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.  


Saturday, October 8, 2011


Have I mentioned that October is my favorite month of the year?  Here in Maine it means apple-picking, cider, trees with leaves the color of lit matches, crisp nights of the open-the-window-a-crack-and-pile-on-the-blankets variety, and chilly days of the pack-up-the-picnic-basket-and-dress-warmly-to-share-lunch-by-the-sea (or the pond, or the stream, or on top of the little mountain just up the road) variety.  

To be honest, we're having a bit of an Indian Summer this weekend, but that is lovely, too.  And it doesn't keep me from baking.  So, here's my Apple Crisp recipe.  It's one I sort of made up as I went along several years ago.  I've tried many varieties of apples for making crisp, but I usually come back to a blend of Granny Smiths for tartness (always, always, always) with Cortlands and/or Macouns for sweetness.  I love McIntosh apples for eating, but I never use them for baking, because I like the apples to hold a little of their shape in a crisp, tart, or pie, and McIntoshes simply don't.  They turn to applesauce instead.  Cortlands and Macouns were bred from the McIntosh  crossed with other varieties to make the best of their traits and eliminate some of the mealiness that McIntoshes can have.

Now, I know many folks are very choosy about accompaniments for their apple crisp.  Some insist on whipped cream, others like ice cream, and others like caramel sauce and ice cream.  I say, to each her own.  I don't care for caramel sauce on mine because I like the apple flavor to be the highlight, but I do love a scoop of either vanilla bean or coffee ice cream served alongside the warm crisp.  Another fantastic accompaniment, especially if you love combining savory with sweet, is some very sharp cheddar cheese.  When I was a girl, my dad would often slide a slice of cheddar under the "lid" of a slice of apple pie.  I thought it was a strange thing to do until the first time I tried it, and then I understood.  Oh, boy, did I.  The same principle applies with apple crisp.

The Magpie's Apple Crisp   
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Butter a 2-quart baking dish
  • Peel, core and slice about 8 apples (I use 4 Granny Smiths and 4 Cortlands or Macouns to achieve a blend of sweet and tart)
  • Fill the baking dish with the apples and squeeze the juice of half a lemon over them.  Toss to coat the apples with the juice.  Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, toss together: 
1/2 cup white flour
1/4 cup wheat flour
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup brown sugar 
a handful or two (to taste) of chopped pecans
  • Blend into the topping ingredients with a pastry blender or fingertips:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • Sprinkle the topping over the apples.
  • Bake at 375 for 50-55 minutes.
NOTE: I jotted this recipe down in 2006 as I went along.  It was one of those special recipes that came together like a dream.  At the end I wrote: "Serve warm with ice cream. Give Todd extra!"  Reading this makes me smile every single time.  Enjoy, my friends.

P.S. A special thanks to Maureen Nichols for including my Cinderella pumpkin photo in her post at The Inspiration Studio today!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Taking Stock

Oh, it has been too long since I posted here from my heart to yours.  I could say that I've been busy, which would be true, but that's not the whole reason.  Mostly I've been putting all my energy and heart into work, friends, and family, and I've had little left to share on the blog.  This has never, ever happened to me before. I hate it!  I mean, I love all those other parts of my life, but I've always had room in my life for blogging, no matter how busy I've been.  Honestly, I think I've just felt drained.  We had company staying with us nearly every weekend over the summer and early fall, which was a joy, but I think I'm coming to the realization that my life is a little out of balance at the moment.  Because all of my work involves writing, teaching, and photography, I need loads and loads of alone time, but I haven't had much of that in many months.  Maybe it's time for a little autumn re-prioritizing.  In fact, I think it's time for a retreat.

So, this morning I decided that I would devote several hours today to giving The Magpie's Fancy a new header and a new overall mood for autumn, my favorite season.  As soon as I placed this lovely Cinderella pumpkin on my grandmother's old silver tea tray, I knew I had the image that I'd like to see each time I come here for the next couple of months.  I'm usually kind of a stickler about polishing my silver, but in the fall I like a little tarnish.  It warms up the metal and goes beautifully with pumpkins, gourds, and leaves.  Okay, and I just can't seem to get around to polishing right now!

I haven't quite finished with the blog design redo, but I was anxious to catch up with you and share news about my photography.  Several of my photos are now available for commercial use through Getty Images.  You can find the link here and on my sidebar under "My Other Nests."  I have other news as well, but that can wait for a later post!

In the meantime, I'm excited to begin blogging in earnest again, and to share with you the creative work I've been doing for the past several months.  I'm also anxious to come visit you.  Thanks for sticking with me even though I've been absent so much.  I've been giving much thought to why I began blogging in the first place.  I've come to several realizations that I'll be sharing in upcoming posts.  Taking stock--that's what autumn is all about for me.  More soon.  xo