Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Day 2: Emulating Emma Woodhouse

I've always had a soft spot for anyone bearing edible gifts.  This may explain my crush on the Winder Dairy delivery man and my strange fascination with Hickory Farms kiosks at the mall.  So when it came time today to decide on a birthday gift for my son's 5th grade teacher, I decided to channel Emma Woodhouse and make it an edible one.  I've always loved Emma's character in Jane Austen's book, but Emma seals the adorable deal for me when she carries baskets of goodies to the needy on her father's estate.  Miss King isn't necessarily needy (other than the fact that she is living on a teacher's salary), but she spends 6 hours a day in a cramped room with 35 eleven-year-olds who haven't yet discovered the virtues of deodorant.  If anyone is deserving of an Emma Woodhouse delivery, it is Miss King.

So here is what she got:  a wrapping paper-lined box full of savory salutes to the Revolutionary War.  (Miss King is a huge history buff and the kids just finished a unit on colonial America.)

Her lunch menu included:

Washington's Winter Chowder
Concord Carrots
Adams' Apple Slices
Boston-Baked Muffins with Orange Glaze
Paine's Pecan and Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Lexington Lemonade

I'm not saying that a Wendy's combo meal wouldn't have tasted better, but at least Miss King felt celebrated.  Thank you, Emma Woodhouse, for the fun idea.  And thank you, Jane Austen, for writing it in the first place.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Jane Austen Month, Day 1: Sitting Pretty

Years ago I felt an urgent need to buy armchairs.  And when I say urgent, I mean urgent.  You would have thought that my life depended on a few yards of upholstery.  My sense of panic was severely complicated by the fact that I had approximately thirteen pesos to do this with.  So I scoured the classifieds, Ebay, thrift stores, and then finally stumbled upon a jewel of a deal on a JCPenney clearance website.  Not only could I get two armchairs for the price of one, but the deal also came with a little matching table.  I clicked "Buy Now" faster than you can say "Indonesian sweat shop"
and anxiously awaited the delivery of the perfect Queen Anne additions to my living room. 

Well, you get what you pay for.  I've been more comfortable sitting on an examination table with my feet in metal stirrups than I was sitting in those chairs.  It didn't help that the concrete cushions were wrapped in a fabric that had the texture of boar hair.  Cue a sigh of deep resignation.  I decided that having both beauty and comfort in a chair was simply too much to ask . . . until today.

I resolved to start this Austen experiment with a bang.  I don't live in England, and I'll never have a manor house, but darn it!  I can at least have a little dose of damask in my life and imagine I'm sitting in Pemberley. 

Armed with a few yards of fabric, extra seat padding, a sturdy staple gun, lots of hot glue, and spools of trim, I took on my first re-upholstery project today.  It's not perfect.  Not even close.  Dry runs are always a brow-furrowing learning experience for me.  But at least now I have a beautiful and comfortable chair to relax in as I savor my favorite Austen novel by the fireplace.  (Sans the boar hair . . .)

This one's for you, Jane . . .

 Linking up:


Sunday, January 29, 2012

The 30-Day Austen Experiment

Miriam and I are simple creatures.  While we may have complex psyches, it doesn't take much to talk us down off the ledge.  Bouquets of flowers, validating words, and Cheez-its come to mind.  But the mood elixir of all elixir's for my sister and me is a dose of Jane Austen.  After a chapter of her prose, we feel prettier.  After watching a scene from Sense and Sensibility, we feel smarter.  And somehow, after eating 3 dozen scones and clotted cream, we feel skinnier.  It's magic.  Now I admit that not that everything "Austen" is ideal.  After all, empire waist dresses only look good on buxom trees, cravats are too hard to tie, and embroidering cushions as a past-time sounds about as fun as flossing.  

But then there is everything else that makes Austenland so appealing.  To me, Austenland is a place where guys are gentlemen, where eating is dining, where shuffling around the house is a "turn about the room," and where text messages are quill-written letters sealed with wax.  I know I'm waxing delusional here by making Jane Austen's world sound like Disneyland without the loose morals, but I can't help but think that our female lives would be a measure better if we were a little more Jane and a little less jaded.  "I hate to be hard on any of our sex, but there it is . . ."

So here is our challenge to you (but mostly to ourselves).  We are starting "The 30-Day Austen Experiment."  In honor of the beloved author, from now until the end of February we will be incorporating at least one Austenesque thing into our day.  It might be . . .

placing fresh flowers on the table, 
calling on a friend, 
toasting crumpets, 
taking a walk,
or slipping words like "melancholy" or "benevolence" into our daily conversation.  

Whatever it is we choose to do, we will be telling you about it here.  By the end of 30 days, we are hoping that our lives and yours will be a little bit gentler, a little bit softer, and a little bit happier than they were before.  What better way to honor our dear Miss Austen than to use our womanly wiles for good?

"If things are going untowardly one month, they are sure to mend the next . . ." (from Emma, chapter 36).

Monday, January 23, 2012

... In With The New

(This post is by Erika- not Miriam. Blast you Blogger!)

Finally.  The paint is up, the fabric is on, and everything is tucked into place!  (Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like my ritual for getting ready in the morning.  Add "praying while standing on the bathroom scale," and you'd pretty much have it.)  The whole process of redoing the master bedroom has been a family affair:  my sweet hubby painted the walls, I wrestled with the sewing machine to line the drapes and pleat the bed skirt, and the baby vomited on the carpet to give it that "lived in" look.  I'd also like to thank Pottery Barn's clearance page for marking this Chinoiserie toile duvet down to half-off, and to Ballard Designs for creating pillows that I could never afford, forcing me to make my own.

Scroll mouse over picture below for a before and after look at the room.

While I relish the room as a whole, I have to say that the pillows are my pet love.  They turned out SO much better than most of my other hair-brained schemes, including my 6th grade perm, my stint as a violinist, and the three ballroom lessons that my husband and I took together before quitting to save our marriage.

Here are the Ballard Design pillows that I used as inspiration.
And here are my knock-offs. 

The best part--and I hesitate to confess it--is that these pillows are the product of 2 dollars worth of muslin, some scrap fabric from the bed skirt, and a metallic sharpie.  I simply printed the text onto computer paper, traced it onto the muslin with a sharpie and a steady hand, and sewed up the pillow.  And voila!  

I realize that sharpies aren't for everyone (like those with higher standards than myself who probably have a Ballard Designs credit card), but I'm starting to think I was on the "sharpie creation committee" in heaven.  Who knew those little hand-held darlings could make an ordinary pillow seem so perfectly romantic?

It all reminds me of a Charlotte Lucas quote from the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice:  "Not all of us can afford to be romantic, Lizzie."  

With all due respect, Charlotte, I disagree.  
We might not all be able to afford boutique burlap pillows, 
but with a sharpie in hand, we can all afford to be a little romantic once in a while . . .

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Sunday Dream...

I don't know if this has anything to do with this blog, but it's what I am thinking of today, so humor me.

On our drive home from church today, I pulled out my phone to turn the volume back on, and then I opened the browser to fill up a moment of boredom and saw this post over at Diane's gorgeous blog. I felt so inspired. I thought, "That is my dream too!" I also want England and an old church, and fresh flowers. Maybe throw a copy of Jane Eyre and a cup of herbal mint tea in for good measure.

But I turned around to ask my eldest little woman what her Sunday dream was, and what I saw made me catch my breath.

Those sweet big eyes were twinkling as she sang a song to the chubby cheeked baby by her...


Who giggled at her funny big sis...

next to her quiet angel sister with the curly cherub hair (who was more than happy to be stuffing her face with cheese straws.)

Then I looked at our driver: this wonderful man, this amazing father. My Valentine. My Mr. Darcy.

And I knew I had already been given my Sunday dream.

Happy Sabbath.

P.S.  If I am to be given Pemberley on top of all this, I am totally cool with it. Just saying...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Recipe: Brown Sugar Pecan Fudge

So I might have a problem with letting go of fudge after Christmas time. I, for one, would love to get fudge for Valentine's Day, so here I am with a recipe I have made twice, yes twice, this week. And if I am being honest, I pretty much ate all of it myself too. But if you tried the silky sweetness that is this fudge, you wouldn't be able to stop either.

This makes it look dry for some reason. It's not. I promise. It is sugary, nutty silkiness.

Brown Sugar Pecan Fudge
3 C Brown Sugar
1 C Heavy Cream
1 tsp Salt

Put this mixture in a saucepan over medium heat, and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. ALL DISSOLVED. This is the one "Rule" of fudge, so if you haven't made it before, just trust me. Bad things happen when you still have sugar crystals hanging out on their own in there. I also like to brush down the sides of the pan with water to make sure any crystals hanging out on the side get taken care of too. Don't worry about the water; it will all evaporate when the boiling starts.

NOW allow it to boil, and throw a candy thermometer in there. You don't have to stir or anything. Just watch for 234 degrees Fahrenheit. When it gets there, pull it off the heat.

now add:
2 TBSP butter
1 tsp. Vanilla

and let it all sit there and cool off til it is just warm. now BEAT it with a spoon for a couple of minutes until it loses its shine. At this point, I like to add in a cup of chopped roasted pecans. Then spread it in a loaf pan and let it cool all the way.  Now go eat the whole thing, and make me feel better about myself :)

Linking Up!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

More Valentine's Day Printables!

The last post was full of pink, and this one is full of red. Today I am printable-ing three great quotes:

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"I don't want sunbursts and marble halls. I just want YOU." - L.M. Montgomery, from Anne of the Island

If you have any question on the love I have for the Anne series, see the Anne of Green Gables post a few weeks back.

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"Whatever our souls are made of, His and Mine are the same"- Emily Bronte from Wuthering Heights

That whole Catherine and Heathcliff dynamic always seemed strange and unhealthy to me as a youth. But as I have read Wuthering Heights over in adulthood, I have gained a new appreciation for this Bronte sister. (I always loved Charlotte...)

And last but not least, a "fake" Pride and Prejudice quote in two styles. Let me just say that if Jane Austen has heard this quote, I think she approves of it. It is the genius work of Deborah Moggach, the author of the most recent P&P screenplay.

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Okay, couldn't resist a little more pink...

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Oh, Mister Darcy, I love you too. We all love you. :)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Valentine's Decor Printables

Guess what?! We are officially within a month of Valentine's Day. You should probably know that we are a wee bit obsessed with Jane Austen and her novels in this family (Well, maybe not Northanger Abbey. We're all a little "Eh" when it comes to Northanger Abbey. Sorry Ms. A!) But to celebrate the queen of Regency Romance, we are embarking on a month of Austen madness. *Squeal* Party ideas, food, decor, and Novels; it's going to be a fun month! I am kicking it off with a few Valentine's Decor Printables:


This is from a lovely D.H. Lawrence poem, entitled "All I Ask."

All I ask of a woman is that she shall feel gently towards me
when my heart feels kindly towards her,
and there shall be the soft, soft tremor as of unheard bells between us.
It is all I ask.
I am so tired of violent women lashing out and insisting
on being loved, when there is no love in them.

This is my favorite favorite favorite sonnet! I love it dearly, and am so glad that it is quoted in Emma Thompson's "Sense and Sensibility," or it would have taken me a lot longer to find it. Also, when a college professor asks if anyone can recite ten lines of Shakespeare from memory, I proudly pull out this little baby instead of the other ten lines that I know from a certain "Billy Madison" speech.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

This is my first attempt ever at something that looks modern. I am a swirly, cursive kind of lady, so don't expect to see a whole lot of this. But I love this quote and it's so playful that I thought it kind of fit. This is from Jane Austen's Love and Friendship: a collection of her very early writing.

Just click on the pictures and it'll take you to flickr where you can download a copy.

I will be back tomorrow with Bronte sisters, some Pride and Prejudice, and some RED! Can't wait to 'see' you then :)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Cherry Kolaches

I felt it only appropriate that I follow up my sister's post about eating prudently and not getting fat with a pastry recipe!  I'd like to see any French woman eat these cherry kolaches in moderation, with their tender dough, creamy danish filling, and tart fruit topping.  I myself ate a half dozen before putting on a bra today.  (Notice I didn't say pants.  The bra still fits; the pants don't.)  I think it is safe to say that I will never make the pages of Mirielle Guiliano's book, but then again, I'm Swedish.  Instead, maybe I'll write a book called "Swedes Stuffed by Sweets."  If I do, this recipe will make the first edition.  Our sister Hillary (sandwiched between me and Miriam) first brought this darling of a recipe to our attention, and it has had a special place in our hearts (and mouths) ever since.  It may be a traditional Polish treat, but it seems to have international appeal.  Enjoy!

Cherry Kolaches

1 cup sour cream
1 stick butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Heat the ingredients above in the microwave until butter melts and sugar dissolves (1minute or so).  Let mixture cool.  Meanwhile, mix the following and set aside:

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar

When the sour cream mixture has cooled until it is lukewarm, place it in your Kitchen Aid 
(or favorite mixer) and add the following:

2 beaten eggs
4 cups flour
yeast mixture

Mix dough until all the flour is incorporated.  Let rise until it has doubled in size.  Punch down and divide into 36 (egg-sized) balls of dough.  Roll the dough until it is smooth in your hands and place on a greased cookie sheet.  Indent the center of each dough ball with the back of a soup ladle.   Let rise for 20 minutes.  Add a spoonful of cream cheese mixture (below) in the center of each kolache.  Top with a small spoonful of pie filling or jam.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes (or until edges are barely golden brown).  When kolaches have cooled, drizzle almond glaze over the top.

Kolache Filling

8 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla

*pie filling (any flavor) or your favorite jam

Almond Glaze

2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup cream (add more if necessary)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Guest Post: Book Review of "French Women Don't Get Fat"

Our amazing and uber-talented little sister (who is waif-thin, by the way) offered to do a guest post on "French Women Don't Get Fat." And considering that she certainly hasn't gotten fat, despite having a baby this year (I know, curses!), I think she might have the authority to speak on this one. 

But I also have a sneaking suspicion it may have something to do with the behavior exhibited above... Well, without further ado, here's our awesome sis, Katie:

I love food, and I mean LOVE food. To give you an idea, when I was dating my husband J, he had a heart to heart with my sister's husband. My brother-in-law, who had been married to my sister for quite sometime, and was more than well acquainted with the four girls of the family, had one piece of advice for J: "All you need to do to keep the girls in this family happy is feed them."  I laughed when he told me this. We sound like puppies. Just make sure not to miss mealtime and all will be well with us. Sadly, this is true.  I was lucky enough to marry someone who loves food as much as I do. Some of our greatest travel memories are the different restaurants we have stumbled upon all over the world.


When a friend recommended French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano as a good read, I was skeptical. I do not diet. I never have. With the exception of giving up dairy while nursing, and an occasional abstinence from sugar or meat during Lent, just for the challenge, I have never bought into the idea that diets are worth it. Why keep yourself from things you love? She assured me it was not a diet book.  And so, in my reluctance, I began to read. It turns out this was no diet book at all, and was in fact catered to me who had refused to diet all along.

Mireille writes about her experience moving to the states from her home in France as an exchange student and returning home fat. This book wittily describes what it is about American culture that makes us fat. Upon her return to France, her family quickly hired a doctor to take care of their daughter's "health issues" and get her looking slim again. I love her description of the "French Paradox." Have you ever wondered how french women can eat bread, pastries, wine and cheese and still stay as slim and slender as they do? Mireille takes a humorous approach to how lifestyle can determine the size of your body.

I love everything about this book. It reminds you that moderation is the best way to enjoy life. It helps you appreciate the French and all their quirks while also poking fun at Americans and all their quirks. It makes me remember all the reasons I love food so much. And it has a load of recipes to boot. Who wouldn't want the secret to a perfect croissant. Yes, I said croissant. I am talking, the buttery-flaky-whole-day's-worth-of-calories-croissant. That is totally allowed and encouraged.


My mouth is watering just thinking about it. In honor of this new year, I am not pledging to starve myself and eat only Special K for 80 days.  I am not joining a fancy gym.  I am not going to read a thousand diet books.  But, I will read this one again, master my pain au chocolat, and enjoy myself a whole lot more! How about you?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

I do NOT have a great Lemon Poppyseed Muffin recipe yet. BUT I do have a few ways to dress up your favorite recipe. A friend of mine had a baby shower this weekend, and I was asked to make these. The recipe itself still has some work to be done- I am just not thrilled with the texture of the ones I have tried. But I filled them with a Lemon-Cream Cheese, and topped them with Lemon Syrup and Candied Lemon Slices. That would compensate for pretty much any texture you may not be 100% happy with.

For the lemon syrup (Brushed on as they were pulled from the oven) I boiled 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, 1/4 C water, and 3/4 C Sugar together until the sugar was dissolved.

For the Candied Lemon Slices, I sliced lemon very thin and simmered in the lemon syrup until the lemon slices turned translucent. Then I pulled them out and just placed one on top of each muffin with a little kiss of extra Lemon-Cream Cheese.

Here you can kind of see the Lemon Cream Cheese filling. It is just cream cheese with a lemon's worth of zest and juice. I filled the muffin cups about 1/3 of the way with batter, put in a dollop of the cream cheese, and added another 1/3 of batter. Leave the last 1/3 for expansion.

I have done this with an assortment of different muffins: carrot, blueberry, etc. And it's always a cute way to dress them up. PLUS it is the beginning of citrus season, so explore what combinations suit you, and enjoy!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Printable: Anne of Green Gables

I imagine most fourteen year olds spend their trips away from home talking about boys, putting on makeup, or gossiping about what have you. Not my best friend B and me. No, we spent our days of freedom holed up in B's Aunt's basement watching and re-watching every minute of Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea; you can't really stop after the first. Strange behavior for teenage girls? I contest that it was wise; what fourteen year old boys in our acquaintance could possibly hold a candle to Gilbert Blythe?

These waters run deep. Of the many reasons B fell in love with her wonderful husband, I think his ability to quote "He called me carrots!" won her over more than any.

To this day, one of my favorite gifts from B was a hunter green velvet bound edition of "Anne."Books really do make the best gifts.

So in honor of the new year, I made a printable of Anne's words of wisdom. True afficionados will know that in the movie, Miss Stacy gets the honor of this line (Tweaked a bit) but as this blog is for the BOOK bound, I stuck with Anne's original, "Marilla, isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?"

Just click on the color you like best, and you can download, print or alter at your leisure.

Linked up: Whipperberry

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My New Year's Resolution: Eat More Cookies

I have had New Year's resolutions all wrong.  I used to commit to things that I knew I would never really do, like lose half of my body weight, save millions of dollars, and start ironing.  I have decided, instead, to commit to things that I know I will do--and do well.  So, New Year's Resolution #1:  Eat more cookies.  I started my goal with flying colors yesterday as my seven-year-old and I whipped up a batch of these bad boys.  I don't normally go for raisins.  In fact, I usually go for anything in a cookie EXCEPT raisins, but my blue-eyed boy implored me to put them in.  So here you have the real oatmeal cookie deal.  These are chewy and buttery with just a hint of spice.  Actually, I should thank my son because the raisins have absolved me of any guilt when it comes to eating these darlings around the clock.  What to eat for breakfast?  I could make myself a bowl of oatmeal with raisins, or eat 3 oatmeal cookies.   What to eat for snack?  I could gnaw on a hard granola bar with raisins, or I could just stuff my face full of more cookies.  Cookie total for today=17.5 (It would have been 18, but half of my cookie fell on the floor and was promptly ingested by a dog who apparently has the same New Year's resolution as myself.)  Best of luck with your own New Year's resolutions.

Best Oatmeal Raisin Cookies Ever

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
3 cups oatmeal
1 1/2 cups raisins (soak these in hot water while you are making the rest of the recipe and then drain the water before you add the raisins to the mixture)

Cream butter and sugars together.  Add eggs and vanilla and stir until smooth.  Add soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and flour until just incorporated.  (You don't want to over mix or you get a tough cookie.)  Mix in oatmeal and raisins.  Form into 1 1/2 inch mounds and place on greased cookie sheet.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 11 minutes.

Linking up!
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