Thursday, July 28, 2011

Breathing

It's a week of hard Eucharisteo and Thursday's already here and I haven't whispered thanks.

There are all these words to write and there's hope to be found, but right now I'm just breathing through it all.  Because there's still beauty all around and I'm inhaling the fragrance of His love, exhaling the hard Eucharisteo

Will you breath with me?


1038.  God always here, even when it's hard to breathe


1039.  Angels who protect when a loved one wants to die


1040.  Broken hearts leaving room for the deepest healing of all


1041.  Strength to do what's needed, long after strength is gone


1042.  Unexpected laughter in the middle of hard days


1043.  Family who opens the door, makes room for one more


1044.  Brother who does what's right, even when it's the hardest thing


1045.  Friend who prays while she carries her own heavy load


1046.  Not grieving alone


1047.  The One Who breathes hope while I breathe thanks


1048.  Hope Himself.  Always, always Him.


Breathe in....breathe out....

Breathe in....breathe out...


He is near.




{Photos taken at the Woodland Park Rose Garden at sunrise}

Friday, July 22, 2011

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

If you're looking for something sweet to celebrate the weekend, these cookies might be just the thing.

I've always had a soft spot for oatmeal raisin cookies.  Okay, let's be honest.  I've always had a soft spot for many kinds of cookies.  And pies.  And cakes.  And dessert in general.

Ahem.

But back to oatmeal raisin cookies.  I tried this recipe for the first time several weeks ago and it turned out to be one of the best versions of this cookie I've ever had.  They are designed to be substantial cookies, which allows the insides to stay moist and chewy while the outsides take on a delicious crispiness.  And the oat flavor comes through wonderfully here, something that's surprisingly missing in a lot of recipes.

As usual, I turned to my trusted cookbook, The New Best Recipe, for this and I hope you'll try them.  I still have some of the dough in my freezer, ready to throw in the oven at any given moment.  And now seems like just such a moment, don't you think?

Enjoy!


Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Makes about 18 large cookies

1-1/2 cups (7.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup packed (7 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1-1/2 cups raisins

  1. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or spray it with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt together in a medium bowl.
  3. Either by hand or with an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy.  Add the sugars; beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  4. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar mixture with a wooden spoon or large rubber spatula.  Stir in the oats and raisins.
  5. Working with a generous 2 tablespoonsof dough each time, roll the dough into 2-inch balls.  Place the balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them at least 2 inches apart.
  6. Bake until the cookies edges turn golden brown, 17-20 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking.  Do not overbake.  The edges should be browned, but the rest of the cookie should be very light in color.  Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool at least 30 minutes.
Note:  I made the dough into balls and froze them so I could just bake a few at a time whenever the mood struck me.  When I bake them, I take them straight from the freezer and put them on the pan, baking for about 20 minutes.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Beauty Rising


    I stumble out of the tent only a few hours after I climb in.  I don't sleep well when I'm away from home and it's only just turned to morning but I can't wait any longer.  I'm bleary eyed as I wander down the road to the restrooms but even with my eyes half shut, I still feel it, the way this time of day feels sacred and peaceful and oh so full of hope.

    It's when I come out of the restrooms and stare across the pond that I see it.  There's light coming up behind the mountains on the horizon and sunrise is still a long ways off but beauty's already here and I can't take my eyes off it.

    I'm weary from the sleepless nights and it's too cold for a woman in pajamas to stand at the water's edge and wait for day to break.  But something's holding me here and I don't want to leave.  I know if I turn away, wander back to a warm cocoon, I'll miss the coming of the day, the coming of His Glory.

    And I don't want to miss Him.

    I see He's left me one dry spot on the railroad tie by the pond and I settle myself here, wrap arms around knees to find a little warmth.  I watch the clouds drift across the sky, rays of light flickering at horizon's edge.

    I feel a little silly out here in the cold, waiting for the sun to rise, not even knowing how long it's going to take.  But I'm pretty sure I won't catch my death of cold and my heart's bursting with excitement to see this day break wide open.  So I bury my cheeks in the crook of my elbow and I vow to stick it out.

    Everyone else is still sleeping and I feel a little sorry for all of them.  They might be warm in their beds and they might think there's nothing out here worth seeing but they're wrong.  God's about to create a new day and right now it's just Him and me out here by the pond, but somehow I know He's not disappointed that it's only me watching His Glory in the sky.

    I've sat an hour in the cold when my resolve starts to waver.  Maybe I shouldn't be out here this long and maybe what's about to happen isn't worth all this waiting and shivering.  I wander back into the restrooms to stand by the heater and find a little courage.  Because I've already waited an hour to watch this day be born and surely I can hold on a little longer to see what God's about to do.

    I find my place by the pond again, this time standing up and shifting my weight to keep warm.  I watch ducks flying circles around the pond and strange birds screeching at the tops of their lungs, taunting people who try to sleep in tents in the woods.  I can't help but smile.  The world is waking up ever so slowly and I know the sun's rising must be coming soon.

    I settle myself back on the railroad tie because I know His Glory's about to break forth and who can stand up when God passes by?  I start to wonder if I'll be able to see the sun when it crests the mountain's top because there are all these trees and maybe they'll hide the Glory I've been waiting so long for.

    But I don't have to wonder long.  It's an hour and thirty-seven minutes since I found my way to the pond when suddenly it happens.  God pulls the sun from it's place behind the mountains and it doesn't matter that there's a tree right in front because God's never overshadowed and the light of the sun pierces straight through to me and I'm undone.

    I can't keep the tears from slipping as the light falls over the rain-soaked meadow and there's so much beauty here I can hardly take it in.  And I can't believe I ever thought of leaving, can't believe I might've missed this moment so full of Glory and God.

    But isn't that always the way?  We feel the pull to wait for Him, wait for all the Glory to be revealed.  But sometimes it's a long wait in the cold air and we start to wonder if this is really where we ought to be.  And after all, why are we the only ones standing here in the dark, waiting for God to show up?

    And how many times have I convinced myself to walk away, ignored that aching desire to find Him in the dark nights and the rush of days?  It's too many to count and I know it now that it's worth the wait and I don't want to forget this moment with my heart ripped wide open and God pressing down all around me.

    I pray hard for the things that weigh heavy and I whisper deep thanks for Him holding me here to see this day unfold.  I feel Him here, nearer than ever before, and I beg Him to let this moment last a little longer.

    I stand up from my perch and walk 15 feet to left.  There're no more trees in front of the sun and I'm blinded by all the light.  I shut my eyes and stand here, face turned to God, and the warmth finds me all the way down here by this pond full of ducks.  I'm just this small piece of a very big world and He's just the biggest God of all, but somehow He's bent low to stand beside me and fill me up with all His beauty.

    I've no camera in hand to freeze this moment in time, but I blink the eyelid shutters to memorize what I've seen here.  I know the clouds will roll in and I might not see the sun again all day.  And I might be tempted to forget that I ever saw the sun at all, forget that I watched this day being born.  But I didn't wait an hour and thirty-seven minutes in the cold just to forget all this.

    And I've finally counted a thousand ways He loves and I've seen His Glory in all these moments of a life, but sometimes the sun hides behind too many clouds and I forget that He's still here and I'm still loved and Grace still pours down in every corner of this life.  But I didn't spend 216 days counting His love just to forget all this.

    This long list of thanks is me standing by the pond at dawn, waiting for God to show up and break my heart with all His Beauty.  And my resolve may flicker when I'm too cold to stand here any longer, but I'm begging Him to hold me here when all I want to do is walk away.  Because there's God Glory in every last day of this life and I don't want to be the one sleeping in a warm bed when He passes by. 

    It's morning now.  I need to find my way back to camp and it takes everything I've got to tear myself away from this moment.  I'm cold through and through but there's this fire in my chest and I'm burning up with all this Hope and Beauty and God.

    I waited an hour and thirty-seven minutes for this day to be born and somehow a lifetime doesn't seem too long to wait when I know He'll be there at the end, all His Glory unveiled, Him and me reconciled at last.

    I'll wait and I'll count and I'll keep my eyes fixed on the horizon because He is coming and I want to be here watching when He does.



    1001.  Quiet first night around the fire

    1002.  Big bright moon rising over our campsite

    1003.  Snuggled in a tent, sound of creek lulling to sleep

    1004.  Symphony of birds at dawn

    1005.  Laughing at the sound of screeching birds overhead

    1006.  Watching tent fiascoes from a chair in the sun

    1007.  Hot chai on a cold morning

    1008.  Smell of garlic potatoes wafting through our campsite

    1009.  Breakfast feast in the middle of the forest

    1010.  Sun making an appearance, me shedding all the layers

    1011.  Laughing with cousins, waiting for more family to arrive

    1012.  Mom and Dad playing games, metal washers thudding against wood

    1013.  Rest of the gang finally arriving, chaos ensuing

    1014.  Listening to all the commotion from my resting place inside the tent

    1015.  Steaks on the grill, marshmallows roasted in the fire

    1016.  All of us gathered around the campfire, more laughter than I've had in a long while

    1017.  Hot shower on a cold morning, feeling clean after all the dirt

    1018.  Rain-soaked adventures in the campsite, digging trenches and hanging tarps

    1019.  All of us longing for sun but taking the rain in stride

    1020.  Rain finally stopping, us coming out of hiding

    1021.  Sun drying us off, beckoning us to leave our site

    1022.  Round of miniature golf with Dad

    1023.  Me failing miserably to get the ball in the hole

    1024.  Dad going easy on me, trying to make me feel better than I am

    1025.  Shared dinner of hamburgers and watermelon and too much good stuff for one plate

    1026.  Walking around the campground at dusk, exploring places we haven't been yet

    1027.  Last night around the fire, all of us thankful the rain hasn't returned

    1028.  Being the last ones to leave the fire for bed

    1029.  Waking up at dawn, day not yet begun

    1030.  Dry spot to sit on by the pond

    1031.  God holding me here in spite of the cold

    1032.  Nine ducks swimming in formation, one more lagging behind

    1033.  Loudest birds screeching back and forth, swooping among the campsites

    1034.  Clouds drifting and shifting, light getting ready to break forth

    1035.  An hour and thirty-seven minutes by the pond, waiting for Glory to be revealed

    1036.  Sun finally rising above the mountains, light piercing straight into me

    1037.  Beauty breaking my heart, God raining down

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    Garden Update: The Memorial Tree in Spring {Part 2}

     {Wondering about the significance of the Memorial Tree?  Read Part 1 here}
    ______________________________________________________________


    The Memorial Tree (Rhus typhina "Bailtiger") is always the very last plant in my garden to awaken in the spring.  In fact, by the first day of summer, the leaves still haven't completely unfurled.  Oh, but when this little tree comes to life, it is a sight to behold!

    The leaves begin in beautiful shades of red and orange, opening up like tendrils of flame...



    But as they grow, the leaves turns to a bright yellow-green...



    And by spring's end, about half the leaves have fully expanded...



    Here, the open leaves mingle with the ones still unfurling...



    And here is my little Memorial Tree at the end of spring...


    I planted the Memorial Tree almost three years ago, in the fall of 2008.  Since then, it has doubled in size, now standing about 3 feet tall.  Each year, a new branch grows off the main trunk, and slowly my little plant is taking on the shape of a tree, not just a stick with leaves.  The trunk has a lovely crooked form, which will become even more intriguing as time goes by.

    This tree has survived our unusually cold winters the past few years and seems to do fine in a container.  It does dry out during the summer and needs to be watered regularly to keep the leaves from coloring and dropping early.  And of course, it gives the best fall color in full sun.

    I love the many growth stages of the Memorial Tree, and it is a beautiful and unique addition to my garden.  And every time the buds open in spring and new life unfurls, it is a tangible reminder of hope born anew, healing after grief, God in all the beauty.

    And that's a reminder I can always use.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    Garden Update: The Memorial Tree in Spring {Part 1}

    I've stopped calling the Memorial Tee by its real name.

    Not because the name isn't pretty or I can't remember how to spell it.  It is and I can.

    Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger.'

    Or, in English, "Tiger Eyes"  Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac.

    And these are my little tree's given names and I suppose they always will be.  But I've taken to calling him the Memorial Tree because it isn't the name or the shape of his leaves or even the crooked way he grows that matters most to me.  It's all the grieving and the healing and the memories of a boy who left us before he had the chance to become a man.

    I used to call it Nathan's Tree, but there's still this sharp pang of grief whenever I say his name and it's been nearly 3 years and I'm starting to wonder if it ever really stops.  Can there be an end to all the grieving when a life ends hard and fast and long before any of us can say goodbye?

    I don't know.

    But there is something I do know.  Healing has come in bits and pieces and maybe there'll always be this hollowed out place that still aches when the wind blows, but there's hope now, too.  And hope lessens the sting, gives way to joy, and somehow I've seen all of that here in the life of a little tree planted in the soil of my grieving.

    I thought I knew why I chose this tree to grow in his memory.  I thought it was the cutting of the leaves, their brilliant colors in the month when we remember how he left us.  But then again, I thought I knew a lot of things.

    It turns out, I didn't even know how much I'd broken the day he died.

    But God's always known, and He let me choose the tree that would teach me the one thing I didn't know I'd need to learn.  Because this is a plant that won't come back to life after winter until the last possible moment, until you've lost all hope and you think there'll never be joy again.  Yes, that's the moment when this tree breaks bud, pours forth life, and there really is hope after all.

    I didn't know I'd lost my faith the day Nathan died, but it's been long months since we all trembled in the rain of his leaving and I might've feared I'd never find it again.  But God found me anyway and this is how I know there's faith now where there wasn't any before:

    This is the first spring since the grieving that I didn't fear the dying.

    This year I waited in hope for the Memorial Tree to live again and not even for a moment did I doubt that he would.  Because God's been faithful where I thought He never could be and finally I'm learning to love, believe, become.  Sometimes it takes longer than we expect and we start to wonder if there'll ever be new life after all this death.  But if we wait on the One Who never fails, there isn't any reason to hold onto fear.

    Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see {Hebrews 11:1}

    I didn't know when I named this year that faith would show up in the garden, too.  In the tiny cracks and wide open spaces.  In all the broken beauty of a life.

    No, I didn't know where or how He'd show up.  But I knew He'd show up.  And that's the faith I lost the day Nathan left us behind.

    Who'd have thought a tree this small could hold so much meaning, so much healing, so much God?  Maybe none of us.  But that's okay because He knew all along.  He always knows.

    And He's always here, right where we are We just have to open our eyes and see.

    {The first spring, 2009}

    {And now...}


    As usual, I can't fit all the good stuff in one post.  Come back later this week for many more pictures of the Memorial Tree!

    Garden Update:  The Memorial Tree in Spring {Part 2}

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    A Thousand Times Over

    We're sitting on a sunny bench by the playground when she tells me a story and I hear something I'm not expecting.  It's not in the words she says, but somehow it's plain as day, this piece of the mystery I've been wrestling with for weeks.

    When we shield others from the full weight of who we are, we rob them of the chance to love us.

    This fear that runs in my veins, I've been mulling it over since that day across the mountains when I realized where this fear would take me.  And I see it now, how I've spent a whole life believing that it's my job to protect the world from all of me.  From my pain and all the broken places.  From my thoughts and my hopes and all the million things that make me who I am.

    Because being a burden to people means they'll get tired of carrying me.  And when they do, they'll leave me on the side of the road for someone else to find.  But I learned it young that maybe I wouldn't have to be left if I just carried all this weight alone.

    And I've done a pretty good job of it, these decades of a life.  But people, they leave anyway, and I just keep trying to protect them from the full measure of who I am because I keep hoping it'll be enough this time to put an end to all the leaving.

    But there are all these things I didn't know before.  First came the revelation that this fear can only take me to a place I never want to go.  It's the place my great-grandfather ended up and it's the place I've promised I won't go.

    And now comes this, a piece of Truth found on a park bench beside a sister who's walked a bit of life with me:  When we shield others from the full weight of who we are, we rob them of the chance to love us.

    We rob them.

    I rob them.

    And it isn't just them I've robbed.  No, it's Him, too.  Because I've been busy shielding a whole world from me, and all the while, it turns out I've just been shielding myself from being loved.

    I've been robbing myself of love.

    The way down deep kind of love that reaches every part of who I am--that's the love I've been shutting out by protecting the world from the weight of me.  It's the kind of love that pours down a thousand times over from the One Who bore me out of nothing, the One Who carved my name into His Hands.

    And all these years of a life, I've been robbing Him of the chance to love me.

    I'm stuck on #999, afraid to even pen the next gift for fear that it might be the last.  But suddenly there's no holding me back and I know exactly what I need to write.

    1000.  I am loved.

    And this is why I started counting 216 days ago, and it's taken me every last one of those days and every last one of those gifts to find what I've been searching for.  But it doesn't end here--not me or Him or all this love I'm in.  Not the counting of His graces, not the throwing off of this fear I've carried too long.

    I've already made the promise, but this isn't the kind of thing you say just once and walk away.  No, it's the kind of thing you keep on saying until the words become the living, until you become the woman you were born to be.

    So I raise my hands again and I promise Him I'll live out all the days He gives and I'll do everything I can to lay down this fear of being a burden.  Because I refuse to go where this fear wants to take me and I've finally seen this evil for what it really is.  There's no protection here for anyone at all, only the theft of our chance to be loved.

    And here's the place I make my stand.  It's taken me long enough to figure it out, but after counting a thousand ways He loves, this I know without any doubt at all:

    I am loved by the God Who breathed me into existence.

    A thousand times over, I am loved.




    Click here for all 1000 gifts I've counted so far...

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

    I fell in love with strawberry rhubarb pie a long time ago.

    I don't remember when or where it happened.  I just remember that it did.  And I've long carried these happy childhood memories of that strange and delicious pie.  Strange because I had no idea what rhubarb was and it didn't sound like something you'd put in a pie.  It was different than any pie I'd ever tasted before.  And it was good.

    Somewhere along the way, I forgot how much I loved this pie and I went years without tasting its happiness.  But I finally remembered and I started requesting it as my birthday "cake."  Because I don't really like cake anyway and what better way to celebrate life than with this pie I've loved since childhood?

    My mom baked it for me first

    Then my dad, never having baked a pie in his life, baked it for me, too.

    And even though my next birthday's still half a year away, I decided it was time for me to bake it for myself.  I pulled out my trusted cookbook The New Best Recipe and somehow I managed to make my very first fruit pie.  And it was good.

    Isn't it beautiful?




    It didn't turn out perfectly.  In fact, it turned out rather juicy.  Sauteing the rhubarb, using 3 tablespoons of arrowroot, and adding 4 additional slits to the top crust were supposed to be the ticket to taming all that moisture.  But I've never worked with this particular pie dough before and I've also never made a double-crusted pie from scratch.  The dough was a challenge to work with and, in the end, I didn't get the slits open far enough.  Several of them sealed up during the baking, thus keeping too much moisture inside.

    Next time I think I'll try the recipe for "lattice top pie dough" since it's a little drier and easier to work with--something a pie-dough novice like me can really appreciate.  I'll either make a lattice top crust, allowing the moisture to easily escape the pie, or I'll just stick with eight well-opened slits and add another tablespoon of arrowroot to the filling.

    What I really enjoyed about this recipe was the fact that I could actually taste the rhubarb.  In fact, the pie tasted fresh.  It tasted like summer.  I think the strawberry rhubarb pies I've had in the past have relied too heavily on sugar, dulling the fruity freshness that came through marvelously in this version.

    I know strawberry rhubarb pie isn't everyone's favorite (though I don't quite understand why), but if you share my love for this heavenly dessert, here's a great recipe for you to try.  I've included both versions of pie dough (basic and lattice top), so you can choose whatever you think will work best for you.

    Happy pie baking!


    Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

    2 teaspoons vegetable oil
    1-1/2 pounds rhubarb, ends trimmed, peeled if the outer layer is especially fibrous, and cut into 1-inch pieces (5 to 6 cups)
    1 cup (7 ounces) plus 1 tablespoon sugar
    1 recipe Basic Pie Dough (see below) and flour for dusting the work surface
    3 tablespoons arrowroot
    Pinch of salt
    1-1/2 pounds strawberries, hulled and quartered (about 5 cups)
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    2 teaspoons grated zest from 1 orange
    1 large egg white, lightly beaten

    1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until smoking.  Add the rhubarb and 1/4 cup of the sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until the rhubarb has shed most of its liquid but is still firm, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a large plate and refrigerate until cool.
    2. Remove one piece of dough from the refrigerator (if refrigerated longer than 1 hour, let stand at room temperature until malleable).  Roll the dough on a lightly floured work surface or between 2 large sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to a 12-inch circle.  Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate by rolling the dough around the rolling pin and unrolling it over the pan.  Working around the circumference of the pan, ease the dough into the pan corners by gently lifting the edge of the dough with one hand while gently pressing it into the pan bottom with the other hand.  Leave the dough that overhangs the lip of the pie plate in place; refrigerate until needed.
    3. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, place a rimmed baking sheet on it, and heat the oven to 500 degrees.
    4. In a small bowl, mix together 3/4 cup of the sugar, the arrowroot, and salt.  In a large bowl toss together the strawberries, cooled rhubarb, vanilla, and orange zest.  Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the top and stir to combine.  Spoon the fruit evenly into the pie shell and pack lightly.
    5. Roll out the second piece of dough to a 12-inch circle; place it over the filling.  Trim the edges of the top and bottom dough layers to 1/2 inch beyond the pan lip.  Tuck this rim underneath itself so that the folded edge is flush with the pan lip.  Flute the edge or press with tines of a fork to seal.  Cut 8 slits in the dough top.  If the pie dough is very soft, place in the freezer for 10 minutes.  Brush the top of the crust with the egg white and sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.
    6. Place the pie on the hot baking sheet and lower the oven temperature to 425 degrees.  Bake until the top crust is golden, about 25 minutes.  Rotate the pie from front to back and reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees; continue baking until the juices bubble and the crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes longer.  Cool the pie on a wire rack until room temperature, 3 to 4 hours, before serving.

    Basic Pie Dough

    2-1/2 cups (12.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting work surface)
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 tablespoons sugar
    1/2 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
    12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
    6-8 tablespoons ice water

    1. Process the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor until combined.  Add the shortening and process until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds.  Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture; cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse crumbs, with butter bits no larger than small peas, about ten 1-second pulses.  Turn the mixture into a medium bowl.
    2. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of the ice water over the mixture.  With a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to mix.  Press down on the dough with the broad side of the spatula until the dough sticks together, adding up to 2 tablespoons more ice water if the dough will not come together.  Divide the dough into 2 balls and flatten each into a 4-inch disk.  Wrap each in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 2 days before rolling.

    Pie Dough for Lattice-Top Pie

    This crust has a firmer texture than the basic recipe, making it easier to work with when creating a lattice top.  This leaner dough also keeps its shape better in the oven so the lattice looks more attractive.

    3 cups (15 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 tablespoons sugar
    7 tablespoons vegetable shortening, chilled
    10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
    10 tablespoons ice water

    Follow the recipe for Basic Pie Dough.  Divide the dough into 2 pieces, one slightly larger than the other--if possible, weigh the pieces; they should weigh 16 ounces and 14 ounces.  Flatten the larger piece into a rough 5-inch square and the smaller piece into a 4-inch disk.  Wrap separately in plastic and chill as directed.


    {All recipes taken from The New Best Recipe by America's Test Kitchen}

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    Star Colors: A Crochet Blanket

    With a new baby on the way for my friends Steve and Amanda, I set out to make yet another crocheted blanket.  This time I wanted to expand on the double-stranding skills I'd gained with my last project and see if I could use this technique for the purposes of color blending.

    When I was first introduced to the idea of double stranding, I came across a fascinating pattern over on the Wooly Thoughts website.  The pattern uses 10 solid colors of yarn and double strands them in different combinations to generate a total of 55 different colors.  Yes, that's right.  55 different colors.  Amazing, isn't it?

    Although I'd love to tackle something like that in the future, I first wanted to apply the idea as a way of blending adjacent colors to create smooth transitions between sections.  And what better way to test transitions than with a "color wheel" progression?  Here's what I ended up with:

    I chose to stay with the same pattern (8-pointed round ripple) and yarn selection (Caron Simply Soft) I'd used for my godson's blanket, as I wanted the two blankets to coordinate and look like they belonged together.  I selected non-traditional versions of the three primary colors (yellow, red, blue) and the three secondary colors (orange, purple, green) because, well, I'm a bit non-traditional and my art generally reflects that.

    In order to blend each color into the next, I created a transition zone between the colors by using one strand of each adjacent color.  For instance, I started with two strands of yellow, then moved to one strand of yellow with one strand of orange, then two strands of orange, then one strand of orange with one strand of red, etc.  This is probably a little easier to understand by looking at the pictures:

    Overall, I am very pleased with how this turned out.  All the transitions between colors worked well except for the blended orange/red section--this one stands out from the whole blanket and I'm not sure I like it that way:
    The only way to fix this would be to use a truer red (rather than burgundy) and/or a more red-hued version of orange so that the differences between them wouldn't be as great.  However, this would then affect the transition from yellow to orange and from red to purple, so I'm not sure I'd really gain anything in the long run. 

    I think double stranding works wonderfully for color blending and I'm certain I'll be exploring this more in future projects.  I'd also like to try another color wheel progression, perhaps with different versions of the colors and perhaps with a 12-pointed round ripple pattern to give it a more circular feel.

    Still, I think this version is quite beautiful.  And oh so happy.  Wouldn't you agree?



    And because I know you want to see baby pictures, here I am meeting Baby Alistair:
    Photo Copyright SteveAndAmanda.com

    And here is Alistair with his new blanket, being doted on by big brother Corin (my godson):
    Photo Copyright SteveAndAmanda.com

    For lots more baby cuteness, visit SteveAndAmanda.com!

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    Oh Peonies

    {{...Please excuse my silence here these past 10 days.  I needed to devote a fair bit of time to my treatment protocol last week and decided to take a break from the blog.  I'll try to make it up to you with extra posts in the coming days, so stay tuned for lots of good things...}}


    I've been waiting weeks on end for my peonies to bloom.

    Two of my three plants have never bloomed before this year and I've been simply beside myself with excitement to see their colors revealed.  Of course, it turns out that these two plants are identical in bloom color, but with such a lovely shade of magenta, who could complain?  And they blend gloriously with my third peony in pure white.

    I thought perhaps you'd like to see?


    Exquisite, aren't they?

    I must've buried my face in these flowers a hundred times in the short week they were in bloom.  I tried to memorize the scent of all their beauty, but they've faded now and already I'm longing for their return.  And even though I've seen all their colors, I'll still be beside myself with excitement come spring when all the buds begin to form again.

    Because, really, can you ever get enough of all this beauty?  I know I can't.