Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spectacular Stockings

Our Christmas stockings
After yesterday's post it seemed the ideal time to show you a few more details of those fabulous Christmas stockings that Betty made for us so that you can really appreciate the love and details that went into their making.

You might be wondering about the names on the stockings. They are a carryover from when my neice Julia was about 3 years old and wasn't able to say our names fully yet, so 'Charlie and Marie' became 'Tallie and Rie' and they have stuck.

The pattern came from The Thimbleberries Book of Quilts that I have somehow misplaced but I did find the instructions in an online search so that you can see what the original version was like and then compare it to our beauties - scroll down a bit on the page and click on Jingle Socks and it should take you to it.

As is her way, Betty took the basic pattern and enhanced it with rich fabrics, incorporating a band to cross-stitch our names into and adding her own trims and embellishments.

A row of mini light bulbs sets off the name band on my stocking.

Embellishments continue on the back as well with a panel inserted where the name was cross-stiched on the front side.
Slightly different trim options for Tallie...
Similarly, plainer on the back side but still with lovely stitching details.
And both are lined with a lovely ochre print, which makes it fun digging in to see what goodies Santa has left. They are a valued and lovely traditional part of our holiday season and we look forward to hanging them every year. We like them so much that we hang them from the doorknobs to our bedroom closet rather than on the mantle so that we can enjoy them all season long....M

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Santa Baby Delivers

Well, Santa certainly came through in a big way this year so me thinks that I must have been a very good girl. He started out by filling my stocking with a few tempting goodies.

Our stockings made by Betty, complete with a jingle bell in the toe
Our spectacular stockings were a gift several years ago from Betty and make the tradition of hanging them each year very special; just look at the amazing fabric combinations, cross stitch and special trims. We absolutely love them. This year my goodies included several quilting treats that promise to take me in a few new directions.

First I found the fabulous pieces of fabric in blue and yellow that you see in the photo above...then bias tape makers in two different sizes from Clover. I've been toying with trying my hand at applique for a long time and I'm thinking that these will be the incentive to get me started. They are designed to use with fusible tape but I tend to avoid fusible anything as much as possible so I'll be going au naturel with them. And, to top it off, I got the pack of tiny 3/4" Clover applique pins from my sister Anne for Christmas that you see in the bottom of the frame, so I think that there's a message here. I use Clover's silk pins on a regular basis and they are fantastic - they move through fabric like 'buddah' - so I expect that these will be a delight to work with as well.

Berries and Buds
I've long had my eye on a pattern called Berries and Buds from the December 2005 edition of American Patchwork and Quilting but debated ordering it until I was ready to start because I've been wanting to finish off a few projects. As it turns out I waited so long to decide that I don't think it is available any more. Well, here if out of the blue my sister Dori doesn't recently send me the pattern and instructions. She'd filed it away a few years ago but recently decided that she wasn't going to make it so she sent it along on the off chance that it appealed to me. It seems to be destined to be started, don't you think? The pattern is square (3 blocks wide x 3 blocks high), which is not a format that I am keen on - I like to have a quilt large enough to fit at least a queen bed - so the 400 purple berries that the quilt calls for will likely be somewhere over 750 by the time that it's finished (and that's just the berries!) as it will likely be 4 blocks wide x 5 blocks high when its finished, but I'm trying not to think of all that. I still need to find the background fabric before I get started so that will give me time to finish off one or two WIPs.

Fig Tree bundles
The second bundle of happiness didn't arrive until two days after Christmas but Santa is a busy guy so I can understand...especially if the package is coming from Fig Tree Quilts (I think that Joanna Figueroa might be one of my favourite fabric designers and when I discovered that one of her favourite holiday treats is sitting in front of the tree with a cup of tea and just the tree lights on listening to Christmas carols, I was hooked - this is one of my all-time favourite holiday treats). So what to my wondering eyes should appear but a box of goodies containing 3 beautiful bundles in blues, yellows and reds/greens. The red/green combo might be needed to top up a Flying Geese pattern that I'm getting ready to start and I'm thinking that a yellow and blue quilt is somewhere in my near future, I just have to find the right pattern.

And, just to make it that much more fun, there were 3 grab bags of remnants included in the parcel. They required a bit of ripping since some of the remnants were from samples, but that's all done, and with Anne's help, ironed as well so everything is ready to go. I'm having so much fun just imagining what they might become.

Wonky Stars
The pieces are really varied in size because they are remnants so I'm thinking that I might make tiny 3 or 4" stylized Log Cabin blocks, or maybe Wonky Stars - I just love these posted by Laurraine at Patchwork Pottery. We'll see. ....M

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Keep Christmas Always In Your Heart

O  Christmas tree...
Well, the last of the cookie tins have been delivered and food prep for Christmas Eve is in full swing so now the countdown is on for Santa's arrival. The next few days it will be a time of serious eating and entertaining, games and fun.

Have a very Merry Christmas everyone. May your holidays be safe and filled with good times, great get togethers and lots of fabulous family and friends...M

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In The Zone

Paradise Macaroons
I thought I was in pretty good shape time-wise with my holiday baking but yesterday I woke up realizing that I needed to have at least two of my cookie tins ready for delivery by tomorrow, which meant it was time to get serious about finishing off all of the treats left on my list. EEEK! Thankfully I had one of those days where things just seemed to work. The cookie gods were on my side and I got a lot done.

Thimble Cookies
First off were Betty's favs - Thimble Cookies with raspberry jam and Cranberry Orange Chocolate Chippers.

Toblerone Shortbread

Then a couple of batches of melt-in-your-mouth Toblerone Shortbread.

Then Paradise Macaroons. I have always been a macaroon fan and remember the great ones that mom used to make, complete with the tiny piece of cherry on top, but somehow I just haven't been able to match hers. A few years ago I found this recipe and it changed everything. Its a combination meringue/macaroon topped with chocolate and chunks of toasted almonds. They are aptly named!

And, finally, because I had a can of sweetened condensed milk opened I finished things off last night with a pan of Hello Dollies.

Pecan Tassies & Pecan Shortbread
Today was a little less intense but my deadline was looming. My brother is coming home from Helsinki for Christmas and he loves Pecan Tassies so they were high priority. They are a cookie that only seems to be made only around the holidays so I made a few batches, one with chocolate drizzle and the other without (at the request of my in-house cookie tester). And, I get to use my tiny tartlet pans for them, so I love them for that reason too. Its a cream cheese pastry crust filled with a pecan butter tart filling - what's not to love?

The last batch were Pecan Shortbreads with just a hint of cinnamon. I used milk chocolate to drizzle over the pecan that is baked into the centre of each buscuit but next time I will go back to my tried and true semi-sweet chocolate - I just couldn't get a nice drizzle but they will have to do for this year.

So, after lots more butter and sugar and chocolate this year's cookies are done. There will be desserts prepared throughout the coming weeks but I can now at least rest easy that the cookies can be easily retrieved from the freezer when needed. And its always nice to get the kitchen cleaned up and back to normal. Now to wash my apron and pack the tins....M

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Apron Strings

I love wearing an apron in the kitchen - it's like wearing gardening gloves - when they are on you are invincible. And a favourite apron is one that my sister Dori made for me for Christmas a few years ago.

Actually, she made one for each of the girls in our family and they are beautiful, not only because of her eye for colour and strong design, but because she incorporated pieces from her stash, our late mom's stash, and our maternal grandmother's stash into the block that is the pocket on the front. And it has come in particularly handy this week as things begin ramping up on the baking front.

There are several neighbours and friends that we like to give tins of goodies to at Christmas so I've been making my list and checking it twice and now need to ensure that there's enough to go around. These little chocolate fudge tarts are a personal favourite. The batter is actually really simple but what I love are the tiny tins that I have for baking them in. They are fluted and about 1.25" in diameter. You could use mini muffin tins but the ornateness of the tins just works for me. The tins are getting a little long in the tooth and I'm concerned that they won't last forever so when we were in Paris in 2006 we sought out the famous E. Dehillerin chefs supply store to see about adding to my collection. I picked up a similar style but not quite the same (quite ironic if you are familiar with the shop because it is a labrynth of every manner of pot and pan and cooking utensil that you could dream of and we walked away with 24 tiny tins!). They are more squat and the material is much more substantial than the tins that I have so I've been slow to use them, but they are much easier when it comes to cleanup so I am coming around.

Top the tartlets off with a dollop of chocolate and tiny white dragees & sugar snowflakes for a delicate winter treat. You could also use finely chopped nuts if you prefer.

Social Tea Squares
I've also whipped up three batches of what is probably the hands down favourite across our family - Social Tea Squares. For anyone who has not tried these little morsels I would highly recommend them as the best combination of sugar, eggs and butter that you can get, with a little marshmallow thrown in for good measure. The key to making these is patience but once you get the hang of it you will be sold. I'm thinking we still might need another pan or two.

2 eggs
1 c sugar
3/4 c butter
2 c mini marshmallows
1/2 pkg crushed social tea buscuits

Cook first 3 ingredients in a double boiler for 25 minutes on low heat til thick. Cool slightly. Combine with crushed buscuits and marshmallows and pour into and 8" x 8" pan to set. Makes 36 squares.

White Chocolate Gingerbread
Finally, I thought I'd give the White Chocolate Gingerbread recipe that Janet from Quiltsalott shared a few days ago. They turned out okay but were not what I was hoping for in terms of chewy. Also, the recipe says to drop the dough by the tablespoon but it was too stiff to be able to do that so I rolled it into 1-inch balls. I think the next time I'll follow Janet's suggestion to use two eggs to get that chewy texture that I want. My taste buds have been off lately because of some medication so I had my in-house cookie tester try them and he came back with two thumbs up, so they must be good, but they definitely do not look like Janet's.

Me thinks I will be humming Everything But The Girl's Apron Strings for the rest of the evening....M

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The New Phone Books Are Here!

Anyone who remembers the movie The Jerk starring Steve Martin will recognize this line when he worked himself into a frenzy that the new phone books had arrived. Now what, you may well ask, does this have to do with quilting? Well, for several months I've been seeing these great variations on scrappy strip quilts in blogland that use pages from phone books to cut the foundation onto which you sew. And having QUADD (quilter attention deficit disorder) I've been dying to try it out.

Well, the new Yellow Pages arrived a few weeks back and it didn't take long for me to take the old edition and start ripping pages from it. There are several tutorials around but the one that struck my fancy I found on Amanda Jean's Crazy Mom Quilts blog. She's got a great step-by-step description of the process that turned into a spectacular pillow cover, so I won't repeat it, but suffice it to say that using her instructions and a pile of Christmas print strips I was able to turn this:

into this.

Unfinished edges of my triangles are 3" so they will be smaller than that when sewn together. I'm thinking that Christmas pillows might be great idea for next year's Holly Bazaar, but I also think that it would be amazing to have a Christmas quilt done out of hundreds of tiny triangles too (in what lifetime, you ask...). For that I think I'd use a more muted, sophisticated palette of fabrics - these colours are pretty clear/primary - but it does make a girl think...

Speaking of unfinished, I have a little unfinished business from the cookie bakeoff. I forgot to show you the beautiful copper snowflake cookie cutter that Jane brought for me - she is always showing up with great treats - and this yummy looking Mango Ginger Red Pepper Jelly. She knows the way to my heart. I have a few lovely copper snowflake cutters that I have collected over the years but they are larger than this so it will be fun to work this one into the rotation. Thanks again Jane!...M

Friday, December 09, 2011

Cookie Bakeoff Fun

Every year for about the past 15 a group of us have been getting together for a day to launch the Christmas baking season (my favourite) and work our way through more pounds of butter and chocolate than should be legal. It is a full day, but a fun one, and a great way to feel like you have accomplished something because everyone goes home with tins brimming with goodies and many more warm memories. I remember one of the first bakeoffs - maybe the first - we were all crammed into my very tiny kitchen at the time. My nephew Teddy, who was about 4 or 5 years old and very keen on pitching in too was perched upon a stool so that he could reach the countertop and he was in charge of the 'gears' on the mixmaster as batches were produced (along with the occasional snow/flour flurry!).

Emmy and Betty go the distance
This year my sister Betty hosted the festivities and I'm happy to say that we still have a few little ones keen on getting into the tradition - Betty's neices Megan and Emily count down to the bakeoff just about as much as we do. Emily is the youngest and she was so into it she even made a batch of tiny 1/2" sandwich heart cookies, complete with icing and dragees, to take home for a tea party with her Barbies. She rolled and decorated right to the very end.

Julia starts things off on the gingerbread
We usually show up with one or two batches prepared so that cookies can be baked right away while more batches are prepped. Our recipes don't vary that much from year to year - we have our favourites - but we do periodically have moments of brilliance, and this year it was with the royal icing. Instead of mucking around with sticky icing bags we discovered these great squeeze bottles that made both icing and clean-up a breeze. Old dogs, new tricks.

Works of art
The added bonus on the icing is that three of the happy bakers - Betty, Jane and my neice Julia - are all graphic designers so inspiration and creativity are a given.

Jane gets excited about her favourites - Linzer Hearts
There will be many more batches whipped up between now and when Old St. Nick comes down the chimney but nothing compares to the joy that comes from getting these first goodies into the freezer.

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
We used to count the dozens that we make but now we are happy just to bake and get them into tins. One of my favourites are the Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread from Martha Stewart; there's something about the taste of fresh ginger wrapped around chunks of semi-sweet chocolate that makes me go weak in the knees (or at least sends me looking for a good cup of tea to go with them!).

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Snowman Door Hanger
It snowed here yesterday, not a lot, just enough to cover the ground in white, and that seemed to be the perfect cue to get this little guy out of storage. Actually, he's not really in storage because I keep him hung on the door to my sewing room, but this time of the year he gets elevated to the main floor. I made several of these a few years ago for the Holly Bazaar and my hubby liked them so much that he bought one before they could leave the house. I recently ran into a gal who bought one at the Bazaar and she said she keeps hers out all year too. He's so cute it's hard to put him away. There's not a ton of quilting on it, but a little bit, so I thought you'd enjoy seeing him. You can get the pattern from Better Homes & Gardens' All People Quilt site.

That prompted me to start thinking about Christmas decos. This year I want to put up a small tree downstairs and opted to get a small artificial one but wanted decos that were fairly simple and a little rustic. Over the years my sister Dori has made these great garlands using paper circles and recently sent me a lovely selection of papers to do just that. Aren't they beautiful? I don't know if you can tell or not but the red has raised dots - it reminds me of Swiss Dot fabric that we used to have in dresses when we were small.

My neice Julia is now home for Christmas break so she came for a visit and helped me get started and made a garland for her brother and his girlfriend. All you do is run the dots through the machine (we used 2.5", 1.5", and .5" dots and 1" squares).

It was a bit tricky with the smallest dots at first but you just position them in front of the feed dog and the machine takes them through. 

Ta da!
Lots of fun! Thanks Dori for the great idea and the lovely treats. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...