Friday, August 26, 2016

On Your Mark: Handmade Bookmarks

It's back to school time—the kiddos will have their reading to do, and even if they don't, the days are only getting shorter! Before long, you may find yourself curled up with a good book or two as well. How will you keep track of what, where and when? With a good bookmark, of course:

Handmade Felt Bookmark in Book

Handmade Bookmarks

Colored craft felt
Embroidery flosses or No. 5 mercerized cotton threads
Doll needle
Straight pins
Template or old bookmark
Ballpoint pen
Sharp scissors

For each bookmark, cut out a front and a back in felt (either the same or complementary colors) using a template or an old bookmark as a guide. If desired, create embellishments using a smaller template or mini cookie cutter in the shapes of your choice. Secure embellishments with straight pins to the front side of the bookmark, and stitch around the edges, leaving a small border. Once done, match front and back of bookmark together, smooth and secure with straight pins. Again, leaving a small border, stitch along the outside edges, tie off in between the two layers and bury the "tail" in between as well.

Notes: Before joining the front and back together, I took the liberty of free-stitching some fletching along the length of my bookmark. My needlework is by no means perfect, but I enjoy its rustic look, and it's still perfectly functional! My bookmark is about six inches long from tip to tail. I chose to use straight stitch instead of blanket stitch, as this will help the bookmark stay flat and not "puff" around the edges. To judge how much thread you will need to stitch the around bookmark, roughly eyeball a generous 2-2 1/2 times the total perimeter.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Fatal Attraction

This Summer, I've been fascinated by a thistle growing by my front porch - it's absolutely beautiful, but covered with so many needle-like thorns, it would fairly make a hedgehog jealous:

wild thistle

Thistles are edible, related to artichokes and cardoons, and have that same pleasing globe shape. The purple flowers are stunning, and have even attracted the local hummingbirds (not that I could get a shot of them):

But those thorns! Thistles have long been the emblem of Scotland, causing their enemy to cry out in pain, thus revealing their presence. I certainly would not want to tangle with them. Once the bloom fades, however, the resulting thistledown looks more like a shaggy dog's coat than anything else - talk about a bad hair day!

Eventually, I'm sure I will have to cut it down, and hope the majority of its seeds don't self-sow my home into a prickly fortress. But in the meantime, I get to enjoy its regal beauty, as its buds continue to bloom and attract pollinators of all kinds:

Anything lovely but dangerous growing in your yard, something that falls into the "look but don't touch" category?


Friday, August 05, 2016

The Cookie Crumbles: Oatmeal Cookie Bars

I wanted to bring a sweet treat to a family picnic last month, but was also in the mood to try a new recipe (well, new for me, at least). At the same time, it had to be something that would last through several hours of driving AND be able to stand out in the heat of Summer after the trip. This was no time for a multi-layer cake with a delicate buttercream frosting! A handheld treat would be ideal as well, to nibble unencumbered while strolling—or sitting—as the case might be. Then I remembered I'd been wanting to try an oatmeal cookie bar recipe, and this one seemed to fit the bill. I immediately doubled it, and was very glad I did:

Oatmeal Cookie Bar Layered with Jam

Oatmeal Cookie Bars

1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup very soft butter
10-12 oz. jam (I used a local triple-berry)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir brown sugar, flour, oats, baking soda and salt together with a fork until completely combined, making sure to break up any lumps. Add butter and continue to cut in with your fork, but switch to your hands towards the end to really work all the ingredients together and ensure the butter is evenly distributed (you don't need to be careful or have a "light" hand with this process). Evenly press about half to two-thirds of the mixture into your prepared pan, gently spread with jam to within 1/4 inch of the edges, and top with the remaining crumbs. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the edges are golden, being careful not to overbake or burn as the oats will turn bitter. Let cool completely, cut into squares and serve!

Notes: Adapted with many thanks from the recipe noted above. These bars are rich and buttery, with a slight punch of fruit from the jam for balance. My family members all agreed these would be excellent paired with ice cream, but it was far too hot to attempt to get any and bring it back before it/we melted. As well, the bars are deliciously crumbly, and forks were requested all round to help with the eating. Even so, there will still be plenty of crumbs left on your plate, and how you handle them is entirely up to you...