Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Peanut Butter & Nutella Cookies

I made this batch last week.  Thank you to Shutter Sisters for featuring this photo on their Instagram feed!

I simply have to share this recipe from The Sisters Cafe with you.  I'm not usually bossy here on the blog, but if you like Nutella, you simply have to make these cookies.  Period.  We are kind of Nutella fiends around here.  We dip pretzels in it, spread it on toast, smear it on strawberries . . . it's an equal opportunity spread in our house.

I haven't tried these cookies with gluten-free flour yet, but I will try them using my favorite, King Arthur gf flour.  Also, I made these using my own homemade peanut butter.  Can I be bossy one more time?  If you don't make your own peanut butter (or other nut butters), I highly recommend you try it.  I make mine with a mix of roasted salted and unsalted peanuts.  I just whirr them in the food processor for a few minutes until they are smooth and creamy.  It takes longer than you might think it will--maybe four minutes or so.  Let the nuts process past the "ball stage," during which the peanut butter balls up around the blade and looks quite grainy.  It hasn't yet released all its oils at this point.  It will be a little bit soupy by the time it's actually finished.  It will also be warm and will smell divine. Pour it into a clean container, where it will firm up a bit, but will never be as firm as store-bought brands, unless you refrigerate it.  I keep mine in a plastic tub in the cupboard, and I just give it a quick stir before using.  I can't imagine life without it!  And I believe it makes these cookies taste even more fantastic.

Thank you to the wonderful women at The Sisters Cafe for a keeper recipe.  I found it on Pinterest, which I believe further justifies my pinning addiction :).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Beautiful Stuff

Happy first day of spring, lovelies!  This is an old photo of mine, and I just added this Ray Bradbury quote to it for a wee bit of inspiration.  Hope you are having a gorgeous day.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Blossoms and Butter Biscuits

I have a heart full of thanks for friends and readers who shared their thoughts on my last post.  Your emails, Facebook messages, and comments on the blog gave me loads to think about, and also cheered me up a bit about the fate of blogging--as well as the fate of reading in general.  We all seem to be sensing the change in the wind, but many of us still seek real writing and real depth, whether it's online or in the pages of books.  While I worry about the longterm fate of reading, for the moment, I know I am part of a community of passionate thinkers, readers, writers, and makers.  

I will be moving over to the new blog sometime soon, but in the meantime, I'll keep posting here.  My biggest challenge at the moment is simply getting out of my own way.  I have so many irons in the fire, so much work that I'm doing, and so many roadblocks to navigate as I move forward that some days I wonder how I'll ever make it all happen.  Some days it would be easier to go back to my old life.  Some days I want to give up.  Winter doesn't help.  I know it's March, which means spring is around the corner, but here in Maine we have more snow coming tomorrow, and more predicted for next week.  I truly think that if I could just dig in the dirt again, the part of my spirit that is broken would begin to mend.  Soil and sunshine and the smell of grass would fix it.  Since they are still weeks away, I've been filling the rooms with pockets of blooms--campanulas and grape hyacinths and forsythias for forcing.  

And when flowers alone are not enough, there's always chocolate.  If your spirit is feeling as beaten as mine is, I recommend this chocolate pudding recipe.  I've made it twice in the past three weeks, and both times have resulted in empty bowls and the kind of deep, satisfied sighs that only dark chocolate can cause. 

If chocolate pudding still falls short of curing what ails you, then bless your little heart, I made some maple syrup butter cookies the other night that I can honestly say did the trick for me . . . at least for an hour or two.  Now that it's nearly maple syrup season here in New England (Maine Maple Sunday is March 23), these will be the perfect spring cookies to make for dipping in your Earl Grey.

The Magpie's Maple Syrup Butter Biscuits

1/2 cup butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup unbleached white flour
1/4 cup almond meal/flour (I used Bob's Red Mill brand)

~Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
~Cream butter, vanilla, and maple syrup together.
~Add flours and beat until blended.
~Pipe or spoon onto a parchment-lined baking sheet to make 1" round cookies.
~Bake 12-15 minutes until lightly browned around the edges.
~Cool on a rack, then dust with powdered sugar. 

Notice I don't have a single picture of these little wonders.  You will have to make them yourself and take beautiful shots of them on a rustic farmhouse table with powdered sugar sprinkled artfully around.  Please be sure to cross-process the images, giving them just the right amount of faded, nostalgic, old-timey charm.  You know that's what I'd have done had I not been too busy baking--and then eating--these bundles of floury, buttery joy.  Do make sure to include the almond meal.  I think that is the key to their beauty.  It makes them slightly chewy, yet light and crumbly, too.  Wouldn't it be lovely if everything in life were so satisfying?   

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Blog is Dead. Long Live the Blog !

Hello, my friends.  I know it has been ages since I posted last.  Christmas came and went.  Then New Year's, and then even Valentine's Day, and still no posts from me.  It's not because I wasn't thinking of you, for I was doing just that--often and much--and I wanted to be here, but I was whelmed by life.  I appreciated the notes and emails and comments checking in on me.  I was fine, and am fine, now.  In fact, it's lovely to be here, typing away, thinking of you.

And I have some news.  After four years here on Blogger, The Magpie's Fancy will soon be moving house.  I will let you know when and will share the new address here.  I'm developing the new site now, which will serve as my online professional and creative hub, and will be a place for readers to visit for inspiration in writing and photography, as well as the daily celebrations and challenges of living a creative life.  I have met so many kindred spirits through The Magpie's Fancy, and I hope we can continue to inspire each other as I move to the new site.  I'm planning to have it up and running by March, and I will keep you posted, I promise.

I've read several articles recently about the state of blogging.  There are those who say it is dead--or at least dying--but I disagree.  I do think that, like everything else in the online world, blogging is changing quickly, and the most committed bloggers are adapting right along with these changes.  Various social media play a major role in the brave new world of blogging, especially Pinterest.  As a daily pinner myself, I can say that Pinterest is a faster way to reach out and grab inspiration and ideas from the Interwebs, and its image-rich, tile format makes it an incredibly fun tool, but it lacks the depth and richness of blogging or even of Instagram and Twitter.  When I pin a gorgeous garden picture to my "Gardening Fancies" board, I am pinning it for myself.  It's nice when others see it and pin it, too, but I don't really care one way or the other.  Can I promote my own work on Pinterest?  Yes, I can, and I occasionally do, but I also often see my own work pinned without any attribution and with a link back to some random person's Tumblr page.  I kind of loathe Tumblr.  There, I said it.  People complain about Pinterest's lack of attributions, but if it weren't for platforms like Tumblr, where people can reblog with a click, acting as though curating a bunch of images is the same as blogging original content, then we wouldn't have nearly as many problems with Pinterest.  I don't pin things on Pinterest to impress others.  I pin them because they inspire me, and I want to remember them . . . and to be able to find the original source at a later date.  In fact, in my case "social media" is a misnomer when it comes to Pinterest.  While I do truly like seeing what my friends and family pin, for me, pinning is simply a continuation of a practice I've had since I was a kid.  I have always torn pages from magazines and hung them on my walls or filed them in a drawer in my filing cabinet.  It brings me great joy, and I often pin between appointments or while I'm eating my oatmeal in the morning.  I can never get enough ideas about books or design or gardens or chocolatey sea salt concoctions!

So, I don't whinge about the demise of blogging.  I don't think it's dead at all.  I think that savvy bloggers are figuring out ways to expand their view of what a blog can do as a promotional tool, a resource, a professional outlet, or a place to share daily thoughts.  People need to have original content to pin on their pin boards.  We can't all pin this set of images (or others like it--you know the ones that you see recirculating on Pinterest every few weeks)

over and over again, forever and ever and into infinity.  By the way, this wonderfully shabby chic cottage was originally featured in The New York Times.  It's a Catskills hunting cottage turned into a Rachell Ashwell-esque fantasy by Sandra Foster.  I've seen it pinned a thousand times, usually without attribution.  

Beyond the original content issue, though, lies what is the heart of the matter for me: community.  I have made warm, deep, and lasting friendships through blogging that I wouldn't trade for the world.  Some of those friends are no longer blogging, or are blogging more sporadically as other forms of social media--yes, I'm referring to you, Instagram--take up more of their time, or as their lives get more hectic.  As so many of you know, blogging well can take enormous amounts of time and energy.  One has to wear several hats, and for those of us who chose not to rent advertising space on our blogs, its financial rewards can be limited, non-existent, or indirect, as a way to promote our own work.  For me, the greatest reward of blogging is the friends I've made.  Second to that is the chance blogging has given me to develop my skills further.  I have been a writer nearly all my life, but I came to photography much later, through blogging, and I am so grateful to have discovered this passion.

I would love to hear your thoughts on blogging and social media, in general, if you care to share them.  There are days when I find all of it overwhelming.  On those days, I take a very long hike (or, right now, snowshoe) with my camera--no iPhone, no distractions.  Unplugging is essential to my creative process.  Maybe these last two blog-free months have been just a prolonged break from overstimulation.  The one thing I'm realizing as I scroll through Pinterest each morning, and as I develop the new website, is that there are loads of incredibly talented and creative people in the world.  On those overwhelming days it can feel like an artsy, hipster, moss-covered, lace-doily-ed, glitter-coated, pomegranate-glazed, hand-calligraphed, dumpster-salvaged, and ironically-mustachioed avalanche of beauty and wisdom that I just want to try to outrun as it thunders down the mountain towards me.  Other times--most times, really--I want to jump right in the middle of the beautiful mess and see where it takes me. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Holiday Musings

Hello, chickadees!  Our part of the world is about to get hit with a winter storm that will keep us all shoveling and snow blowing for the next couple of days.  Mr. Magpie and I had plans with friends for the whole weekend, plans involving festive things like horse and carriage rides, holiday fairs, brunch, and long walks.  Most of those plans have been cancelled, which makes us sad, but we are consoling ourselves with a roaring fire in the fireplace and copious cups of tea on the sofa avec les chats. 

All in all, this Christmas season is turning out to be a wonderful one.  I've made a few twig wreaths, including the one above, using invasive vines we had cleared from the property.  No wires needed to make these simple wreaths.  Just weave the vines around the bottom of an old bucket to get started, and then you can finish the wreaths as natural, free-form lovelies from there.  Even better than the wreaths are the driftwood trees that my sister is making.  I will share a picture of the one she made me soon.

I'll be making my Maine Needham candies soon, too.  You can click this post from last year for my recipe.  If you like Almond Joys, you will love these candies made with chocolate, almonds (in my version), coconut, and potatoes.  Sounds crazy, but they taste divine.   

I know I'm partial, but I can't imagine a better place than Maine at Christmastime.  The morning that we went to our favorite tree farm, a light snow began to fall, turning the whole place into a snow globe.  As we tramped through the brambles in search of a tree that "needed us," as Charlie Brown would say, we could hear kids laughing and running through the trees.  Pure magic.  

And then there was the visit to the Holiday Open House at the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals, a wonderful farm where they rescue horses.

I can't imagine Christmas without animals and long walks in wild places.  This Christmas we plan on going for a walk through one of our favorite bird-watching spots, Gilsland Farm.  We've been hearing about a lot of owl sightings in the area, so we're hoping for some good luck.  In our own backyard, the feeders have been visited by all the usual suspects, along with red breasted woodpeckers and lots of Carolina Wrens, which are a lovely tawny color against winter's snow and bare branches.  We've cracked open the autumn pumpkins to share with the squirrels and chipmunks, who have been feasting on them all week.

We are off to a holiday open house tonight to see friends and raise a cup of cheer before the snow flies.  It is bitterly cold outside, on its way to below zero in the next few hours, so I am worried about all the folks who don't have coats and mittens or even a roof over their heads tonight.  Wherever you are, I hope you are safe and warm and dry.  I hope you have a full belly, and I hope people you love are nearby--or just a phone call or a text away.  This can be a joyous time of year, but it can be incredibly hard, too.  May we all be able to give help when it is needed . . . and ask for help when we need it ourselves. 

xo Gigi 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Essence of Living Locally

Stone wall, Peaks Island, Maine 
Just touching base today to wish a warm and happy Thanksgiving to American readers of The Magpie's Fancy!  

I also wanted to let you know that I have two stories in the newest issue of t.e.l.l. New England Magazine.  I'm thrilled to have my writing and photographs in t.e.l.l.  It is a beautiful publication that celebrates the local people, places, and traditions of New England.  The editors are creating a unique place for writers and photographers from the region to showcase their work, and I'm honored to be a part of it.  I was also pleased as punch to discover that my friend Laurie Wheeler has two photos in this issue as well.  

Click here to see the magazine.  You can adjust it to fit your screen size, and you can zoom in for easier reading.  My pieces, "Peaks Island Homecoming" and "Conjuring Autumn," are on pages 20 and 116, respectively.  I wrote the text and took the photos for the first story.  Jenn Bakos took the wonderful pumpkin pictures that accompany the second one.  You'll find gorgeous articles and photos throughout the magazine, plus some tempting autumnal recipes.  

Stone tower on the Back Shore, Peaks Island, Maine

I can't think of a better time than Thanksgiving to celebrate all things local.  As the big box stores seek to destroy the last vestiges of what is special about the holiday this year by opening their doors on Thanksgiving day itself, I am happy to ignore them.  I'll shop at local stores on Small Business Saturday, and I'll stop for a coffee at a favorite local cafe.  I know that I am fortunate to live in a city brimming with incredible shops and restaurants, but even here the chain stores are starting to encroach upon the local shopping district, and we now have not one but two Starbucks in our beautiful Old Port.

We have a choice.  We don't have to shop and eat and do all our daily business at chains.  In Portland we have more outstanding local coffee shops than I can count on two hands . . . and hundreds of restaurants . . . and many, many incredible bakeries . . . and dozens of specialty boutiques . . . and that Maine Adventure known as Reny's Department Store.  We can completely and utterly ignore the chains this Christmas . . . if we want to.  

I want to.  I love living locally.  I love thinking locally.  I love that other folks do, too.  And I love that my city doesn't look or feel or smell quite like any other city I've ever been to.  I love that the shopkeepers in all my favorite stores know me by name, and vice versa.  I can't say the same for the mall just over the city line.  If you've seen one mall, you've seen them all.  

Chickens in Autumn, Peaks Island, Maine

I am sending much joy to you and yours as the holiday season kicks into high gear.  May you be surrounded by those you love, and as the torrential rains pour down here in New England, may you all stay warm and dry.

xo Gigi

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to Start the Day

This is our breakfast spot.  On days when we have a little time in the morning, we pick up bagels slathered in pimento cheese  here  or whatever looks most amazing here and head to Cape Elizabeth to watch the day begin at Portland Head Light.

It's never the same twice.  I've munched happily here on calm days, during fierce storms, and every kind of day in between.

This is one of the most painted and photographed lighthouses in the world, so I have nothing new to show or tell about it.  Like so many others, I take pictures every single time I am here.  I'm drawn to the beauty of the light itself, but also to the ancient, cragged rocks, and to the sound of the waves.  Always the waves.  See?  Nothing new here.  Just crazy love.

This isn't even the first time I've posted about the lighthouse, and I have a funny feeling that it won't be the last time.  For more sunrise shots like the one below, take a peek here.  For other pretty ones, look here.  

And for those of you who are wondering, no one died in the Annie C. Maguire shipwreck of Christmas Eve, 1886.