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Friday, December 24, 2010

More Cookies!

Real ones, this time. Every year I bake a whole lot of cookies, for family, friends, neighbors, teachers, etc.

Spritz Christmas Trees:
I love my cookie gun; such a fast and fun way to make a lot of cookies at once. In this case, my oven decided to act up a bit, so the edges of the cookies browned when they shouldn't have. They still taste good. Recipe from Page Dorsey, in Just Cross Stitch's 2004 Christmas Ornaments issue.

Toffee Crackle Cookies and Finnish Gingersnaps:
From Christmas Cookies 2007 and Lydia Baldauf in 2002 Christmas Ornaments.

Christmas Wreaths:
My mom made these every year when I was a girl. This is my first time making them since then, and it is quite easy if sticky -- basically the Rice Krispies Treats recipe, but with green food coloring and corn flakes instead of rice krispies. My mom decorated them with red hots, but I could not find any this year (odd), so I used red frosting. Recipe from Kellog's, I guess?

Chocolate Pretzels:
The "salt" is coarse sugar. Recipe from Christmas Cookies 2007.

Sugar Plums:
The real thing -- finely chopped dried fruit and nuts mixed with spices and honey and rolled in sugar. Recipe from Alton Brown. I think mine are a little coarse, but I was afraid of over-processing the fruit and nuts and turning it into mush. Also, unbeknownst to me, the prunes were not pitted. Which is ridiculous, and almost broke my food processor. These are pretty tasty, but I'm thinking next time I will use dates (which I love) instead of prunes, and maybe change the spices a bit to give it a middle-eastern flavor.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter Ice

Preparations for the upcoming holidays (and a house that needs to be cleaned from top to bottom) (not that I've actually done that) have kept me from posting much, but I'll try to remedy that by including in this post all the Christmas crafts I've been working on (all the non-holiday stuff I've made over the last few months will have to wait for another day).

This year I decided to decorate in mostly green and white and silver. Over the mantle I took out the quilt that is normally there, and hung from the rod various snowflakes:
I tied two or three "snowflakes" to a length of clear beading thread and tied that to the rod. The white lace doilies I bought a few years ago; usually I hang them at different heights in a window (an idea from Martha Stewart). The green snowflakes are another idea from Martha Stewart -- punch out seven snowflakes (or 14, for a double thickness) and glue them into a hexagon, then coat them in fine glitter. There are no close-ups, because it turns out I am shamefully inept at glitter, and there are bald spots that I could not glitter no matter how many times I tried (good thing I followed the magazine's advice and used matching green paper). The bottom center star is an old plastic ornament, which I should probably toss because it is starting to yellow.

The beaded snowflakes I made a number of years ago, from a Martha Stewart kit (I'm not obsessed, it only seems that way). It is just rocaille beads (size 10 maybe) strung on wire and twisted; I think that technique is known as French wire beading. After hanging up the five I made back then, I pulled out the supplies and made the rest of them, to adorn jars of spiced peach preserves for Beadboy1's teacher, therapists, and paras:
(I only used two of the designs, as I remember the third one being annoying.)

For the windows that usually get doilies I put up instead icicles:
Ten of these beaded ones, from, you guessed it, yet another old Martha Stewart kit. (The photo does not do them justice; Beadboy1 used his superpowers to screw up the settings in less than a second.) Only ten of them looked rather sparse, so I made more icicles from chandelier crystals I picked up at Home Depot.

The crystals:
I removed the gold wire and reattached them with silver, then tied sheer ribbon between the two pieces:
White and green for now, but the pink ribbon was so pretty I made a couple with that; maybe I'll put them up for Valentine's Day.

The icicles:
The strand of crystals along the top is vintage, one of three I have. The metal connecting them is cheap cheap cheap, and breaks if you look at it funny, so sometime in my future I will have the enviable task of wiring all those crystals together.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Last year's Quilting Arts Gifts mag had Kelli Nina Perkins's "Frosted Holiday Treats" which were so cute. But they involved a lot of painting, which is not my thing, so I decided to make my cookies felt. When I made the paper cloth last February, I realized that would make a perfect frosting (and no coincidence -- the paper cloth technique is Perkins's, too). So I made two sheets, both "sprinkled" with words I cut out of the Nutcracker (a photo-copied page, of course), and painted one green and the other white.

A few days ago, I used cookie cutters to cut out stars from the white sheet and trees from the green:

I machine-sewed them onto tan felt leftover from the Advent Calendar and cut them out, leaving a border of felt for the unfrosted part of the cookie:

I then sewed on some bugle beads for jimmies (sprinkles to you non-New Englanders):

The last step was to sew them onto more felt for the backing. Et voila:

Coincidentally, the swap this time in my Crazy Fridays class was a small project involving words, which was a good thing because otherwise I would not have been able to swap anything. So one member got two cookies, and I got the instructor's piece -- Busy Work by Diane Rode Schneck:
I love it, and will put it in my sewing room.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Flying by Eric Kraft

It's funny I read this so soon after Tristam Shandy, because that book was clearly an influence; Flying opens with a quote from it, and even has similar diagrams tracking stories and digressions. But where Tristam Shandy was about the difficulties of creating (or just finishing) a story, Craft's book is about the unreliability of stories.

Peter Leroy is the famous "Birdboy of Babbington," who, as a teenager in the 50's, built a flying motorcycle and flew from Long Island to New Mexico and back. But now, happily married and retired, he is writing his memoirs to tell the truth -- he never actually got off the ground. The book, which is really three novellas, two previously published (apparently most of Kraft's fiction is about Peter Leroy at different stages of his life) and one new, alternates between the memoirs Peter is writing and the recreation of the trip he takes with his wife, Albertine. But although Peter wants to set the record straight, that is not quite as easy as it would seem.

What follows is a very funny story, or stories, as Peter encounters rather twisted versions of Smalltown, America. A festival celebrating marshmallows (every item on the buffet incorporates them), a newspaper devoted to prognostication, a dungeon in a castle on top of a hill on a stormy night (or maybe it was just a water tower), a diner determined to give every man, woman, and child a heart attack on a plate, a restaurant in an old mill run by a painfully hip couple, characters that step right out of 50's pulp magazines, it goes on and on. Determining "what really happened" is impossible -- there is a reason why the NYT review said "a Venn diagram . . . would show the extremely slender overlap between the set of readers who like the ineffable, high-concept fiction of, say, Jorge Luis Borges or David Foster Wallace, and the set of readers who favor fondly comic portraits of small-town life in mid-20th-century America after the fashion of Garrison Keillor or Jean Shepard."

Early in the book, Peter and his wife Albertine are cycling through Central Park when she gets into a bad bicycle accident. Later, in the ER, she asks "Did you write about the crash?" "Yes, I set it in Central Park." "A much nicer setting. Much nicer." He changes his father's involvement in the project (we never really understand what his role was) several times, to better reflect the relationship he had with him and the one he wished he had, as a way of acknowledging that he did not fully understand his father. In other parts, he acknowledges that he has made mistakes in his recounting, the results of confused or faulty memories. Sometimes he'll make things up to cover these lapses in his memory, sometimes he'll just, say, call the town he cannot remember Forgettable, Va. Sometimes he changes the facts to make himself look better, or worse, exercises in teenage grandiosity and humility. Things happen in the book that seem like obvious manipulations to make the story more dramatic, but only some of them are. He tells a story one way, then rewrites it when Albertine declares it unbelievable. At one point, he actually ends up in the middle of the crop-dusting scene from North by Northwest -- the actual event, not the making of the film scene.

Throughout it all, Peter as both a boy and a man tries to get someone, anyone, to listen to his stories, but only his devoted wife will. But that is the advantage of writing a memoir -- Peter has at last told his story, and at least one person -- me -- has read it. And what a story. This book not only tells a hell of a tale, it shows us why we tell tales.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


It's not quite finished -- Beadmom suggested I put a ribbon around the edge, and I need to make a little baby to be kept in the last pocket, and attached to the center Christmas eve. But it's close enough for me to use with the Beadboys.

Although, I ran into a snag when I tried to explain yesterday that Advent started, even though, liturgically, Advent began on Nov. 28. A liturgically accurate calendar would require adding or subtracting squares each year, so I'm sticking with a December-based calendar. And looking forward to when Christmas falls on a Wednesday, so that Dec. 1 is the first day of Advent.