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Happy Summer!

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It’s been a bit over two months since my last post, but I’m inspired to catch up-mostly because my dear friend and loyal reader said she missed it and today is her birthday, so here you go Perri! As a present to you I will be self centered and write all about my life ūüôā I think I will work backwards with the last few days. (*edit: it’s two days since I started this, so no longer her birthday, but there you go.)
Yesterday late afternoon I was thinking about the two fresh apricots I had bought and some leftover toasted almonds on my counter. I thought, “hmm…I bet that Thin Pear Tart I sometimes make in the winter would be a quick and tasty dessert with fresh apricots, and I even have the 2oz cream cheese necessary for the dough.” I easily whipped up the dough (this really is a quick and easy thing) and then saw that the apricots had rotted. No matter-the NJ blueberries are showing up at store and I had a few tasty pints in the fridge. I scattered blueberries across the top, baked, and voila!
Now, what else? Since that last post we’ve had Paul’s birthday

Father’s Day (I don’t have any cute pics of Paul and his human children, so here’s a very sweet picture of Paul and the kitty who adores him.)

The Last Day of School. ¬†This is such a crazy event for me still and the whole last month of school felt so exciting and like we were barreling towards summer. I will really miss some of the students and it made me feel so good when many of them told me that they would miss me (our 5th graders are moving up to middle school.) I may have been even more excited than the kids for school to end. This was my first full year of teaching and hooray! I made it!! I like my job a lot, but was definitely ready for some resting and recharging, looking forward to plenty of time in the hammock and plenty of reading. [School got out June 23, today is July 4th, and I’ve read 7 books so far.]

Since summer has begun we haven’t done much of anything: reading, relaxing, kids playing with friends. I did sign up for tennis lessons through the rec dept. and am doing that with friends. We’ve only had 2 lessons so far, but I think we’re doing great! I even got together this morning just to play with someone. I know I’ll be even better when I can actually run to the ball. Presently I’m plagued by a painful knee situation. After being troubled by it for weeks I did go to the dr. and unfortunately the treatment is one of those slow and steady “do this exercise every day” things. It’s been a week and today it hurt all day long. Which is a total drag and makes me cranky.
I hosted a luau themed bunco, which was an excuse to make pina coladas and pull out a bunch of “tropical” recipes.

The main thing I’ve been itching to do since school let out is get into some sewing projects. I really do miss having the time to quilt or embroider (yes, I could do it in the evening, but I’m usually just needing to lie down in front of the tv), which is my creative outlet.I am hoping to make 2 quilts this summer. One is a giant pinwheel, which I got the pattern out of a book a long time ago. My pinwheel will be green and white, and I bought all the fabrics a couple months ago. I cut out the squares of green, but neglected to buy the background fabric, which I’ll be doing later this week.(*done! and I bought a hot pink for the binding, which will be a perfect accent.) The second is something I started a long time ago and then somewhat recently made a plan for. Like the pinwheel quilt it is all triangles (not my best shape-let’s see how many points line up!) and I bought the fabrics a few months ago. I sorted out the triangles today and made 5 blocks. I have a lot of pieces and have decided to NOT lay out the whole thing at once, but rather create a lot of blocks and then decide how they will be put together. My general guideline is that the center is a pair of peachy/coral and a pair of mushroom/taupe and the outer triangles are in the green/blue collection. But the pairs don’t necessarily have to match. I’m not even sure if it will all be put together just block after block after block, or if I’ll separate the blocks into concentric squares. I love all the fabrics I chose for it.

Finally, here’s a darling dishtowel I started, oh, years? ago. This was a set of retro style embroidery transfers, and I put this on a vintage style dishtowel. I think I got both at Walmart on the cheap. When I didn’t have a bigger project at our stitchathons I just worked idly on this. I basically forgot about it and came across it a couple of days ago noting that I only had the text left. What was I waiting for? Not only is it cute, but it would also be an adorable background for freshly baked bread that I’m taking a picture of for IG!

In the coop our numbers have continued to dwindle. A small sad flock remains. However! A hen finally went broody and last week chicks hatched. But it was a difficult week, there were deaths, and there is just one little chick. Let’s cross our fingers it grows up to be a hen, not a rooster. *update: the chick died yesterday. I found it lying on its side, dead. What gives? did a big chicken step on it? Not only that, but this morning it looked like something scratched up the dirt outside the coop gate. And the mother is missing. We are down to 4 hens and 3 roosters.

Willow just had her second anniversary of coming to us. Boy has she grown! We are so lucky to have her-she really is a marvelous dog.

In other dog news, my mom got a new dog! His name is Harry and he is adorable.
And today (2 days ago) is Blackie, our only remaining guinea pig, ‘s birthday. She is 5. I guess she’s at the far end of a guinea pig’s life span, but she still seems pretty spry. She even accommodated me for this birthday photo op.

We are not doing any vegetable gardening this year, save for lettuce and cilantro in a pot. Our peach tree is loaded with peaches and we hope at least a few will be edible. For the first time EVER the sad apple tree has apples on it- 3!

The flowers are in mad bloom and there are so many lovely colors everywhere. The coneflower has spread even more, making the front garden look almost cottage gardeny-just what I’ve always wanted. I’ve noticed that coneflower is also very popular with many different insects and butterflies and moths, so that’s good.

And, of course, peony season was tremendous and beautiful.

And as I type this we are getting ready to celebrate Clark’s birthday–#12! He is now officially taller than me by 1 1/2″. ¬†Ok, that was also a couple days ago. The day was celebrated with many special meals and some fun at the arcade.

 

I think I’ve gotten some photo organization under control and hopefully will do more posts this summer that aren’t so long and rambling, but perhaps focused on one thing at a time. With that in mind-time to start sewing! (Of course it poured rain all morning and I cozied up with a book. Now the sun is out and it’s gorgeous and I probably SHOULD be doing outdoors things.)

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Spring Celebrations

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This weekend we had two special events-my mom’s birthday and Clark’s Arrow of Light ceremony from Cub Scouts. ¬†The latter was a pretty big deal-he started Cub Scouts in 1st grade.¬†He’s continued on and is now moving on to Boy Scouts.Arrow of Light//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsWe’ve had a lot of fun with other families in the pack, camping and other crazy events, and Paul enjoyed being the Cubmaster for the past 2 years. Lots of great memories were made, so this farewell was bittersweet. It was quite a ceremony and as the boys walked over the bridge they were welcomed by their new Boy Scout troop. Clark is quite excited to join his new troop and looking forward to good times and making new friends.IMG_5945

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My mom’s birthday was also this weekend and I always see it as a sign of spring and enjoy coming up with a good menu for a special birthday dinner. I made cherry chicken spirals (chicken with cherries and some other stuff, rolled up), rice pilaf, asparagus, and a delicious salad of Boston lettuce, red onion, and avocado. Of course it’s really the cake we were all looking forward to. Happily my mom likes coconut, so things for her are always a good opportunity to make coconut things. ¬†I made the Tropical Carrot & Coconut Cake from Baking by Flavor. Happy Birthday, Mom!//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js¬†I had not made this before and it’s definitely a keeper. Super delicious. The cake had shredded carrots, coconut, and crushed pineapple in it. Happy Birthday, Mom!//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsEven better it had lots of fresh nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon it. So much that those flavors really came through. There was even a tiny bit of freshly grated nutmeg in the cream cheese frosting. The frosting was delicious, though there was a lot of it. Actually I thought this cake would be fine with just a little powdered sugar on top. Happy Birthday, Mom! Happy Birthday, Mom!//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

The final spring celebration was the now annual Midwinter Stitchathon with Liz and Eleanor. This lovely event is an afternoon spent stitching, watching tv, and eating special snacks and seasonal candy together. Midwinter Stitchathon//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsThe menu this year was tea brack (an Irish tea cake with lots of dried fruit and demands to be eaten with butter), apricot turkey pinwheels (forever known now as “Yoshi Wellingtons”), cherry cola cake, and, as always, carrot dip and prosecco (not mixed together. Carrot dip eaten up with pretzels, prosecco guzzled down.)
Midwinter Stitchathon//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
Midwinter Stitchathon//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
My stitching project is an embroidery pattern I’ve had a couple of years and have decided would be just the thing for when I have a little time to want to do something stitchy. I actually went and bought all the suggested color flosses for this. Midwinter Stitchathon//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsIt was a grand time! And, oops! This is indeed quite a catchup. I’ll also mention another special event-the Father Daughter Dance for Girl Scouts. Tabby was so excited, felt so glamorous and excited to be going with Paul to this dance. It was a lovely event for them. Father Daughter Dance 2016So many special events!

//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

The Annual Cookie Party-10 years!

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This weekend was one of our favorite holiday traditions-our Christmas cookie party. I can’t believe this was our 10th year having it! Ten years ago we just had some friends over, each of us sharing Christmas cookies. Now, it’s a festive party with both a charitable and a competitive element. I found myself reading all the past posts for past cookies and making a chart comparing winners and cookies. Peppermint and chocolate have always dominated, and Mary Lynn and Melissa have been big repeat winners. (Surprisingly, spoiler alert, neither of them won anything this year!) for a special party favor I made a booklet of recipes featuring several past winners.
10th Anniversary Cookie Party//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsI planned to make adorable little meringue Santa hats I saw in the current issue of Woman’s Day. In the magazine they were adorable little red hats with white trim. Unfortunately when I made them they looked like pink slugs. or toes. or Peeps. 2015-12-18 18.02.19I turned to a recipe I’ve had in my holiday recipe file for a few years but never made. Well, turns out white chocolate cherry shortbreads are delicious. My entry: white chocolate cherry shortbreads//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsI will definitely be making them again next year. Next time, though, I won’t bother dipping the cookie into the chocolate-I don’t think it needs it and its a bit overkill. Paul was inspired by a recent episode of the Holiday Baking Show (Bake Off?) and Mary Berry’s brandy snaps. Despite trepidation (mostly because of the show) they came out beautifully. Inspired by Mary Berry, Paul made brandy snaps. They were great!//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsInspired by Mary Berry, Paul made brandy snaps. They were great!//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsWonderful crisp lacy tubes, and he filled them with an eggnog whipped cream. Would you believe that someone else also made brandy snaps?? What are the chances? Both versions were wonderful. Part of the spread (this year there were 10 entries)//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsThe other entries were: Melting snowman sugar cookie: This was so cute! A marshmallow and some detailed decorating and it looked like a marshmallow in a puddle of melted snow Ricotta cookie: a little dome shaped cookie with a white glaze on top and red and green sugar. I loved the texture of this cookie-very light. Apricot Walnut Bars: As soon as I heard what Carrie brought I knew that I would love this the best and it would not win. The fruit and nut cookies never do, but they are my very favorite type of cookie. I much prefer them to chocolatey cookies. Pecan Caramel bars: Loaded with pecans and caramel, this was a super rich bar with lots of butterscotch flavor. Pizzelles:Such a pretty cookie. The traditional circular cookie made in a pizelle iron, this had a wonderful anise flavor that I liked. Coconut Macaroons: I love macaroons and I assume that these were very good, but I can’t tell you that from personal tasting because they were all gone before I even got to try one! Dark Chocolate oatmeal Lace: These were superb. They looked liked those cookies you get at Italian bakeries, but I think these were even better. Two lace cookies with a thin layer of chocolate in between and a dusting of powdered sugar. Very pretty and Christmas fancy. Literally every single cookie was delicious. The Most Christmassy award when to the melting snowman, the best looking to the pizzelles, and the overall winner was Elaine’s brandysnaps. To counteract all the sweets we had a some savories, including the now traditional cheese ball. This year’s cheese ball seemed especially tasty. The Blessed Cheese Ball//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsI was sure that Willow would prove to be a nuisance during the party, and also that she would eat up cookies. I’m pleased to report that she was such a good girl, very well behaved, and did not eat any cookies. In fact, she got so worn out she ended up just curling up and going to sleep in the middle of it all
Tuckered out//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
This Christmas season I’ve had trouble finding and holding on to the Christmas spirit (I fully blame the terribly unseasonably warm weather), but now that we’ve had our Christmas party, it is definitely here for good. Merry Christmas!

Panda Party

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Panda love tacos//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsThis weekend Tabby celebrated her birthday with a party with friends. She requested a panda theme with tacos. Because everyone knows pandas love tacos, right? Right! We decided a panda party would constitute a panda cake, some panda decorations,and of course, a panda cutout. In the midst of the party we’d have make your own tacos. I don’t actually know if kids care about decorations, but I was pretty pleased with hanging paper lanterns and drawing faces of pandas on the white lanterns. Look how cute! panda lanterns for decorations//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
As usual her party was held outside and we anxiously watched the weather. A grey damp morning led to a glorious sunny blue skied afternoon. Perfect! We organized lots of traditional games of things like Red Panda (aka Red Rover), a version of tag, and more. And of course the easiest fun ever-piles of leaves to jump in.
sack races//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsThe cake may be one of my favorites I’ve ever made. This panda is so cute you literally want to eat him right up. He’s holding bamboo, which is simply Pirouette cookies that I brushed with sugar syrup and sprinkled with green sugar. So cute I want to eat him up! I'm so pleased with how this came out//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

She loved her cake//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsI served it with strawberry ice cream (Tabby’s favorite flavor) which I pre-scooped into foil cupcake liners. I am totally always going to do this for parties now because I hate scooping and it was so nice and tidy to have it all done ahead of time. ala mode//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
The girls all had a good time and were sent home with, of course, packages of Hello Panda cookies. Happy Birthday (again) Tabby!
Happy Birthday!//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

The Annual Christmas Cookie Party

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It’s been a whirlwind of various Scout meetings, Christmas prep, and Christmas parties, including our very own annual Christmas cookie party. ¬†We tried to figure out how many we’ve had and I believe it was the 8th time we’ve had this event. ¬†There were many delicious entries this year:
Almond Crescents-I made these and they are one of my very favorite Christmas cookies.
Almond crescents with new pipe cleaner tree

Cookie Canes-Paul won with these last year. They are addictive. It’s just the dough of chocolate chip cookies with ground up candy canes in them. And so they melt and get very flat and he slices them into strips with a pizza cutter.
Thumbprints-one of my favorites! I haven’t made mine yet, so I was very happy that our friend Betty did. A delicious classic.
Chocolate Candy Cane something or other-these were gorgeous, made by Melissa. A recipe from last week’s NYT. It was a chocolate cookie, completely enrobed in chocolate, sprinkled with candy cane crumbles.

the prettiest cookie

Chocolate Peanut Butter sandwich cookies by Mary Lynn. Described by her as “they are like hamburgers they are so big” Indeed they were quite large and hearty.
Pumpkin Caramel Thumbprints-Carrie made these and they were heavenly. I could have eaten them all day long.
Pistachio Kisses-I LOVED these. the cookie had pistachio and walnuts in it, was pale green and a nice flat circle, with a chocolate kiss in the middle and some red sprinkles. Far superior to those peanut blossom cookies.
Peppermint Kisses-a chocolate cookie with a peppermint kiss in the middle
Spice Cookies– It was like a drop cookie with “spice chips” in the dough. I have not seen these chips before–¬†like chocolate chips, but orange colored.
String up the Lights-our friend Stephanie said she knew she wouldn’t win on taste, so she went for presentation. Indeed the presentation was spectacular!

"Stringing Up the Lights"

The overall winner were the thumbprints, with the award for Most Christmassy going to Melissa’s chocolatey minty cookies, and Best Looking going to Stephanie’s colored lights cookies. ¬†Prizes were a sequined ornament and the Christmas oven towels for all.
I like to put out some savory things, too, especially a cheese ball.
The blessed Cheese Ball
I also really wanted to finally use the hot pepper jelly I made last year. I mixed it up with cream cheese and…it looked disgusting. Apparently you don’t mix them up together, you pour the jelly on top. Paul¬†described the cottage cheesey looking dip as “unsettling”. ¬†It did taste pretty good, though. Oh, and of course I made hot candied walnuts.
It was lots of fun and immediately afterward we headed out to a holiday parade that our Cub Scouts were in (on a float!)
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The Annual Christmas Party

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Today was one of our favorite events of the year-our annual Christmas cookie party. And to make it extra seasonally festive-it began snowing just as people arrived! Lots of the older kids just ran around outside being crazy, which was nice as it kept them from being crazy in the house. I love our party for lots of reasons, and one of them is simply that it makes us really tidy up and clean the house and then it’s lovely and pretty all Christmas season. (Of course I was a nutcase on Saturday.)
Mercury Glass Bell
We got our tree a couple days ago and it looks great. I love our ornaments and the stories they have to tell. A few years ago I started writing down all the new ornaments for the year and where they came from. Since an ornament is our souvenir of choice when we go places our tree becomes like a big scrapbook. This year’s new editions were from Cape May and Niagara Falls.
the tree
So, the fire is blazing, the tree is lit, the Christmas tunes are playing, and all is ready for the cookies.
A sampling of cookies with the winners in the front (linzer tart, cookie-canes, gingerbread snowmen)
This year we had:
Cookie-Canes-made by Paul, he’s made this same basic thing in past years, but this year it came out a bit differently. Basically he crushes up a lot of candy canes and adds them to the basic dough you use for chocolate chip cookies. I was crazy for the way the canes melted and the result was like a big blob of crunchy/gooey cookie and candy. Canadian Christmas (also by Paul, but named by me.)-a bacon cookie. In this case the bacon was cooked in the oven and drizzled with maple syrup. The cookie was good and especially the ones that had some pecans sprinkled on. Gingerbread Snowmen–I’ve had this recipe in my holiday recipes folder for a couple years but never made it before. And I guess, technically, I still haven’t as I used the King Arthur Flour recipe for gingerbread, said screw it to royal icing and just made regular icing. So basically from my BHG recipe I used the circle cutter, decorate to look like a snowman, idea. I don’t know that I’ve ever made gingerbread cookies before. This was a great recipe-dark and spicy, super easy to roll and cut out. I used candy fruit slices (orange) to snip pieces into carrot noses. Our guests brought: Linzer tarts (I happen to love linzer tarts, so I was very partial to these, especially when I saw how they had beautiful seasonal cutouts on the tops);
Look at that perfect little angel cutout in the linzer tart
Chocolate Almond Thumbprints; Pistachio Coconut (such a pretty green);
The cookies
Pistachio, Chocolate Chip, Cranberry; Cocoa Delight (a favorite for Paul and Clark); White Chocolate Gingerbread (a soft gingerbread cookie with white chocolate chips); b cookies (I thought these were spectacular-delicate and lacy, the perfect shape. Mary Lynn said she used the Barefoot Contessa recipe in her newest book.); Chocolate Fudge Sandwich cookies (with a darling little green tree on top); Frosty Snowballs (a name which I constantly laughed at as it made me think of Schweddy Balls, these were like Mexican Wedding Cakes); and Pinwheels (a festive pink and white spiral sugar cookie.) So many delicious cookies! And to go with it of course I made a boozy punch (and a non-boozy punch with orange sherbet)
What's a holiday party without a boozy punch?
and a savory cheese ball.
The cookies
Our cookie party is not a swap-but a competition. A friendly competition. This was our third year where we had voting with money, with the grand prize winner donating all the money to the charity of his/her choice. And this year’s winners was….
Paul’s Cookie-Canes!!! Interestingly, when he made these he was unsatisfied with how they came out-all melty. I kept saying I liked them and gobbling them up and was sure he thought I was placating him. But obviously lots of people liked them. He chose to donate the $95 collected to our local food bank.
The other categories we vote for by just making a hash mark next to the cookie we think is Most Christmassy and Best Overall Appearance. To my delight and surprise, for the first time, I was a winner! My gingerbread snowmen were deemed Most Christmassy.
Gingerbread Snowmen
And to no surprise, and super well deserved, the best overall appearance went to Melissa’s Linzer Tarts.
I usually make prizes and this year I was very rushed and started to sew something today and then finally just wrote an i.o.u. for the winner, along with stitching a felt ornament. Since Paul won perhaps I don’t need to follow through on the i.o.u., but he can proudly hang the ornament.
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Springtime Days

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And finally, we’ve got normal spring weather! The kind that makes you want to fuss in the garden and play in the park. ¬†Honestly, I’ve not done much in the garden except cheer on the tulips and peonies and blooming trees.
and a few hours of sunlight later....

Peach Blossom
I need to get out there and get a few things planted. ¬†But in the meantime, we’ve made the most of spring the past few days. ¬†We kicked off our weekend by attending Clark’s pack meeting (where Paul is the new Cubmaster!), where there was a wild animal show. ¬†The animals were so neat-a South American porcupine, Fennec Fox, chinchilla, hissing cockroach, and coatamundi. ¬†We were so close to the animals! We learned a lot of fascinating facts about them and everyone got to pet the chinchilla.
The Chinchilla is the World's Softest Animal. It was like petting air. or whipped cream. And holy cow adorable.

South American Porcupine: look at that cute stubby nose

Saturday was one of our beloved Game Nights, with Liz & Eleanor. Now that our kids like playing with them too and we have to share their attention we need to start these get togethers earlier and earlier. I made homemade pizza and they brought a wine that how could we not drink–Fairview! And a very special cake to celebrate the good fortune of Paul’s new job, and my upcoming birthday. It’s from a chi-chi bakery, so it’s hilarious that they put the requested word, Happy, in quotes, as if it was a Cake Wreck.
"Happy" Game Night

"Happy" Game Night

On Monday Tabby and I had a special afternoon at the park together. We brought Pippin with us, along with her bike. I’m trying to give her more bike riding opportunities (we pretty much have to drive somewhere to do so.) Pippin was thrilled because we rode/walked to a part of the river and he immediately went in and lay down. He loves a river so much!
Dog + River=Happiness
We also had a lovely picnic amongst wildflowers.
Spring Wildflowers

And now for some sad and startling news. Yesterday morning when I opened the doors to the coop to let the chickens out I found a dead rooster on the ground!! It was one of the Bobs. He seemed fine the day before so I really don’t know what happened. Chicken heart attack? Of the three chicks that Mother Hen hatched last year now only one remains. Perhaps they all defects? Speaking of hatching…one of the Buff Orpingtons commandeered the flower pot a week and a half ago. Three days ago a white hen decided that she is broody and also wants that spot. So she just joined in. Then yesterday she apparently got booted out and so went and sat on the 4 eggs that had been laid in the nearby box that day and which I hadn’t yet collected. And now will not. Why can’t these broody hens be sensible?? This flower pot nonsense is causing grief for everyone because the other hens are super put out that they can’t get in there. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for some happy peeping in another week and a half’s time.

Double Broody