Friday, February 26, 2010

Anniversary and a Giveaway!

Hooray!  My little blog is one year old today.  

This time last February I had only the vaguest notion of what a blog was.  At the same time, I knew that many of my favorite artists and writers and photographers and crafters seemed to possess them.  I went online and took a peek at one and then another and then several more.  It was a bit like sampling every flavor at a truly great roadside ice cream stand, but without the bellyache afterwards.  Each new flavor had something unique to offer.  Most were pleasing.  Some were mind-blowingly delicious.  I wanted more.  In fact, I wanted a flavor all my own.

So, I took the plunge.  My first post (still a comment-less waif, poor dear) talked about why I'd chosen The Magpie's Fancy as my blog title.  I had no idea what I was doing, but it was a bit of a thrill to hit "publish post" that first time.  The funny thing is that I've been writing professionally for twenty years, but this was different.  For the first time, there was no editor saying yes or no or maybe, but only if you change these ten things; and there were no deadlines, except the ones I chose to impose upon myself.  There was also no audience--at least not at the beginning.  I think many of us start blogging in a fairly secretive, or at least a quiet, way.  My husband knew, and my mother, and a friend or two.  But other than that, it was just me out there in the ether with my words and photos from a handy little Canon Powershot point and shoot.  I knew nothing about photography other than what I'd learned in high school as a yearbook editor back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and we worked in a crazy little thing called a darkroom.  (Confession: I'd still like my own darkroom now.  Film has an appeal all its own.  I guess the darkroom will be another item for the dreamhouse checklist, along with a laundry room with a big window, some built-in bookcases, and a cozy reading chair.  What can I say?  I like listening to laundry tumbling away in the dryer when I read.  I find it comforting.)

All I really knew in those first few weeks and months was that blogging was fun.  I began to meet a few people and to follow their blogs.  And then a few people followed mine, and then I noticed my blog name on a few sidebar blogrolls, and then, before I knew it, I started thinking about my blogging friends sometimes even when I wasn't blogging, wondering if one's dog was recovering from his surgery or if another was back from her trip to Paris.  Just a click away there was this whole community of creative and caring people from all over the world, typing away at their keyboards, knitting their scarves and socks, snapping photos, writing poems, celebrating birthdays, baking cakes, mourning losses, and making time for one another in the midst of busy, trying, fulfilling lives.  Schedules don't matter a whole lot in the blog world.  We tuck it in where and when we can.  Some weeks we have more time than others, but it doesn't matter, because each of us can come to it when we have a quiet moment or two to ourselves.  For me, it is often a reward after long hours of writing my own work or editing someone else's.  And it is still as delicious now as it was when I began.  Maybe more.  (My own ice cream flavor, by the way, is probably something like vanilla bean with a ribbon of dark chocolate and a raspberry-currant swirl.  That sounds about right.  What's yours?)

And so, this is a big thank you.  You inspire me every single day in more ways than I can count, and I can count pretty high.  

To celebrate my one year blog anniversary and say thank you, I'm hosting a giveaway.  I'm crafting a special wish box full of magpie trinkets and treasures that reflect my blog and what this whole blogosphere means to me.  I'm also going to include a print of one of my photographs in the box.  The winner will receive her choice of one of the photos in this post.  To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post between now and Tuesday, March 2.  I'll be drawing the winner at noon Eastern Standard Time.  Maybe I'll have Dill draw this winner since Scout got to draw the last one.

P.S. I bought a Canon Rebel today.  Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Memory of Spring

Thinking tonight of childhood Easters, white straw hats, the scent of mud and shoots and the golden buds that Robert Frost called "nature's first green." As I said in my last post, it's still mid-winter here, and I'm fine with that, but the air today tasted warm even under all that blustery chill. Tomorrow's forecast, however, is for snow. Get ready for a photograph of a gravel-studded snowbank or a dirty snowman (I live in the city after all) or a slushy sidewalk. I promise not to wax rhapsodic about such things. My little ode to dust in the last post was as far as I'll go to romanticize dirt, and that was all in the name of justifying my laziness.

Can I share a secret with you? My life has changed so much in the past two months that I hardly recognize it, but the one golden ring that I cling to fiercely is that I am writing and creating more than ever. I have to remember to never let that go again. Someone please pinch me if I start to stray from my path. If that doesn't work, if I pigheadedly insist that something else is more important than living a creative and caring life, withhold all chocolate. That should wake me up. 

Hope you are well, and dreaming wonders, and making magic.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mid-Winter Walk: Colors I Love

Yes, I'm afraid in these parts it is still very much mid-winter.  You can't tell from these photos, but just around a muddy bend the path turns to hard-packed snow and treacherous ice.  Not exactly Olympic trail kind of stuff, but it can certainly send you spout over teakettle.

I shot these photos because I adore the colors this time of year: bone and straw and faded lace.  I could decorate a whole house just in these shades.  Imagine coming home and feeling almost like you'd walked into a beautiful sepia photograph.  And I'd tuck little vases and jars of brightly-hued ranunculus and stock and roses just for punches of color in surprising spots: on the little plate shelf above the kitchen sink or on an old bamboo bookcase near the back stairs.

Ah, this is a week for daydreaming about old wooden floors and fresh-baked shortbread.  Sunlight is slanting through the windows with more zest, and the sunbeams in my house in late afternoon shimmer golden.  You see, there are some benefits to forgetting to dust the furniture; all those dust motes look so pretty when the light hits them.  Some call it dirt.  I call it atmosphere.

Wishing you a golden weekend.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Missing You

I haven't been able to visit most of my favorite blogs (you know who you are, fabulous peeps) as often as I'd like for the past few weeks, and I'm missing you.  I'm starting to catch up, but if I haven't been leaving comments or stopping by as much as usual, please know that I'm thinking of you.  Often.  In fact, I sometimes stop by without commenting just because I need a dose of loveliness in the midst of a busy and challenging time.  

I think we all go through periods like this, and isn't it a reassuring bolster to know that our blog friends are out there making magic?  I often think of Melissa out adventuring with her little Crumb or Relyn dancing with her grade school class or Lily painting beauties in her desert or Ange crafting a graceful letter A or prairiegirl snapping the perfect shot or Marjorie uncovering a vintage treasure or Lenore thinking a brilliant thought or Ciara crafting a beautiful day with her husband and kids or Leigh tending the gardens on her glorious farm or Gillian preparing for an epic voyage . . . to name just a few of the bloggers who inspire me.  I've met some amazing people in the blogosphere, and your presence in my life has cracked my world view wide open at the same time that it's made my daily tasks and challenges and joys all the richer.  It's like possessing both a telescope to see the universe more clearly, each star and satellite, and a microscope that lets me view the small, seemingly inconsequential bits of everyday life, the acorns, seeds, and flower stems, to find the beauty and purpose that I'd often missed before.  Thank you.  


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cake & Poetry: A Recipe for Love

I have a sweet recipe and an achingly beautiful poem for you tonight, just because it's Valentine's Day, and, well, just because.

I have been making this cake for almost two decades, at least a few times a year.  I think maybe it originally came from the much missed Gourmet, but I have gilded the lily over time, adding my own touches.  This is one of those cakes that fits nearly every occasion.  It's sophisticated, and yet kids love it, too, so it's good for romantic dates, dinner parties, or family meals.  You can use whatever berries you like on top, or none at all.  I happen to love raspberries and chocolate together, so that's how I make it.  If you're allergic to dairy, it's still heavenly even without the whipped cream.  It seems like more and more folks I know are allergic to wheat, so this is a nice cake for them because it has no wheat all.  It does, however, have nuts.  You'll notice that it calls for very little oil. The nuts give it most of the oil it needs as well as acting, in combination with the cocoa, as the "flour" for this recipe.

Man, I love baking.  It's like alchemy--pure magic!

Serves 8 (or two people in love, or one person nursing a broken heart)

For the Cake:
~non-stick vegetable oil spray
~14 Tablespoons sugar (it's easier in this recipe to think in terms of Tablespoons because you divide them)
~2/3 cup walnuts, toasted (I toss them in a dry pan over low heat for a few minutes.)
~1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
~3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
~8 large egg whites
~pinch of salt
~powdered sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line the bottom of an eight-inch springform pan with parchment or wax paper.
  3. Spray pan and paper with oil.  
  4. Sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons of the sugar.
  5. Finely grind the toasted walnuts with 2 Tablespoons of the sugar in a food processor or blender.  Transfer to a large bowl.
  6. Mix in 10 Tablespoons sugar, the cocoa, then oil.
  7. Beat egg whites and salt in a large bowl just until soft peaks form.
  8. Fold the whites into the the cocoa mixture in three additions.  Spoon batter into the pan and smooth the top.
  9. Bake until cake puffs and a tester comes out with moist crumbs--approximately 30 minutes.  Do not over bake!  This is a moist, souffle-like cake.  
  10. The cake will fall as it cools.  Cut around the side and remove the side of the pan to let it cool.  
  11. At this point you can serve it with just a sprinkle of 10X sugar, but I like to add the following:

To Go With (all of this is optional, but you won't be sorry if you add it!):
~whipping cream
~splash of vanilla
~powdered sugar
~fresh mint leaves
~a Tablespoon or two of seedless raspberry or currant jam (I just press my seedy jam through a sieve.)
~a few whole toasted walnuts
~gorgeous dark (or white, if you prefer) chocolate to shave over the top

  1. Whip the cream in a well-chilled metal bowl with a well-chilled wire attachment.  As it thickens, add in a splash of vanilla and a little 10X sugar to taste.  I whip it almost until stiff peaks form. 
  2. Top the throughly cooled cake with the whipped cream.
  3. Melt a couple of Tablespoons of the preserves and toss gently with firm fresh raspberries.
  4. Decorate the cake with the raspberries and fresh mint leaves.  Sometimes I even shave a little dark chocolate over the whole cake.
  5. When I slice the cake, I often toss a few of the whole toasted walnuts onto the plate, along with an extra raspberry or two.  I love the idea of using an ingredient from the cake as a garnish, plus they're delicious!

My friend Relyn posted one of the great sonnets of all time over at her place today, which got us to talking a bit about sonnets, and we've discovered that we both love the ones by e. e. cummings, so I thought I'd share my all-time favorite of his sonnets.  It seems just right for today.  This is poem 92 from his book 95 Poems.  It is a sonnet, although, if you're a sonnet lover, you'll see that he plays a lot with the traditional form and makes it his own.  I love that.  Read it aloud and you will feel nothing but joy in the rhythms and images of this jewel-box of a poem.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

e. e. cummings

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Air Mail: My Valentine to You

Tonight I am typing words that will fly to wherever you are, words that will land with a rush of warm air and a wish that you are well, that you have in hand a good book or a film so loved every line is written in your mind.  And I wish for you a generous chair, a favorite cup of whatever tastes best, and the time to savor long moments of bliss.

Thinking of you and wanted you to know it.  If we lived closer, I'd bake you a heart-shaped cake.  Your favorite flavor.  Extra icing.

Here instead are my wishes.  Hopefully they will taste just as sweet.  xo

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hearts and Food and Love

Okay, I told you I am a sucker for Valentine's Day.  Last night I made a heart bunting with paper doilies and some lovely sequined, pink yarn that I crocheted into a chain.  I pinned it up over the bed with silver map pins, and it is pretty glorious in a homemade Valentine-y way.
I have started making a menu for Valentine's dinner.  I'll share it later in the week, along with a recipe or two.  I'll likely make salmon carpaccio with watercress tossed in olive oil, garlic, and lemon on top of a bed of orzo.  Oh, and homemade bread to sop up the dressing.  For an appetizer, I'm thinking red peppadews (because they look like little hearts), stuffed with Neal's Yard Dairy stilton.

Dessert will be a surprise.  I'll share that recipe, too.  It will most certainly involve chocolate.  In my heart and mind, chocolate=love.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

On Being Unabashedly, Unapologetically, Wholeheartedly Old-Fashioned When it Comes to Valentine's Day

I believe in romance.  

I believe in flowers--the frothier and frillier and girlier the better--wrapped in paper with ribbon and a handwritten note.  I believe in roses and candles and a kiss on a terrace, and serenades and love poems and x's and o's.  I believe in a starlit walk through a park in the snow and in the warmth of a hand holding another's, tucked deep in the folds of an overcoat.  I believe in Louis Armstrong on vinyl--and Ella and Edith and Dean and, oh, anyone whose voice makes your heart beat fast and the night go slow.  I believe in red and white and pink and lace and dark truffles dipped in cocoa.  

I believe in the gesture, the smile, the sweet word softly spoken in the wee hours with the lights low.  I believe in the slow dance that lingers when the song is over.  I believe in the hand that cradles my neck and the one that holds my own.  I believe in never looking back.  I believe in never letting go. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ice and Lace

This February is a month of collecting myself and truly beginning the year in earnest.  So much of January was spent in recovery from the holidays, from expectations and disappointments, not to mention from consolation pies and cakes and the subsequent onslaught of belated resolutions.  February, on the other hand, is already charged with intensity, productivity, plates and plates of green vegetables, and with the promise of brighter days ahead.  

If you live in New England like I do, you hold no illusions about spring being just around the next corner--or the corner after that.  In fact, in this part of the world it's easy to think of February as nothing but a month of mud and slush and bitter cold, but the days are growing longer, and even on the chilliest of afternoons, there's a robin or two going about his business on a small patch of mossy grass that the sun has decided to hit just enough to melt the snow.  Indeed, when I look closely, I see February for what it really is.  It's there in the piecrust edge of ice just above the surface of a stream or in a flash of sunlight through bare branches on a back road, delicate as a bit of Valentine's lace.  

For me, the best way to feel the subtle promise of February is to walk outside each day, even when it's bitter cold, and to return to the same paths and streams and trees to note the shifts of light and the feel of the earth beneath my feet.  Yesterday as we walked along the edge of the Concord River where the banks have overflowed and frozen, the ice moaned and cracked as if a river monster were just beneath the surface, heaving himself up against the hard roof of his world.    

With each day now there will be a few minutes more of light; the sun will climb higher; and the river monster will eventually get his way.  But first, we'll watch the frozen lace on the marshes and streams flirt with the water below it, some days growing, other days receding, until finally (sometime around June, I think!) it will return to the water once and for all.  

Here's to February, to sunlight, and to love.   

Monday, February 1, 2010

Birthday Girls

"We turn not older with years, but newer every day."
~Emily Dickinson

This is a magical week of birthdays.  First there was my niece Maddy's, now there is my friend Jackie's, and then there will be my sister Susan's.  Each one of them inspires me, makes me laugh, and makes me think, and so I wish them all many adventures and surprises of the best kind in the coming year.

May each week lead you to a new discovery and each day to a new joy.

xo Gigi