Tuesday, December 28, 2010

...and a Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas! It's been a blur of friends, family, and pajama breakfasts (and some suppers!). Somehow, I managed to get my homemade Christmas cards out on time. I have a rediscovered love of rubber stamps, which originated with many lost hours spent at my grandpa's miniature printing press.

However, the house was sadly lacking in Christmas cheer. We have boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations...stockings, ornaments, a big wooden advent calendar, and lots of things that dangle from hooks and doorways...but everything was in storage. We didn't get a tree this year, but I felt like I should contrive a way to liven things up without spending a lot of money or emptying out our storage unit.

Candy canes are cheap and festive, and awfully cute when tied in the shape of a heart.

I made a small table centerpiece with some things I had lying around. Alas, I didn't get a chance to make miniature holly ties for the candles, which would've completed the picture, but I'm satisfied.

I had some pine cone garland with light green wooden balls and twists of twigs that I rescued from a forgotten shelf and strung up in our sun room.

Two years ago, inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder's idea, I made a button string. It's been languishing in a basket, but made a cheerful border for our big picture window.

I leave these yellow fabric stars up all the time, because I love stars and dangling things. However, I added some wooden ornaments that I'd picked up at Crate and Barrel a few years ago, that were sitting in a bowl, ignored, on the back of a high bookcase.

I brought out copious amounts of candlesticks. They were made at Wirth Pottery in Germany, by a little old potter in the hills. Every trip I've taken there, I've bought more of them. They're functional, and I love how rustic and natural they are. Again, miniature springs of holly would've been an improvement, but I was still happy to have them.

A string that had been in the kitchen (if it's star-related and dangles, I have it up all year round!) was relocated to the living room.

A pine cone wreath from our bedroom was pressed into service.

Todd brought home 3 big poinsettias, and I stacked them on boxes of varying heights to make a tree of sorts. I filled in the gaps with my house plants: 2 different types of ivy. It made a very nice display!

The poinsettia originated in Central America. It was brought to the United States in the early 1800s by a man named Joel Robert Poinsett. Believe it or not, the red "flower petals" of a poinsettia are actually the leaves. These small yellow centers are the actual flower.

The birds got a Christmas treat, too, with a new suet cage. They seem pretty pleased with it!

"Goodwill toward men" applied to our cats these past weeks. I've caught them napping together several times...

...and could this be called anything but a snuggle?

I discovered a new yarn that I'm absolutely wild about, a mint and cream sock yarn in soft wool that makes me think of snowflakes. It was sold in GeminiKnits' etsy store a few years ago, but I contacted the owner and she is kind enough to dye a new batch for me.

Knit up, it makes very pleasing stripes. I plan to order enough to make a simple cardigan. I can't wait!

Now that Christmas has come and gone, I can post photos of my knitted Christmas gifts to friends and family.

A cardigan for my mother-in-law:

A hat and matching gloves for my sister:

Socks for my stepfather-in-law:

Socks for my sister-in-law:

A hot water bottle cover for a friend:

A sweater for my sister (yes, that is an OWL yoke!):

Heart socks for my husband:

Fingerless gloves for a friend:

Socks for a friend:

A hat and mittens for my nephew...

...and also this owl!

Phew! I feel like I've done a LOT of knitting in 2010. When I added it up, I realized that I've knitted 28 items over the course of the year. Next year, I'll probably knit a lot less, since I'll be focusing on my knitted blanket and a few miscellaneous gifts.

There's Christmas decorating and Christmas knitting, but the star of the show for me is Christmas baking. Normally I bake up a storm during the holidays, but I'm trying to keep things healthier around the house...a little less butter and sugar. I found a recipe that was really delicious that didn't contain any butter, and very little sugar, relatively speaking.

Pumpkin Roll
Adapted from Allrecipes.com
10 servings

For the roll:
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 egg white
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon lemon juice

For the filling:
2/3 cup (5 ounces) neufchatel cheese, softened
4 tablespoons sugar
1 - 2 tablespoons sour cream or yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup crystallized ginger (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. I didn't have the jelly roll pan called for in the recipe, so I greased and floured a 9 x 12 inch cookie sheet. Mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, and pumpkin pie spice, and then stir in the pumpkin puree, eggs, egg white, and lemon juice. Pour into pan and spread to cover evenly. Bake for 15 minutes.

I was a little nervous about this next part, but it worked out just fine. Sprinkle a tablespoon or two of powdered sugar on a damp, clean dish towel. Run a spatula along the edges of your roll to loosen it, then take a deep breath and turn the cookie sheet over onto the towel.


Next, very carefully roll up the towel with the pumpkin rectangle inside. Let it cool for about 30 minutes.

Go ahead and make up your filling. I originally used 4 tablespoons of yogurt, which made the filling too runny...but it didn't detract from the taste. I recommend using only a tablespoon or so, depending on how thick you'd like the filling.

Unroll your dishcloth and spread the filling evenly over the cake. Then, roll it back up, sans dishcloth.

Don't be afraid! I creased the edges of my roll to make it easier to work with.

The end result was runny, messy, and delicious. The roll seemed to grow more moist by the day...not that it lasted more than two or three days. I'll make it again soon, with the thicker filling. What a way to get your veggies! ;)

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. I'll see you next year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland

December days are flying by! Our days are a blur of wrapping...both Christmas gifts and merchandise for our business...trips to the post office, quick runs to the grocery store, and plenty of together time in the evening, honing our board game skills. The cold weather makes our candlelit suppers especially cozy.

Last night, a quick two inches of snow fell. There's nothing better than a walk in fresh snow, so I could barely wait for morning to come.

The morning was overcast and hazy, but not too cold. Perfect walking weather.

I love how the snow rests on these trees. They soften the starkness of the bare branches.

The snow clumps up on pines...

...and makes a very chilly hat for this dried zinnia plant.

A tribute to Civil War soldier Henry Ware Lawton looks especially austere.

Not all is muted, though. These red berries positively pop against the white of the snow.

When we relocate and eventually reach our final resting place (geographically, not spiritually!), I definitely want berry-producing trees. They are so beautiful in the winter, and they provide food for local wildlife as well.

A few sweet gum seed pods cling stubbornly to their branches.

A solitary leaf in the snow provides a little splash of orange.

This tree, with its serpentine branches, still has many cheerful leaves.

The stream is not completely frozen over, which is good. Now birds, foxes, and other little creatures have a place to drink.

The squirrels are staying warm, tucked away in their dreys.

This hive, regrettably, most likely does not contain live bees. Bees are fastidious creatures and do not relieve themselves inside. They take what is known as "cleansing flights" to release outdoors, around the hive. The snow around this hive has stayed white. The entrance to the other hive is completely covered in snow, which can be a bad sign. Heat from the hive usually melts this snow. Hopefully this beekeeper will bring a new colony here in the spring!

When it's cold and snowy or rainy outside and warm and cozy inside, it's the perfect time for knitting. For me, all other knitting projects have fallen to the wayside as I slave over my sock yarn blanket. I now have 37 squares and am greatly enjoying adding to it daily.

It's almost long enough to stretch across our bed, but I've started adding the second level anyway. I'll eventually increase the length. That's the great thing about this blanket...fun colors, an easily-memorizable pattern, and lots of leeway with construction...if you get tired of building out, build up.

This blanket is going to go on our bed, eventually, but SOMEONE seems to have a different idea!

Now that I've introduced a cute kitten photo, allow me to continue with more gratuitous cute kitten shots:

And one more:

There! Now I can turn my attention to the kitchen. I've been doing a lot of baking lately. Just today I made some spicy jalapeno whole wheat scones from scratch, along with steaming baked spaghetti squash with black beans, cheese, spices, and tomatoes, followed by some vanilla brownies with lots of crystallized ginger.

But what I made last week...and what I want to make again, and again, and again: mini pumpkin cheesecakes. These are sweet, spicy, light, and creamy, and the perfect size for a quick snack.

Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes
Adapted from Simply Decorated
and a food blog, but I forgot to write down which one

1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
12 ounces of reduced fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Mix the crumbs, melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon together. Spoon into greased muffin tins and press firmly.

Bake for 8 - 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven and set aside. Reduce the temperature of your oven to 300 degrees.

Next, beat cream cheese and sugar together until fully incorporated. Add your eggs one at a time, beating in the vanilla after the second egg.

In a separate bowl, mix the pumpkin puree and the spices. Add to the cream cheese mixture and mix until well combined. Spoon this mixture into your prepared muffin tins. Fill to the top. Bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

The tops sink a bit and could definitely benefit from a decorative swirl of whipped cream.

Whipped cream or not, these little morsels are one of my favorite recent discoveries and I plan on making another batch soon!

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas week with lots of time with family and friends. See you next week!