Thursday, February 24, 2011

Because I'm a Sloth

February is a very  s l o w  month here at Pie In The Sky.

Beside the fact that winter has returned (as I voiced my hopefulness for in the post for February 13) with a new blanket of snow, there is not much to report. I decided not to show pictures of the snow since that would detract from the lovely flowers in my previous post.

I am enjoying the slothful pace of a quiet month so please forgive me if I am not very creative here. If you are a new visitor there are many more thoughtful posts you could browse in the archive. May I recommend my Ode to Boys or to the Best Dog in the Whole Wide World? Or how about my hair raising adventure with French Bullet Trains? (After you read Part One, you'll need to know how the saga ended.) You could watch me hack at my boys' hair or read my rant about the dirth of good pie. A little summer reminiscence could include butchering chickens on the farm or planting the garden

But, if none of those sound diverting, how about this for a chuckle. Everyone needs a reason to laugh in February and this one makes me LOL everytime I watch it.

I just love creative people. Wish I could be one every day.

Notes on the video:

1. I love how she holds the glasses by their stem!
2. The earrings!
3. She knows bad wine when she tastes it.
4. It took me three viewings before I noticed her "enhanced" figure.
5. So pretty much, bar patrons who become drunk turn into babies.

Have a great day!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Flowers in February

God gave us our memories so that we might have roses in December.
-   James Matthew Barrie, (1860-1937)

 Life is like a rose . . . More exquisite and precious,
When shared with others.
-   Jane Oechsle Lauer

Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers
and never succeeding.
-  Marc Chagall

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin;
yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
-   Bible, Matthew, 6:28-29

When words escape, flowers speak.
-   Bruce W. Currie

"What grows in the garden, so lovely and rare?  Roses and Dahlias and people grow there." 
-   From the TV show A Gardener's Diary


The lily was created on the third day, early in the morning
when the Almighty was especially full of good ideas.   

-   Michael Jefferson-Brown

"The Earth Laughs in Flowers."
-  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Every rose is an autograph from the hand of God on His world about us.  He has inscribed His thoughts in these marvelous hieroglyphics which sense and science have, these many thousand years, been seeking to understand.
-    Theodore Parker

"Flowers are love's truest language." 
-   Park Benjamin 

"Observe this dew-drenched rose of Tyrian gardens
A rose today.  But you will ask in vain
Tomorrow what it is; and yesterday
It was the dust, the sunshine, and the rains."
-  Christina Rosetti 

"Still - in a way - nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small - we haven't the time -and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time."
-  Georgia O'Keeffe

 "I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck."
-   Emma Goldman   

What a desolate place would be a world without flowers.   It would be a face without a smile; a feast without a welcome. Are not flowers the stars of the earth?  Are not our stars the flowers of heaven?
-  Clara L. Balfour

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Presidents Day

Recently in our homeschool studies, our reading book had a couple pages devoted to a list of the U.S. Presidents. Since today is President's Day and the boys are loudly wailing their lamentations over having to still attend classes when the rest of the school-age population is living free and easy, I thought I'd tell you about our little presidential lesson.

First we discussed which of the presidents they were familiar with and then I had them each choose the name of a president of which they hadn't heard. I wanted them to look up the name they chose, read about the president and give a little oral report. The main difference in how this exercise was carried out and how I would have done it at their age is that we didn't use an Encyclopedia Britannica.

We used the internet.

What has happened to all the millions of encyclopedia's in the world I would just like to know.

Peter immediately chose the name of Calvin Coolidge. He thought it was amazing that there was a president named Calvin. His current favorite reading material is Calvin and Hobbes. (Classical homeschoolers reading Chaucer and Shakespeare?- We are not.) He thought a president named Calvin had to be a fun president.

Samuel chose the president named James Garfield. I'll let you extrapolate why he chose it.

It turns out these two presidents were interesting. We found this great little website with a page and photo for each president. The reading material was only slightly beyond the boys' abilities but with my help they learned some memorable facts about the men's lives.

Calvin Coolidge started out as the vice president for Warren G. Harding. He was sworn in as president when Harding suffered a heart attack and died suddenly. At the time Coolidge was visiting his parents' family home in Vermont. Coolidge was sworn into office in the middle of the night with his own father presiding and his hand on the family Bible.

He was later sworn in again in Washington when there was a question as to the validity of the oath conducted by a notary public. 

James Garfield was a Union army general during the Civil War when Ohioans elected him to congressional office and continued to re-elect him for eighteen more years. His term as U.S. President was cut short in the first year when he was shot in a railroad station. He suffered with his wound for two months. Samuel was interested to read that Alexander Graham Bell used a device to try to locate the bullet but was unsuccessful. Consequently, Garfield eventually died from infection and internal hemorrhage.

In honor of President's Day we will read about a few more of the men that have occupied this highest office in our nation. My goal is simply to acquaint my eight year old and ten year old boys with the names and official terms (oath of office, inauguration, four year terms, etc.) as an elementary civics lesson.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ready to Party!

Here's the finished carrot cake-

It would be even more fun with a lit sparkler in the middle! If they'd make them cleaner burning...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Moist Sweet Carrot Cake

Carrot cake is a big favorite with my family and clients and one of the easiest of cakes to make. I think every family probably has their own well-loved recipe handed-down among generations. It is such a classic. My recipe came from my mother who once judged baked goods at the Oregon State Fair. This carrot cake was one of the blue ribbon winners. I have always used it and it always gets rave reviews.

No matter what kind of cake or dessert I am making I always start by lining the baking pan with parchment paper. Removing the cake after cooling is completely trouble free with parchment paper.
I butter the sides of the pan or I use a baking spray. I never flour coat the pan. That's just me. I don't like how flour dries out the edges of the cakes. The absence of flour doesn't affect the removal of the cake.

For two 9" round layers or one 9" x 13" pan or one bundt cake pan start by mixing two cups of sugar, one cup of oil and three whole eggs.

Next mix in the good stuff:

one cup of drained crushed pineapple....

...and two cups of grated carrot. I use my food processor to chop the carrots into tiny bits.

Add one teaspoon of vanilla and beat on low to mix well.

Next add two and a half cups of all purpose flour, one teaspoon of baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon of cinnamon. Beat until the flour is absorbed, scraping the bowl as necessary.

One cup of chopped nuts is an optional addition to the cake. Walnut or pecans are divine!

Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

Let me share a baker's trick with a fuzzy out-of-focus photo:
Wrap the outside of the baking pan with strips of wet cloth- I use terry cloth towel strips or cotton sheet strips about three inches wide. (These are browned from many uses in the oven.) These damp baking strips will even out the baking of the cake so that a dome doesn't rise up in the middle. The layers of a stacked cake will be easier to assemble.

Bake the cake in a 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes until it passes a toothpick test.

This carrot cake is so moist and sweet it doesn't even need frosting but to gild the lily, a cream cheese icing is the perfect finish. Try it and tell me what you think.

Carrot Cake
Blend together:
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
3 whole eggs

2 cups grated carrots
1 cup drained crushed pineapple
1 teaspoon vanilla

Stir in:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Mix well.

Stir in 1 cup of chopped walnuts or pecans if desired.

Pour into greased and papered baking pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Will Wonders Ever Cease?

I have been a potter for thirty years and can make pottery with ease at a potter's wheel, forming shapes as I see them in my mind without too much back-talk from the clay. Now, firing...that is another subject... but clay is my comfortable medium. With years behind the wheel I can make myself happy with my creations in clay.

Since the wedding cake business has taken over my kitchen, I haven't had time to spend in my pottery studio in almost a year. Every time I walk by my little green building I think about spending a few hours throwing some clay again but I don't actually do it. It's cold out there. The spiders have taken over in my absence. Maybe when the sun starts shining again I can deal with the clean-up I'll have to do before I can even slap a lump of clay on the wheel head.

So in quiet moments I've been daydreaming about trying my hand at some painting. Just for fun. Just for me. I painted a wee tiny bit when I was a youngster and got very frustrated at my lack of technical ability. Clay was much more appealing and I loved even the lopsided pots in the beginning. With painting I couldn't live with the poor results of my efforts. But now I want to try again. The fact that I don't have to submit the canvas to a process like firing in a kiln makes the idea less ominous.

I bought a paint set and supplies last fall and they sat in the corner for months. Last month I decided to play around and see what I could do. I'm self-taught in so many areas of my life (which I don't necessarily recommend. The learning curve can be looooong and steep.) so I figured that experimentation may lead to something. Either frustration or fun I guess.

I started just making what would be backgrounds for a still life. Color blends and graduations. It was fun. Then I read about the February show at the gallery which was a challenge to artists to think square.
I decided to use it as motivation to complete something with paint.

I know I already told you about my painting but since I took photos of the process I thought I would share that too.

I painted numerous 12 x 16 canvas papers with these graduating "background" colors. In the end I painted about twenty of them in every color.

I then cut them all up into two inch squares. I started with my rotary cutter that I use for quilting. It didn't take long for my arm to ache with the effort and despite my careful cutting, the squares were not perfectly matched.

At my daughter's suggestion I switched to an old-fashioned paper cutter which worked much better and was more accurate.

I ended up with hundreds of squares...

...which I then arranged, and rearranged. And then I painted some more. And cut some more and started arranging again.

The whole section that is more stippled then the rest I ended up repainting too.

...until finally I had colors that blended as I wanted. The final product wasn't exactly as my initial vision had been and I eventually just made myself stop and settle because I could have kept up the rearranging for decades.  I then glued the squares onto a 36 inch square board. At first I thought I would decoupage them down with a roller and a top coat of clear sealer but I decided I really liked the texture of the edges slightly raised up. People have commented that it looks woven or quilted. I'm glad for that since my original idea was sparked by quilts I have seen made in this fashion.

Mr. Dirtywrench made me a perfect frame for the piece that finished it off splendidly.

Today I found out that my little painting exercise- for fun, for me,- sold one week after the opening.

I'm gob-smacked.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Listen To Punxsutawney Phil

Here in Oregon, we were one of the seventeen states of the U.S. that was not slammed by blustery, frigid, mid-winter blizzards. While other Americans have been digging their cars out of snowbanks and paying outrageous heating bills, we've been opening windows and planning the gardens. The mountain has lost most of its snow pack resulting in a very disappointing ski and snowboard season.

I'm not trying to gloat or anything. Though we are enjoying the spring-like temperatures and frost-free roads, residents here are always a bit on edge knowing that it is just too early to get settled into spring.

We want to whisper to the awakening  buds to pull up the covers and go back to sleep for a couple more weeks- we'll wait.  From experience we know that any day things could suddenly change- the temperatures could drop and we'll get buried with snow. Worse yet, the temperatures could just drop. And drop again.

So we are hesitant to embrace the temperatures of spring in the fear that as soon as we start pruning and raking and planting primroses, the North Wind will laugh boisterously and blast us for our folly.

We've lost plants to this fickle season many times such as roses and shrubs pruned too soon.  Fruit crops have been destroyed when the buds on the trees woke too early only to have winter suddenly return for one last hurrah. 

No matter what nature seems to be telling us we need to keep checking the calender. Yep. It's still winter.

With his thoughts turning to spring, Mr. Dirtywrench hauled load after load of black gold from the compost pile, aka the Pile O' Crap, to rejuvenate the raised beds before planting time.

Mr. D. is a keeper, doncha think?

But I won't get too excited about planting those seeds quite yet. According to the calender it's February. Winter.

Oh yeah! It's Valentine's Day.

That explains the semi-annual arts and crafts mess in my kitchen.

And the extra four hours I spent making special cookies for the shop customers instead of the standard chocolate chip and peanut butter.

These are Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Valentine Cookies modified for the cookie jar. Powdered sugar decorations would never hold up in a cookie jar so I drizzled them with white chocolate. I just want to say that the cookie dough, oh my, the cookie dough made for divine eating. And I try not to eat cookie dough as a rule. I never even ate a finished cookie to test because I ate too much of the dough. Delicious!

For the first time in recent historical memory, Mr. D. and I are going out to dinner on Valentine's Day. I think we may have gone out sometime in our early days but not since having kids (read in twenty-eight years) can I remember going out. Maybe that's just because having children has sucked all the brain cells out of my memory banks. Regardless, I usually cook because Valentine's Day falls just before pay day, that is, when we are dead broke. But this year we are breaking tradition and going out. May wonders never cease during this, our thirtieth year of marriage.

What are you doing for Valentine's Day?

Friday, February 11, 2011


Not much to talk about at the home-front lately but I do feel inclined to talk about the state of the world.

I have never been so moved by watching the evening news as I was tonight. I feel privileged to witness the self-liberation of the Egyptian people. What an astounding event! The euphoria of the Egyptian nation is deeply touching.

I have been reading about their oppression in the last few days and the connection of the U.S. to the sustenance of it. To witness the rising up of the population and the peaceful yet successful revolution against a brutal despot that ruled over them for thirty years (sustained by billions of American aid dollars) is enough to give anyone hope. For a change, in a world full of bad news and depressing forecasts for the economic and political future driven by seemingly heartless and inept politicians, to see civilians perform an act of self-liberation in the manner that the Egyptian people accomplished, shows that the common people can have a voice and make a difference in their homeland.

They say that other dictatorial regimes are now shaking in their bloody boots and I hope that they are. I pray that it does give courage and hope to other people suffering in oppression around the world.

What do you think of the events taking place?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Comfort Food- Rice Pudding

One of the very first dishes I began making especially to please my husband (that is, besides cheesecake) was rice pudding.

It all began in the early days when we were dating and he took me to a Sunday brunch buffet at a hotel restaurant. For that twenty-something hungry man, an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet was heaven on a plate.  Sausage, bacon, eggs, ham, pancakes, biscuits, gravy and waffles- all in the same meal. The pinnacle of delight was the rice pudding which I can still remember him introducing me to since I had no idea what it was and had never before eaten. The hotel's cold rice pudding was served in a massive but neatly mounded heap that I believe had been turned out of a mold or large pan serving as such. The pudding was heavily coated with ground cinnamon and served with whipped cream. Mr. Dirtywrench loved it. I enjoyed it too and served myself up some every time we visited for brunch.

The rice pudding recipe I found to make in my own kitchen was in my newly (in 1981) acquired Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook which I had received at a wedding shower. That cookbook, as well as the orange Betty Crocker, was what fed us and nudged me along in my kitchen career. Over the years this rice pudding has been our constant family favorite and the kids still get excited when they smell the cinnamon emanating from the kitchen. It is most delicious while still warm from the oven with fresh whipped cream but eating it cold for breakfast can't be beat either! It's a great way to use rice leftover from dinner.

Rice Pudding
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk (or half and half)
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all the ingredients and pour into a shallow baking dish or small casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Stir. Sprinkle the top with ground cinnamon. Continue baking until custard is set, 20-30 minutes more. Serves six.

(I always double or triple this recipe and make a massive pan. One serving each is never enough around here.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Kodak Moments

I took my babies to the airport today... leave on a jet plane to their home three million miles away.

I try not to think about what that means.

Though Jonah always likes another excuse to see airplanes, he was very sad to leave Grandma's house.

While they were here we made a lot of wonderful memories together.
We did a lot of cooking together in the kitchen.

Hung out with friends and family...

Stocked up on baby time and snuggles and kisses.

The kids did all kinds of fun things together: swimming, roller skating, hiking....

....played games, read books...

I cherish our moments together as a family, no matter how short, how fleeting.

I also cherish all the photos we take to preserve those family times.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Art Squared

Katie and I attended the opening reception for Art Squared at the Columbia Art Gallery.

This show was open to all previously juried artists for the gallery and there were quite a lot of submissions for the challenge to make square art.
There were numerous paintings in the show that were new work painted on square canvases.

I was especially interested in seeing what artists did with the square theme.
I should have taken a close-up photo of this piece since the painting was covered with circle shapes that looked like bubbles. The squares were made with circles.

It was good to see some other media besides paintings including some clay... well as some glass and even square jewelry pieces.

I liked these paintings that were colorfully framed.

This was an original idea with a painting mounted on a large tile of clay that had been fired with a raku method for beautiful texture and color. I especially like it because the subject is a mug that was made by a potter friend of mine.

I also really like these submissions by a painter that I traded with last year. Remember my difficulty in choosing which paintings to take home?

But the works I enjoyed seeing most were the ones where the artist challenged themselves with the square theme. This basket is only big enough to hold a thimble.

My painting was hung in the foyer of the gallery with a creative sculpture called Square Roots and I thought they made a great pair.