As I mentioned yesterday, my lace decoupage project is probably the most popular craft I've ever done here. Readers occasionally ask for a tutorial and honestly, I hate posting step-by-step photos because mine are always boring (and not pretty!). But of course I do recognize that photo tutorials help in crafting and after having the opportunity to try this craft out with a real live audience, I now know what potential (small) pitfalls you might run into. So hopefully this will help with any questions readers might have.
In addition, I have complete flower kits available for two readers. You'll receive Mod Podge, brushes, a ceramic container, 3 lace options, scissors, glue, floral wire and tape, and crepe paper. To enter, you just need to leave a comment telling me what your favorite flower is and why it's your favorite. For one kit, I'll pick a number using the random number generator, and for the second, I'll choose the comment that I like the best. This giveaway will run through Monday, May 20th, 11:59 p.m. CST. I'll announce the winners on Tuesday, May 21st.
Also, you can find the tutorial for the crepe paper poppies here.
Now, on to decoupage:
Square or cylindrical container (easiest shapes for beginners)
Mod Podge in Matte Finish
Lace strips cut slightly larger than your container
Small foam brush
Sharp fabric scissors
Brush an even coat of Mod Podge over the ceramic container (I found mine at Jamali Garden) and roll the lace around it. (You shouldn't have so much Mod Podge that it's drippy or gloppy.)
Using your fingers, push out any air bubbles, especially on the indentations, such as the fabric within these embroidered circles. You want the fabric to mold to the ceramic as much as possible. This will make the difference between your fabric and ceramic appearing to be one or looking like fabric that's obviously been decoupaged. If you're using lace with an openwork design, blot up any excess Mod Podge with a damp paper towel. You don't want to see any pooling of liquid.
Tip: Check your lace carefully. If you look closely, you can usually tell which side is the back side - the thread work is generally a little less precise looking.
Allow for a slight overlap on the lace. Brush Mod Podge on the back side of that overlap and press down with your fingers.
Set it, seam side down, on a piece of plastic to dry for 15-20 minutes before further handling. (I dry it on plastic instead of paper so that I don't have to worry about the Mod Podge sticking to it.)
Once the base coat of Mod Podge has dried, go back and cut the excess lace, cutting it as close to the edge of the container as possible.
Tip: I found that some crafters weren't able to cut the lace as close to the edge as I was. But no worries - If your borders aren't as clean as mine, just use Mod Podge and your fingers to wrap those edges and threads around the top and bottom edge of the ceramic.
Apply 1 coat of Mod Podge (again, Matte finish - glossy doesn't look the same!). But instead of brushing it onto the surface of the fabric, apply the Mod Podge using a pouncing motion. This gives a little bit of texture to the Mod Podge, preventing it from drying in a smooth, rubbery fashion. Ultimately, this makes the lace feel more like textured pottery. Use that same foam brush to work out any excess Mod Podge that may have pooled within the indentations on the lace.
Bottom line - you want a thin, consistent coat of Mod Podge on the surface of the fabric without any obvious pooling or excess.
Use your fingers to smooth out and adhere any loose threads along the top and bottom edges.
After the Mod Podge has been applied, this is what your container should look like. It looks wet and saturated, but there's no obvious liquid anywhere.
Set it aside to fully dry. The resulting container will be water resistant, so it can be wiped down with a damp cloth or rinsed out, but it shouldn't be submerged in water for any length of time.
The lace I used for the title photo is a breeze to decoupage. I found it on Etsy at Stefanie Style. More available, the last time I checked.
**DON'T FORGET TO LEAVE A COMMENT FOR THE GIVEAWAY!
I was a little nervous leading up to the flower workshop that I co-hosted with Anthropologie. So much of my crafting takes place indoors, alone, in my pajamas. The idea of an audience was a little daunting. But I need not have worried. The staff at my local Anthropologie were amazing and couldn't have made it easier, and the ladies who attended were quick learners who dove right in. After the first minute or so, I completely forgot to be nervous. It was a lot of fun and I love that Anthropologie has been hosting these events all over the country - it's such a great way to bring people together and celebrate the handmade.
We made two projects. First, we decoupaged lace onto ceramic cylinders, probably the most pinned project I have on this blog. Then we made poppies using the beautiful crepe paper from Carte Fini. I chose the poppy because it can take on multiple personalities, soft and pretty, bright and happy, or strong and modern. It really just depends on the color combinations you choose. With four petals, it's also fairly easy to create, even for absolute beginners.
Here are the directions for making them. Also, check the Resource section at the end of the how-tos. I hand selected specific products that I like to use.
CREPE PAPER POPPIES
1. Cut off the end of a safety swab and slide it over a length of floral wire; adhere the swab to the wire with floral tape.
2. Place a square of yellow or black crepe paper streamer over the swab and gather at the bottom; adhere with floral tape.
3. Layer two 6-inch strips of crepe paper streamer and cut slits along the length of it, about ¾ deep. Put a little glue at the edge of the strip, roll it around the stem, just under the crepe paper wrapped swab. Secure the ends with more glue. Wrap with floral tape.
1. Take a strip of crepe paper (4 x 20 inches) and accordion fold it along the length, so that there are 4 layers. Holding the poppy petal template over the crepe paper layers with your thumb, cut around it to make 4 petals. (Make sure that the tiny crinkles in the paper (the grain) run from top to bottom of your petal, as pictured above.)
2. Separate the petals and flute the top edge by stretching the crepe paper along that edge. Stretch the crepe paper in the middle of the petal so that it forms a slight cup.
3. Loosely accordion fold the petal and squeeze it to create a wrinkled petal (which is more like a natural petal looks as it springs from the pod).
4. Put glue along the bottom edge of the first petal and adhere it under the stamen, wrapping it around so that it covers half of the stamen. Glue the second petal to the opposite side, wrapping it around so that both petals meet.
5. Glue the third and fourth petals on the opposite sides, over the seams where the first two petals meet. Wrap the bottom of the flower and the entire length of the floral wire with floral tape.
Fluting Crepe Paper: One of the details that make these poppies work is the ruffled edge of the petals. It's easy to achieve this with crepe paper, but you do have to be careful to use a light touch - stretch the crepe too hard and it won't bounce back into a ruffle, it will just be stretched out. To do this, hold the edge of the petal between your thumb and forefinger of both hands, with your hands close together, and gently stretch the paper in opposite directions. Move to the next spot and repeat. Do this all along the edge.
Using Floral Tape: Floral tape can be a little tricky, even for experienced users. The key is stretching the tape (which activates the adhesive) and pulling downward while twirling the stem. If you're wrapping your tape and it's staying at the same level, try moving your hand (the one holding the tape) downward. This will help you wrap your tape at a diagonal, down the length of the stem.
Using Glue: Technically, you can get away with just using floral tape on your flowers. But I like to use a combo of glue and tape. I use a lot less tape that way and I also like the added stability it gives to my flower, especially if I want to go back and shape the petals more after assembling my flower. I like to use Beacon 3-in-1 Adhesive, my go to glue for most crafts, because it won't bleed through the crepe paper and will set fairly quickly, much faster than standard white craft glue.
Extra Credit: Making green pods for your arrangement is very simple. Crumple a small piece of tissue and form an oval around a piece of floral wire. Using a square of green crepe paper or tissue, wrap it over the oval shaped tissue and secure with floral tape (just as you did when making the center of the flower).
Crepe paper - Beautiful flowers start with beautiful paper! I love the crepe paper from Carte Fini. It comes in a gorgeous array of colors and it's easy to flute and shape, yet sturdy enough that your flowers won't wilt. You can buy it from their online shop.
Colors I used: #548, #569, #574, #576, #581, #582, #603
Glue - Beacon 3-in-1 Advanced Craft Glue from Beacon Adhesives. If you're a regular reader of this blog you know that I use this glue for most of my crafting. In fact, I love the entire line of Beacon adhesives - I find them to be more reliable than anything else I've tried! Available at most craft stores.
Scissors - Easy Action Micro Tip Scissors from Fiskars. This is another product that I use for just about all of my crafting, but they're perfect for paper flowers. They're handleless, which means less fatigue when doing a lot of cutting, and they're great for precise, detailed cuts. Available at most craft stores, as well as through their online shop.
**I thought this post was lengthy enough for one day. I'll be back with a quick tutorial and tips for the lace decoupaged container, as well as a giveaway - 2 flower kits with all the supplies and tools needed for both the flowers and the containers. I'll try to get that up tomorrow if possible. If not, look for it on Wednesday!
It's rainy in New Orleans today, a peaceful respite after a glorious week of Technicolor. It started with a great event at Anthropologie (for which I will soon have a craft tutorial and a giveaway) and continued with days spent in inspired surroundings with inspired individuals. I have been saturated in color and creativity, a gift to my spirit.
Next week I'll get back to business. Have a great weekend and a happy Mother's Day!
The perk of going to the swamps as a first grader, however, is that you get to do things the grown-ups don't. Ranger Stacy made us turn off our cell phones and speak in a "nature" voice as we dipped nets into the swamp vegetation and then picked through mud and plants to find the many creatures living there, which we then put in clear bins so we could get a better look at them. I admit, I was caught off guard when the almost grown crawfish came lurching out of an impossibly small clump of mud like a drunken sailor, but overall, I think my son was impressed that I wasn't too much of a scaredy cat. You also get to play "Swamp Bingo" as a first grader, which forces you to look for things you might normally miss, like the hidden alligators with only their eyes popping out of the water, or snakes and frogs and spiderwebs and every other creature that sends first graders into a paroxysm of delight.
I can't wait to return, this time as an adult (but hopefully with the sharp eye of a first grader). Park admission is free, the boardwalk neverending as it wends its way deep into the swamp, and it's one of the most peaceful places I can think of. It's also one of the great treasures of my region - it's a shame that I've not made more of it.
For those of you who may take a trip to New Orleans in the future, it's well worth your time to go. They're open daily, except Christmas Day and Mardi Gras Day. The Visitor's Center is open from 9 am - 5 pm, but I was told that the nature trails remain open, in case you're up for an early morning walk. You can simply park outside the gates and walk in. And if you're there during the summer (or even spring, fall, and possibly winter), don't forget the sunscreen or insect repellent. We were lucky yesterday with little sun and no mosquitos, but it was just a gift from the gods!
A field trip isn't the best time to take photographs, but I can never help myself. I always feel an overwhelming need to capture some segment of it, but the entirety of it is so much greater than what can be captured through a lens and I find myself needing to go back the moment I leave.
I love the delicate, feathery fronds of the cypress trees as spring arrives.
Newts and slugs and the tiniest crawfish I've ever seen.
I'm so excited to be partnering with Anthropologie for a Mother's Day craft night here in New Orleans. We'll be making paper flower arrangements and lace decoupaged containers. If you're in the area, I'd love to see you there! Admission is free, but limited to the first 25 registrants.
*You can RSVP for the event HERE (or find another Anthropologie workshop taking place near you).
To some extent, I think I'm cursed with a good eye. Put 5 pieces of nearly identical furniture in a row and without knowing details, I will fall in love with the most expensive piece every single time. This drives me slightly insane because while I instinctively recognize quality, I rarely (never) have the budget for it. The upside is that it's forced me to be creative in my home. I look for reasonably priced knockoffs I can work with, better pieces at thrift stores, and I mix everything with enough personality that it works, hopefully (which is also an ongoing process).
This chair is a good example of my personal approach. I purchased it from Overstock as a prop for a photo shoot. I didn't have a huge budget, so I focused more on form than finish, figuring I could work a little magic if necessary. The chair in the Overstock photo seemed to fit the bill. I didn't even mind the wood color, though I would have preferred the burnt oak finish that I found at Restoration Hardware. But when it arrived, I discovered that the wood wasn't matte at all. Instead, it was finished with a glossy coating that, while protective, frankly made it feel cheap.
Admittedly, this next part was an experiment, but it worked so well for me that I thought I'd share. I decided to try aging the frame with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and a very small, flat paintbrush (as in a 3/8-inch brush from Michaels). The reason for the small paintbrush is that I was going to be painting the frame of the chair with the upholstery intact. I thought it might take forever, but it only took me a couple of hours and a single coat. To make it even easier, I didn't even bother waxing it (it was just a prop, after all). Since then, this chair has lived in my house as an accent chair and it's been used and moved around a bit. The paint has worn very well, even without waxing, and I couldn't be happier with it.
The Chair from Overstock:
The look I was after (from Restoration Hardware):
Recipe for Success:
The reason this worked had a lot to do with the original chair. The carving of the frame, the rough texture of the wood (under its glossy protective coating), and the white streaks in the finish all helped in creating the final version. Don't expect the same results from a perfectly smooth, sanded, polished chair frame! But if you have a chair that's a rough, vintage European wannabe, go for it.
Manage your expectations - You will not achieve a factory finished piece unless you're a whiz with the paintbrush and/or an artist, in which case I'm sure you have a few things to teach me. But if you're like me, average when it comes to faux finishing, you can still achieve an effect that's comfortable and worn without being perfect, and in the overall context of a room, the imperfections are even less noticeable.
Chalk Paints I used:
I probably could have gotten away with using just Graphite and French Linen, but I also included a touch of Paris Grey and Coco because I had them on hand. The trick is to put a little bit of all the colors on the paintbrush at one time, then offload some of the excess on a stack of paper towels before putting your brush to the wood. If your paint does get too concentrated in some areas, just go back over it with a dampened brush, dragging out the color until you get the translucency you're aiming for. You can also add more of another color over the first layer if you're not satisfied. In that case, offload the excess paint first (until the brush is almost dry), then brush it on with quick strokes.
The beauty of the Chalk Paint is that it dries with a matte finish and it goes on right over the existing finish, no stripping or priming necessary, making the whole process even easier. In my book, a quick upgrade to the original!
For more product info and inspiration: Annie Sloan Unfolded
Today is my 14th wedding anniversary, which seems impossible. It's gone by so quickly, I could swear I just married him a few years ago! At any rate, to start the day off right I found these sweet coffee cups from Mark and Graham. I generally like my dishes neutral, shapely, and graphics free, but this year I was feeling whimsical. For us, it's perfect. We drink a lot of coffee and we drink most of it together, every morning and every afternoon. It's our time to connect and slow down together. For all I know it's been our secret for a happy marriage.
To accompany our morning coffee, I wanted scones for a change so I made almond scones with raspberry jam and clotted cream, a nod to our almond wedding cake with raspberry filling. It's a variation of Alice Waters' recipe from The Art of Simple Food. They come together quickly and couldn't be easier to make, leaving you with plenty of time to enjoy the rest of your day.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Finely grated zest of a small lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons raw sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Mix the heavy cream and almond extract together, then add the cream and mix together, gently, with a wooden spoon until the dough just comes together. Gently fold in zest. Turn the dough onto a floured surface, flatten into an 8-inch circle. Brush the top with the melted butter and sprinkle with the raw sugar. Cut dough into 8 triangles and arrange on an ungreased baking sheet, spaced about an inch apart.
Place baking sheet on center rack in oven, and bake for 15-17 minutes until scones turn golden. Allow to cool on wire rack for about 10-15 minutes. Serve with jam and clotted cream (whipped mascarpone makes a fine substitute if you can't find clotted cream).
I have a sweet tooth and I have a love for nature. What sends me off to a state of bliss is when those two passions merge, as they did on the dessert menu at Le Petite Grocery. Who could resist trying fig leaf ice cream with local honey and candied pecans? One bite and I understood why the waitress was having difficulty describing it. It was delicate and almost floral, but then a hint of caramel and marshmallow...and before I knew it, it was all gone. I went home and immediately started researching.
Research led me to The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle by Kate Zuckerman. There was a recipe for basil ice cream (which I've made and love) with a fig leaf variation. However, in this recipe the fig leaf was simply cut into small pieces before infusing the custard base. What I wanted was the toasted version and the densest, creamiest texture I could get out of a home machine.
Kate Zuckerman has a good amount of science on the subject and I tried her suggestions - which, indeed, gave me the best textured ice cream I may have ever made at home. Suprise ingredients - a whole egg (not just the yolk) and 1/4 cup of nonfat milk powder. The recipe called for skim milk powder which I wasn't able to find in my grocery, but the nonfat worked just fine. The resulting ice cream was incredibly rich and dense and delicately flavored all at the same time. Definitely a keeper.
I have the good fortune of having a fig tree in my courtyard. But if you can find fig leaves anywhere, this is a recipe worth trying. I also have a built-in grill on my stovetop, so I simply toasted the leaves there. However, you can do this with a culinary torch or on your outside grill. Just don't overdo it. I accidentally burned one of the leaves and the smell certainly wasn't anything like the toasted leaves! You're trying to achieve a warm brown caramel color.
Who knew fig leaves could be used in ice cream? Definitely one of my more exciting discoveries!
Toasted Fig Leaf Ice Cream
Yield: 1 1/2 quarts
(adapted from The Sweet Life)
3-4 medium fig tree leaves, washed and dried
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
8 large egg yolks
1 large, whole egg
Pinch of kosher salt
1/4 cup skim or nonfat milk powder
1. Toast the fig leaves over a flame until they're caramel colored. Set aside to cool.
2. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the cream, milk, and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Once the cream begins to boil, add the fig leaves (torn into small pieces), remove the pot from the heat, and set it aside for 10-15 minutes.
3. In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, egg, kosher salt, skim or nonfat milk powder, and remaining sugar and briskly whisk for 1 minute. Using a ladle, slowly whisk some of the hot cream (with the fig leaves) into the egg yolk mixture to warm it. Gradually pour the warmed egg mixture into the hot cream, whisking constantly as you pour. Cook the custard over medium heat, stirring continuously and scraping the bottom with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove it from the heat.
4. Place the ice cream base in an ice bath to cool completely, stirring it periodically. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill a minimum of 2 hours. Before churning, strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any solids and fig leaves.
5. Churn it in an ice cream maker according to the machine's instructions (though ideally, you will only churn it for about 20 minutes). The ice cream is finished once it's increased in volume and it holds the lines from the stirring mechanism and mounds like softly whipped cream. Transfer to the freezer for 4 hours to attain a scoopable consistency.
*This ice cream is best if you serve it 4 to 6 hours after churning, but will keep in the freezer for up to 1 week.
NOTE: To some extent, you can control the intensity of the fig leaf flavor. For a very delicate flavor, you can infuse the custard and strain the leaves before putting it in the ice bath. For a more pronounced flavor, you can let it infuse overnight before straining. Or you can strain it somewhere in-between.
For a third year I've had the pleasure of connecting with Internet friends on terra firma, this time here in New Orleans. You might expect a wild weekend, women set loose in the city, but we laughed at ourselves as we happily practiced calligraphy on a Friday night. Kindred spirits. Not that it was all lettering practice. There was a beauty night, some shopping, lots of walking, a little daytime photography and architectural gawking, homemade ice cream, and a good amount of eating and talking. A perfect girls weekend.
Tristan stayed an extra day so we could focus on photography together. I love shooting in the daytime, but I really come alive at night. So we spent the last evening specifically searching for light sources to shoot, inspired by the moody, mysteriously murky photographs of Rocky Schenck. We had such fun, crawling the streets from the French Quarter through Uptown, darting in and out of the car to shoot vignettes. I came home with that happy, breathless feeling you get when you've reached creative nirvana. And as much fun as I might have had doing it alone, it was so much better with a partner.
By the way, if you're looking to improve your photography, I highly suggest exercises like this. By narrowing your focus to a specific technique, mood, or object to shoot, I find it's easier to achieve creative flow. Observing the world in its entirety can be overwhelming, but looking for specific details forces you to filter out the excess.
I'll be back this week with a recipe for Toasted Fig Leaf Ice Cream, an experiment I tried over the weekend after tasting it at La Petite Grocery. And I'm going to try hard not to be such a stranger here!
But there are still vestiges of winter in place, the occasional chilly and rainy evenings when a warm and delicious bowl of pasta feels like the natural choice for a meal (along with wine - which I somehow managed to leave out of this photo, perhaps because it was lunchtime when I shot it). At any rate,I had one of those chilly, rainy evenings early in the week and decided to both embrace the end of a season and try something new. I've been meaning to make a white Bolognese for some time now. Finally, I can cross it off my list.
The end result was substantive and absolutely satisying, even though it took about four hours to make. Truthfully, much of that is passive time, waiting for reductions. Which meant that I caught up on some reading while I waited. Not a bad way to spend an evening.
Spring is short in my city, the sweltering heat will be upon us before I know it. But for now, I love that delicate balance, that moment just between seasons when you feel like you have the best of both worlds in the palm of your hand.
Find the recipe for white Bolognese here.
Notes: I don't know where you can buy duck fat outside of places like New York City, but we begged ours from a local Italian restaurant (where we also happened to score some fresh pasta). For leftovers, we used a good brand of dry fettuccine, so I can comment on both. The fresh pasta is undeniably wonderful and if you can get it (or are able to make it), it's entirely worth it. Having said that, the absence of fresh pasta didn't keep us from enjoying and finishing all of the Bolognese!
I was late on Valentine's Day here, so I thought I'd share some Easter early - just in case I blink and discover it's suddenly June. One of the reasons I've been so busy lately is that I've been producing photo shoots, not just making things and shipping them off for someone else to interpret visually. It's been deeply satisfying for me, despite the amount of work it takes. I don't think I realized how much I like having control over my own work (of course anyone who knows me would wonder why it's taken so long for me to come to this realization).
At any rate, this is one of the photo shoots I recently produced, in the March issue of Better Homes and Gardens. We shot this late in December, and while everyone else was dreaming of a white Christmas, I was basking in the pure happiness of a manufactured spring. Granted, it was a little weird dyeing Easter eggs four days before Christmas, but that didn't stop me from having a really good time - in fact, I can't wait to make these eggs again for my real Easter.
Regular visitors to this blog may remember this technique from last year, but I reinterpreted it in a more traditional color palette and tried some new materials, like eyelet, which yielded a soft, watercolor like effect. I find them gloriously feminine and I think they make a lovely addition to a holiday table.
Photographer: Brie Williams
But as I returned home in the morning, the light was so pretty in my dining room, bouncing off of the various pieces of glassware scattered here and there. As I surveyed the remnants of a good time, it occurred to me that the aftermath of events sometimes tells the story of what occurred more than the actual event. So I spent some time with my camera, documenting the details. And when I look at them now, I'm reminded of just how much fun we had.
It's not a traditional approach to recording events, but it can be creatively liberating since perfection is not the point. I urge you to try it sometime and see what stories unfold for you.
Christmas escaped me this year. I don't know if it was my unusually bizarre work schedule (two back-to-back Halloween shoots followed immediately by an unexpected Easter shoot the Friday before Christmas) or the seemingly never-ending parade of bad headlines, but I just couldn't find my mojo. Mercifully, I finally gave up, which was exactly what I needed to enjoy the day. Sometimes you just have to let it go.
Ironically, the Christmas spirit hit me a couple of days after it was over. So I translated all of that goodwill and energy into New Year's baking for friends and family. I might be a bit out of step this year, but if there's one thing I've learned from my profession - every day's a holiday.
I've got a great, basic sugar cookie recipe that I can always count on. The cookies hold up in transit and have a longer shelf life than softer, cakier cookies. But after a couple of batches of basic, I started to get the urge to experiment. I tried a couple of different recipes, but I still preferred the texture of the recipe I started with. So I went back to the basic and used it as a building block for two variations.
I'm so glad I took the time to do this. Emotionally, it was satisfying (baking = love). Mentally, it was grounding. Creatively, it was stimulating. And next year, should I find myself in a mad scramble, I'll know that I have recipes that are tried-and-true.
Happy New Year!
Classic Sugar Cookie
(with a touch of brandy)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons brandy
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.
2. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy; add the eggs, brandy, and vanilla extract and beat until well combined.
3. Add the dry mixture gradually, beating until incorporated.
4. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and slightly flatten it with your hand. Chill for at least an hour.
5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out dough on a well floured surface (from 1/8 - 1/4-inch thick) and cut out with cookie cutters. Transfer the cutouts to a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes, or just until the edges look slightly golden. Let them sit on the pan for a minute or two, then transfer them with a spatula to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
Tip: If your dough gets too warm and cutouts don't hold a crisp shape, try refrigerating the cutouts for about 10 minutes before baking.
I don't follow a recipe for this, but I usually start out with about 1 1/2 cups of confectioners' sugar, then add a tablespoon of milk and a squeeze or two of lemon juice. After I stir it all together, I add more milk or lemon juice, if needed. You can make the frosting as thick or thin as you desire, simply by adjusting the amount of sugar or liquid.
Add 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg to the basic dough, mixing it in with the dry ingredients. Top with Brandy Frosting and dust with freshly ground nutmeg.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon brandy
In a bowl, soften the butter with an electric mixer at low speed. Sift in the powdered sugar. Add the brandy and beat until smooth.
(The Sazerac is the official cocktail of New Orleans, making this a very personal, regional rendition of a sugar cookie.)
Substitute 4 Tablespoons Sazerac Rye for the brandy in the cookie batter and add 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest. Frost with Sazerac Frosting.
2 cups confectioners' sugar
5 teaspoons Sazerac rye
1/2 teaspoon Herbsaint liqueur
1/2 teaspoon Peychaud's bitters
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 egg white, beaten
Combine all of the ingredients and whisk until the mixture is smooth and spreadable.
Yesterday was a day of blog silence for many, a way to pay tribute to the victims of the Newtown shooting. It was an act I took part in, though I decided to forego the special badge that announced my participation. But today, my moment of silence has ended.
I've heard the perspective that bloggers can provide uplifting content for others, give them something to focus on other than the news. But personally, I don't think we can afford to ignore what's in front of us, to be uplifted in a time of senseless tragedy. I think we need to speak often and vigorously. Now, while this moment is fresh and still so raw. We, all of us, need to be the catalyst for change.
I remember Columbine so clearly. I was on my honeymoon, full of hope for the future, shattered by what I saw on television. That was almost fourteen years ago and at the time felt like a crazy, isolated tragedy. Since that time, crazy has turned into commonplace. It breaks my heart over and over again.
We need to talk. We need to examine ourselves. We need to determine whether we need so many guns - and if so, whether we need assault weapons in the hands of our citizens. We need to look hard at the issues of mental illness and emotional problems, be prepared to recognize them in people we love dearly. We need a solid system in place to support those individuals and their families.
I wish I lived in a world where love conquers all, where I don't have to worry that a similar fate could befall my six year-old. I don't. But I hope I live in a world where reason and compassion can overtake political divide. I hope I have a future where these types of mass killings begin to abate.
There's a lot of work to do. I hope we'll do it - all of us, together. That's the best way I can think of to support the community of Newtown.
Is it really less than two weeks until Christmas? I feel so out of sync this year. Usually I'm the one who gets the tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. This year, my still mostly undecorated tree is sitting in the middle of my living room, a room with walls awaiting a coat of paint after the two Halloween photo shoots that took place in my home last week (if only I could decide on the right color!). It's a little wacky around here.
But I've really missed blogging! I certainly never intended for a month to pass between posts, yet here we are. I had planned to share this ornament idea weeks ago, before trees had been decorated. But I'm going to post anyway. Perhaps you'll use it next year.
These ornaments are an offshoot of a thread wrapped ornament I created for Better Homes and Gardens this year. They're really easy to make and you can swap out the color palette for one that suits your personal decor.
Here's how you make them:
Thread Wrapped Ornaments
Unfinished turned wooden ornaments
Perle cotton thread
White craft glue
Starting at the top of the ornament, brush a very thin layer of white glue around the top edge. Adhere the end of a piece of thread to the ornament and carefully wrap the thread around the ornament in a single layer, applying thin layers of glue as you go. When you've covered the desired amount of the ornament, simply snip the thread and make sure the end is glued down.
Tip: You can disguise the thread end at the top by covering it with the thread as you're wrapping it around. For the bottom edge, push it up with your fingernail so that it's as close to the line of thread above it as it can be.
Also, it's easier to work from narrow areas to wider areas, rather than the other way around. Should you find that it's become difficult to keep the thread in place, cut the thread and glue it down. Then turn your ornament over and start where you want the thread design to end and continue wrapping until the two sections meet.
Note the bottom of the ornament above. I started with the orange thread in the middle, turned it upside down and worked from the narrow part to the wider part. Then I turned it right side up and worked from the bottom edge of the orange thread down.
This ornament didn't require anything more than working from the top of the ornament down.
Unfinished turned wooden ornaments available at Michaels (there are also some I like at Cupboard Distributing)
Perle cotton thread available at craft and sewing supply stores, next to the embroidery floss (a wider variety of colors are available at Nordic Needle)
Yesterday, I mentioned BARC paper, a wood veneer paper that looks like traditional wood veneer but handles with the ease of paper. I found it because I had the idea of making a "snowflake" chandelier out of rosettes and I really wanted to do it with wood veneer. Unfortunately, even the thinnest veneer tended to crack when I tried to loop it. But thank God for the Internet.
BARC paper comes in a variety of wood finishes and three weights, each suitable for different projects. For the chandelier, I used the lightest weight and it looped and folded exactly the way paper might. The Birch paper I used comes with a white paper backing, so some of the snowflakes I left with a white interior and others I painted with diluted acrylic paint, creating more of a washed paint effect that was still saturated and colorful. You can also brush the watered down paint onto the wood veneer side, which allows the grain to show through.
I can't say enough about this paper - it truly is one of my favorites this year. You can cut it with scissors and paper punches, as well as die-cutting machines. It can be painted, stamped, stained, and printed on (manual feed on an inkjet printer), which means you can experiment to your heart's content. Love. it.
And a little secret for you - If you've taken the time to visit Family Circle's website to get directions for the projects shown in the magazine, you'll find a reader's code to get a discount on BARC paper for a limited time. So get it while you can!
In the meantime, here are the directions for making the chandelier (I also think the rosettes make great ornaments or gift toppers):
12-x-12-inch birch BARC paper (lightest weight)
acrylic craft paint in desired colors
paper trimmer or ruler and scissors
quick-setting gel glue (I prefer Beacon 3-in-1 Adhesive)
circle punch for middle
12-inch and 9-inch wooden embroidery hoops
string for hanging
1. Put acrylic craft paint in a small dish and thin with a little water. Place the BARC paper on the scrap paper and tape the edges to the paper. Paint either the front or the back of the paper with the thinned down craft paint; let dry. Once paint is dry, remove the BARC paper and cut into ½-inch strips. For the largest snowflakes, leave the paper strips at 12 inches, for medium cut to 10 inches in length, and for smallest trim to 8 inches in length.
2. Fold each strip in half so ends meet; unfold and place a little glue on each side of the crease. Loop each piece inward so that they meet at the crease in the middle. Clip with a clothespin until glue sets. Once glue is dry, add a dab of glue to the bottom edge of each looped set and glue 6-8 of the sets together to form a rosette. Glue circle cutouts to the center of each.
To assemble chandelier, tie the hoops together as shown. Hang snowflakes at varying heights.
Resources: BARC paper from ARC Crafts (www.arccrafts.com); all other supplies available at craft supply stores.
One of the challenges of my job is creating completely different holiday stories from year to year. It's also one of the best aspects of my job because it forces me outside of my personal comfort zone. It's a bit like being an actor, wearing different hats for a time, completely inhabiting a persona, then moving on. But no matter the style or color palette I'm working with, I find I usually manage to integrate natural elements in some way.
Last year I was obsessed with the icy, silvery aspects of nature, imagining them in a winter landscape. This year I went to the other extreme, fascinated with clean, modern lines and shapes, warmed by a cheerful palette of red and tangerine and the natural coziness of felt accents.
I had a great time working on this story for Family Circle (and I'll show you the parts that were cut, in another post or two this week). I felt completely happy and energized, surrounded by these colors for several weeks, and I continued to be inspired by my materials long after the assignment was over, a creative bonus. Personally, I'll probably take a sharp turn into a shimmery, sparkly Christmas, much needed visual relief after months of working on holiday stories back-to-back. But what a fun dip into color it was!
You can find the instructions for these crafts on the Family Circle website, along with downloadable templates. And come back tomorrow - I'll give you directions for one of the projects that got away. I made it with one of my favorite craft finds of the year - BARC wood veneer paper.
I've been in a bit of a funk all week, thinking about the East Coast. I'm tired and pushing against deadlines, so I don't have the emotional fortitude I might normally have, but it's been a weird week. On Wednesday, I was telling my 6 year-old that his grandparents were okay after the hurricane. I started to say that their power would be out for awhile when my son suddenly yelled from the backseat, "No fair! Their hurricane was way shorter than mine!"
I was startled by his response, but he experienced his first hurricane, Isaac, over the summer. It was brutally hot, with temperatures in the 90s and unbearable humidity. There was nowhere to go, as all of our friends and family were without power as well. It took more than a week before it was restored and on the fifth day my son woke at 7 am, asked if we had power yet, then broke down in tears when I told him we didn't. It was a difficult experience for him, despite our efforts to keep it light and fun, and I realize that the memory will likely be with him forever.
On Thursday I had much the same experience, in a conversation with a man, one of the only people here who'd even mentioned the storm to me. With the direction that the conversation was going, I thought he was going to say that New Orleanians could really empathize with how the victims were feeling, could lend emotional support. But what he said was, "Now, they finally know how we feel." Present tense, not past. Some wounds are slow to heal.
The same day, my closest friend in New York sent me photos of the beach house that's been in her husband's family for over fifty years. She didn't say anything in her email, just the photos, and it was enough. I immediately had tears in my eyes the second I saw the house, appearing to have shifted off its foundation, the retaining wall gone, the sand piled up almost to the basement ceiling.
I'm not much of a beach person, my skin is too sensitive to enjoy it during the day. But it's the first place where my son experienced the ocean, the site of my best night's sleep ever, with the waves slapping against the shoreline and a balmy breeze breaking the sweltering heat of the day.
It's where my friend spends her entire summer with her family. When we speak on the phone, I can see her in all of its rooms. I know what it smells and looks like, what it sounds like. It feels as familiar to me as her Manhattan apartment. It is a second home, but for the summer it is always her primary home, and I cannot imagine what the loss will feel like if there's nothing salvageable there. Not the loss of a structure, but the loss of a lifestyle, the memories of your children's experiences left there in the sand.
It's that overwhelming sense of loss, the fear of returning to that loss, I think, that has made many of my fellow New Orleanians mute. It's all too tangible still, lives that are forever divided into "before" and "after." The word "Katrina" still peppers everyday conversation in a way that would suggest it happened last year instead of more than seven years ago. That's how long it takes to recover from an experience like Katrina or Sandy. Some people never really recover at all, they just endure. And events like this week just remind us that it could easily happen again.
At the same time, people are generally resilient and it is within individual communities that hurricane victims will find solace. Shoulder to shoulder, day by day. It's a long journey, one that millions of people will still be on long after it's been replaced in the news cycle. And while I will eventually move on as well, today my heart is more than a thousand miles away, in the city that's my second home.
If you walked into my house right now you'd think it was the home of a deranged person, hearts mingling with jack-o-lanterns and corn husks. I'm working on next year's magazine stories, Valentine's, Halloween, and Thanksgiving - all at the same time. When my schedule overlaps like this I'm in creative mode 24/7, fueled by deadlines, adrenaline, and a whole lot of coffee. But I also find that it's times like these when I tap into other creative outlets for myself, personally. Those outlets can't take up much time - they have to be nearly instantaneous. Which is one of the reasons I turn to my camera. It's quick and effortless, perfect for an overly stimulated brain.
I took these photos on the fly, all with my iPhone, quickly edited in iPhoto. The jellyfish were taken while chaperoning a first grade field trip to the Aquarium, the water cabbage were taken in our courtyard as part of a decoupage project for my son's class, and the nighttime view of City Park came while leaving a concert with my husband. I tell you this because it's a simple reminder (which I need all the time) that creativity doesn't require huge investments of time, just a willingness to see, and capture in some way, what's around you. It's an easy way to recharge, regardless of your occupation.
Thinking of my many friends, family, colleagues, and readers on the East Coast today. May Mother Nature be kinder than anticipated.