon-sugar mixture in our shaker on the dough as it was rolled out into a large rectangle, on top of the beaten egg mixture which makes it stick. Note to self: follow the directions next time. They are there for a reason.
The bread was wonderful tasting and lovely, but it was missing the rich, thick cinnamon layer that is found in this kind of bread. I think that the mixture in my toast shaker is much more sugary than the proportions in the recipe. Yep, peeking at the recipe now I see what happened. Next time, more cinnamon. Also, the thinner you roll the dough out into the rectangle, the more impressive swirl that develops.
I wanted to bring a little loaf to a few neighbors but don't have small loaf pans. I improvised with these Martha Stewart mini-casseroles that my parents gave me when they gave me my favorite soup pot for birthday a while back (pictured in this post.) They baked up beautifully.

And you? Do you prefer your cinnamon swirl bread with or without raisins?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A tree house is growing at our house:: part 1

Life around our house has been more fun lately with Daddy home more often. Ron has been working incredible hours these past few months as the owner of his own business. It feels good to know that every hour he's away from us, he's putting in an hour toward our future. Still, having him around here really feels good.

Last weekend the boys and Ron broke ground, or shall I say, cut branches on a tree house. Ron had been thinking about building one with the boys for quite some time when he received a great book on tree houses for birthday this year. It was inspiring for the boys to look at, drool over and dream about. Carl even took it outside one sunny afternoon a few weeks ago to study and then sketch out his dream fort with a visiting friend.
In addition to just having him home, I like that it is his project. Well, their project. I'm the gardener and flower tender in the family while he just mows. It makes me smile when the kids crowd around him and the old apple tree that will soon become their new home and I find that I actually have a few kid-free moments to do my own digging.Getting started: a post that was dug into the ground and concrete poured on top. (Please don't report our peeling paint to the city. It's on our list for summer tasks.)

I'll report back as the project progresses and the fun continues.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A little junk= a lot of fun

For Christmas my brother and sister-in-law gave my boys an adventure day certificate. Recently they cashed it in for a day with my brother. I figured that they would eat a meal together, maybe do a craft project or two. They were gone for EIGHT hours. I think it was a present to me.

He picked them up right away in the morning when they woke up and took them to a local favorite breakfast joint for pancakes and apple juice. Afterwards they went to an asian grocery store to browse the seafood tanks for live crabs, lobsters and more. They spent a few hours at the Science Museum of Minnesota then headed off to lunch. The highlight of the day was going to Ax-Man Surplus, a local junk store filled with parts, what-nots, doo-dads and everything in between. They were each allowed to spend $5.00 on supplies to build the robot of their dreams. As they sat later at Erik's kitchen table building, I think these boys fell uncontrollably in love with my brother. They've always loved him, but to them, a chance to use a glue gun, tools and have his focused attention is probably better than a Liberty Custard cone with sprinkles.

Check out the finished creatures. They came home happy, full, crafty and confident.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Birthday Fun

For Carl's birthday, we had a few kids over for a belated celebration. As part of the festivities the kids got to create their own t-shirt design, following Amanda Soule's freezer paper stenciling technique from "The Creative Family."

We didn't have freezer paper, so we used parchment paper instead. It didn't have the sticky effect that ironing the freezer paper does in her instructions, so we just used a bit-o-duct tape. The kids drew their designs with a pencil on the paper and I cut them out with an X-acto knife. Using fabric paint and stencil brushes, they painted in their designs.
We let them dry in the sun in the porch for a while while they played in the yard and each child left with a new shirt and a big "I-did-it-myself" grin on their face.

Friday, April 17, 2009

On sharing

Our neighbor brought over some Easter bags full of German chocolates last week. Louise was very interested in the bag that contained three beautiful and colorful egg-filled wonders. She's at an age where carrying bags around is very exciting. Add to that fun the loading and unloading of chocolates into said bag? A dream come true. She sat talking to this bunny for quite a while that day, sharing one of the bags of goodies with him, then telling him in her own almost-two-year-old way that they were yummy. Her brothers were happy that the bunny didn't actually eat their chocolates.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Fun Book Surprise!

A padded envelope arrived unannounced in my mailbox the other day. Postmark? Virginia. Hmmmm. The book is called "My Mama Made That," a book of yummy favorites from the women in Virginia. It was published by The Junior League of Hampton Roads and had been reviewed recently in the paper where my friend Julie lives. She hopped quickly over to the bookstore and picked up two copies, one for herself and the other for me, just 'cause it reminded her of me. What a special treat!
The book goes above and beyond all other local-type cookbooks I've ever seen. They arranged for a photographer to shoot amazing photographs of delicious southern fare as well as a beautiful collection of aprons. The photography is by Lee Walker Shepherd who is both a photgrapher and stylist. Check out her stuff here. From the credits in the book, it looks like local friends chipped in to provide the props like a restored 1946 Chevy pickup.

And then there's the food....
A book featuring red velvet cake-- of course I love it!I think this might become a summer favorite around our house: Balsamic Chicken with Fresh Summer Relish on page 152.
It couldn't be from an ocean side area without a fun cocktail called Ocean Blue Margarita. Can you say, "Official Summer Beverage" anyone?

I love the rick rack trim. I also love the Coastal crab cakes recipe. I think someday when I actually get to the coast, not just a lake here in land-locked Minnesota, I'm going to make this. In the meantime, I'm enjoying my new nightstand favorite nightly. Sweet and savory dreams, to you all.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Bread

For Easter dinner, I decided to put Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day to the Easter Test. I made a batch of challah dough, the butter variety. The eggs were dyed quickly before inserting into little nooks within the braid. I had heard that you could use both raw and hard boiled eggs in this type of bread. After being baked for 25 minutes, the eggs were soft cooked and edible, but I think next time I'd hard boil them ahead of time.

The outcome? A hit! Soft, fluffy, brightly colored bread... a real hit with kids and adults alike.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A little fun outside

Sometimes when the mood strikes, you just gotta get outside. In the sandbox, at a park, on a blue deer. A blue deer named Ned. You have to know my brother to understand, or even then, maybe you might not. The kids love Ned. I think he loves them too.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Getting the Seeds Planted

I finally got my seeds planted yesterday. It took my older brother's deadline of his flight today to France to get our fingers moving in the dirt. He got the room insulated, a table of old boards and saw horses set up and we hooked up the lights. A little rugged, but perfect. Absolutely perfect.
I brought broccoli, canteloupe, basil, zinnias and cosmos. He had flowering thyme, rosemary, basil, lavender and a few others. We planted two flats and prepared them to be taken care of by his wife while he's in France with his band. With a heater and a timer, plus Tonya the waterer, we're set.

Our set up.

Love this table.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Altered Books:: Part 2

I taught the Altered Books class last night for a group of eleven librarians. They were a very attentive and interested group, full of information about altered books that they shared with the class. We started out by viewing the holdings from an altered books association to familiarize the group with the possibilities of what lay ahead of them and to allow time for arrival. As they finished, they sat down at a large table where they found a packet full of fun goodies. Ephemera galore!

After a basic introduction to the art and craft of altered books, we covered five techniques. They got a chance to practice all of them. If we had had more time, we had several more techniques to share, but due to the facility closing early, we weren't able to finish them all. 'Til next time, perhaps? An Altered Books II maybe?
I LOVE the citrasolv transfer method.
::Take a fresh photo copy (1-3 days old) and cut out an image that strikes your fancy.
Place the image face down on your book in the location where you'd like to place the transfer.
Using a Q-tip swab doused in Citrasolv, liberally rub the back of the paper with the image.
Once the image is well-soaked, take a bone folder or popsicle stick and vigorously rub the
image, transferring the ink to the book below. Peek under one edge, making sure not to move
the image, then either rub more with the bone folder and add more citrasolv or peel away the
image to see your handiwork.
Blocking out text with a Sharpie. You can also remove text on old books by placing masking tape on the text you don't want, then rubbing with the bone folder or popsicle stick. The text sticks to the tape.
An example of the accordian pages with hinges made from beautiful papers. (I love this photo: a man's hands! So many of my attendees have been women. It was a nice change to have men in this class... a different perspective.)

This woman used an extra copy of a Dr. Seuss book. What fun! I can just imagine pockets and hidden goodies within. Her kids will love to discover the book's insides.

We purchased some of the beautiful papers at Paper Source. They have such wonderful papers.
I had previously only thought of old books as sources for Altered books. This one was a newer one, maybe off a sale table at a local bookstore. The pages were shiny, so she couldn't do the masking tape/text lifting method, but it was a beautiful choice for altering. Lovely flowers and text.
Do you have a favorite technique? Please share and I can link back to you, if you have a pic!