Monday, June 30, 2014

"Toothless" Hat

Monday 30th June 2014

Toothless is the main dragon character from the movies "How To Train Your Dragon" and "How To Train Your Dragon 2".  You can see a trailer for the second movie HERE.  We went to see the movie last week and very much enjoyed it.  It was just as exciting and crazy as the first movie, with lots of flying scenes!  When we came home, my daughter who is 14, decided she was going to make a Toothless hat following the success of her green hat.  It took her most of the afternoon to adapt her pattern but it came out great.  She used a basic pattern from the book Sew Kawaii, 22 Simple Sewing Projects for Cool Kids of All Ages and black fleece and felt. 










Saturday, June 28, 2014

June Reading

Saturday 28th June 2014



It's been harder to find time to sit and read this month, I think because school is out and our routines are all different.  This is what I've been reading this month.

The Forest Feast by Erin Gleeson is a vegetarian cookbook.  I was first attracted to the beautiful cover of this book. The book is full of colorful photography, rustic settings and pretty artwork.  Each recipe has several photographs, which for a visual person like me, is perfect.  There are lots of recipes I want to try.

We Make Dolls by Jenny Doh features 23 dolls made by established doll makers.  There are patterns, tips and detailed instructions.  It's an eclectic collection.  I like to read and learn about the processes of other crafters.  

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay.  I picked this up at our library in the book club section.  I'd seen it at the book shop but wasn't sure I wanted to read another war story.  This story was very sad but I'm glad I read it.  It explores the links between two families, one living in present day Paris and renovating an apartment that in 1942 was occupied by a Jewish family.  In the summer of 1942 the Jewish family, along with hundreds of others, was rounded up by the French Police, on German orders and sent to a camp before being sent to Auschwitz.  The little daughter of the family, Sarah, escapes from the first camp.  The book focuses on Sarah's story and that of the wife in present day Paris.  The story is heartbreaking, desperate and hopeful.  I will remember it for a long time.  It is much more than a war story.

Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  This is my Book Club book for this month.  It is a book I've often seen and added to my mental list of books to be read.  I'm about ⅔ of the way through but I can't say I'm loving it.  I'm irritated by the main characters and I don't find the situations very plausible.  It will be interesting to see what the others in my Book Club think!

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.  Orphan Train introduces us to two women growing up in two different generations.  It is one of those books that goes back and forth which can sometimes be really confusing but not in this case.  Molly is a teen growing up in the foster care system in the present day.  Vivian is an old lady who as a child and an orphan was sent with other orphans on a train trip to various cities in the hope of finding a family that would take her in.  The two form an unlikely friendship while sorting through the "stuff" in Vivian's attic.  At times it is hard to read their sad stories but throughout there is a thread of hope and goodness.  I found it hard to put down.

Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson.  After living in England for nearly 20 years Bill Bryson and his family are about to move back to the U.S.   In this book Bryson writes about traveling around Britain on a "farewell tour".  His writing makes me laugh out loud and I suppose as an Ex-Pat Brit I really appreciate his insights!  

The Secrets Of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen.  I am about ⅓ of the way through this book and am loving it.  Mary and her mother were slaves belonging to the Van Lew family in Richmond, Virginia.  The daughter of the family frees them and sends Mary to Philadelphia to school.  Mary's mother chooses to remain working for the family because her husband is still a slave belonging to a different family.  Because of a law in Virginia, Mary as a freed slave, cannot return to her family without risking being captured and sold back into slavery.  So far I have been reading about Mary's time at school and her struggles to find her place in a town where there are still pockets of cruel racism.  This is another book that I can't put down! 

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Sunny Afternoon At The Beach

Saturday 28th June 2014

Earlier this week we drove to the beach for an afternoon.  It was a typical summer day at the beach, warm and sunny until we got to the dunes where the marine layer was still hanging around!  It came and went all afternoon.  When the sun broke through it was beautiful.  There were lots of pelicans flying and I sat and watched some of them diving for fish.  The tide was going out and there were lots of sand dollars left on the tide line.  I read my book and I think I napped for a bit, lulled by the sound of the crashing waves.  In the last photograph of the pelican, it really was that close, I didn't use my zoom at all.  Sunset Beach is on the Monterey Bay.  To the south is the Monterey Peninsula, to the north, Santa Cruz.  It's a lovely spot to spend an afternoon.  On the way home we bought the best strawberries in the area from our favorite organic farm shop.









Crazy Hats

Friday 27th June 2014

My nearly fifteen year old daughter took sewing lessons at a local quilt shop.  She started when she was in second grade and her wonderful teacher made them do all their own cutting, ironing and sewing.  The lessons continued until middle school when the homework load became much more intense.  Recently she has become interested in sewing again and likes to refashion t-shirts or work on items from our local thrift store.  She saw this hat in a library book and made it in an evening.  It is very cute and very green!


After making this green hat and realizing she forgot to shape the ears, she decided to make a second hat in black.  You can see in the photos how the ears are different.  What a fun project.  I am so proud of her!  Yesterday she wore the green hat to the beach but we had one of those rare days when the sun came out and it was warm on the beach -  no crazy hat necessary!






Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Gluten Free Baking

Wednesday 25th June 2014

I have been cooking and baking mostly gluten free now for a couple of years since we figured out my husband has a gluten intolerance.  To begin with it was really difficult because you cannot simply substitute a gluten free flour in your favorite recipes, it just doesn't work.  Cooking savory things is not really a problem although I still don't love gluten free pasta!  Baking, however, is a whole new adventure.  I borrowed books from the library and tried recipes but it wasn't till I found THIS book that I began to feel like things might not be so bad after all!




Now that I have tried lots of recipes from different books and websites and read up about different flours, I tend make my own flour mixes using brown rice flour, sorghum flour, finely ground cornmeal and arrowroot powder depending on what I'm baking. The mixes described in this book are reliable for anyone just starting out though and use finely ground brown rice flour, tapioca starch and potato starch.  I have made my peace with xanthan gum and try to be really careful about not over cooking baked goods.  Gluten free baked goods tend to be done before they achieve that lovely golden color of traditional baked goods!  The other day, my daughter had a friend over and I found myself with a couple of free hours, some very sad looking bananas and a well stocked fridge from my grocery store trip that morning.  I felt the need to bake!  Using recipes from this book I made banana nut muffins and a glorious lemon cake.  I always use considerably less sugar than the recipe requires when I bake.  I find that American recipes are usually too sweet for our tastes so for example the lemon cake recipe called for 2 cups of sugar and I used a little under 1 and a half cups.  



Banana Nut Muffins  (adapted from Gluten Free Baking Classics)

2 cups brown rice flour mix
⅔ cup sugar (I used coconut sugar)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon xanthan gum
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 packed cup mashed banana (2 or 3 smallish bananas)
½ cup chopped walnuts 
2 large eggs
½ cup milk
½ cup of oil

* Preheat oven to 350f and put cupcake papers in a muffin pan.  This recipe makes 16 muffins.  I use two muffin tins.  
*  Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, salt and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.  Add the walnuts.
*  Combine milk, oil, eggs and banana in a bowl.  Add liquid to the dry ingredients and stir till just blended.
*  Spoon mixture into the muffin papers and bake for 18 to 25 minutes till golden.  In my oven they take 20 minutes.  Leave to cool for a few minutes and then remove from pan and cool on a rack.  

Muffins should be eaten soon (shame!!) or wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the freezer.  I usually wrap them individually and then freeze them in a big bag.  I defrost them on the counter for a bit or in the microwave.  They are great in lunch boxes.  They have a lovely light texture.  Sometimes I add chocolate chips!


Lemon Layer Cake  (adapted from Gluten Free Baking Classics)




This cake is beautiful.  It actually has great color and a lovely light texture.  You truly would not know it wasn't a regular cake.  It is delicate and lemony and delicious.  In the book the author fills it with a lemon curd and then frosts it with a lemon buttercream but it is summer here in California so I used whipped cream for a filling over a very thin spreading of an all fruit strawberry jam.  I also added some lovely local organic strawberries.  Over the top of the cake I poured a lemon juice/powdered sugar mixture from a Nigella Lawson recipe, more about that later.

1 ½  cups of sugar
4 large eggs
2 ½  cups brown rice flour mix
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 cup oil
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons grated lemon rind

*Preheat oven to 350f.  Grease and line with parchment two round 9inch cake pans.
*Beat sugar and eggs with an electric mixer at medium for 1 minute.  Add flour, salt, baking powder, xanthan gum, oil, milk, vanilla and lemon rind.  Beat at medium for 1 minute.
*Pour batter into the prepared pans.  Bake for 30-40 minutes.  They took 30 minutes in my oven.  The cake should feel springy in the centre.  
*Cool the cakes completely in the pans then refrigerate in the pans until you are ready to assemble the cake.  
*Whip some cream and wash, dry and slice strawberries (raspberries would be good too).  Invert one layer onto a plate and spread with strawberry jam and some cream.  Spread strawberry slices on top then top with more cream.  Invert the second layer onto your hand or a plate and remove paper.  Then put this second layer on top.  Refrigerate.
*For the glaze I used 4oz of powdered sugar with 4 tablespoons of lemon juice heated together in a small saucepan to melt the sugar.  When that has completely cooled pour it slowly, tablespoon by tablespoon over the top of the cake.  It will pool at the edges and run down the sides a bit so be sure to use a plate with a bit of a lip so you don't get glaze all over your counter as this would be a terrible waste!  This glaze is from Nigella Lawson's book "How To Be A Domestic Goddess" and is from the recipe for Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake which I used to make before we went gluten free.
Because of the cream, this cake must be refrigerated which is great because gluten free baked goods keep better in the refrigerator anyway.

Enjoy!









Monday, June 23, 2014

Sewing Bunting

Tuesday 24th June 2014

Yesterday I worked on and finished my third strand of bunting for my booth at this years Quilt Show in September.  I'm very happy with how they came out and surprised at how simple they were to make!  I wrote about how I made them in THIS post but here are some pictures from this most recent sewing project.   As before I used a white bias binding and made my own template for the flags using a cereal bowl and some thick cardboard.  This strand has slightly smaller flags than the other two strands.  I used some of the same fabrics as before and added some different ones.  Because the flags are a bit smaller there are more of them on this strand of bunting.  The binding "string" is the same length on each of the three strands of bunting.  I used one and a half packages of bias binding for each so it works out to 13.5feet for each strand with a good bit free at each end for tying or pinning the bunting up.










A Secret Lake

Monday 23rd June 2014

I spent Saturday out on the water with my husband and daughter.  This was our first day out with the kayaks this year.  Utica is one of a group of lakes that are used by our electric company for hydro electric power.  There are no boats with motors allowed on this lake which makes it absolutely perfect for kayaking.  The lake is big with lots of places to explore like this little hidden lake, covered with lily pads, which you get to through a very narrow and shallow channel.  It has a magical, other worldly feel to it as if you might spy one of the "Old Ones" from traditional tales.  It is the sort of place where sounds are hushed and vivid blue dragonflies land on your toes as you paddle along!



Friday, June 20, 2014

More Big Trees

Friday June 20th 2014

Today my daughter and I hiked another trail at Big Trees State Park.  We were thankful that we got a reasonably early start because it was a warm sunny day.  We hiked a five mile loop that took us through a grove of giant sequoias.  There are two groves of these magnificent trees in the Park, the North Grove is easily accessible year round and is invariably busy.  The South Grove (where we hiked today) has bigger, older trees but is only accessible when the road is cleared of snow from late Spring till the first snow.  The biggest tree in the Park is here and is likely 2000-3000 years old.  It is incredibly, mind-bogglingly big.  Thinking it seemed appropriate, I brought some tree stump pincushions to work on while we are here.  You can see these pincushions in my Etsy shop HERE  and the matching needle book, HERE.











Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sunday Afternoon In The Monterey Bay

Thursday 19th June 2014

Summer is not always the best time to visit our local beaches.  It has nothing to do with crowds but because in the Summer we get a thick marine layer which can hang about all day.  We can leave our house in 90degree sunshine and get to the beach and it will be in the 50's or 60's!  Sometimes they'll be a break in the middle of the day and the sun will turn the ocean an incredible turquoise with pristine white surf.  On days like that you can see the seals inside the waves as they rear up, just before they curl and break. The beaches we like to go to are wild and natural.   On Sunday it was Father's Day and in the afternoon we drove down to Moss Landing beach which is on the Monterey Bay.  To get there you drive through miles of fields which this time of year are full of salad greens, strawberries (you can smell them as you drive) and raspberries.


Moss Landing is a wonderful place for seeing wildlife.  There is a harbor and a slough, where they used to harvest salt, which provide safe refuge from the rough sea for birds and animals. There are always interesting birds and we always see rafts of sea otters, sea lions and harbor seals.  We often see dolphins although not on this trip, and whales.  Below is a harbor seal nursery.  Pelicans raise their young here too.


This is a raft of sea otters.  It's a smaller group than we usually see but they were active, playing and feeding.  They dive down and pick up clams then lay on their backs, crack open the shells and eat!  



This otter was curled up on the beach, like a cat!



There are three snowy plovers in this picture.  Parts of the dunes are roped off to provide a safe breeding area for these endangered birds.  


We came across three of these dead sunfish.   This is the first time we have seen these on the beach.  We've seen them at the Monterey Bay Aquarium swimming slowly in the huge tank with the tuna and occasional shark.  Below is a photo from that tank at the Aquarium showing a bigger sunfish.  They are very odd looking creatures.  This link will take you to a short VIDEO on the Monterey Bay Aquarium website about the sunfish.  It was sad to see dead ones.



Because the ocean was very rough and the tide was high, there were not many shells.  My daughter is a shell collecting expert!  She has a large and ever expanding collection which she has identified and catalogued.  We are pretty strict about not bringing home shells that she already has in her collection!    










Wednesday, June 18, 2014

From The Garden

Wednesday 18th June 2014

There is something very satisfying about picking the ingredients for dinner moments before using them in the kitchen.  I love this time of year for this! yesterday I picked salad greens, herbs, swiss chard, tomatoes, onions and carrots.  A couple of days ago a friend brought over some eggs from her hens (she keeps me supplied through most of the year) so dinner was frittata and salad.  







To the frittata, I added some applewood smoked bacon and a flavorful cheddar cheese.  It smelled wonderful!  I also roasted some fennel for the salad.  This didn't come from the garden but our local farmer's market which we go to each Saturday.  For dessert, there were cherries, strawberries and tiny, super sweet apricots from the farmer's market and we shared what was left of the gluten free chocolate cake I made for Father's Day.  Yum!

Here are some more pictures from the market last Saturday.  I try and buy most of our fresh produce here and also fish from the fish stall.  They have incredible salmon.  I am very thankful to live somewhere that has year round access to all this wonderful locally grown food.