Monthly Archives: November 2008

25 Days Of Maple Hoo Christmas: Day 1

We are so excited to finally have a really nice camera, with really nice lenses and a moderate grasp on how to use all of them here during the holiday season. As handcrafters and nostalgia-freaks, there’s nothing we love more than all the little decorations and things we’ve made and collected throughout our lives to deck the halls of Maple Hoo for Christmas. And our plan for this year is to put up a post every day from now until Christmas celebrating our holiday spirit with a new picture; it’s like Project 365 but more focused and singularly themed.

We know we’ve featured Boomer’s 12 Days Of Christmas before, but never with the 100mm lens!

Twelve Days Of Christmas

Partridge in Pear Tree

Three French Hens

Four Calling Birds

Seven Geese A Laying

Nine Ladies Dancing

Ten Lords A Leaping

Eleven Pipers Piping

Twelve Drummers Drumming

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Filed under 25 Days Of Maple Hoo Christmas, Celebratory!, Pictures Worth A Thousand Words, Seasonal

Greetings From Another Finished Project!

Saturday night saw another project finished, this time “Greetings” from the Blackbird Designs holiday book, Peppermint & Holly.

Greetings

I’ve been eyeing this one for years, and am so excited to have finally gotten around to making it up. I love the muted tones — it was worked in Gentle Arts and Weeks Dye Works overdyed floss — which are such a departure from the norm around here (i.e. it’s not Prairie Schooler Santa Red). I love the holly branches, the snowflakes, and the bird. I love the fact that it’s a Christmas piece that’s all about flowers (although I was a little weirded out to notice that the chart says it’s an amaryllis, not a poinsettia).

I especially love the font for the writing:

Greetings Detail

There’s only one problem with it. When I put in the last stitch on the “s”, I held it up for Schnookie to see. She said, “Oh. It only says, ‘Greetings’? Not ‘Season’s Greetings’?” I can honestly say I hadn’t considered that once. Not when I admired the project in the book, not when I was stitching it, never. And now? It’s all I can think of. I think I’m going to go around wishing everyone “Greetings” this holiday season, just to prove to Schnookie that it’s what Christmas pieces are supposed to say.

Now that the project is done (what did that take? A week and a half? Sweet!) I’m embarking on those Prairie Schooler Kris Kringles. Because I can only handle muted colors for so long.

Posted by Pookie

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Filed under Pins and Needles, Stitching

Christmas Cookie Test Drive

When I was a kid, making spritz cookies with the ancient cookie press seemed so special. I mean, cookies that required a little machine with all kinds of moving parts? How awesome is that? Somewhere along the line the ancient press kicked the bucket, leaving us without spritz cookies for years and years. So when Williams-Sonoma starting selling a fancy new version, we couldn’t resist giving one to Boomer for her birthday. I decided to take it for a test drive today, just to make sure it was in working order for when KtG comes to visit for Thanksgiving.

KtG had a press that we used a few years ago that was new and easy and foolproof. I figured this one would be similar so it would just be a hop, skip, and jump from no cookies to a kitchen full of Christmas-smelling cookies. I… was wrong.

Spritz Shapes

The dough was a snap to make and tasted delicious. That was no problem at all. The press, however, was a much bigger jerk than I was expecting! It was remarkably hard to fully depress the trigger, particularly with my hands covered it greasy butter cookie dough. The dough wouldn’t stick enough to the parchment paper sheets I usually use to make clean-up easier, so I had to ditch them and put the dough directly on the sheets. The process wasn’t working at all, and there was much swearing and tossing about of mishapen blobs that were supposed to be making wreaths and snowflakes. It was a bad scene. Finally Boomer stepped in and held the cookie tray in place while I pulled the trigger, and voila! Success!

Spritz Flower

Tray of Trees

After 12 minutes or so in the oven, out came some delicious-looking, delicious-smelling pre-Thanksgiving Christmas cookies. They’re not the world’s most delicious-tasting cookies (they really require one to be drinking tea by the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree), and they’re a totally pain in the ass to make, but as Boomer pointed out, they just look so much cuter than regular cookies, so it’s worth the trouble!

Baked Spritz

And now I know for the next time I make them:
1. Have someone hold the tray while I press the cookies
2. Put the tray on a table instead of the counter so I get better leverage on the trigger
3. While the straight-up butter/vanilla flavor is good, it might be fun to try mixing in some peppermint oil or almond extract
4. Don’t forget to try the star shape

Let the Christmas cookie season begin!

P.S. I put some red sprinkles on some of the snowflake shapes to represent the danger of using a DSLR to take pictures of light-up Christmas decorations. After a week of letting the General dry out, we have established he is well and truly dead.

[Posted by Pookie]

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Filed under Baked Goods, Cookie, Cookie, Cookie Starts With C

Another Finished Project!

This Saturday I put the finishing stitches in “Santas and Snowmen” and can I just say, it’s quite possibly the cutest thing I’ve ever made. Schnookie said it’s like a Prairie Schooler black hole, it’s just so densely cute. I’ve seen a lot of Prairie Schooler santas in my life, and even stitched a few, but these little guys? Are the bee’s knees. If bee’s knees are almost unbearably cute.

Santas and Snowmen Finished

I started with the intention of only doing four squares, but once I got halfway through the santa in the middle, I thought, “This is stupid, why stop at four?” I wish I had planned it for six from the start, though, because I’m a little unhappy with how top-heavy this seems. Oh well! Too late now! (I think each of us is learning the true beauty of holiday stitching this year. There’s been an awful lot of “Meh, it’s only going to be hanging up for a month, I’m not fixing that mistake” going around Maple Hoo.) Other than the too-heavy top band (the houses should have been in the middle, or at the bottom), I’m super-duper pleased with how it looks. Converting from DMC to Au Ver Au Sois silk can sometimes be tricky with the bright reds and greens, but I think I nailed this conversion. Plus the charcoal-colored linen I impulse bought five or six years ago at In Stitches down in Virginia was the perfect canvas to make the snowmen really pop. All in all, I love it! There’s no way it’ll be framed for this Christmas, but I can’t wait to have it up next year.

So the enternal question remained… What to do next? I opted for the Blackbird Designs poinsettia, which was going swimmingly until Boomer left this on my laptop for me to see after work on Monday:

kriskringle

Picture from www.prairieschooler.com.

Wha-huh?!? How had I never seen that book before?!? Needless to say, the poinsettia’s looking distinctly less fun. Methinks I’m too fickle for this hobby.

Posted by Pookie

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Filed under Pins and Needles, Stitching

The Lengths We’ll Go For Christmas Joy

On Monday of this past week, we discovered the old-school tinsel decorations were up at our shopping center. On Wednesday, we saw the evergreen festoons being strung on the lampposts of Princeton. And on Thursday, I turned the final big corner of my workday commute and was met with a vision of the ultimate in our little town’s Christmas finery — the light-up snowflakes.

The appearance of light-up snowflakes marks the time of year where we can officially say it’s the holidays. No, we can’t put up Christmas stuff at home until after Thanksgiving, and, yes, we’ll still feel guilty eating Christmas candy too early at any point before December 1st, but that doesn’t matter. If the snowflakes are up, everyday at work seems easier because it’s the holidays! Every bad hockey game (and we’re seeing a lot these days) doesn’t seem as bad because it’s the holidays!

It goes without saying that we couldn’t not go out to photograph the snowflakes, so this evening, once it got sufficiently dark, we ventured out, camera in hand. It was pretty warm, and there had been gray skies all day, but that didn’t seem to be a problem. We moseyed up to the corner and got the snowflakes in our sights. I raised the camera, snapped one shot, and that’s when it started. First it was a drizzle. No problem! Schnookie took a few more shots, then declared the rain was getting a little heavier. Uh, perhaps a problem? Schnookie bundled the camera up and we turned around to head back home. As soon as we got to the top of our street, the heavens opened. Big problem.

I have never in my 30 years, been out in rain that hard for that long. Sheets of rain were pounding all around us. The wind kept changing to make sure every inch of our clothing was as completely soaked as it could be. Puddles turned to oceans beneath our feet! It was awful.

But, we got the picture, and that’s all the matters. Because… It’s the holidays!

November 15 2008

Update: Shortly after getting home, we discovered the camera is broken. We had it under a waterproof vest for most of the rain, and had used it in heavier rain before, but… It’s shot. It’s got a blue light of death and won’t do anything. It tricked us into thinking it was fine because it took several pictures when we got in from the rain, and let us upload all the pictures, but then it gave up the ghost. In short, these stupid light-up snowflakes bring the worst Christmas joy EVAH! Poopy.

{Posted by Pookie}

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Filed under Pictures Worth A Thousand Words, Pommerdoodling

It’s Garlic-Planting Time!

Back in July we ordered tons garlic for next year, and back in October we got said tons of garlic in the mail. We ordered twice as much as usual in order to plant for green garlic — the early shoots that come in before the scapes and which taste like if scallions were, well, garlic. Green garlic is pretty much the first non-lettuce/radish item we can expect to harvest so knew we were going to want a lot of it. We also knew we were going to want plenty of the German White garlic that won our garden garlic taste test this year, in addition to trying some new varieties this year.

October 13 2008

We ordered 2 pounds of the German White from Seeds of Change, and then picked three different kinds from Seed Savers Exchange. The Bogatyr we chose because it grows large heads and because “bogatyr” was a word we remembered from this year’s spelling bee. Who could resist that? The Georgian Crystal is supposed to be a good storage garlic which is good for us, and has a buttery taste when roasted. We’ll just see about that! The Inchelium Red was found growing on an Indian Reservation in Washington, which seemed pretty cool; it’s a softneck, which is new for us.

Garlic Bags

The first step in planting it was to figure out which beds to plant it in. There’s nothing so exciting as planning a garden! We did a rough plan of where things will go based on rotation and based on which beds got the best sun; not only did we figure out where the garlic will go, we also figured out we’ll have a ton more space than we were expecting for all kinds of peppers next year! Now I can’t wait for the seed catalogs to come! Too bad we still have something like two months before we can start thinking in earnest about ordering seeds.

The second step was to clear out all the dead plants from the future garlic bed:

Garlic Bed Before

After months and months of taking zillions of pictures of marigolds and peppers, this is what we ended up with:

Marigolds, Pulled Up

To the compost pile!

The third step was all about raking some leaf compost into the soil to prepare it for planting. There’s something very, very relaxing about raking a raised bed filled with dirt. I guess those zen rock garden peeps were onto something, eh? Anyway, a raking and be-composted bed just seems so… promising. Anything can grow in that space if we just put in a tiny bit of care and work.

Garlic Bed Raked

The fourth step was separating all the cloves so we’d have a rough idea of how much we had to plant. It seems as if in July we thought we’d need enough garlic to feed an army. We ordered a lot of garlic. We had 25 heads of the Bogatyr, each with four to five cloves on them. The Inchelium Red grows with 8-10 large cloves surrounding a center of 10-15 smaller clovers, and we had 10 heads of that. The Georgian Crystal was a slightly more manageable amount, but we still four bags of the German White, too. We decided it’s a good thing we all love garlic.

Then it was time to plant.

Garlic Rows

It’s a Maple Hoo tradition to eschew planting instructions and just plant as deep and as far apart as the gardening spirits move us to. Heh. If these look ridiculously close together to you, you’re right! We double planted all but one row (we ran out of the Georgian Crystal — we should have ordered more!) so that we can pull up every other plant in Spring for green garlic. Lots and lots and lots of green garlic. Prepare, -Ookie’s Coworkers! Prepare for an onslaught of free green garlic!

November 9 2008

We planted all the Seed Savers Exchange garlic in the big bed: five rows of Bogatyr, three rows of Georgian Crystal, and four rows of Inchelium Red. The German White was planted in a small bed, interplanted with rows of carrots for overwintering. We’ve never overwintered carrots before, so our expectations are very, very slim. Still, if we get even one frond to look at end the long, icy days of Winter begin to close, we’ll be ecstatic!

The last step was covering the bed with straw to keep the bulbs protected from the feet and feet of snow we’re expecting this year (Shut up! It’s totally going to happen this year!) and chicken wire to protect the plants from the dozens and dozens of squirrels in the area.

Garlic Bed Finished

This task was made considerably easier by having saved the chicken wire contraption from last year — it just slipped right over the bed with a minimum amount of wrestling and swearing on our parts (unlike last year wherein many an eye was almost lost from that dang wire). As for laying the straw, this is one of my favorite gardening chores. It feels so cozy, this tucking the garden beds in for a long winter. The straw smells like what I remember thinking Fall should smell like back when I was in 3rd grade. Moreover, when the beds are all covered, and all you see in the garden is stones, weathered wood, and straw, it feels even more like a peaceful, monastic sanctuary, all quiet, solemn, and contemplative. Perfect, in other words, for Winter.

Of course, knowing that there’s garlic tucked carefully under the straw, ready to be the first bit of green peeking out of the soil in the early Spring, helps, too!

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Filed under 11. November, Garden

A Brave New World Of Hot Chocolate

We are huge fans of hot chocolate here at Maple Hoo. Specifically Williams-Sonoma’s peppermint hot chocolate at the holidays, adorned with our own homemade marshmallows. Of course, the peppermint hot chocolate is really only available for eight weeks a year (and we try to be good and limit our consumption of it to more like six or even five weeks), but then we’re left for the entire rest of the frigid, bleak winter with no warm, chocolaty drinks. Sure, we used to make hot cocoa back in the days before discovering the peppermint stuff, but it was always so hard to get the right balance of sweetness and rich cocoa-ness, and often it would turn out to be only okay, but with a heavy residue of clumpy cocoa crap at the bottom of your mug. I was not interested in a winter of making and drinking that swill anymore. So when we were in Dallas and stopped in at the storefront Penzey’s near Patty’s, imagine our delight at finding Penzey’s hot cocoa mix! It’s like Swiss Miss, but from a name I trust! We bought a little jar of it, sampled it that night on Patty’s back patio (it was an accommodatingly brisk Dallas evening, too, that smelled like winter), and made plans to order much, much more of it upon our return home.

Cocoa Mix

Yes, that’s four pounds of hot cocoa mix. We started with just one, but it seemed like so little, considering we’ve got probably five months of wintry nights stretching out in front of us!

So, this past Tuesday, with Halloween behind us, and on a stressful night of election emotions (high highs!) and devastating Devils news (low lows!), we headed over to Williams Sonoma to perhaps get a sneak preview of their delicious holiday candies. We weren’t going to buy any until December 1 (last year we had so little holiday candy discipline that we burned out on the stuff well before Christmas), but Caitlin had sent us a hugely generous W-S gift card, and what better way to spend it than on than candy? What better way to drown our Brodeur sorrows while waiting on the election news? And what better way to celebrate the (literal) awesomeness that election night ended up offering?

Right. But there in the middle of the candy display was something I would have scoffed at if not for the gift card burning a hole in my pocket: an electric hot chocolate maker. Now, I have a set of wonderful pots that are perfect for everything but making hot chocolate, because they don’t have lips to facilitate pouring into mugs. In previous years I’ve used a hot chocolate pot that’s beautiful, makes lovely hot chocolate, pours like a pro, but is impossible to clean. So Boomer suggested we give this new cocoa maker a try, since it would be essentially free. Well this was shaping up to be an even better way to spend our moneys than candy! (Not that we didn’t also get candy, mind you.)

Assembly Line for Hot Chocolate

It looks so great sitting next to our bucket o’ cocoa mix! But how does it work? Well, first you have to start out with some milk — in our case, Boomer stocked up to make sure we wouldn’t run out during the weekend.

Milk in Fridge

That might be overkill.

Anyway, you pour the milk into the carafe part of the machine…

Pour the Milk

…then measure in the cocoa…

Add the Cocoa

…then set the timer on the base of the machine and wait 6-8 minutes for your cocoa to be done.

Machine in Action

It couldn’t be simpler! And more than that, Pookie thinks the little guy on the machine (“the zany Italian dude”) looks like that little guy on the glass in Sesame Street who wandered all over the kitchen. She hopes this dude prances about whenever we’re not around.

The machine froths the cocoa all up (so much so that it overflowed on our first attempt with it), but also has a frothing attachment in case we wanted even more froth. For now, we’re pretty happy with the standard version.

Frothed to the Top

The next miracle, after how insanely easy this is to use, is how easy it is to pour!

Pouring a Mug

If I could marry a kitchen gadget, it might just be this one. Thanks to that zany Italian dude, we’re now enjoying cafe-style hot chocolate. There almost isn’t room on top for when we start adding marshmallows.

Extra Frothy Hot Cocoa

Don’t worry, though. We’ll find a way. Fitting marshmallows into our super-frothy hot chocolate? Yes we can!

(Posted by Schnookie)

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Filed under Celebratory!, Gene?!, Kiddie Drinky-Drinky, Seasonal