Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Have you ever wondered about sparkling wine?  How it's made? About it's history? Technically you can only call it champagne if it's made in France.... but even a few of the restaurants we recently visited in the Napa Valley referred to it as champagne.

Sparkling wine isn't something I normally order, except for some reason on our anniversary, but when a waiter suggested it one evening......I didn't think it was a bad idea. After all, our recent trip was partially about trying out new flavors, we were eating French food and had decided on a plate of fruit and cheeses before dinner. During our conversation he mentioned he was studying to become a master sommolier, so I asked him to choose the wine for me. When he let me know what he would be bringing, I noticed the man at a nearby table smile at his dinner companion. I must have given him a quizzical look, because he motioned toward her and said, "She made that. It's her sparkling wine." Turns out I was seated next to the president and founding winemaker of the winery that my sparkling glass of bubbly came from. By the way it was delicious. And very special to be able to tell her so.

Although we intended to tour her winery at some point during the week, we somehow didn't make it. We did, however, manage, to tour another place in the area, Shramsberg, well known for its sparkling wines.  We walked through dimly lit caves that smelled earthy and sweet, and listened to a guide show and tell us what, in their opinion, makes their wines special. We watched the rapid rise of bubbles in cold flutes and tasted by candlelight. We saw photographs of presidents, princesses and first ladies raising glasses of it and learned that one variety (Blanc de Blanc) was the wine President Nixon served on his historic 1972 trip to China.

It was somewhat of a challenge to photograph in low light and with no flash or tripod, but I made an attempt. The images I captured allowed me to bring an unforgettable experience home with prolong it a bit further. Those and the few bottles we ordered......

Wishing you a wonderful week ahead.......again....Cheers!

Warmly, Margaret

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Song.

As is usual after some time away, I'm busy catching up around here. I've been working on  some photos and hope to share some of the ones I took in and around the Napa Valley soon. For now I'll leave you with the following:

 Evidence and Answers. Love this song. Love this video.

(And yes....this is the very talented singer/songwriter/musician, David Boone, that Peter works for.)

Wishing you a wonderful weekend.

Warmly, Margaret

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Healdsburg, CA

It's fitting that after a very enjoyable week of tasting food and wine, we head home today. I will say that we didn't overdo any of it. Not too much food or too much wine......unless of course I am forced to count the sparkling wine I tried yesterday that I accidentally had too much of. Of which I had no idea until it was pointed out that I was giggling my way through lunch. And humming. And maybe talking a bit too loudly. To our credit we did fit in some exercise during the week.

I love the rhythm that the seasons of the year give our lives. That I have reminders to pay attention to what I otherwise might not. If you're interested, T S Elliot wrote a poem entitled Ash Wednesday that I like. I couldn't find a good link to it on line, but you may be able to.


Warmly, Margaret

Saturday, February 18, 2012


We've been enjoying some food and wine tasting for the past few days with flavors far beyond any expectations. A feast for the eyes as well! More later, but for now.....Wishing You a Wonderful Weekend!

Warmly, Margaret

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On Valentine's Day

Yesterday, Valentine's Day, I had a finite amount of time to get started on a knitting project. The plan was to begin an easy hat pattern on circular needles and finish the inch or so of ribbing at the bottom. Once I got past the part where I needed to pay attention, past the casting on and counting out the rib, my thought was that I would be free to pick it up, knit a few rows when I felt like it and enjoy the project during the short trip we were taking. I have a busy few days coming up so it sounded like the perfect plan. Only it wasn't.

I cast on and began to knit. In the process I realized I had dropped my beautiful sliver row marker with the blue bead, and spent quite a bit of time looking before coming to the conclusion it was most likely on the floor of the airport and I was now on the plane. No problem. I would just break a piece of yarn loose, tie it in a loop and use that to mark the beginning of my rows.

I cast on and began to knit the knit 2, purl 2 ribbing. I needed to pay a little bit of attention here, but thought it would be OK to listen to the pre-flight information and instructions, chat a bit with Marc and make sure that the initial row of stitches on the needle wasn't twisted all at the same time. Only apparently I couldn't because I soon realized I was knitting in a figure eight instead of a circle. I ripped the thing out and in the process dropped my second row marker of the day.

I took a deep breath and paid more attention this time. I let Marc know I couldn't talk. I fashioned another loop of yarn to mark my row. I carefully counted out the stitches that I cast on. I made double sure that my initial row wasn't twisted into a figure eight, and then triple sure after being offered an in-flight beverage. The hat was progressing along smoothly until I realized that at some point I had knit 3, purled 2 and that half way though my rib, I was off. I took it out stitch by stitch until I found my mistake. And then I found another mistake and so made the decision to begin the hat......from the beginning......again.

There was a tangled mess after ripping out my knitting way too fast, which took quite a bit of time to un-tangle. I wound it into a neat ball and put it into my carry-on bag. No sense in working on something I enjoy while frustrated. Sometimes its just best to walk away, close your eyes and revisit the idea at a later date.

I know I love the pattern. It's practical, fun and useful. It will be enjoyable and easy to knit. The yarn is soft, the colors speak to me and it feels good to work with. February 14th has been halmarked to be about love, commitment and what it takes to make a relationship work.  I'll give it a rest.....but I won't give up on the hat.

Hope you had a wonderful Valentine's Day!

Warmly, Margaret

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Five Things

A few years ago I returned home after having been away for about two and a half weeks and decided to take stock of my life. The trip in and of itself wasn't out of the ordinary...nothing that was extremely rare or that hadn't been done before or written about and photographed many times over. But its overall experiences were new and different to me, so much so that when I returned home I felt both compelled and encouraged to view my life in a different way. It gave me the perspective that perhaps I needed, which was significant because at the time I really had no idea that I needed it. It was a particularly life changing trip.

Had I been in a rut? Maybe. But not an unhappy one. What I realized after taking a look at myself from across a vast ocean, amidst ancient art, architecture and ruins, amidst different food and different cultures and religion, was that I wasn't necessarily paying enough attention to......myself. The inspiration of my surroundings for those couple of weeks, the structures and ideas that had outlasted ages, those that withstood the test of many centuries, called into question how it was that I was choosing to spend my time. 

I recognized things I used to dream about, ways in which I at one time envisioned myself, things that I saw myself becoming when I was much younger and way more idealistic. During years of growing and changing, and years of the busy-ness of life, many of those things had faded into the background. What I found was that although they had faded......they had not disappeared. They were still around, folded firmly into and not out of my life. Their strands of color, light and flavor still prodded and poked. Apparently, even though I had ignored them, they weren't ignoring me.

(To be clear, time spent with family and those whom I love dearly has never been at issue. It goes with out too much mention what my priorities are in that area.)

When I returned from those travels I made a list that answered the question, "if I could choose five areas that I personally want to focus on, what would they be?". I'm pretty sure that the title scrawled at the top stated simply, "Five Things". They weren't just the five ways I most wanted to spend my time but the five ways I most needed to. It took about five seconds to jot them down.

A mid life crisis? I don't think so. Coagulating fears of an impending empty nest? Maybe. But I think it was more like an awakening. It's been over four years now since I made that list and for some reason I remember the exact date: January 4th, 2008.  I allowed myself a five year plan in order to explore and see where time spent on these things would lead. I just finished year four. In about eleven months.......I'll fill you in.

Wishing you a very lovely weekend and week ahead.

Warmly, Margaret

The above photos were taken at the Ballard Farmer's Market. www.DELUXE-FOODS.COM
Why did I include them in this post? Because I am impressed with the jam maker's decision to do what it appears she was meant to do....make jam, create flavors and sell it!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

This Year's Cookie

Just about a year ago I was doing the exact same thing that I spent time doing today: Baking and putting together boxes of cookies to send to the boys for Valentine's Day. During the past several years of shipping care packages, I've been on a quest to find recipes that both travel well and retain their quality. It's an extra added bonus if they actually improve after a day or so in an airtight container, which sounds kind of odd, but I've found a couple of them that do.

Last year I sent pairs of chocolate cookies with vanilla buttercream sandwiched in between. (These ones really are better after one day in an airtight container I'm craving them.....) This year I made Russian Teacakes which is one of the many cookies that my Mom, siblings and I made growing up. For some reason, as a little girl, it was the name that got me. 'Russian Teacakes'. It sounded sort of exotic to me then and my imagination took off thinking about just what kind of a spread would be included at a Russian Tea. (And how the table would be set. And what the guests would be wearing.) I have since found that many countries and heritages have their own variation of this same cookie and that they appear in the dessert section of nearly every cookbook I own in one form or the other! There are different nut, spice or shape choices....and of course, unique and interesting names for each....but basically, they are all more similar than they are different.

The main difference between these and the ones we baked growing up are how I handled the nuts. Our family's recipe called for finely chopped walnuts. This morning I used pecans, toasted in the oven for about 10 minutes and then pulsed in the food processor until they were in bits much smaller than I could chop with a knife.

So today I measured and toasted and mixed. I rolled and baked and then rolled again. Although I tried to keep up with the cloud of powdered sugar that hung in the air, I should probably still swipe a quick mop over the floor. Next time I make these I just might get creative and experiment. I could possibly think of a unique spice to add or try changing the nut choice again. Adding lime or lemon zest sounds interesting to me and I'm just sure there is something I could do to make the dough chocolate.

Boys, watch your mailboxes....

Russian Tea Cakes

(I adapted this recipe after checking out variations on a few different websites and in a few different cookbooks..... and in my old standby, my Betty Crocker Cookbook. It made about 46 cookies)

1  cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour

1/4 tsp salt
1 cup pecans, toasted for 8-10 minutes in a 350 oven, then chopped fine in a food processor


Beat butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Add vanilla and 1/2 cup powdered sugar, then beat until well blended. Mix salt and flour in well, then stir in nuts. Wrap ball of dough in plastic or waxed paper, then chill for about 30 -40 minutes….Until dough is cold, but not so cold as to be unworkable.
Preheat oven to 350°F  (I ended up turning mine down to 325 after the first pan) and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Put the remaining powdered sugar into a large bowl. 

Using a small cookie scoop (~ 2 1/2 teaspoonfuls)  measure dough and then roll into balls. (If you don't have a scoop, make balls about the size of a old fashioned way to eyeball the amount of dough needed!)

Place about 1/2 inch apart on baking sheet and bake until light brown on the bottom, about 10-12 minutes or what works best in your own oven.

Roll warm cookies, straight from the oven in a dish of powdered sugar to coat, then transfer to rack to cool completely.

Store airtight at room temperature.

Additional notes:
*Roll the warm cookies, about five at a time, in a large bowl of powdered sugar using two spoons. To prevent finger marks in the warm powdered sugar coating, lift them with a small metal spatula onto racks placed over waxed paper (to help with the clean up) to cool.
* Just a little bit of rolling around in the sugar does the trick. At first I thought I needed a heavier coating, but only a certain amount will stick anyway and too much messing around just made them look.....well....messy.
* I started with a 350 oven, but ended up turning it down to 325, so pay attention to the first batch.
* I just may try them with 1/4 cup less flour next time.

Wishing you a wonderful week ahead!



Saturday, February 4, 2012

This Year's Hat

After knitting several (and by that I mean quite a few......) hats during the past many years following the same or similar pattern instructions, I started itching to find something new and different to make. On one particular afternoon this past December I still needed to come up with a hat to knit for the boys for Christmas, but didn't feel at all like making the trip to the yarn store to pick up more wool or another pattern. I had a pretty clear idea about the characteristics I wanted this year's hat to have and so began to see what I could come up with using the yarn I had at hand and the picture in my head.

I have a couple of boys that hike and wear flannel and spend a fair amount of time out of doors no matter what the season in Montana. Another tends to dress in more traditional business attire and lives in a larger Midwestern city where it gets pretty cold and windy in the winter. Marc's needs are somewhere in between. I wanted to make something warm and functional and with a good fit. It had to work as well on the trail or in the mountains as it did in the city. And it should probably be somewhat 'hipster' in order for the boys to want to wear it.

After several hours of messing with color and needle size and stitch, I finished...... and honestly had no idea what I thought or if it had turned out at all like I'd envisioned.  I was a bit cranky, tired of the project and became very aware that I was trying to design something for guys quite a few years younger than I am. I needed a break, tossed it on the coffee table and planned to search for a new (real) pattern at some point during the week.

When Marc spotted that first hat after having been away all day and not having any idea what I had been up to, he immediately picked it up, handled it and asked if I would make him one.  And 'Yes', he said....he thought the boys would really like one, too. Since then, I've seen them all wear those hats. A friend of my son's asked where he got his 'cool' beanie. Afterward he let me know how much he liked it when he found I had both designed and knit it. Out of the blue one day, Marc mentioned that his hat with its texture feels 'soothing' to him when he wears it.

Sometimes things just work out.......

Wishing you a wonderful weekend and week ahead.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Is it possible to be in love with a place? To have somewhere that you want to go to and be with often? Where it is YOU who shows up, YOU that is greeted on the sidewalks and coffee shops and grocery stores? Where the other versions of yourself are left behind and the essence of your person, that person who you envision yourself to be, is the only one walking around?

When I travel I am rarely the Mom, the bill payer, the grocery shopper, the cook, the planner or the organizer.  Sometimes I'm not even the writer or the photographer, although often during visits to this place my mind and schedule are cleared and I am able to be those things even more so. When those that we meet in this small town ask what I do, that is what I tell them. For some reason I can define myself more easily this way here than I can when I'm at home. Am I more brave here? Less intimidated at having to explain that being a writer and photographer doesn't always mean a paycheck? That knitting words and capturing moments and creating and making is a way of life?

When we're away, in this place that I love, I often forget about makeup and wear my hair in a ponytail. Jeans and hiking boots or snow boots feel best. I might try out different clothes and jewelry, or a look that those who know me at home aren't used to........cowboy boots or an enormous scarf made of granny squares.

I love it because I fit things into my day that I otherwise don't always make time listening for the train to whistle and rumble on its tracks around the lake and how this noise echos off surrounding hills and mountains. Like sleeping in, or waking up extra early in order to see the sun color the ice on the lake or the snow on the peaks deep rose and pink and yellow. Marc and I sip coffee in a small local shop, people watch and talk about problem solving allowed. Walk forty-five minutes into town for breakfast at a cafe where local artists and photographers display their work on brick walls, and then back hurry. Chat with the owner of a sled dog team and his friendly, eager dogs. Taste the variety of brews served up in the local brewery, and watch as boarders and skiers  fresh off the mountain, populate bar stools one by one, red faced and sharing the best parts of their day. ("I'm convinced it's not the pow that brings them up the's the sun, dude....") Sit and read or knit all day with no other agenda. No urgency to cram in a few pages or rows before being interrupted by the phone or the front door or the appointments on the calendar.

This is a town that still looks like Christmas until after their Winter Carnival in February. That hosts the Skijoring World Championships. Where shopkeepers and business owners and their employees......and many others that I meet...... live because they want to. Because they all landed here one way or the other, loved it and stayed. Because, although in this economy, it may not offer them a chance to get rich and spend money, it offers them a chance to spend time.

Do I love it because it is a place in which I can vacate the schedules and busy-ness of my daily life near a big city? Or because this is more what I would like my daily life to be.

Here there are deep breathes of icy air in the winter and warm fragrant ones in the summer. And if the boys are with us, I watch them do the same things, too. And breathe.......

Wishing you a wonderful week!

Warmly, Margaret
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