Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Poem

Tennyson wrote this poem more than a century ago, and its words seem as timely as ever.  Wishing you joy and peace in the new year.

In Memoriam, [Ring out, wild bells]
by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winter Sunshine Recipes

Hello, hello from the cold but sunny North!  I hope everyone who celebrates the December holidays has been having beautiful ones.  Mr. Magpie and I have been busy visiting loved ones near and far, and now it is our turn to host some of our favorite folks as we welcome the New Year.  In the midst of all this revelry, I have been putting more salted nuts, heavy cream, and chocolate in my mouth than I care to think about.  All of it was and is scrumptious, but I'm in some serious need of light, healthy food.  For me at this time of year, the simplest, most delicious way to make this happen is to buy armfuls of citrus fruits and have them in every meal.

At breakfast, this usually means pink grapefruit.  My favorite way to serve it this time of year is to slice it and sprinkle a teaspoon or two of brown sugar--light brown, dark, demarara, whatever you've got--on each half.  If you like, you can also sprinkle on a little bit of sea salt.  This sends it over the top!  Then I pop the halves on a foil-lined baking pan and pop them under the broiler.

After a couple of minutes, the result is a lacquered grapefruit that's sweet, but not too sweet.  It's also wonderfully warm on top with a skim coat of bruleed sugar, while underneath it's still cool and tart.  I first ate grapefruit this way about 20 years ago at a bed and breakfast here in Maine, and I've preferred it this way ever since.

My go-to citrus recipe for the rest of the day is a jar of liquid sunshine that I pour on top of nearly everything . . . and use as a dipping sauce for nearly everything else.  This mojito sauce recipe comes from Daisy Martinez, and you can find it here.  I originally made this a few years ago as a dipping sauce for tostones (fried plantains), and I love it for that, but now I use it on rice, to marinate meat and vegetables, as a salsa for chips, stirred into spicy beans--you name it.  I tend to make a double batch and keep it in the fridge for a few days, using it as needed craved.  

Last, but definitely not least, I want to share a little salad I made the other night for just the two of us when we were in between holiday visits.  We needed something light--a palate cleanser of sorts between rich, heavy meals--so I combined two favorite winter flavors, pomegranate and citrus, with a third favorite, fennel, to make this salad:

The Magpie's Winter Salad
Serves 2 as meal, 4 as a side salad.

Juice of 1/2 lime
Juice of 1/2 orange
Juice of 1/4 grapefruit
Splash of red wine vinegar
Small dollop dijon mustard
Small dollop honey
Olive oil to taste
Tablespoon or so of fresh, chopped dill
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar (So that's what all those Bonne Maman jars I saved were for!) and shake well.  This recipe makes extra dressing to use for a couple of days--YUM!

1 head Boston or Bibb lettuce, washed and chopped
1 small head radicchio, washed and chopped
1 fennel bulb, thinly shaved
1/4 red onion, very thinly sliced
1 orange, thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons pomegranate seeds
A few oil-cured black olives (optional, but they really add a wonderfully salty kick--I added mine at the last minute, after I'd taken the photo, and I was so glad I did!)

Toss lettuces together in a pretty bowl.
In a small bowl, marinate fennel and red onions in a little of the dressing for about 15 minutes, then toss in with lettuces.  
Top with the rest of the ingredients and drizzle on dressing.  
Finish with salt and pepper to taste.

Hope you enjoy these recipes, my friends!  Wishing you plenty of sunshine in the New Year!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Merry Magpie

I am a magpie year round, collecting bits and pieces of vintage bling, flash, and sparkle, but at the holidays, my love of all that shines is at its peak.  There's no season I love more, especially because so many truly beautiful vintage ornaments can still be bought for a song at flea markets, yard sales, and even antiques shops.  In fact, I often find them for much better prices than their contemporary knock-offs, and their wonderful patina is for real rather than manufactured.

When they are broken or missing their little top inserts--or if they are too small to hang on the tree,  I simply sprinkle them liberally around the house in bowls, vases, under bell jars, or even in pretty tea cups and wine glasses in the china hutch.

Some of my favorites are ones my mother bought for me many years ago from the estate auction of writer May Sarton.  Sarton has long been among my favorite writers, and when she died, my mother gave me several boxes of ornaments that she'd bought at the sale of her estate.  Each year I have the joy of opening boxes of the very ornaments that Sarton herself hung on her tree each Christmas.

This isn't to say that I don't love new ornaments, for I adore them, too!  If it shines, I crave it, which is why I bought the beautiful red garland in the photo above a few years ago.  This year I combined it with some very old and rather "distressed" (which I LOVE) red and silver balls in a pretty pewter tray on the kitchen table.  In the center, I placed an old candle jar that I'd saved and washed out after I'd used up the scented candle that came in it.  I don't have the budget to buy tons of new candles this year, so I simply poured some sugar in the jar: first white, then a little red (think cookie sugar from the grocery store), then more white.  I nestled a votive into the top, and now I have a candle I can keep reusing all season--and into the winter.  I just keep replacing the votives for a a few pennies each time I burn one down to its end.

My favorite new ornament is one sent to my by my friend Vicki Archer of French Essence.  Like most girls I know, it has long been a dream of mine to visit Paris, so when Vicki's package arrived in the mail this week, I was over the moon.  An Eiffel Tower of my very own!  I don't think I'll put this one away when Christmas is over.  It may need to tide me over until I get to the real thing.

Wishing the Merriest of Holidays to everyone, especially my fellow magpies!  More seasonal sparkle soon . . .

Friday, December 9, 2011


It is easy to tally the challenges and disappointments of a day.  Much harder it is to simply exist among its blessings, recognize its gifts.  The best gifts of this season are as simple as the paperwhite's bloom, as ethereal as its scent.  Here, where winter can be much longer than any other season, a single blossom is a small wish granted.  May your small wishes come true today and every day (for they are often much sweeter than the big ones), and may you always have the time to savor them.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Blossoms & Blessings

As the days grow shorter and we head closer to the longest night of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere, I can think of no better way to bring a bit of warmth and cheer to the house than to force a few bulbs.  Above are some paper whites I started last week.  The photo is nearly a week old, so these little guys are now on the verge of blooming as I type this post.  I'll include a photo of their blooms in my next post.  

I try to plant a few bulbs each week, so I'll have several weeks of blooms during the bleakest part of winter.  I've also planted some amaryllis.  As I mentioned in my last post about budget-friendly wrapping ideas, I'm on a tight budget this year, so all my Christmas decorations must be beautiful while costing next to nothing.  At a buck a bulb, or less, paper whites fit the bill for me.  They last days and days, smell beautiful, and you only need a few to make a big splash.  In fact, nothing is lovelier than a single paper white sheltered by a glass hurricane chimney or an "upcycled" jam jar!  You don't even need soil to force paper whites--just a shallow bowl or lipped tray and some water.  Keep the roots (not the bulbs) well watered in indirect sunlight, and you'll have blooms in 2-3 weeks.

I'll be sharing several more ideas for celebrating the holidays on a budget, and I welcome you to share yours here, too!  I loved hearing about your gift wrap ideas in the last post.  Special thanks to my friend Sande, who featured my wrapping post at her exquisite blog, A Gift Wrapped Life.  Sande inspires me every week with her creativity and her eye for beauty, so I was honored that she shared my much more humble efforts on her beautiful site.  

Finally, I know that as special as the holidays are, they can also be a difficult time for many folks.  I've certainly had years when I just wanted to draw the curtains and sleep through Christmas.  If you are having a tough time this year, please know there are always people who care.  The expectations surrounding the winter holidays can just be too much to bear, especially during tough economic times.    This year, some of my friends have been counting their blessings each day on their blogs or on Facebook.  I think rather than expecting so much from myself (or others) this Christmas, I am just going to count my own blessings, and then share some of them with those who have too few to count.            


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Simple Gifts

I adore the holiday season.  Not just Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but the whole season.  I especially love to surprise people I treasure with little gifts throughout the month.  For my sister and mother, this usually means small but useful trinkets like pretty holiday napkins or votive candles.

Maybe the best part of giving (and for me, receiving!) gifts, is the wrapping.  When I was a kid, I loved to wrap all the presents for my mother each Christmas.  She would hand me a box and tell me who  it was for, and then I'd wrap it accordingly, pretending I was one of the women in the department stores who gift-wraps items for customers at Christmas.  I especially loved to curl the ribbons with my mother's sharp scissors.  I think I often even wrapped my own presents without knowing it until afterwards.  My mother was sneaky that way! 

This year I'm using my old standbys, plain brown craft paper and white tissue, so that I can dress them up in whatever way I fancy.  I often like to include a small extra gift on the outside of the package that relates to the gift on the inside of the package.

In the case of these cocktail napkins, I tied a white porcelain spoon, for serving mustards or chutneys at holiday parties.  I also tucked in a sprig of fresh bay leaves, which can be tossed into a pot of sauce or soup for flavoring.  I love using simple baker's twine for a little present like this.  It reminds me of candy canes, which I covet, plus it's economical.  A large spool (enough to last me at least a year) costs $10.  Oh, and I reuse tissue whenever I can!  If it's wrinkled, I just iron it out and it looks like new.

I found the galvanized star gift tag as well as the baker's twine at one of my favorite local Portland shops, Folly 101, but you can find them online, too.  You just write the recipient's name with chalk or a grease pencil, and then they can erase it and reuse the tag when they give a gift--or hang it on their tree as an ornament. 

One of my girlfriends has her birthday at the beginning of December, so I packed her up a box of Magpie finds, including these tiny pinecone votives.  I couldn't resist them, plus they're the state flower of Maine, so I'm sending her a little piece of the place I love. 

Just before I closed the box, I tossed in a few fresh bay leaves to make it look and smell beautiful when she opens it.

The box itself is a silk-covered one that came with a scarf I recently bought.  I always save pretty boxes to reuse, and this one fit the treasures I'd found for my friend perfectly.  I simply tied it with a very wide piece of ribbon that I bought last year during the after-holiday sales at Christmas Tree Shop, when they were selling gorgeous ribbon for almost nothing.

Like nearly everyone I know, I am on a serious budget this year, but I still love giving gifts to the people I treasure.  I'm making several gifts, giving smaller presents, and reusing nearly all my wrapping materials, but I don't think that means the presents can't be just as wonderful as ever.  Maybe even more so.  

I'd love to hear from you about your holiday shopping, crafting, baking, and wrapping this year.  What are your plans for the season?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Autumn Road

Some roads you take with a purpose in mind, but I prefer roads that lead to the unexpected.  I took these photos on an old farm road that hugs the Connecticut River near my husband's hometown.  We were just wandering when we discovered Cruise, who, according to the sign on his fence, gets bellyaches from apples, but loves carrots, and can eat as many as you give him.  

Sadly, we had no carrots, but we made promises to Cruise for our next visit.  I suppose this means that this little back road will now have a purpose.  

Somehow I think it will still hold plenty of surprises, too.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Magpie's Workshop

We snuck in a beautiful, sunny day here after several days of grey and rain, and just before--if the weather reports prove correct--SNOW tomorrow night!  I was writing in my workshop and couldn't resist the lovely sunlight.  Out came my camera, and I shot a few glimpses of where I work each day.     

One look at these photos will help explain the name of this blog.  I am a magpie through and through, collecting baubles and other interesting bits to use in craft projects, for creative gift-wrapping, or just to display.  I buy up old jars of buttons and beads at flea markets and old keys wherever I can find them.  Those old milk bottles in the top photo are from local dairies, and I use them to hold my knitting needles and antique clay marbles.  In the photo below, you'll see a few of the keys in my collection, framed by a vintage sea-glass mosaic frame that I bought twenty-five years ago in a junk shop.  In true magpie style, I've left some space to add more keys!  The beautiful little watercolor of a lighthouse beneath the keys is by my high school art teacher, Sandra Crabtree.      

Here's a close-up of one of those keys and that lovely frame.

My workshop steps up and out onto a pretty sunporch on the other side of that door.  In the photo below, Dill is doing his best to ignore me while the watering-can bird seems ready for his close-up.

One corner of my little porch.  The wooden E is an antiques shop find.  I adore letters!  

My workshop also doubles as a guest room, but I like to use the little iron and brass bed for doing some serious creative thinking . . . a.k.a naps.  The print above the bed is by the fabulous Maia Larkin.  The two watercolors at top and bottom above the table are by my dear friend and brilliant painter Nancy Nichols.  That wonderful bear, Theodore, was my mother's when she was a baby.

My collecting habits include things like artists' paintboxes, old paintbrushes, and sets of vintage colored pencils.  You can still find many of these things for a song at flea markets.  The painted cabinet in the background below was a very, very beat-up medicine cabinet that I bought for almost nothing and then painted with wildflowers.  It's now a curio cabinet on my work table.  Next to that number 40 is a stack of vintage French embroidery-floss cards.  I tell you, nothing escapes this magpie's eye.

My bookshelves contain books, of course, but also favorite items, like my miniature Gashlycrumb Tinies lunchbox, which I bought at the Edward Gorey House on Cape Cod. If you have never been to that wonderful little museum dedicated to the late artist's amazing work and collections (he was a magpie, too), I can't recommend it enough!

Last, but not least, a handful of fab buttons.  I use them for everything: to top packages, to make jewelry, to glue onto magnets . . . you name it.  If I can sew it or tie it or glue it onto something, I will use it!

My workshop is where I go to create, to write, and to work on photos, but most importantly, it's where I go to dream.  Most of my best ideas are formed here amid my magpie treasures with the sunlight streaming in through the bamboo blinds.  How about you?  Where do you go to create and dream?  What place inspires you most?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tiny Raspberry Tarts

It strikes me that the title of this post sounds a little like a new doll line for girls that's a cross between Strawberry Shortcake and those horrible Bratz monstrosities with the giant lips, but I promise it has nothing to do with anything so awful.  Quite the opposite.  I was in need of a little comfort last night, as were a few other folks I know and love, so I made us some very tiny and quick tarts.  I thought I'd share the method with you, since they are really, really good to make for kids, and they couldn't be faster.  
  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  • Line a large cookie sheet with parchment.
  • Roll out two crusts'-worth of pie dough.  You can use homemade or the Pillsbury pre-made stuff. If you use pre-made, roll it out a tiny bit thinner and use both crusts in the box.
  • Cut circles in the pastry with a biscuit cutter (or the floured rim of a glass).

  • Dab a spoonful of seedless jam (those crafty Trappist monks make a good one and it saves me from straining the seeds) in the center of half the rounds.  Be generous, but also be sure to keep the jam away from the edges.
  • Brush a little beaten egg around the edge of each circle to act as glue, then press another circle on top of it.

  • Crimp the edges of each circle together with a fork or pastry crimper.
  • Brush the tops with a little egg wash to give them a wonderful golden-glazed finish in the oven.
  • Make four small slits in the center of each with a sharp knife
  • Pop them in the oven.  I baked mine for eight minutes, turned the sheet, and then baked them for about 6 or 7 more minutes until golden brown on top.

  • Once they're out of the oven and cooled a bit, you can mix together a few spoonfuls of confectioner's sugar with a tiny splash of milk (regular, almond, soy--whatever you like) and then let the kids drizzle glaze on them with a spoon (or piped through a ziplock baggie with a tiny hole cut in one corner).

Most of them will get eaten straight off the pan, but if there are any left, plate them and enjoy.  They are a fabulous alternative to pop tarts, and you can fill them with anything you like: brown sugar and cinnamon, chocolate, lemon curd, apple or pumpkin butter--whatever tastes good and will fit inside the crusts! 

Hope you're having a wonderful weekend.  It's a perfect fall day here.  We spent the morning at a local farm, and tonight's a hayride with the nephews.  Life can be so hard, but I am grateful for those small moments of sweetness, and I savor each and every one of them.  xo

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why I Live Here #1: Sunrise

The colors in these shots are not augmented or exaggerated, I promise.  Coastal Maine is simply a beautiful place to watch the sun come up.  That first shot was taken this morning on the Eastern Promenade in Portland, looking out towards Peaks Island (where we lived in the Fall of 2009).   The rest of the shots are of Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth.  I have lived many, many places, and there's nowhere else that makes me feel the joy that I do when I sit on a big, craggy rock by the sea, watching the sun take its sweet time to rise over Casco Bay.