Sunday, December 9, 2012

Thanks for stopping by

So very grateful to all of you have checked in daily for the past few weeks to see if there might be a new post.  My family is dealing with gravely ill relatives and I will be away from blogging until after Christmas as the family gathers to support each other.  I am sending prayers and good wishes to all of you for a lovely and blessed Holiday Season.    For those of you who pray, I am requesting prayers for my favorite (and only!) sister Rosalind, and for my "sister-in-love", Linda.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Miniature Hogwarts Update

Just a quick update on the Great Hall for those of you interested in my miniature obsession.  

Michael's Arts & Crafts store has been having some incredible sales recently.   I have had my eye on Christmas trees for the Great Hall, but $12.00 each was way beyond my budget.  This week they were fifty percent off + another 20% coupon.  Ye ha! The great hall is being decorated for Christmas after all.  I am also making some ice sculptures for the Yule Ball, but that will not happen before Christmas.  My goal is to have the Great Hall finished in time for a miniature show in February.  In order to make that deadline I am going to have to learn to use a dremel saw, because I want to actually carve some Tudor style beams to support the roof.

                   Brittany is lending me her dremel tool for the project.

Also, at the Dollar Store, I found some potion bottles.  Well, they began life as nail art bottles, but will be transfigured by some little labels and their little white stoppers will have some beads added to dress them up a bit. 

As Snape's potion lab is going to be raffled off as a fund raiser, I will probably end up creating another one for Hogwarts, so that will need lots more bottles.  These were $1.00 for eight of them!  Beats the heck out of making multiple trips to Hobby Lobby and Michaels with 40% off coupons in hand to purchase four bottles for $1.99!  If you are planning a miniature Halloween scene for next year, these would be perfect!  Plus you can decorate your nails in the interim to get rid of the garish glitter and fill them with creepier ingredients.

Wondering where I have been since my last post ten days ago?  My thrifty soul has been horrified that I have reached my Google 1 GB quota for photo storage and I have been trying to delete things rather than paying for more that possible?  So far no luck, so I am considering signing up for more storage and, GASP!, paying a monthly fee.  What do all of you do? NOW I understand why bloggers have advertising on their pay Google!


Monday, November 19, 2012

Old Fashioned Christmas Bazaar Provides Funds for Program

Over the weekend there were many craft shows and bazaars taking place in Albuquerque.  Even with the economy struggling folks everywhere are finding a way to raise funds for cherished programs.  My favorite cause is the children and youth programs at St. Mark's and I was delighted to participate in the venerable Holly Berry Fair which was started by the women of St. Mark's over sixty years ago!

In those days, all the women worked for a year to make hand knitted sweaters, embroidered tea towels, pillows, fire starters, baby things, decorated pillows, etc.  Hundreds of enchilada lunches were served  Over the years, many of the women became too old to continue to keep the Fair thriving and the younger women who might have taken their places needed take jobs to help support their families.  For a time, the Fair was discontinued.

Of course St. Mark's was going through many changes and challenges at that time.  As part of our renaissance recovery, the Fair has been resurrected.  Though changed in format and sadly without the enchiladas we are still selling handcrafted items.

 There were seventeen artists selling their creations this year and we hope to expand the show next year.  There may even be enchiladas! 

Below are a few of the things I sold...
 Somehow I neglected to take a photo of the chair of our Fine Arts committee, Allen Lowery and his wonderful paintings!  However, I did buy one of them and will show you that work in a future postKudos to him for contacting the artists, organizing the show and doing the lion's share of the set-up with our equally wonderful building manager, who donated a fabulous hand carved angel which netted $200. at the silent auction!  No photo yet of the angel, but soon...Paul is distantly related to the Ben Ortega family.  Ben taught Paul to carve when he was a very young man and Paul continues this art form as do many members of the Ortega family.

Also notably missing is a photo of Raven, pie chef extraordinaire who kept us highly entertained with her musical laugh and stories, and somehow made us believe that pie for breakfast and lunch was perfectly acceptable. 
Raven Gale Ann Rutherford-West who owns Blk Bird Pies in the Nob Hill area makes the most wonderful pies I have ever eaten.  She sells them at the Nob Hill Growers market and at arts and crafts shows as well.  Need a sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving?  Call Raven at 505-850-6725.
Here is photo of the blackberry pie I brought home....

  Raven's heart is even bigger than her laugh and you can taste the love baked into these all natural ingredient pies.  
Update: Steve at An Urban Cottage asked in his comment below, how the crust was made.  He is correct, Raven uses the trimmings from the bottom of the pies to make the top crust.  Saves time on production baking and looks fabulous as well.  Especially on fruit pies where you want to see the fruit.  I may never roll my top crust again!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Crush on Cranberries

Hurray! Cranberries have been harvested and are showing up in the stores.
Cranberries growing in a bog. Image via
Image via
Cranberries are part of the earliest cultures in our country.  Growing in the northern wet areas of the Nation, Native Americans gathered them to mix with meats as a natural preservative to keep the dried meats through the winter when hunting was more difficult in the deep snows.  Early European settlers in the colonies borrowed this trick of preservation.  For more about the history of cultivation and use of cranberries click on Cape Cod Growers Association,
Ocean Spray's website, or, Home cooking.
For a detailed look at the compounds that make cranberries so healthy, visit The World's Healthiest Foods

Do you love cranberries?  I have never had a cranberry dish I did not love. 

When I was little, my mother made a cranberry conserve for Thanksgiving that made the rest of the meal pale in comparison.  Now my sister, Rosalind, and I always make it, both to serve at holiday meals and as gifts for some our friends.  And we take some in jars for Mom to enjoy with her meals as soon as the cranberries show up in the stores.  

Ingredients needed for Cranberry Conserve:
Handwritten in my recipe book of favorites.  This spiral notebook is getting just a bit shabby.  One year I made copies in small three ring binders as Christmas gifts for my three daughters.  A better option, because you can make a clean copy if you spill ingredients on the first one, which I do often!
Wash the cranberries in a large pot.  They will float around and you can see the bad ones.  The good one are hard and shiny.  The bad ones are soft and wrinkled (which might be good in grandmother's but should be discarded if you are a cranberry!)
The ring in the pot is not left from washing the cranberries, but from boiling our very hard water to sterilize the jars.  I don't usually take this step because the jars are very clean from the dishwasher, the cranberry conserve is kept in the refrigerator and usually eaten within a few weeks, but this batch is going to our bake sale at St. Mark's, so I want to be very sure!

 Grate the rind from your oranges .  I use this amazing little grater from Ikea that catches whatever you grate in a container that has a separate lid which can then go into the refrigerate to store.  Very handy if you grate too much cheese for your enchiladas.

Cut your oranges in half and squeeze the juice into a cup.

Add to the four cups
of cranberries, the orange juice (NOT THE RIND...THAT GOES IN AFTER YOU COOK THE CONSERVE) the sugar, the water, and the raisins.  OK, some of you are saying..."Oh never mind, I hate to grate!"  You may use dried orange peel instead, but it won't be nearly as pretty or taste anything like the real deal.  Just saying!

Bring to a boil, turn down the heat until the conserve is bubbling only gently, and cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  If you use a wooden spoon as I do, it is now a gorgeous color.  For those purists who like their spoons to remain wood color, you may want to use a metal spoon.  Cranberries are used as a source of natural dye, so forget the plastic spoon as well.

While the cranberries are cooking, break up your pecans.  You can chop them with a knife if you like, but I prefer the way the broken ones look in the finished dish.  As an artist, I like my food to look as good as it tastes.

When the cranberries are cooked, remove from heat, add the nuts and the orange peel, and let cool for a few minutes.  I can never wait on this step and have burned myself ladling the conserve into jars.  Fair warning.  You can store the cranberries in anything, just keep in mind that glass doesn't get stained.  If I have procrastinated and will be serving it in a day or so, I put the conserve right into my great grandmother's crystal compote.

And speaking of cranberries, my friend, Margaret Gant, has for several years shared her Vodka Cranberry Cordial with me.  She makes it in November and it is a beautiful color and ready to sip by Christmas.  She delivers the cordial in a recycled orange juice container with the cranberries still in it.  I decant the cordial into my late Uncle Ben's cranberry glass decanter. 

 I don't actually use these matching glasses which are large, but my Waterford liquor glasses, because as the old Brylcreem ad used to say,  "A little dab will do you, use more only if you dare."  Pretty potent stuff! 
There is still a tiny bit left in the decanter from last year, but it has lost its intense color and mellowed to a beautiful amber, sort of the color of Grand Marnier.  I plan to use it in my chocolate truffles this year.  Truffles are my traditional gift for very close friends and neighbors.  I tried to give this tradition up several years ago to loud cries of dismay, so I am again stockpiling Ghiradelli chocolate.  Look for a tutorial for making them as the holidays draw closer.  They don't keep for long periods, so must be made within a few days of gifting.

Once you pour off the liquor, the berries are now ready to garnish vanilla ice cream or a lemon cheesecake.  Careful! They have a kick as well.  If Margaret is willing to share the recipe, I will post that in a few days.  Speaking of recipes, if you like middle eastern dishes, hop on over to Steve Fuller's blog, An Urban Cottage for a yummy dip, Muhammara, which is made with walnuts and roasted red peppers.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hollyberry Fair

If you are in the Albuquerque area I hope to see you sometime over the weekend at St. Mark's annual Holly Berry Fair.  I will be selling some of my watercolors, miniatures from the Honeduke's Sweet Shop, and several miniature Christmas vignettes.

The Holly Berry Fair has been happening since the early 1950's, so you do the math!  Our young people will be selling some of their original artwork and pine cone fire starters, and many professional artists are participating.  It is rumored that the best pies available in Albuquerque can be purchased just in time for your Thanksgiving Feast!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Home Bar

When we moved to Albuquerque after a brief time in Texas when Camille was three, Alethea was one, and Brittany was not yet even a thought, we had a hard time finding a house that matched our wish list.  NOT included on that list was a home bar.  We do like to entertain and we do like to serve drinks, however the house we finally chose had an enormous wood bar, with bar sink behind it.  Really, really, ugly.  Of course, the plan was to rip that sucker right out.  However,  financial reality reared its head and we realized we could not afford to replace the carpet that was added after the bar was installed so there it sat like Jabba the Hut for several more years.  Blessedly, there are no photos in existence but it looked something like this...
Screaming.."LOOK AT ME, I'M A BAR!"

We did store our wedding crystal and the bottles of liquor I had inherited from my Pop-Pop in it.   Thirty years later, after moving it four times, I finally threw out the bottle of Vermouth which we had never opened.  Pop-Pop's bar had been housed in this beautiful sideboard that now has pride of place in my daughter's dining room.
Image via The Vintique Object

I have been interested in the design world's recent fascination with home bars., House Beautiful, Better Homes and Gardens, Sunset Magazine, Lonny Magazine, and Architectural Digest, just to name a few, have all had articles about creating or stocking a home bar.  Perhaps it is a result of the highly popular TV series, Mad Men, with its "oh so elegant cocktail parties."   Or perhaps it is because folks are not eating out so often and entertaining more at home in this challenging economy. 

My favorite bars tend to be the more restrained ones that feature a few bottles on a tray or in a basket...perfect for smaller homes or apartments.
Photo via Lonny Magazine

If you plan to have a large party and need more room, you could go with a bar cart...

Image via Restoration Hardware
Image Via Elle Decor

Image via Restoration Hardware
Image via Ballard Designs
Or if you are lucky enough to own a butler's tray, you might set it up a as mini bar which I have done a few times.  Although, honestly, I held my breath that no one would bump into it after imbibing from its stock.

Over the years, our bar has had in home in many different places, depending on the houses in which we lived.  Sometimes it was in the antique secretary (given to me by my Mom) in the spacious dining room in Placitas...

Sometimes in this sideboard in the tiny dining room when we lived in a house in Santa Fe...

But in our current home we have hidden away the bar in the great room island.  Roll out drawers make it easy to reach the back bottles, and it holds everything we need including the fancy wine opener.  Discreet, accessible, just what I like.
Top Shelf with a few Waterford glasses and that wonderful wine bottle opener which never leaves a piece of crumbled cork behind...THANK YOU, SARA AND THOMAS!

So I am wondering what you might prefer?  
1.  Alcohol of any kind would never cross your threshold?
2.  A cooler on the back porch for the beer?
3.  A wine rack is all you would need?
4.  A tray with a small assortment of Whiskeys, tequilas, and maybe a bottle of 
     vodka suits you just fine?
5. You secretly pine for a full bar with stools, a refrigerator to cool the keg 
    which is, of course, permanently on tap, a built in wine refrigerator, and 
    maybe a bartender on staff as well?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sugar Skulls

Across New Mexico and in many other southwest states, the Christian tradition of celebrating All Saint's Day has become entwined with the tradition of celebrating the Day of the Dead or "Dia de los Muertos"  which originated with the Aztecs in Central America.   This tradition includes making an "Ofrenda" or altar and placing on it photos and mementos of the your loved ones who have died.  These Ofrendas are very colorful indeed!  
Photo via

Besides photos, some common things you might find on the ofrenda are food (especially foods that were favorites of the deceased family member) and pan de muerto, flowers, archways made of flowers to represent bridges between heaven and earth, skulls and skeletons usually made of sugar, and papel picado (tissue paper with cut designs)..
Image via
 For the second year, St. Mark's on the Mesa has set up an Ofrenda for our All Saints Day celebration.  

It is not nearly as exuberant or colorful as some, but it has become a very moving celebration of the saints who have preceded us in death.  Our icon guild placed the icons of Saints they have created recently.  

The children really enjoyed making sugar skulls which they shared by placing the skulls on the altar (and are hoping their parents will allow them to  eat  when they pick them up next Sunday... hence the enormous piling on of icing and candy decorations!)
Is there really a skull under here?
This skull is in serious need of my friend Dr. JoAnn Allen, who is a dentist.  Please consider voting for her on Tuesday if you live in House District 31.  She is a terrific woman and would be a wonderful asset in the New Mexico legislature. 

There are lots more skulls, but honestly I need to go and find my toothbrush.  Just looking at these makes my teeth ache!