Saturday, September 27, 2014

Hungry Caterpillar Wrapping Paper

Baby shower season is starting in our family.  Our fourth grandchild, and first boy, is due in December. I've been buying and making presents for months now. The first shower was today. So. Much. Fun. 

I've been reading The Hungry Caterpillar to Granddaughter #3 a lot lately. We always do some crafting when she comes over so I thought it would be cute to make wrapping paper with caterpillars to tie into the book and also get her involved with the upcoming birth of her new cousin. Last night we got the supplies out and got to work. She had fun painting and we talked all about Baby Jakey, when she was going to get to hold him, how much longer he was going to be in his Mommy's tummy, how she was going to teach him to swim (not sure why this was so important!) We had a nice time chatting, laughing and painting.  And the wrapping paper turned out cute, too! We have a present ready so next time she is here we will grab out the tape and ribbon and wrap things up!
We used round stencil brushes to make the circle shapes of the caterpillar, very easy for little hands to deal with!

After the paint dried, we added legs and antennas with colored markers.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Apple (Sugar Cookies) Harvest

The last of the apples have been harvested for the year, alas some are wormy! Off to my step-daughter they go for a morning coffee treat.  She is a Speech Therapist for a local school district.  Apples and school just go together! My two oldest granddaughters (her daughters) go to school there so I know they will get this treat from Nana, too.

This cookie cutter has been calling my name ever since I bought it a few months ago. I get most of my cookie cutters from here.  They are hand-made and they have so many designs to choose from.  (Have I mentioned my cookie cutter stash is getting out-of-control and I need to do some organizing?)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Apple Pie Bars

I woke up early Sunday, couldn't get back to sleep, so got up and moving. The garden was calling me so I went out and cleared out the summer plants, weeded and worked up the dirt. I tore out the sunflowers, saving the flower heads to dry for the birds. It was still cool and quiet out, Harley and the birds were my only company. It was very therapeutic. My yard is now ready for fall planting. It was a productive morning and I'm a week ahead of my self-imposed schedule!
While out in the yard I picked the last of our apples from the espalier tree. Even though it's 100 degrees today, I felt like baking an apple pie. My Hubby arrived home today after being away for nine days. I figure welcoming him home with a sweet treat will go a long way in getting some help with my gardening to-do's next weekend!

I love pie, any kind. But it's only two of us at home now, eating a whole pie isn't very good for us, unfortunately. I like to share my baked goods but pies are hard to share. Today I made apple pie bars. Basically, it's a pie, baked in a baking pan that can be cut into bars, easy to pass around, easy to transport, easily packed up for a picnic or office lunch.
One of the things I love most about fall is the smell of fall baking. Cinnamon, nutmeg, apples, pears, pumpkin, they fill the air with a very enticing aroma. This morning I had the air conditioning going full-blast while this pie was baking.  I had to pretend it was fall. Soon I'll be eating apple pie with a cup of coffee or tea, today it was with an iced tea!

Apple Pie Bars

Pastry for 2-crust 10" pie

5 cups apples, peeled cored and diced
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons apple pie spice**

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place diced apples in a large mixing bowl. Add flour, sugars and spice.  Stir until evenly coated.

Divide pie dough crust into two equal pieces.  Roll first portion into an approximate 13x9-inch rectangle.  Roll dough onto rolling pin and transfer to 13x9-inch baking dish. Unroll and arrange dough in pan, cutting to fit, if necessary.

Carefully pour apples over dough. 

Roll out the second piece of dough and transfer to baking dish, crimping edges to seal. 

Cut vents in top of crust.  Brush crust with water and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until crust is golden brown.

Let cool about 30 minutes before cutting into squares.  If desired, drizzle with glaze.


1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.  Thin with additional milk if necessary and drizzle over bars.

**I keep a homemade apple spice mixture in my pantry. The recipe is here.  If you don't have apple pie spice, you can use 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Season in Limbo

I think this is my least-favorite time of year in my garden.  We are just days away from the official start of Fall but we're still having 90-100 degree days. The summer plants are looking ragged and need to be pulled, but it's still too hot to plant the fall/winter annuals. Most everything looks a little distressed and tired. The garden had a busy summer producing beautiful flowers for our enjoyment! While out piddling today I decided to not worry about how straggly everything is, the work it will take to ready the garden for the next season, and to focus on the positives. No matter the season, there is always something to appreciate in a garden. 

My sunflowers are way past their prime and I will be pulling them soon. We had to tie them up so they wouldn't flop over! However, the flower heads are drying and the birds flock to them every day, enjoying their culinary delight!
The dahlias are browning but they still attract butterflies, getting nourishment from the nectar the flowers provide.
The coneflowers are a muted version of their spring fuschia color but the finches just love the seeds on these plants. I will leave them until either the seeds are depleted or winter's frost does its job.

See the empty space in the end of the flower bed?  Next week construction starts on our wood-fired oven! Our fall will consist of many pizza nights!
The lantana is doing quite well and will last until frost. It, too, attracts butterflies as well as hummingbirds. The morning glory, on the other hand, is looking very tired and being devoured on by something.
The pomegranates are getting redder and riper by the day.  Soon it will be time to pick and juice them, another year's supply of pomegranate jelly is just around the corner.
We are supposed to have another week of warm weather then cooler fall temps will prevail.  Next week I will begin the task of cleaning up the summer garden and planting for the fall and winter. Soon the garden will be filled with things like mums, ornamental cabbage, cyclamen, pansies and the warmish colors of fall.  At the market this morning the prettiest flowers were fall-colored ones. Summer is coming to a close.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Crab Quiche

I confess to not being very good at utilizing leftovers.  I'm continually throwing out overripe produce, moldy cheese, half-eaten casseroles or pasta dishes. You would think I would learn by now to do more menu planning so that I'm utilizing leftovers and not putting $$$ down the garbage disposal. One day I'll get there!

We recently had Crab Louie salads for dinner. I had quite a bit of crab leftover and, for once, decided I needed to do something with it.  A few nights later I made this crab quiche. My Hubby loves quiche and this was a winner in his books. As it was a weeknight when I made this I didn't have a lot of time, so I used a frozen pie crust.  I find frozen pie crusts to be quite good, especially for dishes like this.
I found this recipe on the website. It interested me because (1) it had many positive reviews and (2) the method of leaving the quiche in a turned-off oven. I think this method made for a very creamy quiche.

Crab Quiche

1 (9 inch) deep dish pie crust
4 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 dashes hot pepper sauce (i.e. Tabasco), or to taste (I used 6)
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 ounces crab meat (real or imitation)
1 green onion, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the pie crust for about 10 minutes, until just starting to brown. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Stir in shredded cheese, onion and imitation crab. Pour into the pie shell.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, then turn off the oven, but leave the door closed. Leave quiche in the oven for an additional 20 to 30 minutes until firm. This will give it a smoother texture.

My hummingbird craziness extends to some of my dishes, too.  Aren't they cute?!!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Fingerprint Thank You Notes

I believe in thank you notes, the old-fashioned hand-written kind.  I am not a fan of receiving thank you's via text, Facebook or mass-printed, unsigned cards. I always made my kids write thank you notes. Some days it was a challenge but we got them done and they learned the importance of doing so. I believe teaching a young child to write thank you notes is just as important as teaching them to wash their hands.

I recently discovered these drawing books. In these books the author demonstrates how to combine fingerprints and thumbprints, ink pads or water colors, with some simple drawing and outlining.

The results are adorable images of birds, plants, objects, etc. I do a lot of handprint art projects with my granddaughters but they make, by necessity, larger pieces of artwork. These little fingerprint drawings make the perfect artwork for thank you cards.

Our youngest granddaughter recently had her fourth birthday. It is the custom for me to pick her up on Friday afternoon for an overnight visit at Nana & Papa's. I usually try to incorporate a craft or baking session in these visits.  This Friday we made fingerprint thank you cards. I used my Stampin' Up! stamp pads and some stamps for this purpose.  In the future I think I will get a more child-friendly ink.  It was hard to get the ink off her little fingers and my worktable!
We got 10 of these done this day before her attention span started wandering. We have smudges and boo-boos, but that's quite all right! Due to her age, I had to write out the notes but I did make her sit by me as I did so and we talked about the gifts she received and who gave them to her. By making this a fun art time I'm hoping this is the start of a lifetime of writing out thank you notes!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Birthday Cookies!

Our youngest granddaughter celebrated her fourth birthday recently.  The celebrations started with the first party on Saturday, another party on Sunday, and carried on through her actual birthday on Tuesday. How fun to be four! We should all celebrate our birthdays in such fashion instead of worrying about getting old!

We hosted a small family swim party. For months she had been telling me she wanted a "Cinderelly" party. The day of the party she looked around at the decorations and said "but I want an Ariel party".  Too late, kid, Cinderella it was!

I made Cinderella glass slipper sugar cookies to give out to our guests. These were easy to make; one color of frosting and a sprinkle of sparkles.
She had ballet class on the day of her birthday so I made cupcake-shaped cookies to give to her fellow ballerinas.  Though not a hard design, they took a while to make because of the multiple colors and having to let things dry between design elements.  
I had plenty to keep my occupied this day as I was tuned in to the biggest drag race of the year. Even though I spent all morning in the kitchen decorating cookies it didn't seem that long.
I ordered a few more cookie cutters the other day, have more ideas in my always-jumbled mind! Next I need to conquer the clutter that my cookie cutter collection is becoming!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Vanilla Cream Pie

Today is my Dad's 83rd birthday. No big celebrations for him, he's rather a "bah-humbug" when it comes to birthdays and holidays! He's hard to buy for but I know a sure-fire way to please him, bake him a vanilla cream pie.  It's his favorite and also one of the easiest and simplest pies to make!

Cream pies are really easy and can be done in steps to fit into your schedule.  The pie crust can be made a day ahead or, in my case this day, in the morning. Bake it, let it cool, and make the pudding filling and meringue later!

Because cream pies don't need baking, only a little oven action to brown the meringue, the pie crust must be pre-baked. To keep the pie crust from baking unevenly, the unbaked crust must be pricked with a fork. Pricking allows air to escape so the pie dough doesn't get bubbly.  I add two more steps by chilling the pie crust for 30 minutes or so and using a homemade version of pie weights to keep the crust weighted down during baking.  I keep dried garbanzo beans in a container for just this purpose. I put waxed paper in the pie crust, fill it with the dried beans and bake for about half the recommended baking time.  I carefully remove the waxed paper and beans and continue baking.  The result is a nicely browned, evenly-shaped pie crust.
 Meringue isn't difficult to make but care must be taken that the meringue is thoroughly whipped so that the sugar is dissolved.  Sugar crystals will cause the meringue to weep.  After whipping the meringue, take a little dollop and rub between your fingertips.  If it still feels grainy, whip it a little more. Put meringue on hot filling, making sure all the filling is covered. 
 Our computer is in for repairs so I couldn't access the regular vanilla cream pudding recipe that I usually use, one that my Mom has made for years (most of my recipes are on our computer). Today I used this recipe from Paula Deen.  It was good but a little sweeter than I like.  Next time it's back to the old recipe! But, Dad liked it, and on this day that was all that mattered!