Sunday, November 29, 2009

Home made almond paste

Amelia Schaefer of "Sweet B Folk Art" is my inspiration for sharing this recipe for home made almond paste. Her candy club challenge for November was fruit! Almond paste can be turned into marzipan and then moulded into whatever you like. We have made baked potatoes with butter, carrots, and various fruit (get the connection?)

My wife and I made this birthday cake for my mum years ago. It was kept hidden until the last moment and then brought it out; everyone loved it right down to the last bite. The cake covering, table cloth and decorations are all made from plain store bought almond paste tinted with liquid food colouring from the grocery store. We made a Battenburg cake the first day and then assembled it and made the decorations the next day. The birthday dinner consists of a salmon steak with lemon wedge, peas, carrots, a baked potato with a pat of butter and even a sprig of parsley all served on an almond paste plate. The other items on the birthday table are a napkin with rose decoration, a party blow out, a party hat, two gifts and another real birthday cake on an almond paste plate decorated with 3 roses and its very own candle.

Here is the recipe for home made uncooked almond paste. I have tried both the cooked and the uncooked almond paste and prefer the uncooked.I don't take it on to the marzipan stage because I love the taste of fresh almond paste. I LOVE marzipan but there is so much more sugar and the paste is cooked. Freshly made almond paste doesn't taste anything like the store bought variety, it is amazingly good.

Almond Paste

3 1/2 cups fine granulated sugar
6 cups of blanched peeled almonds (I buy blanched whole almonds to save the time of removing the skins. Ground almonds are available but why get stale almonds when it takes hardly any time to grind them in a food processor)
3 tablespoons of meringue powder (available at bakery supply stores)
6 tablespoons of water

Soak the 3 tablespoons of meringue powder in the 6 tablespoons of water. I don't use fresh egg whites because of the possibility of salmonella poisoning.

Grind the 6 cups of almonds in the food processor and then add the sugar. Grind the almonds and sugar until they fully blended together. Pour all the ground almonds and sugar into a large bowl. Add the meringue liquid.

Start kneading all of the ingredients together. It will be a little granular but don't worry and start adding more liquid, be patient. If after kneading for a few minutes and it is still a little crumbly add a teaspoon of water, continue kneading for a few more minutes. I had to add water into the mix twice but only after kneading for a while between each addition. The oil from the almonds will also be released and help to bind everything together. Don't let the almond paste get sticky by adding too much water, always err on the side of caution, better safe than sorry.

This little piece of fruit was supposed to be an apple but with the addition of the yellow paste food colouring on top of the red it looks more like a mandarin orange, so that is what it is a mandarin orange. I made the shape of the piece of fruit and then dipped my fingertip in the colouring and rubbed it on the outside of the fruit. I then dipped my finger in some water and then rubbed my fingertip on the fruit to blend it all together. I don't usually colour them this way but I wanted to do it quickly so that I could photograph it to show you what it would look like. So there we go the very best almond paste that you will ever have tasted, so fresh, rich, and creamy.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving to All of my American Friends

I am always amazed at the strength of the American woman. This turkey is balanced on her thumbs and forefingers with amazing ease and agility. Are American turkeys a special breed of light meat therefore they fill but don't weigh that much? In a famous painting by Norman Rockwell titled "Freedom From Want" the mother/grandmother of the family is placing an even larger bird in front of her husband with equal ease and lack of strain. The bird at our Thanksgiving dinner is no light weight and as one person takes it out of the roaster another person is there with the platter to make certain that it arrives on the plate safely ready to be carved and then put on the table.

Don't talk back or get into an arm wrestling competition with your mother she will always win!

Conjecture aside; have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I am what I said I did not prefer.

Oh I love these cryptic headings that I put up occasionally!

DellaRae had left a comment on my last blog posting "Everything looks beautiful. You have what I like a traditional designer trees for me." I responded with "I agree totally. Designer trees are beautiful but they seem so cold. I did my share of tree decorating in department store Christmas departments and loved it! I was responsible for all of the trees. Our home tree(s) are my favourites though." That got me thinking about the mantle displays that I did for department stores; so I looked to see what pictures I had if any. I like my designer trees and if I didn't have all of the vintage and antique Christmas decorations I would do this style of decorating!

 Oh Len how fickle you are. 

This first display I called the "Midnight Mantle". All of the mantles are free standing so I used two curtains hung from the ceiling to create a back wall above the mantle. I would like to do this above our mantle some day. The tree is a prelit tree for the front porch. The branches at the back of the tree were bent to the right and the left so that it could fit on the mantle. Approximately 12 floral picks were stuck into the branches to fill it out. Metal stars in three different colours were added to finish the tree.

A prelit garland with snow on it was positioned on the mantle and two vases that pick up the colours of the metal stars are laid on their sides. Wired ribbon is then looped over and around the garland, vases, and tree base.

On the "back wall" is hung a very large clock with its hands at midnight on Christmas Eve, the exact time when Santa arrives and all things magical occur.

This mantle display began with the idea of a very small tree and very big ornaments. I used a very cheap Christmas tree about 18" tall that came with glass ornaments to use on the tree. It is standing in a glass vase almost as tall as the tree. The vase is weighted so that the whole affair doesn't crash to the floor. Floral picks comprised of various citrus fruit and assorted greenery are placed in the tree to fill it out. No other decorations are used on the tree. I treated this tree more as a floral arrangement.

An evergreen garland with cones and dusted with snow is arranged on the mantle. The four plastic ornaments are arranged on the mantle with shredded red paper placed under each ornament. Shear red wired ribbon hangs in behind the tree and the ends spill into the garland.

 Well, there you go I am what I said I did not prefer and I'm happy with that!

By the way the boys are back. Both Black Cat and Jack were off visiting friends so things have been quiet around here. We are expecting visitors some time in the next while. Black Cat has referred to them as foul weather friends because they don't like the warm weather. They will be here at some point and I will introduce them to you.

Monday, November 16, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, part 2.

This picture is from 1930’s English children's Pip and Squeak Annual that belonged to my dad that I now own. This single image has directed how I see holiday decorating and I am not just referring to Christmas; no matter what your home decor is like, the holiday should plonk itself over everything else like a welcome but eccentric aunt. I can remember looking at this picture and thinking that this is how I want to decorate for Christmas. Those garlands and Japanese lanterns had a big impact on me.

Here is a photograph showing the garlands on the ceiling at our home for Christmas. All of the garlands and lanterns are vintage.

As you come into the living room from the hallway we have the live tree. I do not like cultured trees; there is no room to display big ornaments. Trying to find a decent wild tree can be difficult but we put up with what is available and once it is decorated it looks just fine. Over in the corner you can see a Japanese lantern in the shape of a Santa Claus.

Last year I used three red and cream metal tubs to hold the vintage trees. Two of the trees are goose feather from around the 1920's and the third tree is a 1950's plastic tree.

Our buffet has a Christmas village on the bottom. All of the trees are vintage bottlebrush trees mostly from Japan but two of them are German. The houses are all vintage Japanese cardboard houses. The people populating the village are vintage Gurley candles. The large cake stand is one of my pieces. On the top shelf of the buffet are two goose feather trees that I made several years ago when I made the large tree that is in the hallway. The tree on the left is decorated with vintage celluloid decorations. I love celluloid. The tree on the right is decorated with cotton batting and chenille ornaments. I love chenille ornaments as well. Between the two trees is a chromolithograph Nativity scene as well as other assorted goodies.

This is how I decorated last year, so after the wedding the house will get transformed once again to welcome in Christmas Day.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Our daughter is getting married in early December so I am not getting as much work done as expected. That is not a complaint! I will post about new work and other little bits of information as it comes along and I have time. I won't be doing any Christmas decorating until after the wedding so I am not certain what I will be doing this year.

I have to get into the holiday spirit. Hallowe'en is in the process of coming down at our house. The stores have Christmas up and are promoting all of their "must have" merchandise. I love the commercialization of Christmas; it doesn't bother me in the least. It has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus but all of those wonderful decorations come out to get us into the mood to shop.

So in the spirit of commercialization here is what was put up last year in the hallway entrance. The theme for the hallway display was Santa getting ready to deliver the gifts. The backdrop is vintage green fabric that has a white 1/4" dot printed on it. It looks almost the same colour as the wall. Swagged across the top and down the left side is green vintage rayon fabric. Swags of hand dyed silk on the right side pick up the colours of the world globe.

Here is a close-up of the short column. On this column is Santa's robe ready to put on and a world globe with the North Pole, our home in Victoria, BC, our daughters home in Toronto, and our son and his wife's home in Thun, Switzerland marked with pins.

Santa's robe is made from a long rabbit fur coat turned inside out and sewn into a burgundy felted wool dressing gown. It has white machine embroidery on the cuffs, pockets and robe edging. The total cost for this wonderful prop is $20.00. I wish I could wear it but it is too small.

On the tall column is a black candelabra with red vintage candles. Hanging off of the candelabra is some 1940's cellophane roping and a 1960's plastic snowman, his body is made of plastic evergreen with holly berry buttons. In front of the candelabra is a 16" tall party trumpet being held by a 1960's plastic elf similar to the snowman. His body is made of plastic holly.

Here is a side view of the display and under the tree you can see the tops of some 1950's plastic stockings.

The main focus of the display is this 6' 6" goose feather tree that I made years ago to display ornaments on at craft fairs. It is covered with party horns, rattles and party hats from the 1920's to the 1960's.

Under the tree are more noisemakers, two German paper accordions, tambourines as well as another giant and very noisy party trumpet.

Here is the midsection of the tree. Hung throughout the tree are 1960's "silver" baskets filled vintage noisemakers.

My tree topper for this tree is a 1950's joke shop set of glasses with a false nose and eyebrows and a gold foil vintage party hat edged in green paper fringe.

I'll show you the rest of the house decorations from last year in the next post.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Some work in progress

I have tried to do at least one or two blog posts a week and this week I failed. We are getting ready for our daughter's wedding and my postings may get a little sporadic. Enough of the apologetic tap-dancing. I have been working on some new items over the last while. To be honest the way that I work is a little higgledy piggledy. Sometimes I will make a series of accessories for some unknown ornament.

I have bases painted and ready for future items sitting in my studio. This step allows me to save time as I’m working.

I have been making realistic looking candy such as these licorice allsorts, marshmallow hearts, and seashell shaped chocolates. They will be used in a series of trays that I have in mind as well as on a couple of cake/display stands. There are about three stands in various states of completion sitting in my studio; this is one of them.

Two days ago I went off to the Salvation Army Thrift store to get a little bit of winter/Christmas inspiration. I love autumn and the holidays associated with that time of year but my brain was stalled and needed to have a fresh input of ideas. I didn't find anything at the store but I did notice a big lacquered bamboo bowl that had definitely seen better days. I went home feeling totally uninspired. In the mailbox was a copy of the Hallowe'en issue of Celebrate 365. Lori Rudolph of RetroRudolphs had sent it to me. Thank-you Lori. Looking at all of the wonderful work in the magazine was just the thing to kick-start my brain.

In the middle of the night I dreamt about that big bowl. I had turned it into a serving tray that was a large frozen pond. I went off to the store the next day and bought it. Once I had it home I sanded all of the lacquer off so that I could apply papier-mache to the surface and have it stick. An Eco friendly item that has seen better days is now being transformed into something totally new. I like to reuse items and it has had nothing to do with recycling. It may be the shape, colour, or a single part of the item that I find inspiring. I then start to make the idea that I have in my mind. I generally do not draw the finished item unless it is crucial to the construction. Working this way sets problems and obstacles in my design path. I much prefer to work this way for two reasons; it never gets boring and it makes me come up with ideas I would never have thought of otherwise.