Weekend Reading

us aid sign kisoro

ctph us aid

Last night, I sat in on a webcast on by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and listened to a panel of four aid workers give first-hand accounts of MSF’s response to to the Syrian civil war and the health crises in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, and South Sudan. This is the second webcast I’ve sat in on and I knew it would impact today’s post, but until this morning I just didn’t know how….

This time of year we wish each other a happy holiday season and good health in the coming year. Those are certainly things I included in the holiday cards I sent out.  But do we think about what that latter part means – I certainly thought about it seriously in the card to my 97-year-old mentor. As a donor to MSF, I receive field news reports about where and how MSF is providing medical care in countries where not even the most basic modern health care systems are now in place. Countries in turmoil from years of military conflicts and possibly extreme weather, where the populations rely on international organizations for maternal and child health care, immunizations, and emergency treatment. And, I know first-hand about the loss of life due to lack of proper treatment in the DR Congo and have seen the efforts in places like Uganda by U.S. Aid to empower the poor with information on malaria, AIDS, and maternal care. (Pictures above of U.S. Aid funded malaria prevention and personal hygiene campaigns in Uganda.)

In the United States of America our health care system might not be perfect, in fact in some ways it might be really bad – but I guarantee you it’s not anywhere near as faulty as the struggling healthcare networks in most Third World countries.

And, by the way….

As of January 1, 2015, all U.S. citizens are required to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. For families with income above $28,500, the penalty is 1% of income, but not more than the average cost of a bronze level plan. At lower income levels, the penalty is $95 per adult, $47.50 per child, with a $285 maximum per family. Certain individuals, such as those whose income is below the filing threshold, are exempt from the penalty.

Before you think about complaining about a medical bill or wait time in a doctor’s office, or the next time you wish someone good health in a holiday card – please take a second to be grateful for all you have and all you don’t have to worry about.

To learn more about MSF and/or to donate please visit their website here.

kisangani

Better Late Than Never
Top ten photos of 2014 as compiled by Time Magazine.

Turkish Airlines has created an epic food map. I added the above picture from my meal (plantain bread, fish stew, cassava dish) in Kisangani, Province Orientale DR Congo. Have a favorite meal from somewhere you traveled and want to share it with the chance of winning a trip? Enter the Turkish Airlines competition. **What is your most memorable meal from a trip and where do you want to travel next?

What happened when a woman lived according to the Pinterest “most popular” page?  Sounds exhausting, but she nailed it! Must read for any gal who gives a damn about the perfection portrayed on Pinterest and Instagram.

I’m not trying to be mean, but this is one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year. I laughed myself silly at this YouTube video “How to Recover from Treadmill Fail

There are a lot of Best of 2014 album lists, e.g. 8tracks. Some of my favorite music from the past year…

• Rosanne Cash, The River & the Thread. SO good.
• Taylor Swift, 1989. I don’t care, I love her.
• Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence. A different sort of album for me, but I like the depth of some of the tracks.
• Ryan Adam, Ryan Adams. Every single song.
• Drive by Truckers, English Oceans. Really good but not as good as the older stuff.
• Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Give People What They Want. Ooooh.
• Eric Church, The Outsiders.

I hope you enjoyed the past few posts since the relaunch of Delicious Musings in September.  Thank you very much for reading! In 2015, you will find new original in-depth series as related to food and travel. Exciting adventures await!!

I will resume posting on January 5th. Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season!!!

Photographer Friday: Arnold Newman

One of my most cherished photography books is Arnold Newman: Five Decades. One of the most important photographers period. His work greatly influenced portraiture, his personal relationship with the camera and subject’s life are rarely approached. He called his style “environmental portraits,” and said considered his work symbolic. He was interested in not just documenting someone’s life, but in conveying his impression of the individual.

I am in awe of his portraits of Eugene O’Neill (NYC, 1946), Otto Frank (Amsterdam, 1960), Aaron Copeland (Peekskill, NY, 1959), and Jerry Uelsmann (Gainesville, FL, 1980).  Beautiful and emotional, his images are windows into the very souls of these persons in those moments when he clicked.
an cover

an int

I.M. Pei, NYC, 1967 and Martha Graham, NYC, 1961

al hirschfeld

Al Hirschfeld, NYC, 1983

Weekend Reading

BM

What are your plans for the weekend? I’ve got a few social things with friends, some college and pro football to watch, and movies to be seen.  Have fun whatever you do/wherever you go.

This week’s Weekend Reading is all about the 72nd Golden Globes nominee announcements (woo hoo!!) and a tad about my love-hate relationship with blogs (I’ll hold off on my feelings about social media till a future date).

I used to read all kinds of blogs, but after visiting most of them I felt seriously flawed.

Thoughts I would have after a visit of this lifestyle blog or that one:

  • I wish I could traipse across that exotic location with that luggage filled with those gorgeous outfits. Pause. Hello greed, I just got back from Africa and Paris. And, wait, I love my luggage and my clothes are just fine.
  • Do I need more Birkenstocks? Pause. No (three pairs is enough and one more than it would take a Parisian woman to roll her perfectly made up eyes).
  • But, wait did I purchase the right Birkenstocks? Ugh, get over it.
  • Do I need more lipsticks? Um, no. I have one and two lip balms and my favorite thing in the world is – has always been – Smith’s Rosebud Salve.
  • Shouldn’t I be married with children. Shouldn’t my children be adorable and perfectly behaved and cute beyond all belief. Shouldn’t my husband be gorgeous with beard and artistic talent and know how to build cars and ….spiral….

So, I took a few steps back from blog-land to see the forest for the trees – what was so lacking in my life that I felt so inadequate after reading these sometimes rather silly – albeit beautiful – posts?

Not much. My life is far from perfect, but then whose isn’t?

I said c’mon people. Really? I know a thing or two about some you in real life and your lives are not that perfect. Where’s all the other stuff? Then I said c’mon to myself and figured out I am much more interested in real-life writing that applies to me and my imperfect lifestyle that, by the way, I happen to enjoy quite a bit.

Now, I stick to blogs written by friends and/or friends of friends, whose lives I genuinely care about and who keep it real – because they are real. Because, they are not editing out all the imperfections – rather they are embracing them. The world is not one big roll of the softest toilet paper; it is not a Photoshopped spread from Elle magazine. Life can be fun even when you are not wearing the perfectly color coordinated outfit while making cranberry muffins in a kitchen Martha might covet.

A few of those reads:

Ezra Pound Cake – by my favorite Nashville,TN writer/recipe gal and her uber talented graphic designer husband

Small Measure – by one of the sweetest/smartest ladies I know who happens to live in a place I really, really want to visit – Asheville, NC

Saipua – these Brooklyn, NY based florists who have a flower farm and keep sh#$ real! Oh, and they post really pretty pictures. It’s still okay to daydream about stuff – especially fields of flowers and flower arrangements.

The Blueberry Files – because she is a friend who lives in Maine and keeps her readers in the loop on all sorts of fun things to do, places to eat…She’s a Master Preserver and her skills hold me in awe.

Better Late Than Never

Having written the above, I still find good non-fiction online. Following are a few examples from the past week…

The Real Deal – What’s actually going on outside the photo San Francisco, CA based designer Emma Robertson posts on her Instagram account.

Person of the Year – What do you think??

The 2015 Golden Globe nominees. And the snubs I bet Kurt Sutter is giving two middle fingers up to the HFPA today for not acknowledging Sons of Anarchy and he should. Seriously, HFPA get over yourselves.

The 72nd Golden Globes — hosted for the third time by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler— will air on Jan. 11. on NBC. In my household the NFL playoffs take precedence over any other television, but I’ll be turning to the red carpet arrivals during commercials.

The films to see:

Best Motion Picture – Drama
“Boyhood”
“Foxcatcher”
“The Imitation Game”
“Selma”
“The Theory of Everything”

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
“Birdman”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“Into the Woods”
“Pride”
“St. Vincent”  (photo at top of Bill Murray with the equally awesome Melissa McCarthy from the set of this film by director Theodore Melfi)

Christmas Trees

Last year I spontaneously decided to travel a few miles to the Balsam Ridge Christmas Tree Farm to pick out and have my tree cut down.

The farm is located at 140 Egypt Road in Raymond. The farm is open seven days a week: Monday thru Friday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to dusk. Choose & Cut Trees are $40.00 and Premium Pre-cut Balsam Fir trees are priced at $6.00/ft. ranging up to 10 ft. In the farm’s sugarhouse/gift shop, they offer their own homemade confections of maple butter, maple cream, candy, assorted maple coated nuts, maple syrup, and perhaps best of all maple cotton candy (produced with real maple sugar).

 Visitors can purchase hand-crafted wreaths and even help design them. Be sure to say hello to Sharon and Dewey Lloy for me!

For more info. contact the farm at (207) 655.4474 or visit their website here.

tree one

tree two

Making Holiday Candy with Felicia Buck in Aroostook County

candy buck home

candy hard cinnamon

candy hard boiling

candy hard breaking up

Can you believe we are already one week into December?!  Time for Americans to consume a ridiculous amount of desserts. These are not your everyday convenience store bought treats, but rarer homemade ones like fruitcake made by your great-aunt and fudge by a friend from farming country way up in northern Maine.

Felicia Buck is married to Brent, a 2nd generation potato farmer who has run Buck Farms with his two brothers since 1998. They live in Mapleton in the heart of Maine’s potato country.  Growing up Felicia’s father hated Christmas. “He loved the music and cooking,” she said. “He hated giving gifts, decorating, shopping, and did not want to do Christmas cards. He grew up very poor, so they did not have a lot and Christmas didn’t mean the same when you could not give gifts.” Her mother loved Christmas, and because Felicia’s father liked the food part, Felicia said her mother always made sure there were all kinds of treats. “If there was a school thing we’d make the sugar cookies, the hard candy, go around caroling and deliver food to the neighbors,” she said. “Now a days people don’t do that as much.”

With the help of her friends Darcey, Kelly, Bethany, and Heather she has created a new holiday tradition making irresistible treats.  For the past five years, Felicia has opened up her home for a day of candy making.  Last year I joined the group’s sugariest and had a ball.

The following recipes from Felicia (Hubbard) Buck are meant for you to enjoy in private (that’s right!) or share with your co-workers or family. Fa la la la la, la la la la… sugar rush here we come!!!

Hard CandyLorAnn Oils Regular Batch
**You will need a candy thermometer for this recipe.

Ingredients:
2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
¾ cup water
1 tsp LorAnn Gourmet Flavoring (flavor selection here online and you might be able to find in a drug store or Walmart)
½ tsp liquid food coloring
Powdered sugar

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in 2-quart saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring mixture to a boil without stirring. When syrup temperature reaches 260, add color. Do not stir; boiling action will incorporate color into syrup. Remove from heat at 300 or when drops of syrup form hard, brittle threads in cold water. After boiling action ceases, stir in flavoring. Avoid rising steam when stirring. Pour syrup into lightly oiled candy molds or only greased cookie sheet and score with knife to form bite-size pieces. When cool, break into pieces and dust with powdered sugar to prevent sticking. Will keep a few months if stored in an airtight container with confectioners sugar.

Felicia’s notes:
• If you want to create purple try mixing blue and red, but for a real purple you will need to buy purple food coloring.
• The flavors are intense, and when added to the pot it turns into a strong enough vapor that you will probably want to open a window or two.
• Use old cookie sheets you don’t care about as they will get scratched up. Mark the bottom of each “candy” pan with an “x” or store with holiday decorations so they are easy to find.
• Really butter the sheets or the candy will stick to them.
• If you can, take the sheet or molds into the garage or onto the porch where cool air will help facilitate the cutting process by making the candy cool and thus harden faster.
• Use a pizza cutter, not a knife, when first scoring during the cooling process.
• Dip the pizza cutter in butter so it will not stick.
• Simplify the powdered sugar process by having a bowl of confectioners sugar ready to toss the broken pieces into.
• If gifting and/or just for your own purposes, separate the different flavored candy into Ziploc bags – otherwise one flavor might take on another flavor. If this is not an issue for you, disregard.

candy turtles in making

Felicia’s Turtles
12 ounces (or smaller bag) of unwrapped soft caramels, cut in half
6 oz (about 1.5 cups) toasted pecan halves
5 ounce bag Hershey Kisses

Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Place pecan halves flat side down in rows. Place one (half) piece caramel on each. Cook six minutes at 350. Remove from oven and immediately place a Hershey Kiss on top of each. Let cool.

No Fail Chocolate Fudge from Felicia’s friend Heidi Currier who got it from a member of her church – Felicia’s daughters’ favorite holiday treat
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 Tbsp butter
1 2/3 cup sugar – Felicia prefers Domino vs. store brands
½ tsp salt
2 cups marshmallows
1 ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate bits
½ cup nuts

Mix evaporated milk, butter, sugar, and salt in sauce pan and let boil for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly. Take away from the heat and add marshmallows. Stir until melted and then add chocolate bits and add nuts. Pour into 8 inch greased pan.
Put in fridge to harden so you can cut up. Will keep 2-3 weeks covered in fridge.

And, while you’re at it…homemade peanut butter cups – because the only thing that might be as good as nuts/chocolate and whiskey is chocolate and nuts (ground or not). **Recipe on card in last picture.

candy peanut butter cups

candy pb recipe

Photographer Friday: Jeff Bridges

It’s Friday, I am a longtime Chicago Bears fan, and where I am in Maine anyway it is pretty chilly, so I figured we could all use something humorous this morning. Jeff Bridges is best known for being an actor, but he is also a photographer. He grew up on movie sets and has spent most of his adult life on them, so it seems reasonable all that creativity would have rubbed off on him in more ways than one.

In 1997 he produced a book for members of the crew of The Big Lebowski. I had just arrived in Los Angeles at the time and a friend on the film gifted me a copy. It’s a keeper. Sure I love the film and the Dude, and don’t even get me started on how awesome Steve Buscemi is, but for me it was one more welcome to Hollywood. Oh man did I love my years there and all the opportunities to work with incredibly talented and cool people. I never worked with Bridges, but from what I have heard and read he was/is a class act. There are a few of them and he is a reminder of the good ones on screen and off. He made 5,000 copies of The Big Lebowski book with his own money and distributed it to everyone who worked on the film. Bridges took pictures between takes on the set and what he chose to snap shows his knack for storytelling and humor.

In the introduction to his book Pictures, published in 2003 and now out of print, Bridges wrote about his camera of choice:

The Widelux is a fickle mistress; its viewfinder isn’t accurate, and there’s no manual focus, so it has an arbitrariness to it, a capricious quality. I like that. It’s something I aspire to in all my work — a lack of preciousness that makes things more human and honest, a willingness to receive what’s there in the moment and to let go of the result. Getting out of the way seems to be one of the main tasks for me as an artist.

Following are a few of Bridges’s images from The Big Lebowski book. Oh Dude!!

big l cover

ethan coen

dude selfie

Weekend Reading

On Thursdays I’ll be posting information about programs and events coming up, links to interesting and fun articles, and shout outs to some of my favorite people. A little reading for when you can find/create quiet moments to read and learn about stuff  I am excited about. Welcome to the first DM Weekend Reading post. ox

tree three

Want to learn more about botany, composting, extending the season and how to best grow apples and berries? Apply for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Volunteer training offered this winter and spring. 14 weekly sessions. After completing training, participants are required to return 40 hours of volunteer work in select community garden projects. Cost is $220 and limited scholarships are available. More information is online here.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont is currently accepting applications for their 2015 Journey Farmer Program. The Journey Farmer Program is a two-year program for beginning farmers who are in the first few years of running their own farming enterprise in Vermont. The program is largely shaped by the farming interests and goals of the Journey Farmers, and enables aspiring new farmers to advance their farming skills and experiences, along with being a part of a learning community of other aspiring farmers and farmer mentors. Applications and resumes are due by December 15. If you have any questions regarding the program or application contact Rachel Fussell, Education Coordinator, at rachel@nofavt.org. **For farmers in Maine, check out the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s website for information on farm apprenticeships and their Journeyperson program.

My friend John Goodman has a show called “HomeTown” opening tomorrow tonight at the Miller Yezerski Gallery at 460 Harrison Avenue in Boston. Show will be up thru December 20. Opening reception 6-8PM
Regular gallery hours 11AM – 5:30PM. Tuesday – Saturday
About the show in John’s words :
HomeTown is a series of forty-five portraits that I produced on assignment for magazines beginning in the late 1970’s. Over the years I was given access to many of the extraordinary people who have helped define the unique character of this city.
The real challenge in portraiture is gaining your subject’s trust. My process always begins with a conversation that leads into a collaboration and then some sort of performance. The search is often intuitive and life-affirming with the goal being a truthful, enduring portrait.
For me these photographic encounters continually reinforce my commitment to photography.

And…

The opening reception for Rogue Foundation’s art project with children in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo is Saturday, December 13 from 3-6PM at 508 West 26th Street in New York City. Each creative project (they’ve been to Afghanistan and Haiti) brings art supplies to children in need, giving them an opportunity to create, be free, share and heal.

Wagenia child

Better Late Than Never (a list of links to articles that already ran/posted, but thanks to the ever staying power of the Internet will be up for a while).

Thanksgiving recipes The New York Times reported are Googled most often in each state. Mainers like pumpkin whoopie pie, something I have yet to see or taste.

How to make a fancy crudités platter.  A few years ago I began passing up cookie trays in preference of those with fresh veggies at parties. Making a tray of cut up vegetables attractive is a wee bit harder than one might think.

Avocado breakfast recipes, because we all know how much I love avocadoes

Bath rituals from Garance Dore. My friend Abigail just gifted me some of her Maine Sea Salt Scrub, so I’ll be using that this weekend!

And, in all my geeked out Star Wars galaxy far far away self …a link to the new film’s trailer and hey what if Wes Anderson directed the Star Wars VII The Force Awakens trailer?  As I told my friend Shannon, who had as of yesterday not seen the trailer because she thinks it will make the 12 month wait we have to endure to see the film that much harder, hey at least we’ve got one more Hobbit film coming up and then of course there are the Star Wars (original three only!) and Tolkien film movie marathons when really in dire straights. Seriously folks, the one thing I might actually stand in line more than an hour for – the premier of the new Star Wars movie. #cannotwaitstarwars if it weren’t too long to be hashtagable.

my ac bandana at gos

Link Love (shout outs to my some of my favorite peeps)

A Gathering of Stitches – a making space for fiber and textile craftspeople. You’ll find me there starting in January w/ my friend Heather. We’re making quilts. Samantha who runs the place is a force of talented and inspiring nature. Check out the calendar for cool ways to spend some of your winter hours. I rented a desk there last winter before my first trip to Africa and made an Alabama Chanin bandana and learned to use a sewing machine (gotta happen if I want to finish a quilt).

Ayumi Horie, potter extraordinaire, is holding a holiday pottery shop on Sunday, December 7 starting at 6PM. I want one of her bowls!!

Wary Meyers. I’m so proud of these two!! I’ve got some of Linda and John’s soaps and candles and love them. Finally a soap that smells wonderful and does not disintegrate. My favorite is the Beachy Coconut Glycerin Soap, price $14.  I’ve got two of their Mainely Manly candles in my living room. Here’s their description “Undertones of native balsam, burning pine, and primitive musk, with a soft, close whisper of patchouli on the bearskin rug in front of the fireplace.” Yup, that just about sums it up.

Top two pics by me from Maine and the DR Congo. Bottom pic by Samantha Lindgren in Maine.

Making a Gingerbread House with Patricia Moroz

gingerbread village

It so happens that I love Christmas. Especially here in Maine, where every coastal town is like I would imagine Santa’s workshop to be. The interior of Maine, well that’s a place along the lines of how I would picture the North Pole. I’m not interested in the holiday sales or the pastries, but I enjoy dressing up for holiday cocktail parties, the colorful balls of lights hanging outdoors, decorating my own tree – while sipping eggnog and watching classic holiday films, and sending out holiday cards.  I also really like gingerbread houses and here goes total honesty – snow globes. Is it terrible that one of my most treasured possessions I brought back from Paris is a snow globe with a polar bear in it purchased for $12 from a children’s shop? For the longest time I’ve wanted one and when I saw this one it seemed worth the trouble of transporting it (really it’s not that big – about the size of a baseball) back home in my luggage. Aren’t I a bit old? Oh, heck it’s just so fun. Now though, to gingerbread houses…I haven’t gone to the trouble of making my own, because I have been gifted one the last couple years by pro cake designer Patricia Moroz, owner of Starlight Custom Cakes in Rockport, Maine. In the future though I can definitely see making one, wouldn’t that be fun?

Moroz has been Mid-Coast Maine’s authority on gingerbread houses for years, creating 100 – 150 gingerbread houses annually for a sale to benefit the Rockport Garden Club and at one time decorating the Camden Opera House’s holiday window displays.

Last year she shared her tips on building a gingerbread house with me for a post when blogging for the Portland Press Herald. This year, I’m sharing her tips with you…

Gather the family, pour the eggnog, and get ready to unleash your inner Frank Lloyd Wright. No architecture degree needed. To design your house or barn, search online for free gingerbread house or dollhouse patterns. Also check out Pinterest for pictures of gingerbread houses (these could come in especially handing when decorating).

Day One – Bake the pieces for the house(s).

Gingerbread House Dough – Patricia Moroz of Starlight Custom Cakes http://www.starlightcustomcakes.com
Her gingerbread recipe is considered to be a “construction dough” which means that it is technically edible but is not one that you would really love to eat because it will be hard as stone.

Wet Ingredients:
¾ cup vegetable shortening
½ cup molasses
½ cup corn syrup (light or dark)
5 Tbsp warm water

Dry Ingredients
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
¾ cup granulated sugar

1. Combine the “wet” ingredients in a mixer bowl (using the paddle) and mix well for several minutes. Depending upon the humidity and type of mixer you are using, you may have to add a little extra water in order to give the dough a “Play Dough” like consistency. Just add one Tbsp at a time until you achieve this.
2. Mix together the “dry” ingredients in a separate bowl.
3. Change mixer paddle and attach a dough hook. It is very important to use the dough hook when mixing wet and dry ingredients.
4. Add a few cups of dry ingredients to the wet mixture. Mix until all ingredients have been combined using the dough hook. Add small amounts of water (a Tbsp at a time) to dough mix, as needed. The dough should have the consistency of thick Play Dough. You should be able to roll a ball of dough in your hands without it sticking or without it being so dry that it is cracking. If you cannot easily roll out the cracks, then your dough is too dry and you need to add more water. If you add too much water, then you will need to use extra flour on your roller and hands when rolling the dough out.
5. Once mixed, place dough in a plastic bag and let sit on counter for an hour before rolling out to use.
6. Preheat oven to 325.
7. Roll dough onto parchment paper cut to fit the size of your baking pans and use a template of the house or shapes you wish to create. Remove excess dough from the parchment paper instead of lifting the gingerbread. Cut windows, doors, or any openings with a knife before putting the house pieces in the oven to cook.
8. Bake pieces at 325 F until edges are light brown (approximately 15-20 minutes depending on your oven, check after 10 minutes and then every few minutes). Even if the pieces are a little underdone, they will dry hard and be usable. Set aside until cool and ready for assembly and decorating
9. Baked pieces should air dry overnight (at least 24 hours) on parchment paper counter or table. Do not wrap in plastic or refrigerate.

Patricia’s Notes
This construction dough bakes exactly how it is placed into the oven and does not puff up like softer doughs, which is why the windows and cut outs come out so clean.

If you were making a barn, you may want to cut out a square shape in the upper level like many barns have for the loft area. All cut outs would happen before it is placed into the oven to be baked. You can also make doors and trim pieces etc. and bake them separately and glue to the large house pieces after all has been baked. Any impression that is left on the cutout pieces before they are baked will show up on the final piece so if you want a wood impression, you can simply use a knife to make light slices in the gingerbread or a brick pattern etc. People should use their imagination and look to see what they can find around the house.

Buy a cardboard circle for cheap at Walmart or a art supply store, or make one at home reusing thick cardboard. Glue two to each other and cover in foil. Put house on top and then decorate. *Just cut to size of house making.

gingerbread detail

Day Two – Decorate the house(s).

Royal Icing (the “glue” or “cement” that holds the pieces together)
2 lbs. Confectioners sugar
6 level Tbsp of meringue powder (egg white powder – can be found at Michaels Arts & Crafts or Walmart) *Patricia prefers Wilton
6 Tbsp water
Add food coloring if you want a color other than white.

Mix the ingredients for at least 10-15 minutes using a mixer. The longer you beat it, the thicker it gets. If too thick, add a Tbsp of water at a time till get consistency you want (a thick peanut butter consistency). Icing should be ready when it holds a peak.

Tips from Patricia Moroz on Creating a Gingerbread Farm
Fencing – One could use pretzels, crackers or actually cut strips of gingerbread and bake just like you would the actual house pieces.

Animals – Can be made of gingerbread. Use cutters or just trace a pattern. Cut the gingerbread about a quarter inch thick and then can be decorated after baked and attached to the board with royal icing. Most people cover the board after the house has been placed on it with royal icing. This would be a good time to sit the animals where you want them because they will dry into the icing and will never come off again! Cookie cutters can be found at baking stores online (e.g. Beryls, Pfeil). However, to save time and money, you can trace them from a book or image and cut them from a pattern without a cutter. One way for first timers to figure out how to make pigs, chickens, etc. is to use some clay books (e.g. Modeling Clay Animals: Easy-to-Follow Projects in Simple Steps by Bernadette Cuxart) as guides. They are available at craft stores and will show you step by step how to make a pig figure, chickens etc.

If someone wants very colorful animals and figures, they can always purchase a small container of fondant and color portions using cake coloring paste (hobby stores, Walmart, and the above mentioned online sources). If you buy white fondant, you can color by mixing with cake paste colors. Keep in mind individual pieces once shaped can be glued together just by using a dab of water, fondant stick to fondant with just a little moisture.

Animals can be attached against the house with a couple dots of royal icing behind each piece (animal) or put at the bottom and stick onto the board and it will stand up.

Trees – Patricia’s trees are made of chocolate and sugar, but to simplify things for the homemade/fun with the family experience just use sugar cones (ice cream cones) and waffle cones for larger trees. Cover with green icing, texture however you might want to, and glue on any decorations. When the base for the house is being covered with the royal icing, you can simply place the trees where you would like them into the royal icing and they will dry in place. Sift some snow onto them once they are dry.

Snow – When sifting confectioners sugar onto the house, be sure to use a fine sifter and wait until the royal icing is dry to the touch. If you use a sifter that has larger pores, it will dump the sugar on much to heavy. If there is too much in a spot, just use a soft paint brush to brush it to where you want it.

Storage
These houses are made for the season, but can keep for a number of years. Store in a cool dry place for them to last as long as possible but really, enjoy it for the season and make a new one the next season. Do not try to preserve with a spray lacquer. It will turn the white parts yellow and you never know when a child or someone will sneak by and break a little bit off for a nibble.

Do not use candy canes as part of the decoration if you want to keep the house. According to Patricia, as soon as they are opened and glued onto the house or base, they will start to melt within about two weeks or so.

Holiday Cards and USPS Forever stamps and p.s. sending and receiving mail in Africa

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday weekend.  It’s good to be home, though I would have preferred my recent trip to Eastern Africa and Paris not have flown by so quickly. I’m still getting my bearings and figuring out what to make of being home and planning to write all about where I went and why early next year. Just need some time to process.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying those perfect chocolate chip salted cookies from Tandem Bakery, reading The New York Times (paper version!) over breakfast, watching football games (WOW WOW Auburn vs. Alabama and Packers vs. Pats) on TV, fires in the fireplace, the gals of Great Cluck Egg Farm (of course!) and making plans with friends.

Since I came home to the arrival of the holiday season I have also begun writing my holiday cards. Being the responsible lady I am with particular taste, and not knowing exactly when I’d return home, I had ordered a few boxes of Rifle Paper Company’s holiday cards to be waiting for me.  I love the company and their holiday cards are all I use.

This morning I went to the local post office to get stamps for said holiday cards and was a wee bit giddy to find stamps featuring four characters from the TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – the one from the 1950s narrated by Burl Ives.  I especially love Bumble, the kind misinterpreted monster. $9.80 for a sheet of 20.

Bumble

I also brought home a few sheets of the US Postal Service’s – for lack of better description – food lover stamps. As a gal who would prefer to cling to snail mail for personal correspondence, I’ll admit to being surprised it took me reading the December 2014 issue of Bon Appetit magazine over the weekend to bring me up to speed on this line of Forever stamps released back in September that are dedicated to five “celebrity chefs” including the “Grand Dame of Southern Cooking” the one and only beautiful Edna Lewis, teacher James Beard, and author Julia Child.

Illustrations by artist Jason Seiler (my guess is you’ve already seen his other work and it might have made you smile). Wondering how the USPS chose who to put on the sugar-free, fat-free, zero-calorie stamps (the USPS description)? Go here. $9.80 for a sheet of 20.

This is almost enough to make me like the USPS again.

celeb chefs

 

p.s. Sending and Receiving mail in Africa. In those countries where postal service exists (last I heard it was on hold in Somalia), the recipient is notified he/she has mail and picks it up at the place of business in town that doubles as a post office (restaurant/hotel…). I’m not entirely sure how the person is made aware he/she has mail or how long it takes to be notified, but my impression is it is more efficient than one might think (not sure what that means exactly). In cities residents are required to get a post box (no pushing mail through a slot) – which is how it is where I live and at least some other rural areas I know in the United States. There are few street names – even in parts of Kigali (Rwanda’s capital), and even fewer numbered houses (fyi, this can make wiring money and getting/giving directions a total nightmare) = your address is for the purposes of a package – your name/P.O. Box/town/country. Though, actually after writing that I will note almost every home I saw in Rwanda had a number painted on the exterior – so a system seems to be coming into order. To send a letter you need to visit an actual post office or the place doubling as it. For packages, best left to DHL or FedEx (unless a business in a major city, assume this will also require delivering said package or item to the business office).

Snapshots from Paris and a few Sourcebook updates

I’ve left Africa and made my way to Paris. I’m sitting in an American themed cafe called “LouLou” on St. Germain Blvd. Turns out as into Paris fashion as American women are, the Parisians are as infatuated with American culture. The vanilla milkshake here, well it just about rivals Duckfat’s in Portland, Maine. Across the street is a beautiful, rather large, old church. In an hour or so I’ll walk a block up to the metro and take a train to the Pigalle neighborhood, where I’ve rented an incredibly adorable apartment for the week. Five flights up, it has a full kitchen with an electric stove I am using to heat up soup at night that I pair with a simple green salad and a bountiful cheese plate (this is France after all).

Last night it rained again, so I went to the art house theatre the Cinema Etoile Pagode (check out photos here) and saw Woody Allen’s most recent film Magic in the Moonlight with the always dreamy Colin Firth. It was the perfect early evening and place to see this particular film (which is very good aside from the fact that the two main characters have zero romantic chemistry). Woody Allen loves Paris, but more than that Firth plays a magician from the Orient and the theatre’s decor is Japanese. The film going experience here is an unusual one – concessions are sold by a young woman with a tray of a few goodies outside the door to one of the two screening rooms and inside red blankets are piled up for patron’s warmth. You feel very much like you are in a wealthy Parisian’s living room.

A few years ago I wrote up a couple Sourcebooks for Paris – “Shop” and “Eat“….following are a few updates:
For Shopping – I’m still a fan of Repetto, and if ever there was a quintessential Parisian shoe brand this is it. Monoprix is as convenient as ever, in fact I’m impressed by the quality of their cheeses. The rest I’d chuck. Rather, I’d recommend LaMarthe for an elegant semi-luxury bag that’s French designed and European made – shop located on St. Germain Blvd. I happened to time it right and scored a bag for 50% off!!! Also, all the super lovely independently owned jewelry shops in the Marais and Pigalle neighborhoods. I’m not a department store gal and have zero interest in chains like H&M, but if that’s your thing you’ll find those along Rue de Rivoli and near Place de la Bastille.
For Eats – I didn’t go to any of the places I mentioned in that post this time, so here are a few new ones…. LouLou for good American fare at #90 St. Germain Blvd. in the Latin Quarter (further up the road are the far better known Les Deux Magots and Cafe de Fiore known for attracting intellectuals during the first part of the 20th century), Rose Bakery at #46, rue des Martyrs in Montmartre (while on that street check out all the food shops including #22 Sebastien Guard and get the tarte au citron),  and on Rue Montorgueil you will find a number of cafes great for people watching – just read the menu posted outside the seating area before committing.
For COFFEE! The following are places I went: Ten Belles – good if you are wandering the canals st Martin, Fragments (plenty of pastries!),  and my favorite Telescope (near the Louvre).  These are recommended by friends in Paris: Coutume – over by the Eiffel Tower, Loustic – near the Marais, and Cafeotheque (a different style to the others ) not too far from the Institut du Monde Arabe (a superb museum, and one of Time Magazine‘s 10 things to do in Paris).

OK, Pics from my time in Paris.

seine nd in distance day three

Walking along the Seine. This was taken on one of my rare sunny days here. When not walking the city’s beautifully aged streets, I’m riding the metro, which is super easy to navigate and ultra convenient!

Institut du Monde Arabe architect

Institut du Monde Arabe Mustaffa craftsman day three

Institut du Monde Arabe tea

Institut du Monde Arabe cookies

Institut du Monde Arabe tagine Lamb prunes and almonds

The Institut du Monde Arabe is a modern building dedicated to ancient times. I scored gold with the temporary exhibit dedicated to Moroccan culture (specifically Rabat and Casablanca) and went back twice for lunch and green tea. Three cheers for their lamb tagine and my new friend Mustafa who gifted me a good luck charm to carry with me during my travels in Africa. I returned to thank him and he turned it into a keychain. He studied woodworking for years in Morocco and as you can maybe tell from the picture I took – his feet are an integral part of the craft making process.

louvre outside day two

Louvre

Louvre two

The Louvre, a must as far as I’m concerned when in Paris. It’s closed Tuesday and all other days lines can be quite long so I recommend going early – as in get there by 9:30 a.m. A friend here told me lines are also short toward day’s end. It’s a huge museum so do what you can and leave the rest for another visit. Each time I go I see something new. This time I spent a couple hours with the Italian and Spanish paintings in the museum’s collection. A portion of that time I watched an older gentleman painting a replica of a portrait by Raffaello Sanzio of Jean d’Aragon. A guard explained the gentleman is an art student. He was incredible – a lot of people stopped and watched him, looked at his hands and palette and painting – and then at the painting he was copying and honestly you couldn’t – at least the untrained eye – see a difference. I got a couple sorry shots of his palette, but didn’t want to bother him so just left the experience as it was. Wish I could have photographed his hands, they were beautiful. Old, large, and worked. A working man’s hands, a painter’s hands.

day two Telescope more owls

day two Telescope

Telescope at 5 rue Villedo, a 5-10 minute walk from the Louvre. Nicholas the owner has a thing for owls so if you have one bring it and you might make a new friend in Paris. Thanks Will and Kathleen at Tandem for recommending!!

And my neighborhood – Pigalle/Montmartre…

haven living dining room

haven living room

Haven view

The dining room/living room in the apartment I’m renting and one of the views. I’ll be doing a whole blog post on my love affair with Haven in Paris. Not only have they provided me a beautiful, comfortable home away from home, they have taken such good care of me from the flowers and wine awaiting my arrival to moving small mountains so I could arrive earlier than expected.

Montmartre souvenir shops

Montmartre souvenir eiffel towers

Souvenir shop and mini Eiffel Towers near  the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. This time I ventured into the church and sat for a while with memories of Sunday mornings from years ago accompanying Madame Abad to services while a student in Strasbourg. There are beautiful cathedrals all over France and those she took me to as my host parent had service in Latin. I am as enamored now as I was then with the great architecture and historic significance.

Rose Bakery soup

Sebastien Gaudard Tarte Citron

Vegetable soup at Rose Bakery followed by a tarte au citron from Sebastien Gaudard.  ox

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about this blog

About Me Sharon Kitchens and Delicious Musings. Welcome and thank you for visiting my blog. I write about all the things I enjoy - Culture, Food, Photography &Travel. Read more on my about page.

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