Thursday, December 17, 2015

It's Cookie Season…...

It's been nonstop around here and I don't remember the last time I had a full day in the kitchen.  After an hour I realized I built myself a pretty good kitchen and stocked it with some pretty great stuff.  I miss my pretty great stuff and I had a pretty great day, in my pretty great kitchen…… and some day I will get around to finishing this pretty great kitchen.  Tomorrow…... as today I have cookies to bake. 


This morning as I walked out the door to check the kiln, at zero dark thirty, a chill slapped me upside the head.  Whoa, where did that come from?  It's been in the 60's around here, not very conducive to cookie baking or any baking.  I unloaded the kiln, reloaded the kiln and went back in the house, still dark.  The wind picked up and the coffee poured hot.  Commence flour flinging…… the Kitchen Aid was dancing today! 

The plate of cookies at the end of the day. 

Starting on the left; shortbread cookies.  Moving up to the top: gingersnaps.  Sitting pretty at 3 o'clock coconut dream bars.  Holding the plate down at 6 o'clock: pecan carmel bars.  And sitting in the middle;  melt in your mouth strudel.   I might add a lemon fluff bar because this is all sweet and buttery stuff.  A bit of citrus is needed to cut the sugar….. or maybe bacon? 

Carmel Pecan Bars
(these fly off the plate and freeze well but lock the freezer) 
Crust:  1 cup of butter,  3 cups flour,  1/2 cup brown sugar packed,  1 egg
Filling: 3 cups pecan halves, 1/2 cup honey, 3/4 cup butter,  3/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup whipping cream
To make the crust, combine all ingredients until blended, using an electric mixer or food processor.  Press evenly into a 15 x 10 x 3/4" jelly roll pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

To make filling, spread pecans evenly over crust.  In a large heavy sauce pan, melt the butter and honey.  Add the brown sugar.  Boil 5-7 minutes, stirring constantly until it's a rich caramel color.  Remove from the heat, stir in the whipping cream.  Mix well and pour over pecans.  Bake 15 minutes longer.  Cool; cut into bars.  Freezes well.  Makes 4 dozen.

Melt in Your Mouth Strudel
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter 
2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup milk
1/2 pound ground walnuts or pecans
powder sugar

Beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer until well combined.  Add the flour, mix well.  Shape into a ball, cover and chill 1-2 hours.  
Cook sugar and milk in a sauce pan over medium heat until the milk boils and the sugar dissolves.  Stir occasionally.  Add the nuts.  Remove from the heat and cool until spreadable.
Roll out the dough on lightly floured surface to form an 18x12" rectangle.  Cut in half lengthwise.  Spread each with nut filling.  Starting from the long side, roll up each strip, jelly roll style. 
Place seam side down, on ungreased cookie sheets.  Cut into 1/2" thick slices without separating.  Bake in a 350 degree oven 15-20 minutes or until done.  Let cool slightly.  Remove and cool on racks.  Dust with powered sugar.  Separate slices into cookies.  Cover, refrigerate or freeze.  Makes about 60 cookies. 

Coconut Dream Bars
1 1/2 cups flour
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
3 eggs
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups coconut

Combine flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar and butter in the food processor or mixer, until particles are fine.  Press into the bottom of an ungreased 9"x13" pan.  Bake at 350 F. for 15 minutes.  
Beat the 1 1/2 cups brown sugar with the eggs, just until blended.  Mix in remaining ingredients.  Spread over the partially baked crust.  Bake 20-30 minutes or until golden brown.  When cold, cut with a sharp knife.  These are really sweet!  

And  since everybody has a good gingersnap and shortbread recipe I'm not going to post the recipes.  The shortbread recipe I use is from Ina Garten and I like it the best of all the recipes I have tried over the years.  Cheers Ina! 

Figured out a while back that a good Christmas present is a pair of mugs and a plate of homemade cookies!   So find a local potter and get baking!  

I've inhaled enough flour dust today I'm gonna have a case of pastry lung! 

You bet there will be cookies at the opening tomorrow night!  

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christmas…… Le Sigh…..

Its time for my yearly blog on Christmas.  When four people who truly love and like each other, descend into the madness of the holiday season.
Last year we left the compound I call Happy Acres and Butch calls Hell on a Half Acre to head off to Massachusetts and family frivolity.   I sat on the steps of my sister in laws house with a delightful 7 year old child, both crying over the insanity.  If she had been 21 we would have been smoking and passing a flask but since she was only 7 we were reduced to a stair step, blankie and candid mature judgmental conversation.  We lamented about how we just did not understand or desire to be in the environment called Holiday Spirt.  The rest of the family raced around like badgers on crack.  I watched a festive moment when someone reached for a kleenex and blew her nose in a baby diaper.  And Yes!  the family book exchange where I, who cannot read, will get a book with no pictures and tiny print called War and Peace but I will gift a kick ass recipe book on food fermentation.  Do ya see where I'm going here.  It took me 3 or 4 months to find my groundedness again.  On the trip home I vowed, "I am not leaving the compound for love or money next year!"

Fast forward 365 days and I am humming John Denver's all time hit:  "Leaving on Jet Plane".  I woke up in a cold sweat four times last night.  Get to the airport and someone hits my car.  Get to the airport and stuck in traffic, missed the flight.  Get to the airport and forgot the backpack.  Get to the airport and forget the tickets.  I walked down and checked the kiln 4 times, returned to bed and had another airport fantasy.  I used to love to fly but don't anymore. I have no desire to take off my shoes or have a TSA agent touch my stuff or wave to the security cameras or be herded onto a plane and wedged into a seat sized for elves or have the elf in front of me jam his chair into recline invading my space.  Besides the way this year has gone I'm pretty sure I would be sitting next to the underpants bomber.  Yes, I support your right to blow your balls off so you can get to those 72 virgins awaiting your arrival but I am now 60 and in pagan terms hoping for a beach and a drink and since I'm already dead a cigarette. My friend emailed last night that while waiting to get his car serviced there was  an elderly man waiting for his car.  The elderly gentleman got up and walked into a broom closet thinking it was the restroom then asked my friend if he was east of Geneva, he could have been talking about Switzerland.  My friend was laughing until the geezer leaned back and showed him his concealed gun.  So friends we are surrounded, whether you stay home or fly.  It's not the terrorists, it's us.  #1 gift request from the Santa list this year, a bullet proof vest with Hello Kitty on the back.  

Sooooo we are driving, to the mountains of Colorado; 1556.6 miles or 23 hours and 13 minutes.   Originally I was going to drive and Butch would fly, this was a banner plan!  Alone in my car belting out tunes to AC/DC and munching on baby carrots, choking occasionally because I am singing Back in Black so hard. I was taking my tent and sleeping bag I was excited.  When I explained this plan to Butch he said:  That is great plan!  I'm coming too and will be in the lodge. I will pick up you up at your tent in the morning so we can eat at the breakfast buffet in the lodge.  But what about camp coffee?  It's in the lodge, he smiled back. Our trip would have been timed perfectly, arriving at the Denver airport just as his flight landed (stop laughing we have done this before).  Together we would continue driving the 4 hours into the mountains to see our darling children who will be waiting with anticipation.  Our darling children have already told us to stop at the first Walmart and pick up tire chains for our car before heading into the mountains.  So much fun…… 

I am now referring to us as the Donner Party because I'm pretty sure I'm going to kill him around Iowa.  If you see this man on the side of the road…… 

Today I am headed to the library to look for books on CD.  I'm not sure I will find a book that has financial planning, adventure and romance packed into a riveting storyline.  Is there a book titled: Who Needs Retirement?  Make a million fermenting bean sprouts in your golden years or Romantic Mushroom Foraging while working for MI5, British Intelligence.  

I will be leaving the security of my sea level home to travel to the mountains of Crested Butte, Colorado.  Elevation: 12,162 feet but the base is 9375 feet so no worries.  Yes, I get altitude sickness like it's my job.  Face down, blinding headaches for about three days…… 
There will be none of this……

I will be under the bed sipping gatorade and eating ibuprofen like tic tacs.  And remembering the sanctity of my kitchen…. forget deck the halls, I will just be decked.  

Yes, darling daughters I am so excited to see where you guys live, work and frolic and I will put my best holiday face on for you guys as yes; WE ARE DOING THIS…… 
 because we miss you and love you. 

I am packing the car with 5 pounds of bacon, a wheel of cheese, smokies from the Slovenian butcher shop, smoked sardines, and 5 gallons of water to hydrate in the thin crisp air of Colorado. 

One more opening Friday night at the gallery and Saturday morning we hitch up the wagon and head west.  Merry Christmas…… again.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Heading into Home…….

I'm still walking out the back door every morning at dark thirty…… just because.
My bare feet on cold patio stones make me know I am still alive, the stillness makes me know the chickens aren't.  It's been another weekend…..
When you hit the bed at 9:00 pm you tend to hit the floor around 3:30 am…. 
I love when people tell me their favorite thing to do is sleep, it's like they are speaking in tongues.  Longer than 7 hours and somebody better check for a pulse!  

Finished up a cranking weekend at the
Fans and air conditioners were abuzz in 70 degree Ohio temperatures.  But because it's Ohio and it was Dec. 12 & 13th some came decked out in winter coats and sweaters, sucking on candy canes, sweat rings duly noted around their collars and pits. While others donned shorts and t-shirts.  So confused over this crazy weather!  The weather brought the crowds out in droves!  It was a steady crush of people and them came to shop!  Fun seeing old friends, new friends and canine friends, you bet there are still those die hard, art lov'n dogs!  And because it's Ohio the candy bacon on a stick sold out by noon on Saturday.  He said he brought double what he did last year, Food Truck Crush!  Rachael remarked on her trip home last month, she could pick out the people flying into Cleveland because they were the only ones who could take off their shoes, get through security, produce boarding passes and never put down the donut.  Shut up, it's a skill! 

Since I have been off the road the past year I have not had a good dose of craft fair patrons.  I sure do miss the fun.  Like the very pregnant woman crying at my wrap table after 20 minutes of trying to decide which mug to buy….. they were exactly the same mug.  I desperately tried to help but I just kept handing her kleenex. She confessed through a tear stained face, blinking back tears… I just went through this over a candle.  Go Home; I said.  We had a refreshing conversation with a Republican woman while she bought an elephant pitcher and grieved for her party. And God I miss the screaming kids…. Excuse me, the food truck outside the building is offering bacon on a stick!  I on the other hand continued to fill my bloody mary glass through out the day, stoking with fresh celery, whatever it takes, just sip slowly.  I made a gallon of bloody marys.  The bloody mary fairy appeared and shared freely with my studio mates; I drank the rest. 
I never left my booth, not for the bathroom, not for food, not if someone had yelled fire.  There was never down time.  My great neighbors from across the hall stopped over to check how things were going and we never had much time to chit chat.  We compared what was selling.  I was rocking the $20 mugs and he was rocking the beer bottle candles.  That stopped me thinking I might work on translucent porcelain candle cups.  Drink the beer, cut off the top, sand the sharp edges and add wax, now that takes an MFA for sure!  People couldn't buy them fast enough.  Know thy market!
I managed to get out and do a quick walk about on Saturday before we opened.  So much jewelry and does the world need one more bead stringer?  Put the shiny things down! (ok, I apologize for the last remark there was just so much it was overwhelming!)  I watched an older guy, walking past a jewelry table grab a pair of earrings, hand them to the artist (never looking at them once) asked how much, paid her with a credit card and mumbled it's a gift for his wife. Theres a happy marriage, what a prince!  I spotted his wife at the wine table……  

The hours of this show are grueling: Saturday I arrived at 8:30 am and got home around 11:00 pm.  Sunday the show started at 10:00 am. But the hamster had a blowout at our local power plant leaving me to make camp coffee, toast a piece of bread over the gas flame and a cold shower (damn you Painesville Power!) arriving in 10:30 am snit.  Home by 7:00 pm to Chinese take out. 

By Sunday night I had run out of bags, boxes and almost all wrapping paper.  I closed the door early and walked around the hall of booths.  Checked in on my neighbors, everybody was a little bleary eyed and tired.  Barb the soap maker and jeweler was going down on Saturday.  On Sunday when I checked in and asked; Hey, where's Barb?  She was home for the count with her dogs.  Rest up Barb, one more show to go, next week!  

The beauty of the gallery, no pack up!  Turn the lights out, lock the door and go home.  I watched so many pack and load.  Up and down flights of steps, it's like the Iron Man Triathalon of craft fairs.   

Fellow shop mate Jeff stopped by Sunday morning and said Hey try this stuff!  
A new bloody mary mix!  I'm on it!  Thanks Jeff! 

Fellow artist, and gardener dropped by Sunday morning with a package of rosemary and lavender shortbread cookies that were so good I forgot to take a picture before consuming. Thanks Libby!!

This morning at 4:10 am, I walked around the carnage of my studio.  Pots still sitting on their fire bricks from an afternoon of raku firing so many days ago.  

The remains of last Thursday…. I still haven't had any chicken. 

Next week is Third Friday, the last show of the year for this potter. Then we can crawl off to our studios, lick our wounds, sleep soundly and hopefully have a bit of seed money put away to do it again next year.  

For everyone who came to the Craft Fair Crush last weekend…….  a million thank you's! 

Friday, December 11, 2015

I don't even know how to write about this……...

The days have ticked by, the hours of daylight grown shorter and life a little crazier.  This morning is the first day I woke up in three years and didn't walk out to the coop to let the chickens out.  I walked onto the dark patio in my bare feet with a cup of hot coffee and heard …….. nothing.  I walked in the house, looked at Butch and said: I have no reason to get up in the morning.  

Yesterday was the day…..  three years ago I bought a bunch of chickens, refused to name them, gathered eggs, let them free range through the yard and the neighbors yard and they added to this urban homestead, immensely.  The manure for the gardens alone was exquisite and was the initial reason to get the chickens.  Three years ago, this day was in the grand plan, it just arrived faster than planned. 

The gals had stopped laying around the end of Sept. I waited patiently to see if one would poop out an egg to save the flock but nope.  By November it was pretty plain there would be no more eggs.  I was so hoping there would be a mother daughter bonding experience when my darling daughters came home for Thanksgiving but we ran out of time and the chickens got a reprieve.  Cant believe they would rather go back to the mountains of Colorado than kill chickens with their dear old Mother.   Then the gallery kicked in, finals at school started and we were firing kilns daily, time ticked away.  I watched them intently and I thought I will know when the right day comes and you know what was shocking, I did know.  I watched the chickens, I watched the weather and we had a window.  It was the last day of the moons full cycle, the farmers almanac referred to this as the Full Cold Moon.  It was time, I took the day off work. 

Thank God I had gone to Blue Pike Farm and good old Carl showed me how to kill and process chickens.  YouTube worked for the kitchen remodel but there is something about hands-on  that jogs the brain into reality.  

I started the night before, sharpened my knives, fabricated my killing cone, as my genetic cheap ass Hungarian/Scottish heritage took hold.  Making my own cost $8, buying one was about $28 - $40 plus shipping.  

I told Butch nothing as he had offered to pay big bucks to hire someone to kill and process.  As my pottery life got super busy, I must admit I looked around and found no one!  Then I had a long talk with myself.  I feel pretty strongly about the food chain in this country.  I raised these chickens and felt a responsibility to see them out to the end.  I started this adventure with 10 chickens.  One was a rooster and was dispatched early on, I learned to butcher chickens on that rooster.  Then one fell ill last summer and keeled over.  Then I lost another one last week, it literally bit the dust.  Keeled over while it sat in the opening of the coop and hit the floor.  They are buried under the holly bush in the way back.  Seven birds remained.  I never fell in love with these chickens but they had their place on this half acre.  It was comforting looking out the studio window and seeing the gang of 8 strolling through the yard, eating bugs, checking out the cat, digging up flower beds and chatting amongst themselves.  These birds had a great life.  Through two hard Ohio winters they lived at club med with heat lamps, water heaters, fresh clean straw daily to keep their feet warm.  Then every once in a while I had the thought;  Wow, these are dinosaurs without teeth.  They proved to be smarter than I thought they were. 
All in all deep down, I know I'm gonna do this again….. 

I started setting up around 7:30 am and there was a bit of hunting and gathering to get everything set up.  I always knew I would be doing this and last summer I was so excited to buy a stainless steel turkey fryer on Craigslist that was almost brand-new….. the woman's husband had almost burned the house down during a Christmas turkey frying event and just wanted it gone.  I couldn't buy it fast enough for $20!  It even came with a thermometer!  (It also worked for canning tomatoes.) Just about the time I hooked up the propane, the water heating nicely, I stirred with a small canoe paddle while watching the thermometer intently.  From the edge of the studio, standing behind the evergreen; Butch, very quietly said; "You ok?" I'm off to work but I can change and help you."  This is the guy who stopped a massive concrete pour on a nuclear power plant because there was a butterfly in the bottom of the pour site.  He might never recover from this morning….. but he offered!  Wow, he must really love me!  I yelled back;  "Nope, got it covered, go to work, thanks"……. and he did.  I read the thought bubble over his head; Thank You Jesus, gotta go!  

  Now to catch the chickens….. I suck at catching chickens, especially all dressed up and running late to an opening in Cleveland.  I let them out and lured them down to the end of the run, fencing them in.  This worked pretty well.  I caught the first bird and as I walked back to the table….. my brain kicked and said; Whoa, you're really doing this and my breathing accelerated and my hands were a bit shaky.  I lowered the first chicken into the cone and I didn't make the opening big enough for the chicken to pop through the bottom.  Damn!  Suspended her upside down on the canoe hook; upside really is the most humane way to keep the bird calm.  Grabbed the tin snips and cut the opening back wide enough.  The bird slide down and popped out the bottom.  Phew!  I had learned at Blue Pike on the day we processed 40 birds to make a cut behind the ear and bleed them out.  It takes a few minutes and I walked around keeping the pot of water at 140 - 150 F, checked the table and did everything but look at the chicken.  Finally it was done.  Donning purple rubber gloves gave her a quick dunk in the hot water, plucked the feathers, propped up my iPad so I could see step by step instructions for gutting the bird.  Used my good Felco pruners for cutting off the feet and neck.  Done, submerged her in an ice bath and had a shot of bourbon at 8:30 am…… 6 more to go. 

Puurfect timing, the neighbor cat Rufus stopped by to hangout and see what was going on. 
He sat on the raku kiln and watched, jumped down, rubbed up against my leg, around to the other leg, looked in the tub with the chicken on ice, batted an ice cube around and left.  Thanks Rufus…. it is good to have an animal around.  He stopped back several times and I found in him in the coop walking around with the chickens.  

The next chicken I lowered into the cone, held her head in my hand and with the other cut off her head.  One clean stroke, she was gone in seconds.  It was much better than bleeding them out.  It's quick, fast and much less traumatic for all involved!  I will never bleed out another chicken, no matter what the chicken whispers say.  The first place I read about bleeding out was in Joel Salatins book (he is a god in the small farm movement).  It made sense, the chicken isn't under stress and he made it sound like the chicken just falls asleep.  Nope, not like that; not when we did it at Blue Pike and not yesterday.  I apologized to the first bird profusely and the rest went swiftly and smoothly. 

I did thank each chicken for their eggs and just being part of happy acres for three years.  I prayed they go quickly and quietly and most did……. except for one who bit the hell out of my hand and just about beat me to death getting her in the cone.  Another shot of bourbon and I was fine……. 
Every single chicken was bagged and tagged by 11:30 am.  

They were big, they were unbelievably fat and incredibly healthy chickens.  They were well tended over their three years and they will keep us warm through the winter with soup.  I am so grateful I did not turn this over to someone else to do.  I am also grateful for bourbon.  I also understand my childhood a little better……. the men always drank when we butchered pigs, chickens or once a cow.  This is not an easy thing to do and we have done since we have been eating.  I wonder if beer came into being around the same time we started killing stuff?  

Now what to do with the left over feed……. 

Rufus should be laying in eggs in about a month…… 

I came in the house, ate a warm lunch of ramen noodles and broccoli.  Had a cup of coffee and decided to finish off firing those 5 raku pots that have been staring me for a year.  

I will be weaving all winter as they were big pots….. 

Butch walked in the door around 8 pm and asked how I was doing.  Told him I was really pretty good and felt pretty happy and content, the freezer was full.  He said:  "You know when I looked around the corner and saw you stirring that pot, adding eye of newt, I knew you'd be fine…. "  Yes, my family knows I am a witch :) 

Back to reality, the gallery will be open all weekend for Bizarre Bazaar.
Grueling hours:  10 am - 9 pm on Saturday 
11 am - 6 pm on Sunday

Going down to the gallery today to weave and be still…….. 

Picked up a new display cabinet at Ikea last week…… Sweden could rule the world with an allen wrench and pictograms…… and who is allen?