Category Archives: Celebratory!

Gift Exchange! WOOOO!

Yesterday we headed to Sarah and Paul’s for our annual Christmastime dinner and game night. It’s one of our favorite traditions of the holidays, and normally we target the first Saturday after Christmas for it, so we can still enjoy their wonderful decorations but can also exchange tales of our mad gift-giving skillz and be in a slightly more relaxed post-holiday-madness mood. Thanks to the dumb calendar this year, though, there isn’t a convenient non-New Year Saturday immediately after Christmas, so we had a pre-holiday game night instead. That meant that it marked the very first gift exchange of the season! WOOOO! Presents!!

As you can tell from her blog, Sarah is a prolific sewer; she makes the most beautiful aprons and clothing for her kids and jewelry rolls and zipper pouches and softies and just so many clever, lovely crafts… and pincushions!

Pincushions From Sarah

These are the wonderful dressmaker kind of pincushion, the sort you wear on your wrist, and they’re just the cutest design because of the flower petals all around them. Pookie claimed the pink and green one, because that’s her favorite color combination, and I claimed the Farmdale one, because that’s my favorite fabric. Basically, Sarah couldn’t have made these any more perfectly than she did.

Shortly before we left for their house, Sarah emailed me to say she was stressing out trying to decide whether to make one last surprise for us. It turns out she went for it, and it’s a good thing, too:

Snowman Potholder

What an adorable pot holder! Look at that snowman fabric! EEE! I can’t believe that she whipped this up in such a short time, because it’s just the cutest.

Meanwhile, we gave Sarah a snowman mug rug…

November 4 2010

(I can’t believe this is the only picture we’ve taken of these. We ended up making quite a few of them, for ourselves and to give as gifts, and seriously, this is the only picture? Man, that’s lame. Anyway, take my word for it that this is a cute mug rug.)

…and a felt-and-sequin chicken in honor of her Cornish Hen business venture.

Chicken

I’m sorry I didn’t get a better picture of this apron-wearing hen, because I have to admit that I’m really proud of her. I didn’t know I could draw a chicken that actually looked like a chicken, let alone design one in felt that’s wearing a sequined, rickracked apron. I know that she’s gone to a good home!

It was, I think, a very auspicious kick-off to the gift-giving (and -receiving!) season; of course, we’re lucky to get to enjoy Sarah’s and Paul’s friendship, so wonderful gifts are a total bonus.

[Posted by Schnookie]

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Filed under Bonanza!, Celebratory!, Pins and Needles, Seasonal

Felty, Beady, Sequiny Nostalgia, In Tree Form

There are few things on this planet that make us happier than our “heirloom” (read: “in battered, tattered condition, because they were perhaps loved too well when we were children”) Bucilla Christmas tree ornaments.

Santa Ornament

Reindeer

Tin Man

Boomer made the three above either before we were born or when we were very young. As we got older and she began imparting her crafty knowledge to us, we used to regularly raid her sewing room to dig out the Bucilla ornament kits she had buried under piles of other UFOs. Many a giggly, preteened summer afternoon was spent dreaming of Christmas, still months away, while snipping out little pieces of felt and affixing sequins to them with tiny glass beads. Truly, nothing spells Christmas for us better than that.

In our adulthood, we have often stared longingly at the scant few Bucilla items at our local Michael’s and felt horribly depressed that they just don’t make those projects like they used to. There’s been a void in our lives where felt and sequins and holiday cheer used to be.

Enter: “Fa La La La Felt”. Making our beloved Hooters H. Puffnstuff gave us the chance to discover that it is very easy to create a felt project… and just add your own sequins. A couple of weeks ago we dove in and made our own Bucilla-esque creations:

Pookie's owl

Pookie’s owl

Schnookie's bird

Schnookie’s cardinal

11/02/2010

Boomer’s cardinal

We shipped those three ornaments off to our friends at the Attic Needlework in Mesa to be included in their annual ornament auction to raise money for cancer research. And, um, we completely neglected to pimp the auction here… it’s over now, so if you were interested in bidding on any of the ornaments there, too late.

Anyway! The cardinals above were sort of self-designed, heavily modified from the “Fa La La La Felt” bird template, and, encouraged by my mad felt free-handing skillz, I decided the next project to tackle would be a Christmas tree. And behold! I am delighted with the end result:

Sequined Tree

Sequined Back

November 18 2010

Sequin Star

It doesn’t quite have that early ’80s Bucilla elan, but it’s getting closer. We’ve got a huge store of felt now, and buckets of sequins. The sky’s the limit, and our Christmas spirit is abundant!

[Posted by Schnookie]

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Filed under 25 Days Of Maple Hoo Christmas, Celebratory!, Pins and Needles, Seasonal, Stitching

The Seasons Are A-Changin’

Whoa! What’s that under the rapidly melting snow?

Peeking Out From Under Cover

Yeah, there under the locust tree out front.

Crocus Challenge by Pookie

Can it possibly be already??

Look At Them Growing!

Woo hoooo!!!! Crocuses!!!!

Crocus Challenge by Pookie

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Filed under Celebratory!, Pictures Worth A Thousand Words, Pommerdoodling

Blog Post de Noel

How did you spend your New Years holiday? I spent mine separating eggs! At least, looking back on it, it seems that way. You see, thanks to a shortage of oven and refrigerator space, I wasn’t able to make the dessert I was planning on for Christmas, so we put it off a week, and had our yule log for New Years. Or rather, our Chocolate-Malt Stump de Noel.

I found this recipe during my usually desultory magazine flip-through when my latest issue of “Food & Wine” is delivered. It’s from the December ’09 issue, and despite being wildly unenthusiastic about food production during the last few months, I was still totally inspired to give it a try. I’ve never had a buche de noel, nor have I ever really yearned for one, but for whatever reason, this stump version spoke to me. So heading into the long weekend, I prepared for making it.

The first step for me was to check, when I got home early from work on New Year’s Eve, whether I needed to be making any cake components so it would be ready to eat the next evening. I read all the active parts of the cake and frosting recipes, neglected to read the “make ahead” instructions about what could be kept for how long before assembly, and decided it all had to be made in one fell swoop. That was my first mistake. But at least I did think to make my meringue mushrooms ahead of time.

Meringue Mushrooms

Having never baked meringues in my life, I did consult a recipe for assistance with this. I’m glad I did, too, because it never would have occurred to me that you pipe the stems and the caps of the mushrooms separately, then assemble them with a tad more meringue and bake until the “glue” is set. I would have just tried (and failed) to pipe mushrooms in one fell swoop, and would have gotten angry, cussed a lot, and declared that we weren’t having a stump de noel after all. So thanks, Joyofbaking.com! You’re a lifesaver! Or at least a stump de noel-saver.

Makin' Mushrooms

So here’s how I made them:

Ingredients:

4 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar (if you don’t have that, just run regular sugar in a food processor for about 30 seconds)

Instructions:

Using a mixer with clean, grease-free beaters (or whisk attachment), and in a clean, grease-free bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until frothy. Then add the sugar in a gradual stream while still beating on high speed. Continue to beat until the whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks (about 5 minutes).

Position two racks in the oven to allow room for two sheets of meringues, and preheat the oven to 200 degrees (F). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit a pastry bag with a medium-large piping tip; I think the one I used was about 1/2 inch. Put most of the meringue into the pastry bag, reserving enough to pipe later as the “glue” in the mushroom assembly (about 1/4 cup), and then get to piping those mushrooms. For the caps, pipe circles about 2 inches wide and 1 inch high, and try to twist the pastry bag so you don’t end up with peaks on the top. If you’re like me and do end up with peaks, just smooth them out with your fingertip, dipped in water. For the stems, just pipe like a little hershey kiss shape, dolloping a base onto the tray, then just lifting the pastry bag straight up. Make more bases than you have caps, because they won’t all work out, and because you’re going to want to eat them.

Bake the caps and stems for 1 hour, or until they are dry and hard, rotating the trays once after 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, and using a pointed knife or toothpick, make a little hole in the center of the undersides of the caps. Put the reserved meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a fine tip (or in a sandwich bag with a fine tip cut from the corner), and pipe a small dollop into the hole. Then fit the pointy end of a stem into the hole, and put the mushroom, cap-down, onto a parchment-covered baking tray. Once they’re all assembled, return to the mushrooms to the oven for about 25 minutes, until they’re set.

After they’re fully baked, you can sift cocoa powder over the tops for decoration, and then either gobble them all up on the spot, or save for decorating your buche/stump de noel. I know it was touch-and-go there for me whether the meringues were going to survive an entire day while waiting for the cake assembly.

Dressing the Stump de Noel

So, New Year’s Day dawned for me with a platter full of mushrooms and the prospect of baking a stump hanging over me. I hadn’t read the recipe very carefully, so I had no idea what was in store for me. When I cracked open the magazine and really looked at it, I realized I had horribly miscalculated how much work was going to go into this thing. There are a lot of steps in this cake. A lot. But with no hockey but the dumb Winter Classic on TV, I decided to forge ahead, and set to separating all those eggs. (Counting the meringue, and the one broken yolk I had, this whole baking affair used 22 eggs. All separated. I don’t think I’d separated 22 eggs in all of 2009.)

In case you don’t want to follow the link to this recipe (again, it’s from the December 2009 “Food & Wine”, just to give credit where it’s due), here it is:

Ingredients for the cake:

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1/4 cup of hot water
1 dozen large eggs, at room temperature, separated
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Malted buttercream and dark chocolate buttercream (recipe below)

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter two 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheets and line them with parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang on all of the short sides. Butter the paper and dust with flour.

2. In a small bowl, whisk the 1 cup of flour with the cocoa and salt. In another small bowl, combine the chocolate and espresso. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, combine the egg yolks with 2/3 cup of the sugar. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk and beat at high speed until the yolks are pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate mixture along with the vanilla. Transfer to a large bowl.

3. Thoroughly wash and dry the mixer bowl and the whisk. Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar on moderately high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 2/3 cup of sugar and continue beating at high speed until the whites are glossy, about 2 minutes longer. Whisk one-fourth of the egg whites into the cake batter, then fold in the remaining whites until no streaks remain.

4. In a small bowl, whisk the melted butter with 1/2 cup of the batter; fold this mixture into the batter. Working in 2 batches, sift the cocoa powder mixture over the batter and gently fold it in. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, spreading it out to fill the pans. Bake for about 18 minutes, until the cake feels springy and dry; shift the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Transfer the pans to racks to cool completely. Run the tip of a knife around the edges, cover with parchment paper and a baking sheet and invert; peel off the parchment on top.

5. Spread the Malted Buttercream over the cakes. Using a ruler, cut each cake precisely in half lengthwise, cutting through the paper; you should have four 6-by-17-inch strips of cake. Roll one strip into a tight coil, leaving the paper behind. Roll the 3 remaining cake strips around the coil in the same way to form a very wide, short jelly roll. Set the cake on a large plate, spiraled end up. Frost the outside of the cake with the Dark Chocolate Buttercream. Refrigerate until set, at least 8 hours. Decorate the cake with meringue mushrooms, cranberries and rosemary sprigs and serve, cutting the cake into wedges or horizontal slices.

Ingredients for the frostings:

5 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/4 cup malt powder, dissolved in 2 tablespoons of hot water
12 malted milk balls, crushed

Instructions:

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, combine the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are just warm to the touch. Return the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk. Add the vanilla and beat the egg whites at high speed until firm and glossy, about 5 minutes. With the machine on, whisk in the butter a few tablespoons at a time. If the mixture begins to look curdled, continue to beat until smooth before adding more butter. Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the buttercream to a bowl and whisk in the melted chocolate. Beat the dissolved malt powder into the remaining buttercream, then beat in the milk balls.

(For the record, I omitted the malted milk balls.)

Stump de Fridge

The stump was too tall for my cake dome, so I had a bear of a time jury-rigging a foil covering for it that wouldn’t mess up my “artful” frosting.

Whew! That’s a lot of recipe there. Oh, it might not seem like it on paper, but dude. I think I used every single bowl I own. Making the cake batter was almost comical, how the steps just would. not. end. I was cool with beating the egg yolks and sugar, then adding the chocolate. And I was cool with folding that into the egg whites. But dude, the folding in the butter? That’s just crazy! Anyway, after what seemed like a lifetime of tempering and folding, the batter (which was delicious, I might add) was ready to bake, and I was ready to wish I’d made the frosting ahead of time. My recommendation if you try this recipe is to read all the notes about how you can make the frosting up to four days ahead of time, and to have someone else do the cleanup for you.

What I discovered about the frosting part of this project is that it didn’t take 8 hours to set, as the recipe suggests (I let the frosting chill in the fridge for about 2 hours before assembling the cake, and it could have been sliced right away, I think). Also, I didn’t have enough of the chocolate frosting to do much more than crumb-coat the outside of the cake. It barely hid all the cracks. I’m not sure that separating out more of the frosting to mix with the chocolate would be a good idea, though, because there was a perfect amount of the malted buttercream for the filling as the recipe is written. I dunno. My advice is to make more chocolate frosting. As it was, I didn’t have enough on the outside to do any artful fluting to create realistic bark to go with my realistic mushrooms.

January 1 2010

But you know what? I don’t care. I don’t care that my stump wasn’t barkfully fluted. I don’t care that I reached the end of my rope when making the buttercream and didn’t mix in all the butter perfectly. And I don’t care that I didn’t have the recommended rosemary sprigs and used bay leaves to set-dress my cake instead. You know why? Because the cake is AWESOME. I have never made anything that looked this incredible. I am so delighted with it. I love it. When we got out the tripod and staged our stump de noel photoshoot, I was as giddy as if the Devils had just won a huge game. This cake was a total victory for me.

Furthermore, look how cool it looks sliced!

Slice of Stump

I had my concerns when I was handling the cakes that this would be dry, but it wasn’t. It was perfect. As adorable as it looked assembled, it tasted even better. It was a ton of work, with a bit of frustration, but was absolutely worth it. We managed to kick off 2010 with a bang, and so far, it’s been a great year!

[Posted by Schnookie.]

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Filed under Baked Goods, Celebratory!, Fancy Dessert, Pommerdoodling, Seasonal, Special Events, You Don't See That Every Day

Our Picture-A-Day Habit

WOO HOOO!!! We did it! From August 23, 2008 to August 22, 2009 we took a picture every day and posted it into Flickr. What we’ve been left with is the easiest-to-maintain diary of a year we could ever hope for. As you’ve probably noticed from reading IPB, Gentle Reader, we don’t live the most action-packed lives. We’re both in our 30’s, we’re both well-established in our jobs, we own our house, we don’t have kids… basically, life is a straight, unwinding road for us. Looking back on this past year, we’ll remember the big events without prompting. There were the holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Opening Night), we voted for a new president, we visited our friends in Dallas for the first time, and in sadder times, our grandmother passed away. But thanks to Project 365 we don’t have to go far to find reminders of all the little things that made up our year. We learned a new hobby, started new projects, and finished them (as well as these, and this, and this, and this, and this). We hung out with friends. We harvested the end of one garden and planted another. At work, we went to all-day trainings, completed big projects, got raises, commuted, and watched the seasons change. We each had a perfect snow day (here’s Pookie’s and here’s Schnookie’s), a perfect not-road trip, and a perfect vacation. We had two of the best days ever. And the single bestest day ever. In other words, it was a year worth remembering.

As much as we knew we loved the idea of having a diary of the year, we were both hesitant to start Project 365 because we were sure we weren’t good enough photographers. Then we read some sage advice from a seasoned 365 participant: 20% of the photos you take will be really good, 20% will be truly awful, and the rest will fall somewhere in between. Turns out that person was right. We did end up with mostly average photos, but a few notable ones stand to us as being our best and our worst photos.

The Five Best

November 1st, 71/365

November 1 2008

December 15th, 115/365

December 15 2008

April 29th, 250/365

April 29 2009

July 27th, 339/365

July 27 2009

August 21st, 364/365

August 21 2009

The Five Worst

September 17st, 26/365

September 17 2008

September 25th, 34/365

September 25 2008

October 3rd, 42/365

October 3 2008

March 27th, 217/365

March 27 2009

May 28, 279/365

May 28 2009

(Cross-posted from IPB)

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Filed under Celebratory!, Pictures Worth A Thousand Words

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

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