27.4.11

A Gathering of Birds

And, by a most secret method, he can make lovely blue birds' eggs with black spots on them, and when you put one of these in your mouth, it gradually gets smaller and smaller until suddenly there is nothing left except a tiny little pink sugary baby bird sitting on the tip of your tongue.

--From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl


When I was three my uncle's job required him & his family to move to Japan for several years. While they were living there they sent me lovely gifts... a pretty doll, a little-girl sized kimono and a book of translated poetry for children. I loved the kimono and the doll but it was the book of poetry which captured my imagination. The book (The Prancing Pony) is illustrated with pictures composed of paper collage. It contains poems about children, rabbits, cats, dogs & little brown bats... But the poems & pictures I always liked best were the ones about birds.

In the years which followed, I collected travel mementos and many of them, too, seemed to take the shape of birds. In the photo above you can see humble sparrows on the fabric of a kimono I bought at an antique flea-market in Kyoto, Japan...

And these candle holders, treasured for many years, came home with me from a trip to Mexico with my parents and brother...

My husband and I found this pair of birds in a tiny antique store on a side street in San Francisco. At the time, my Mr. Bloom & I were engaged to be married and on a search for something unusual to top our wedding cake. When we described what we were looking for, the shop owner opened a cabinet and from its depths, extracted these doves. They were made by the Hawaiian artist Dorothy Okumoto...

For our honeymoon we went to Italy. In Orvieto we wandered into a little shop where the only thing the shop keeper made and sold were wooden mobiles. Looking ahead into our lives with hopes for children, we chose this mobile. It has three figures: the sun, the moon with a smiling moon-baby...

And, of course, a bird!

Why birds? Traditionally, birds are a symbol of the spirit or of freedom. In East Indian myth each bird represents a departed soul. The dove, in many traditions, stands for peace, the nightingale for love & longing, the owl for wisdom and the crane for long life & immortality. Nesting birds and eggs represent spring, rebirth and potential for new growth & life.

Do you have a favorite bird or bird-story? Please come back on Sunday, May 1st, for more birds and an invitation for a new swap, "On the Wings of Spring..."

A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.
-- Chinese Proverb

25.4.11

Southern Hemisphere Seasonal Exchange: Autumn

If you've been reading my blog long enough, you might remember that I participated in a southern hemisphere summer seasonal exchange last December. Southern hemisphere seasons are opposite northern hemisphere seasons and Katie has organized another swap, this time for autumn... Yes, while we, in the northern hemisphere, are reveling in the midst of spring, our friends in the southern hemisphere are enjoying the beauties of of autumn!

Last December I swapped with Nikki of Time 4 Craft at Toadstool House. I was again lucky to have an amazing swap-partner -- Christina of the blog Fruits of Heart. My son and I gasped in amazement when we opened the package and extracted treasure after treasure. First to come out of the box was this wee owl and his little nature-scape. What you cannot tell from this photo is that the owl is only 3 1/2 cm tall and perfect in every detail.

Here, viewed from above, you can get a hint of the silken tufts of grass, the tiny stitching on the veins of the leaves, the french knots to create the dots on the wee toadstool, the glittering glass beads in the centers of the flowers and the sparkling beads in the eyes of the owl... No photo (at least not one taken by me) can do justice to beauty and delicacy of Christina's work.

Next out of the box was this tiny pumpkin baby and 2 magnificent autumn leaves... Again, my skills at photography simply cannot do justice to this charming baby sprite... his knobby pumpkin-stem hat, his funny little expression and the sparkle in his eyes...

Thank you, Christina, for these marvelous treasures. Right now our new little friends are perched here on the window sill. They will take their place on my mantle piece, above the fireplace, come autumn... (And if you'd like to know more about Katie and any swaps she might organize in the future, you can contact her through her blog here.)

23.4.11

The Bread of Our Affliction

As far back as the Middle Ages, the traditional first three words of the Passover Haggadah have been, "Ha lach-ma an-ya," which means, "This is the bread of our affliction." The focus of the holiday of Passover is the story of Exodus -- how, under guidance of Moses, the Jewish people escaped from slavery under the Pharaoh in Egypt. In our Haggadah (a special book containing prayers and stories to be read throughout the Passover holiday meal called a seder), there is a prayer containing the words, "Ha lach-ma an-ya." In speaking about slavery, the intent of the prayer is to say that, while anyone in the world is enslaved, none of us are free:

This is the bread of affliction, which ancestors at in the land of Egypt.
Let all those who are hungry come and eat with us.

Let all those who are in need come and share our meal.
This year we are here.
This year we are still slaves.
Next year may we all be free.

In our Haggadah, tucked in among the serious stories about slavery and the yearning for freedom, I found this funny poem by Eliezer Segal. It describes perfectly my feelings about matzoh:

This is the poorest, the driest of bread,
It crinkles and crumbles all over our beds.
This is the mazoh that Grand-Daddy ate
When he zoomed out of Egypt, afraid he'd be late.

You're welcome to join us -- Come one or come many!
I'll give you my matzoh. I sure don't want any.

There is, however, an addendum to the poem for those who like matzoh:

But tomorrow you'll smear it with butter and jelly
And then you'll enjoy as it fills up your belly.

Why is matzoh referred to as "the bread of our affliction?" It seems every child learns at Hebrew School that the Jewish people had to leave quickly and so, before the dough for their bread had time to rise, they cooked it, packed it up and fled Egypt. The story goes that the bread was dry & flat, and so we eat similar bread to remind us of the way G-d freed us from slavery. The conundrum is, however, that, if you read Exodus verse 14, lines 15-20, it appears that the commandment to eat unleavened bread came prior to leaving Egypt (and moreover, according to the text, the Jewish people had plenty of warning and time to prepare prior to leaving!)

The discrepancies in the story are nearly as confusing as the laws which govern what may (and may not) be eaten during the week-long observance of Passover. At it's most basic, during of Passover, we do not consume anything yeasted, fermented (wine is the exception) or anything which contains a rising-agent such as baking soda or powder. Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews also avoid grains such as oats & rice while Sephardic (Middle Eastern) Jews incorporate rice into dishes for the Passover holiday table.

Confusing dietary laws aside, matzoh is not my favorite food. The exception to my dislike of matzoh is when it's prepared as matzoh-brei. You can find a basic recipe for matzoh-brei here... However in our house, we omit the pepper and sprinkle our matzoh-brei with sugar (some families like jam on it, too...) For another lovely Passover holiday recipe you can have a look at my cake recipe here. In lieu of regular flour (forbidden during Passover) this cake is made with almond flour.

Chag-Sameach... Wishing you a happy holiday (in Hebrew)! And even if you don't celebrate Passover, you might consider trying that clementine-almond cake recipe. A good cake is always reason enough to celebrate, don't you think?

20.4.11

Teddy Bear

We have a favorite teddy bear rhyme in our house. It goes like this:

Round & round the garden goes the teddy bear.
One step. two step, tickle you under there!


The actions for the rhyme are as follows: For the "round & round" part, you use your index finger to draw a circle round & round the palm of your child's hand. On the "one step, two step" part, you walk your fingers up the child's arm then give a soft stroke with your finger at the side of the child's neck.

However, these days in our house, we've been doing the actions for the rhyme a bit differently. "Round & round" goes in a circle around baby's belly button which leads to endless giggling and infectious baby laughter (most delightful, as you can imagine!)

Will there be endless giggling in your house tonight, too?

18.4.11

Happy Passover Cake (a re-post)

The holiday of Passover begins at sundown today. Last year I posted this wonderful recipe for a cake which is perfect for this holiday. Even if you are not celebrating Passover in your home, I hope you'll try this recipe... it's a good one!

* * * * *
I'm jumping on the bandwagon & singing the praises of Nigella Lawsons clementine cake. I first encountered the recipe on Seven Spoons and noticed it again over at Smitten Kitchen. There were small variations in the recipe with each encounter, and I, in turn, have made a few changes myself.

Tonight is the first night of Passover, and minus the baking powder, this is a perfect Passover dessert... Happy Passover!

Nigella Lawsons Clementine Cake (a la Passover)

INGREDIENTS
4 clementines (the original recipe calls for 1 lb.)
6 eggs
1 cup plus 2 TBL sugar
2 1/2 cups ground almonds
a pinch of salt
2 tsp. vanilla (optional)
(note: I've omitted 1 heaping tsp. baking powder as called for in the original recipe to make this cake kosher for Passover)

DIRECTIONS
Put clementines in a pot of cold water to cover, bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours. Drain and when cool, cut each clementine in half & remove seeds. Finely chop the skins, pith, and fruit in the processor (or by hand, of course).

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

Butter and line an 8 or 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper.

Beat the eggs. Add the sugar, almonds, and (optional) baking powder. Mix well, adding the chopped clementines.

Pour the cake mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes, when a skewer will come out clean; you might have to cover the cake with foil after about 30 minutes to stop the top from over-browning.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan on a rack. When the cake is cold, you can take it out of the pan. Ta daaaa!

13.4.11

A Wee Doll Swap Wrap-up & Give-Away



I don't think there's much else to say about the swap except, "Wow, that was fun!" From all the feed-back I've received from participants, I think the feeling was unanimous...



On this post, I'm featuring dolls made by some of the children who participated in the wee doll swap I launched in February. There were over 50 participants for this swap and 15 of those participants were between the ages of 5-13. Their creations are delightful! To see the little stories and original poems which accompanied some of these dolls, you can have a look at the doll gallery here.



Because there has been interest among participants from the doll swap (and also a goodly number of folks who did not hear about the doll swap in time to sign-up), I am planning to host another swap which will be officially announced May 1st (with a thematic "teaser" post or two during the last week of April.) The swap will not be peg-dolls but should be delightful in it's own way. The groups this time will be smaller (only 3 participants per group) and there will also be an opportunity for children to participate.


Then, on December 1st, I am hoping to launch another swap thematic to the holiday season. Because December is a busy time for most, groups will be small and the swap will have a quick "turn-around." Peg dolls will be an option for this December swap (not, however, a mandate...)


Thank you to everyone who joined me for this creative peg-doll adventure...


I hope you will join me again in May to celebrate the Wings of Spring (that was a hint... and it was a big one!)




And now, for a final bit of peg-doll magic...




I am giving away...




A rainbow of 5 fairies!

The give-away will be open through April 19th. Please leave a comment under this post to participate. You must also leave me a way to contact you (email or a link to your blog) in case you are the winner of the give-away...

A little fairy comes at night,
Her eyes are blue, her hair is brown,
With silver spots upon her wings,
And from the moon she flutters down.

She has a little silver wand,
And when a good child goes to bed
She waves her wand from right to left
And makes a circle round her head,

And then it dreams of pleasant things,
Of fountains filled with fairy fish,
And trees that bear delicious fruit,
And bow their branches at a wish;

Of arbours filled with dainty scents
From lovely flowers that never fade,
Bright ‘flies that flitter in the sun,
And glow-worms shining in the shade;

And talking birds with gifted tongues
For singing songs and telling tales,
And pretty dwarfs to show the way
Through the fairy hills and fairy dales.

-- by Thomas Hood

April 20th, 2011
Addendum:
The winner of the give-away (via Random Number Generator) is Maureen of Twig and Toadstool!!

11.4.11

A Pincushion of Possiblities

Skipping through blog-land one meets the most enchanting people. A few weeks ago I met Kristin (well, actually, Kristin found me because I had put out a call to find the originator of a wonderful wooden top craft I had pirated.) Poking around Kristin's blog Kleas, I discovered, not only are both our birthdays one day apart, but that Kristin makes the loveliest pincushions! For years I have been using the most practical & pedestrian of pin cushions, however Kristin has opened to me a world of pin cushion possibilities...

Her pin cushions bloom like gardens in so many colors...

And flowers grow right off her pincushions in three dimensions...

Her pincushions come to us from sparkling tide pools...

They are post-card memories of lands far away...

They grow magically in Cinderella's pumpkin patch...

And if you follow the yellow brick road, you may discover that, at the end of the rainbow, there's no place like home...

But my favorite of all is this handsome rooster and his most elegant plumage... Thank you, Kristin, for introducing me to a world of pincushion possibilities!

(Note: this post is dedicated to Shannon who showed me I could not only be "famous in my own pincushion," but I could dance on it, too!)

A Little Song for You




P.S. If you haven't done so already, don't forget to leave a comment under Tuesday's post for a Softearth Give-Away!

8.4.11

News Bulletin: Soup to Swoon Over

News Flash! We interrupt our usual programming for this news bulletin. The best soup ever created by the hands of a mere mortal was served last night at a kitchen table in California. Please stay tuned for further updates.

Yes, that's right. It was the best soup ever. It was so good we licked our bowls clean. Here, however, is a disclaimer: I try to buy local, seasonal & organic produce. Is butternut squash a seasonal vegetable for spring? No. I bought one for this soup anyway.

I based my endeavors on this recipe for molasses roasted squash and soup.

Molasses Roasted Butternut Squash
Ingredients
  • 1 large squash
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter(horrifying, I know... use less if you prefer)
  • 1-2 TBL sugar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dark unsulfured molasses

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Score squash with a knife several times and place in the microwave for approx. 3 minutes (this will make it easier to cut up.) Peel the squash and cut into 1-inch dice. Place in a large bowl.


Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter ceases to foam and has turned a light brown, pull the pan off the heat and add the sugar, vinegar (stand back so as not to get splattered), molasses, salt & pepper. Mix well and let simmer over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes.


Pour the vinegar/butter/molasses mixture over the squash and toss well, then transfer to a heavy rimmed baking sheet lined with foil and large enough to hold the squash in a single layer. Place in the oven for 20 minutes, toss and return pan to the oven for about another 20 minutes until squash is very soft. Set aside until cool enough to handle. (Note: the smell of the squash roasting with the molasses had me swooning...)
* * * * *
Roasted Squash Soup
Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup diced carrot
  • salt to taste
  • ground black pepper
  • About 4-5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 cups Roasted Winter Squash recipe
  • 1-2 TBL red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half, optional

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the onion, celery & carrot. Saute until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Add stock bring to a boil. Simmer for several minutes. Stir in the squash then simmer gently to let the flavors meld, about 10 minutes.

Puree the soup with a hand-blender until smooth. (The soup can be made ahead to this point, cooled, covered, and refrigerated for several days or frozen for about 1 month. It will thicken as it cools and may need thinning with stock or water when reheating.)
Return the soup to the pan and reheat gently. If the soup seems too sweet for your taste, add 1-2 TBL red wine vinegar to counteract the sweetness. Adjust salt to taste and add the half-and-half, if using.

* * * * *
We apologize for this interruption and now will return to our usual programming...

7.4.11

Softearth's World (& a Give-Away)

Have you ever visited Marie of Softearth's World? She creates magic with soft New Zealand wool.

Thanks to Marie, my springtime mantelpiece has come to life with little doves nesting beneath a pussy willow bower...

And Crystal Gnomes guarding the light of hearth & home (doesn't the round shape of these little gnomes make you want to pick one up and cradle it gently in the palm of your hand?)

Another of my favorite creations by Marie is this Koru fern princess (she has not yet joined the celebration of my springtime mantelpiece, but perhaps someday soon...) Here is her story:

Deep in the New Zealand bush, a little Koru forest princess dwells. With her beautiful unfurling fern frond, she sways in the gentle breeze and smiles. When the trampers walk by, they cannot detect her, though they comment on the beautiful ferns laid out on the forest floor.

KORU- The Koru is the Maori name given to the new unfurling fern frond and symbolizes new life,growth,strength and peace.

When I mentioned to Marie that I planned to feature some of her creations on my blog, she generously offered to turn my blog-post into a Springtime Celebration Give-Away!

Please leave a comment at the end of this post if you would like to win a Spring Fairy, garbed in green...

Four Dew-Drop Children...

And a bevy of Rainbow Birds (or as Marie says, "Out of the sky and under the rainbow flew these rainbow birds!")

Don't forget to leave a comment if you would like these treasures from Marie's Soft Earth Art Etsy shop to join your Springtime nature table (and please feel free to re-post about the give-away on your own blog, if you wish!) Comments for this give-away will be open for one week.

Thank you, Marie, for offering this generous give-away, and thank you to everyone who has stopped by my blog today to say, "Hello..."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 UPDATE: A winner for the give-away was chosen by random number generator. Congratulations to Jen of SewnNatural!

4.4.11

Nine Months

Happy nine-months to our wee Bloom... Don't you love the shirt he's wearing? It's a hand-me-down from my friend Kathy...

This shirt seems specially made, just for him. His name is the Hebrew word for "heart." Perfect...