buckwheatn'grits

"been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down…"

Month: December, 2013

Salt Dough Garland

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We’re having some people over for New Year’s this year, and–though we’re planning on keep celebrations fairly quiet–I couldn’t miss a chance to make a few decorations. Today my fancy landed on a salt dough star garland, which I seem to have dreamt up on our drive home from Virginia. The garland came out so much better than I anticipated that I had to share it.

Salt dough has often been relegated to the realm of child’s play, but it can be updated for simple decorating on a more adult scale. It has the benefit of being cheap, and it’s a natural cream color that is wonderfully understated, and can also be altered with dyes, stamps, paints if desired. I even contemplated decorating my little stars with gold paint markers, but decided to keep them plain instead. Salt dough’s versatility is where it wins out when it comes to last minute decorating.

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I made tiny stars using the recipe below and then tied them along a line of brown parcel twine. They were long enough to stretch across the room along with some string lights. They would work well for Christmas decorating too. In fact, this basic idea could be adapted for nearly any holiday.

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Salt Dough Recipe

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup table salt
  • 1/2 cup warm water

Mix all ingredients together in a medium sized bowl. If too stick, add more flour or refrigerate for about ten to fifteen minutes. When ready, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to desired thickness; I would recommend about 1/4 of an inch. If you roll too thinly the dough will stick and be too flimsy. Simply cut out desired shapes using cookie cutters, knives, scalpel, whatever you want. If you need holes through which to thread anything, be sure to poke these in and make them large enough for whatever materials you’re using. I used a chopstick. Place on a cookie sheet and bake in an oven at 200 degrees for 4 hours (I know, it’s a long time, but everything else is so simple that you can simply pop these in in the morning and go about your day). They’re done! Do what you want!

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Quince & Co.

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Now that winter has descended in all it’s grey, snow-filled, bitingly cold glory I’ve started crocheting again like there’s no tomorrow. Recently I got my hands on some very nice wool yarns from Quince & Co. that I absolutely loved and can’t wait to work with again. Since I was making Christmas presents, I decided to take a bit more care in my yarn selection than usual and chose Quince & Co.’s “puffin” 100% wool yarn. Easy to work with, this yarn never tangled or split. It was wonderfully plump and bulky, and I loved the natural feel of the wool as well as the beautiful, understated colors in which these yarns are available. The company was started by three self-confessed “yarnophiles” and now produces beautiful yarns made from natural fibers often raised in America. When not raised locally, the women behind Quince & Co. have sourced their yarns in the most earth and labor friendly ways possible. In addition, all of their yarns are spun in historical mills in New England and are made in ways that maintain a small carbon footprint. Check out their site, which, aside from their yarns, also offers patterns, tote bags, and other “yarnophile” goods.

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All photos from Quince & Co.

Blue Mountain Brewery

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I grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Rockfish River Valley of Nelson County, Virginia. When I was living here the main attractions were the fields of cows and the hiking. The biggest businesses in Nellysford (the town I called home) were the post office and a video rental store that doubled as a dry cleaning service. I’m exaggerating a little bit; there have always been some wonderful staples to this area. But in recent years the strip of land along 151 has exploded with breweries, vineyards, organic farming operations, and other small businesses. The one that has probably received the most recognition is The Blue Mountain Brewery, which opened in 2007. An affiliate of Virginia Green Travel, Buy Fresh Buy Local, and the Nelson County 151 business collective, Blue Mountain Brewery functions as a locally sourced farm brewery, growing their own hops, and crafting more than twelve different brews, including seasonal specials. My longstanding favorite (and their flagship beer) is the Full Nelson, named with pride after the county of its birth.

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In addition to their beer, much of their food is locally sourced, including their meat, mushrooms, cheeses, breads, and as much of their produce as they can get on a seasonal basis. They specialize in American bar-food–pizzas, sandwiches, and burgers–but the simple fare is made delicious by its high quality and undeniable freshness.  Most important, all the food is a perfect compliment to this establishment’s tasty and complex beers, all brewed within 25 feet of your table. I love returning to Virginia just to get a mouthful of the Full Nelson; and for that I may not have to travel far for long. I’ve already been able to order the Full Nelson off of a menu in Durham, North Carolina (where Kris and I will be relocating in June), and their beers are widely available in Virginia, DC, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey. You can check their site to see where you can get your taste! If that fails, take a trip to Virginia. Trust me, as the best state in the union, it’s worth it.

Chocolate Chip Christmas

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We have a lot of Christmas traditions in my family. While he was alive, my Dad was bent on creating habits of events, foods, and gifts that would be passed on to future generations. Blaring heavily synthesized, overly-edited Christmas music from about the day after Thanksgiving until New Years was one tradition. Covering the house with nutcrackers, watching ‘The Muppets Christmas Carol,’ and reading The Night Before Christmas as a family were others. When he passed away three years ago some of these traditions fell to the wayside. For instance, I think we were all a little relieved at the sudden freedom to refrain from the sappy two-month long, 8-cd Mannheim Steamroller rotation. But one tradition that will never die is a plethora of homemade cookies baked right up until the very holiday. Everyone always wants their favorites: my Mom calls for Mexican wedding cookies–a light, almond powdered sugar cookie–I enjoy traditional thumbprint cookies, my twin always wanted molasses ginger… But my older brother (and my Dad) always whined for classic chocolate-chip.

This year I decided to try a new chocolate-chip cookie recipe rather than my old stand-by. I chose Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins’s giant chocolate-chip cookie recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook. They turned out so good I thought I would share the recipe here. The result is a slightly crispier version, and giant in proportions. I have never seen a dough recipe spread out quite so much, so I would recommend only cooking six to a tray (as opposed to the usual twelve), and possibly cutting down on the size of your dough drops if you really want to contain these behemoths of the cookie realm.

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Chocolate-Chip Cookies

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli; more expensive, but worth it)

Preheat oven to 325 (or 300 convection) for giant cookies–350 for regularly sized cookies (325 convection)–and grease cookie sheets (you will not want to skip this step; I learned the hard way!). Cream butter and both sugars together until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Sift dry ingredients in a separate bowl and stir in, mixing thoroughly. Add chocolate chips to batter, and form cookies. Again, I would say only put six to a standard tray and make sure they are far apart. Bake on prepared cookie sheet 15-17 minutes for giant cookies, or 8-10 minutes for regular cookies. Cookies will still be soft when you remove them from the oven. Let them cool on the tray for five minutes before transferring to a cookie rack; this will help crisp them up and keep them from breaking. Now enjoy! Right out of the oven they are the perfect combination of gooey and crispy. If you prefer them crispier, let them cool entirely. We’ll be eating these throughout the holidays this year; I hope you enjoy them too.

Saturday Snapshot

We met this polka-dotted micro mini pig at Rite-Aid today.

Slide Sideways

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Kris can’t keep gifts a secret until the day on which they are meant to be given. This year he bought me a beautiful screen-printed and hand-sewn little pouch from husband and wife duo Slide Sideways. And he gave it to me the minute it arrived in the mail. Specializing in canvas products, Scott and Jaqui Scoggin are graphic designers with a penchant for unusual geometric patterns they design themselves and print on canvas to make bags, backpacks, and pouches. Their canvas products are really wonderful, but they also do posters, lettering, illustration, logos, you name it. Located in Tacoma, Washington, this talented couple’s goods are beginning to pop up on a more national scale. You can buy their merchandise from their Etsy store.

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Trager Brothers Coffee

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Most people who know me understand that I can get kinda picky about my coffee. In fact, on a recent visit to my Grandmother’s in Arizona I’m really afraid I came off as a total snob because I wouldn’t drink their day-old reheated Folgers. I felt terrible about it, but I just couldn’t do it.

I like my coffee dark, smoky, and preferably roasted by people I can actually talk to in person. In fact, I’m beginning to think what I would like to do some day is open a café, so I’d love to start learning a lot more about coffee than I do right now if you want to come talk to me. Now, I simply know what I like. I know Jeni’s Ice Creams in Columbus, Ohio serves surprisingly yummy french press coffee, which I think they get from a roaster in Columbus, though they don’t have any information on their site. I know Actual Brewing Company has recently won me over with their dark roast, which I think is called Wildebeast. I know that one of my favorite restaurants, Skillet, serves delicious coffee from morning to night. It’s a blend made especially for them by a small roaster in Columbus. But what is usually stashed in my cupboard is Trager Brothers Coffee (TBC) roasted in Nelson County, Va, mostly because I have some serious home state pride. If it comes from Virginia, it’s probably the best. Unless it happens to be Jerry Falwell.

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TBC coffee is phenomenal. I’ve visited their roastery, which started out in their family’s garage about twenty minutes from my childhood home in Central Virginia. If you’ve seen my hometown, you know twenty minutes is actually really darn close. They care about their coffee, they care about how it’s grown, where it comes from, and exactly how it is roasted and distributed. They’ve become quite a big operation since I started drinking TBC, and I no longer have to stock up on their roasts whenever I find myself in Virginia since they sell online. These guys are great. And you’d be supporting my hometown’s small business economy. Try their Sumatra or their French roast. Killer.

Image credits to TBC.

Sun Appears in Ohio; Proves It Still Exists

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The sun comes out in Ohio. I am beyond reasonably excited.

House of Maryanne

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If you follow my Pinterest, you probably already know of my love affair with Melbourne-based fiber artist Maryanne Moodie and her incredible wall hangings. It was a feature on her for The Design Files blog that first got me interested in purchasing my own hand loom and experimenting with weaving. But my creations don’t even come close . Her use of color, texture, and geometric designs are always eye-grabbing. And I love the way she combines all of these elements to create beautiful, memorable pieces.

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In addition, Moodie teaches art classes, curates her own vintage clothing store (which you can shop on Etsy, though most of her merchandise sells through Facebook), and is a skilled photographer. You can follow her on Pinterest, or you can email her directly to talk about art, how the birth of her son encouraged her to experiment with weaving , or her gorgeous tapestries. Because she’s that awesome.

Things to Click…

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StyleCaster does some of the best photo gallery compilations; I’ve featured them a few times already on this blog. Featured this week was a collection of rare photos of Audrey Hepburn before her big break in films Sabrina and Roman Holiday as well as off-screen photos taken during her long career. The photos are wonderful.

Another compelling collection of photos–though a strong topic switch–comes from My Modern Met. This series  of photos taken by Lalage Snow of soldiers before, during, and after time served in various war zones is downright haunting. A friend posted these a few days ago and I can’t stop looking at them.

On the lighter side, beardsy.com lists the 7 reasons you should date a guy with a beard. Number one on the list? Beards have a storied history of badassery. I agree.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is appearing in another super-hyped Lars von Trier film with highly sexualized content. But what interests me most about Nymphomaniac at this point is the cover of “Hey Joe” Gainsbourg recorded with Beck, which you can listen to at Pitchfork. (Side note: her character in the film is named Joe.)

More on music: NPR released a list of albums people love to love as well as albums people love to hate. The results of their survey are not surprising (The Beatles feature heavily on the love list), but are interesting nonetheless; especially their list of “top ten women.”