Monday, October 31, 2016

Cookies With Eyes & Monsters, Oh My!

Happy Halloween!  This past week I made my usual batch of spooky treats.  I was originally going to decorate cookies, but I saw a cute idea on Pinterest and went with it.  Monsters with eye stalks!

Cake balls (I had to do homemade because of poor planning...this is MUCH easier with store-bought cake mix and frosting) with tiny cake blobs atop pretzel sticks.  Covered in candy melts and festooned with candy eyeballs.

It took forever to do and they weren't very tidy, but I thought they were pretty cute.

I always have to make brains.

I also made vanilla cupcakes with bat sprinkles...

...and double-chocolate chunk cookies with candy eyeball embellishments.

Needless to say, Todd and I have been in sugar comas for days and I'm actually looking forward to my no-sugar kick this week!  Well, sort of.

I've been doing a lot of sewing these past few weeks too.  First, a successful project!  I had some leftover fabric from another project and decided to make a little quilted pillow for a friend's little girl.  I made some half-square triangles and sewed together the pillow face.  Then, I drew a grid on the top with a water-soluble pen...

...and carefully stitched over the lines (with some batting behind), creating the puffed, quilted look.

I bought some navy blue fabric and made an envelope back.  All stitched together, I love it!  Kids' fabric is SO cute.

Now for the not-so-successful project!  I had some fat quarters that were at least a decade old and so I decided the different blue plaids might look nice in a double Irish chain quilt.

I spent hours washing, ironing, and carefully cutting out my 2 1/2 inch strips, as well as the larger pieces.  But after I'd sewn a few together, I noticed that they were all up to 1/2" short.

Undaunted, I pushed all the fabric to the side and spent ANOTHER evening washing, ironing, and cutting new fabric for the quilt.  But these strips and squares were still too short.  I measured my 1/4" sewing foot and discovered that it was 1/4" plus 4 threads.  Add that up over several pieces and there's your deficit.  Who would've thought?  I decided to forgo the pattern and just make a small checkered quilt.  I quickly discovered, though, that my 2 1/2" strips were not all 2 1/2" wide.

I'm terrible at wielding my big 6" x 24" ruler for cutting these strips.  I was delighted to discover an actual 2 1/2" ruler just for them!  I added it to my rapidly growing stash of quilting rulers.  I think I'm up to 9 or 10.  Who would've thought that I'd ever have (or need) so many?

It's still in the mid- to upper 80s here but the leaves are still steadily changing color.

I picked a few sections of that bright Virginia Creeper from our front yard and put it in a vase.  It brings some beautiful fall color into the sun porch!

While many of the flowers are actively going to seed right now...

...I'm still able to cull regular clippings from the yard.

The side camellia is blooming nicely.  I love having it just outside one of the dining room windows.

The flowers are too delicate for bouquets, but I still enjoy looking at it every time I walk past.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Butterflies, Bees, and Lizards (near) Trees

When my sister-in-law was in town last week, we decided to go to Saluda, North Carolina.  Tucked into the mountainside, it's a tiny one-stoplight town that was at one time the steepest railway grade in the United States.

We shopped and visited the museum, which had some very dramatic trail-derailment dioramas.

A short drive away, we hiked over smooth stone paths... see a beautiful 90-foot waterfall, Pearson's Falls.

Another day, we drove to Asheville, North Carolina to stand in author Thomas Wolfe's shoe prints...

...and see the interesting architecture.  Dog gargoyles!  :)

The Blue Hills are undeniably beautiful.

However, it's not too shabby around our house right now.  80s or not, FALL IS HERE.

We are having a bumper crop of acorns this year.  They crunch under your feet wherever you walk.

This is the front driveway, right before blowing.  A day after blowing, it looks exactly the same!

Our big camellias aren't quite ready to pop yet...

But some of our other ones feel differently!

This unseasonably warm weather has kept our marigolds and zinnias blooming, joined with fall asters and chrysanthemums.

And the vinca just doesn't stop!

I picked a nice bouquet to bring a little of that outside beauty indoors.

We still have butterflies, bees, and lizards in trees!  Well, on downspouts, anyway.

It's a great time to be outside.

Have a great week!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Fall Flowers and Cookie Powers

The weather cooled off to the mid-70s last week, and I wondered if anything would be in bloom at the Botanical Gardens in Clemson.

My sister-in-law was in town, so she helped us "saddle up" Borga before hitting the trail.

It's still amazing to this Midwesterner to see, at the end of October, ferns unfurling their new growth.

So many flowers are still in bloom!  Mainly shades of purple...

...but also bright yellows and reds.

Still lots of bees at work.

Still ducks and geese in the pond.

For all my moaning and groaning about the continued warm weather (and yes, it's supposed to be 88 by Wednesday), I love these particular benefits!  The cats love the extra sunshine, too.

One more thing - I've been holding out on you.  For years I've been searching for the perfect oatmeal chocolate chip cookie (my favorite variety).  I've tried coconut oil.  Melted butter.  Browned butter.  Various combinations of brown and white sugar.  Various cooking temperatures and times.  All completely unsuccessful.  I'm terribly picky about it...I can't stand a flat cookie.  I can't stand a crispy cookie.  My perfect oatmeal chocolate chip cookie must be soft in the middle, firm around the middle, and fairly hefty.  The chocolate to oatmeal ratio has to be perfect - an overabundance of chocolate can easily overwhelm the latter.  Recipe after recipe has failed to live up to my exacting standards.

Until now.  I give you:  the perfect oatmeal chocolate chip recipe

Now, this recipe is heavily modified.  Based upon recommendations from other bakers and my own preferences, I increased the baking soda to 1 teaspoon and the flour to 1 3/4 cup.  I reduced the chocolate chips to 1/2 cup and the salt to 1/2 teaspoon.  I added 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes.  I swapped out old-fashioned oats for the quick-cooking variety recommended.  I increased the baking temperature to 335 degrees.  And...perfection.

They don't look fancy, but I will never try another recipe.  I have achieved oatmeal chocolate chip perfection.  Give them a try!

Have a great week!